Tag Archives: real events

Review – Room (15) [2016]

Room - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Lenny Abrahamson – Adam & Paul, Garage, What Richard Did, Frank

Cast:

  • Brie Larsson – Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, 21 Jump Street, Don Jon, The Glass Castle
  • Jacob Tremblay – The Smurfs 2, Shut In, Before I Wake, The Book Of Henry
  • Joan Allen – Face/Off, The Notebook, Bourne II-IV, A Good Marriage
  • Sean Bridgers – Sweet Home Alabama, Deadwood, Dark Places, The Magnificent Seven
  • William H Macy – Fargo, Psycho, Sahara, ER, Blood Father

Music Composer:

  • Stephen Rennicks – Garage, Eden, What Richard Did, Frank, L’accabadora

The Woman In Black, The Possession, Mama and It Follows have illustrated the general paucity of horror films in recent years and how the paranormal subgenre isn’t scary because it cannot happen in real life. In contrast, Misery, Requiem For A Dream, We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Gift have demonstrated that when films portray situations that can happen to people, it can be infinitely scarier and more unnerving to watch. Add Room to the latter category.

Joy (Brie Larsson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) playing with a snake they have made out of string and egg-shells.

Joy (Brie Larsson) and Jack (Jacob Tremblay) playing with a snake they have made out of string and egg-shells.

  Room is adapted from the book with the same title by Emma Donohue. The film begins with Joy (Brie Larsson) and her five year old, feral-looking son, Jack (Jacob Tremblay), in a small, squalid shed. It transpires that Joy was abducted by a man known only as ‘Old Nick’ (Sean Bridgers) seven years ago and has been locked in the shed ever since. Jack has never been outside it and believes the shed (or ‘Room’ as he calls it) to be the entire world. However, Joy wants to get out of the shed. She thinks up a plan and, for it to succeed, it will involve Jack experiencing the outside world for the first time.

Room is an engaging film that succeeds in many ways. Immediately, people can empathise with Joy’s predicament. One may not find the threat of silly Gollum-like monsters and/or evil spirits attacking (imbecilic) individuals realistic or scary. Yet, the threat of being abducted and locked up in some hell-hole is a very real and terrifying one. The cases of Natascha Kampusch, Elizabeth Smart and Gilad Shalit emphasise this and highlight how harrowing the experience can be for the abductee and their families. Room effectively shows some (and implies others) of the horrors that the abductee may suffer in a mature, non-gratuitous way. This quite rightly makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Viewers, however, would not feel the abductee’s pain if it were not for Brie Larsson’s acting. She powerfully shows us the different stages that abductees can suffer from and, for this, she fully deserves the acclaim she is receiving. The only surprise is that Larsson is the only one receiving the plaudits and awards, as her main co-star, Jacob Tremblay, is also brilliant. For one so young, his acting is remarkable and completely realistic of how a five year old would see the world and behave under such traumatic circumstances. And his/Jack’s relationship with Brie Larsson/Joy is life-assuring and overwhelming for all the right reasons.

Joy desperately trying to explain to Jack that there is more to the world than 'Room,' despite Jack's protestations.

Joy desperately trying to explain to Jack that there is more to the world than ‘Room,’ despite Jack’s protestations.

Nevertheless, despite Room’s terrifying premise and outstanding acting, the film is not flawless. Joy’s plan to escape is fanciful at best (and unrealistic at worst). Additionally, the events leading up to Joy’s abduction are never fully expounded upon, and the same can be said about Joy’s family and the effects that her abduction have had on them. These two issues are particularly frustrating as it would not have been difficult for director Lenny Abrahamson to have elucidated upon them to make the movie more complete.

Over-all, Room is a very convincing film. The acting is wonderful and enables audiences to understand the characters and their predicaments, whether it be how an innocent child would see the world if he/she had only lived in a small shed, or how the torment of being abducted effects adults.

Nevertheless, Room is not an enjoyable movie. It is harrowing. What happens to Joy can happen to anyone. Thus, Room is a real horror film: one that upsets and unsettles viewers to the core.

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Review – Zero Dark Thirty (15) [2013]

Zero Dark Thirty - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Kathryn Bigelow – The Loveless, The Weight of Water, The Hurt Locker

Cast:

Music Composer:

When it comes to films about historical events, like Titanic, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Lincoln, one knows how they will end before even starting them. Yet, such movies can be just as, if not more entertaining and gripping than movies where one does not know what is going to happen. The same is true for the arresting Zero Dark Thirty, which also sends out a potent message to America’s enemies.

