Wednesday, 18 October 2017

THE SNOWMAN

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Chloë Sevigny
Writers: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan, Søren Sveistrup
Director: Tomas Alfredson




*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***

Boozy Norwegian cop Harry Hole (Fassbender) is spending most of his days investigating the contents of a vodka bottle when the case of a missing woman drags him from the sidelines and back to what he does best - solving really horrible crimes. And this one looks like it's going to be particularly horrible if the instincts of his new colleague Katrine Bratt (Ferguson) turn out to be correct...

After the recent Flatliners, here's another movie which takes an exceptional cast and strands them in a plodding, by-the-numbers thriller which manages neither to excite nor chill. Yes, there are some gory moments and the plot does contain a bunch of ideas which are conceptually unpleasant but it's all delivered in such a perfunctory way that you'll probably be checking your watch long before the killer is revealed.

Fassbender's excellent but his detective is saddled with the type of crime genre baggage we've seen all too often - he's something of a maverick, he can't sleep, he hits the bottle whenever he's got a spare moment, his previous relationships have been disasters but he's still in touch with his most recent ex and her son, and so on, and so on.

Even so, these well-worn character beats could still have been given fresh life through the writing but the script goes through the motions to a frustrating level and even its attempts to wrong-foot its audience are half-hearted at best. To give an example: Ferguson's new addition to the police department is obsessed with the case - hold on, could she be hiding a secret? Hmm. Guess.

Elsewhere, Sevigny - playing twins - is given virtually nothing to do twice and the flick ultimately blots its copybook by casting J.K. Simmons and then reducing his role to what is almost an extended cameo. His character should arguably be casting a huge shadow over the story but considering his potential for being a major suspect in the investigation there are huge chunks of The Snowman where he doesn't even figure in any sort of discussion.

At almost two hours in length, you'd think The Snowman would cram in the twists and turns, rack up the suspects and pile on the bodies. Unfortunately it doesn't do any of those, lumbering along to a ho-hum confrontation between cop and killer which puts those Harry loves in jeopardy. Even the climax is botched, with proceedings apologetically grinding to a halt as the enterprise literally gets itself on to thin ice, having been there figuratively for about ninety minutes previously.

The one thing at which The Snowman did succeed is that it made me want to go to Norway - the scenery's undeniably beautiful. As for everything else, I wasn't quite prepared for just how underwhelming it would be given the talent involved. What could have been an exhilarating Scandi-noir slay ride through the snow ended up as an unrelentingly dull trudge through a slushy mess.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

FLATLINERS

Starring: Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev
Writer: Ben Ripley
Director: Niels Arden Oplev


*** WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS ***

In the wake of a personal tragedy, medical student Courtney (Page) becomes obsessed with what happens after the moment of death to the point that she's more than willing to recreate those conditions by having her heart stopped and then being resuscitated moments later. Courtney quickly finds colleagues who are similarly ready to push the boundaries for the sake of science and career enhancement. What could possibly go wrong?

Rather than being a remake of the 1990 Joel Schumacher flick this sets itself up as a continuation of the story, drafting in Kiefer Sutherland as a senior doc who may or may not be the same guy from the previous movie (it's never made clear, which I actually kind of liked, except... well, I'll get to that later). Continuation or not, it's still a bunch of defibrillator-happy would-be docs who don't think there's much wrong with crossing to and from the other side until the spooky stuff drifts in about halfway through.

Good cast as well. Ellen Page does smart, intense and focused while still being sympathetic, James Norton manages to be likeable as resident booze/drug hound and shagger Jamie and Diego Luna gives good furrowed brow as Ray who rapidly becomes the voice of reason as his mates fall over themselves to be the next one who's temporarily snuffed out. Rounding out the crash cart club is Marlo (Dobrev) who is a driven young woman with a dark secret and Sophia (Kiersey Clemons) who is a, er, driven young woman with a, er, dark secret.

Let's be honest, the performances are not the problem here. This is a prime example of talented actors left high and dry by the material, which starts out mildly intriguing but just ends up being unrelentingly bloody silly. Yes, the first half of the movie was reasonably engaging to me, partly because I was wondering how exactly the new movie would deviate from the old one. Well, not nearly enough as it turns out, which is a shame.

Once the supernatural element kicks in, Flatliners degenerates into a series of tedious jump scares you'll see coming a mile off. You want creeping down dark corridors, pulling back curtains, that sort of thing? There's loads of that. Mind you, at least this doesn't fall back on a scene set in a morgue. No, hold on, it does. And even that isn't nearly as frightening as it should be. Eventually we do get to the payoff after what seems like a couple of weeks but it's just as much of an anti-climax as the one employed by the previous incarnation of this movie.

Also, if Kiefer Sutherland is the same guy as the previous movie, how come he's not as suspicious when things go totally awry about an hour in? His character's thinking appears to be: "Hmm, fatal unexplained accident. A room of students, each of whom seems to be concealing something. Okay, not going to investigate that. After all, it's not like I got up to anything weird when I was a medical student... oh, there was that thing where I got my mates to kill me so I could see the afterlife but hey, no one else is going to try that".

Flatliners plays its frankly ludicrous plot developments with an admirably straight face but in the end it fails to engage as either a drama or a shocker. Aside from a mild surprise 70 minutes in it's thumpingly predictable and rather than building up to a suspense-filled, high-stakes finish it fizzled out, leaving me thinking "Was that it?". And with no last-ditch shock as a twist, unfortunately that was it. As thrillers go, it can't be saved. Call it. Time of death: 2017.



Don't get me started on the unused, high-tech hospital in the basement either.