I Watched: Relic

In Relic, directed by Natalie Erika James and written by James and Christian White, Kay (Emily Mortimer) receives a call from the police that her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) has gone missing which prompts Kay and her grown daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to travel to their remote family home to investigate.

When they arrive, they find the house is full of clutter and mold and certain sections appear to be deteriorating and Post-It Notes are tacked up in every room with reminders like “set the alarm” and others with warnings like “do not follow it.” Kay remarks that Edna is sometimes forgetful but it’s clear the elderly woman is suffering from dementia.

As is the norm with horror films, there are creepy, unexplainable noises everywhere inside the house, a room (in this case, a walk-in closet) with a lock that spells trouble for anyone who enters inside, and one of the characters, Kay, is plagued by spooky dreams. I don’t mean to diminish this film by any means but some of the tropes simply weren’t handled very well, such as, Kay and Sam hear a noise coming from inside a wall in the living room, a loud thud in response to Kay’s knock and something massive is moving up inside the wall seemingly following a large path of mold. So, what do they do? Why they ignore it, of course. Move along, audience, nothing to see here. Now, let’s inspect Kay’s dream:

Kay is following a shadowy figure through the foggy woods and is led to a rundown cabin (wouldn’t be a respectable horror film without a cabin in the woods) and the interior is covered head to toe in mold. A naked, old, decrepit man is sitting on a bed and there are a series of jump cuts of decaying animals with the sound of buzzing flies and falls off the bed and there’s a jump cut to a decayed corpse who opens his pitch-black eyes just as Kay wakes up.

In the morning, Kay is drawn to the kitchen by the whistle of a tea kettle and finds Edna making a cuppa. The family doctor makes a house visit and despite the large black and purple bruise on Edna’s chest, that she can’t explain, the old woman seems to be in good physical health and has her mental faculties about, though she won’t say where she’s been. The doctor recommends that Kay and Sam stay with Edna to monitor her condition. Kay sensibly decides to look for a nursing home for her mother despite Sam’s protestations.

While cleaning the house, Sam finds a sketchbook from her granddad, and in it is a picture of the cabin from Kay’s dream. It turns out the cabin was the first house on the property, occupied by Kay’s great grandfather who died abandoned by his family. The cabin was torn down but the windows were rescued and reused for the house they’re currently staying in.

Edna’s dementia is getting worse. She’s talking to people who aren’t there, remarking about how unfamiliar the house seems, cutting her hand with a knife, throwing violent tantrums, eating photographs, and burying photo albums in the woods to keep those memories safe.

Sam, in the meanwhile, returns to that creepy walk-in closet and discovers it’s deeper than it appears. Past a pile of items in the back is an entire labyrinth of crawl spaces within but when she tries to turn back, she finds herself lost.

And that’s when things really get crazy. And nope, I’m not gonna tell ya what happens next. I’ve said too much already. If you really want to know, go watch the film for yourself.

So, would I recommend Relic? I suppose I would, though, fair warning, if you’re looking for jump-out-of-your-seat scares or cover-your-eyes-and-peek-through-your-fingers gore, you’re barking up the wrong film. Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut is a well-paced slow burn that successfully creates a unsettling atmosphere with superb acting, but if I had my druthers, I would have liked to see the story played straight without the gimmicky tropes that served no actual purpose other than to make it feel like a “horror” film and having Kay and Sam react to the bizarre and unexplainable occurrences happening before their eyes in a more honest and realistic fashion would have sold me even further. Cutting away from terrifying moments without the characters doing a proper investigation just to move the plot along (it happens twice) took me out of the film. Having said that, you could do a lot worse with 90 minutes of your life.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: The Iron Mask

In this sequel to the 2014 Russian dark fantasy film, Forbidden Empire, Jason Flemyng reprises his role as Jonathan Green, an English traveler and cartographer who receives orders from Peter the Great to map the Russian Far east, which sets him on a long, long, long (seriously, it feels like forever) journey full of lukewarm misadventures including badly choreographed fight scenes, distractingly terrible CGI, and a potpourri of mismatched, head-scratching subplots that eventually lead him to China. Oh, and there’s a dragon near the end but don’t get excited, it’s not worth the wait.

