I doubt there will be a review in the world that doesn't compare the new film to the two lacklustre instalments starring Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s, and while I honestly don't care to pit them against each other, I will say just this... TOMB RAIDER '18 casts aside the comical facade and tackles the material in a darker, grittier and more violent manner, and for the most part it successfully sets itself apart from those former movies, establishing itself as a genuine stepping point for a new series.
The narrative serves as an origin story by establishing its protagonist's introduction to the world of tomb raiding. Her name is, of course, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina) and she needs no introduction... but alas, that's what we get. Working as a bicycle courier in London she is the daughter of a missing (presumed dead) business tycoon (Dominic West) whose fortune she has refused to accept, until it is made apparent that his assets will be dissolved if she doesn't. She discovers that he led a secret life as an archeologist, and that his life's quest was to discover the existence of the supernatural. She finds a secret message from him and learns that his last known whereabouts was on a lost island in the middle of the Devil's Sea. And so before signing the documents to inherit his fortune (idiot) she sets out to discover the truth about his disappearance, which – obviously – leads her right into the arms of great peril. A ruthless fortune hunter (Walton Goggins) waits her arrival, and has already enslaved hundreds of Japanese men to help find the legendary lost tomb of the evil queen Himiko, whose discovery will put the entire world in line for annihilation.
It's all very silly, and in fact the synopsis I laid out doesn't include many of the subplots, twists and various other interwoven intricacies. You would be right to think that it sounds more like the sort of convoluted storyline from a video game... oh wait.
TOMB RAIDER is a classic case of style over substance, and while it slathers on the action the way an over-protective mother applies sunscreen, it forgets about the important things like character development and substance. Director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons have put all of their energies into crafting an action-packed adventure to the point that they lost sight of the things that keep such an adventure remotely interesting. Lara Croft's character lacks dynamic, and the audience isn't given a reason to cheer for her. She is simply a two-dimensional woman with mad fighting skills.
The film takes countless stylistic notes from Raiders of the Lost Ark but - yet again - it takes nothing from Indiana Jones' structure, character arcs and intellectual writing. Perhaps it's the current state of action-orientated cinema that is responsible for the dumbing down of stories, or maybe it's a misguided sentiment that video games need to be adapted into films... whatever the case, TOMB RAIDER is a ridiculous movie riddled with plot holes, contradictions and continuity flaws. From an unintentional ever-changing island environment (lush jungle one minute, dry arid bushland the next) to a never ending supply of arrows for shooting, to illogical absurdities such as intricately built mechanisms to allow access to a place which was never supposed to be found (lets not mention that huge fucking entrance that screams “welcome to the lost tomb). Actually, the continuity blunders are insulting... for example, Lara scales a ragged cliff face to a cave where she spends the night. The following morning she wakes up, walks outside the cave and onto a sandy beach... hang on, what?
Alicia Vikander gives an undistinguished performance, which is no fault of her own. Her petite physique does not lend itself to the brand of action being delivered, and despite having an incredible physicality, she simply isn't convincing. Her solemn demeanour offers no charisma and her apathy comes across as feigned. As mentioned, hers is a two-dimensional character created to appease the current movement of female empowerment, which – in my mind – would be a brilliant opportunity to make her likeable. Perhaps, also, by neglecting her character's former sexiness, they have deprived the film of much needed magnetism and excitement (even Indiana Jones was sexy, with his open shirt and sweaty chest).
Gamers will probably want to pull me up on my criticisms, and I concede that the film's failings are likely to be the game's strengths... but I didn't just play a game. I watched a very average movie.
Much like film adaptation of Garland’s first novel, The Beach, by Danny Boyle & John Hodge, ANNIHILATION takes the basic premise from Jeff Vandermeer’s novel of the same name and spins a deeper, sturdier and altogether more impressive story using the threads of Vandermeer’s source as a springboard.
Set in the not-too-distant future it has Natalie Portman as Lena, a biology professor who, one year previous, lost her soldier husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) and has been intensely mourning his death since. Mourning, that is, until he returns home with no recollection of where he has been nor what he has done since his disappearance. No sooner has Kane shown his face, he falls into a coma with no signs of waking up.
With a little investigation Lena discovers he was working on a research project in an ever-growing region of the Florida swaps known as Area-X, and Kane was the only person to have made it out alive. To better understand how to save her husband she volunteers to be a member of the next party to enter Area-X. From here the film takes a dark(er) turn and lays the foundation of a tightly wound sojourn into horror and the macabre without ever becoming explicit in either.
