October 2017

hddPG-13 rated horror movies. They can go either way, can’t they? For every Drag Me To Hell there’s a The Uninvited. For every Ring, there’s a The Village. For every Insidious, there’s an Insidious: Chapter 2. And an Insidious: Chapter 3.

Happy Death Day is one of those PG-13 rated horror movies that isn’t any of those movies, mostly because it isn’t actually a horror movie. It’s not scary, it’s not gory, it’s not thrilling and it’s not really many of the things you would typically associate with a horror movie. However, it seems to know this. It doesn’t try too hard to be something it’s not. Instead, and wisely, it aims for laughs and engagement and seems content to generate marginally raised levels of adrenaline, and in that regard it’s something of an unexpected success.

La La Land’s Jessica Rothe plays Tree — that’s short for Theresa, she’s not an actual tree — a self-centered sorority college girl who wakes up hungover on the morning of her birthday in the dorm of Carter (Israel Broussard, out of nothing you’ve ever heard of). Straight away, we get the idea that Tree has issues that would put Dutch Elm disease to shame and with a caustic tongue, she leaves Carter’s and goes about her day being generally unpleasant to everyone she comes across until she meets up with one of her professors, with whom she seems to be having an affair. Later, on her way to a party, she’s murdered by a figure wearing the college mascot’s baby-face mask. We’re quite happy when this happens. But then, she instantly awakes back at Carter’s on her birthday morning and she begins to relive the same day.

A birthday ringtone replaces Sonny and Cher but there are exactly zero prizes on offer for noticing a similarity to a Bill Murray rodent-based comedy from the 1980s. The movie eventually recognizes this with a throwaway scene towards the end and while it didn’t really have to, I’m glad it did. This was director Christopher Landon and writer Scott Lobdell’s way of holding their hands up and saying, guys … we know.

So rather than being a tired imitation of this classic, it goes in an interesting direction. Now, each time Tree is killed — and she’s killed a lot and in a whole host of ways — she comes back a slightly weaker version of herself, at least until the plot demands that this no longer happens, serving as something of an upper limit to how long this can go on, generating some risk and urgency as Tree attempts to uncover her killer and break out of the loop.

Full marks go to crisp, witty writing that’s reminiscent of Diablo Cody but far more grounded and realistic. Full marks and then a few extra marks go to Jessica Rothe, who is something of a tour de force. For this kind of movie, her character’s journey and arc is quite full, developing from someone I felt quite pleased to see killed, into a strong hero that I had bucket loads of sympathy for and wanted to win.

Aside from a farcical and ill-judged montage scene where my eyes rolled so much I was tempted to start rocking just to establish an equilibrium, Landon keeps the pace and interest high and in the 100 or so minutes, it doesn’t put much of a foot wrong all the way through to a (more or less) satisfying conclusion.

Groundhog Slay. I tried to work that in but couldn’t. And then I discovered that Mark Kermode had beaten me to the punch.


bladerunner2049We’ve been here before, haven’t we? I was very excited by the prospect of Anchorman 2, only to be bitterly disappointed. Hugely anticipated The Force Awakens flattered to deceive for a spell while we ignored the fact that it was a lazy remake of the original. Surely the sequel to Blade Runner, something that we’ve been waiting on for three decades, would buck this trend?

Well, kinda.

Set thirty years later, we’re introduced to K (Ryan Gosling), a replicant police officer, or blade runner, who’s tasked with “retiring” old rogue replicants. Dave Bautista, achingly under-used, is one such rogue and after dispatching him, K stumbles upon evidence that another replicant may have just done the impossible and had a baby. This just won’t do and so K is ordered to retire the kid.

First things first. It looks amazing. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, must surely be clearing a space on his mantelpiece for the Oscar that we might as well give him just now. Entirely in keeping with the original movie, the bleak depiction of the Los Angeles of the future is living and breathing and wheezing and spluttering. There’s no sky. Everything’s dusty. And when a character mentions that they’ve never seen a real tree, you believe it. Denis Villeneuve, after last year’s outstanding Arrival, is fast becoming a very safe pair of buttocks in the director’s chair and he clearly loves the material.

Ryan Gosling is believable as an android, which may or may not be a compliment. Ana de Armas is quite spellbinding as K’s version of Siri, reminiscent of Ex Machina‘s Ava. And Harrison Ford, when he pops up like Harrison Ford is now obliged to do, is welcome if a little telegraphed.

The themes, much like the original, are interesting and explored well. What does it mean to be alive? Do our memories make us who we are and how would we know if they’re fake and implanted into us? Does it really matter if they were fake? There’s also more than a whiff of just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and the existential crisis forms the backbone of everything that happens.

It is, however, hideously long. Thirty years long. People were born and died during the screening I attended, only ever knowing the dark and a never ending, but beautifully shot, series of shapes and colors projected onto a large screen. Okay, so it’s 160 minutes long. And in truth, it passed fairly quickly. It didn’t feel like two and three quarter hours, but it certainly didn’t feel like an hour and a half. I wouldn’t have minded as much but there was an awful lot of standing-around-not-doing-very-much going on that surely could’ve been trimmed back.

So it’s long. And bits of it didn’t make a huge amount of sense. Some of the dialogue is baffling. And there was an awful lot of inexplicable crying going on. And there was an awful lot of BOOM noises when maybe an occasional boom noise would have sufficed.

It’s not the classic I was hoping for, but it’s much better than I feared it would be, and going back to that amazing world was just about worth the significant investment of my time on this earth to go see.