Elliot wakes up to a new relationship with Ray. The attack in China has repercussions all the way back to America.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter One – The Vanishing of Will Byers”
Directed and Written by Matt & Ross Duffer
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
1983 in Hawkins, Indiana. At the U.S. Department of Energy in a high tech laboratory an emergency breaks out. A scientists scrambles madly for an elevator. He doesn’t make it out.
At the same time, people in Hawkins go about their lives. A group of kids play Dungeons and Dragons, or something similar. Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Will (Noah Schnapp) are the kind of nerd I was growing up. They play like it’s real. For ten hours.
Already we gain an idea of who these kids are, which is great. Will especially seems honest: “The Demogorgon – it got me,” he admits to Mike, even though they all tried cheating him with their last roll. Dustin and Lucas are the more funny of the two, each with their own personality.
But when Will is on his way home something strange happens. He topples off his bike and then rushes home quick as possible after hearing an eerie noise in the road. Only that noise, whatever’s behind it, has followed him home. Props to little Will: he goes right for a gun in the shed. Although leaving the house couldn’t have been good. Still, he stands with the gun aimed, ready to fire. When the light in the shed starts burning bright, hot, vivid, it goes out.
And Will is gone.
Loved this opening eight-minute sequence. Then we get a great, simple credits sequence that also has some wonderful music. The score is solid so far, adding that ’80s feel, throwing back to Carpenter scores and all sorts of things. Dig it.
Chief Hopper (David Harbour) is a simple kind of guy. He sleeps on the couch. Smokes cigarettes while he gets ready in front of the mirror. Pops his pills with beer. Like a real American. Strange things are happening in his jurisdiction, though. Everyone experienced odd power events the night previous. An unexplained event.
At home, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and her son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) can’t find young Will. Nowhere to be found. She naturally calls over to the Wheeler house, but neither Mike nor his parents know where Will is now. Everyone starts to get a little on edge at this point. And at school, none of the boys find him either.
We’ve got a great Stephen King-esque group of outsiders in the main group of kids. They get picked on at school, they’re loner-types who are warm hearted and teased because of their unwillingness to be like all the idiots. Mike’s older sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is a goody two shoes sort, mixed up with a douchey young guy, so they’ve all got their problems.
Hopper finds Joyce in his office worried sick about her son. He’s not exactly concerned. He plays it off with statistics, suggesting that essentially boys will be boys. She knows something is up. Will isn’t like all the other boys. He’s sensitive, sensible. But Hopper’s own disillusion with the boring job of small town chief makes him complacent.
The problems at the U.S. Dept. of Energy are now being investigated. A man named Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) is brought in. He and a team of scientists head down into the affected area to find it in a state of horror. They come across an unsettling creature of some kind latched and growing in the corner of a lab. They mention a girl, as well.
Elsewhere, a kid in a hospital gown makes her way into a diner. She eats a load of fries before getting caught by Benny (Chris Sullivan) the owner.
Mike, Lucas, and Dustin are brought in to the principal’s office. Chief Hopper wants to know more about Will, trying to piece together what happened, where he may have gone after leaving Mike’s house. Certainly they want to go investigate on their own now despite Hopper’s warnings.
Joyce and Jonathan are out looking for Will everywhere. None of his regular haunts prove to be hiding him. Simultaneously, Benny is dealing with the kid he’s found. The girl won’t talk. She has 11 tattooed on his skin. For now, that’s her name: Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). And creepy enough, she can do some weird mind tricks while Benny’s out of the room.
Poor Will is still missing. His bike turns up, but not a sign of him. Slowly you can see Hopper is starting to realise there may be more to this disappearance than a simple explanation.
The phones in Hawkins are tapped. Likely the government, as they’re trying to contain whatever went down in the Dept. of Energy. Over at her place, Joyce is trying to track down Will. She gives her ex Lonnie a call, getting no answer, or at least not one that she wants. Then Hopper turns up with Will’s bike. The possibility of something dangerous becomes clearer. What begins to happen is that suspicion is cast on the home life of the Byers family. Hopper finds signs of struggle, he goes to the shed and discovers the gun and the bullets out. Doesn’t bode well.
