Tag Archives: D-

NIGHT SWIM

Producers: James Wan and Jason Blum   Director: Bryce McGuire   Screenplay: Bryce McGuire   Cast: Wyatt Russell, Kerry Condon, Amelie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren, Jodi Long, Nancy Lenehan, Eddie Martinez, Ayazhan Dalabayeva, Elijah Roberts, Rahnuma Panthaky and Ben Sinclair   Distributor: Universal     

Grade: D-

Like quite a few horror movies of recent years, “Night Swim” originated as a short film, barely three minutes long (you can catch it on YouTube), that Bryce McGuire wrote and co-directed with Rod Blackhurst.  Ten years later Blackhurst has moved on to other projects, but McGuire has expanded his original idea and directed the resultant feature on his own. 

As usual in such cases, the expansion proves a ham-handed affair, the rare horror flick that, despite lots of jump shots and attempts at general eeriness, manages to produce virtually no scares.  It’s just painfully dull.

The movie begins with a scene reminiscent of the short film, a vignette in which a woman, swimming in a pool one night, thinks she hears a noise and sees a frightening figure; the lights go out, and when they come bank on, she’s disappeared.  Here, in a flashback set in 1992, young Rebecca (Ayazhan Dalabayeva) peers out her bedroom window and sees a toy boat, presumably her ill brother’s, in the backyard swimming pool.  She goes out to retrieve it and, leaning over the side, is sucked into the water.

Cut to the present day, where Ray Waller (Wyatt Russell), his wife Eve (Kerry Condon) and their children, teen Izzy (Amélie Hoeferle) and younger brother Elliot (Gavin Warren) are touring empty houses with a jovial realtor (Nancy Lenehan).  Ray’s a major league baseball player whose career has been cut short by the onset of multiple sclerosis.  They’re drawn to the one we recognize as Rebecca’s, mainly by the presence of the pool: Ray thinks that swimming could be therapeutic.  So they close the deal, and before long he is feeling much better; his doctor (Rahnuma Panthaky) is amazed by his improvement.  Could it be because the water—as a garrulous pool tech (Ben Sinclair, in an amusing cameo) has explained—comes not from the city supply but from an underground stream?  As they say in Minnesota, where the story is set, you betcha.

But, as we’re repeatedly reminded as the plot lumbers on, love requires sacrifice, and Ray’s physical improvement comes at a cost.  As will eventually be revealed to an increasingly concerned Eve by Rebecca’s mother (Jodi Long), the waters can restore health, but in return demand the life of others, as they turn out to have done repeatedly in the past.  First the family cat disappears, and then Izzy is threatened by strange figures (looking, in Ian S. Takahashi’s underwater photography, like grinning Michael Myers masks) while frolicking in the pool one night with handsome classmate—and swimming team star—Ronin (Elijah Roberts).

But it’s Elliot, an introspective kid with none of his dad’s athletic prowess, who becomes the target as the increasingly strong Ray is possessed by some evil force, represented by black ooze that comes out of the pool’s drainage system to take him over.  He causes a panic at a pool party where, under the pool’s spell, he endangers the son of Elliot’s school baseball coach (Eddie Martinez), and is AWOL when Elliot is nearly killed when the tarp system they’ve installed to cover the pool malfunctions and traps him.  (The scene is obviously inspired by the better executed one in Rachel Talalay’s little-remembered 1993 thriller “Ghost in the Machine.”)  But Eve intervenes to save the boy and, after her weird conversation with Rebecca’s mother, most of the family.  The movie ends with the pool being covered over with dirt, which should perhaps be the fate of the picture as well. 

The central problem with “Night Swim” isn’t that it’s fright-free (McGuire’s staging of the pool party sequence, which should have been a high point, is extraordinarily inept), but that it never satisfactorily explains what’s going on.  We get references to Faustian bargains that people make with the waters to secure their health-giving power, but aren’t shown how those bargains are made (one can imagine a “Wicker Man”-like scenario that could have been employed to provide backstory); indeed, it seems that Ray is possessed involuntarily.  And what exactly are those critters lurking beneath the waters?  Are they creatures transplanted from the black lagoon to the suburbs?  One would think that since McGuire had nearly a decade to work out the scenario, he could have done better than this.

Still, to give credit where it’s due, the cast is game.  Condon tries to infuse Eve with genuine emotion—this is no tongue-in-cheek turn—and both Hoeferle and Warren are committed kids, but they’re defeated by the weak material.  Russell proves incredibly bland as the Jack Torrance stand-in, though he does try to inject some humor into his mad moments late in the story.  Unhappily, most of the supporting cast—Lenehan, Sinclair, and especially Long—are encouraged to go over the top; it’s here that mention of tongue-in-cheek is appropriate.  The picture looks decent—Hillary Gurtler’s production design is fine, as is Charlie Sarroff’s (above water) cinematography, but given McGuire’s weak script and direction, editor Jeff McEvoy can’t do much to generate tension, and Mark Korven’s generic score doesn’t either.                       

It’s only the beginning of January, but this waterlogged attempt to establish a genre franchise (since it’s set in Minnesota, how about a sequel called “Night Hockey,” in which the pool has frozen over?) could wind up being one of the worst films of the year.  On the other hand, if you take it as a parody of bad horror movies, it might become a camp classic.

