Tag Archives: Films

Dangerous Mutations: A Review of Annihilation

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I’d share spoilers in a review would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering themes or scenes in the source material. This was one of the films I talked about wanting to watch in this post. So far, I’ve also reviewed Into the Forest from that list.

Annihilation is a 2018 film based on a book by the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. It’s about five military scientists who travel into the heart of a rapidly-expanding anomaly called “The Shimmer” in order to discover what caused it and why every other team of explorers who had been sent into it had disappeared without a trace.

There were a large enough group of characters that I feel the need to introduce all of them in some detail before diving into my thoughts on the story itself. I’m discussing everyone in the past tense in order to avoid accidentally giving away any hints about what happened to them or who may or may not have made it to the final scene.

 

The Characters

Natalie Portman as Lena.

 

Lena was a biologist, professor at Johns Hopkins, and former soldier. Her husband, Sergeant Kane, had disappeared on a top secret mission about a year before the events of this story took place, and she was still overcome with grief over her loss due to the fact that the military refused to tell her anything about where he’d been or what might have caused him to go missing.

She was a brave person who knew how to react quickly and appropriately in a crisis. Most of the scenes in this film were shown from her perspective.

 

Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen.

 

Gina was a paramedic from Chicago.

She was an intelligent and cautious person who always put safety of herself and her crew first. I also enjoyed her subtle sense of humour.

 

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Ventress.

 

Dr. Ventress, a psychologist, was the team leader of this group. She had been responsible for performing psychological evaluations of and assembling all of the previous groups that had been sent into “The Shimmer.”

She was a stubborn, serious, and determined person. Once she set her mind to accomplish a goal, no one could dissuade her from pressing forward to achieve it. At times, she did come across as ill-tempered to me because of how unwilling she was to listen to the concerns of the other women in her group when their mission started to go awry.

 

Tessa Thompson as Josie Radek.

Josie was a physicist.

She was an intelligent and trusting woman whose natural inclination was to assume the best of everyone she met. If you forced me to pick a favourite character in this story, Josie would be it. I only wish the adventure had been told from her point of view instead.

 

Tuva Novotny (in centre) as Cassie “Cass” Shepherd.

 

Cass was a  geomorphologist. Her responsibility on this mission was to test the magnetic fields around the boundary to determine why drones, cellphones, and other types of technology malfunctioned so often within “The Shimmer.”

She was a quiet and hardworking person who seemed to have no interest in drawing attention to everything she did for the group. There’s something I admire about that.

My Review

One of the biggest reasons why I was so excited to see this film had to do with the fact that it had an all-female cast. I have never watched anything in the science fiction genre that was so centred on the experiences of women in an unfamiliar and dangerous environment. At most, I would have expected to see two women in this sort of tale. It was thrilling to have an entire team of women hiking into “The Shimmer” to discover its secrets. If you’re listening, Hollywood, we need many more stories like this in the future!

The beginning of the mission.

 

The diversity of the cast only drew me into the plot more. From age to race to sexual orientation, these characters were from a wide range of backgrounds.  It was a breath of fresh air to see them working together to reach a common goal without any of these labels being a source of conflict for the plot.

The beginning was a little confusing to me due to how much it jumped around from one time period to the next without much explanation about how all of the pieces fit together.  This is the only negative thing I’ll be saying about this film, and I’m mentioning it because it’s a storytelling device that I don’t generally find appealing. The writers did an excellent job of framing all of these seemingly-disparate scenes in ways that grabbed my attention, though, and I soon decided that I simply had to know how everything fit together.

In some ways, this wasn’t necessarily a typical science fiction movie. The pacing always remained steady, but the storyline was far more interested in encouraging the audience to ask probing questions about what was really happening to the characters as they marched deeper into “The Shimmer” than it was in surprising the audience with jump scares. I loved the fact that I was expected to think instead of bracing for the next monster leaping out of the shadows.

The apprehension I felt while watching this tale grew slowly. I wasn’t as frightened as I’d normally be while watching something from the horror genre, but I was more scared than I’d typically feel in a normal science fiction environment. With that being said, I’d still hesitate to include it in the horror genre despite what I’ll say about the gore in the next section of this review. The vast majority of the plot was centred on science fiction themes instead.

“The Shimmer” was not a safe place to visit regardless of how strong one might be or how many pieces of equipment they brought in to study this phenomenon. As beautiful as this area of land was at times, it was also full of dangers that could not always be predicted or avoided. The conflict between the peaceful setting and the anything-but-peaceful things that happened in it fascinated me.

The preview at the end of this post will show you a few examples of the types of things the characters experienced once they entered “The Shimmer”. Combining the DNA of species that would normally never be combined created all sorts of living beings that have to be seen to be believed. I was fascinated by how all of this worked and how far the storytellers ran with this concept.

