74 posts categorized "Suspense"

October 08, 2016


Girl-on-the-train-posterThis exposition-laden suspense thriller is so poorly adapted from its novel source material (by Paula Hawkins) that you can’t follow it. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson (“Secretary”) doesn’t begin to edit out subplots and secondary characters that cloud the story. Characters have far too little interaction over the course of a flashback-heavy drama that leaves you cold to their suburban issues adultery, alcoholism, and neglect.

Emily Blunt is the only thing this movie has going for it. It’s a sad state of affairs when the always-fascinating Blunt is relegated to making movies as weakly constructed as this one. Her persuasive performance as our unreliable narrator at least makes “Girl on a Train” watchable.

Voice-over narration weighs down the sluggishly paced action as we’re introduced to Rachel Watson (Blunt), an unemployed alcoholic who rides the train into Manhattan everyday to cover up her pointless existence to her female roommate. Rachel lost her perfect husband Tom (Justin Theroux) to a home-wrecker named Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Tom has also been busy schtupping his wife’s nanny Megan (Haley Bennett), the neighborhood nymphomaniac, and any other woman he can get his hands on. Work life be damned. 


To say that the storytelling at work is convoluted, is a gross understatement. Time unfolds in chronological order from six months ago. Regular text announcements cue the audience as to which period the movie has finally advanced to. Rachel would love to extricate Anna from the home that she [Rachel] furnished. Still, Rachel is content to imagine what it would be like to live as her former neighbor Megan and her boyfriend do, in their house just two doors down from Rachel's old place where Tom and Anna are raising their newborn baby.

At 112 arduous minutes, this movie needed some more editorial time under the knife. Any comparisons to Hitchcock are purely coincidental in a movie that will have you scratching your head about which blonde woman is which (there are three, and they look alike).

Director Tate Taylor (“The Help”) fails to sustain dramatic tension. The whole movie is at one dirge-like tempo, with even less visual interest put on the screen. “The Girl on the Train” is a disappointing movie.


Rated R. 112 mins. (C-) (One Star — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


September 03, 2016


Dont-BreathDon’t let its box office receipts fool you; “Don’t Breathe” is garbage. Pitched as a horror flick, Fede Alvarez’s lame suspense thriller is a hodgepodge of disparate shock elements that might come as a surprise to some, but will fall boringly flat for seasoned audiences.

Pretentious as the day is long, the film’s narrative is set in a deserted neighborhood in Detroit where a trio of white hoodlums (played by the equally miscast Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, and Daniel Zovatto) plans to rob the home of a war vet with a safe full of cash.

Stephen Lang plays the home’s blind tenant who owes his wealth to a legal case he won against the woman who ran over his young daughter. Mr. Blind Guy has more than just money stashed in his creepy chamber of horror. If you’re a fan of plot-holes, you’ll get more than you bargain for in this waste of celluloid.


Rocky (Levy) is girlfriend to Zovatto’s Money — yes that’s the character’s name — even if Rocky’s friend-zone buddy Alex (Minnette) hangs around hoping for sloppy seconds should the opportunity ever avail itself; it does not.

From it’s “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”-lifted opening to its sexist efforts at exploitation — see a turkey baster used as artificial inseminator through the crotch-ripped leggings of a girl in suspended bondage — “Don’t Breath” presents a litany of insults to its audience. Here is a reminder of why the torture porn genre died off after the second installment in the “Human Centipede” franchise.

Whatever you do, don’t call “Don’t Breathe” a horror movie. That would be an offense to the genre.

Rated R. 88 mins. (F) (Zero stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


June 26, 2016


Shallows2Here is a good old-fashioned suspense thriller about a strong-willed young woman and a big mean shark. Blake Lively shows off her acting chops in this genre picture that belongs all to her. It's a popcorn movie make for gigantic drive-in movie screens.

Feeding on a whale carcass gets old after a few days for a mammoth shark, especially when there’s tasty human flesh around to supplement the entree.