Trusty Mike is dying to get out and help find his buddy. Yet his mother wants to lock everybody down until Will is found. Everyone else seems to think it’s all no big deal. A young boy knows when his friend is in trouble, and nerds are particularly aware and susceptible to the supernatural. At least in fiction!
Everybody’s in the woods at night searching for the boy. Mike uses D&D logic to convince his friends they need to go the extra mile and find their friend on their own.
At the diner, Benny’s still doing his best to take care of Eleven. Someone from Social Services shows up. Or are they really? Sort of fast, especially back in the early ’80s. Maybe the phones being tapped around Hawkins have something to do with that. After Benny takes a bullet it becomes obvious. And now Eleven is trapped in by Dr. Brenner and a crew of his cronies. She makes it out with some of those powers of hers, luckily finding her way into the night.
The loyal buddies work their way into the woods. Albeit a bit reluctant, as one would be. But their fearlessness prevails.
Joyce and Jonathan are busy trying not to fall apart. The older brother blames himself. Surely mom does, too. Soon a strange phone call comes through – weird noises, an electrical pulse. Joyce believes it was Will trying to contact her.
In the woods, the boys stumble across Eleven. Will she be able to help them find their friend?
What an awesome opening episode. I’ve waited on Stranger Things so long it feels like unwrapping an awesome gift at Xmas. This is definitely a bingeworthy television series. Excited to see the next one “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” and keep diving further into this mysterious, enjoyable stew of ’80s nostalgia, good writing, and compelling acting.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 2: “Barney Rubble Eyes”
Directed by Ron Underwood
Written by Ian Goldberg
* For a review of the first episode, “Patience” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mix Tape” – click here
After a decently exciting first episode, Dead of Summer‘s second episode cleverly parodies “Bette Davis Eyes” (made popular by Kim Carnes) with “Barney Rubble Eyes” and I couldn’t be more intrigued to see how that plays out, even if it’s just a hilarious one-liner. I dig how they’re using ’80s songs – at least partly – for the titles in these first two episodes, something I hope continues on.
The second episode starts in the Soviet Union, during 1977, as a little boy named Alexi plays the piano and his family prepares to go to America. Before he heads out his grandfather warns that life needs to be taken, it won’t be given. He hands over a knife. In 1989, Alex Powell (Ronen Rubinstein) lives life as an American, even with all the anti-communist, anti-Russian rhetoric on the radio. He’s also very interested in freedom, naturally. Meanwhile, the campers have arrived – watching by the edge of the forest is The Tall Man (Tony Todd), waiting for his time to strike.
The camp life has started, the kids are rolling in. Alex, Jessie (Paulina Singer), Blotter (Zachary Gordon) and the rest receive them all. When Alex hears a little boy get referred to as a Commie, a Russian kid named Anton, he flashes back to being in America for the first time with his father working in a dry cleaning store. He hears his father get called a Commie. Then he goes on to change his own name to Alex Powell, something all the dumb, prejudiced people can pronounce. In his present time, Alex is a fairly charming, innovative guy. He’s certainly interested in newbie Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail). Then he makes things messy by calling her a “Commie sympathiser” because she doesn’t dig the way he talks about the little kid. Sad to see an immigrant come to feel that way about another immigrant, forced into hating himself and then in turn others like himself. A sad comment on American culture, in some respects. Afterwards, he sees Blotter with a sketchy guy, getting a bag of something off him. Hmm.
When Anton isn’t at dinner, Alex finds him in the woods talking to The Tall Man – no one’s there, of course, but that’s his imaginary friend. Oh this is a creepy little moment. Loved it. In his bed later the kid is attacked in the night, in a dream, by The Tall Man; he sees FIND ME branded on his arm, at least in the fog of a nightmare. At the same time, Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza) is plagued with trying to figure out what happened to Dave. His mother worries about him and how the case will affect his mind, though Garrett’s trying to tough it out alone. He’s got Satanism on the mind, as too many officers did in the ’80s when Satanic Panic became a devious bout of hysteria.
