Bad Day For The Cut

I'm not sure what to say about Bad Day For The Cut. It's a perfectly adequate movie. But something about it was very underwhelming. That may have been the final quarter of the film, as it felt like it lost focus and tried to change the message.

Bad Day For The Cut is about middle-aged Irishman, Donal, taking care of his mother on their quaint farm instead of living his own life. He's hectored by young locals at the pub and lives a sort of sad existence until his mother is murdered in their home while he drunkenly sleeps in their garage. He catches a glimpse of one of the killers, setting off a chain of events that ends in retribution.

For those who don't care to see it for themselves, I'll continue a little more explicitly. You see, some sort of Irish crime-lord is his mother's killer and, upon witnessing one man leaving the scene, a couple of young thugs are sent to kill Donal and pose it as a suicide. They're not particularly competent, though, and Donal manages to murder one and take the other, Bartosz - a fuck-up Polish immigrant trying to free his sister from sex trafficking, as a hostage-cum-sidekick.

The revenge plot, on this occasion, is driven not by the murder itself but the attempt to kill and silence him and the ensuing questions as to what is going on and why. And that's probably the best part of the film, the first two-thirds, where Donal captures and tortures Bartosz's boss to find out who he works for, the tracking down of the family history that led to his mother's death, the rescue of Bartosz's sister from forced prostitution. It feels like it's going to actually tie up into something worthwhile, up until the point he sends Bartosz and his sister away before his final, potentially suicidal attempt to get vengeance. At that point, the movie loses the thread.

Often, I can see the seams of a film and how it could easily be fixed to work better, but in this case I'm honestly not sure what I would have done differently. I just know I wouldn't have written the ending as it stands. I appreciate that, while somewhat reluctant as an avenger, Donal never falls into the terrible and hated trope of being so reluctant that he avoids doing any completely reasonable act of violence that a normal person would commit under the circumstances. Donal gladly tortures people when appropriate and, while not gleeful, does what needs to be done under the circumstances. But, in those final few minutes, I found myself yelling at my TV for him to just shoot someone and be done with it. Instead the movie drags things out a bit too much, Donal apparently willing to walk away from his mother's psychopathic killer, who also trafficks young girls and murders indiscriminately, because maybe his mother did something bad as well and it's trying to make some inept Irish point about the nature of revenge. Ultimately, the confrontation ends in death, but Bartosz, being the fuckwit he is, tries to find Donal to "help" and gets himself killed, leaving a fade-to-black as Donal regretfully sits and ponders the further revenge that needs to be meted out. This ending probably came out of the Irish nature of the film, as it's not satisfying or particularly interesting for anyone watching it. It honestly dragged down the enjoyment of the film substantially. But the Irish love to navel-gaze about the decades they spent arguing about whose imaginary god is the better one, like murderous children bickering over which flavor of gum is the more "correct" one. As such, I suppose they can't leave anyone with the impression that revenge is justified or gets results, despite how obviously untrue that is under most circumstances.

Perhaps, without that last 15 minutes or so, it wouldn't have sucked all the life out of the movie and killed my opinion of it. But that's not the movie they made.


Here Comes The Devil

I was sold on the Mexican horror movie Here Comes The Devil with promises of its dark, violent nihilism. The plot, as I understood it, was that the children of a family on vacation return, drastically changed, after entering a cave and terror ensues. On the surface, I suppose that's true, but the final product is a much stranger, much more mixed bag.

The movie begins with lesbian sex, which was not quite what I was imagining for the opening of the film, but the movie seemed to have a particular preoccupation with the subject of sex in general. This lead to some dialogue about one of the lesbian lovers feeling religious guilt for the act and wanting to keep her relationship a secret from the rest of the locals. There's a tension between the two women and, before the guilty party can leave, there's a knock at the front door of the shockingly spacious home. The homeowner goes to see who it is while the other woman dresses. She eventually goes down the stairs to find a man brutally beating her lover and cutting off her fingers with a machete. The woman strikes the killer in the back of the head with a lamp and he runs from the home. Her dying lover asks her if she saw his eyes before it cuts to the killer falling down on the side of a large hill, dumping his box of severed fingers on the ground, and writhing around with his machete, possibly dying. This opening six minutes of an hour-and-a-half-long movie isn't really relevant to anything you see next and barely comes into play in the movie's final minutes, more as a minor, tertiary detail. It really could have been cut. In fact, I'll go ahead and say the whole thing should have been cut because it was mostly irrelevant.

