No One Gets Out Alive (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An undocumented woman from Mexico moves into a dilapidated building run by a guy who is obviously hiding something sinister

This film is an acquired taste, I’ll say that upfront now. There’s a chance you won’t like this. Maybe you won’t like the pacing, maybe you won’t like the horror style, maybe you’re an asshole and won’t like that the main character is an undocumented citizen. Either way, there is a lot that could possibly rub you the wrong way. I dug it though. There’s something so weirdly timeless about this movie. I think I’ve mentioned in the past that some horror films seem more like ghost stories read by candlelight. This is definitely one of those. Also, despite it being set in America, it feels weirdly British. Maybe it’s because of the “ghost story” like feeling to it. Maybe it’s the architecture. Maybe it’s something as simple as the fact some of the other people are Romanian etc, which seems more like something you’ll find in England than the US (or maybe it’s because it’s based on a book by a British author. Who knows?)

I’ll admit, I’m not that familiar with the work of the director, Santiago Menghini, but now I want to be. He makes some great choices in this which really enhance it. There are some decisions where nothing was needed, but he did something anyway, and it makes it better. The best example is when someone is being killed on the other side of a door, and a tooth flies under the door. Most people wouldn’t think to do that, but it really adds to it and shows a great attention to those little details that make a film great.

It’s not just him though, the performers are all great too. It’s a cast of people I’m unfamiliar with and that helped it. It felt less like a movie, and more like we were witnessing these events. Cristina Rodlo, in particular, is a revelation, giving her character the broken strength needed to make it work (and make the flashback make sense with her characterisation).

This is an incredibly powerful story. The basic set up and characters would work in a drama series. It’s only the specific situation that is definite horror. That helps it as it makes it feel like the story is happening in reality, as opposed to some horror films which seem to take place in a horror movie universe.

I think this is a film you need at watch at some point, but not one you need to rush out and see immediately. It’s not as good as, say, The Power, but it’s not as frustrating a watch as Lucky. It’s a netflix original, so hopefully will stay on the platform for a very long time. So if you want something to watch with your friends who don’t enjoy gorey or incredibly disturbing horror films this halloween, it would be hard to go wrong with this. The non horror parts are engaging enough to keep everybody watching involved.

12 Hour Shift (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A drug-addicted nurse needs to find a spare kidney to stop her sister being killed.

By all rights I should have loved this. It’s an interesting plot, bloody, funny, and it has Mick Foley. For some reason it inspired no bigger reaction than “it was alright”. It was good, but it never felt better than that to me. It never fully grabbed me like I needed it to. I’m not sure why, the performances are great, I’ve only seen Angela Bettis in the 2002 version of Carrie, a film which had many problems but she was not one of them. I think its an issue of the film over-reaching, it attempts a lot more than it needs to. It has so many plates spinning in the air that it never spins them quickly enough. If it cut down some of the unnecessary characters I feel it would be stronger. Because it has so much going on it never really gathers enough momentum to be truly satisfying.

It’s written and directed by Brea Grant, who also gave us Lucky, which was more disappointing but probably had more potential. It’s a shame because she’s obviously really good, it’s just her stuff seems more like stuff I’d see shorts of than features. Not to say this film is bad though, like I said the performances are great, and it’s really really funny when it needs to be.

It’s still weird to see Mick Foley drop the f-bomb considering I always assumed he was allergic. It also looks great, has a kind of washed out greyness too it that really suits the tone. Praise must also go to the uniqueness of the the film. It’s hard to compare it anything because there’s really not much else like this. There’s not nearly enough horror films set in a hospital, especially not one over the course of a nightshift, which is weird as that kind of thing is ripe for horror movie fodder. I feel that may also slightly work against this film, you get the feeling that it’s not quite making the most of the setting and timing. There doesn’t seem to be much in this film that couldn’t be accomplished over the course of a few nights instead of just one. It doesn’t have that race against time that would be great for a film like this. It does seem to do a lot with the location, there are few places this could take place in other than a hospital, although again, it doesn’t make the most of the fact that it’s a night shift. Compare this to something like The Power, which made the most of the creepy nature of hospitals late at night.

