FlixChatter: THE RENTAL (2020)

When Ruth asked me if I wanted to cover The Rental, I said yes as soon as I saw that Dan Stevens was in it; I enjoyed him in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and my boyfriend and I have been on a Downton Abbey kick (we just finished season three and I am HEARTBROKEN), so I thought it could be fun to see him in a horror movie. Unfortunately, while he (and the rest of the cast) give great performances, there’s not much else that’s fun about it.

Dan Stevens with Alison Brie

In The Rental, married couple Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Michelle (Alison Brie), Charlie’s younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White), and Josh’s girlfriend/Charlie’s business partner Mina (Sheila Vand) rent a vacation home for a weekend trip. While the weekend should be fun and relaxing, personal tensions mount, and the group might not be as alone as they thought.

This movie is a weird mashup of a romantic drama, psychological thriller, and slasher. That’s not to say that a movie can’t incorporate all of these genres, but The Rental doesn’t do it well. Rather than blending them together, the first half of the movie focuses on the relationship drama, the next chunk turns into a thriller, and the last ten-ish minutes is a lazy slasher. It’s a clunky, jarring way of telling the story and makes the end feel somewhat underwhelming after the buildup earlier in the movie.

There’s also a decision a couple of the characters make that is obviously there to move the thriller part forward, but it’s incredibly dumb to the point of being unbelievable. I don’t like being too nitpicky about plotholes, and I understand suspending my disbelief is important to a certain point, but if characters act more stupid than people would in real life, especially when the characters have seemed relatively intelligent up until that point, it’s disappointing.

Alison Brie in The Rental

Despite the underwhelming and frustrating writing, the cast does well with what they’re given. Dan Stevens is both funny and infuriating, and it’s kind of fun hearing him use an American accent. Allison Brie is likeable and sympathetic, as is Jeremy Allen White. Sheila Vand gives an understated but intense performance. And Toby Huss as Taylor, the creepy caretaker of the rental home, is excellent; he keeps you guessing whether he’s just a weird, unpleasant guy or if he has more nefarious intentions. The fact that they had a competent director must have helped too; Dave Franco does well in his directing debut here. Not only are the performances well done, but there are some well-composed shots that help keep the suspense high. It’s just unfortunate that his (and the other writers’) screenwriting skills weren’t as impressive.

Overall, The Rental is an underwhelming and messily-written movie. If you especially like any of the actors, maybe check it out; otherwise, I would recommend skipping this one.

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Have you seen The Rental? Well, what did you think?

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Guest Review: SPLIT (2017)

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Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 1 hr 57 minutes

M. Night Shyamalan has struggled over the years to regain his early 2000’s glory. From a movie about trees compelling people commit suicide, to a horrible adaptation of a beloved animated series, several of his more recent films have been flops. His newest movie, however, has been attracting a lot of attention, and people are wondering if it might be a return to the tense, unique thrillers that originally made Shyamalan a household name. Does it deliver? In addition, can a movie with an antagonist whose defining characteristic is a legitimate mental disorder succeed without being offensive or painfully inaccurate?

In Split, three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire, and Jessica Sula as Marcia) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin currently has twenty-three personalities who are awaiting the arrival of a new, mysterious one who is simply called The Beast. The girls must figure out which personalities they can trust or manipulate to help them escape.

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While this film had its problems, it was still one of the better ones I’ve seen out of Shyamalan in quite a while. It starts out tense and is suspenseful the whole way through; at the risk of sounding cliché, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, watching the girls’ constant attempts at escape and tense interactions with Kevin’s multiple personalities. James McAvoy gave a fantastic performance, managing to portray nine different personalities without overdoing any of them in an attempt to make them distinct. The actresses playing the kidnapped teenagers gave great performances as well, especially Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of their work in the future.