Six minutes in, the actual movie begins. It starts off with a variety of problems. For one thing, the movie has zero atmosphere for much of it. The bright Tijuana landscape and the strange snap-zooms onto people's faces make it look like it came directly out of a 70s kung-fu film. That issue is a constant throughout the film. It's exceptionally apparent anytime a scene is filmed in the sunlit Tijuana hills. For whatever reason this intentional choice was made, it was a bad one. Everything looks cheap and humorous.

Anyway, the family is resting at a gas station. The children sit off alone, together. Their son informs them that the daughter is hurt and bleeding; they find that she's gotten her first period. Their mother takes her to the gas station bathroom to clean her up, while their father limply attempts an explanation to his strangely stoic son. After briefly being spied on by a creepy deliveryman at the gas station through a bathroom door left open for no conceivable reason, the kids want to go wander on the nearby hill (where the serial killer from the opening scene previously died), while the parents want to nap in the car.

As one of the things that make it watchable through the first portion, the acting deserves some credit, particularly from musician Laura Caro (in her only notable acting role) as the children's mother. It feels like a lot is actually learned about the couple after the children wander off. It's another sex scene and you get a basic idea about the couple's relationship while he tries to nudge her into having car sex while fingering her. They tell each other about their earliest sexual acts and eventually fall asleep in the car under the afternoon sun.

They awake to darkening skies. As mentioned previously, the children have not returned and the panicked adults scream into the hills and eventually call the police. It's too dark for a search, so they're sent to a nearby hotel where they immediately descend into arguing and recrimination. The next morning, as they prepare to start searching for their children, a police car arrives with the children inside. It's quickly apparent that the children are distant and emotionless. What's happened during their disappearance is never really probed and their behavior becomes stranger over time, leading to trips to see psychologists. There may have been something darker, potentially abuse, during their missing time and the parents start looking for who might be responsible.

Strange seemingly-paranormal events begin to happen in the home and the parents start to take diverging paths on what they believe is causing the disturbances, both in their lives and in their children. The father looks outside himself for someone to blame and the mother begins to suspect that her children never returned from that hill in Tijuana, leading to her slowly becoming unhinged.

It'd be easy to just write a full beat-for-beat synopsis and spoil the movie entirely, especially since the synopsis on Wikipedia misses large and important details, but someone might actually want to watch it in the future and it isn't that relevant for my conclusions.

The acting quality becomes more obvious as the film goes along and more strain is put on the characters. Though you don't see enough of the children's acting to tell how talented they are, the adults all turn in strong performances. The visuals swing wildly back and forth between laughable and impressive. There's a strange sequence two thirds of the way through the film that shows some actual style. While there's some good camera shots and interesting choices throughout the film, they're often undercut by other moments. For a film often noted for violence, there's not much of it; one scene stands out in the middle of the movie for its sudden, cartoonish gore, only for the movie to return to staid normality.

Looking at it, there's many interesting ideas mixed throughout. Those, combined with the few visually interesting scenes, pushed it up half a point in my estimations, even if it may not have entirely deserved it. I was torn between 2.5 and 3.0, though it's a movie that's probably better in retrospect, as you forget many of the dull moments, laughable cinematographic choices, or confusingly vague plot beats. But that's what this movie is: supernatural ideas that aren't entirely formed and unclear religious epistemologies, wrapped up with some disconnected philosophical notions about the nature of sexual discovery and perversion. It feels more substantial in your own head, trying to examine and explain the movie, than what actually shows up onscreen. In a better-made film, that would be much more of a boon. Instead, we end up with a decent short story stretched out into an inconsistent movie, one which is more easy to recommend as a more nebulous whole than in its constituent parts.


