Thursday, 24 August 2017

SEXY* DOUBLE BILL! Unforgettable & When The Bough Breaks

This review was meant to celebrate the release of the terrifically trashy Unforgettable, starring Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl. But the Hoyts website lied abut the release date. Whatever! Thanks to the powers of dubious streaming sites, the Midnight Ramble is proud to present reviews of Unforgettable AND last year's surrogate pregnancy thriller When The Bough Breaks!  

Unforgettable (Denise DiNovi, 2017)
There is nothing like a good old-fashioned erotic thriller. They were Hollywood's bread and butter back in the eighties and nineties, but the genre hit a wall around the millennium. The genre has seen a small resurgence in the last couple of years, after Screen Gems executive Will Packer started producing a series of old school erotic thrillers with African American casts.

There is sadly no Screen Gems film scheduled for this year, but what we do have is Unforgettable, released by Twentieth Century Fox, which has two things the Screen Gems movies have lacked: An R rating and Katherine Heigl's icy stare.   

Trying to move on from an abusive former boyfriend, Julia (Rosario Dawson) has found a new love in David (Geoff Stults), a single dad. Moving across country to be with her new love, Julia adjusts to her new life with David and his daughter Lily. However, her happiness is soon under threat from David's deranged ex-wife, Tessa (Katherine Heigl), who is determined to destroy her rival and reclaim her family.

From the beginning, Unforgettable sounded promising. It was originally set to be directed by Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom), and star Kerry Washington (Yay!) and Kate Hudson (whatever). These three dropped out, and the movie became a vehicle for Katherine Heigl and the directorial debut of long-time studio executive Denise Di Novi (Heathers, Ed Wood, and uh, Catwoman). In its favour, the trailer teased a mega-cat fight between the leads ala Obsessed, and it stars Dawson, who makes everything she's in just a little bit better.

Off the top, this movie is way better than its Rotten Tomatoes score. It's no masterpiece, but as a suspenseful time-waster, it does the business. Like all the great trashy thrillers of old this movie puts a lot of effort into making Tessa the biggest bitch in the world and Heigl is friggin' amazing.

The early part of the movie is a slow burn campaign of passive aggression, as Tessa needles Julia without ever showing her hand. She really is capable of anything: breaking into her house; baiting Julia's ex; staging her daughter's own kidnapping. And that's just in the first thirty minutes.

Tessa is clearly insane from the beginning, but the way her actions escalate is really well-handled. Just when you start to wonder why Tessa is the way she is, Cheryl Ladd turns up as her mother. Jesus. Heigl is really creepy in this movie, but Ladd takes it to the land of Stepford. Snipping every time her daughter drags her cutlery; advising her to see a dermatologist; and disapproving that Tessa didn't bake the cupcakes she is offering -- you can see why Tessa is round the bend.

This movie is bobbins, but the escalation of Tessa's campaign against Julie is really well-handled. It goes bonkers in the last 15 minutes, but her gaslighting - built around social media and a few missing bits of jewellery - is all too believable.

In terms of direction, DiNovi handles the movie pretty well. The acting is the strongest part of the movie, boosted by some great photography by Caleb Deschanel. He turns Heigl into a gothic nightmare, floating through scenes in her impeccable wardrobe, face frozen in a permanent frown. During the climax, she is attired an old-fashioned, flowing white nightgown, which Deschanel uses - through lighting - to turn Tessa into a ghostly wraith. It is genuinely unsettling.

I've been really complimentary toward this movie so far, but I have to say that this movie's tone is really weird. At times it feels about as visceral as a Hallmark movie, but then the filmmakers will fixate on some great detail or sequence and it's like the movie gets a charge of electricity - just take any scene involving horses, mirrors, combs, silverware or Facebook. The movie is far from perfect, but it has this uncanny ability to get under your skin when it wants to.

 The final fight is pretty unremarkable, Greg Stults is completely un-winning as the ladies' love object and the movie really has no soul. That being said, Unforgettable is weird and creepy enough that I think it deserves another look. Check it out.

When The Bough Breaks (Jon Cassar, 2016)
Last year I did a couple of reviews on the Screen Gems thrillers Obsessed, No Good Deed and The Perfect GuyIt took awhile, but here at long last is my review of the latest chapter in the Screen Gems production line, When The Bough Breaks!