Jaume Collet-Serra’s workmanlike direction is adequate. He still needs to learn a few lessons from Hitchcock and Friedkin, but the raw suspense he creates works well enough. Everything is a little low-fidelity in a gaudy exploitation way. The musical score is no bueno. What can you do?

There’s no point mentioning plot details of screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski’s lean, and implausible, script. Some of the CGI is lacking, and sure I could nitpick about a giant unrealistic looking prop, but the shark is plenty convincing when you’re staring down its gullet on the big screen.

The film is paced like a Swiss watch, and Lively’s gutty performance as Nancy, a surfer and med school student, makes it tic. A wounded seagull friend that accompanies Nancy during her tiny-island waiting game with the shark, is a nice poetic touch if not much else. It’s still not as cheesy as the cell phone conversation Nancy has with her dad about her future. Such is the sentimental white bread that bookends the action.


Yes, there is one moment that will shock you out of your chair regardless of how many scary movies you’ve seen. If that’s not good enough to send you after a cheap thrill at the movies, I don’t know what is.


Rated PG-13. 87 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.


August 06, 2015


Gift Triple-threat (writer, director, and actor) Joel Edgerton delivers a tight no-frills suspense thriller that comes complete with a noteworthy twist ending that will have audiences buzzing. Featuring an exquisite cast that includes Allison Tolman (of television’s “Fargo” fame), the back-loaded narrative finds everyman Simon (Jason Bateman) moving into an architecturally pleasing house with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall).

That their vista-complete home sits mere miles away from where Simon grew up proves to be more a stumbling block for the couple’s plans of having a baby and living a normal life. Gordo (played by Edgerton) went to middle school with Simon, but his memories of their juvenile days together aren’t so fond. A chance meeting in a housewares store puts the socially awkward Gordo in touch with Simon and Robyn. They take down Gordo’s number, but the polite interaction gives “Gordo-the-weirdo” cause to drop off a doorstep gift that leads to a series of unsolicited presents and unannounced visits. Gordo gets in the habit of stopping by to hang out with Robyn during the day when Simon is away at his well-paid day job.

The Gift
Edgerton flips audience expectations as the creepy Gordo’s reasons for being the messed up individual he is become painfully clear. Aside from a few gratuitously heavy-handed shocks, “The Gift” is an original thriller tied up with a thematic bow about how everyone reaps what he or she sows. Karma is everywhere you look.

Rated R. 108 mins. (B+) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)


Click Here to Visit the FilmBlog for Artwork, Movies, Music, News, Photos, Politics, Posters, Reviews, Trailers, Videos, and More...

June 04, 2014


SpoorloosGeorge Sluizer’s spellbinding adaptation of Tim Krabbé’s horror novella “The Golden Egg” is such an expertly layered suspense thriller than it serves as a textbook archetype of the genre. It is that rare movie that successfully breaks an essential rule of dramaturgy — in this case that “good must always triumph” — in the interest of being true to a story with only one inevitable end. It’s the kind of movie that no grandmother wants to see, and they shouldn’t.

In scenes as measured as anything Hitchcock committed at his height of form, George Sluizer introduces Rex Hofman and Saskia Wagter, a pair of young Dutch lovers vacationing in France during the Tour de France. Johanna ter Steege’s freckled faced strawberry-blonde Saskia comes to represent the absent object of Rex’s stifled affection, but not before winning the audience’s heart too. Saskia is terrified of the dark. She suffers from recurring nightmares about being trapped in a golden egg in which she floats alone in space forever. If it sounds like a premonition; it is.

With bicycles attached to the car’s roof, the couple runs out of gas on a dark road at night. They argue. Rex abandons Saskia. He pays a price of profound dread before he gratefully sees Saskia waiting in a bright patch of road at the end of a long tunnel the next morning. Sadly, the couple’s encouraging reunion is brief. A stopover at a gas station for cold drinks is all it takes for Saskia to vanish from Rex’s life forever, thanks to the handiwork of a madman.