Falling into the same intelligent-sci fi category as Arrival and Solaris, ANNIHILATION is a film chock-full of big ideas. It’s a lofty story about grief, loss and science but it’s mostly about destruction; destruction of the self and ideals.
Portman, as one member of the 5-person all-woman research team, does intense, frightened fascination well but she is only one fifth of the powerhouse performances. Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh are both exemplary as the focussed psychologist and self-harming physicist respectively.
Garland slowly ratchets up the tension and gore until the final act where his mystery rounds out to perfect satisfaction and leaves us with the firm understanding that while his debut, EX-MACHINA was fantastic, ANNIHILATION is close to genius and cements him as one of the best, most exciting directors working in main-stream Hollywood today.
Two young lovers travelling through Europe find themselves in trouble when they hit and kill a young woman one night on a long stretch of country road. Desperate for help, they wander into a large homestead where the dead woman beneath their car becomes the least of their concerns. They immediately realise that the house possesses secrets when ghostly apparitions of dead women and a terrifying Nazi SS Officer begin tormenting their every move. Unable to escape, they must overcome their fears and figure out the house’s secret to survive the night. What ensues is a relentless haunted-house chiller with one very distinct plot device that sets it apart from the rest… a plot device that is best left unsaid for the benefit of an unsuspecting audience.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Elisabeth Moss and Octavia Spencer are exceptional as always, and I felt the latter deserved far more screen time, yet perhaps the film’s most pleasant surprise is the showcase it provides for Boyd Holbrook. An early scene sees Holbrook’s protagonist, ex con Mohamed “Mo” Lundy, presumed guilty and harassed by a stranger despite the former’s early release from prison literally being due to his newly proven innocence, signalling that viewers should resist making quick judgments of these characters. The criminal justice system becomes a central case study for how institutionalisation affects individuals, and I was pleased to find that THE FREE WORLD subverted my expectations by illuminating the depths of Mo’s character; it’s easy to imagine him being depicted much more superficially in a different film, for instance, Holbrook’s later role in Logan would highlight his adeptness at simply portraying a menacing villain. However, Lew’s screenplay carefully considers traits such as Mo’s conversion to Islam during his sentence and uses these to convey both how the experience shaped him, and how desperate he is to resist being defined by it.
Meanwhile, Moss’ Doris feels similarly trapped by her abusive marriage, and as alluded to above, the actress once again demonstrates why she’s so enthralling to watch. Even in early wordless scenes, a simple look from Doris suggests years of fear, pain and pent-up fury, which longtime fans of Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale will instantly recognise. As Mo and Doris’ friendship blossoms THE FREE WORLD assumes a slow, pensive pace that will likely leave some viewers restless, though I felt that the omnipresent buzz of Tim Hecker’s score and some beautiful cinematography by Bérénice Eveno compensated for a lack of narrative momentum. Nevertheless, I was curious to see whether the film would eventually adopt a greater sense of urgency, and while it undeniably did in its final forty minutes, this unfortunately took the form of generic action-thriller sequences which completely removed the subtlety I’d previously enjoyed. Similarly, after initially being impressed at how Lew had cast Mo and Doris’ relationship as a method of platonically reclaiming their own identities, I was frustrated when a romance between them was abruptly and awkwardly inserted. Aside from the romantic elements the plot’s conclusion is largely satisfying, but it ultimately fails to justify taking a visceral drama and distorting it into a different genre.
THE FREE WORLD features thoughtful performances at its centre and is refreshing when it allows the characters and audience to simply consider them. It’s plausible that the film’s problematic final third is intended to represent the lengths people are willing to go to escape marginalisation, but an earlier foreshadowing or mention of this idea would probably have avoided such a jarring tonal shift.
Watching this film reminded me of the nuanced interplay between institutions and individuals depicted in Ali Soozandeh’s Tehran Taboo, and I’d consider the latter essential viewing for anyone intrigued by the themes discussed above. By contrast, once it abandons its character-driven approach THE FREE WORLD loses its most interesting aspect and sadly becomes forgettable viewing.
THE FREE WORLD IS RELEASED ON DVD THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT ON MARCH 21.
