I have a problem with bare feet. The feel, the sound and the sight cause my hackles to rise. It’s a longstanding phobia that isn’t rational but does make some films uncomfortable viewing. Imagine my dismay, therefore, when it became clear in the opening minutes of A Quiet Place that all the characters were barefoot all the time, as a family move cautiously and silently through a world overrun by vicious predators that prey on the slightest sound. This central conceit of silence shapes the film’s world-building, from the family’s constant use of sign language along with a few moments of spoken dialogue, to their enthralling physical performances where expressions and tiny gestures speak volumes, and the family’s methods of day-to-day life without sound but shot through with constant fear. At times, the silence becomes defeaning before it is overwhelmed with Marco Beltrami’s crashing score that echoes those of Hans Zimmer and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. In addition, there are moments of complete silence that express the perspective of a deaf character, where the superb visual storytelling of writer-director-star John Krasinski is especially apparent as the world is expressed through motifs and clues, rather than expository dialogue or voiceover. The constant threat of attack and the danger of sound leads to nerve-shredding suspense, and the post-civilised world is shown to be merciless from the outset. Some aspects of this world are annoyingly unexplained, such as how the creatures have apparently overrun Earth and how there is still electricity. But these are minor quibbles in what is a gripping and often terrifying ride, and proves that horror is an ideal genre for directors to develop their skills.
If you’re like me, you’ll remember Paul Whitehouse doing advertisements for a major insurance company. On the other hand, if you’re like me you’re a postdoctoral researcher with various publications and your own film review blog – what’s that all about? Anyway, in Ghost Stories, Paul Whitehouse makes reference to his advertising background when his character Tony Matthews complains that talking to paranormal debunker Professor Goodman (Andy Nyman) is like getting an insurance quote. But ask questions is what Goodman does, as he demonstrates that the supernatural is merely smoke and mirrors for charlatans who exploit the gullible. Ghost Stories, adapted from the stage play and directed by Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, presents an anthology of Goodman’s investigations, as he is challenged by his idol to take on three cases that cannot be solved by normal debunking practices. The mysteries of the various stories are intriguing and their presentation genuinely scary, as the directors handle the tropes of horror effectively. Deep shadow and suggestive shapes as well as unexpected sounds occupy the film’s wide angled, deep focus shots, allowing for sinister movements in the frame. There is also a pleasing variety between the stories, locations ranging from an abandoned building to a forest road and an opulent but empty house. The conceit of haunting pervades the entire film, both in terms of the individual stories and the wraparound narrative. Particular visual and auditory tropes recur throughout the drama, haunting Goodman and the viewer alike. The film is at its strongest when it suggests and implies, playing on fears and imagination. Explanation and clarification undermine the fears at times, and the experience is not as disturbing as it might have been, largely thanks to perhaps excessive resolution. But Ghost Stories is still an effective and engaging chiller, offering skin crawling suspense as well as major jump scares.
Thrilling filmmaking blends a coming of age drama with adolescent relationships and more pop culture references than you can shake a registered trademark at. This is the smorgasbord of Steven Spielberg’s latest blockbuster, an immersive and bombastically brilliant adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel, scripted by Cline himself along with Zak Penn. In 2045, the world is a dystopia future with nothing to look forward to except the OASIS, a virtual reality environment where one can do and be anything. Within the OASIS, designer James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has hidden three keys that enable the finder to control the entire virtual world and become incalculably wealthy. Gamers of all types, from the corporate ‘Sixers’ of Innovative Online Industries (IOI) to the enigmatic Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and our protagonist Wade Watson/Parzival (Tye Sheridan) compete in extraordinary events where literally anything can and does happen. Motor races feature Back to the Future’s Delorean roaring alongside Tron’s light cycle and the Batmobile, while a Tyrannosaurus Rex and King Kong take swipes at them. Zero gravity discos merge Saturday Night Fever with Aliens; battles to rival The Lord of the Rings sweep across distant planets, where the Iron Giant battles with Mechagodzilla and there is cause to shout ‘It’s fucking Chucky!’ In a bravura sequence, Spielberg pays homage to his mentor Stanley Kubrick with a prolonged sojourn into The Shining. In the midst of this eye-popping Nerdvana, Ready Player One tells a fairly traditional story where a young hero comes of age, learns the value of friendship and connections in the real world (including first love), while evading the nefarious machinations of corporate scumbag Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).
What is especially pleasing about Ready Player One is that it demonstrates Spielberg experimenting and delivering with new technology. Previous efforts with motion capture including The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and The BFG were interesting but lacked a sense of immersion. Here, Spielberg and production designer Adam Stockhausen as well as various effects houses including Digital Domain and Industrial Light and Magic have crafted a world of virtual environments and extraordinary avatars to match and in some cases exceed, well, Avatar. Long takes propel the viewer through incredible vistas that are uncanny in the best sense – different yet also familiar. The action sequences have a visceral thrill despite their virtual nature, the viewer never forgetting that their surroundings exist in a digital framework but experiencing the rush much like the characters. That is Ready Player One’s greatest achievement: with a cinematic marketplace stuffed with familiarity, the film manages to take a plethora of archetypes and trademarks and deliver something that feels wholly fresh and thoroughly exhilarating. For this, it deserves the highest applause.