The first image we see in S. Craig Zahler's horror Western, Bone Tomahawk, is that of the violence that men do. A dull blade makes two, then three attempts at slicing through a sleeping man's throat. The man holding the knife is one of two thieves, sneaking into a camp at night to murder and steal whatever they can find. It's indicative of the violent period in American history when disorder ruled and ignorance of the land around them made people paranoid. The horrors awaiting those murderous thieves is the catalyst for the film, an epic but quick-paced horror adventure that digs deep into the violent history of this country.
Simple motivations that lead to very complicated situations, driven by generally inept protagonists: that's where up-and-coming writer/director Jeremy Saulnier excels. Whether it's an unassuming Halloween party or the simple revenge of the death of a loved one, his films layer intriguing characters with engaging events, and none of the results are predictable. So, too, is the case with the ultraviolent Green Room, Saulnier's latest. It's another brutal, suspenseful and daring entry into Saulnier's self-described "inept protagonist" trilogy in which choices made just make bad choices worse and worse all the way to the absolute worst-possible outcome. Much like his other films, though, Green Room is as smart as it is thrilling, just as rough as it is comical. In a nutshell, it's Saulnier's most accomplished gem to date.
As far as film debuts go, they don't come as terrifying as writer/director Robert Eggers' The Witch. A stunningly simple, period, family drama with loads of gothic mood and dripping with atmosphere, it isn't a horror that will appease genre fans wanting a jump-scare every 15 minutes. Nor will it satiate gore-hounds looking for blood and guts strewn throughout. The Witch, instead, draws its horror from the unseen forces at work in the universe that slowly, but surely, breaks down a family until there's hardly anything, maybe nothing at all, left. Every scene of Eggers' film is crafted with an inherent tension, every shot a gorgeous composition of wood, dirt and fog. The Witch doesn't have an immediate impact, but it damn sure festers.
This is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos' best film yet. Maybe it's because it's his first film in English, but also because the film is an insanely ingenious indictment of modern romance and relationships told in an utterly fascinating way. The Lobster is a drama starring Colin Farrell set in a very odd sort of reality, one where those who are single and not in a relationship are turned into an animal after 45 days (if they don't find someone else in that time). The concept, which is fun to describe, is brilliantly executed by Yorgos Lanthimos and his ensemble of actors. It's the kind of film that if taken seriously, won't be liked, but as long as you don't forget to laugh at every little thing that they're poking fun at, it is so easy to caught up in this.
Ben Wheatley is a cinematic genius. That's the only explanation for the adrenaline shooting through your veins while watching his films, that feeling you get when you know you've just seen something special. The high that comes from experiencing one of his works is indisputable. It charges back into you each time you reflect on one of his films and every time you mentally organize the puzzle pieces the filmmaker has set forth. Wheatley's films are immensely rewarding, because the director doesn't hold your hand, doesn't tie everything together, and certainly doesn't connect all the dots. You're on your own with that, and that's one of the many reasons why High-Rise, Wheatley's adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel, is so damn great.
There are a lot of avenues a filmmaker can take when discussing the emotions that drive us humans as well as the contradictory nature between love and relationships. With The Lobster, writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos creates a strange, cynical look at these contradictions with enough sardonic wit to consider it a satire. The filmmaker who hit with the equally strange comedy, Dogtooth, returns to bring yet another dry and somewhat surreal comedy that may just have you cringing in your seat as much as it has you rolling. With a stellar cast and Lanthimos' unapologetic vision, The Lobster is a unique experience that will question your faith in love as much as enhance it.
"Hail Satan." Those two words put together create an unnerving feeling for anyone who sees – or hears – them regardless of one's own personal, religious beliefs. Just the thought of the Devil's presence emits an air of discomfort that horror films have been riding for nearly century. That same level of unease - and that troublesome, two-word phrase - haunts every scene of Osgood Perkins' feature debut, February. Told through disjointed chronology, Perkins's film is difficult to piece together as you're watching. The unsettling and atmospheric results that remain after February has ended and left the viewer are undeniable, though.