Maybe that’s my issue, it doesn’t feel like a horror movie full of darkness and creepiness, it feels a bit like a cheap slasher movie, but the story doesn’t lend itself to that so there’s a real disconnect between tone and story. Also it feels a little too polished for such a scuzzy tale. It needs to feel dirty, but it comes off just a bit too clean. Overall the film suffers a real struggle for tone throughout, and that really hurts it.

This is a film I feel I will like a lot more on a second watch, and I will watch it again someday, just not for a while. Worth checking out though.

I Blame Society (2020)

Quick Synopsis: A struggling film-maker (Gillian Horvat) realises that the skill set to make a movie is the same to commit a murder.

Obviously I had to see this. From the first time I saw the tagline, I knew I had to watch this. The concept was unique, being dark and twisted in a way I really appreciated. It could only go one of two ways: one of my favourite films of the year, or one of the most disappointing.

Thankfully this is squarely in the first camp. It makes the most of the concept, it’s something new and exciting, and the script is incredible. I say that with certainty because it passes one test on whether I love a film or not: it annoys me that I didn’t write this. It seems very me as a concept, and I’m so glad it was handled by someone as talented as Horvat (who directed/wrote this film as well as starring in it). Her background is in short films, and I guess the concept here is best suited for that, there are a few moments where the film seems uncertain of what it’s doing, the ending in particular doesn’t quite hit as it needs to. It also feels quite low budget, but personally I think that works for it. It feels home-made. That’s something that would put a lot of people off, but it really appealed to me and helped bring me into the world. It’s shot like a documentary (of which Horvat has a lot of experience in as a director, and it shows), and it’s not exactly a subject which would allow a big budget as a documentary. In universe, the documentary is not funded by a studio, and she doesn’t have a large crew on which to fall on, it’s pretty much just one woman and a camera. So you do have moments where she sets up a static camera, then people move out of the centre of the frame. There are awkward setting up of shots, the camera isn’t always steady when she’s moving and the lighting isn’t always great. But that all makes sense in universe. It doesn’t seem like “oh, this is low budget and the film-makers don’t know what they’re doing”, it feels more like “this was a stylistic choice to improve the believability of the film”, and I love it.

Now onto the performances, there are a lot of performers in this, but it’s definitely Horvat’s showcase, and she carries it off well. There are a few moments where she doesn’t seem sure what she’s doing, but that feels more like character-work than bad performance. It’s not the best performance of the year by a long shot, but it is one of the most believable. I have no idea what she’s like as a person, but her performance makes me think she’s almost exactly like the character in the film (just less murder-ey, maybe). Again, it’s not something everybody will like, but it really worked for me. It helps with how well-written her character is, so that even when she’s doing horrible things, you root for her. And even when she’s doing stuff that shouldn’t make sense, you can see her logic for it. It’s all very well done.

Another polarising aspect will be the plot. It’s very feminist, and isn’t shy about displaying that. That will be off-putting to some, but I doubt those people will be watching low budget movies anyway because they’re too busy crying that “I displayed basic human dignity to a human female, and she didn’t fuck me. I hope she dies”. With films like this, Lucky, The Power, and Promising Young Woman (which I still really need to see), this is definitely a year of women fighting back in films. A year where they are displaying how fed up they are with dealing with the bullshit they have to on a daily basis, and want to power back against the systems that hold them down. On the one hand: it’s brilliant that those voices are now being amplified and listened to, so that’s great. But on the other hand, it’s depressing that those things still needed to be said.

So yeah, I loved this film, as you can tell. It’s so damn funny and brilliant. It’s a film that will split opinion, but those who like it will really like it. A cult hit that needs a bigger audience, and I genuinely think it deserves it. A film that continues 2021’s streak of fantastic womens films. I will freely admit that Mouthpiece was a much better film, but I have more love for this (and considering how many times I’ve put that film over this year, that says a lot).

