• Numb (2015)

    Well, at least some of the landscapes were beautiful.

    To be honest, Numb had few more things going for it than gorgeous Canadian landscapes. The film had an appropriately cold and sinister atmosphere. Numb doesn't overstay its welcome with a running time around ninety minutes. The initial story sounded interesting enough to spend five bucks on it.

    Numb is about an indebted couple that comes across two hitchhikers, a former prisoner and his prostitute sister. The four come across a man suffering of hypothermia who dies when they try to rescue him in the middle of the night. They find out that he was the only survivor of a group of thieves who robbed four million dollars in gold coins twenty years ago. They retrieve a piece of paper with some GPS data among the dead man's belongings and assume that this must be the spot where the thieves caught the money twenty years ago. The four decide to go out in the woods despite harsh weather conditions to get the money and start new lives. However, conflicts soon occur as the weather gets worse by the hour.

    The premise of the movie sounds good but everything described above is initially the whole story. One never gets to know where the former prisoner and the prostitute actually came from and why they were aimlessly walking outside in the cold weather in the beginning of the story. The reasons why the thief decided to get the money in the middle of winter just after being released from prison after twenty years instead of waiting for the summer are never explained. The fact that the four treasure hunters go out in the woods without gloves, snowshoes, toques or any other kind of equipment to survive in the harsh winter doesn't make any sense at all either. The reasons why they start turning against one another are shallow as well. A random side character who is living in a cabin is introduced out of nowhere and soon killed for very shallow reasons. Even the movie's resolution with the police officer doesn't make any sense at all if you think about it for a second. Overall, the entire script is poorly written. If you expect any explanations, suspense or twists, you are going to be disappointed.

    The acting is just as wooden as the faceless characters for whose fates the viewers don't care because it's impossible to empathize with them: a lying husband, his egoistic wife, a philosophic prisoner and a greedy prostitute with anger management issues.

    Camera and light techniques are average, the film's pace is quite dragging and even the soundtrack is somewhat sleep-inducing.

    At the end of the day, my rating for the film is generous and if I didn't like Canadian winter, I would even give this film a lower rating. This average thriller wastes much initially intriguing potential. You can watch this on a snowy afternoon if you have one and a half hours of free time. Don't spend too much money on it. There are numerous movies set in harsh winter weather conditions like The Grey that are so much better than this Canadian independent film.

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  • Unsane (2018)

    I wasn't expecting very much from the film, especially since it is a low-budget production shot with an iPhone camera. However, Unsane is a great psychological thriller with an ideal running time just above one and a half hours.

    The movie's camera work is much better than anticipated. I expected too many shaky camera sections with blurry images that would induce headaches if seen on a big screen. This isn't the case at all. The camera work is precise and calm, if a little bit static at some points. Shaky camera passages are scarcely used and only on purpose, when the main character is overdosing or trying to escape. It becomes really obvious that an experienced director like Steven Soderbergh is behind this film.

    In addition to the surprisingly innovative camera work, Unsane also convinces with a calm and mysterious soundtrack that always blends in perfectly. The light techniques are also employed skillfully and often add a gloomy touch to the sinister movie. There are very few special effects which are used very efficiently as they make the viewers wonder whether the protagonist is experiencing reality or just hallucinating.

    The story itself is quite solid even though it doesn't reinvent the genre. It follows a young woman who is haunted by a stalker. She talks about her problems to a psychologist and gets interned at a psychiatric asylum against her will. At this sinister place, she comes across some inmates that believe and try to help her and others that want to get attention and menace her. However, she also sees her stalker who works there and constantly watches her. The psychiatrists don't believe her as the young woman is becoming more and more stressed out which also leads to excessive outbursts of violence. At a certain points, she starts to wonder whether she is going insane or not. She seeks the help of another inmate, police officers and her religious mother in vain and realizes that she can only save herself which leads to an intense finale with a haunting epilogue.

    Despite an overall interesting story, the movie has several plot holes or at least strange coincidences related to the presence of the film's antagonist. Revealing you anything more would spoil the experience but let's just say the movie isn't even slightly realistic. If you are however ready to accept that a work of fiction can be nonsensical and open up to this film, you will get ninety-eight minutes of excellent entertainment with great actors, an intense atmosphere and a tense story line.

    Fans of psychological thrillers can give this movie a shot. It convinces with solid acting, sinister atmosphere, fluid pace, tense plot and original camera work. The only downside are several plot holes that make the story nonsensical at times. Please note that this isn't a horror movie. The film is gloomy, mysterious and tense but not really scary. It's a very good psychological thriller.

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  • Red Sparrow (2018)

    The idea behind Red Sparrow is everything but new. The idea of an innocent girl from a poor background who gets transformed into a machine using its body, intellect and strength as weapons has already been portrayed in the heavily underrated and quite emotional Naked Weapon or more recently in the quite brutal and sinister The Villainess. The movie also offers the usual stereotypes that are sadly still persistent in the twenty-first century. The evil Russian are still stuck in the Cold War while the good Americans try to help everyone and promote positive values. Women are treated like pieces of meat in the film and constantly seen as sexual objects by men. Even the American protagonist who is supposedly not like the other men ends up sleeping with the film's heroine on their second encounter at his apartment. If it were that easy to pick up girls in the real world, my friends certainly wouldn't be singles. Remember the final two movies of the Hunger Games franchise when Jennifer Lawrence was either being hysterical or crying throughout half of those films? That's pretty much also the case here. Half of the movie either shows her naked, how she gets beaten up by men or how she cries. Sometimes she does all these things at the same time which is quite tiring.

