The Top 15 Movies I Reviewed in 2017!

List by Derrick Carter

Throughout the course of 2017, I posted 206 movie reviews on this blog. Though about a quarter of those were rewatches (covering the SAW and CHILD’S PLAY franchises before their latest installments, and also paying tribute to the passing of genre legend George A. Romero), I managed to catch plenty of fresh new films, forgotten flicks, and classics that I simply hadn’t gotten around to watching. As with last year, 2017’s “Best of” list will cover movies that I watched for the first time in my life. This means that old and new films are on the table, regardless of what year they came out. If a film was new to me and I loved it, then I’m including it with my favorite films that I watched in 2017!

Before I get into my 15 favorite films that I reviewed this year, there are some honorable mentions. I had previously seen THE EXORCIST, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE THING, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and ALIENS before this year. Otherwise, they would be on this list. As far as first-time watches, I truly enjoyed the groundbreaking drama MOONLIGHT and adored the 80s throwback STRANGER THINGS. Concerning new horror films, THE EYES OF MY MOTHER seriously disturbed me, THE VOID was a phenomenal Lovecraftian nightmare, and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS was one hell of a zombie film! WONDER WOMAN also wound up as my second-favorite superhero film of 2017. As for indie thrillers, WIND RIVER was a gripping ride and GOOD TIME was a neon-lit throwback to Martin Scorsese’s early work.

Now, without further ado, onto my top 15 favorite films that I reviewed during 2017…

15. MY FRIEND DAHMER: Most serial killer films focus on chilling murders of their subjects, but MY FRIEND DAHMER is not like most serial killer films. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, MY FRIEND DAHMER is a chilling drama that chronicles the pre-murderous life of Jeffrey Dahmer and examines him as a high school weirdo. By somewhat “humanizing” this psycho, the film doesn’t attempt to elicit sympathy towards its titular cannibal killer and instead shines a light on the fact that people we went to high school might very well turn into monsters seen in news headlines. Though there isn’t a single (human) murder to be found, MY FRIEND DAHMER joins the ranks among the best films about real-life serial killers (MONSTER, ZODIAC, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, and THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS).

14. FOUR LIONS: The idea of tackling Islamic terrorism through a darkly comic lens might sound completely misguided on paper, but FOUR LIONS is the best comedy that I sat through all year! The film follows four idiotic would-be terrorists as they attempt to execute a devastating attack, but constantly fumble over their own stupidity and reveal themselves to be bumbling morons. In my opinion, painting Islamic terrorists in this ridiculous light strips some of the power away from them in a similar way to what Charlie Chaplin did to Hitler in THE GREAT DICTATOR or what Rogen/Franco did to Kim Jong-Un with THE INTERVIEW. If you’re down for dark comedy and don’t mind totally offensive punchlines, you should give FOUR LIONS a watch in the near future!

13. HARD BOILED: Last year, LADY SNOWBLOOD wound up being one of my favorite movie-going experiences as I saw it in a packed cinema pub screening. This year, that cinema pub moviegoing experience belongs to HARD BOILED. This shoot ’em up actioner is over-the-top to the point of being ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome! Each gun fight plays out like a carefully choreographed dance and the film features one of the most jaw-dropping single take sequences that I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. Though it relies on a few cop movie clichés, it utilizes these in a loving way that makes the familiar material seem fresh. If you’re into action films and you haven’t seen HARD BOILED, then you need to remedy that immediately!

12. T2 TRAINSPOTTING: In all honesty, I didn’t know what exactly to expect from a sequel to TRAINSPOTTING. I love that film and I know that novelist Irvine Welsh wrote a follow-up novel, but I didn’t know how that might translate into a cinematic sequel. Over two decades after its predecessor’s release, T2 TRAINSPOTTING serves as an amazing companion piece to the original. Using the same cast and experimental visual style (albeit through a much more polished lens), TRAINSPOTTING 2 delivers stellar performances and naturally follows the lives of the four ne’er do wells from the previous film. If you loved the first film, then you’ll probably love this one too. For a full experience, it’s best to watch both of them back-to-back in the space of a single night!

