Criminal (November 19/17)
Based on the 2000 film Nine Queens, Criminal follows John C. Reilly's Richard Gaddis as he saves a small-time con artist (Diego Luna's Rodrigo) from the cops and subsequently enlists him to assist on a large-scale grift involving an extremely rare currency bill. Filmmaker Gregory Jacobs, making his debut here, delivers an opening half hour that's perhaps not as compelling as it could (or should) have been, as the director, working from his and Sam Lowry's screenplay, emphasizes the various tests to which Richard subjects Rodrigo in an effort at determining his skills as a swindler - with the episodic atmosphere interesting enough, certainly, but hardly engrossing or electrifying. It's clear, then, that Criminal improves substantially once the protagonists embark on their aforementioned grift, with the slow-but-steady introduction of several periphery characters - eg Maggie Gyllenhaal's Valerie, Peter Mullan's William, Jonathan Tucker's Michael, etc - triggering a second half that's far more intriguing and captivating than one might've anticipated. There's little doubt, as well, that the progressively intricate nature of the lucrative scam provides plenty of entertainment value (ie many of the twists and turns are unexpected, to say the least), and though it seems as though everything is going in one specific direction, the climactic, rug-pulling reveal undoubtedly upends the viewer's expectations to a rather impressive degree. The movie ultimately stands as an exceedingly promising debut for longtime Steven Soderbergh first-assistant director Jacobs, with the inherently engaging vibe heightened by a pair of fantastic lead performances by Reilly and Luna.
With its simple premise and emphasis on character development, Wind Chill primarily comes off as a refreshingly adult horror effort that boasts a pair of phenomenal lead performances. The film stars Emily Blunt and Ashton Holmes as unnamed college students who agree to share a ride home for the holidays, with their trip - though initially rife with awkward conversation - eventually taking a perilous turn after the pair wind up caught in a snowbank. There's little doubt that Wind Chill's opening half hour or so possesses the feel of a slow-moving drama, as director Gregory Jacobs - working from Joe Gangemi and Steven Katz's screenplays - initially stresses the reticent relationship between the two central characters. Once the feuding couple's car hits that snowbank, however, the film morphs into a creepy little thriller that essentially plays out like a variation on Open Water - as the pair find themselves trapped within the perilous confines of their inoperative auto. Though the emphasis remains on Blunt and Holmes' banter, Jacobs does an effective job of slowly-but-surely establishing a sinister mood by punctuating the proceedings with increasingly eerie occurrences. The impressive degree to which the protagonists have been developed surely plays a significant role in Wind Chill's ultimate success, as one has - thanks to a glut of mindless horror fare - generally come to expect paper-thin characters from movies of this ilk. It's only as the film passes the one-hour mark that it starts to run out of steam, which would seem to indicate that the whole thing probably would've been better off within the confines of an Outer Limits or Twilight Zone or some such program. Still, Wind Chill is - more often than not - a very simple, very stripped down ghost story that's a fair degree better than the majority of its contemporary scary-movie brethren.