Sluizer introduces us to the self-admitted sociopath, chemistry teacher Raymond Lemorne, in an elliptical sub-plot movement that explains the backstory of Saskia’s methodical kidnapper in seamlessly woven flashbacks. The filmmaker works with an optic image system of passages to confine the viewer within Raymond’s claustrophobic mindset. Raymond is so afraid of being confined that he has a special permit that allows him to drive without wearing a seatbelt. The audience is covertly manipulated to empathize with Raymond’s family man antagonist as we watch him interacting with his wife and children. Sequences of Raymond practicing his skills to kidnap a woman at various locations ramps up the sense of dread.

When we are reconnected with Rex, three years have passed. He looks older, haggard. He has a new girlfriend who acknowledges Rex’s obsession with discovering the truth of what happened to the love of his life. Still, she’s at her rope’s end. Rex still puts up posters with Saskia’s picture, asking for information. He goes on a television news program to challenge the kidnapper to come forward without fear of being punished, for the sole purpose of satisfying Rex’s romantically fanned curiosity.

The adage, “Be careful what you wish for,” couldn’t be more apt in this situation. Rex does indeed meet his lover’s kidnapper. The enemies go on a dark journey to discover Saskia’s fate. The romantic connection between Rex and Saskia enables the film to achieve its catharsis, through an entropy of both choice and fate.

Not Rated. 107 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

May 06, 2014


Les DiaboliquesHenri-Georges Clouzot was termed “the French Hitchcock” for good reason. After the enormous success of “The Wages of Fear” (1953) a year earlier, Clouzot made a suspense-thriller that changed the game for what audiences could expect from the genre. “Diabolique” introduced the “twist ending,” and with it ushered in a new era in cinema that continues to this day.

Clouzot narrowly beat Alfred Hitchcock to the punch of purchasing the screenplay rights to the novel (“The Woman Who Was No More”) upon which the film is based. Not only would Hitchcock echo “Diabolique” less than 10 years later with a bathroom-set murder in “Psycho,” but Clouzot’s groundbreaking thriller would also instruct generations of filmmakers in the nuances of horror and suspense. For “Psycho,” Hitchcock not only extrapolated on the significance of the human eyeball as an object of death, but he also borrowed from Clouzot’s publicity campaign that implored “Diabolique’s” audience not to share the secret of its shocking plot twist. Even Peter Falk’s bumbling television detective Colombo was lifted from Charles Vanel’s inquisitive private detective character Alfred Fichet, who comes along to solve “Diabolique’s” apparent “murder.”


Employing a perverse noir image system of complicated shadows, distorting windows, tilted mirrors, confined spaces — such as two prominently featured bathrooms — and a murky swimming pool filled with opaque water, Clouzot tells the story of two women’s plan to kill the man who abuses them both. That one of the women is the man’s wife and the other his mistress adds to the film’s perpetual state of escalating anxiety. It’s notable that Clouzot and his co-writer Jérôme Géronimi altered the novel’s essential plot element that the women were lesbian lovers in order to arrive at a more electric denouement.

Wealthy Christina (played by the director’s wife Véra Clouzot) owns a boarding school for boys, which her sadistic headmaster husband Michel (Paul Meurisse) oversees as if it were a prison for society’s least deserving reprobates. Michel serves spoiled fish to everyone, including his wife, to save on money. He gives his mistress Nicole (Simone Signoret) a black eye when he isn’t sexually abusing Christina in the school’s public spaces. If ever there were a boorish excuse for a man deserving of elimination by the women he mistreats, Michel is it.

Christina and Nicole agree on poison as their method of murder. Clouzot’s dark humor bristles with an indigenously French sensibility. Details of working-class postwar French life adorn every precisely composed scene.

Still, there is more to the cleverly devised narrative than Clouzot lets the audience know until the film’s final moments, and what fiendishly executed moments of disturbing surprise they are. “Diabolique’s” double-punch climax resonates so strongly in the memories of its audience that regardless of how much of the film you forget over time, you never lose touch with its remarkable ending.