I can’t go into any further details about what else the characters discovered without giving away spoilers, but I will tell you that it was quite creative and like nothing I’ve ever seen before. This was one of the major reasons why I’d recommend Annihilation so highly to anyone who has the slightest interest in checking it out.

The metaphors in this story were well written. I adored the fact that it could be interpreted from so many different angles, especially since the writers didn’t feel the need to nudge the audience in any particular direction. There was material to support multiple interpretations of what “The Shimmer” could be. One of the most popular theories about what it meant isn’t actually something I thought of when while I watching it, but it made perfect sense in retrospect.

I can’t say much else about this without giving away spoilers, but I would strongly encourage everyone to pay close attention to what is happening in the plot so you can come up with your own theories before wandering around online later on to see what other people thought.

A Note on the (Brief) Gore

There were two short but graphic scenes in this film. I was glad I’d been warned about them ahead of time so I could avert my eyes once they began. As I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been losing interest in violence and bloodshed in fiction this year.

I’d be happy to privately share more information about when these scenes occur with anyone who would like to watch Annihilation but who might be hesitant about the gore factor. This is something I can discuss without giving away major spoilers, although I would have to share minor ones with you.

Should You Watch It?

Yes! I would heartily recommend watching Annihilation. It was a thought-provoking film that refused to spoon-feed its audience. I loved the process of figuring out what was really happening in “The Shimmer” and coming up with my own interpretations of how certain scenes should be understood.

Annihilation is available on iTunes.

Classic Fantasy Films I’ve Never Seen

Last week I listed many of the classic science fiction films I’ve never seen. This week I’ll be sharing the fantasy films I’ve never seen.

When I was a little girl, my siblings and I weren’t allowed to read or watch most things that had to do with ghosts, witches, or magic. (C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series was one of the exceptions to this).

This rule was created for religious reasons, and our parents eventually changed their minds on that topic.  I’m just glad that they realized that stories about magic aren’t actually harmful before the Harry Potter series came out!

Generally, I’m more interested in the science fiction genre than I am fantasy, so I haven’t felt the urge to watch as many of the old fantasy flicks as I did the scifi ones. Maybe someday I will go through this list and check it out after I’ve finished my current to-watch list, though.

It’s always kind of funny when someone makes a reference to a well-known fantasy tale and I have no earthly idea what they’re talking about. This is even more true when they’re about the same age as me and assume that everyone grew up watching that stuff.

Just like I did last week, I’ll be including the year a film was published if I know that story has since been retold.

  • TIme Bandits
  • Lost Horizon
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo
  • Orlando
  • The NeverEnding Story
  • Big
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Willow
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • Highlander
  • The Secret of Nimh
  • Ladyhawke
  • The Holy Mountain
  • The Fall
  • Clash of the Titans
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  • Wings of Desire
  • Excalibur (1981)
  • My Neighbour Toto
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Spirited Away
  • King Kong
  • Jack the Giant Slayer
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • The Witches of Eastwick
  • Hook
  • The City of Lost Children
  • The Frighteners
  • Life of Brian (and most other Monty Python films!)
  • Life of Pi

What classic fantasy films have you never seen? Were you allowed to read and watch stories that referenced magic when you were a kid? I know my childhood was a little out of the ordinary in certain ways, so I try not to assume that everyone has had the same experiences in life.

Classic Science Fiction Films I’ve Never Seen

When I was a kid, my family didn’t own a television at all for a few years there. There were other parts of my childhood when we owned a TV but didn’t have cable. The handful of channels that we could watch for free during those years almost never had science fiction reruns or content of any kind, although I did eagerly watch it whenever I could find it.

We also rarely went to the movie theatre until I was well into my teens, so I hadn’t seen a lot of well-known films in general by the time I grew up.

I’ve caught up on many of the science fiction classics since then, but there are still quite a few of them that I haven’t gotten around to checking out yet.

Today I’m going to be listing as many of the ones I haven’t seen as I can think of. Some of them have since been remade, so I’m including the year they came originally came out if there’s a newer version of it that I recognized. Often there are so many changes from the original to the remake that it’s almost as though we’re talking about two separate franchises.

Next week, I’ll be publishing a similar post about fantasy films. The lists for both categories were so long that I thought they each deserved their own post.

Will I ever watch the shows on this list? I have no idea! My current to-watch list is so long that for now I’m going to continue focusing on more modern films, but it might be fun to catch up on the old ones someday as well.