The Spierig Brothers (Predestination, Undead) follow up their disastrous entry into the Saw franchise – Jigsaw – with a recovery of sorts by the way of Winchester, a handsome-looking film that carries on the traditional haunted-house formula in the vein of The Woman in Black and The Changeling (among others). Exploiting the more scandalous elements of Sarah Winchester’s story, the film presents a straightforward narrative, borrowing heavily from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We follow Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who has been sent by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to conduct a psychological evaluation of the reclusive widow (Helen Mirren). Upon his arrival he is faced with characters and circumstances that suggest a case of psychosis, but, of course, before long he is head-deep in an epic ghost story, of which only absolute belief of the paranormal will help him survive.
CLICK TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Speaking of superlatives, THE MONSTER features my new favourite Zoe Kazan performance. Despite choosing some great projects over the years (Ruby Sparks and The Big Sick, to name a few), I’ve always felt that Kazan was capable of more than her roles required. As such, it’s vindicating to see her thrive here as Kathy, a troubled woman whose struggles with alcoholism exacerbate her struggles to be a good mother. Through devastating flashbacks, we see that Kathy has been at her nadir for some time, and Bertino’s script wisely leaves the exact chronological order of these events ambiguous. For instance, while Kathy seems deeply flawed and intensely human when her failed attempts to quit drinking are shown, it’s revealed that these flaws lead to pent up anger and resentment, and even verbal and physical abuse towards her young daughter Lizzy (Ella Ballentine). This complex blend of loathing for oneself and others is the most frightening monster looming over the film, and Kazan proves to be the perfect choice for conveying it.
Meanwhile, Ballentine is also exceptional as Lizzy, a role which allows her to subvert the expectations of a mother-daughter story by displaying maturity beyond her years. Indeed, in retrospect with the current Oscar buzz, and Kathy’s dyed red hair, it would be easy to dismiss the relationship at the centre of THE MONSTER as an inverted Lady Bird. However, the flashbacks mentioned above provide some fascinating and unexpected nuances to Lizzy’s feelings for her mother, ranging from pity to an unsettling reciprocation of Kathy’s resentment. It must be said that Kazan appears younger than her age, and both actresses use the subtext that Lizzy was an unexpected pregnancy for a young, unprepared mother to poignant effect. Although later scenes unfortunately diminish her required range to largely reacting, the role of Lizzy overall suggests that Ballentine has a promising career ahead of her even beyond horror, and I’ll be interested to see the types of projects she chooses in the future.
Nevertheless, THE MONSTER is emphatically a horror film, with the bulk of its runtime centred on its leads trapped in a forest with a mysterious beast. It’s a testament to Bertino’s direction that this simple setting is just as successful at engaging the viewer as the core relationship; I found that the almost pitch-black forest road setting and anxious, lingering shots made my mind race with suspense and speculation. This adherence to crafting atmosphere is too often neglected in modern horror, and it was refreshing for me to be given room to be curious as to what would happen next. Similarly, I had resigned myself to the likelihood that THE MONSTER would eventually feature a ‘twist’, forcibly removing ambiguities and ruining my theories. Yet in perhaps the film’s most subversive act, Bertino keeps things simple: there is indeed a monster in the forest, and that’s all we need to know.
As mentioned above, by instead choosing to elaborate on Kathy and Lizzy's characters, their relationship becomes far more integral and engrossing than viewers would likely have expected. Ultimately, THE MONSTER is an early contender for my favourite indie horror film of 2018. Its masterful execution of fundamental genre concepts will satisfy viewerslooking for tension and scares, while a surprisingly thoughtful examination of family should please anyone else with an open mind.
THE MONSTER IS AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT.
MCU's 18th instalment turns its attention to BLACK PANTHER, a character who first appeared on paper in the mid-60s and was previously featured in Captain America: Civil War. Following his brush with The Avengers, T'Challa – the new king of Wakanda - returns to Africa where he is officially anointed. Upon ceremony he inherits the power of the Black Panther and grapples with the responsibility of protecting his kingdom, his people and their place in the world. Wakanda is a secret kingdom, hidden in the middle of Africa and cloaked. Their wealth is immense and their technology is highly advanced, and while they reside in their metropolis, I should note that the greater continent of Africa lives in poverty (yes, Wakanda is a selfish kingdom). When two ruthless criminal figures (Andy Serkis and Michael B Jordan) conspire to bring down Wakanda, T'Challa and his all-female special force team join with a CIA agent (Martin Freeman) and fight to protect their homeland from being exposed to the outside world.
