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.