Lucky (2020)

Was curious about this ever since I first saw the trailer. It looked genuinely interesting, and kind of like a reverse Happy Death Day, whilst in that film the main character was getting killed every single day, in this film, a woman is being hunted by a killer who she survives every single day. This film was impactful, and the performances were great (Bea Grant was really good in it as the lead, but my favourite performer was probably Kausar Mohammed, who isn’t in it much but has one of the best scenes). It had a compelling narrative that contained a real mystery within it. So I was with this film every single step of the way. But as I watched it, cracks in my affection started to appear. A few shots where the colour scheme wasn’t quite right or the shot composition seemed a little ropey or the lighting was the wrong choice, a few moments where the make-up and gore looked incredibly fake, some moments where the music went from “creepy and unsettling” to “well this is just annoying me now”. I ignored those negative thoughts, as I was sure the closing stretch would be superb. I felt it was building towards something great.

I’m usually pretty good at sensing timings in films. I very rarely have “is that it?” moments when the film ends. This film had that. It felt like it was slowly approaching something, and then it skipped a few steps. Also, I’m gonna say it, I was not a fan of the ending. I completely get what it was going for and I commend them for it, but it turned a literal story into a metaphorical one, and unless you were following the metaphor, the story didn’t make sense. There are a hundred different ways they could have done the ending which would have satisfied both the narrative, and the metaphor. It would have been difficult, but it would have been possible.

Yes, I am aware this is a personal preference and a lot of you will love this film because of the ending. I can’t hide it anymore so I’ll tell you what the ending is, and do my best to explain my own interpretation of it. Her partner comforts her and is genuinely creepy, then she gets attacked by him again. She stabs him and collapses alongside him, where his face starts transforming into all the other male characters from the film. This, combined with a moment earlier where seemingly every female character was also being attacked by the same mysterious masked figure, combines to form this as the ending and central theme:

Women are under constant attack, not just by a specific man, but by patriarchal power structures and men in general. That the constant barrage of “you need to lose weight”, “you need to stop being skinny, I prefer a bit of meat on my bones”, “how can you leave the children with someone else while you go to work?”, “how can you quit your job to spend time with your kids? How will you afford things?”, “you should wear make-up”, “why are you wearing so much make up?”. Just this CONSTANT barrage of unwanted and contradictory unasked-for opinions that women have forced upon them by society and culture is fucking exhausting and is leading to severe mental and physical health problems for women. And even the ones who aren’t killing them, they’re making things worse for them by disbelieving them, minimising their fears, downplaying their achievements (shown in this film by having the police not believe her, and her agent saying it was all his work that got her a good contract). Essentially it’s about how women are being constantly gaslit

I agree that this is a noble point to make, it’s a point that is very important, one that needs to be said, and said loudly. But it feels like such a cop-out for the narrative which until then played it pretty straight. It would be like if you watched a hockey movie, where the underdogs had to beat the best team in the country. You follow the team train, lose games against the better team, and just generally follow standard sports movie tropes. Then at the final game the opposing team take all their helmets off and all the people are the same as the good guys, the real villain was lack of self confidence. Yeah, it’s a powerful metaphor, but then outside of the metaphor, who were they ACTUALLY playing out there on the ice? It’s a shame as up until they I had very warm feelings for this film and was fascinated to see how they would pay it off, so it’s very disappointing to find out that they didn’t. I just…..I wish the ending was more narratively satisfying, or if it was just a short film. As a feature length I feel like I wasted all that time in a story that doesn’t exist, it’s just another form of “it’s all a dream”.

Like I said, it’s a real shame as this film had a lot to like about it. The characters were engaging and it had a lot of really cool moments. Chief among those is a scene where she’s being interviewed by the police and they randomly start singing at her. It’s really weird and creepy and cool and inventive and I loved it. It also had some fantastic lines full of pathos and uncomfortable truths. It also has one of the creepiest moments I’ve seen in a while where one of the female characters suddenly has a scar on her back, when she’s asked why she goes somewhat robotic and says it’s the price of being there. This again makes sense later on when you realise she’s actually that’s the price of being a woman in the modern world, but with that in mind she seemed to say it in an unnecessarily creepy way. Why wouldn’t she mention it in this scene, knowing that the main character is going through the exact same thing?

So overall, kind of a disappointment. Shame as the opening moments and the setup is incredible, but then it kind of falls apart. Reminds me of Steven Moffat stuff, where he sets things up and you wonder “how is this going to get resolved? Such a mystery”, then it turns out the answer is just a general handwave.