The film is a politico-historical drama based around real events. ‘Zero dark thirty’ is a military codename for half past midnight, and it is the time that the operation to kill Osama Bin Laden took place on the night of 1st/2nd May 2011 in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Maya (Jessica Chastain), baggy-eyed as she watches countless interrogations of detainees in her attempts to find a lead to Osama Bin Laden's location.

Maya (Jessica Chastain), baggy-eyed as she watches countless interrogations of detainees in her attempts to find a lead to Osama Bin Laden’s location.

Zero Dark Thirty is all about the CIA’s attempts to find the world’s most wanted man following his masterminding of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on 11th September 2011, and his subsequent vanishing. The film is an unhurried, yet captivating thriller that does not feel like it is 157 minutes long. Like with The Hurt Locker, it has a grounded feel, and therefore lacks the hyperbole and surrealism of 24. Even the ending mirrors this mood, which is rare and noteworthy for Hollywood.  It is too early to know how true Zero Dark Thirty is to the reality, but it feels like a realistic and fair representation of events. First, it illustrates how dangerous it is for Americans to be in Afghanistan/Pakistan, thereby emphasising how heroic they are being out there. Second, it demonstrates some of the difficulties CIA agents face operating in the field, trying to unearth information about their targets (who have multiple identities and never seem to stay in the same place twice). Third, the movie shows the CIA adopting dubious torture methods and degrading treatment upon suspected and actual terrorists in undisclosed locations in their desperate bid to find leads on Bin Laden.

There has been much controversy over Kathryn Bigelow’s depiction of torture adopted by US personnel in 2002 and afterward (when it was officially outlawed). Arguably, the film enables Bigelow to reveal her anti-American/anti-war bias again, like she did so painfully in the critically-acclaimed The Hurt Locker. Yet, it is doubtful that she glorifies torture here. Instead, she lets viewers decide for themselves, in a similar vein to Rendition, if torture is ever necessary or useful, which is an intelligent way of kicking off a moral debate on an important and current subject.

CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke) arguing with his and Maya's boss, Joseph (Kyle Chandler), as he tries to help Maya in anyway he can.

CIA agent Dan (Jason Clarke, right) arguing with his and Maya’s boss, Joseph (Kyle Chandler, left), as he tries to help Maya in anyway he can.

But what is even more striking than the portrayal of ‘enhanced interrogations’ in Zero Dark Thirty is how the film has painted the War on Terror as merely Osama Bin Laden. Yes, he is the figurehead of modern-day Jihadi terrorism and his death is a symbolic hammer-blow to the cause. But by 2011 it is dubious how influential Bin Laden was to the pursuit of world Jihadism, due to the emergence of numerous Al-Qaeda splinter groups, such as Al-Aqaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Al-Shabaab, among others. Yet, these other terrorist groups are barely given a mention, which is strange considering the security threat they pose to the world.

Additionally, Zero Dark Thirty does not explore, even for the sake of context, the complex and conflicting relationships between America, Afghanistan and Pakistan, not to mention the contradictory nature of the Pakistani state itself. (Anyone remember David Cameron saying that Pakistan looks “both ways” on terrorism?)

However, if one can ignore the lack of political background, one can enjoy strong performances from all the cast. At the forefront, is Jessica Chastain, who demonstrates, for the first time, that she can play a leading role just as solidly as she can a supporting one when given the chance. Her single-minded character, Maya, is given the central task of finding Bin Laden. Maya might get her way sometimes in a contrived manner for reasons of plot, but Chastain looks so natural in the role, and the way Maya changes under the circumstances is indicative of Chastain’s talent.

Patrick (Joel Edgerton) enjoying banter with his marine companions before leading them to into combat to kill Bin Laden.

Patrick (Joel Edgerton) enjoying banter with his marine companions before leading them to into combat to kill Bin Laden.

Maya’s solemnity is in mild contrast to her two main colleagues, the tough-yet-amusing Dan (Jason Clarke) and the bitchy Jessica (Jennifer Ehle). Both Clarke and Ehle play well, and are more empathetic than Maya. Nevertheless, they are both outshone by Chastain’s performance.

Over-all, Zero Dark Thirty is a sincere and honest attempt to recreate the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden. That one knows how the movie will end is irrelevant, as it is an engrossing and tense watch. The film might be devoid of much of the current context vis-à-vis the War on Terror, and it might be overly-simplified; yet, what it lacks on those fronts, it makes up for in compelling performances, not least from Jessica Chastain. Furthermore, Zero Dark Thirty sends out a stark message to America’s enemies: it doesn’t matter where they hide or for how long they hide, America will find them and bring them to justice.

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