Turns out Blotter has that name for a reason – he digs acid, and has his hands on some liquid stuff. Well, Alex tells him: “Couple drops and you‘ll have Barney Rubble Eyes.” Ah, nice little line to go with the title. Then there’s Blair (Mark Indelicato), interested in Drew (Zelda Williams), whom he does not realise yet is a woman. Also, Jessie tries to urge Carolina (Amber Coney) into making “a move” on Alex. Seems the new girl is causing too much friction for a bunch of supposedly close friends. But that doesn’t matter, Alex still wants to get closer to Amy. He asks her out. Puts on some charm by showing how good he is with the kids. Yes, that lures her into a bit of a date in the staff lounge. C’mon, Amy. I mean, he seems like a nice dude. There’s something slippery about him. “He‘ll do anything to get what he wants,” Jessie warns Amy on the side; helping hand, or being a bitch? Cut to October of 1988. Alex goes back to the dry cleaning place where his father worked, trying to get a position there. He pretends not to know the owner. You can tell Alex is someone else behind his mask. In ’89, we’re still with Alex trying to figure out what Anton knows about The Tall Man; the boy has to find him, or else The Tall Man says somebody’s going to die. Uh oh.
When Joel (Eli Goree) goes looking for camp counsellor Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell), he finds himself in her cabin, snooping, and she catches him. I wonder how this quasi-sexual relationship is going to play out? Makes things unsettling almost. Out looking after the kids, Alex and Blotter keep one another’s secrets. We also zip back to ’88, as Alex works in the dry cleaning store. He shares a sad look with Nadia, a Russian woman working there, before heading out. When he heads back in he finds the owner having sex with Nadia, and he turns on the security tapes the owner had previously turned off, then leaves once more.
Back to ’89 – Alex and Amy have their date. A romantic little evening, it seems. Until they head out into a dark bit of woods to an old cabin. One with a piano. Ring any bells? Well speaking of The Tall Man, he lures the little Russian boy to the trees where they walk off, hand in hand.
Blotter and Carolina are getting close, too. Or Blotter wants to get close to her. He says he doesn’t believe the things written about her on the cabin walls, not realising what we know to be the truth: she’s written at least some of them herself. Out at the old cabin, Alex plays piano for Amy. On that damn creepy set of keys. That can’t be good, can it? The Tall Man’s already afoot. Playing his piano certainly won’t help anything. First, though, we get another flash to ’88 in the dry cleaning store. Alex puts a plan into motion with Nadia. Back to ’89, the spectre of his actions, his grandfather, it all lingers on him. Things finally get serious when Blotter alerts Alex that Anton is missing. All the while, Deb sits with Joel. She tells him she’s a private person. He thinks that means she harbours a secret. She responds coyly, but then they discover the news about the Russian boy. In the trees they hear a scream. The cops arrive later and then their search begins. Nobody’s certain what’s going on, only that a child is somewhere alone, possibly not safe. When Alex finds him he’s sitting in a strange place reminiscent of the drawing he’d been etching out earlier. Deb believes there’s a prowler. Alex and Amy saw him talking to nobody, an invisible friend. Jessie acts like a bitch. Ah, just the perfect stew for a slasher sub-genre trope of the botched investigation.
In ’88, Alex quits his job. He confronts the owner of the dry cleaning shop about having a sex tape with him on it. He’s gotten the job at camp, he wants to project an image of success for people, et cetera. Really, he’s a criminal getting over on another bad dude. A big load of extortion. So the guy we see, the one the people at camp think they see, it’s not who Alex is truly. He’s wearing that mask and it soon slips. Then he does a nasty little thing: he drops liquid acid into Blotter’s drink, all to manipulate his current situation. Oh, Alex. You’re becoming more unlikable by the minute.
Deputy Garrett confronts the guy from the diner, one he thinks may have Satanist aspirations, who’s trespassing on camp property. He decides the dude matches the description of a tall man from the Russian boy’s outing. Back at camp, Blotter is taking a harsh trip down the rabbit hole. He literally watches his own face melt, he sees Alex spew out a terrifying hand. The Russian boy rambles at him. You can see Alex already regrets this dumb, possibly fatal mistake. Out at those stones where the kid was found, Blotter digs up a set of bones: The Tall Man? Has he actually “found him“? When he brings Deb out to the site the bones are gone. All that’s left is Blotter holding the bag, for the drug dealer lurking around, for taking acid, so on. Another harsh move due to Alex’s nasty behaviour. In other news, the biker guy is let free, not held on any charges. And he’s the one now holding the bones of The Tall Man: “It has begun,” he gives as a prophecy to his crew. Maybe real Satanists, or some occult worshippers after all?