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That said, this was far from a perfect movie. There were some moments where the tone felt a little confused, and I wasn’t sure if the audience was supposed to laugh or feel unnerved. Much of the exposition comes from Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and the way it’s presented is pretty clunky. Then, of course, there is the portrayal of dissociative identity disorder. Is it insensitive or inaccurate? To answer that would spoil Shyamalan’s signature “twist,” so you’ll have to highlight this next part in order to see it [SPOILER ALERT] Based on the climax of the movie, it appears whatever Kevin suffers from isn’t dissociative identity disorder, but some sort of supernatural ability to not only be host to multiple personalities, but to change physically depending on the personality. When The Beast finally makes his appearance, Kevin’s muscles grow and his skin thickens, earning him near invincibility. He can easily climb walls and ceilings and receive multiple gunshots without being taken down. So because the antagonist doesn’t actually have this specific mental disorder, I can’t say it was portrayed insensitively, since technically it wasn’t what was being portrayed at all.

The twist doesn’t come out of nowhere- it’s hinted at during a session between Kevin and Dr. Fletcher- and, for people who are familiar with Shyamalan’s style, one could almost predict it from the plot summary alone (maybe not the exact details, but at least the general idea). As far as accuracy, Dr. Fletcher does discuss her research on physical changes in individuals with DID, some of which sounded pretty far-fetched, but upon further research (Google searches during my lunch break at work), I found that much of what she said in the movie is based on actual DID cases, so at least the little they did include regarding the actual disorder was mostly based in reality.

Split isn’t necessarily a major comeback for Shyamalan, but it’s still an interesting watch, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to see a solid acting performance

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Have you seen ‘SPLIT’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Don’t Breathe (2016)

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The home invasion thriller genre has been around a long time and while some were good, most were average to mediocre. Late summer usually is the time when studios release their crappy action or horror films but thankfully Don’t Breathe doesn’t fall in that category. In fact, it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve seen in a long time.

Set in the slums of Detroit, three thieves decided they’re going to break into a blind man’s house and steal his money in order to leave their crappy life and city. One of the thieves is Rocky (Jane Levy), she wants to move out of her home and take her young sister to LA to get away from her drunken mom and her creepy boyfriend. The other two members are Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). Dylan’s father runs a security company in the city so he’s able to have access to all of the homes they’ve robbed and Money is Rocky’s boyfriend and the muscle of the group.

After a not-so-profitable robbery, Money found out that a blind man (Stephen Lang) received a huge sum of cash from a car accident settlement and this could be their big payday that they all need. The blind man lives in a deserted part of the city and they all agreed it’s going to be an easy score. What they don’t know is that the blind man is an ex military man who was part of Special Forces and he’s good with weapons and hand to hand combat. Once the thieves broke into the blind man’s house, they realized it’s basically a trap and for the rest of the movie, the young thieves had to fight for their lives in order to escape the creepy house.

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The young actors were good in their respective roles, since it’s a horror/thriller, the hero has to be the pretty young lady and Levy fit that description. The film didn’t require a lot of dialog, so Levy had to use her face and body to make her performance believable. There’s a really cool sequence early in the film where both Rocky and Alex got stuck in a darken room and both of the actors had to act basically in the dark and both did quite well. Stephen Lang who’s been type cast throughout his career as the bad guy and here he delivered another good performance as the not-so-innocent blind man.

In most of the home invasion films, the story has always been from the perspective of the homeowners so it’s quite refreshing to see this film told from the perspective of the invaders. Written by Fede Alvarez (who also directed the film) and Rodo Sayagues, these two didn’t come up with anything new but somehow made the genre felt fresh. The story has enough suspense and scares that will satisfy those who craves a good thriller. They did throw in a little twist halfway through the story that will make some audiences squirm in their seats. Of course this being referred to as a “horror” movie, some of the actions by the characters will have people scratching their heads or just downright angry.

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Director Fede Alvarez did a great job of moving the story along at brisk pace. Since the film didn’t have a lot of dialogs, he used cameras and sounds to engage the audience. Clearly he must’ve studied the look and feel of the film from David Fincher’s underrated thriller Panic Room. A lot of shots and camera work reminded me of that film and I didn’t mind Alvarez copied Fincher’s style, heck it worked in that film and it worked here. Even though some are referring this film as horror, it hardly contains any gore or extreme violent scenes. It’s pretty tame for this kind of genre; in fact if you’re going into this film expecting to see blood and gore, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you want to see a good thriller with some few jump scare moments, then you’ll dig this film.

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So have you seen Don’t Breathe? Well, what did you think?