Tag Archives: Rose Leslie

Morgan (2016)

Just about every year, there are a couple of movie releases that will take me by surprise. They kind of popped up out of nowhere, with no buzz or early trailers, but feature a cast of big Hollywood names. Morgan is one such film.

The first time I actually saw snippets of the Morgan trailer and poster was actually the weekend before its release. I had never heard of it and couldn’t believe it when I found out that it starred the likes of Kate Mara, Rose Leslie, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook (soon to be seen as the main villain in Logan), and Anya Taylor-Joy (who was absolutely brilliant in The Witch).

The poster seemed intriguing as well, dominated by a dark, hooded figure I could only presume was the eponymous protagonist (or antagonist, if you will). The trailer gave away wait too much as usual, but essentially, Kate Mara plays some sort of risk assessment manager who ventures into a secluded research facility that managed to genetically engineer a synthetic human being, ie Morgan (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Pretty much everyone else in the cast is a scientist or a handler of some sort.

I was definitely intrigued. It seemed like a thinking person’s horror movie, with elements of Ex Machina and shades of the underrated Splice. Yes, it is yet another one of those “man should not mess with nature” or “living creatures should not be kept in captivity” cautionary tales, but the fact that such a great cast had faith in the project suggested to me that it would be worth watching.

Well, I was about half right. Morgan turned out to be borderline watchable. What started off as a compelling premise and some early tension soon crumbled into predictability and genre tropes. We all know Morgan’s not as innocent as she seems and that she will get out of her glass box eventually. But instead of pursuing the more interesting and thought-provoking opportunities the premise offers, Luke Scott, the son of legendary director Ridley (who produced the film), chose to indulge in the usual slasher and horror cliches. The action isn’t handled too shabbily, though it would be a stretch to call it outstanding. Same goes for the horror elements — Morgan (both the character and the film itself) never really scared me.

At some point in the movie, it also became impossible to not guess the “twist” at the end. It’s just so obvious and telegraphed that when it is finally revealed there is no sense of shock whatsoever.

Still, I have to be fair. Morgan is still at least serviceable and better than most of the straight-to-DVD horror-thrillers these days. The initial set-up is interesting, I’ll give it that, and the execution — whether it is the action, tension, or horror — is passable. Throw in a star-studded cast who genuinely seemed to put in effort rather than mail it in for a paycheck, and you end up with a movie that isn’t a complete waste of time but could have been so much better.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

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You know, The Last Witch Hunter ain’t all that bad. At least from my point of view, it’s already a lot better than I thought it would be.

I hadn’t seen any trailers for it and thought it would be along the shitty lines of something like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, except with Vin Diesel doing deep-voiced Vin Diesel things — ie, act suave and charismatic with a smug smile and the donning same expression no matter what role or situation he’s in. By the way, I like Vin Diesel.

And so I was kinda shocked to see that The Last Witch Hunter: 1. has a sensational supporting cast that includes Game of Thrones‘ Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine; 2. is much scarier than your average fantasy action film, with legit grossness and horror; 3. doesn’t take itself 100% seriously, with some solid one-liners that makes fun of its own ridiculousness; and 4. features some pretty awesome, albeit video-gamey action sequences.

As a purely visual experience, The Last Witch Hunter rocks pretty hard. Superb character and monster designs, cool weapons and special effects, all combined with slick stylistic direction and choreography — at times it felt as though I was watching a sick video game cut scene (there’s even one outdoor scene that looked like it was ripped right out of The Last of Us). It’s something the sweaty nerds will definitely appreciate and enjoy.

On the other hand, The Last Witch Hunter offers very little in terms of an engrossing story — or just any story. I’ll admit I wasn’t paying full attention, but it just seemed like the plot was far too convoluted for its own good. I didn’t get all of it, nor was I interested in getting all of it. Can’t we just see Vin Diesel defy death a hundred times a minute rather than him trying to convince us he can act?

Speaking of acting, the performances are solid — including Diesel — though I felt Rose Leslie, as hard as she tries, doesn’t quite fit as well as she should have. While there is potential for good chemistry with Diesel, right now it’s a little rough around the edges and can come across as awkward.

The result is an uneven and ultimately empty experience that is more eye candy than anything else. There are moments of visual awesomeness that brought out the inner gamer in me but also moments of plodding plot development that made me yawn. There are occasional ripping one liners but also occasional excessive seriousness that overshadows the tone, and a proper balance is never achieved.

