Catching films is like catching rodents – you gotta move fast if you want to get them all. And speaking of scurrying creatures, it’s fittingly one of the doc themes featured in the five films reviewed this week, alongside some campfire terror tales and even a courtroom drama. (Scary but for different reasons of course!) Follow the trail of meaty movie morsels via our Encapsulated Movie Reviews for the skinny on Rats, The Whole Truth, The Windmill, Fire At Sea and The Unspoken all below!
While the documentary Rats does have a ton of real-life fright factors that work, it’s hard to nail down exactly what form of fear is being featured. Is it the furry pests themselves who instill panic with their disease carrying, ever-adapting, clever ways? (The scene where scientists open the head of a recently euthanized rat to find a hidden living fly larva is disturbing as hell!) The folks who dedicate their lives to snuffing out these resilient scavengers? (The gent and his rat killing trained terriers going on the hunt is an unsettling site!) Or is it society as a whole who through their own trash facilitate the longevity of rats? (New York puts out a formidable feast on the curb for their four-legged friends nightly!) Whatever the case may be it turns out the strangest and oddest artifact in this cinematic scenario is that Rats is directed by Super Size Me helmer Morgan Spurlock who all but abandons his signature everyman style in lieu of showing off horror movie skills. (Is he auditioning to direct the next Insidious sequel?!) It’s Morgan’s misguided desire to make Rats more a genre flick that has dire consequences for those looking to be educated – meaning doc be damned.
THE WHOLE TRUTH
Solid yet safe, this courtroom drama featuring Keanu Reeves is a classic case of keeping an audience entertained without reinventing the wheel. Meaning there’s plenty of predictable legal twists and story turns in the script by Rafael Jackson that keep things interesting, but with nothing groundbreaking that would lead the film into To Kill A Mockingbird territory. Same with the performances, with Reeves’ surly lawyer charismatic enough (though he could learn showmanship via Judd Nelson in From the Hip!), Renée Zellweger decent as a downtrodden housewife and even Jim Belushi somewhat stretching his acting chops playing an abusive husband all giving fine fodder for the film fire here. But in the end there’s an overall originality inspiration missing that kneecaps The Whole Truth from being a memorable movie. The verdict – the jury’s still out.
A Flatliners inspired examination of past demons coming back to haunt (minus the near death experience though!), The Windmill has some satisfying moments. The story of a rag tag group of stranded sinning tour bus patrons certainly has some colorful characters (Noah Taylor’s facial scarred doctor is a curious conundrum!), a slew of great gore (the killer here uses a scythe as his weapon of choice!) and some interesting visual imagery. But there’s a ho-hum feeling story wise, complete with characters doing dumb things and predictability galore, that is ever present and as a result the film feels all too familiar. The Windmill may not provide the genuine genre bold breeze fans are looking for, but the bargain bin just got a little better.
FIRE AT SEA
Taking on the serious subject of refugees who to their own detriment make a dire sea trip trying to make the crossing from Africa, filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi makes a doc that feels more like a film. It’s a bold idea for sure, taking such events from not only the perspective of the ailing folks themselves, but also various people on the island of Lampedusa (ground zero for the struggling emigrants), though one that sadly fails to fully captivate. Rosi tries to mix his scathing subject with scenes seemingly out of a coming-of-age tale featuring a twelve-year old boy and while daring it’s dramatically discombobulating for sure. I’m all for new ideas that may enhance the poignancy of real-life events, but Fire At Sea is an experiment that ultimately fails.
The Unspoken feels like a flick that knows the terror tropes that work (paranormal happenings, possession, unholy visions) and throws them into a horror movie blender in hopes no one will recognize the repeats – hardly. Every character cliché is present – the teen girl with a strange connections to the other side, the creepy kid who doesn’t speak, the bully with nefarious plans and even a too-nice new haunted house owner all make an appearance. The scares are stock (a little invisible grab and pull anyone?!), the carnage commonplace (forget the Home Alone nail through the foot – how about the whole body!) and there’s nothing to elevate this one beyond being a mild distraction – The Unspoken speaks the unspoken language of movie mediocre.