Horror movies are traditionally not kind to African Americans. Black characters tend to feature in genre films as comedic sidekicks or surly thugs – both archetypes destined for a messy death before the end credits roll. There are exceptions, of course, George A. Romero’s allegorical zombie flicks, Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) both feature black protagonists and cult classic Demon Knight (1995) has a black heroine, played by Jada Pinkett Smith. Movies like this tend to be the exception, however, so when a film like Get Out comes along it makes an impact.
Get Out tells the tale of Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) a young black man who is heading into the country to meet the parents of his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). It’s a premise rife with comedic potential and uncomfortable social commentary and the first half of Get Out plays like a slightly squirmy, extended version of a Key & Peele sketch, which makes sense as the film is directed by one half of the duo, Jordan Peele himself. Allison’s parents, Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) trip over themselves to prove how progressive and cool with race they are – Dean even suggests he would have “voted for Obama a third time if [he] could” – but it soon becomes clear something darker is happening at the Armitage house and these pleasant-seeming white people have a terrible secret.
To describe any more of the plot would be to head into spoiler territory and that would be a great pity. In fact you’re better off seeing Get Out with as little foreknowledge as possible, even the trailer trades in spoilers and half the fun of the movie is unravelling the (admittedly not terribly complex) mystery at its core.
Get Out is about mood rather than big shocks and gore. Stylistically it feels like a modern, race-focused Rosemary’s Baby – although white privilege stands in for Satan here, and the ultimate reveal comes from a very different place. Jordan Peele’s knowing direction showcases his lifelong genre veneration and the film drips with atmosphere and tension. The social subtext of being an uncomfortable black man in a casually racist white community is both fresh and confronting and adds a new dimension to a well-worn narrative.
Ultimately Get Out is an effective, thought-provoking, slow-burn thriller.It’s a moody horror movie with moments of levity rather than a horror comedy, and offers a rare example of a film that manages to say something incisive and entertain at the same time. If you’re even vaguely interested do yourself a favour and go see it without watching trailers and remember: never trust whitey.
A Cure For Wellness, director Gore Verbinski’s (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean) return to the horror fold, starts off so promisingly. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an amoral Wall Street functionary with a raft of Freudian issues (dad was a suicide, mum is sequestered in a dowdy retirement home) is dispatched to the Swiss Alps to retrieve a senior company man from a health spa for the rich and ill. Once there he finds a subtly sinister alpine-gothic retreat where beatific wrinklies are subjected to hydrotherapy by white-tuniced staff, dark hints are dropped about the institution’s dark past, and there’s something not quite right about the joint’s administrator, Dr. Volmer (he is, after all, played by Jason Isaacs, which is a bit of a giveaway).
Throw in Hannah (Mia Goth), a wan, mysterious girl with ties to whatever dark conspiracy underpins the action, and you’ve got a recipe for an old-school mystery with plenty of striking and disturbing imagery (Verbinski hasn’t lost a trick when it comes to framing an arresting shot) and, in this case, eels.
Unfortunately, what you get is a bloated, lurching, poorly paced mess of a film that has simply no idea what it wants to be. Conradian journey into the heart of darkness? Argento-lite waking dream of murder and madness? Sly commentary on the poisonous nature of modern life? Parable about the inevitable horrors of ageing and infirmity? A Cure For Wellness is all these things and somehow less.
It’s when it is tackling that last element that the film really works. The spa is populated by a horde of pallid, wrinkly elders who have a very European attitude to public decency, and Verbinksi gets a lot out of contrasting their acres of withered flesh with the young and supple DeHaan and Goth. There’s also a tooth-loss motif running through the film (there’s Freud again) that adds to the “senescence and dying” theme.
It all gets lost in the mix, though, as awkward plot complication piles on awkward plot complication, and the rather nonsensical secret of the story (involving incest, immortality, magic water and, as mentioned above, eels – lots and lots of eels) is gradually uncovered. DeHaan does good work here as the self-made business bastard in over his head, but he’s given precious little to actually do. With his leg in a cast like a latter-day Jimmy Stewart he hobbles around the self-contained world of the spa finding clues, which basically amounts to various people straight-up telling him bits of what’s going on. He makes for a poor detective, and the film severs our connection with him on that level at several points to show us important plot elements that he simply can’t witness, breaking a cardinal rule of the mystery genre.
