Tag Archives: Picturehouse

The Guest (2014, Adam Wingard)

For most of The Guest, the script doesn’t matter. Either the acting or the filmmaking carry the scene. The first act is this fairly standard, fairly obvious—albeit beautifully produced—drama about an all American family in crisis after the death of the oldest son, a soldier, killed in action in the Middle East. Dad Leland Orser is a verbally abusive drunk who also feels inadequate for not making enough money (in rural New Mexico). Mom Sheila Kelley is just sad. And dealing with Orser. High schooler Brendan Meyer is super-smart and mercilessly bullied. Daughter Maika Monroe works at the diner to save for college and has to hide pot-head boyfriend Chase Williamson from the fam. Then Dan Stevens knocks on the door—actually, Dan Stevens knocks on the door first and then the film establishes the family and really quickly, really efficiently. The strangest thing about The Guest having script problems is the plotting flows perfectly; writer Simon Barrett basically just doesn’t have any ending and he doesn’t have enough character development. Otherwise, the script’s good.

Anyway—Stevens. He’s the dead son’s comrade and he promised to tell each family member how much the dead son loved them. Stevens is just a good, nice guy, which is apparently exactly what the family needs. Kelley doesn’t have a son back so much as a pal. Kelley’s a missed opportunity. She’s a narrative prop, moved around for effective, but her performance is great. The film really doesn’t do enough with her. She’s around a lot but she doesn’t get any character development. She’s just sad about dead son and worried about her family. She also doesn’t have a clothes dryer, which is important later on. She and Stevens are really good together. Actually, Stevens is really good with everyone—Orser, Meyer, love interest Tabatha Shaun—except the one person it turns out he needs to be really good with—Monroe.

And it’s both Stevens and Monroe’s fault, but maybe more director Wingard and writer Barrett’s. Because eventually they at least need to have some spark and they never do, which seems almost intentional and a really wrong-headed move on the film’s part. So, eventually weird things start happening—like Stevens helping Meyer with his bully problem and Shaun with a pushy ex-boyfriend—and Monroe overhears Stevens on a mysterious cellphone call and just has to start investigating. Everything about that plot development is bad—anal-retentive Stevens having his super-shady but not super-shady at all phone call in hearing distance, Monroe immediately going Nancy Drew (the character’s written differently in each act), even the direction is forced (in the wrong way). Because first act Monroe is supposed to be crushing on Stevens, whereas second act Monroe is convinced he’s the devil and then third act Monroe is aware he’s the devil but operating indifferently to that belief. It’s not a good part for Monroe, especially not in the third act; the writing is just too thin. Also the film kind of dumps Monroe in the second act as she’s Nancy Drewing to follow everyone else. Well, the guys, not Kelley.

But it’s always an engrossing thriller. Wingard, who also edits, which seems right, knows how to present Stevens for maximum effect and Stevens is the whole point. Again, why Nancy Drew Monroe if she’s not going to take point but whatever; Barrett’s script has a lot of issues. Wingard’s got a tone he’s going for and hits it; making the film around any narrative issues for most of its hundred minutes. Steve Moore’s music and Robby Baumgartner’s photography are both excellent and enable that tone. If Wingard had been able to succeed with The Guest, it would’ve been something. But not failing is something too. Though having Stevens helps. And Monroe and Meyer and Kelley and Orser. The cast is right, the script is just a little wrong.

Also, Lance Reddick as Stevens’s former CO needs to be great and then isn’t. Reddick’s the third act surprise and it’s a flop.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Adam Wingard; written by Simon Barrett; director of photography, Robby Baumgartner; music by Steve Moore; production designer, Tom Hammock; costume designer, Kathleen Detoro; produced by Jessica Calder and Keith Calder; released by Picturehouse.

Starring Dan Stevens (David), Maika Monroe (Anna), Brendan Meyer (Luke), Sheila Kelley (Laura), Leland Orser (Spencer), Tabatha Shaun (Kristen), Chase Williamson (Zeke), Joel David Moore (Craig), and Lance Reddick (Major Carver).


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro)

Pan’s Labyrinth is a pretty film. Gorgeous cinematography, great locations, intricate make-up (bad CG, but it’s only really noticeable once). Guillermo del Toro does a decent job directing the film but has these really annoying transitions–the back of someone’s head frequently becomes a tree in the forest in unending pans. His script is competent and, well, heartless. I was trying to work up some suspense, but since del Toro ruins Pan’s Labyrinth‘s suspense in the opening shot, maybe it’s appropriate. Pan’s Labyrinth could have been a really good war movie, but instead del Toro mucks around in fantasy. Bad fantasy.

I was hoping Pan’s Labyrinth would either use the fantasy elements as a metaphor (it does not) or would be a descendent of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, it’s neither. Instead, like I said before, it’s heartless. Only one of the characters is at all human and she’s just human by default. The rest are unbelievable, except maybe the bad guy (until the end, anyway). The lead character, the precocious girl, goes from being wise beyond her years to being inconceivably stupid. Del Toro never spends any time figuring the character out in any real sense, so there’s not even a surprise (by the time she got stupid, I’d already given up). There’s also absolutely no suspense in the film, thanks a) to del Toro giving everything away at the beginning and b) just some lame plotting.

The performances are fine, but not worth enumerating. Something does need to be said for the graphic violence, however. Instead of attaching any real emotion to Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro makes it frequently bloody to get the audience interested (Paul Verhoeven talked about this method in regards to Robocop–if you haven’t gotten the audience to care with actual character development, blood and guts can do it).

Pan’s Labyrinth is so artificial it’s hard to be particularly disappointed. While it’s boring and empty, the war aspect is so full of potential, you can just sit and imagine the fantasy thing being gone and the movie being good. Maybe it’s because del Toro doesn’t have any M. Night Shyamalan moments… well, until the end, but who cares by then? It’s almost over.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Bernat Vilaplana; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Bertha Navarro, Alfonso Cuarón, Frida Torresblanco and Álvaro Augustin; released by Picturehouse.

Starring Sergi López (Vidal), Maribel Verdú (Mercedes), Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), Ariadna Gil (Carmen), Alex Angulo (Doctor) and Doug Jones (Pale Man).


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