  • The Thing
  • Westworld (1973)
  • Robocop
  • The Abyss (1989)
  • Thx1138
  • Moon
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • Brazil
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
  • Mad Max
  • Solaris
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Forbidden Planet
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • How to Train Your Dragon
  • Metropolis (1927)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
  • Frankenstein (1931)
  • King Kong (1933)
  • 2010
  • Fantasia
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  • Flash Gordon
  • Logan’s Run (1976)
  • Dune
  • Soylent Green
  • Stalker

I was going to add the Alien and Predator series to this list, too, but I can’t remember for sure if I’ve seen any of them or not. They’re so well-known in pop culture that I know their basic plots even though I don’t know which of the films in either of these series I’ve actually seen.

What classic science fiction films have you never seen? On a humorous note, which classic science fiction films can you not remember if you’ve watched but know a few things about anyway?

A Dangerous Shortcut: A Review of The Ritual

Arsher Ali as Phil, Sam Troughton as Dom, Rafe Spall as Luke and Robert-James Collier as Hutch.

The Ritual is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s book by the same name. It was released on October 12, 2017 by Netflix.

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I share spoilers about a movie or tv show on my site would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering material in it. There was nothing like that in this film.

The premise of The Ritual is a simple one. After losing an old university friend to a random act of violence, Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch went hiking and camping in a remote corner of Sweden to spend time together and honour the memory of their deceased friend.

About a day into their trip, Dom tripped and accidentally injured his knee. The group still had many kilometres to go through the mountains on their hike, and none of their cellphones could get a signal in such a remote location. The four characters decided to take a shortcut through the woods so that he could rest and get proper medical attention as soon as possible due to these factors.

A violent thunderstorm began soon after they entered the woods, so the characters sought refuge in an abandoned cabin for the night despite their deeply uneasy feelings about the property. They broke up a piece of the house to start a fire, and then settled down for a good night’s rest before hopefully continuing their journey in the morning.

As they were about to discover, they should have listened to those feelings. The cabin wasn’t abandoned after all, and the person/entity/thing who lived there wasn’t pleased by their trespassing at all. (I must be purposefully vague on this point in order to avoid giving you too many hints about who or what these characters angered).

The Characters

My main criticism of this film has to do with how similar all four of the characters were. Phil, Dom, Luke, and Hutch all had fairly outgoing, sarcastic, and jovial personalities that tended to blend into one another.

There also wasn’t a lot of information given about their backstories.  What were their occupations? Were they married or otherwise in longterm relationships? If they weren’t single, were their partners men or women? Did they have kids? The references to their adult lives were so sparse that I still don’t know the answers to these questions for all four of the main characters in this storyline. As nice as it was to have some of these questions answered for some of them, I thought it was odd that such basic information wasn’t provided for everyone.

I had a difficult time thinking of them as individuals because of this. While I’d certainly expect such a tight-knit group of old friends to share many common interests, it would have been nice to have more character development before the plot picked up so that I could remember who was who when they did make rare references to their personal lives. Sharing details about who they shared their lives with and what occupations they had would have gone a long way to separating these characters in my mind.

There’s nothing wrong with a plot-driven storyline, but I do think this one would have been even better if it had taken more time to show who the characters were before putting them into terrible danger.

The Antagonist

There isn’t much I can say about the antagonist without giving away major spoilers, but I was much happier with how this portion of the plot was handled.

The backstory was well-developed and fit into the storyline nicely. I especially liked the fact that it took the characters as long as they did to learn anything at all about what was lurking in the woods. This wasn’t a case of characters knowing in advance that a particular spot had a bad reputation and deciding to explore it anyway.

They had no idea what they were about to stumble into after the thunderstorm began, and that made the later events of the plot even more exciting than they would have otherwise been. It also provided plausible deniability for why they didn’t immediately leave the cabin they were staying in the first time something frightening happened in it.

In my opinion, horror movies are most enjoyable when the characters genuinely had no idea what they were getting into before the first bizarre things happens to them.

The Horror

One of the things I always want to know before I watch something from this genre is what sort of horror we’re talking about.

Is the plot gory? Does the fear the characters and audience feel mostly come from anticipation, or will we actually see whatever it is that seems to be roaming around in the woods and hunting them down? Do the characters react sensibly the first time they sense something is horribly wrong?

Once again, I’m dancing around spoilers here, so bear with me if I don’t fully answer all of your questions.

The first thing I’d say about the plot is that it is firmly planted in the horror genre. If you love being scared, there are plenty of spine-chilling scenes to come when you begin watching The Ritual. I had to watch a couple of scenes from the corner of my eye because of how scared I was for the characters in them.

As far as the gore goes, it definitely existed. This isn’t something I’d recommend to people who have a phobia of blood or gore even though the scenes that included those things were only a small part of the storyline overall.

I don’t like slasher movies, and this wasn’t one of them. The build up to the moment the characters realize the cabin they’ve broken into had never been abandoned at all was handled nicely. Honestly, the storyline was just as much about that moment as it was about everything that happened afterwards.