By the time we get to the third act (which smacks of a massive re-shoot, it’s so out of whack with what has preceded it) you’ll have either given up or be rapt in A Cure For Wellness‘s sheer lurching madness, wondering what will happen next and for how long (the bloody thing is two and a half hours!) as the plot spirals out of control and incident piles upon loony, nonsensical incident, finally arriving at a pat denouement that picks up the thematic pieces the film has been laying down and basically turfs them in favour of a tidy ending completely at odds with what has gone before.
And yet… and yet…
There’s fun to be had here, if your definition of “fun” includes watching the wheels come off a handsomely-budgeted studio picture. The film is exquisitely shot, contrasting the polished hospital surfaces and crisp mountain landscape with squeamish body horror elements and milking its locations for all their worth (it was partially shot at Germany’s Hohenzollern Castle, which is really something to see). Verbinski is clearly having a ball laying on the spooky atmosphere, and even though the individual elements are frequently too on-the-nose – there’s even a creepy, murderous-looking groundskeeper, for crying out loud! – but fans of, say, ’70s-era Hammer who appreciate a little OTT foreshadowing will get a kick out of it. There’s the occasional very striking nightmare image – again, mainly involving eels – that lingers after the credits roll.
It’s still a mess, though. A Cure For Wellness is by no stretch a good film, but it’s certainly a unique kind of failure, and uniqueness has its own value. Connoisseurs of bad movies need to see this, but the rank and file had best invest their time elsewhere.
It’s unclear whether writer/director Nacho Vigalondo (True Crimes, Extraterrestrial, Open Windows) is trying to deconstruct the traditional ‘monster movie’ here, or if he’s just taking the piss in a world of post-ironic content. Either way, Colossal is a stupid, imaginative, far-fetched, fantastical romp that brings to life a veritable genre frankenstein of b-grade monster movies and rom-coms. And it’s freaking awesome.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is an out-of-work writer and New York party girl who, after getting kicked out of her apartment by her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), is forced to leave her life in the city and move back to her sleepy hometown, upstate, where she reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). When news reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, South Korea, Gloria gradually comes to the realisation that she is somehow connected to this far-off phenomenon. As events begin to spin out of control, Gloria must determine why her seemingly insignificant existence has such a colossal effect on the fate of the world.
If Pacific Rim and When Harry Met Sally had a baby, it would be Colossal. Vigalondo’s original screenplay and direction are very, very silly. So silly that you kind of give up on any semblance of critical redemption and really lean into the epic bravado and disbelief of it all. Having said that, it’s clear in Vigalondo’s writing that he isn’t too crash hot with the whole symbolism thing, where the monsters in the narrative are hackneyed, thinly-veiled attempts to represent the addiction and rage issues of some of the characters. It will definitely set off your most epic internal Liz Lemon eye-roll.
Having said that, the film isn’t your run-of-the-mill, brainless action-fest. It’s actually quite clever and well-resolved in terms of depth of character and plot structure. Gloria for example, is a self-destructive alcoholic wreck, fumbling toward redemption with limited success, trying to prove to her ex-boyfriend that she can, in fact, take control of her life in a bid to win him back. She is also however, a woman battling for her survival in the shadow of two very different monsters on either side of the world.
Jason Sudeikis’ character is also quite unpredictable – is he good? Is he bad? You just don’t know until the very end! Watching him, you get the impression that even Vigalondo didn’t know where the Oscar character would end up when writing it, which keeps things spicy.
Though it’s not winning any Oscars, Colossal is strangely a bit of a filmmakers’ film – flying in the face of two long celebrated genres and experimenting wildly and unapologetically with a veritable smorgasbord of strict tropes and traditions. The writing, the way it’s been shot and edited, even the performances – everything has been custom-made to play with the boundaries so much so that it almost feels like satire (don’t worry, not in a Scary Movie way, more like Adaptation, minus the inevitable critical acclaim).
In any case, Colossal is big, loud and dumb in the most endearing sense. It’s got its problems, sure, but with a strong, complex female lead and monsters that tear up South Korea, you end up suspending your disbelief so much that leaning into it is unavoidable – not to mention fun.