11. NORTH BY NORTHWEST: This may be blasphemy for a cinephile, but I actually haven’t seen many Alfred Hitchcock films. I love PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, and DIAL M FOR MURDER, but the rest of his filmography is basically a mystery to my movie-craving eyes. My first viewing of NORTH BY NORTHWEST took place in the best possible environment (a packed movie theater) and I was blown away by how thrilling this film is. This is basically a James Bond film before Bond ever hit the screen. Cary Grant serves as a charismatic leading man who’s on the run for a murder he didn’t commit. Over the space of his death-defying adventure, we gets lots of suspense, action, and unexpected plot twists. I was on the edge of my seat for this entire film and walked away extremely satisfied. If the rest of Hitchcock’s filmography is anywhere near this great, then I’m in for a real treat as I continue to watch his work.

10. I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE: Blending a Coen brothers style of humor with indie thriller sensibilities, I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE might just be the most underseen and underrated film of 2017! This movie won an audience award at Sundance and then went directly to Netflix, where some people talked about for a couple of weeks and then it just kind of seemed to vanish out of the public eye. This is a vigilante thriller that’s believable in how inept real-life wannabe vigilantes might be and frequently dishes out shocking spurts of graphic violence. This might be the best Coen brothers film that the Coen brothers never made and I can’t wait to see what first-time director/writer Macon Blair cooks up next!

9. BABY DRIVER: What can I say? Edgar Wright consistently makes great films. BABY DRIVER is a passion project that Wright had in the works for years. In a similar fashion to how George Miller carefully planned out every scene, shot, and effect in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, Wright constantly lets the viewer know that they’re in the hands of a visionary storyteller. This stylish crime tale about a getaway driver who (ironically enough) wants to get away from his criminal lifestyle is loaded with colorful characters, hilarious humor, and adrenaline-pumping action that’s synced up to one of the best damn soundtracks you’ll hear all year. I gushed over this movie back in June and I am still gushing about it now. If you want a joy ride of pure fun, BABY DRIVER will satisfy your cinematic craving!

8. THE DISASTER ARTIST: Never in a million years did I think that anything to do with Tommy Wiseau’s so-bad-it’s-good THE ROOM would ever wind up on any “Best of” list. Yet, here we are. James Franco lovingly adapts the nonfiction book about the creation of THE ROOM to the big screen in a way that’s not only hilarious, but also genuinely touching. THE DISASTER ARTIST doesn’t take the easy route of being a goofy comedy about a loser who fails so spectacularly that he kind of succeeds. Instead, this film takes a more complicated drama-comedy approach and shows us the more serious side of oddball Tommy Wiseau…and his strange friendship with would-be aspiring actor Greg Sestero. THE DISASTER ARTIST is a moving must-see for ROOM fans and cinephiles who just love great movies in general.

7. BLADE RUNNER 2049: I’m saying it right now, BLADE RUNNER 2049 is one of the best sequels to ever hit the silver screen. Over three decades after its predecessor’s debut, BLADE RUNNER 2049 recaptures the bleak sci-fi/noir spark that made the original into the cult classic that it is today. 2049’s cast all deliver amazing performances across the board, with supporting actors making the biggest impressions in their small minutes of screen time and Ryan Gosling serving as a fascinating new antihero. Besides delivering a complex mystery that unpredictably shifts directions as it goes along, 2049 also has one of the most beautiful romantic subplots in years and it features a literal “one-dimensional” character. For those who were bummed out by this film’s disappointing box office returns, remember that the first BLADE RUNNER was a box office flop and is now considered to be one of the greatest science-fiction films of all time. A similar classic status will undoubtedly follow BLADE RUNNER 2049 in future years!

6. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES: Seven years ago, if you had told me that a PLANET OF THE APES prequel trilogy would be one of the best cinematic trilogies ever, I would have laughed in your face. It turns out that’s exactly the case though. 2014’s DAWN drastically improved upon the minor flaws of 2011’s RISE, but 2017’s WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is stellar storytelling from beginning to end. Themes of revenge, survival, and forgiveness are examined throughout the film’s ever-changing plot. Performance wise, WAR fully shapes out intelligent ape Caesar (played wonderfully by Andy Serkis) as animal protagonist who’s more compelling than most human protagonists in films and also introduces Woody Harrelson as a monstrous villain who we want to see die in the most painful way possible. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the best possible way to conclude the APES prequel trilogy and is one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve ever sat through!