As Blotter leaves, to Amy he repeats what Jessie previously said: “He‘ll do anything to get what he wants.” This leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, particularly Amy. Yet Carolina’s happy to see that. Y’know, typical teenage camp sort of stuff.
Alex goes to see Anton. He speaks Russian, suggesting exactly what that owner told him long ago, to change his name. He’s becoming exactly who he didn’t want to be, or shouldn’t have become. No wonder the ghost of his grandfather is kicking around. Oh, and The Tall Man warns of things to come through Anton.
And before the finish, leaving camp Blotter comes in contact with The Tall Man, who points to something we can’t see. We end on Blotter, totally terrified by whatever is approaching, and then it cuts black while the terror unfolds in screams and rotten sounds. Deliciously horrific.
A nice follow-up episode to the first one. I honestly dig the show. Maybe not perfect and there are bits that could certainly be improved upon, though I find there’s enough to make it interesting, and surprisingly there’s a good bit of horror. Nothing crazy, but I think it’s lots of fun. Tame compared to anything wild. Still enjoyable and has lots of places to go from here. Look forward to the next episode titled “Disposable” – could it be named after the Bill Nelson song? Let’s hope, that’d fit perfectly with the atmosphere and tone of the series. Keep up with me if you’re into the show.
The Guest. 2014. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Brendan Meyer, Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser, and Lance Reddick. Picturehouse.
Rated 14A. 99 minutes.
To begin, I’ve been a fan of Adam Wingard a long while. I think the first time I actually saw one of his films it was A Horrible Way to Die, which I recently got on Blu ray and enjoyed again to the fullest. After that I got the chance to see both Home Sick and Pop Skull within a couple days. Though I enjoy his later work more, I still really dug those films. Wingard really has a different sensibility about the way he makes movies than a lot of new, young horror directors. Not to mention, Simon Barrett, who has been writing films for Wingard since, I believe, A Horrible Way to Die. Barrett is a really interesting writer; another of his works I enjoyed before his partnership with Wingard is the creepy Confederate gold horror Dead Birds. Together, the two of these guys are a great pair as writer-director partnerships go. Especially in the horror genre. I think these guys continually prove they’re the next big thing (hell – I think they’re the big thing right now) in horror.
That being said, after You’re Next, Barrett and Wingard have moved onto a slight change of pace with The Guest.
This story follows a young soldier named David (Stevens). The film begins as we follow behind him, jogging. Soon, he reaches the home of a soldier he knew, Caleb, who recently died. David tells the family Caleb wanted him to find them and give them his love. David also says he promised Caleb he’d do anything possible to help them. Anna (Monroe), Caleb’s sister, seems suspicious. However, the rest of the family, especially the mother (Sheila Kelley) and younger brother (Brendan Meyer), take a liking to David. Even some of Anna’s friends, including a sleazy sort of dude named Craig (a nice small role played by Joel David Moore), think David is the best. Eventually, David’s past comes back to haunt him. People start dying.
And soon enough, Anna starts finding things out about David; dangerous things.
The movie plays out like something we’ve seen before, and yet The Guest feels different. A lot of people focus on it seemingly being a throwback to 1980s action-thrillers, and also some of John Carpenter’s works specifically, which I agree; a lot of this film seems very much inspired by the look of Carpenter, as well as the feel of certain action movies from the 80s, most specifically probably The Terminator. Regardless, The Guest is not some 80s rehash. It’s a smart little thriller with the entertainment of thrillers we’ve known before. Yes, there are influences here. Yes, the soundtrack is most certainly a heavy lean towards the 80s.
But Barrett and Wingard both are too clever to make this just a throwback piece.
For anyone who has not actually seen The Guest yet, what I’m about to say in the next little bit has a huge SPOILER in it. So, if you’d rather not have the film spoiled, and I’d rather you not because I don’t want anyone complaining when I’ve clearly forewarned them (even though I think the whole concept of ‘spoiler alert’ is ridiculous – if you don’t want anything spoiled, stay away from the fucking internet), PLEASE TURN BACK.