REBEL MOON: PART ONE – A CHILD OF FIRE

Producers: Deborah Snyder, Eric Newman, Zack Snyder and Wesley Coller   Director: Zack Snyder Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten  Cast: Sofia Boutella, Djimon Hounsou, Ed Skrein, Michiel Huisman, Doona Bae, Ray Fisher, Charlie Hunnam, Anthony Hopkins, Staz Nair, Cleopatra Coleman, Ingvar Sigurdsson, Cary Elwes, E. Duffy, Sky Yang, Corey Stoll, Fra Fee, Stuart Martin, Alfonso Herrera, Rhian Rees, Stella Grace Fitzgerald, Jena Malone, Charlotte Maggi and Tony Amendola   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: D-

A tedious slog through an avalanche of genre clichés, made worse by an air of pretentiousness and ponderous self-importance, Zack Snyder’s latest piece of Netflix bombast “Rebel Moon: Part One – A Child of Fire” spends over two hours of world-building to create a place no sane viewer would ever want to visit once, let alone the multiple times its subtitle suggests we’re meant to go back to it.  It’s an excruciating bore.

The plot is supposedly an original creation of Snyder and co-writers Kurt Johnstad and Shay Hatten but actually a derivative hodgepodge of bits and pieces of other, better movies, with classics by Kurosawa and Lucas the main models.  It involves a growing rebellion against an evil empire by some of its oppressed people and the recruitment of members to join its ranks.  And after overloading us with laborious exposition, elephantine backstory and a repetitious sequence of episodes that are one-half ponderous talk and the other chaotic fights that often slip into slow-motion for presumed effect (and always conclude with a shot of the planet-hopping recruitment ship flying off for its next destination), it has the temerity to close with the observation that we’ve just witnessed “the beginning of something.”  One could only wish that it were the beginning of something else.

Some of the narration is delivered in the instantly recognizable tones of Anthony Hopkins, who provides the voice of a robot named Jimmy, once a warrior but now ensconced on a moon called Veldt, where a bedraggled community of farmers led by Sindri (Corey Stoll, wearing a most unbecoming beard) ekes out a hand-to-mouth existence.  (Hopkins, fortunately for him, doesn’t actually have to appear in the movie.  Jimmy is played by Dustin Ceithamer, so Hopkins is basically doing a James Earl Jones thing.)

Veldt is part of the empire, or Imperium, controlled by the Motherworld, which was once a monarchy whose King (Carey Elwes) and Queen (Rhian Rees) hoped that their angelic daughter Princess Issa (Stella Grace Fitzgerald) would usher in a new era of peace and harmony.  But, as we learn through narration and gauzy flashbacks, the royal family was assassinated, and power was seized by Belisarius (Fra Fee), a militaristic tyrant whose chief henchman Atticus Noble (Ed Skrein), dressed in quasi-Nazi garb, cruises about the galaxy in a huge Dreadnought, tasked with snuffing out any remnants of resistance to the new order.  One of his stops is Veldt, where he demands that the community provide grain for his crew.  When some protest that compliance would mean their own starvation, Noble responds with murder and a simple takeover of the place before departing.

Naturally his action causes distress, and Kora (Sofia Boutella), an outsider who was taken in by the farmers when she crash landed on Veldt, becomes an instigator of resistance—it will later be revealed that she was an imperial warrior who turned against the regime, and thus a wanted fugitive.  She’s joined by handsome farmer Gunnar (Michiel Huisman), who’s besotted with her, and together they persuade Kai (Charlie Hunnam), a rogue pilot who for some reason speaks with an Irish brogue, to ferry them to other planets to seek out warriors to join in the protection of their moon.

At this point the movie turns into a repetitive formula in which the three travel to some locale where they can approach a noteworthy prospect to join them; in each case Snyder structures the episode to begin with visuals attesting to the otherworldly character of the place (the production designers were Stephen Swain and Stefan Dechant, the costumer Stephanie Porter) and lots of surpassingly banal conversation before securing a “yes,” which is followed by a gigantic fight he tries to jazz up with bursts of super-speeded up action and slow-motion for “effect.”  By the time all the stopovers are complete, the intrepid trio have found a group of supposedly charismatic companions: Titus (Djimon Hounsou), a former imperial general now a drunken layabout; Nemesis (Doona Bae) a swordswoman whose weapons shoot out beams of light energy; Tarak (Staz Nair), an enslaved smithy who’s also an exceptional animal-whisperer; and Darrian Bloodaxe (Ray Fisher), whose moniker is descriptive of his talents.  By the close they’re all headed back for Veldt and, presumably a confrontation with Noble, who’s shown receiving a set of stern marching orders from his sneering master Belisarius.

Snyder adds a plethora of genre piffle to amplify the plot; at one point, for example, Tarak takes flight aboard a weird winged creature that proves the writer-director knows his Harryhausen as well as Kurosawa and Lucas, and at another Jenna Malone camps it up as a ravenous alien spider-woman who does battle with Nemesis.  Such stuff only increases the nonsensicality of it all; the picture increasingly feels like a grab-bag of cheesy tropes, for the most part realized in mediocre CGI (the effects supervisors were Marcus Taormina and John “DJ” DesJadin) and shot in the same dark, murky style that Snyder brought to the series of DCU movies he oversaw and which, acting as his own cinematographer, he repeats here.  Editor Dody Dorn can do little to mitigate the monotony of the story and the visuals, and while Tom Holkenborg’s score ladles out music intended to inspire awe, it’s to no avail.

Nor can the cast bring much zest to the sodden material, though they’re induced to pour a lot of energy into the attempt.  Boutella makes an athletic if inexpressive heroine, and Skrein’s sleazy villainy carries a certain campy charm, but the rest can’t invest their cardboard characters with any sort of inner life.

The result is a dismal waste of time for us as well as them—a movie that feels narratively like water circling a drain until it finally gurgles down, taking a reported $165 million of Netflix money along with it.  Part Two of “Rebel Moon,” subtitled “The Scargiver,” is promised for April of next year.  Consider yourself forewarned.