John and Laura (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) are in their forties and are trying to have a baby. After years of trying, they have decided to go the surrogacy route. They are down to their last embryo, and losing hope that they will ever get to become parents. But then they meet a young woman, Anna (Jaz Sinclair), who seems to be the answer to their prayers...

The trailers for this movie were great. The previous movies, whatever their various merits, were assembled from pretty recognisable templates: basically any erotic thriller from 25 years ago, minus the R rating. This one felt like more akin of those movies, but slightly more original than the previous Screen Gems offerings. 

Like those 80s and 90s thrillers, When The Bough Breaks looks very nice -- the photography definitely shows more attention to composition, and it has the kind of smoky, lush colour palette that those movies had. And while it has a PG13, this movie veers the closest to the tone of those old thrillers with some more overt nastiness.

Once again the movie is pretty chaste when it comes to the 'eros' part of the movie -- there is little nudity, and not much sex. When it comes to the 'thriller' side of the equation, this movie is surprisingly vivid: among the highlights we get are a bloody stabbing; a creepy scene in which Anna self-harms in the bath while singing 'Rockabye Baby'; a vulnerable pet; and a fist fight-turned-birth sequence.

My big beef with the previous movies is that they are very predictable. Here, the script adds more complications, including a secondary antagonist who makes the plot harder to predict. Initially Anna is under the thumb of her psycho boyfriend Mike (Sons of Anarchy's Theo Rossi). At first, it looks like the movie is going to turn into a blackmailing scam. But then Anna falls in love with John and kills Mike. 

Jaz Sinclair makes for a far better femme fatale than Ali Larter in Obsessed. They give her character an extremely dark backstory. It's hard to make a pregnant woman the villain, but this movie throws everything it can at Anna to make her as evil as possible. Of course it turns out she is not who she says she is.

I really liked Morris Chestnut in this movie -- he didn't really have much to do in The Perfect Guy but here he is the centre of all the action. As the situation escalates, he handles the movie's darker tones well.

The rest of the cast are a little underserved. Regina Hall is fine, but her character is made the vehicle for the script's more ham-fisted plot turns. It's a bummer, because she is so good in so many thingsMichael K Williams turns up as a gumshoe, which sounds better than it ends up being. His role is just a way for Chestnut to learn about Anna's backstory.

The third act of this movie feels like three different ideas grafted on to each other. This is not a bad thing -- it gives the movie some more set-pieces, and takes a pleasing detour into absolute insanity. It's the one time the movie heads toward Obsessed territory.

When The Bough Breaks features two fights. The first one is between Hall and Sinclair. It's not that long, but it introduces the idea that Sinclair's pregnancy has given her super-strength. Just as the action looks like it might be revisiting the Beyonce-Ali Larter title bout, her water breaks. After the birth, Sinclair disappears with the baby and Chestnut goes looking for her.

This tussle between Sinclair and Chestnut is... so hard to explain without it coming out wrong. It feels oddly evocative of the ending to Aliens, with Chestnut as Ripley and Sinclair as the Alien Queen. If you can picture these two actors next to each other, this second matchup is completely barmy. A key section features Chestnut tiptoeing into Sinclair's bedroom to steal his baby back while she sleeps beside it. Of course she wakes up and we get the least convincing final fight since the Van Damme-Raul Julia rumble at the end of the Street Fighter movie.

It is so unequal, you can't help but laugh. When Chestnut throws Sinclair through a glass table AND a glass cabinet, I howled. And that's not even the end of the scene. No more spoilers. It's a popcorn finish to a popcorn movie, and worth whatever amount of money you paid for it.

Of all of these movies, this one is an easy favourite -- it is the best directed, has a lot of set-pieces, and while the sexy stuff is neutered, the movie's violence is on-point, which gives the movie an edge over its predecessors. The finale is also filled with so many OTT beats that I had to give it the (non-existent) trophy.

On this evidence, I cannot wait for the next one of these movies to come down the pipe. Eventually one of these movies is going to kick major ass. These movies don't cost much and there is clearly an audience, so hopefully they give one of these projects to a young up-and-comer, like Blumhouse does. I feel like the pieces are there for something really terrific.

Related reviews

Obsessed (2009)

*It's not that sexy

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