Tag Archives: mystery

The Falling (2015)

the falling

One of my favourite movie reviewers around, Mark Kermode, listed The Falling as one of his top 10 movies of 2015. And it certainly looked like an intriguing film with plenty of promise: starring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, it tells the story of a mysterious fainting epidemic at an English all-girls school.

Sadly, I can’t share Mr Kermode’s sentiments about The Falling. While I appreciate it’s haunting atmosphere and that well-executed feeling of discomfort manufactured by writer and director Carol Morley, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

Maisie Williams delivers an excellent performance as protagonist Lydia, who lives with her agoraphobic single mother (Maxine Peak) and appears to be infatuated with her best friend Abbie (Florence Pugh), a blonde beauty who has begun to explore her sexuality. After a tragedy befalls Lydia, she begins to experience bizarre and dramatic fainting spells that are initially dismissed as her acting out for attention, but soon the phenomenon starts to affect other students, bewildering and freaking out the school staff.

The Falling is part sexual awakening, part coming of age drama, part psychological thriller and part melodrama, with a touch of the supernatural. It has an old-fashioned period piece feel with a subtle, disturbing and dreamy tone that reminds me of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Heavenly Creatures. Sounds good, right?

However, I simply couldn’t immerse myself in this movie the way I wanted to. Though I appreciate the skill and boldness in crafting a film like this, I found it slow, tedious. and more style over substance. It’s not one of those films where the answers are spelled out neatly, which is fine, but its desire to be deeper than it looks instead came across as strangely shallow to me.

Critical reactions to The Falling have generally been positive, so I’m afraid I fall in the minority of people who weren’t bewitched by the experience. I liked the idea of the film much more than the film itself. As beautiful and unsettling as it is, I also found it uninvolving and lacking in suspense. Perhaps it’s just my aversion to most arthouse cinema.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: White Bird in a Blizzard (2014)


There was something about White Bird in a Blizzard that drew me to it right from the beginning. Perhaps it’s the typically brilliant Shailene Woodley, who plays a teenager trying to come to terms with her mother’s sudden disappearance. Perhaps it’s the sultry Eva Green, who delivers a wickedly delicious performance as Woodley’s mother in extended flashbacks and dream sequences. Or maybe it’s just the overall feel crafted by writer and director Gregg Araki, who adapted the screenplay from the novel of the same name by Laura Kasischke. Whatever it is, White Bird in a Blizzard is a strange experience — not exactly satisfying, but definitely captivating.

Part mystery-thriller, part suburban drama, part coming-of-age/sexual awakening, White Bird in a Blizzard is set in 1988, when 17-year-old Kat Connors (Woodley) returns home one day to discover that her mother Eve (Green) has disappeared without a trace, leaving her wimpy father Brock (Christopher Meloni) in a depressed daze.

Eve had been acting increasingly bizarrely leading up to her disappearance, clearly unhappy with her marriage and life, and perhaps even jealous of her daughter’s blossoming sexuality and new dim-witted boyfriend Phil (Shiloh Fernandez). Did Eve simply run off to start a new life, why did someone kill her? And why does Phil seem to be hiding something? To make things more complicated, Kat begins to develop an interest in the hot detective (Thomas Jane) investigating her mother’s case.

I’m not usually into suburban dramas per se, though this one had a quirky, slightly surreal edge to it that made it different and interesting. It reminded me a little of that dreamy 80s TV show, Twin Peaks, where everything and everyone’s just a little off, and the mood is darkly comedic but also uncomfortable.

Stories like this have been done many times before, but never quite like this. Woodley is wonderful as always, even though her character might not be entirely likable or convincing. Eva Green is so funny in this. From her snappy weirdness to the death stares she gives to Meloni, Green had me smirking and giggling despite understanding the genuine sadness she must feel from her uneventful existence.

While it’s not a superior drama, mystery- thriller, comedy or coming-of-age film, White Bird in a Blizzard is a fleetingly enjoyable experience. You might not fully believe in it or its characters, but you’ll have a hard time not feeling compelled to keep watching.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Before I Go to Sleep (2014)


I had wanted desperately to read SJ Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, the bestselling novel about a 40-year-old woman who has that same condition as Drew Barrymore from 50 First Dates — ie, she has no short term memory and wakes up every morning with no recollection of the previous day or what happened to her since her early 20s. But alas, I was stuck on other books, so I decided to take the easy way out and watch the adaptation starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong.

While the film blatantly steals from Adam Sandler’s idea (if you can’t tell that’s a joke then I can’t help you), Before I Go to Sleep is no comedy — it’s a mystery thriller with plenty of suspense that will have every viewer trying to guess the outcome. Personally, I thought it was a perfectly solid mystery film that doesn’t manage to fully differentiate itself from similar Hollywood efforts in recent years. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted, and while I wouldn’t call it forgettable (pun unintended), the film clearly will not be as revered as its source material.

Nicole Kidman plays our protagonist, Christine Lucas, who suffers from the — let’s just call it the Drew Barrymore condition — because of an “accident” she was in about 10 years ago, or so her husband Ben (Colin Firth) tells her. Every morning, after waking up and being reminded of who she is by Ben, she receives a call from a neurologist, Dr Nasch (Mark Strong), who tells her that they’ve been secretly working together to help her remember her past.

