Rather than sit down and do a big post on one movie and then never get around to it because there aren’t enough hours in the day, Five Little Bits is a roundup of five films I’ve recently watched, in no particular order, with no particular connection other than I’ve watched them and they are on Instant Watch. Also, in a rare deviation, I have included starred reviews for some quantifiable metric along with the gabbling. Enjoy!
Housebound – Housebound is one of my new favorites. It’s a smart, low-budget horror comedy from New Zealand that a friend recommended. Housebound is the story of Kylie, a young woman remanded to house arrest with her cheerful but estranged mother in the Middle of Nowhere, New Zealand. I loved this movie for lots of reasons: Morgana O’Reilly’s strong, unapologetic performance as a twenty-something teenage rebel; Amos the security guy who’s into paranormal research and who has clearly been WAITING for a chance to ghost-hunt his whole life; brilliant performances; the lived-in, cluttered and claustrophobic atmosphere of the house itself; the deconstruction of family history and relationships and subsequent re-connection; and the dialogue all create a delightfully solid little film. It sat in my queueueue forever before I finally hit play, and it was an immediate win from the first five minutes. And that moment when Kylie’s past is laid bare – SO GOOD.
Five out of five stars – if you liked Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil, you’ll love this film!
Thale – A beautiful, multilayered Norwegian film shot on an ultra low budget (only 10 grand! insane!) that deals with huldra folk, a mythical race of forest women with tails from Scandinavian folklore – Stay with me. Tall, stoic and studly Leo runs a bio-cleanup company and gives his longtime friend Elvis a job. We meet Elvis when he is puking into a bucket, grossed out by the job and its gruesome requirements– a bucket which Leo, long inured to the grisly nature of his job and also to much of life, needs to finish the job. While on a job in a remote location, they discover a strange, feral and childlike woman hiding in a basement. Although the eponymous Thale spends most of the movie naked, her nudity is rarely exploited or made sexy; instead, it underscores her vulnerability and isolation from both humanity and the huldafolk. I loved this film, which I would compare to The Troll Hunter except way lower budget. Elvis and Leo’s complex friendship and the secrets they keep from each other add a fascinating layer to the film, especially the understated performance Jon Sigve Skard gives as Leo, whose placid, gum-chewing exterior hides a lonely frightened soul. Also worthy of note is the grim language they use to describe aspects of their job: ‘We have to break up the shed because he flowed out the floor’ should give you an idea.
Four out of five stars because of the sometimes glacial pacing, the film nevertheless gets a LOT of mileage out of its leads, including the performance from Silje Reinamo as Thale, and the interesting plot. And that ending – WORTH it!
Oculus – A horror film about the devastating effect a haunted mirror had on suburban, upper-class family, Oculus had a solid premise, some strong performances, and a really great subversion of common horror tropes, but ultimately I didn’t care for it. Karen Gillan puts in a hell of a performance as a woman obsessively determined to help her brother no matter the cost and shows her remarkable range as an actress. Unfortunately I just couldn’t like this film. Watching the family violently disintegrate into madness was excruciating, and the ending I found disappointing – longtime readers can probably guess why.
Three out of Five for incredibly effective scares, performances, and solid writing, but personally I just didn’t like the story – others definitely will, though! A great horror film otherwise, with a sequel in the works.
Last Shift – Another intriguing premise that didn’t pay off, Last Shift’s first act is all tension and beautiful character building before it implodes on itself. A rookie cop with a tragic family history must spend the night in the old police station since the new replacement facility has opened. She starts getting weird calls, there’s blinking lights and creepy sounds and an incontinent homeless man and all of that sets a nailbiting scene of dread and atmosphere, and then things go off the rails with a murder cult. Creepy ghosts and furniture rearranging also happen – this wasn’t a bad movie, I just didn’t care for the overall story. You have a great premise – deconstructing the horrors taking place in the shadow of the Thin Blue Line is So Hot Right Now, but it just didn’t pay off. Lead actress Juliana Harkavy is highly charismatic and very watchable, and hopefully on her way to better things.
Two out of five stars.
Hodejergerne (Headhunters) – Another Norwegian film, and I will fully disclose that I watched Headhunters because Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (aka Jaime Lannister from Game of Thrones) was in it. I could easily drop two thousand words about my feelings on this actor, but I will save that for my secret smut diary. MOVING ON. Headhunters is a sort of American Psycho/Film Noir mashup with an intriguing premise: Roger Brown, a prominent corporate recruiter who suffers from a case of terminal Short-Man Syndrome, has an expensive lifestyle and wife he can’t really afford. He supplements his income as an art-thief who robs his high-powered clients, replaces their artwork with knockoffs, sells the good shit and then buys his Scandinavian fembot wife expensive earrings and supports her art gallery, while screwing some other lady on the side. I found him a somewhat likable protagonist despite his terrible actions AND his occasionally jarring resemblance to both Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi – AT THE SAME TIME. He meets Clas Greve (Jaime Lannister), the kind of Handsome Man Alpha that other men both loathe and secretly aspire to be. Charming, disgustingly good looking, a retired millionaire, and a former special forces agent, Clas has a lost Ruben in his house and Roger finds out and sets out to rob him, and of course it is The Wrong Thing To Do. What follows is a bloody and sometimes gross deconstruction of Brown’s vanities until his long-buried humanity finally rises to the surface – it’s very much in the vein of Park-Chan Wook’s Vengeance trilogy. It was an interesting watch but stretched credibility in many moments (I don’t know how they do it in Europe but in the U.S., Special Forces people don’t usually have their pictures all over the internet) and there was a thread of jet-black dark humor running through it that… I never quite laughed out loud, but I think it’s because I don’t enjoy Schadenfreude.
Four out of five stars for lavish production value, great performances and an intriguing premise, but the story and any emotional attachment falls apart in the third act.
So that was Five Little Bits! I hope you enjoyed this little roundup and there was something here you found interesting enough to check out.
Have you seen something lately you think I’d enjoy? Please give it a shout out in the comments!