Still, I’d put The Last Witch Hunter in the “better than anticipated” category thanks to its aesthetic qualities. If only it were a little simpler and less serious, the film could have ended up being a fun, campy popcorn ride. Vin Diesel has already announced that a sequel is in the works, so hopefully they can get the narrative right next time without sacrificing the visuals, action and horror.

3 stars out of 5

The Hallow (2015)

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Consider me surprised.

I went into The Hallow thinking it would be another low-budget horror flick with cheap thrills and cheap scares (don’t ask me why I keep watching such films), but in  the end I came out of it pleasantly impressed by the whole experience.

The premise is nothing special: a couple and their baby move into the Irish woods for conservation work. The locals are unusually hostile, but for good reason, as we soon find out that there is a sinister presence lurking in the darkness.

After a somewhat slow start, The Hallow picks up the pace and turns into a terrifying ordeal where the tension continuously ratches up with each encounter. It starts off with the little things, minor incidents, then gradually escalates until the demonic creatures make their first appearance.

Typically, horror films start to lose the plot around about here, crumbling into absurdity, silliness  and resorting to cliches. With The Hallow, the opposite is true, as the film actually gets scarier once you get a good look at the “monsters”. Full credit goes to debut filmmaker Corin Hardy in deciding to use predominantly practical effects in bringing the excellent creature designs to life. They look great — creepy when still and terrifying when on the move.

At the same time, Hardy, who also co-wrote the script, doesn’t forget about character development so that we care about what is happening to the protagonists. It’s not perfect — the edges are a little rough and not everything makes sense — but for a first feature I still found it to be better than most mainstream horror flicks that get wide releases these days.

The performances are also more convincing than typical for a movie of this kind. The male lead, Joseph Mawle, better known as Benjen Stark from Game of Thrones, was apparently handpicked by Hardy, and he’s very good (interestingly, like fellow Game of Thrones alum Rose Leslie, he’s chosen a small horror flick to launch his post-Thrones film career). Likewise is the female lead, Serbian-Aussie Bojana Novakovic, who provides a steady performance and manages to avoid overacting amid all the horror around her.

I wouldn’t go as far as calling The Hallow an original film, as there are traces of classics like Evil Dead, Alien and even Pan’s Labyrinth to be found throughout, though it does have several original moments and ideas. I enjoyed its mythology, the creative creatures, the creepy atmosphere and the tense scares, and I wouldn’t mind a sequel or prequel to explore this world again. The best scenario, however, would probably be for Hardy to get picked up for a big budget horror film to see if he can replicate the goods on a larger scale.

3.75 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Honeymoon (2014)

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Like all good Game of Thrones fans, I was saddened when Scottish actress Rose Leslie left the show. On the bright side, Ygritte’s departure has opened the door for Leslie to appear in other projects, with the first of them being the independent horror flick Honeymoon, the directorial debut of Leigh Janiak.

The film stars Leslie and Harry Treadaway (from TV’s Penny Dreadful) as newlyweds Bea and Paul, who take a honeymoon to an old cabin in a secluded forest where Bea spent some of her childhood years. One night, something very unusual happens, after which Bea begins to act like a completely different person. Paul’s fear and paranoia begin to grow as he questions what really happened to Bea, and whether the woman who looks like his wife is even who she says she is.

This is a neat little horror film that preys on basic human emotions and fears. How would you react if you suspected the one you love has literally become a different person overnight, even though the rational part of you says it’s impossible because she looks exactly the same?

At a time when horror films are obsessed with using excessive gore and blood, ghastly ghosts and monsters, and over-the-top and gratuitous violence to shock us, Honeymoon gets the job done by crafting a creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread and claustrophobia that gradually tightens it’s noose around your neck.

The tactics applied are subtle yet effective, slowly building up the suspicion and suspense while maintaining an air of mystery and doubt. Credit has to go to Leslie and Treadaway for their convincing performances. The fear and paranoia they convey feel real because their affection for each other early on also felt real.

Not everyone will like this sort of unsensational, low-budget horror film, which has a tiny cast, very little action and almost no special effects. The dialogue is okay but not great, and some people will find the ending frustrating due to its lack of resolution and finality.

For me, however, Honeymoon is a fine horror film that knows what it wants to be and achieves its limited ambitions. It may not make you scream for jump out of your seat very often, but it will make you uneasy and uncomfortable, and maybe even make your skin crawl a little.

3.75 stars out of 5