Naturally, nothing is what it seems, and Christine slowly begins to peel away the mystery, one layer at a time like an onion. Who can she trust? Who is telling her the truth? And why did she really become this way? These are all questions that will get answered eventually, though not before writer and director Rowan Joffe (who was a writer on 28 Weeks Later and The American) throws a bunch of curve balls at us. But anyone who watched this film probably knew that there’d be twists and turns galore, and an obligatory surprise at the very end.

Knowing what’s coming, however, didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the film. Before I Go to Sleep is done and dusted in an extremely manageable (and unlikely for this day and age) 92 minutes. The short running time keeps the film tight and fast paced, and Joffe cleverly finds ways to avoid repetition despite Christine waking up in the same manner every day. Always be kept on the back foot from all the plot twists and red herrings also prevents you from thinking too much about all the potential plot holes and inconsistencies.

I know it is unpatriotic of me to say this, but I have never been the biggest fan of Nicole Kidman. I just don’t think, Oscar notwithstanding, she’s that good of an actress. Having said that, I admit she there is not much for me to complain about here. She gets the job done, I’ll leave it at that. Colin Firth and Mark Strong are also excellent and make full use of their charisma in different ways, such that both come off as trustworthy suspects.

My biggest problem with the film, and films like this in general, is that knowing a “shocking” twist is coming means you likely won’t be shocked when it finally comes. I couldn’t shake that feeling of anticipation throughout most of the film, and I doubt I’m alone when I say I more or less guessed the ending.

While it doesn’t come close to blowing me away like I was by a classic like The Usual Suspects, I think Before I Go to Sleep generally accomplishes what it set out to do. It might not be the most creative or satisfying mystery thriller you’ll come across this year, but in my opinion it’s certainly one of the better ones.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)


In the winter of 1959, a team of nine experienced hikers ventured into the northern Ural mountains in Russia on an expedition. Days later, they were all dead. Soviet investigators found that the hikers tore their tent open from the inside and ran out into the -30 degrees Celsius temperatures in socks and bare feet. While there were no signs of struggle, two of the bodies had fractured skulls and two had broken ribs, though there were no signs of external trauma. Another was missing her tongue. Oh, and there were traces of radiation found on some of the bodies. With no rational explanation for the bizarre deaths, investigators concluded that the hikers perished from “a compelling natural force”, and the mystery became to be known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident.

More than 50 years later, a UK-Russian production decided to make a film about the incident, with famed filmmaker Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea) signed on as director. Instead of making this a movie about what happened during the incident itself at the time, however, the producers decided to make a modern “found footage” movie about a bunch of American college students who decide to make a film of themselves retracing the steps of the fateful hikers.

The result is a mixed bag. As a low budget movie with no-name actors and a director still reeling from The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996, The Dyatlov Pass Incident is actually quite clever, entertaining and occasionally frightening — relatively speaking. Renny Harlin still has some tricks in his bag and knows how to create tension and scares that don’t keep relying on the same tactics.

Much of the intrigue, however, stems from the crazy mystery itself and the script’s creative take on what happened to the hikers, which is not bad given that none of the theories (from avalanches to Yetis to aliens to secret military weapon tests) have been accepted as foolproof. I won’t give away what this film speculates, though all I will say is that it is fresh and no less stupid than what’s already out there.

On the other hand, the decision to turn this into yet another lame found footage flick in my opinion backfired by making the movie less real and authentic. What it means is that we have to deal with the wobbly cameras (though not as bad as in some films), the irrational reasons to “push on” with their expedition despite massive warning signs, and forcing the characters to hold on to their cameras when they are running for their lives. It makes the film campy and silly. We’ve seen so many of these attempts since The Blair Witch Project that this approach mostly annoys and irritates rather than create more tension, and it’s baffling why studios keep doing it.

The acting from the cast, especially the five American students, also leaves a lot to be desired. They just aren’t very likable or believable, and we just can’t wait for them to do meet their inevitable gruesome end. Part of that is the fault of the script, which is solid from a big picture perspective but doesn’t do much for the characters. The low budget also means the special effects are fairly poor and often look video gamey (and as a result they had to utilise a lot of darkened shots).

On the whole, The Dyatlov Pass Incident feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity because it is such an intriguing mystery. With a more conventional format (as opposed to found footage), a bigger budget, more bankable stars and some tweaks to the finer aspects of the script, this could have been a great film. At best, it’s a surprisingly entertaining DVD rental or on-demand flick (which is how I watched it), and I suppose that’s not a bad thing given its humble ambitions.

3.25 stars out of 5

PS: The film is titled in some regions as Devil’s Pass, which is generic and completely uninteresting, whereas its original title, The Dyatlov Pass Incident, is far more intriguing. The stupid poster for Devil’s Pass also has a naked woman with her back turned to the camera, which also makes no sense if you’ve seen the film. Go figure.

PPS: Trailer below, though I should warn that there are major spoilers from about the 1 minute mark. Never ceases to amaze me how trailers like to ruin everything.


PPPS: If you are interested in reading more about the incident, including the most prevalent theories, check out the links below.