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M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the film scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense; his results since then have been, to put it nicely, mixed.  I did like last year’s The Visit, a campy minor romp.  But it’s clear he’s no creative genius, no Quentin Tarantino or P.T. Anderson — nor anything close.  As evidence we have Split, a movie more ambitious than Shyamalan’s ken.  A lot of elements he grasps at sour into hackneyed nonsense.

split-text-blockOn top of that, Split wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it had every right to be.  Given the premise, there were a million more interesting ways it could have gone.  But instead, it went the I-am-out-of-my-depth-with-storywriting way.  There are obvious comparisons to 10 Cloverfield Lane.  We weren’t dealing with multiple personalities there, but the psychosis was much more effective.  Split delivered a little transient entertainment value — James McAvoy turns in a fun game with the lead.  But the effort is squandered by Shyamalan, and I cannot recommend.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Don’t Breathe, Saw, The Human Centipede, The Silence of the Lambs, Dead Calm, Riveting Rentals

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Film Brief: Don’t Breathe

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Don’t Breathe isn’t always credible, nor as compelling as the best in the genre (“Riveting Rentals”, e.g.), but it’s certainly not boring.

There’s something juicy about protagonists who get in way over their heads when they themselves are not entirely innocent.  Criminal Lovers represents the best execution of this idea.  Don’t Breathe: on the low end of 7/10.

Comparison Notes (all recommended): The Visit, Vacancy, The Last House on the Left

A Room to Grow In

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Room is a powerful indie about the strength of the human spirit.  And it’s darn good.  I knock it down a peg for a tinge of actoryness / formula in the second half, and the fact that the second half feels just a bit draggy compared to the exceptional tension built up in the first half.  The most dramatic moment in a movie should not be at the half-way point.

But I forgive it not following a conventional plot curve, because we’re talking about real life (“Plucked from the headlines!”, as it were).  Kenneth Turan:

“Room” is several things by turn: creepy, frightening, exhilarating and then frightening and exhilarating all over again

Despite its very limited shortcomings, Room is outstanding.  Another terrific realization by A24 Films.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Not Recommended: Life is Beautiful (could learn a lesson from Room); Recommended: Captain Phillips, Blindness, Boyhood

A Foreign Affliction: Ich Seh Ich Seh

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Ich Seh Ich Seh, marketed in English as Goodnight Mommy, is a captivating little Austrian psychological drama.  Though being marketed as a horror film, it is hardly anything of the sort.  It does a great job of throwing us in this intriguing world, a house set amongst nature.  Makes me want to visit Austria immediately!  And it does a good job building its story of two boys suspicious of their mother and her odd behavior.

But I don’t like it when a movie — in its final three minutes — yells out to the audience: “Ha Ha!  We got you!  We were lying the whole time!”  Oh yea, you got me.  Boy was I a fool to believe the entire movie up to that point.  Silly me.

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And when the entire film is based on that lie, then the entire film collapses upon its revelation.  Something else – another lie, but a tiny white lie compared to the big one at the end: This film’s title is Ich Seh Ich Seh (English: I See I See).  Nowhere in the film is it titled Goodnight Mommy — so if you’re going to sell it like that, then put it in the movie.  Otherwise just translate the title, which is much more relevant to the film’s content.  A marginal thumbs-down because of the cop-out ending; 5/10

Comparison Notes (both recommended, and both much better than Ich Seh Ich Seh): Secret Window, The Uninvited

How Far Does The Human Centipede Crawl?

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Very soon after acquiring my Apple TV, I added to my queue The Human Centipede.  The trailer invoked such terror that I knew one day I would watch the movie, but only when I was able to steel my mind to the horrors within.  That time finally came last night.

Certain obvious, direct leaps of logic and slips into B-moviedom mitigate the nightmare-inducing capabilities of the movie, making it a lot more easy to swallow (excuse my pun), but quality suffers as well.  Weather I say yeah or nay matters not.  The only thing that really matters is the trailer.  Watch it; if it compels you to watch the 92-minute film then you will find that compulsion an unstoppable force — just as I did.  It might not take you four years to find yourself up to the challenge, Human Centipede - text blockas it did me.  But a warning — or perhaps a life ring: the movie does not extend its psychotic reach beyond what is presented in the trailer, so if you can handle the preview then you can handle the whole film.

You must give credit to the novel concept at hand here, even if it would never work — and never happen — for a minute.  A couple unexpected plot elements also elevate The Human Centipede and keep it compelling throughout.  6/10; recommended with ‘hundreds’ of caveats; Netflix.

Comparison Notes: Saw, Cube, Vacancy, The Ruins