Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rapid Reviews: It Comes at Night and The Book of Henry





Having experienced both of his films, it's clear that Trey Edward Schults cares more about how his movies make you feel rather than the boldness of their stories. Consequently, the young filmmaker has maneuvered a stranglehold over the independent filmmaking world with his festival-darling debut feature, Krisha. Countless accolades from the most prominent indie awards groups bridged Schults' accessibility to bigger talent and larger funds in order to return with his shamefully mis-marketed follow-up, It Comes at Night.

A highly infectious disease has dwindled mankind and a former history teacher (Joel Edgerton) has managed to keep his wife and teenage son alive in a secluded and enclosed shelter in the middle of the woods. But when a stranger arrives at their safe-haven seeking water and refuge for his family, they agree to stay in the shelter together and combine resources. Yet, tensions arise when both families quickly discover that they'll do whatever's necessary to stay alive.

I can't understand why It Comes at Night has been branded as a horror film when its most terrifying scenes all occur in a handful of brief dream sequences. If you're chasing scares, then look elsewhere. Instead, Schults' sophomoric effort blends feelings of claustrophobia, paranoia and fear into a rangy psychological drama that offers rare and thinly-spread moments of suspense. Trey Edward Schults uses a manipulation of aspect ratios and clever camerawork to frame instances in the story that elicit various emotions from the viewer. It's a unique ability that resonates well, but one that also needs a complement of other factors to fully appease the audience. Therefore, despite the film's narrowly developed story, exceptional performances from the entire cast help ease its slow-building tension that mounts like a well-choreographed dance as the stakes for survival grow higher and higher. It Comes at Night shows a darker side of humanity through a largely ambiguous lens. Personally, I enjoyed connecting the dots and cementing my own belief to the film's events. However, if you're someone who needs to know every little detail of a story, then expect to be frustrated. But either way, we'll all remember exactly how the film's explosive finale made us feel.


Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B





Director Colin Trevorrow's career has been on an odd trajectory ever since his well-made 2012 indie debut, Safety Not Guaranteed. The film's sci-fi backdrop and critical success paved the way for Trevorrow's emergence on the big-budget blockbuster stage with the money-printing franchise reboot, Jurassic World. Yet, before he closes out the latest Star Wars trilogy as the visionary behind 2019's concluding Episode IX, Trevorrow changes course entirely with the new limited-release drama, The Book of Henry.

Henry (Jaeden Lieberher) is a remarkably gifted and bright 11 year old boy who serves as the voice of maturity in a household that includes his waitress mother Susan (Naomi Watts) and younger brother Peter (Jacob Tremblay). But when Henry discovers that his next door neighbor and classmate Christina (Maddie Ziegler) is being abused by her police-chief stepfather (Dean Norris), he concocts a deadly plan to help free her from this miserable home life. Yet, unable to take care of matters himself, Henry pens a precisely detailed book so that his mother can carry out the plan.

At its core, The Book of Henry tells a heartbreaking, albeit somewhat uplifting, tale that satisfies with minor elements of humor, suspense and tenderness. Yet, an unforeseen sappy mid-section, one that would typically crumble under normal circumstances, plays surprisingly well thanks to a pair of Hollywood's most talented young performers. Jordan Lieberher and Jacob Tremblay. Lieberher broke into the industry as Bill Murray's sidekick in the affable comedy St. Vincent, while Tremblay is best known as the youngster in recent Best Picture nominee, Room. Together, these two stars in the making guide the audience through a messy and flawed story. Trevorrow and screenwriter Gregg Hurwitz attempt to wrap everything up in an inspiring fashion, yet force puzzling and unrealistic behaviors onto characters in order to make this narrative fit. Henry's cerebral and premeditated nature constantly preaches the notion that any miscalculation can throw off a plan entirely. Sadly, in opposition to what The Book of Henry teaches, flimsy and imperfect writing transforms this fun and heartfelt drama into a wildly mediocre film.


Stars: 2  stars out of 4

Grade: C+


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