Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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March 2019

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Us Is a Terrifying Yet Thought-Provoking Horror Film

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Part of what made Jordan Peele’s directorial debut Get Out such a treat was the way it defied typical genre expectations, throwing practically everything and the kitchen sink at its audience. As a more traditional horror film, Us feels practically tame by comparison, offering scares that wouldn’t seem out of place in an entry into the Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. For a director as innovative as Peele, the confines of staying within horror’s established norms might feel constraining, but the talented director has a way of captivating with whatever material he chooses to work with.

Peele takes something as benign as a carnival funhouse mirror and turns it into an object of apprehension. Adelaide is a girl haunted by her experience of walking into one late one night, discovering something that felt like more than a reflection. Years later, with a loving family, she finds herself continually reminded of the night, fearful of repeating the terrifying events.

Us is the kind of film that demands a lot from its actors, with each tasked with playing the doppelganger version of their characters. Lead actress Lupita Nyong’o handled this job exceptionally, carving out distinct identities that played well against each other. Nyong’o is a very expressive actress, often using gestures and expressions to convey emotion rather than simple words. The film’s child cast, including Madison Curry, Ashley McKoy, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex give strong performances that demonstrate a refreshing sense of comfort for young talent in a horror film.

While Peele is an Oscar-winning screenwriter, he uses dialogue sparingly throughout much of the film. The subtle score and expressive actors often carry the suspense, without a ton of screaming or verbal panic to convey the fear. The sets are crafted in a way that creates natural claustrophobia as the characters try to navigate the evil plaguing their home. It’s the kind of horror that creeps under your skin by disrupting one’s own notion of comfort.

As a genre, horror often has a tricky relationship with the concept of exposition. The mystery of the terror is often a big part of the scare appeal, especially since the audience can substitute their own worst fears in the void of the unknown. Efforts to explain figures like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees often fall flat as the characters are terrifying enough with only minimal backstory. Us manages to dive into the why without losing any thrills, highlighting Peele’s talent as a storyteller. He lets the audience behind the curtain long enough to get a feel for what’s happening, while preserving plenty of the intrigue.

Us is a terrifying sophomore effort from director Jordan Peele, offering a thought-provoking perspective on the horror genre. Slasher movies don’t necessarily need to provide much fodder for the mind, but Peele reminds us of the power that film possesses to re-evaluate the way we think about the world. Us is the kind of movie that will thoroughly frighten you while leaving plenty of substance to chew on when the thrills have worn off.

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Wednesday

26

December 2018

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The Favourite Is a Timely Feminist Treatise on Power

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Feminism is an especially rich subject to explore in period dramas for many reasons. The blatant injustices of earlier eras shed light on our current climate, where inequality continues to thrive. The crimes of the aristocracy extend far beyond sexism, as the near complete absence of any sense of upward mobility dictated that one’s life circumstances were almost always determined by external factors other than free will. If we take feminism at its root definition, to strive for equality of sexes, empowering women in period dramas means freedom to be as ruthless and manipulative as their male counterparts.

The Favourite is a film about power. Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is a monarch whose ability to wield all that ruling entails is largely dictated by the political machinations of those around her. Hindered by a variety of ailments, Queen Anne’s lover Sarah Churchill, played by Rachel Weisz, tries to govern in her steed. Standing in the way of her proxy rule is Robert Harley, played by Nicholas Hoult, who objects to war with France and all the taxes it entails.

Emma Stone gives perhaps the finest performance of her career as Abigail Hill, who comes to court in squalor after her father squandered her family’s standing and security. Finding work as a scullery maid, Abigail quickly demonstrates that she’s not looking for handouts, but rather opportunities to reclaim that which she lost through no fault of her own. She bonds with Sarah, wrestles with Robert, and plays the games she needs to play in order to survive in a world that offers few second chances.

The film plays out largely like a stage play with a fairly minimalist approach to set locations and relying on the inter-character drama rather than the history to propel the native. The cast is spectacular, vibrantly playing off each other with such delight that you completely forget what terrible people the characters are. The Favourite lacks a true protagonist, but you can’t help but root for Abigail as she plots her way back into society.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos consistently makes his presence known throughout the film, utilizing unconventional angles and cutaways that complement the sharp dialogue in practically every scene. The Favourite never forgets that it’s a period drama, but it uses the genre as a playground of sorts, constantly bending the rigid confines of what we expect from characters in corsets. Like many of his other films, Lanthimos uses humor not as satire, but as a way to butter up his audience before delivering the cold truth about the nature of humanity.

Colman solidifies her status as one of England’s finest working actors, playing the sickly Queen Anne in a way that garners sympathy without making her out to be a victim. Vulnerability and power often seem incompatible, as if the presence of one can cancel out the other. Queen Anne is used by all the other principle characters, but Colman displays a subtle sense of strength to perpetuate the idea that she’s never incapable of reclaiming her sense of authority.

The Favourite is an uncomfortably empowering feminist film, allowing its female characters to strive for an equal sense of malice and cruelty. These characters are oddly endearing in their awfulness, unafraid to be unabashedly evil in the absence of any standard of morality. Power exists out the binary of right and wrong despite what we’re taught as children. We’re not supposed to take pleasure in being evil, but film presents a reality adjacent to our own, one where such problematic charms from a talented cast can be embraced as good theatre without any broader ramifications. The Favourite makes its period setting feel completely contemporary, unabashedly stripping power down to its raw carnal form.

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