This isn’t the sort of tale that has any sort of profound messages about death, grief, or friendship woven into it. I’m not criticizing it by saying that, either. Not everything in life needs to be deep in order to be enjoyable. This is a classic horror film in every way, and the characters fit into that genre beautifully.

Should You Watch It?

If you love the horror genre and are in the mood for a satisfying scare, I would recommend this film.

It’s More Than Just Survival: A Review of Into the Forest

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the never-ending list of films I’d like to see someday. Into the Forest was the first movie from that list I’ve watched since then, and I liked it so much that I decided to review it today.  This story does include a rape scene that I will be discussing briefly later on in this post, so consider this a spoiler warning and a trigger warning (if needed). 

 Into the Forest is a Canadian film based on a young adult book by the same title by Jean Hegland. It followed the lives of two sisters, Nell and Eva, after the west coast of the United States permanently lost power for unknown reasons and society fell apart.

One of the things that made this story unique was how few characters it has. While there were a handful of people who were briefly part of the time in Eva and Nell’s lives that was covered in this film, the vast majority of the storyline was about the complex relationship between these sisters and how hard they worked to survive on their own at their rural home.

Eva, the older sister, had been studying to become a professional dancer before the blackout. Nell, the younger sister, was preparing to take her SATs and apply for college. They were smart young women, but neither one of them had any experience in practical skills like hunting, first aid, farming, or self defence before this adventure began.

 

Ellen Page as Nell and Evan Rachel Wood as Eva in Into the Woods. ©Elevation Pictures.

 

One of my favourite parts of this  film was the strong pacing of it in the beginning. The electricity went out a few minutes into the story without any advanced warning, so the characters almost immediately needed to make major adjustments to their lifestyle. Nell and Eva had been so loved and sheltered that neither of them really understood how much their lives changed in that moment, but they were about to find out.

I’ll be honest with you: it took a while for these characters to grow on me. They were young and a little entitled in the beginning. I didn’t appreciate the way they complained about small inconveniences like not having enough spare power to play music when there were far more important things in be for them to be worried about.

With that being said, I adored the complex relationship between these sisters. Eva and Nell argued, played, dreamed, and schemed with each other just like all siblings have since the beginning of time. They had a bond that was stronger than anything else in their little world. Watching them both mature from girls into confident women together was a highlight of this story for me.

Since they hadn’t known that the blackout was coming, there was no logical way for their family to stock up on food, basic medical supplies, gasoline, or anything else that would have made their lives easier once all of the stores shut down. The few items they were able to buy shortly after the power grid failed were precious, but they were a drop in the bucket when compared to what this family actually needed in the longterm.

While I would have liked to see a little more character development, I did end up liking Nell and Eva quite a bit by the end. They proved just how resourceful they could be in a world where they could only rely on themselves and each other to stay safe. As young women who were living in an incredibly isolated area, they either had to learn to work together or risk dying alone from starvation, injuries, or the violent urges of other human beings.

Yes, that was a reference to the rape scene. I hated the fact that one of these characters had to add that traumatic experience to all of the other awful things they went through as they struggled to survive, but this is something that  regularly happens to people even when police officers still exist and can be called for help. From what I’ve read, the risk of sexual assault skyrockets after disasters of any kind.

The foreshadowing in this film was really well done in general. It was subtle, but any attentive viewer could find satisfying hints about what will happen later on if they paid close attention to the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the storyline. Since this was originally written for teenagers, I liked the fact that there were so many hints about what these sisters were about to experience. It was the right choice for this age group.

I also appreciated the fact that Nell and Eva knew almost nothing about what was going on in the outside world. As much as I wanted to know what caused the power outage and whether cities and towns had begun to get back to normal after a year or two had passed, it made sense that two young people who were living in a house in the woods far away from the nearest community wouldn’t have any way of knowing for sure what was happening elsewhere or whether the few vague rumours they’d heard were at all true.

 

Potentially Sensitive Content

As I mentioned earlier on, this film does contain a rape scene. While it was shot in an artistic manner that focused on the victim’s face instead of more graphic material, this is something that viewers who are sensitive to this topic should be aware of in advance. The rape played an important role in what happened later on in the storyline, and it was referenced later on multiple times as the characters reacted to it and the victim healed from it.

The gore factor was pretty low in general, although one character did die in a brief but bloody accident early on and there was a hunting scene later on that showed a wild animal being butchered after it was shot.

Should You Watch It?

Yes, I would recommend watching Into the Forest to both teen and adult viewers. Due to the mature themes, I wouldn’t recommend to anyone under the age of fourteen.

5 Christmas Movies That Are Worth Rewatching

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Despite the fact that I don’t actually celebrate any major winter holidays, there are still a decent number of Christmas movies that I could watch every year and never grow tired of. I should warn you that some of the entries on this list are a little unorthodox. Sentimental films… Read More