After seeing some clips of the action in T-34, I thought I had a good idea of what I was getting into: a Russian-made film about tank battles in WWII, featuring flashy, exaggerated, slow-motion action scenes. That was only part of the story, though.

The first issue I ran into was the bad but watchable dub available on Amazon Prime Video. Trying to track down a Russian video online was all for naught, as I found a few versions, but they featured a typical Russian idiosyncrasy of, instead of doing a full dub - replacing the lines in foreign languages - or using subtitles, the original dialogue will be featured while a Russian yells over it emotionlessly in his native tongue. So I opted for the weak and sometimes awkward English dub, just to avoid having to read subtitles while a Russian tried to yell over German.

Despite that, I felt like the film started off well enough. You have an adventurous introduction to the young tank commander sent off on his first mission for the Red Army on the outskirts of Moscow in 1941. It becomes immediately apparent that it's some sort of suicide mission, where his lone tank crew and their beleaguered machine are to fight off a Panzer division with help from only a handful of poorly-supplied infantrymen. It leads to a very compelling action scene where they outsmart the Germans and quickly whittle down the eight enemy tanks to one. The duel ends with both tanks crippled and the commander dragging his driver from the wreckage, only to take a bullet from the dying enemy commander.

Flash forward to 1944; Russians are being offloaded from train cars at a concentration camp. This is where it threw me off somewhat. I was expecting the whole thing to be the exploits of the tank crew during the war and wasn't prepared to suddenly shift to the young tank commander, arriving grizzled and crippled to the concentration camp years later, after being captured by the Germans. How? Everyone pretty much died in that tank battle. It was right outside Moscow. Who captured these nearly-dead tankmen and took them all the way back across Europe? Why didn't the nearby Red Army clean up after the battle? Why did any Germans that might have been there drag two dying men back just to be prisoners? It makes very little sense and beggars belief. That said, our young man is bearded and defiant now and just wants the Nazis to kill him and move on. The meek Russian girl they have translating to the prisoners is obviously immediately fascinated with him.

Soon enough, the German tank driver who apparently survived their battle is now a leader in the German military and is sent on a mission to train their young recruits to fight Russia's new line of tanks, a fight which is currently not going well for them. He discovers his brilliant young adversary is still alive and decides he's the man they need to show his German tank crews how the Russians operate. He tries to enlist him with threats, but as our Russian hero no longer cares about dying, he is unmoved. Of course, the villain immediately threatens his Russian translator and our hero folds like a cheap card table.

He picks out three men to crew the eponymous T-34 tank the Germans have salvaged from a battle. He's reunited with his old tank driver who he saved from dying and, despite the thought that there might be friction between him and his new crewmen over his potentially treasonous assistance of the Germans, he pulls rank, says a few sentences and they're with him, without question. They're going to have to play war games against the German tanks, except they'll be unarmed and the Germans will be using live rounds. Of course, they're going to try to use the tank to make their escape from the prison camp and head towards the Czech border. They start to clean the tank out and immediately find six shells inside, as the Germans didn't even bother to check if the tank was armed apparently. So they're able to hide the munitions for their escape.

I was expecting tank battles and perhaps a fun "tank vs. tank" war movie; I didn't really think it was going to be a "prison escape via tank" film. That somewhat undercut the action, to have the long, fairly shallow scenes of planning, the villain glowering at the enemy he respects while the hero grits his teeth and patiently awaits his chance to break out, fixing up their new tank, or the out-of-nowhere and desperately-immediate love interest in the form of the translator. Next thing you know, she's on the team and coming with them. Before long, in what seems like barely a few days of knowing each other, the two are confessing their undying love for each other and talking about how they'd been waiting their whole life to be together. I've seen better, more well-founded romance out of mail-order brides.

While the plot itself is sort of dismal and cookie-cutter and shallow enough to bathe a toddler in safely, the look of the film, the effects, and the battles all push it back hard in the other direction toward being very watchable, particularly compared to much of what has come out of Russia over the past couple of decades. Fortunately, no part of the movie takes too long to get through, so none of it is a slog even when the plot is laughably basic. If you're in it to watch slow-motion artillery shells tear through objects, you'll probably enjoy it well enough.