5. IRREVERSIBLE: I originally heard about Gaspar Noe’s rape-revenge drama from a podcast in 2008, but hadn’t bothered to give it a look until earlier this year. Though not strictly a horror film by any means, IRREVERSIBLE is a terrifying cinematic experience as events are told backwards. Unlike other linear rape-revenge stories, we see the revenge come first and travel backwards through the moments that eventually lead up to the violent act of justice. As the film plays out in reverse (ironic considering its title), we put pieces of this depressing puzzle together for ourselves and this already tragic event becomes even more tragic with each new revelation. This isn’t a film for the faint-hearted and it’s about as bleak as they come, but IRREVERSIBLE is an uncompromising masterpiece that deserves to be seen by anybody who loves the serious artistic side of cinema!

4. LOGAN: There will never be a better Wolverine than Hugh Jackman. I’m saying that right now. Over a decade has been spent watching Jackman in the role of this weaponized mutant, so LOGAN serves as a suitable final chapter for Jackman’s reluctant do-gooder. The future X-MEN films have a tough act to follow, because LOGAN is a special kind of superhero story. Relationships between the small cast of characters drives the emotional core of this film forward, whilst the R rating finally delivers something that X-MEN fans have wanted to see since 2000: a bad-ass Wolverine slicing and dicing his way through bad guys. This film also has shades of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD crossed with a comic book story that’s about as unconventional as they come. Now that Disney is in talks to own the X-MEN franchise, we likely won’t see another film like LOGAN coming from this mutant-based series. LOGAN is a one-of-a-kind superhero film and one of the best comic book movies ever made!

3. EYES WIDE SHUT: Stanley Kubrick’s final film is an underrated masterpiece about the way in which people delude themselves into believing that they’re happy…and also there’s a creepy sex cult involved too. The entire film has a dream-like atmosphere as we watch the main character (Tom Cruise) venture through a single night odyssey that explores the sexual possibilities of cheating on his wife. Kubrick masterfully shows the dire consequences that might result from following our instinctual desires, whilst also putting us into the place of Cruise’s character. This is especially true of the ending which offers two distinct possibilities: one of them is easy and comforting…and the other one is ambiguous and dangerous. Whatever you might think of it or how you might interpret it, EYES WIDE SHUT is sure to keep you talking about it long after it’s over.

2. YOUR NAME: Eat your heart out Studio Ghibli! YOUR NAME just might be one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever sat through. This film has gorgeous animation from beginning to end, while also delivering an entrancing tale of emotions and body-swapping. It’s initial set-up sounds like the anime equivalent of FREAKY FRIDAY, but drastically becomes something far more charming and moving as its complex plot moves along. This might be one of the strangest love stories ever put to the screen, but its emotional resonance is undeniable! The characters are all built up to the point where the viewer feels for their struggles and deeply cares about them. This makes the film’s final third into a very suspenseful and gripping ride. Also, the climax is utterly perfect. YOUR NAME is a masterpiece and deserves every bit of praise it has received so far (and will continue to receive)!

1. MOTHER!: Much like my favorite film of 2016 (HIGH-RISE), I know that there will be people who loathe and downright detest MOTHER! Some will hate it for its sheer artsy nightmare-logic style and others will despise its controversial message, but I adored every single frame of this fucked-up little ditty. The film follows a woman and her husband in an isolated countryside house. After a strange couple pop in and just decide to stay, their lives are shifted in horrifying ways. I can’t get too into details, because it would spoil some of the film’s nasty surprises and metaphorical madness. I will say that MOTHER! is my favorite horror film of the 2010s so far and one of the ballsiest films to ever receive a nationwide theatrical release. People either really love this film or totally hate it. There isn’t much middle ground to be found and you will likely walk away with a very strong opinion about it. One of the film’s trailers promised that “you’ll never forget where you were the first time you saw MOTHER!” and that statement is completely accurate. I’ve been thinking about this unforgettable horror film since its release and I can’t wait to dive into it again and again in future years to come!

Well, 2017 was a wild year for me…both on this site and in my personal life. I’m currently in the process of moving, so reviews will resume sometime in January! I plan to keep this little movie blog rolling, with plenty of reviews (both old and new) being pumped out on a mostly regular basis! A huge “thank you” to anyone who’s read this blog at all during the past year or any new readers who are discovering it for the first time. There was plenty to love in the world of film during 2017 and here’s to a just as great (if not better) 2018!


