Fresh On Demand: ‘XX’, ‘HEADSHOT’ and ‘LAVENDER’

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

XX
Rated R, 80 minutes.
Director: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn KusamaSt. Vincent and Jovanka Vuckovic
Cast: Melanie LynskeyNatalie Brown, Jonathan Watton, Peter DaCunha and Michael Dyson

Anthology productions can be a misfire more often than not. It is a collection of short films wrapped around a specific idea or motif. A weak link in this chain can throw off the entire experience as a viewer. When coupled with the horror genre, which produces a lot of mediocre movies to begin with. One of the more successful ones, Michael Doherty’s TRICK ‘R’ TREAT, had four short films centered on Halloween; each one a mixture of scares and camp. It didn’t divert from its purpose.

In the latest horror anthology, XX, the movie is comprised of four short horror stories, all written and directed by women: “The Box” by Jovanka Vuckovic; “The Birthday Party” by Annie Clark (of St. Vincent fame); “Don’t Fall” by Roxanne Benjamin (V/H/S, SOUTHBOUND); and “Her Only Living Son” by Karyn Kusama (THE INVITATION, JENNIFER’S BODY). Some of these films center on the extremes of motherhood, another will focus on just good ol’ fashioned demonic possession.

While none of the shorts embody the atypical scare that is synonymous with the genre, there is still a sense of macabre or dread throughout. Add in eerily effective stop-motion sequences by Sofia Carrillo, and XX does a solid job of keeping the viewer in the mood. It does have a problem with being too vague in some points of a narrative, but not enough to derail the whole picture. If you like horror with a bit of intelligence and humor (seriously, “The Birthday Party” is a great dark comedy), then this is something to put on your radar.


HEADSHOT
Not rated, 118 minutes.
Director: Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Iko UwaisChelsea IslanZack LeeSunny Pang and Very Tri Yulisman

With less than 10 movies under his belt, Iko Uwais has become one of the bright stars in action movies today. He has made a name for himself as Rama, Gareth Evans’ muse in both THE RAID: REDEMPTION & THE RAID 2. Not only did these movies introduce him, but it also introduced the world to pencak silat, which is a cornerstone of Indonesian martial arts. Now, Uwais and his pencak silat are back in the harsh, violent world of HEADSHOT.

Ishmael (Uwais) has been in a hospital for two months due to complications of a shot to the head. When he awakes, thanks to young doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan), he is burdened with amnesia. As he tries to piece together his life, the people that wanted him dead are out to finish the job, by orders of his former boss Lee (Sonny Pang). What follows is violence, mayhem, and vengeance as these two men try to accept their inevitability.

HEADSHOT is so violent, you can’t help but drop your jaw at certain scenes. Written and directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto (also known as The Mo Brothers), they use their background in horror to crank up the viscera and give every action note further accent. However, the camerawork helps give the viewer something more than just bullet holes and bloodlust. It has a lot of great shots and the camera flows with the action rather relying on the editing room floor (TAKE NOTE AMERICAN ACTION FLICKS). Planning the action sequences as part of the story versus eye candy allows for a continuing flow for the viewer, giving everything extra impact.

The story itself goes a little south as the movie hits its lulls between the action. Lee’s escape at the beginning of the movie is improbable, setting up the viewer to identify other plot holes. It does hint at a subtext regarding Indonesian child labor in the trafficking community, and it’s a nice allusion in giving him the name Ishmael that unfolds with the movie.

C’mon, though… that’s not why you want to watch HEADSHOT. You’ll see the poster/trailer and say, “OH! That’s the guy from THE RAID! This has to be good!” And you’ll be absolutely correct.


LAVENDER
Not rated, 92 minutes.
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Abbie Cornish, Justin LongDiego Klattenhoff and Peyton Kennedy

Jane (Abbie Cornish) has a fixation with old, rundown houses that she photographs. In fact, she’s become so good that she opens a gallery. However, one house she shoots triggers something in her. Jane starts seeing things, and it becomes apparent that this house is something meaningful to her. Her husband Alan (Diego Klattenhoff from TV’s THE BLACKLIST) and daughter Alice (Lola Flanery) are struggling to understand what is going on, and if Jane is going crazy.

It’s rare when a movie can have a lot going on while simultaneously having nothing going on. That’s not to say that LAVENDER is a bad movie, but it uses a lot of familiarity to take a long way to get to what makes it different. Hints that are dropped along the way to help realize the puzzle that’s completed in time for the story’s climax. Of course, it involves the ending, so there can’t be too much detail. There’s just a general malaise throughout the movie, and does little to keep the audience interested until the third act, which is solid and poignant.

Cornish does do well in making the audience intrigued in Jane; she is a talented actress who deserves more roles in Hollywood. Its setting and lighting do well to keep the atmosphere within our grasp, and, combined with the score, give off a Southern gothic feel. For instance, there are certain shots that are lit to look like iris shots. Furthermore, there are scenes where the camera moves through the room with actors frozen in place, but there is no follow-up. There just isn’t enough to make the movie stand out from its contemporaries in the ghost story subgenre, even though it’s decent enough.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.