Murder Party

I'd seen the trailer to Murder Party quite a while ago and thought I knew pretty well what I was in for. In many ways I was correct, though I suppose it suffers from that general issues independent films often possess: the trailer shows most of the interesting parts and leaves out the long stretches where not much happens, giving the false impression that there's a lot more to the film than there actually is. Still, I figured another film from Jeremy Saulnier would be interesting.

I'd seen Blue Ruin years ago after it became much-hyped and subsequently overrated. Green Room had much the same problem, though it was probably a better movie, overall. Still, neither of them were as interesting, compelling, or shocking as any of the many people I heard from had stated. Maybe it's the fact that, as I said previously, I've never actually been afraid of anything; I've had guns pointed at me in armed robberies, I've had more near-misses on car accidents than the average bear, I've seen seen any number of strange and horrifying realities that didn't particularly phase me. Perhaps I'm the wrong person to judge these things. If I had the ability to actually understand the things that people find unsettling, I'd be writing horror. That said, I'm a great appreciator of violence; not gore, per se - violent acts on film, be they horror or action or revenge thrillers. So, I do appreciate certain aspects of Saulnier's filmmaking, but I haven't found any of his films shocking or overwhelmingly impressive. Just some decent character studies with acts of violence wrapped up in them. Admirable 7 and 8 out of 10 films.

I hoped from the trailers I'd seen that the much more independent, low-fi, comedic nature of Murder Party would lend itself to a fun and anarchic atmosphere. The absurdly gory horror-comedy has become a staple of its own little corner of the genre. This may have been a little too smart or solipsistic for its own good.

A bland middle-aged meter maid settles in for a Halloween alone at home, picking up some rentals from the local video store to watch with his cat, but comes across an invitation on the ground to a "murder party". After a brief dalliance with staying in and watching films, his housecat refuses to get out of his chair, so he decides to accept this errant invitation as his own. I'm not sure why this walking tabula rasa would do such a thing, as it doesn't make much sense. But he quickly constructs a knight's armor out of a cardboard box, prints off directions on his computer, and wanders off through the urban landscape on foot and via subway to some dingy industrial outskirt. He's unnerved, but still goes through with it for some unknown reason. Upon arriving at the mess-filled warehouse listed on the invitation, he's promptly tied to a chair and told he's going to be killed. The costumed characters that are about to do him in are all artists and his murder is going to be their art, all in some strange attempt to appease another artist named Alexander, who may or may not have access to grant money. What you'd initially assume would be a series of hijinks that lead to the captured nebbish turning the tables on his captors and doing them all in turns out to be, largely, a sort of social commentary followed by a series of accidents and incidents, killing most of them while he bears mute witness to the proceedings.

It seems like it might be going somewhere amusing, but mostly meanders around, really focusing on the artists and the very obvious and time-tested notions than they're mostly dumb, full of shit, and spouting buzzwords with no real meaning. Alexander and his Eastern European drug dealer eventually show up and initiate picking away at the artists' egos until chaos ensues. There's a long stretch where they're all injected with sodium pentothal to play a truth-telling game and reveal their secrets to Alexander, and if that scene doesn't go on for at least 15 to 20 minutes of the already-short running time... I'm honestly not sure I'd believe you.

There's decent performances from several actors, many of whom would show up again in later Saulnier films (including Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin). Mostly, though, it's a bit slow and takes the same old potshots at the hipster dickbag art community while never quite paying off the anarchic splatter-comedy promise of the premise, despite the last portion of the film, which does hew much closer to the idea you receive from the trailer.

The film may have just ended up feeling very average, though there's nothing average about seeing something set around 2006, where some people still rent VHS tapes, have flip phones (if they have a cell phone at all), and you have to print off directions online to find your way anywhere. That's a strange time capsule of its own and may in some ways feel more unsettling than the rest of it. True fear is relying on Mapquest and a Blackberry Curve to get you through the darkness of the mid-00's. Though I refuse to believe anyone was still renting video tapes in 2006. That part may be the least realistic bit about the film.

