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The Shallows

Perfect Summer Fear

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Shallows

It’s summer. It’s hot. The movie menu is lean. Go see The Shallows. The only people who won’t be scared are the accomplished surfers who are sure to keep insisting that none of it could ever happen. They’re right, but the point of a good summer thriller is not that it be possible but that it be terrifying. This one is terrifying because it is crafted with skill. There’s a reason that Jaws became a summer classic. Now and again people love to be scared, especially in the safety of a movie theater.

An early plus: the whole thing is filmed just 200 yards off shore in a beautiful Australian cove. Nancy (Blake Lively) is being driven to a remote beach by Carlos (Oscar Jaenada) who drives through sand, woods, and trails to the nearly always deserted beach. The remoteness is point one on the suspense scale. Nancy, a medical student, has been determined to surf this particular beach because of her mother’s description of surfing there years before she died. Surfer mother raised a surfer daughter who is determined to carry out Mom’s wish that she experience the magic of this place.

In the first ominous note, the friend who was to be her surfing buddy drops out. Nancy will be alone in this remote beauty. For a long satisfying spell we are treated to an accomplished surfer enjoying the mountainous waves. She is comfortable with the challenge because she’s good at what she does. We are enjoying her spirit and her skill.

I’ll go no farther with the plot than to say that by the time the Great White Shark appears, the music has told us to get ready, this is going to be tough. It is indeed. The whole thing is a storyteller’s holiday. Scenery, music, acting, and camera work combine to make sure you are frozen in anticipation of the next horrific twist. You can promise yourself you won’t close your eyes in fear, but you’ll lose that bet. Even worse – or better, depending on your outlook – it’s all so well done that you will begin to think this is all too professional for a happy ending. Will she or won’t she? That’s when your eyes will close involuntarily.

That brings us to Blake Lively. She is thoroughly credible as the young medical student determined to experience her mother’s dream. Whether she’s dealing with the thrill and beauty of surfing those waves or dealing with the physical and emotional shock of the shark, she doesn’t overact.

Lively is supported all the way by technicians who know how to make real blood, cuts, scars, and vomit for further credibility. You could tell me the whole thing was filmed in an Australian bathtub and I wouldn’t care. That’s how good the special effects are. So good that I can’t even mention the shark or the whale. I was quite surprised, and grateful, that I hadn’t had a heart attack.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Shallows
Word count : 497
Running time : 1:27
Rating : PG-13
Date : July 17, 2016

 

This review was posted on July 16, 2016, in Horror.

10 Cloverfield Lane

At Your Own Risk

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

10 Cloverfiled Lane

Finding a good movie to review in the March doldrums is a tough task. With this week’s possibilities mired in dismal mediocrity, 10 Cloverfield Lane looked like the best bet. Here’s the hype:

“After a car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself locked in an underground shelter with Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) and doomsday prepper Howard (John Goodman), who tells them there’s something apocalyptic happening outside.”

Rumors floated about the skill of director Dan Trachtenberg and blockbuster producer J.J. Abrams. Reports of a “good cast” were the final lure.

Sitting through a string of imbecilic horror previews leading up to the feature, it was impossible not to be ashamed and angry that Hollywood’s summer menu for the PG-13 population is so thoroughly rooted in guns, explosions, treachery, betrayal, and violence of every imaginable kind. These are the blockbusters that spread throughout the rest of the world as well as serving as the summer menu for Americans. Why only this? Where are the clever mysteries, detective stories, spy yarns and stories of triumph over adversity?

Hollywood has learned that they can lure audiences by lumping previews of a similar stripe to the feature about to be shown – the irresistibly tasty bait of “if you like this one, you’ll like these.” As the last horrific trailer unspooled, I began to suspect the worst about 10 Cloverfield Lane.

John Goodman is very clever as Howard, the nutcase who has spent years preparing his impenetrable survival house for the apocalypse. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is impressive as Michelle, one of Howard’s two prisoners and John Gallagher Jr. creates a credible Emmett as the second captive.

The movie unfolds as an ugly chess game with Howard claiming he is saving his prisoners’ lives by keeping them in the locked dungeon he calls his safe place. During the bulk of the film, the three of them play games to pass the time while Michelle plots her escape. What will she find when she gets out? Will it be the attack Howard described? Or something else entirely?

The admirable cast gives us a grand puzzle until the whole thing leaps into blockbuster chaos. It becomes what is known as a “sliver” movie – an ordinary movie with a taste of big time chaos – horror on the cheap. The story turns from a thriller/suspense puzzle into an ear-splitting soundtrack for what morphs into a movie full of terror, violence, and shock.

When the ordeal is over it is impossible not to reminisce about stories of yore when scripts jumped alive with verbal surprises and stories allowed you to sit in thoughtful silence wondering, “who did it?” For the real deal, you might consider returning to Bridge of Spies.

Disclaimer – it’s exactly what I don’t like – hitting the audience with high tech terror. If that’s what you like, then toss this review and go see it. If fear is your pleasure, then 10 Cloverfield Lane is a banquet.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Movie Title : 10 Cloverfield Lane
Word Count : 496
Distributor : Paramount
Running time : 1:43
Rating : PG-13