So, one of my favourite pieces in the entire movie is nearing the finale. Just as things start going haywire for David, he and Mrs. Peterson (Kelley) are in the kitchen, taking cover from gunfire and such. I honestly believed David was going to protect the family. I figured we’d be treated to a massive shootout, as well as maybe a few hand-to-hand combat scenes. Instead, Barrett subverts those expectations, and David instead stabs Mrs. Peterson just before she yells to the men outside the house as she figures out his intentions. I really didn’t see that coming. Also, I think this is really clever because even earlier when David kills two other people, we don’t necessarily switch him to the bad guy. We’re still wondering what exactly is going on with him; maybe the government has done his head in, maybe they turned him into a killing machine without the off switch – who knows?
But once David kills the mother, all bets are off. We now see him as an unstoppable force. He strategically snuffs out any single person who may, or possibly may not, it doesn’t matter, become a trail leading back to him. Then from this point on things get even wilder.
This is one of the many reasons I really enjoy The Guest. Another thing – Wingard avoids going for some extended, unnecessary sex scene during a party in the film. Whereas a lot of other filmmakers might make it into a whole scene, Wingard keeps it at a very brief few shots, which gives us enough information to deduce that, yes, the two characters indeed have sex.
It’s not that I’m against sex scenes. In fact, I’m not at all. I think if the plot provides a moment where a sex scene is organic and natural, then why not? But on the contrary, if there is no need for it, if it doesn’t serve the plot or characters in any way, then why include it? Only makes for a bit of fast forward. You can either have sex or watch it on the internet whenever you want – it doesn’t need to be filler in a movie. Not for me anyways. Kudos to Wingard for not falling into the same old traps other filmmakers do. Instead, he uses every scene, every shot, because they’re all meant to be in there. Signs of a good filmmaker, in my opinion.
I really enjoyed Dan Stevens as David. I’ve never personally seen him in anything else, though I know what he’s done. His portrayal of this character was incredible. He swung between charming and handsome, to dark (still handsome) and brooding. There were times he genuinely chilled me with a few of the looks on his face; not even his words, just expressions. I think I’ll definitely have to see some of his other work. Great casting.
Though there are a few small performances I enjoyed (Ethan Embry as a small-time arms dealer, Joel David Moore as the burnt out Craig, Lance Reddick as Major Carver, the always unique Leland Orser as Mr. Peterson), the one other performance aside from Stevens I enjoyed most was Maika Monroe. She did a wonderful job as Anna. Again, I don’t ever really recall seeing her in anything else, but she was great here. This could’ve easily been played badly had they cast someone else, however, Monroe turns the character of Anna into someone less-angsty and a bit more intelligent than most young characters we see in horrors, action-thrillers, and the lot. Also, she gets to utter the final line – I absolutely love it. The way she says it, the three words themselves; it all puts things perfectly in perspective. Another great instance of casting. She and Stevens played well off one another, as well. Some really great scenes between the two.
The Guest is a fun and weird ride through what could have been a typical action-thriller, but instead comes off as the next legitimate step on the path towards greatness for Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett. I think this is not only better than most action coming out post-2000, it’s also just one of the better action-thrillers I’ve seen. I recently rewatched The Terminator on Blu ray (and I probably consider that to be the best action-thriller ever), and I can honestly say, for me, The Guest ranks up there with that film.
I love the dialogue, as I usually do in movies scripted by Barrett; I never find myself stopping and wondering why someone had to say that, why the screenwriter left this in there, et cetera. The plot is a lot of fun, and Wingard really executes things well. He is great with a lot of the handheld work in his previous films, but I think with the bigger budgets his and Barrett’s talents have started bringing in his films will start to see more and more stabilized framing. Not to say handheld isn’t good, or that Wingard isn’t good at it (the opposite – as I said he is great), I just think with The Guest, Wingard proves he is capable of true beauty with more steady framing and shot composition. There are just absolutely magnificent shots here; one such action-style shot is when Craig (Moore) is running away from David, who lets him go, and eventually picks him off with a headshot from long range. Just really great and twisted stuff.
The Guest will be on Blu ray January 6th, but is also going to be available for purchase as a Digital HD release on December 16th through VOD services. As soon as you can, check this out. I’m looking forward to the Blu ray because this is a gorgeous looking film with great camerawork, a killer soundtrack, and some top notch performances.
A modern, dark rumination on fame.