The Endless

rating-3.5My movie backlog was exceptionally deep and I decided I'd finally get around to watching something and maybe writing about it. MediaGauntlet has been dead for years, no one particularly caring about it when it was alive, but it's still sitting here, taking up space on a hard drive in a data center somewhere, so I might as well do something with it.

I jumped onto Netflix and scrolled through the long list of things that I add and then never bother to actually watch because I'm too busy lazily watching YouTube videos and decaying, physically and mentally. I had seen the trailer for The Endless before it ever came out and, here I was, finally watching it, over three years later. It might not have happened had I not seen a trailer the other day for Synchronic, an upcoming film also directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Looking over their IMDb pages, I was introduced to the trailers for their films Resolution and Spring and I was reminded that I should finally get around to watching this film.

Now, it was fortunate that I did watch the trailer for Resolution first and understood its basic outline, as The Endless is actually a sequel in many ways to that film. Perhaps not directly, but it features the exact characters and situations from the previous film, so it probably would have been good to watch it first and wish someone had mentioned that to me. So I'm telling you. If you haven't seen this yet and are interested, run over to Amazon first, as Resolution is currently free on Prime Video.

As for the movie itself, I was prepared for much of it by the trailer I vaguely remember seeing what seems like a lifetime ago. Some weird visuals, a confusing plot perhaps, and an obviously low-budget indie sensibility to it.

It starts off with the failing relationship of brothers Justin and Aaron (played by the namesake directors, who saved money by playing the leads themselves), lost for the past decade in the normal world of the daily urban grind after escaping from a cult. We learn bits about the cult and their experiences within it over the course of the entire movie. There's no exposition drops and the movie starts out slow, focusing on the characters' interpersonal relationships, their despair, their differing attitudes about the commune life they left behind, and the friction between them. For a while, it lulls you into the false sense that it's going to end up being an indie drama about interpersonal familial relationships wrapped up in the guise of being a weird and eerie horror(-adjacent) movie. Fortunately, that assumption is quickly abandoned after they receive a mysterious video tape and take a road trip back to the cult's summer-camp-like compound to see what's become of them all after a decade away. Though, at first glance, a lot of dread is built up with sound effects, score, and slow-motion footage of fairly mundane activity in a way that makes you wonder if anything really is going on under the hood of the film beyond the surface level. In fact, the first hour makes you question if anything is really going on or if the brothers are the strange ones here; the movie keeps telling you something is off, but you see no evidence of that for a long time.

After that first hour, it peels off the facade and begins laying out details of the strange mythos behind the scenes of what we've witnessed so far. Details are handed out to Justin, the character the audience is most likely to identify with, not as just conjecture or theories about what is happening, but in a strangely factual way that flies in the face of the average horror movie's attempt to hand-wave away details in the name of spookiness.

As for the actual spookiness, I could not tell you. I am somehow congenitally affected in such a way that I am not scared of anything; beyond events intended to startle you in movies, psychological attempts at fear are completely lost on me. I mostly just focus on the story, the aesthetics, the acting, the filmmaking choices.

For all of those qualities, the movie does a lot with very little money. The actors are all good, naturalistic, somewhat understated at times, but ultimately very believable. The film looks very good for what must have been spent on it. The few effects shots work well and don't overplay their hand. (Though you wonder what this movie would have been if they had been given an unlimited budget. What more would have been shown?) The angles, the drone shots, the color palette all look more substantial than the little movie should have managed.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the movie has a strangely uplifting ending for this type of film. Of course, I'm not sure what my point of comparison for that really is. The family-drama-turned-nightmare of Hereditary? (People would consider most other things to be uplifting.) But I wasn't really expecting it to maintain a plot about familial relationships and the focus on the friction between brothers with opposing views on their lives after the horror elements revealed themselves. Perhaps that why the writer/director team is still working on bigger and bigger projects and critically lauded for just about everything they've done.

The film hits the sweet spot for writing, length, development, mystery, and atmosphere. It isn't going to change your life or send you rushing off to tell your friends about what you just watched, but it's a strong and well-crafted film, not just another Lovecraft homage via John Carpenter's The Thing.