The opening half hour of Deep Water depicts a failing marriage, wonderfully acted by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas in a way which communicates poignantly that Melinda’s infidelity hurts Vic less than her carelessness in conducting affairs. Unfortunately this is followed by 90 minutes of turgid plot-driven and coincidence-laden mildly erotic thriller after Vic is accused of murder. The characters react in wholly unrealistic ways that the audience is expected to accept with throwaway lines in a script that rarely scratches beneath the surface — overt acknowledgments that Vic is “weird” are woefully insufficient. Deep Water may have been intended to explore the complexities of human desire and relationships but the result feels more like a lurid revenge fantasy, made all the more disappointing by its engaging opening act. Whilst it may mark Adrian Lyne’s return to directing after 20 years, Deep Water does little to suggest we have missed much in the interim.
Sequels are a precarious prospect, particularly when continuing the narrative of a high concept breakout hit like A Quiet Place, which was never envisioned as the start of a franchise. Aside from an opening flashback to the arrival of the creatures, A Quiet Place Part II unfolds over a handful of days after the first film’s ending. Lee’s sacrifice to save his children in A Quiet Place leaves a significant hole in the excellent family dynamic, though one of the themes is Regan and Marcus discovering that they each have their father’s strength of character. The physical void is ably filled by Cillian Murphy, with a character who is not simply a replica of Krasinski’s. Whilst the narrative may be thin, Krasinksi’s assured direction delivers a solid second outing which still effectively ratchets tension despite the creatures being a known quantity and in full view from the start. Midway through Part II, he opts to split the group up, leading to a wonderfully edited sequence that cuts rapidly between simultaneous attacks, the use of tonal similarities heightening the suspense rather than detracting from it. The sound design is once again exceptional, although there is less use of Regan’s hearing impaired perspective than one might expect when she takes off alone.
“If you can’t remember then it’s better to forget.”
Snowpiercer is fresh high-concept science fiction that arrived a few years ahead of its time with an admittedly unsubtle allegorical tale of climate-induced revolution as the destitute rise up. Director Joon-Ho Bong adapts a French graphic novel with a confident blend of Korean and Western sensibilities that needs to viewed texturally in the manner of Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Terry Gilliam. Logical interrogation of the implausible story will invariably lead to disappointment, but the violent journey through this train — hurtling ceaselessly through a frozen wasteland — is filled with tension and fabulous imagery. The revolution’s success seems ever balanced on a knife-edge, but as they advance each carriage presents its own distinctive diorama full of wonderful details. Chris Evans carries the audience as the reluctant hero, supported by a host of venerable British talent, including John Hurt and a riotously hammy Tilda Swinton. More than the sum of its parts, it was perhaps inevitable that the creative yet bleak Snowpiercer left critics more enamoured than audiences.
“Who are we if we can’t protect them? We have to protect them.”
John Krasinski’s second feature-length directorial outing is excellent, tightly constrained, high concept survival horror with an emphasis on tone. The conceit of blind reptilian creatures with incredible hearing is perfect for film, allowing for tense sequences that do not rely on darkness masking what we can see. Some of the film’s tensest moments occur in broad daylight, although its final act still unfolds at night. The excellent sound design demands watching in a quiet environment or with headphones. We learn about the characters gradually (it is a film best experienced with as little knowledge as possible), with their depth coming from broader themes about family, grief and guilt. Like many such films, narrative holes emerge upon close inspection, but that does not detract at all from the exhaustingly atmospheric experience Krasinski has crafted.
“I just wanted to let you know I made it here. Mom was right, it took forever to find, but it’s perfect.”
The Shallows is a slight, but surprisingly effective, thriller right until its inability to find a satisfying conclusion. The setup is straightforward: a young woman becomes trapped by a shark whilst surfing off a remote beach in Mexico. Blake Lively is an unlikely choice for such an individually focused survival film but she offers a strong performance with believable peril and pain, whilst grappling with the emotional issues that drew her out to honour her mother’s memory. It is a shame, then, that the film’s final minutes leave the audience incredulous rather than impressed.