I'm sure you've all heard this said before – Lord knows it's been said enough – but war truly is Hell. It's Hell for the people fighting it, Hell for the people who are swept up in it, and even Hell for the people who stay home and await their loved ones' return. During the American Civil War, those loved ones charging onto the battlefields didn't go that far, and the wives, children, and family they all left behind were forced to keep their homes safe from threats both domestic and… well, domestic. It's with this time, place, and situation in mind that director Daniel Barber brings us his new film The Keeping Room (playing Fantastic Fest), a powerful and terrifying drama about war and the people who are destroyed in its unquenchable wake.
The CBS News scandal in 2005 that ended anchorman Dan Rather's relationship with the network is put under a microscope in the film Truth, an adult drama that pulls no punches and is massively entertaining. Robert Redford plays the legendary newsman, and seeing him in the role will immediately bring back memories of All the President's Men. Truth never reaches the heights of that previous masterpiece but soars just fine on its own. In fact, writer-turned-director James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man) doesn't even focus his film on Rather, he's a background player to the bigger story. Truth really centers on Mary Mapes, Rather's producer and trusted ally. She's played by Cate Blanchett and her performance is ferocious and unflinching, matching Redford's supporting role and Vanderbilt's screenplay beat for beat.
As a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman has crafted some of the best and weirdest cinematic mind trips imaginable. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are among his best but his work in the director's chair has taken his writing to another level. Synecdoche, New York is a work of soul-searching genius and his latest Anomalisa continues to cement Charlie Kaufman's reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers working today. Originally conceived by Kaufman as a short play to debut in composer Carter Burwell's "Theater of a New Ear," the idea to translate the material to the screen quickly became an option but with a twist.
There's little doubt in the current fascination with violence. Hell, there's an argument to be made that we've grown addicted to it. Naturally, Hollywood was going to throw major bucks in the direction of Black Mass, the story of James "Whitey" Bulger, arguably the most notorious and most violent criminal in American organized crime. It's the kind of role that would attract an A-lister like Johnny Depp, whose performance here makes up the film's highest mark. Tediously paced but overall commendably executed, the film serves as a suitable yet surface-level telling of Bulger's story. The violence clearly sets up the walls of this particular house, but it's Depp's performance that makes the interior design of Black Mass worthwhile.
Ilya Naishuller's Hardcore (watch the trailer) is a movie so violent, loud and fun it's guaranteed to offend and entertain in equal numbers. It's also the first of its kind, a first-person action adventure that plays out like a cinematic video game. Think of it as a hybrid of Crank and Robocop and you'll start to get an idea of how unique and insane this movie truly is. Those looking for plot and structure in their cinematic diet will have to look elsewhere because Hardcore is visual fast food all the way. The movie opens from your POV as "Henry", a man with a disfigured body and no memory of how he got knocked out in the first place.
A punk rock concert goes horrible awry in the violent new suspense thriller Green Room, a movie filled with loud music, buckets of blood and white supremacists. The film has a cat-and-mouse structure for most of its running time but thankfully is smart and entertaining enough to have more tricks up its sleeve. The "Ain't Rights" are a punk band on the verge of breaking up for good. As they're introduced, they constantly bicker, continue to play dead-end gigs and as a result are ready to throw in the towel and go home. A last minute opportunity to play a final show in rural Oregon has them reconsider their plans and off they go.
Country music legend Hank Williams was a tortured man plagued by his own success and exuberance. Dying way too young and leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration, many musicians still credit him to his day. These facts are given a very light touch in Marc Abraham's new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that tries to encapsulate what made Williams so special but never digs deep enough to get any real answers. British actor Tom Hiddleston slips on a cowboy hat and gives it his all as Williams and the result is a surprising knockout. He is fully devoted to the part so it's a shame the rest of the film can't keep up with him.