“Diabolique” was the most successful film of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 37-year career as a director.


Not Rated. 116 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

COLE SMITHEYA small request: Help keep Cole Smithey writing reviews, creating video essays, and making podcasts. Click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon, and receive special rewards!


Click Here to Pledge Your Support Through Patreon

September 08, 2012



ArbitrageLoving Up Wall Street Corruption
Nicholas Jarecki Caters to the One Percent
By Cole Smithey

Some not-so-fancy narrative mechanics set Richard Gere up as a one-percenter antihero in a movie that deplorably attempts to mitigate the evil that wealthy corruption loves to wield at every level of social injustice. With his feature film debut, writer-director Nicholas Jarecki seems to be pushing a right-wing agenda that portends all is fair in white-collar crime, regardless of its severity. Perhaps he imagines himself playing to a chorus of potential backers for his future films.

Gere’s Robert Miller is a filthy rich hedge fund manager who doesn’t play his cards nearly as close to his chest as he imagines. His daughter Brooke (Britt Marling) works for daddy at his firm as its chief accountant. So when the numbers don’t add up due to Robert’s shady bookkeeping regarding a missing $400 million, Brooke has some very pointed questions for the man she calls father. No matter, since Robert is desperately selling off the company to any high bidder willing to wash away his gigantic theft. “Arbitrage” presents a crash course in how such grand larceny gets buried in the passing of financial sector hands. You’ve heard of money laundering; this is embezzlement laundering, and you’re supposed to like it.

Robert has more pressing problems that arise from a nasty car accident that leaves his artistically inclined French mistress Julie (Laetitia Casta) dead in the passenger seat. Robert has been playing the age-old game of stringing Julie along by promising to leave his long-suffering wife — Ellen (Susan Sarandon). An impulsive decision to leave the scene of the crime leads Robert to call in a payphone favor from Jimmy (Nate Parker), the twentysomething African American son of Robert’s former chauffeur. It doesn’t take Tim Roth’s self-righteous police detective Michael Bryer long to implicate Jimmy in the felony. Fortunately for Robert, detective Bryer is positioned as a surrogate antagonist just as ethically challenged as he is.

“Arbitrage” is calibrated to have its audience rooting for Robert to get away with his sins — which include adultery, murder, and gross corporate theft. Even with Richard Gere pouring on the charm, the film can’t sustain the weight of his character’s calculated malevolence. If you’ve ever wondered about Gere’s “thin and unclear” qualities that John Wesley Harding sang so eloquently about, you can witness them on prime display here.

Jarecki paints himself into a corner when he attempts a protagonist-substitution that puts Jimmy in the hot seat. Then, instead of following through with the logic of the situation, the filmmaker lets himself — and Richard Gere’s waffling antagonist — off the hook with a cheap plot device that screams with pretentiousness. Nicholas Jarecki is not seasoned enough as a screenwriter to pull off such an ambitious piece of bait-and-switch. Jarecki’s claim to fame was as a co-screenwriter on the 2008-failed adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s “The Informers.” With no such novel-approved template to draw from here, the filmmaker is in over his head.

“Arbitrage” is a right-wing propaganda movie that favors the Bernie Madoffs of the world. It’s a film for Wall Street types to work up a light sweat over while pondering what they’d do if they were in Robert Miller’s situation. Republicans will love “Arbitrage.” It will make everyone else want to hiss.

Rated R. 100 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

Click Here to Visit the FilmBlog for Artwork, Movies, Music, News, Photos, Politics, Posters, Reviews, Trailers, Videos, and More

June 28, 2012



Americans have a deathly fear of authority — especially of cops. Endless accounts of police brutality, wrongful arrests, and senseless murders committed by police officers on a seemingly daily basis across the nation, has tilled the soil for criminal opportunists of various stripes to commit their own twisted kinds of attacks against citizens unwilling or unable to stand up for themselves in the face of perceived legal authority.

