Darke Reviews | A Simple Favor (2018)

I happened upon this trailer only a few weeks ago and I was immediately curious about what the unfolding of the story would look like. Kendrick is always solid in anything she does, usually giving a stand out performance above and beyond her co stars; while Lively won me over in Age of Adeline and The Shalllows. I know Kendrick and Lively have been doing the rounds and marketing the film, but I’ve missed all of it; somewhat intentionally so I could enjoy the movie for what it wanted to do and bring me along on the journey of uncovering the mystery of what the simple favor might be and its results.

Was it worth the anticipation?

First we need to understand it was based on a book by Darcey Bell that I shall never likely read. It was adapted for the screen by Jessica Sharzer, who was a writer on a handful of episodes of American Horror Story and the 2016 movie Nerve that had some interesting ideas going for it. While I will never know what the material covered, I can say with confidence that Sharzer did an excellent job writing a screenplay for a suspense mystery that has an air of comedy to it that shouldn’t be possible with the directions it takes, but rides the line so deftly I cannot fault it. I often critique movies on tonal issues and had this one not been so intentional in its scripting it would have received the same such complaint. The script here is tight, and no I am not getting into the story beyond the trailer – Spoilers duh, but I don’t think there’s a single scene worth putting on the cutting room floor or a moment of dialogue I really found cringeworthy.

Surprisingly, some of the credit here goes to 2016 Ghostbusters director Paul Feig. Interesting and unrelated note, it is now getting the subheading of “Ghostbusters: Answer the Call”.  This makes Feigs first movie without Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters) since  2011, also while being his 4th film since then too. *sigh* He is not what I would call and inspired director, as the movie is largely shot as you would a rom-com or his usual fair within the cinema with static camera shots and a film almost entirely filmed from a medium shot, or close ups in a standard 180 back and forth. There were some hints of growth with a POV tracking shot or a slight sideways camera move, but not enough to call the movie thrilling in that aspect. What he can do, and proved in the only other film of his I’ve seen, is still get layered and nuanced performances from his cast. He brought the humor to the edge of too much a few times, but reeled it in at the last second all the while still giving us something to figure out and displaying the changes in our characters as the movie and mystery unfolds.

Kendrick and Lively are perfect together. Their scenes are endearing as you watch these polar opposite characters engage with each other and the evolution of Kendricks character Stephanie through the film. Watching that was truly a joy and so much beyond script and direction comes down to the levels that Anna Kendrick can bring to the screen. Also worth mentioning this is not a Blake Lively performance I have ever seen before and it is absolutely knocked out of the park. No one else in the film comes close, though Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) does his best. He is given more to do here than he was in that film, and the range is there. I would love to see him with a stronger director and different style of film to really understand what he can do. Granted I might be biased as his accent is to die for.

The movie does have its flaws though. As I said the camera work is uninspired and quite honestly, there’s a few things I would have loved to see them have the boldness to do. The pacing is brisk, but the editing is solid. One of the other highlights of the film in the technical aspect is the costuming, when you go see this pay attention to both our main female leads and watch what they wear as there’s very intentional craftsmanship in their costuming and make up through the film.

TL;DR?

This movie is the quiet dark horse of the weekend. It doesn’t cross the line The Predator did by going full comedy-action (in that priority order) and isn’t a historical mob drama, but I think it is quite likely one of the best releases we are going to get this September. This is not a mediocre film by any stretch, its both enjoyable and engaging; while still drawing you into the mystery and the lives of the charactrers. It has intent and effort that should be rewarded.

Should I see it?

Yes. No questions. Yes.

Would you see it again?

Absolutely.

Buying it then? 

No doubts.

You haven’t been this excited in a month; whats up?

The movie does a lot of things that speak to my interests across the board. It tells a story that just grabs me and takes me to the dark places I want to see characters go; even if it keeps on the guard rails. That’s the big flaw, it still is safe; beyond that it had me. I liked it.

Also special thanks to the unofficial girls night that lead to this and the friend who organized it and the other who joined us for the first time. I look forward to future engagements.