    Despite the weak story, those annoying stereotypes and predictable character traits, Red Sparrow is still an overall enjoyable film. First of all, one must admit that Jennifer Lawrence makes the best out of the plot and is actually quite credible as tough young woman with a fragile side. The film has a quite gloomy atmosphere that brings the spirit of the Cold War back to life with lots of shady conspiracies. The story is tense and offers some rewarding minor twists towards the end. The action scenes are brief but intense and quite realistic as they even silenced the teenagers stuck on their cell phones at the cinema. The locations in Vienna, Moscow, London and Budapest are also nicely chosen. Instead of showing us beautiful monuments like so many other movies do, the film shows us glamorous hotel rooms as opposed to cold bunkers, rich banks as opposed to poorly equipped apartments and isolated mansions in snowy landscapes as opposed to crowded airports.

    To keep it simple, if you like tense spy movies, you are going to be entertained by Red Sparrow. It might not reinvent the genre but it's well-executed, has an intriguing story and the acting performances are above average. If you like this film, you should also check out Naked Weapon and The Villainess. In this movie, Russia is behind but in cinema, America is behind these days. Red Sparrow isn't a movie that will be featured in many top lists by the end of the year but it is good for what it is. I will give it a very generous seven points.

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  • M (1931)

    M is a quite overrated and underwhelming movie if one takes into consideration masterpieces such as the epic Die Nibelungen and the visionary Metropolis that Fritz Lang has directed before. It tells the story of a crime murderer who is tracked down by desperate police officers who want to stop him and underground gangster who want to dissociate themselves from the murderer and clear their names.

    What really drags this film down is the confusing use of sound in this film. Some scenes feature no sounds at all as if this were a silent movie. Other scenes then suddenly have sound such as loud sirens and lengthy dialogues. The director tried to make these contrasts on purpose but whatever the intention was, it didn't work out very well because the movie is lacking fluidity. Another problem this movie has are its lengthy and at times pseudo-philosophical dialogues. The director wanted to craft a realistic movie and tries to show us the work of the local police force and the work ethics of the underground mob but instead of making the film more authentic, one gets the impression that the gloomy thriller is at times interrupted by lengthy documentary segments. Once again, this weird mixture of genres slows the film down. The movie tried to have a deeper meaning which is that one has to watch one's children carefully but this grounded lesson feels somewhat forced after the surreal trial when the underground mob attempts to sentence a mentally disturbed child murderer. This film received critical acclaim for its main antagonist, played by Peter Lorre. In my opinion, the actor overacts his character which makes him look ridiculous instead of dangerous. The character also speaks too much about his feelings and intentions which isn't realistic for a child murderer that tries to leave no trace behind.

    On the other side, one has to take into consideration the time when this movie was made. Making a film about a child murderer was a quite courageous attempt and revolutionary idea at its time. The movie convinces with a gloomy atmosphere. The opening sequences are quite bleak, the manhunt in the building is filled with tension and the surreal trial at the end is also quite memorable. The movie's opening ten minutes and closing forty minutes are thoroughly entertaining but everything in between drags on for far too long.

    In the end, M can't compete with Fritz Lang's other classics like the epic Die Nibelungen or the science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis. M was a revolutionary movie at its time with a shocking topic and a horrifying atmosphere but the film tries to accomplish too many things all at once such as portraying the work of police forces versus gangsters from the underground. Technically speaking, the movie hasn't aged very well and Peter Lorre's acting also feels exaggerated nowadays. This film is an intriguing product of its time and interesting for those studying the history of cinema but if you are looking for a great crime flick, you can find much better movies made around the same time.

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  • Im Wald / In the Forest (2018)

    After having watched numerous depressive, predictable and static German crime movies over the past few years, this film adaptation of Nele Neuhaus' novel Im Wald was a very pleasant surprise. The novel was transformed into a very short television series, consisting of two episodes of ninety minutes. They were shown on German television in early 2018 and could already be described as a first serious highlight of the year.

    There are several elements that distinguish this project from the usual suspects. First of all, the plot is truly intriguing with numerous twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the final thirty minutes and its emotional showdown. Secondly, the body count is unusually elevated here. In most German crime flicks, there is only one major crime. In this case, it's completely unpredictable who is going to die next and under what gloomy circumstances. Thirdly, the movie intertwines the mysterious case of an immigrant boy gone missing thirty-five years ago and a series of gruesome murders in the present. The flashbacks are very efficient and reveal more and more sinister details. Fourthly, the acting performances are above average. You won't get Hollywood performances here but the cast of German actresses and actors delivered a very authentic, diversified and emotional job. The different characters complemented one another accurately. Fifthly, this television series doesn't have any important lengths despite its extended running time of three hours. Especially the first ninety minutes are very dynamic and make you want to watch the second part immediately. This grounded first part is brutal, sinister and tense. The second part is slightly slower without becoming redundant. This more profound second part focuses on developing a gloomy atmosphere and elaborating upon psychological elements. Both parts complement one another perfectly.

    Let's hope that German television will continue to produce great projects like this one with dynamic characters, fast pace and gloomy violence. Im Wald is easily the best thing I have seen on German television in years.

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