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 39 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language and some Drug-Related Material

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Frederic Raphael

(based on the novel DREAM STORY by Arthur Schnitzler)

Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sydney Pollack, Marie Richardson, Todd Field, Sky du Mont, Rade Serbedzija, Vinessa Shaw, Fay Masterson, Leelee Sobieski & Alan Cumming

Stanley Kubrick had a long, storied career in cinema. Kubrick is known as one of the greatest directors who ever lived and he also directed three of my favorite films of all-time (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING, and FULL METAL JACKET). Kubrick’s final film arrived four months after his death, but it’s worth noting that he completed his final cut a mere six days before his passing. EYES WIDE SHUT opened to lots of mixed reception from audiences and polarized critics. Having seen this strange film for the first time, I love it and at the same time know that there’s lots of themes that I haven’t even uncovered yet. Also, this is technically a Christmas movie, so consider this to be 2017’s Christmas review!

Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) are part of the upper-crust crowd in New York. After visiting a Christmas party where they both get hit on by other people (Alice by a much older man and Bill by two sexy younger women), Bill and Alice decide to smoke some potent pot. Their casual night of getting stoned results in a heated argument about sex and Alice reveals that she once contemplated cheating on Bill. As a result, Bill goes to take a house call and winds up on a strange night-long journey that takes him into the seediest areas of New York. Curiosity and perversion quickly land Bill in the clutches of a secret society…and he slowly realizes that his life and family may be in very real danger from this mysterious masked group.

As far as the technical side of EYES WIDE SHUT goes, Stanley Kubrick continued to demonstrate his skills as a master filmmaker. The Christmas setting doesn’t just add a touch of irony to the very adult-oriented story, but simultaneously provides an excuse for lots of beautifully lit settings. Apparently, Kubrick used natural lighting and drew off of the many random Christmas decorations for the atmosphere in certain scenes. This colorful effect provides an almost dream-like quality to the entire film that seems appropriate, especially given the surreal nature of the story.

At the time of this film’s production, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were married and their chemistry definitely comes across on the screen as the film’s main married couple. Kidman plays her seductive role very well and the viewer never quite knows what she has on her mind, especially during the argument scene that really thrusts Cruise’s protagonist onto his torrid journey across a sex-filled New York. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise almost shows shades of Jack Nicholson in his performance as Bill, especially when he flies off the deep end in moments. Even though Cruise and Kidman clearly have obvious chemistry, there are hints that they are fooling themselves to stay in love. This relationship dynamic directly parallels other (more suspenseful) plot developments and is further highlighted by the film’s title (referring to the willful deception of someone, in this case, these two main characters).

EYES WIDE SHUT’s supporting cast mostly seems like means to an end, but that’s not necessarily a flaw in this film. Each character has a distinct purpose and that purpose benefits the story arc that Cruise’s character ultimately goes through. The fairy tale atmosphere is further heightened by the ridiculous nature of a few of these folks. Alan Cumming is a colorful hotel clerk who delivers verbal clues in a single scene. Rade Serbedzija is a crazy costume store owner, whilst Leelee Sobieski has a soft-spoken part as his promiscuous daughter. Vinessa Shaw has a few minutes of screen time as a prostitute, but makes a big impression. Todd Field plays a loud-mouthed pianist who tempts Cruise to venture further into dangerous territory. Finally, Sydney Pollack serves as Cruise’s best friend and ultimately drives forward the film’s bizarre dialogue-filled finale.

Speaking of the finale, this paragraph may dive into minor spoilers. If you want to go in spoiler-free, then skip to the next paragraph. The final third of EYES WIDE SHUT plays out like a bizarre paranoid thriller and the viewer ultimately doesn’t receive many concrete answers by the conclusion. Instead, Kubrick places us into the exact same position as Cruise’s main character and leaves us to decide if want to accept one explanation over another. There is an explanation given to Cruise’s main character in a speech, but it doesn’t exactly seem completely believable. However, the alternative explanation is far more sinister and leaves vague possibilities open for interpretation. Personally, I choose to go with the latter choice, but some viewers might find themselves frustrated by the ending’s sheer ambiguity.

It goes without saying, but EYES WIDE SHUT is filled with sex. However, Kubrick doesn’t simply focus on the pleasures of sexual acts. He also dives into darker territory. The crazy costume owner and the single-scene prostitute’s storylines are both briefly returned to after the initial night’s journey, with disturbingly tragic results. Also, the masked orgy sequence that earned the film an NC-17 from the MPAA seems far more creepy than it does sexy. Maybe it has something to do with the bizarre masks, but it seems like the unsexiest orgy to ever hit the big screen and that sort of seems to be a point that Kubrick was aiming for in this film.