Darke Reviews | The Shallows (2016)

Yes, this week is another three-fer. I was mildly interested in this movie when the trailer came out. Blake Lively rarely disappoints even if the movie she is in does (*stares at Green Lantern*). I also, if you know me, have a thing about the water. I love it. It’s one of the few things that bring me peace in this world. So without anything else to do tonight, I decided to go to the movies again and check this out. You know you go to a theatre a lot when one of the ushers asks “What show tonight?” then asks for a review after…

So should you avoid the Shallows?

This review is going to pose a challenge. How do I write in depth about a very basic premise with a limited cast, limited shooting locations, and also avoid spoilers on something that is intended to drive tension? Well, lets try talking about the behind the scenes as usual. Written by Anthony Jaswinski, who is behind the  very under rated The Vanishing on 7th street and Kristy (which I am watching as I write) – in other words he is a horror writer. The director is Jaume Collet-Sera, who directed 2005’s House of Wax and 2009’s Orphan, both of which were actually not that bad. Sadly, he also directed the Liam Neeson plane ‘thriller’ Non-Stop, which was not very good.

The story here is a simple one. Girl goes to a secluded beach in Mexico. Girl gets attacked by Shark. Girl must survive and either beat the shark, make it to shore, or die in the process of either. That’s it. The trailer told the story and told it accurately. No surprises there, but what was a surprise is how well the movie built tension. I may have jumped a few times, and yes it relied on a jump scare or two but they were functional and I don’t begrudge the movie for it. I really found myself wondering what would happen next and how they would let it play out. This is a welcome surprise for a reviewer who spends a lot of time in the theatre or otherwise in front of a screen watching movies. Horror within the past decade has taught us that even the protagonist isn’t safe, so while many would discount it going “they won’t kill Blake”…I am not so sure anymore. I rather enjoy the uncertainty. It played on that and I was not disappointed as the movie built and ramped the tension.

From a technical aspect, I notice that the Horror genre is one of the few to try to integrate social media and technology into the narrative. While it is only in the first act, they do a pretty good job of integrating how she uses her phone to look at pictures and a video call with her sister.  Rather than turning the camera away from the actor they keep on her and use overlays to give a display of the screen. This keeps you in the moment with her and holds to a more cohesive narrative rather than cutting away to show whatever is on screen. It’s an introduction from moment one that they use throughout the film to help show the passage of time via her watch and well…the sky. Had they not showed the initial media in this way it would have been more jarring later on. Additionally they use music and make up to progress the story. Marco Beltrami, composer of way too many things, does a good job integrating the music to help build tension appropriately. The make-up department did a knock out job with their work. They had to do a shark bite that looked real-ish, but also to gradually show Lively suffering from sun exposure, dehydration, and side effects from the bite.

The shark is a bit…meh. That said, I have really yet to see a Shark that doesn’t look meh on film. I *love* Jaws (which apparently I need to review?), but Bruce doesn’t look that hot. He did when people didn’t know what sharks looked like, enough so that people did horrible things out of fear of sharks. Now, not so much. Of course he was all practical. Since then we have never really been graced with good sharks. We know more about them in how they hunt, attack, anatomy; hell we have another Shark week coming,  but we still can’t make a shark really look good on film. We know that sharks not only breach, but do so more often than we realized, yet when Hollywood does it…yeah. I am looking a a list of “Movies about sharks” on wiki right now and it’s generally overloaded by SyFy films and their dubious quality. The shark here isn’t *that* bad and it is one of the better ones, but I just feel that we’re still not trying as much as we could to make them look better.

TL;DR

The Shallows is actually one of the best shark attack/survival movies out there. I rather enjoyed the tension and spent a moment talking to the couple next to me after the movie who agreed this is up there in the genre. It doesn’t try to deviate too much from it’s simple premise and that is a strength of the movie. Blake Lively, who I didn’t talk about in the main body is good and has the chops to carry the movie and make it a bit more and work within the confines of the limited location and story. It has a tight running time and is wise to hold to it.

Should you watch it?

If you like the genre – yes. It is a solid ‘natural’ horror/survival film that does it’s job well and entertains.

Will Jess buy it?

Probably. The visuals are good. Sound is good. It’s worth it for that alone. It does have rewatch value.