Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Child 44 and Unfriended (aka Cybernatural)

So, this was weird - the highly polished movie chock full of recognizable actors is the one being presented as "independent" while the one completely populated by unknowns that I missed seeing at a genre festival last year is the mainstream hit.

Random thought: If I were Universal, I probably would have omitted the "A Comcast Company" from the opening animation of the globe that freezes, pixilates, and otherwise glitches to play up Unfriended's taking place online. Sure, those of us with Comcast as our cable company and/or ISP may already think of them that way, but no need to reinforce it.

Child 44

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2015 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

The name of Child 44 and the trailer that emphasizes the serial-killer aspects of the movie don't do it any favors, but they don't actually misrepresent it either. That's probably the film's main problem - the intention of using a crime story to get at something else is a good and noble one, but that crime story needs to be more interesting and the other half needs to be more interesting sooner.

The common thread is Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy); orphaned as a child by the Ukrainian famine in 1933, he found a home in the army and raised the Soviet flag over Berlin in 1945. By 1953, he is married to the lovely Raisa (Noomi Rapace) and hunting down traitors for the MGB with old army comrades Alexei (Fares Fares) and Vasili (Joel Kinnaman). Alexei's son being murdered but the official finding being a tragic accident - there are no murders in the workers' paradise - is not what gets Leo demoted and exiled to the backwater of Volsk, but once there, he discovers a similar crime. Hopefully General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman), the head of the local militia, will be more willing to investigate than the brass back in Moscow was.

Child 44 does not exactly start slow, but it does spend enough time establishing Leo as the relatively humane member of the secret police (along with other things) that the audience can find themselves in the uncomfortable position of becoming impatient for the first kid to die. Unfortunately, that half of the film never really takes off; though early scenes are framed so as to imply that the killer's identity is an important mystery, what's actually going on is only vaguely sketched out, and Paddy Considine is wasted in his too-small role.

Full review on EFC.

Unfriended (aka Cybernatural)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 19 April 2015 in Regal Fenway #7 (first-run, DCP)

I missed Unfriended when it played the Fantasia Festival under the name of "Cybernatural" last year, and was kind of taken aback by the amount of buzz it received and the fact that Universal, as opposed to one of the smaller specialty labels, picked it up for distribution. It is, after all, a horror movie taking place entirely on a computer screen. Surprise, surprise, the praise was merited, as the movie does everything better than one might expect, up to and including benefiting from the studio changing its name.

The computer in question belongs to Blaire Lily (Shelley Henning), a high-school girl planning some seedy video chat with her boyfriend Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm) on a Wednesday night, although she first re-watches bits of a couple videos from a year earlier when her friend Laura Barns (Heather Sossaman) committed suicide. They wind up joining a call with three other friends - Ken (Jacob Wysocki), Adam (Will Peitz), and Jess (Renee Olstead) - but there seems to be someone else lurking on the call. They think it's Val (Courtney Halverson), but she jobs the call and says it's not - although having all six on the line seems to be what this mystery guest connected to Laura's accounts and seemingly immune to all attempts to kick her out has been waiting for.

Unfriended is not the first film to present itself as this sort of real-time video chat - I saw one about ten years ago, and there are probably examples from as far back as broadcasting video was happening. The difference is that it comes at a time when this is a regular part of the culture, and the filmmakers seem comfortable with that in a way few of their forebears have. There are few gimmicky attempts to escape from the limitations on perspective that a laptop's webcam has, and both director Leo Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves are in a unique position to actually portray how people actually use the Internet rather than try to find ways to make this something that appears dynamic from a third-person view.

Full review on EFC.

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