EYES WIDE SHUT is definitely an acquired taste film. Even diehard Kubrick fans seem split down the middle on whether this is a misunderstood masterpiece or an ambitious misfire. I fall on the side of loving this film. It left me with a lot to think about and the nearly three-hour-long running time rushed by. From a sheer technical standpoint, Kubrick’s directing is flawless in EYES WIDE SHUT. From a narrative standpoint, the ending is unsatisfying in the best possible way (if that makes sense)…as we’re placed into the exact same position as the main character. If you want an unusual Christmas flick for adults or just want to dive into another bizarre journey from one of cinema’s best directors, then definitely give EYES WIDE SHUT a look. Just be prepared for lots of nudity, sex, bizarre moments, and an appropriately uncomfortably brilliant viewing experience.

Grade: A+


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Sexuality

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Written by: Sofia Coppola

(based on the novel A PAINTED DEVIL by Thomas P. Cullinan)

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning, Angourie Rice, Oona Laurence, Emma Howard & Addison Riecke

I’ve heard about 1971’s THE BEGUILED and apparently it’s known as an unconventional entry in Clint Eastwood’s filmography, though I have yet to watch it. I mention that tidbit to let you know that I walked into Sofia Coppola’s hotly anticipated BEGUILED remake with little-to-no preconceived notions about what I was about to watch. The trailer intrigued me as this basically looked like a psychological thriller that contained a tense war of the sexes at an all-girls school during the Civil War. While the first film told the story from Eastwood’s character’s point-of-view, Sofia Coppola aimed to tell this story from the girls’ points-of-view. Though it does have a couple of effective scenes, THE BEGUILED is mostly an underwhelmingly bland viewing experience.

In the midst of the Civil War, a small group of young girls and two adults take refuge in a Virginia all-girls school. The women make do with what they have and life seems almost tedious, until one of the students stumbles across wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell). Taking pity on the poor soul, headmistress Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) tends to his wounds, locks him in a bedroom, and kindly neglects to inform passing Confederate soldiers about the enemy in their midst. As the days go on, John’s wounds begin to heal and he desperately attempts to manipulate all of the women around him in order to stay alive. It turns out that John might have been better off in the war-torn landscape, because hell has no fury like a woman (or group of women) scorned…

THE BEGUILED has an intriguing set-up. From what I hear, the 1971 version is rather intense and strange. However, Sofia Coppola’s take on the material seems to be more in the form of a dark drama. When I say dark drama, I don’t strictly mean the story’s content. Though the trailer contained lots of well-shot and well-lit scenes, it’s hard to make out what’s happening in certain sequences. Those previously mentioned trailer visuals might have had added touch-ups, because I struggled to figure out what the hell was happening during many important (but poorly lit) moments. This might just be a sad side effect of the disc release, but I highly doubt that.

To further harp on this more-than-noticeable problem, a dinner scene appears to be authentically shot with candles as a sole light-source. It’s ambitiously realistic to the point where the viewer can’t see much of anything on the set. There are enough poorly lit scenes to become a big annoyance, especially as really crucial scenes happen during late hours of the night (with no light source). The Southern Gothic atmosphere doesn’t feel convincing either as the costumes feel stagey (even though they were crafted from period authentic material) and the locations seem manufactured (even though they shot this film in Louisiana and at a real New Orleans house).

At the very least, you’d hope that BEGUILED would successfully use big talent who are sure to deliver strong performances, right? Well, you’d also be sadly mistaken on that front as well. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman do the bare minimum of what’s expected of them in this story. Farrell’s character does seem like quite the scumbag, even though he’s fighting on the right side of the war. However, his ultimate desperation doesn’t feel nearly as desperate as it should feel (especially as he’s begging to remain as a gardener and avoid the rest of the war altogether). The same can be said about Nicole Kidman’s headmistress, who seems oddly wooden in her delivery. I should potentially be scared of her character, but she only seems tepidly threatening by occasionally flashing a stern look. That’s about all the darkness that she emotes in her performance.

What the BEGUILED gets totally right is a sense of believable connection between the students at the girls school. Apparently, Sofia Coppola worked on building a community of friendships between the young actresses and that comes across in their performances. Elle Fanning gets to play a real brat this time around too, while Kirsten Dunst is the most sympathetic character in the entire film. The rest of the young actresses also appropriately come off as either bitchy or charming, depending on the moment.