BLACK PANTHER obviously works on paper, and having endured 50-years of comic book issues he is clearly a beloved character. On screen, however, his story leaves a lot to be desired. It's an absurd notion to suggest suspending disbelief when venturing into a superhero movie, because it goes without saying that the very nature of such fiction is already far-fetched. And yet for total engagement within the Marvel Cinematic Universe there needs to be a level-acceptance of the truth presented on screen. For instance, characters like Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Ant-Man are all the product of scientific misadventure, and so they occupy the same world comfortably. Yet characters like Thor, Doctor Strange and Black Panther are either mystic or otherworldly, and – for me – bring convolution to the narrative. Of course I must concede to MCU's ongoing evolution, and accept the cross-pollination (as frustrating as it is). For the record I felt the same about Thor as I do Black Panther until Ragnarok came along and Guardian'd things up a little.
BLACK PANTHER has been highly anticipated and various circles have touted it as an important milestone within the genre. This campaign of hype has reflected both a strong social movement and a fair amount of virtue signalling, and while its cast of predominantly black players is cause for celebration in itself, too much emphasis has been placed upon the fact, and less towards whether or not the movie is actually good!? It's not.
In fact Marvel's latest investment is an incessant mess. There's too much happening with little emphasis put into character-building or story-development. Once we accept the fact that such an isolated and technologically advanced culture exists behind a cloak of invisibility, we must then contend with an onslaught of silly rituals, faux accents and a clusterfuck of digital effects. Digital city scapes, digital waterfalls and digital animals populate an all digital universe... and when we are treated to some practical effects, they are digitally augmented to staggering digital depths.
I guess there's some worth to be found in the cast and their performances. Chadwick Boseman makes for a charismatic lead, whose on-screen presence is surprisingly sincere. Michael B Jordan makes for an equally charismatic villain, although his role is archetypal and riddled with cliché. Andy Serkis is fantastic on screen, if only less time was spent on close ups of his facial expressions (yes, we get it... he's Gollum). Martin Freeman offers a token “white boy” turn as a dumbed-down CIA agent with mad pilot skills. His role isn't necessary and the story would have benefited from his absence. Lupita Nyong'o and Danai Gurira give strong warrior-type performances and balance the film's masculinity with a welcome amount of female empowerment. Daniel Kaluuya offers little as T'Challa's best friend whose view on Wakanda's sanctity holds a blatant mirror to the real world's current political climate. BLACK PANTHER may be a huge step up – financially speaking - from his incredible turn in Get Out, but it's a disappointing backwards step in terms of showcasing his talent. And of course Angela Bassett and Forest Whittaker contribute that “old school” flavour and do very little with their screen time.
BLACK PANTHER is not the bottom of the barrel for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (that honour goes to Thor: The Dark World) but it is definitely a close second. It is an overlong, over-hyped mess of digital saturation, embarrassing accents, and hilarious armoured rhinos. Put this quote on the poster “Dumb!”.
Following the unexpected success of the second instalment, 10 Cloverfield Lane, producer JJ Abrams and director Julius Onah (The Girl is in Trouble) have taken their new film to Netflix, where it was dropped without warning. Aside from a brief media release confirming that it would be set in space and a surprise Super Bowl trailer, there was no advertising campaign to build momentum. It was a flash release, which will no doubt help solidify the series as a unique and sustainable property.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003) followed shortly after and offered a more generic – yet still somewhat effective – slasher movie. Salva's original concept has been stripped back, simplified and presented in a one-location narrative, set almost entirely in and around a big yellow school bus. It was not the sequel fans had wanted, and it failed elaborate on the established mythology, yet over the years the appreciation for it has grown substantially.
JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 comes to us 15-years later and finds its story wedged between the two previous instalments, and rather than pushing the series forward Salva returns to his franchise with an attempt to bridge his previous narrative with the subtext that was lacking from part 2. This new addition to the legacy is a curious chapter, to be sure, and one that will inevitably frustrate a lot of viewers. It is a flawed movie within the context of the franchise, and yet it holds enough appeal to appease the more dedicated fans.
Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 (subtitled 'Ravenous' for Australian release) begins with the capture of the creature's truck. A group of Monster Hunters arrive on the scene and join the police in their operation to track and capture the Creeper. We discover that these men have a history with the creature, dating back to its previous harvest 23-years prior, and will stop and nothing to kill it before they're too old to face it again. Throw in a few subplots, and characters with varying degrees of relevance, and the scene is set for a more detailed chapter that attempts to explain the Creeper's origin without actually explaining it at all.
Cue instant frustration... some will react to the storyline as unnecessarily convoluted, while others will welcome its attempt to dig a little deeper into the mythos. Those – like myself – who appreciated the complexities might be more forgiving of the film's additional shortcomings, such as poorly conceived CGI violence and the perplexing use of green screen. Some things are unexpected, such as the Creeper's truck being heavily booby-trapped with the ability to defend itself. I certainly don't recall this level of ingenuity in the previous films, and while the concept is pretty cool (in a means to be gory way) it isn't compatible with the other instalments. The creature itself is different, with its features being simpler and less organic, and pitting him in a day-lit environment exposes the synthetic nature of his creation. Where he once resided in the shadows as a monstrous lurking predator, he is now a fully exposed humanoid whose demonic attributes are counterbalanced with sword-play and action sequences.
Director Victor Salva has a dark and troubled past and many people believe that there is no place for him in the film industry. And while his crimes were committed 30-years ago, and he paid his due in the eyes of the law, there is that ever-lingering moral question of whether we should support his creative efforts at all. It's an emotional and impassioned conversation, which for my part I am able to seperate the man from the art. He accepted his accountability and paid his debt to society. He returned to society as a free man, and regardless of people's moral assertions of him, he has every right to pursue his craft (just as everyone else has every right to avoid his art).
Of course I mention his criminal history as to add context to the production of JEEPERS CREEPERS 3. Salva's crimes follow him wherever he goes, and making high-profile films is problematic. This film saw him run out of Canada when the casting agents drew attention to his presence, and no doubt he faces countless obstacles when mounting productions. Perhaps these barriers restrict his ambitions and contribute to the quality of JEEPERS CREEPERS 3. Maybe such disadvantages are the residual karma for the behaviour of his past. Whatever the case, his third Jeepers film is fraught with affliction and there's a sense that he is exhausted.
With that said, there is no denying his eye for horror. His propensity for crafting visceral, nightmarish landscapes is undeniable, and for all of his missteps in JC3 it remains a visual feast to behold. From nicely orchestrated slow motion, to gracefully captured wide-shots, Salva has delivered a serviceable interjection to his previous two instalments, with the promise of another. It ties those movies together nicely and leaves the door open for further exploration.
JEEPERS CREEPERS 3 IS AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT ON 18/04/2018.
Just as 2013's CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3D ignored the Michael Bay-produced remake and its prequel, LEATHERFACE attempts to align itself with the original canon. By recreating the original house and featuring the original characters, the film takes place 10-years before the events of Hooper's 1974 film and considers itself to be the official prequel. The prologue takes us back 20 years with a brief depiction of the family being torn apart by authorities. The youngest son, Jed, is institutionalised and committed amongst a ward of violent and murderous lunatics. A decade passes and Jed's mother instigates a riot at the asylum. Jed, along with three other patients and a captive nurse, escapes and embarks on a killing spree across Texas. Jed – who would later become Leatherface – is a heavy-set, mild-mannered and sensitive teenager whose psychological evolution offers the audience a reason why he became one of horror's most infamous boogeymen.
Of all of the instalments (this is the 8th) LEATHERFACE comes closest to expanding on the narrative of the first two films, and while there are fleeting moments of nostalgia peppered throughout the story, there is an overwhelming sense of misunderstanding. Those fundamental components of Hooper's films are missing, such as the underlining humour, the power of suggestion and the twisted social commentaries. They've been replaced with a gratuitous quota of gore and an invidious backstory, which assemble into an far-fetched exaggeration of Hooper's characters.
Directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Livid, Among the Living) have fashioned a handsome and polished film – without question – but they have created an atmosphere that is at odds with Hoopers films. The bright dusty environment of the original film is ignored in favour of a dark and dampened look, and were this not claiming to be a legitimate exploration of the franchise, it would qualify as a handsome film. The gore is fabulous, the story is twisted, and the violence is relentless... and it would work in any other circumstance.