The story, boiled down to its essence, is during the cartographer’s travels, he comes across a boy being flogged and negotiates his release in the guise of needing an assistant. Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Captain James Hook has Jackie Chan and the Man in the Iron Mask (and no, I have not memorized any of the character’s names nor will I waste any more of my time going to look them up, so you’ll just have to deal with it) prisoner in the Tower of London. Iron Mask inadvertently interrupts a homing pigeon’s flight path by luring it to the cell window with breadcrumbs left over from their measly rations and begins a secret message communication between the cartographer and his love interest where the prisoners discover the the boy travelling with the cartographer is actually Chan’s daughter in disguise. Chan and Iron Mask attempt to escape the tower but Chan must do battle with Arnold to buy Iron Mask time to get away. Before they part company, Chan gives Iron Mask a “dragon seal” that must reach his daughter’s hands. Chan and Arnie have a bit of a punch up and Chan lands back in chains again. As it turns out, Chan’s daughter is actually a princess living in exile who is the rightful heir to the throne that has been usurped by some black magic woman with the ability to slip on a Mission Impossible mask to impersonate the princess. Chan’s daughter eventually gives the cartographer the slip, meets up with a handful of loyal subjects, runs into Iron Mask, gets the dragon seal that allows her to communicate with the Dragon King (an actual dragon) and she fights to get her throne back. Yes, other things happen but we’re talking essentials here.

I can’t really get too angry at this film because I knew going in it was going to be rough viewing. The biggest draw for me was getting to see two action legends go toe-to-toe, Jackie versus Arnie which turned out to be so disappointing and such a wasted opportunity. That, and I thought the film’s 2014 predecessor was visually impressive, even if the plot was a bit wonky. So, I entered this with low expectations and the film immediately let me know I set the bar waaaaay too high. It’s a complete and utter mess and not even in an it’s-so-bad-it’s-good sort of way.

So, would I recommend the 2019 Russo-Chinese fantasy adventure film, directed by Oleg Stepchenko and written by Stepchenko, Dmitry Paltsev, and Alexey A. Petrukhin, and featuring guest appearances by Charles Dance and Rutger Hauer? What do you think? I think I’ve done my civic duty for the day, so, you’re welcome. No applause, please, just throw money.

Ciao til next now.

I Watched: We Hunt Together

It’s the first day of DI Jackson Mendy’s (Babou Ceesay) new assignment in the Homicide Division when he meets his new partner DS Lola Franks (Eve Myles) at a murder scene. From the onset, it’s apparent the pair will get on like chalk and cheese. Mendy’s an affable fellow with an almost zen-like nature to remain cool under pressure and Franks, well let’s just say she’s the complete opposite. Their relationship isn’t helped by the fact that Mendy transferred from Anti-Corruption (the British version of Internal Affairs) and just like it is stateside, coppers aren’t exactly fond of working with anyone associated with the rat squad.

The murder itself appears sexual in nature when they discover the body of a naked man strapped to the bed face down in his apartment with a butcher’s knife buried deep in the base of his skull and the wall safe open and empty. Don’t be so quick to put on your Sherlock Holmes deerstalker cap because this show isn’t interested in being a simple whodunit, it’s a game of cat and mouse and we’re introduced to our killers straightaway in a flashback leading up to the murder.

Baba Lenga (Dipo Ola) is a former child soldier and refugee who works as a restroom attendant at a nightclub. In the club’s alley, Baba saves Freddy Lane (Hermione Corfield) from a sexual assault, which forges a bond between the pair. Freddy works as a telephone sex operator by day with the occasional dalliance in escorting by night. Here again we have a mismatched pair, Baba is compassionate, vulnerable and haunted by his past, while Freddy, also haunted by her past, is a charming, conniving psychopath.

To be honest, I’ve had my fill of police procedurals and I would have given this series a miss if not for Eve Myles (I’ve got a thing for potty-mouthed Welsh women, what can I say?). Created and written by Gaby Hull and directed by Jon Jones and Carl Tibbetts, We Hunt Together has some interesting elements like the chemistry between Myles and Ceesay which is fantastic, and the reasons for why they are the way they are makes for good character development. I also find Ola’s performance compelling. My problem is with Freddy.

This show has been compared to Killing Eve and Freddy to Villanelle but take my word for it, they ain’t close by a country mile. I know it’s not fair to compare shows and We Hunt Together should be judged on its own merits but I lack the ability to describe just how weak and uninteresting Freddy is as the show’s main antagonist without giving a slight comparison. Villanelle is remorseless and guilt-free in the killing of her victims, which is when she’s at her happiest. She has an eccentric, infantile sense of humor and the emotional maturity of a petulant child which makes her a delightful psychopath. Freddy, on the other hand, is a one-trick pony who uses seduction to manipulate men in the most unconvincing manner possible. I’m not sure if it’s the way the character was written or a testament to Corfield’s acting ability but Freddy comes across as a child playing at adult things. It might be amusing for some, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

So, would I recommend We Hunt Together? Honestly, I’m not sure. My best suggestion is to sample the pilot and see if it’s to your taste. Will I be back for series 2? I guess that would depend on whether there were more interesting things to watch. This is a show that I can easily see getting lost in the sauce of more interesting video content. And before you complain about the lack of story breakdowns and spoilers, realize that I’m doing you a favor and I’ve probably said too much already. Go watch it for yourself.

Ciao til next now.