The BEGUILED’s biggest problem is that it’s too simple and, at points, noticeably dull. You can guess how this movie is going to play out well before the end credits roll. To make matters worse, the ride of getting to the all-too-predictable finale isn’t exactly a fun one either as it feels like Sofia Coppola is hitting things in a fairly safe by-the-numbers fashion. This material should feel far more interesting than it does here. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 1971 original is vastly superior to this 2017 remake, because a lot of this film’s problems mostly come down to its bland execution and poorly lit production values. Even though I had hopes for THE BEGUILED, I’d recommend passing up on this disappointment. If you don’t wind up seeing THE BEGUILED, you’re not missing much.

Grade: C-


Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 1 minute

MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent and Sexual Content, some Graphic Nudity and Language

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone & Bill Camp

Yorgos Lanthimos has been recently known for his bizarre dark romance/comedy THE LOBSTER, one of my favorite films from last year. So I was more than a little excited when I found out that his next project was a psychological horror trip. Having finally seen THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER on a screen near me, I can safely say that I love this movie. DEER is a mixture of unnerving beauty, disturbing storytelling, grim hilarity, and haunting horror. If Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and Michael Haneke had a coke-fueled orgy and decided to collaborate on a film, the end result would look a lot like THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER.

KillingDeer 1

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a cardiologist who seems to have it all. He lives in a great house, has a rewarding career, and cherishes his loving family: wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and young son Bob (Sunny Suljic). Steven has also taken awkward teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing, but this friendship takes a dark turn as it appears that Steven’s family has somehow been cursed by Martin’s mere presence. To say anything further, would be delving into spoiler territory and I don’t want to do that…because KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is one hell of a freaky ride.

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When I say that DEER is a disturbing horror film, that’s not to imply that there’s a lot of bloody violence or nightmarish plot twists. On the contrary, KILLING’s story is simple, extremely simple, and yet viciously effective. This script puts the viewer into Steven’s headspace and poses a tense question of what the viewer might do in a similar unthinkable scenario. The film also flourishes with an unusual visual style that immediately throws off the viewer’s perception. Lanthimos shoots certain scenes in a way that makes the background seem exaggeratedly large and the characters appear smaller. This weird use of wide shots naturally generates an uneasy mood.

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Besides its foreboding cinematography, KILLING OF A SACRED DEER also (pun fully intended) kills in its script and characters. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman are especially good as the doctor and his concerned wife, while Raffey Cassidy serves as the couple’s oddball daughter. Meanwhile, Barry Keoghan (who had a small role in DUNKIRK) is fantastically creepy as Martin. I’ll remain vague on the plot’s nasty bits, but this simple story evokes a lot of tension out of its characters and their increasingly desperate decisions.

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KILLING doesn’t spell specific points for the viewer and lets us interpret certain actions for ourselves. As a result, I found specific moments to be morbidly hilarious and other audience members seemed deeply disturbed by them. SACRED DEER is a movie that will impact different viewer’s sensibilities in profoundly different ways, but still remains just as scary and haunting for everybody who digs on twisted cinematic oddities. I was impressed at how well the film balanced its scenes of family drama, darker than dark laughs, and bleak horror. These varying tones are combined in a way that feels special, in a similar way to the director’s previous arthouse genre mash-up THE LOBSTER.

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My sole complaints about KILLING OF A SACRED DEER are minor nitpicks involving the soundtrack and an unnecessary epilogue. A lot of this film’s soundtrack is atmospheric, moody and seems to echo similar notes to the chilling score from Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING. However, there are spots where SACRED DEER’s music almost seems to overpower scenes in a distracting manner. While moments without dialogue make sense to include the loud horror-sounding score, there are points where it nearly drowns out the dialogue. This may have been an intentional filmmaking choice, but it’s a distracting one.

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DEER has one hell of a memorable movie moment during its finale. It’s a sequence that will surely be on the minds of every audience member long after the film has concluded and will likely get brought up in damn near every spoiler-filled conversation. It would have been the perfect shocking final note to conclude on, but the film ends with an unnecessary epilogue that spans out for an extra three minutes and feels like it just didn’t belong. This might be a personal preference, but I would have much rather gone out in a stunned silence that followed the memorable moment right before the epilogue.