Writer-director Craig Zobel’s tremendously suspenseful drama derives from one such instance of psychological and, consequently, physical abuse. The story is based on a real-life incident that occurred at a McDonald’s in Mt. Washington, Kentucky. The venue here is switched to a fictional “ChickWich” fast-food restaurant in rural Ohio. Under the guidance of their obsessive manager Sandra (Ann Dowd), a staff of young employees prepare for a busy Friday night rush. Teenaged Becky (Dreama Walker) chats with co-workers near her cash register station. A phone call from “Officer Daniels” (Pat Healy) alerts Sandra that the cop on the phone has with him a woman who accuses Becky of stealing money from her purse when she made a purchase just moments ago. Officer Daniels also claims to have Sandra’s regional ChickWich manager on the other line. Instead of checking the surveillance tapes to confirm the Officer’s allegation, Sandra is only to happy to comply with every instruction given her by the man on the other end of the phone. He compliments Sandra on her professionalism as he instructs her to search Becky’s clothes and purse, before requesting that she administer a strip search. One thing leads to another, and before you know it the situation escalates into a full-scale case of sexual abuse.

“Compliance” is a very uncomfortable movie. It makes us question our own readiness to allow strangers at airports to grope our nether regions through our clothes, or even to strip search us while we act like defenseless victims. The filmmakers do a marvelous job of commenting on America’s military state of “stop-and-frisk” procedures without preaching or ever hitting the queasy subject on the nose.

However troubling it is to realize that, in the past decade, there have been 70 such cases documented as the one we see here, it’s more upsetting to know that such abuses are being conducted in every airport and police station across the country. “Compliance” can be perceived as a dire call-to-action for Americans to stand up to authority and refuse to be violated. There’s no telling whether an evocative film such as this one is capable of achieving such a lofty goal, but you never know what will turn the screw on despicable public policies that inadvertently endorse, and encourage, the heinous behavior on display in “Compliance.”

Rated R. 90 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

Click Here to Visit the FilmBlog for Artwork, Movies, Music, News, Photos, Politics, Posters, Reviews, Trailers, Videos, and More

submit to reddit

October 04, 2011

The Skin I Live In (NYFF 2011)

Skin Pedro Almodóvar proves himself an apt technician at sustaining suspense in the thriller genre. Antonio Banderas returns to work with Almodóvar for the first time in over 20-years, since his memorable performance "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!." The years have been kind to Banderas who brings his A-game to a deliciously diabolical role. Plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a mad scientist with plenty of method to his particular madness of creating an indestructible skin. His wife died in a car fire. His daughter committed suicide. He harbors vengeance. But why?

The Toledo-based doctor conducts experiments in the privacy of his luxurious mansion laboratory. Not even Dr. Frankenstein had it so good. His mother (Marisa Paredes) serves as his dutiful maid. Almodovar's meticulous attention to detail keeps you hypnotized. Every visual component is exact in color, placement, and scale. Naturally, the evil doctor is using a human being to live inside the hybrid-pig-DNA membrane he has perfected. His comely patient Vera (Elena Anaya) is confined to a large room. She wears a skin-tight body suit and practices yoga for hours on end. Dr. Ledgard secretly observes Vera through a large two-way mirror. Elena Anaya is an exquisite object of fetishistic delight for Almodovar to pour his patient camera over.

Based on Thierry Jonquet's novel "Mygale" "The Skin I Live In" is a haunting film that tips its hat to Alfred Hitchcock. There's a goodly dose of Georges Franju's 1960 French horror classic "Eyes Without a Face." Elliptical time shifts tell the story in a disjointed fashion that makes you want to see the film twice even as you're watching it. There's mystery here to savor as you would any great piece of cinematic art. Pedro Almodóvar has created a masterpiece. Plan on seeing it twice.

120 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

Featured Video

SMART NEW MEDIA® Custom Videos



Throwback Thursday

Podcast Series