Rated PG-13 for strong violence, drug material throughout, sexual content and some strong language. Opens in theaters on Aug. 20 and also available on HBO Max.
As the credits rolled on futuristic detective noir “Reminiscence,” my reaction boiled down to the ultimate criticism a kid can hear from their parents: I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Written and directed by “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy, she crafts a complex, fully-realized world and puts some compelling characters,
played by terrific actors,
at the center of it. But the movie fumbles in its execution.
Hugh Jackman plays Nick Bannister, a grizzled private investigator and war vet. He’s clearly modeled after 1940s gumshoes like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer, only he exists in a not-so-distant future where Miami is mostly underwater and he solves cases by accessing his customers’ memories through technology.
He and his hard-drinking assistant (Thandiwe Newton) are struggling to keep the business afloat, but they seem to be relatively happy — until new client Mae, the mandatory femme fatale, walks through the door. Soon, a simple job of finding lost keys turns into a missing persons case and a dangerous obsession.
Despite impressive visual effects — many of them practical — and strong performances from Jackman, Newton and Ferguson, “Reminiscence” squanders much of viewers’ good will because it doesn’t trust them enough to follow the story on their own. Instead, Joy shoulders Jackman with hackneyed, wall-to-wall voiceover that explains everything happening on screen at all times. Granted, narration is an important genre trope, but it’s overkill. After a while, I just wanted the character to pipe down so I could figure things out myself.
Even more frustrating, the central mystery is pretty good. I sort of knew where it was going, but after the big reveal, I was impressed by how all the moving parts worked together. Plus, as “The Greatest Showman” proved, Jackman and Ferguson have absolutely scorching chemistry. That’s why it’s such a shame the story keeps them apart so much. Their scenes are easily the best aspect of the film.
“The Night House”
Rated R some violence/disturbing images, and language including some sexual references. Opens in theaters Aug. 20.
Psychological horror is a different beast than straight-up gorefests. Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers are frightening in the moment, but the dread fades once the lights come up. When a scary movie gets into your head, that unsettling feeling lasts a whole lot longer.
“The Night House,” a disturbing new film starring the always-excellent Rebecca Hall and directed by Georgia native David Bruckner, definitely falls into that second category. While there are only a handful of traditional scares along the way, the methodical pacing, tense atmosphere and enigmatic finale make it a harrowing experience.
Hall plays Beth, a teacher who is reeling from the recent death of her husband. Isolating herself from family and friends, she spends her time alone — mostly drinking and watching old home movies — in the beautiful lakeside house he built for her. But that changes when she starts to have powerful nightmares that make her question reality. Despite well-intentioned advice from her best friend (Sarah Goldberg) and kindhearted neighbor (Vondie Curtis-Hall), Beth digs into her husband’s past — searching for clues to a mystery she may not want to solve.
Those who prefer their horror films to have rapid-fire editing, nonstop jump scares and a screechy score that tells them precisely when to be scared will probably need to adjust their expectations before walking into “The Night House.” However, those with the patience to immerse themselves in a slow-building world that poses plenty of disconcerting questions without spoon-feeding viewers easy answers are in for a uniquely scary experience.
I watched the film on my laptop during the day and it still freaked me out. I can’t imagine how upsetting it would be to see it on the big screen in a dark auditorium. Bruckner, working from a screenplay by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski, isn’t afraid of long stretches of silence, which draws the audience into a scene before meticulously doling out information that either reveals a new aspect of the plot or makes them question something they thought they knew before.
Of course, it helps that “The Night House” rests on Hall’s brilliant shoulders. Large portions of the movie are essentially a one-woman show, often with no dialogue. Beth’s fears, heartbreak, betrayal and curiosity are all conveyed through facial expressions and body language, which makes the film even more compelling when she realizes she might not be able to trust her own instincts.
The film could’ve easily fallen into tired “she’s just crazy” tropes, but Hall and the filmmaker are too invested in Beth to let that happen. While there are certainly aspects of the story that delve into mental illness and how that impacts the way people see the world, it never takes the subject lightly or treats it as merely a plot device. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but Bruckner and Hall pull in off in admirable fashion.
Home Video Spotlight
“Friday the 13th” 8-Movie Collection
Rated R. Now available.
This collection of movies featuring masked psycho Jason Voorhees hit stores last week, fittingly enough, right before the only Friday the 13th in 2021. The set boasts newly remastered versions of the first four films and hours of previously released special features, including deleted scenes, making-of featurettes, audio commentaries and more. It also comes with digital copies of all eight flicks, including the “uncut” edition of the 1980 original.
(A quick heads up for completists: the collection doesn’t include “Jason Goes to Hell,” “Jason X,” “Freddy vs. Jason” or the 2009 reboot. Those were made by different studios and the franchise rights have been tangled in lawsuits for over a decade.)
“A Place in the Sun”
Not rated. Now available.
In this tragic drama, Montgomery Clift plays a young man determined to win a place in respectable society and the heart of a beautiful socialite (Elizabeth Taylor). Shelley Winters plays a working-class girl with connections that threaten his professional and romantic prospects. Director George Stevens’ classic film won six Academy Awards and is widely considered one of the finest works of American cinema.
It recently took its place in the acclaimed Paramount Presents line with a new Blu-ray. Remastered from a 4K film transfer in celebration of its 70th anniversary, the film includes a new Filmmaker Focus featuring critic and historian Leonard Maltin. The disc also includes previously released bonus content, including commentary by George Stevens Jr. and Ivan Moffat, retrospective cast and crew interviews, and a segment on George Stevens.
Rated R. Now available.
Director Robert Altman’s influential film remains a vital classic of 1970s cinema, with its focus on America’s obsession with celebrity and power. Newly remastered from a 4K scan of original elements, the film is presented on Blu-ray as another recent addition to the Paramount Presents line. It includes a new featurette entitled “24 Tracks: Robert Altman’s Nashville,” as well as a previously released commentary by Altman.