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THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER isn’t quite up to the same level as last year’s THE LOBSTER. However, it’s not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. I’d argue that it’s pretty fucking fantastic, though it suffers from an occasionally loud score and an unnecessary final three-minute epilogue. If you are into dark, twisted, psychological horror flicks, then you’ll definitely find something to love here. Sometimes, all you need is a simple scary story told in a compelling way that’s not without a sick sense of humor. KILLING OF A SACRED DEER executes that in twisted elegance.

Grade: A-

DEAD CALM (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Directed by: Phillip Noyce

Written by: Terry Hayes

(based on the novel DEAD CALM by Charles Williams)

Starring: Sam Neill, Nicole Kidman & Billy Zane

DEAD CALM is a thriller that left more of an impact in cinema history than you might believe. Charles Williams’s novel of the same name was partially adapted into film form by Orson Welles, but the troubled production (and an actor’s death) halted the movie before filming was completed. This 1989 adaptation received some acclaim from critics and made enough of an impression to be adapted by THE SIMPSONS in one of their final good TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episodes. However, taken purely on its own merits as a film, DEAD CALM is a mixed bag of Hitchcockian suspense, clichés, and stupid decisions.

After the tragic loss of their son, John Ingram (Sam Neill) and his deeply depressed wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) take their yacht to the middle of the Pacific Ocean to recover. Rae’s fragile mental state seems to be slowly healing with the calm environment. The couple’s vacation takes a turn when they happen upon a sinking boat and meet sole survivor Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane). Hughie claims that his fellow crew members succumbed to deadly food poisoning. Curious about inconsistencies in Hughie’s story, John boards the sinking boat…only to discover a gruesome crime scene. Meanwhile, psycho Hughie wakes up and takes the John’s boat…with an unconscious Rae still onboard. Now, Rae must contend with a murderous psychopath to stay alive and John desperately tries to salvage the sinking death-trap of a boat.

DEAD CALM has a simple premise and three characters. Unfortunately, for this plot to kick off, otherwise rational human begins make irrationally dumb decisions in order to keep the story moving forward. Obviously, this happens in the unconvincing move that John would paddle out to a sinking boat and leave his mentally unstable wife with a creepy stranger who he already believes is lying. A few stupid decisions are made later in the film too, though luckily for the viewer (and the film’s characters), John and Rae seem to regain most of their brain functions and common sense after their first disastrous incident.

As John and Rae, Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman have convincing chemistry. You can feel a connection between their characters early on and will likely find yourself rooting for them to reunite. Sam Neill spends a majority of the running time alone…trying to save himself and rescue his wife. The film milks tension out of little things that frequently bite this character in the ass. These problems mainly involve ocean water seeping into the boat and pieces of the boat falling apart. There was originally going to be a scene in which Neill’s John gets harassed by a shark, but this was removed from the final cut. Strangely enough, I was expecting a shark to pop up because there are shots of blood in the water that could attract a hungry finned menace and the film could have benefited from that extra threat.

In an overly familiar and clichéd plotline, Nicole Kidman maintains a charade of civility to keep Billy Zane’s psychopath at bay. Kidman’s Rae has a few smart moments that will likely have the viewer cheering, but she also makes simple mistakes (missing prime opportunities to kill the killer). The worst performance of the film easily belongs to Billy Zane as would-be sympathetic psychopath Hughie. He’s unbelievably over-the-top in his manic mood swings and murderous tendencies. The film attempts to make him more human, but this character falls apart simply due to Zane’s inability to convincingly emote.

Besides suffering from stupid character decisions and a very corny performance from Billy Zane, DEAD CALM tries to substitute shocks for suspense in spots. There are numerous sequences of escalating tension and the story’s high stakes are sure to keep the viewer curious about how the couple will possibly escape this mess, but this movie isn’t above showcasing a graphically murdered dog and a baby flying out of a window. The score seems to be composed of heavy breathing and gasps, which becomes distractingly annoying at points. The ending also feels wildly out of place as test audiences were unsatisfied with the original conclusion, so the studio threw in an unconvincing stinger that had me to rolling my eyes and laughing at its sheer silliness.

DEAD CALM contains enough suspense and cheap thrills to be an okay-at-best time killer. Unfortunately, the film’s good qualities are frequently overshadowed by dumb decisions that seem included to further the plot along and Billy Zane’s hammy bad guy. The final scene is beyond laughable in its ineptness and serves as a prime example of how cinematic decisions made by audience screenings (instead of filmmakers) can really leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth. To be fair though, Orson Welles’s planned version doesn’t sound like it would be too much better than this mixed bag thriller.

Grade: C+

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