Wednesday, March 1, 2017

100 Words on M. Night Shyamalan's Split (2016)
By Thomas Puhr
In his best film since 2002’s Signs, Shyamalan takes a conceit that is excessively used as a twist ending (a main character having multiple personality disorder) and instead makes it the foundation for his tale of three girls (headed by Anya Taylor-Joy) who are abducted and terrorized by a man (James McAvoy, attacking the role with relish) with 23 personalities; especially noteworthy is a final confrontation that is by turns genuinely-unsettling and oddly-touching (echoes of Blade Runner here); the requisite twist actually enriches the story preceding it, announcing what could be a more ambitious and experimental phase in Shyamalan’s career.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

100 Words on Adam Wingard's Blair Witch (2016)

By Thomas Puhr

Frequent collaborators Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s follow-up to the great The Blair Witch Project (1999) is well-constructed (a subtle visual twist brings everything full circle), yet ultimately unnecessary. Attempts are made to varnish the original’s roughness; a drone camera, for example, provides some eerie overhead shots (a clever conceit that is ultimately wasted). Just as John Carpenter did with his masterful update of The Thing, Wingard and Barrett make explicit what the original left in shadows. This decision is fine (did they really have a choice?), but the inevitable reveal of the creature is a mess of generic CGI. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

100 Words on Michael Wong's "The Story of 90 Coins" (2015)

By Thomas Puhr

In his directorial debut, “The Story of 90 Coins,” Michael Wong explores the peaks and valleys of a months-long relationship between the sentimental Wang Yuyang (Dongjun Han) and the ambitious Chen Wen (Zhuang Zhiqi), all in under 10 minutes, no less. The central conceit (Wang Yuyang gives Chen Wen a coin and accompanying note to mark each of their 90 encounters) allows Wong to hopscotch freely amongst the couple’s experiences, which range from comic to unabashedly-melodramatic. Despite an unnecessary postscript, the action ends on a pleasantly-ambiguous note. The cinematography, which tempers some overwrought moments with a crisp sheen, stands out.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

100 Words on Ted Geoghegan's We Are Still Here (2015)
By Thomas Puhr

In his feature film debut, Ted Geoghegan essentially delivers two movies for the price of one: a slow-burn haunted house tale about two parents attempting to cope with their son’s death, and a giddy splatter-fest with some of the most over-the-top gore in recent memory. The final half hour’s extreme violence, while more than a bit incongruent, does not detract from the earlier scenes’ reliance on subtler thrills (Geoghegan appreciates the power of both creaking floorboards and arterial spray). Ultimately, these jarring tonal shifts are grounded by the surprisingly-emotional performances of Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig as the grieving parents.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

100 Words on Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room (2015)

By Thomas Puhr

Writer-director Jeremy Saulnier follows up his fantastic Blue Ruin (2013) with what is surely the best genre thriller in a long time. The late Anton Yelchin heads a punk band that becomes trapped in a neo-Nazi concert hall/bar after witnessing a brutal killing; what follows is by turns excruciatingly suspenseful and shockingly graphic. A clever reversal of John Carpenter’s 1976 classic, Assault on Precinct 13 (instead of defending their symbolic home, the band members are essentially held captive within the enemy’s headquarters), Green Room is the cinematic equivalent of a great punk song: short, visceral, angry, exhilarating, and ultimately cathartic.   

Thursday, June 16, 2016

100 Words on Mickey Keating's Darling (2015)

By Thomas Puhr

In this love letter to Roman Polanski’s apartment trilogy, Lauren Ashley Carter plays the titular “Darling,” who is hired by “Madame” (Sean Young) as the caretaker for a (possibly) haunted New York townhouse; shades of Repulsion (Darling wanders the streets, has sexual nightmares, stores a body in a bathtub), The Tenant (the previous occupant jumped to her death from the roof: a fate that will be repeated), and Rosemary’s Baby (hidden doors, rumors of devil worship); Carter conveys a wide-eyed hysteria with aplomb; the lush, black-and-white cinematography cements Darling as an admirable, largely successful attempt at recapturing 60s-era psychological horror.