(On Cable TV, March 2017) I will reluctantly concede a certain audacity in drafting a follow-up to Independence Day twenty years after the first film. In positing a fictional universe advanced by twenty years of international co-operation and repurposed alien technology, Resurgence takes us in relatively new territory as far as alien invasion films are concerned: As much science fictional on the human side as the alien side, rebalancing the usual power dynamics of the situation. Unfortunately, this ends up being largely window-dressing for bigger action sequences: the lunar tripwire gets ripped quickly, and it doesn’t stop a spectacular disaster sequence from picking up Abu Dhabi and dropping it on London (no, really). Twenty years later, advances in special effects technology do look like alien technology to 1996 state-of-the-art, and if Resurgence definitely has something going for it, it’s the quality of its special effects. As anyone would have anticipated, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the film is as good. While the script does acknowledge its own absurdity (“They do go for landmarks”, says Jeff Goldblum as famous monuments are destroyed), it doesn’t quite manage to build an interesting cast of characters, nor take us on a steadily engrossing adventure. In fact, the fan-service calling back the first movie does get annoying at time, hampering the film from managing something better than another battle on the desert flats. Among the cast, Jeff Goldblum is very enjoyable as an older but just as cynical version of his character in the first film, William Fichtner is exactly what’s needed as a solid military figure, Maika Monroe almost makes us forget that she’s taking over Mae Whitman’s role. Will Smith is sorely missed, with no one quite managing to step up as a replacement. As a catastrophe movie, the large-scale destruction is what director Roland Emmerich usually does best, and so Resurgence at least delivers on those expectations. Still, it does have enough promising elements to be disappointing in the way it puts them all together. There may or may not be another sequel, but the movie works hard at ensuring that we wouldn’t care one way or the other.
(On Cable TV, September 2016) To its credit, The 5th Wave begins reasonably well, with a first few minutes seemingly going past the usual teenage dystopian tropes in order to land in more serious territory than usual for the genre. But once that introduction concludes, the subgenre’s clichés take over. The film gets dumber, senseless and clichéd at once. Big revelations can be seen coming minutes in advance and there’s little here to warm up savvy viewers who have already seen everything before. Acting-wise, Dakota Fanning gets the heavy lifting of the main role, but Maika Monroe comes in and steals a few scenes. There are a few nice moments of devastation early on, but there’s no denying that The 5th Wave is a movie coming out five or two years too late, after the alien-invasion panic of 2010 or the teenage-dystopia craze of 2014. But so it goes when a sub-genre’s bubble pops: there are always going to be movies caught in the aftermath. I’m not feeling too bad about this trilogy never achieving its second and third instalments—a quick look at Wikipedia’s plot summary of the follow-up novels quickly shows how insane, rote and depressing the series becomes over time. While everyone should congratulate themselves on killing off the teenage dystopian trend, it’s an end that couldn’t come fast enough to prevent the very disappointing The 5th Wave. But let’s not worry: no-one will remember this film in five years, except as part of an actor’s filmography.
(Netflix Streaming, December 2015) Despite its unlimited potential, genre horror too often becomes stale, relying on the same monsters, gimmicks and metaphors. As a result, the average horror movie has become intensely predictable, familiar and suspense-free. But there are a few films willing to shake it up, and It Follows is a refreshing example of genre reinvigoration. Benefiting from an unusual premise and a remarkable absence of special effects, It Follows remixes lumbering zombies, AIDS metaphors, an eighties-style synth-based soundtrack and unnerving wide-shot cinematography to deliver something that feels fresh and daring. It’s superficially about a sexually-transmitted monster antagonist that walks up to their target in order to kill them horribly, but it gets a lot of mileage out of that simple premise: Effectively building dread rather than disgust or shock, It Follows manages to say a few interesting things about its teenage horror protagonists and their relationship with sex and death. (Never mind the adults: They don’t figure in the film.) Writer/director David Robert Mitchell knows what he’s doing, layers in thematic depth, blurs his eras, presents effective nightmare-based frights and gets a lot of sympathy for his characters. It doesn’t take much more than the opening shots (which simply rotates 360-degrees to present the situation for reasons we later understand) to set us on edge, something that the deliberately off-putting soundtrack later reinforces. While some aspects of the film can be a bit blurry to the point of owing more to dream-logic than solid plotting, and while one could quibble almost endlessly with various aspects of the premise, its logic or its development (let alone its origin), there’s no denying the effectiveness of the scares or the compelling nature of the film as the characters try to figure what’s happening to them. Maika Monroe is particularly good in the lead role. It Follows feels new and disquieting, which should please those who feel a bit jaded with horror movies. One word of advice: try to see the film on as big a screen as possible: The cinematography often shows action or important images as part of a much wider frame.