I found LEATHERFACE to be an arduous watch. New instalments of a popular horror franchise should inspire excitement, but this is a series that continuously underwhelms with the ignorance of over-zealous filmmakers. Hooper made his masterpiece for $300,000 using an organic production design and presented a realistic depiction of horrific circumstances. His film two directed-instalments are far removed from what followed, and only when future filmmakers understand where the horror laid, and what constituted terror, are we ever likely to see another respectable Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie again.
This is exemplified in the story arc of Jack (Jake Abel), a character who, in my opinion, should’ve been ALMOST FRIENDS’ protagonist. When he is first introduced, Jack’s motivations aren’t so much unclear as they are non-existent; Goldberger quickly emphasises his general passivity to recall the stereotypical apathy of aimless young people, newly liberated from the rigid structure of high school. Indeed, early in the film Jack is reluctant to accept a job offer despite not even being required to interview for the position, which is perhaps the most archetypal ‘slacker’ beat a character could take.
I’d initially assumed that this offer was simply a sycophantic ploy from Charlie (Freddie Highmore), the film’s true lead, in an attempt to please his love interest, Jack’s cousin Amber (Odeya Rush). However, Goldberger’s script pleasantly surprised me by continuing to dedicate time to Jack’s development; for instance, a running gag involving an arcade claw machine culminates effectively as a metaphor for expectations failing to match reality. Subsequently, the character begins to make mature decisions that utilise groundwork subtly laid earlier in the film, from the unexpected blossoming of a new relationship, to a surprise promotion at his new workplace. The next few years of Jack’s life may still be transformative and confusing, but by the film’s conclusion he’s demonstrably sorted things out for now.
Nevertheless, ALMOST FRIENDS struggles to decide what to do with Charlie, which leads to many of his scenes dragging on. From early in the film I felt as though I wasn’t being given enough context to understand the character, particularly his supposed love of cooking. The script develops and never fully breaks the habit of telling rather than showing Charlie’s passion, and although being a professional chef is his ostensible primary ambition, the conclusion of this plot feels contrived. A scene late in the film provided the emotional heft and backstory I’d wanted from the character, and Highmore skilfully sells the revelation, but the story threads are all too far gone for the moment to have the intended impact. By contrast, greater emphasis is given to the love triangle forming between Charlie, Amber, and her boyfriend Brad (Taylor John Smith), although the exact nature of the two leads’ dynamic isn’t quite as fully realised as I would’ve liked. Given the film’s title, and consideration for the decisions faced by people their age, it’s plausible that Goldberger deliberately resisted classifying the pair’s relationship as platonic or romantic as a commentary on indecisive modern dating trends. Yet simultaneously, the synopsis and trailer arguably imply that ALMOST FRIENDS is intended to be viewed as a romantic comedy, causing the film to suffer from a mild identity crisis. Focusing on the love triangle also greatly reduces the amount of development afforded to Amber, which is unfortunate since she faces the single most important decision of the film.
Although ALMOST FRIENDS delivers poignant reminders of the role of choice in our own maturity, their impact is diminished by the film’s own narrative indecisiveness. In my opinion, a greater focus on its grounded, relatable themes would have led to a more rewarding experience.
Mid-journey, however, and probably not surprisingly, the crew get more than they bargained for when the mermaid begins to display a knack for manipulation and reveals a much, much darker side.
Pulling much of the same stunt that Gregory Widen did in ‘95 with the first installment of the surprisingly resilient Angels-at-War series, The Prophecy, Gutierrez takes the elegant and romantic idea of the beautiful siren-like mermaid and turns the mythos on its water-logged head, producing a nightmare from a sugar-coated dream.
Produced as one of a five film series by the late greats Winston and Samuel Arkoff, SHE-CREATURE’s budget occasionally gets the better of it (are ALL mermaids tails THAT rubbery looking?) but a great deal of the film's success, and why it’s arguably the best of the series, is in large part thanks to Thomas Callaway’s seaweed-green-hued cinematography and Jerry Fleming’s rich (for TV, at least) production design. It’s a claustrophobic, dark ride wherein, when tensions begin to rise and things begin to skew, we feel there is no escape.
Englishman Sewell is obviously having a ball playing the skivvy Irish con-man and it’s the kind of part the underrated Gugino can do in her sleep, it even has a surprising cameo from Gil Bellows as a crew member.
Strangely haunting and surprisingly unsettling in parts, it’s a worthy diversion if there’s nothing on the box. Go in expecting SPLASH and you’ll be disappointed but it has its merits that justify its 85min running time.