Mini Reviews (November 2017)
Happy Death Day, Breathe, Killer Party, Thank You for Your Service
Happy Death Day (November 6/17)
A horror spin on Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day follows superficial college student Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she's forced to live the day of her murder over and over again. It's an intriguing yet thoroughly familiar premise that is, for the most part, employed within the context of a fairly run-of-the-mill slasher, as filmmaker Christopher Landon, working from a script by Scott Lobdell, delivers a narrative that's rife with precisely the sort of elements one expects from a PG-13 production (including bloodless kill sequences and a raft of somewhat one-dimensional characters). There's nevertheless little doubt that Happy Death Day, though saddled with a few lulls here and there, manages to keep the viewer entertained throughout its appropriately brief running time, with the movie befitting substantially from a periodic emphasis on far-more-clever-than-anticipated sequences (eg a fun montage of Tree investigating various suspects and subsequently dying). It's equally clear, though, that the limitations of the premise pave the way for a fairly repetitive midsection, and yet it's hard to deny that one's patience is ultimately rewarded with a prolonged but fun (and surprising) final stretch - which does confirm the film's place as a decent effort that hits more than it misses.
Breathe (November 14/17)
Based on true events, Breathe follows Andrew Garfield's Robin Cavendish as he becomes a crusader for handicapped rights after a bout of polio leaves him paralyzed. First-time filmmaker Andy Serkis delivers a film that boasts the feel and atmosphere of any number of similarly-themed inspirational dramas, with the movie's cookie-cutter vibe paving the way for a one-note narrative that suffers from an obvious surfeit of memorable moments. There is, as such, never a point at which the viewer is wholeheartedly drawn into the central character's tragic plight, with the hands-off, surface-level approach compounded by Serkis' decision to generally steer clear of Robin's emotional mindset (ie the narrative is concerned more with his admittedly impressive accomplishments). The movie's failure is especially disappointing given Garfield's tremendous performance and a smattering of striking sequences, with, in terms of the latter, Serkis juicing several key moments with a decidedly eye-catching sense of style (eg Robin visits a disturbingly sterile facility for handicapped patients). The film ultimately concludes on an impressively rousing note as Robin delivers an impassioned speech about his condition, and yet just getting to that point is something of an ordeal due to a massively overlong running time - which ultimately confirms Breathe's place as a well-intentioned, well-acted misfire.
Killer Party (November 17/17)
A fairly bottom-of-the-barrel slasher, Killer Party follows three college friends as they're forced to submit to a hazing ritual while pledging a popular sorority - with the movie's first hour devoted almost entirely to the characters' pointless, tedious exploits in and around their school. Filmmaker William Fruet and scripter Barney Cohen deliver a narrative that seems to have been expanded from a 20 minute short, as the title occurrence is preceded by a slapdash storyline revolving around wafer-thin protagonists and their completely uninteresting shenanigans. This paves the way for an episodic opening hour that emphasizes tiresome pranks and dull encounters, with Fruet's screenplay introducing an assortment of male figures that seem to serve no purpose other than to torment and bother the supposed heroes. (There's a hint of a possible romance between two disparate figures but it's quickly abandoned.) It's a completely sloppy atmosphere that grows more and more interminable as time slowly progresses, with the entirely uninvolving feel compounded by a distressing (and almost total) lack of gore (ie the kills, surely the highlight in something like this, generally transpire offscreen). By the time the actual horror stuff finally rolls around - the majority of which is far too silly and Exorcist-like to make a positive impact - Killer Party has certainly cemented its place as a thoroughly misbegotten disaster that's best forgotten.
Thank You for Your Service (November 25/17)
A well-intentioned misfire, Thank You for Your Service follows three men (Miles Teller's Adam, Beulah Koale's Aieti, and Joe Cole's Will) as they return from duty in Iraq and attempt to readjust to civilian life. It's an almost excessively familiar setup that's employed to middling effect by first-time filmmaker Jason Hall, which is a shame, certainly, given the relative strength of the movie's opening stretch - with the been-there-done-that vibe initially allayed by a palpable sense of authenticity and a selection of better-than-average performances. (In terms of the latter, Teller is certainly as good as he's ever been here.) Problems emerge as Hall, working from his own screenplay, delivers a slow-moving midsection that's riddled with less-than-engrossing elements, and there's little doubt that Hall's meandering modus operandi paves the way for an often tedious second half - with the viewer, past a certain point, wishing that the filmmaker would just get on with it, already. The character-study-like atmosphere ultimately isn't strong or potent enough to justify a nearly two-hour running time, while Hall's decision to hit certain all-too-conventional notes undoubtedly exacerbates the viewer's growing disinterest in the proceedings. By the time the decidedly lackluster conclusion rolls around, which is hardly as emotionally affecting as Hall has obviously intended, Thank You for Your Service has confirmed its place as a nonstarter that's made all-the-more disappointing given the earnestness of the subject matter.