Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Run All Night

It’s that time of year again. The time when we put away the scarves and mittens, trade in the treadmill for a walk on the boardwalk, hard-boil some eggs and wait for that folkloric symbol of Easter to break into our home carrying baskets of pastel-colored candy. It’s also that time when we grow amazed all over again that that guy who safeguarded the Jews in Schindler’s List has been transformed into an action star. I mean seriously, do you remember when he grabbed the sword blade of that snottible Tim Roth dude with his bare hand before nearly cleaving him in half in Rob Roy? Who would have thought twenty years later he’d be wrestling grey wolves and slugging it out with Albanian sex traffickers?

In Run All, Night Liam Neeson is back to his testosterone-fueled self, this time playing Jimmy Conlon, an ex-mob enforcer who’s lost touch with his son, Mike (Joel Kinnamen). When Danny, the son of his ex-boss, botches a deal with an Albanian drug lord, Mike gets caught in the crossfire. Jimmy dusts off the ol’ six-shooter (which in these movies carry about 187 bullets) to protect his estranged boy. “I just killed your boy, Shawn. I just killed Danny,” utters a remorseful Jimmy to his old-time pal. “I’m coming after your boy with everything I’ve got,” replies Shawn. You can figure out the rest.

Though not bringing anything new or original to the old-school, tough-guy genre, Run All Night is an action-niffic movie replete with darkened alleys, cynical characters and fatalistic plotting. Neeson grabs our attention, creating a contradictory hero greater than what the thin script calls for. Ed Harris, likewise, infuses the film with an energy often missing from these types of movies.

Run All Night shares a lot with last year’s Neeson vehicle, A Walk Among the Tombstones. Both films contain a slow-moving first act, reflect the isolated feeling of big cities, and feature psychologically wounded protagonists. Both see their central characters sucked back into a world they swore to leave behind. Both feature a number of similar stylistic flourishes, notably, freeze frames and bullet time effects during major action sequences. Most importantly, both are genuinely satisfying.

If you’re looking for a movie that’s going to alter the course of cinema or add fuel to any “best of” debates, Liam Neeson has a number of them on his filmography. This is not one of them. If you’re looking for a throwback to the Charles Bronson/Steve McQueen guys of the 1960s and 1970s, Run All Night is the ticket.

Monday, March 30, 2015

It Follows

It Follows meets its college-age heroine floating in a swimming pool. An ant marches innocently along her arm. She drops her arm below the surface of the water. The ant is swallowed up by the liquid, its life gone in a flash.

On the surface, It Follows is representative of the current mumblegore movement inaugurated by young horror filmmakers like Ti West (House of the Devil), Jim Mickle (Stake Land) and Adam Wingard (The Guest). It is smart, naturalistic and shot on a shoestring budget. But on a deeper, more thematic level, It Follows exploits the conventions of the genre to inspect that tumultuous transitional period between youth and adulthood.

After sexing her boyfriend in the back of his cutlass, Jay Height finds she is the intended victim of an evil force. It can take the appearance of any person, is invisible to the rest of the world and if it catches her, will kill her. It’s like the stuff of elementary school sex-ed class, when that creepy gym teacher whose age was on the older side of completely indeterminate warned that sex would lead to disease and possibly death. There’s no little pill to save Jay from danger, no cream or ointment. Her disease will stay with her until she passes it on to a new sexual partner or it kills her.

There’s a commendable simplicity to director David Robert Mitchell’s story. His minimalist approach to violence is summed up in the opening sequence. An unknown girl flees her house and drives to the beach where she calls her father to apologize for the misdeeds she committed as a child. Something seems to watch her from a distance. Following an abrupt cut, the morning sun reveals the girl in a mutilated state, her leg bent back at the knee. Mitchell is not concerned with the murderous act. True horror lies in the stalk.

It Follows is infused with dread and executed with a boxer’s sense of timing. Every moment spent with Jay as she peers over her shoulder at mysterious interlopers that may or may not be the evil force heightens the delicious tension of the movie.

Its nostalgic design does little to detract from the creepiness of the piece. It emulates the films of horror’s golden years and apes the work of John Carpenter. Its opening sequence, captured in one shot, and a scene that sees Jay distracted at school by the presence of the evil force outside her window screams John Carpenter's Halloween. The ominous tracking shots, effective use of space and synth-driven soundtrack owe royalties to the master of fear.

But It Follows is more than mere homage. Mitchell mingles archetypical genre elements with his own mythic sensibilities to create a deliriously chilling metaphor for teen angst. Jay and her friends are becoming adults. The carefree days of their youth are slipping away as quickly as the life of the ant in the pool. Jays reflects on games she played as a kid to pass the time, other characters reminisce about first kisses. Those are memories that will last a lifetime. So too will those things that haunted them as children. The ridicule of classmates, the pressures of school - they will follow them forever.