Adventures in Streaming

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

Fever Night

Fever Night, also known as Band of Satanic Outsiders, is a movie with a catchy Netflix blurb and a striking thumbnail image. … so I ended up watching it.

It follows the attempt by three friends to perform an obscure ritual deep in the forest. One of them is injured, forcing the other two to go in search of help; instead they encounter nature – birds and trees and such – behaving in strange ways, and ultimately they’re confronted with the very kind of demonic entity they had been hoping to conjure.

The acting wasn’t the worst acting in the world; the plot was generic but not uninteresting. There’s a little bit of comedy that occasionally is really funny. But in the end, it’s the sort of film that you don’t really intend to watch again and aren’t entirely sure why you watched it all the way to the end.

… except the end is actually pretty thought-provoking.

The shape the demonic entity takes is basically that of a hermaphroditic goat-headed sort of creature, and it clearly frightens and disgusts the friends, but it was conjured as a manifestation of their desires, so … on some level, they had wanted such a creature.

They had wanted this.

What does that mean? If you had asked them what they wanted, they wouldn’t have said they wanted a hermaphroditic goat-headed creature; when they see it, they’re horrified. But the ritual has worked – clearly it did, since the creature is there at all – so this must have been what they wanted deep down.

The ending of Fever Night can cause us to think about your own desires and motivations, and all the things that are deep-down that we don’t let come to the surface … things that we may not even know are there. Even beyond the typical musings about the darkness that can reside in all of us, even outside of notions of good and evil, the question comes up: how well do we know ourselves? More to the point, how would we feel about those things we might discover? How would we handle it if we found it disturbing? Can we truly become someone separate from desires we don’t want to have, or do they eventually bubble up no matter what we do?

Ultimately, Fever Night is not a horrible way to spend a couple of hours; it invites the audience to do some introspection, and there are a couple of laughs to boot.

 

popcorn icon  5 out of 10.

Adventures in Streaming …

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

RADIUS

Radius tells the story of Liam, who has no idea who he is other than the information on his driving license. He wakes up, injured and confused, after having been in an apparent car crash; when he flags down a passing motorist, the motorist suddenly dies. As Liam makes his way down the road, trying to find help, he encounters more people who have mysteriously died – sitting at tables at the café, slumped over their food.

Eventually he reaches the house his license tells him is his, but he still can’t remember anything about himself, his life, or the accident. He assumes at first that there’s some contagion, but ultimately realizes that it’s proximity to him that’s killing people. When Jane appears he’s terrified that she’s going to die too, but for some reason she doesn’t. Unfortunately she has no answers, since she also has no idea who she is or how she ended up in the hospital in a truck that belongs to Liam, but if Liam stays within a certain radius of her, no one around him dies.

From there, their adventure begins, and the story stays compelling throughout. The people are genuine, the supernatural element is presented in a way that immediately pulls the audience in – so that we feel as nervous as Liam and Jane do when they get too far from each other. There’s a little action, a good amount of character development, eerie sets and situations, and series of flashbacks (as the characters remember glimpses of who they are and what’s happened) are well-integrated into the scenes of the present – we feel like we’re solving the mystery with the characters.

At the same time, there are significant twists that take us by surprise.

The underlying theme starts out as solving mysteries, but by the last act, we’re actually confronted with the same dilemma the characters are facing – not who they are, but what they’ve done. If we’ve truly forgotten who we were, does that exonerate us from the consequences of our crimes, our failings, our mistakes, our earlier darkness? Is darkness something that we have inherently or is it attached to our bringing up and life experiences? Can we shed our earlier personalities if we’re unable to recall them, or will they still be there, hardwired in our heads and bodies like our eye-colour? Finally, what would we be willing to do to prevent ourselves from re-becoming that earlier person who wasn’t so wonderful? – what would we be willing to sacrifice to stop our former selves from returning?

Radius shifts more than once into a different kind of story, and it does so in a seamless way that mirrors how real people would face strange experiences. The build-up of tension is consistent, the characters are believable and sympathetic, the twists are reasonably unexpected, and the characters’ final decisions – as they answer the above questions – are heartfelt. In the end, we don’t know who, in fact, has been the bad guy, since we’re still exploring those answers in ourselves.

I decided to watch the movie because of the interesting sci-fi premise, but I was surprised by a story with a bit of depth and an emotionally engaging conclusion.

Overall:

popcorn icon  10 out of 10

Adventures in Streaming …

* reviews of things i found on (mostly) netflix *

* now with spoilers *

“LAVENDER”

Lavender describes the journey of photographer Jane as she learns there is more to her past than she remembers.

The pacing at first is slow; we don’t really glimpse a whole lot about the characters. We’re made aware that there’s tension between Jane and her husband Alan, but we don’t particularly explore it. Some of the things that happen in the first half hour only seem strange because the characters act strangely about them – otherwise the incidents and encounters wouldn’t be disturbing or unlikely, so we easily wonder if Jane is in fact hallucinating and imagining things.

One day while driving, Jane becomes suddenly aware of a little girl standing in the road in front of the car. Jane swerves to avoid her, and the scene goes into super-slow-motion. Slow-motion is used in other scenes as well, in a way that makes the scenes seem sluggish; by the time she’s swerved around the little girl, we’ve grown bored watching the careening car and are just waiting to see the outcome.

One good side about not delving too deeply into the characters or their history is that we’re obliged to take everyone at face value – if someone’s introduced to us as a doctor or a store-keeper, we sort of need to accept it without asking a lot of questions. So when it turns out the doctor isn’t really a doctor, and the store-keeper isn’t really a store-keeper, and the doctor in fact isn’t even really visible to other people, we feel reasonably surprised.

The film also does a good job of setting up eeriness – weather and lighting create a mood without being heavy-handed. The random and inexplicable delivery of various strange “gifts” to Jane is intriguing, and builds a mystery that we want to solve with Jane. Because we see the doctor acting like a creeper, we’re happy to distrust everyone else in the film as well, so that there’s some tension about just who is or isn’t the “bad guy”. And the scattering of clues is clear but not obvious, so that when the final truth is revealed, we can go back mentally and feel both surprised at the twists and as though we solved the mystery with Jane.

In the end, the purpose of the super-slow-motion becomes clearer: this is how Jane’s brain – damaged during the traumatic incident in her childhood – has dealt with that incident. She doesn’t have a clear picture; she only has a series of images that her head tries to slow down enough to analyze. She’s also been trapped in this forgotten past – since she can’t remember it, she can’t process it, deal with it, grieve about it, or move on. Her entire life has been the drawn-out slow-motion tail end of a terrifying story she can’t recall. Once the truth is revealed to her, the scenes pick up the pace, and Jane is suddenly sprinting, making quick decisions, and acting swiftly: she’s “woken up”, and instead of being acted upon by outside forces, Jane is able to interact with and affect the world.

Overall, the movie’s pacing – even though it’s purpose ultimately is a valid and fairly interesting metaphor for Jane’s psychological struggle – risks the audience giving up midway through a film that has a good story, fairly smooth acting, and solid messages about love and the protection of children. Not spending more time on developing the characters in the opening minutes means that the viewers who stay are the ones who intrinsically like to solve mysteries. And it might have been nice, after seeing ghosts interact with Jane the entire film, for the audience to be given a little more explicit view of what the ghosts are likely going to do to the bad guy. But the story is satisfying, the bad guy is discovered, the child is rescued, and Jane is allowed to know about both her history and her family’s love. The living characters seem to be rebuilding their relationships, and the ghost characters get to resolve their own murders and punish their killer.

In the end Lavender was worth watching, and I would be willing to watch it again.

Final Score:  7 out of 10.