The Films of Adam Wingard
A Horrible Way to Die
What Fun We Were Having
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The Guest (October 28/14)
Director Adam Wingard and scripter Simon Barrett's followup to the superb You're Next, The Guest details the violence that ensues after a mysterious figure (Dan Stevens' David) charms his way into the home of Spencer (Leland Orser) and Laura (Sheila Kelley) Peterson - with said figure's presence ultimately having a significant impact on the lives of Spencer and Laura's two children, Anna (Maika Monroe) and Luke (Brendan Meyer). In its early stages, however, The Guest comes off as a slow-moving drama that's almost episodic in its execution - as Wingard and Barrett offer up a series of set-pieces revolving around David's impact on the Petersons (eg David helps Luke deal with bullies, David bonds with Spencer, etc, etc). The viewer's patience is subsequently tested to an increasingly palpable degree, and there's little doubt that the film's deliberate execution is compounded by a narrative that is, to put it mildly, somewhat familiar. Things pick up considerably once a certain plot twist kicks in at around the midway point, and yet, by that same token, it's impossible to overlook the generic feel that's been hard-wired into much of The Guest's second half (ie it's not difficult to envision the movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damm had it been made 20 years ago). The tedious cat-and-mouse third act only confirms the film's place as a glorified straight-to-video actioner, which is especially disappointing given the tremendous promise afforded by Wingard and Barrett's previous effort.
A disappointingly underwhelming sequel, Blair Witch follows several characters, including the brother (James Allen McCune's James) of one of The Blair Witch Project's victims, as they head into the woods to solve the mystery of the original film's ill-fated trio. It's perhaps not surprising to note that, for the most part, Blair Witch comes off as just another entry in a long line of ineffective found-footage thrillers, as filmmaker Adam Wingard does absolutely nothing to separate it from the dozens of similarly-themed efforts that've flooded multiplexes over the years - with the movie suffering from bland, one-dimensional characters, an emphasis on increasingly incoherent shaky camerawork, and an almost excessively familiar narrative (ie the film feels more like a remake than a full-fledged sequel). There are, admittedly, a few instances of creepiness sprinkled throughout, and it's certainly difficult to deny the effectiveness of a final stretch that occurs entirely within the confines of the first movie's notorious house in the woods (and yet even this portion of the proceedings manages to wear out its welcome). The film's few positive attributes are ultimately rendered moot by an uninvolving, pervasively tiresome atmosphere, however, and it does seem as though the time for a Blair Witch Project followup has long since come and gone (ie this might've seemed fresher and more relevant had it been released at least 10 years ago).
Based on a Japanese manga series, Death Note follows Nat Wolff's Light Turner as he stumbles upon a mysterious notebook that allows him to kill anyone he wishes merely by writing their name within its pages - with complications inevitably ensuing as Light, who quickly enlists the assistance of a pretty classmate (Margaret Qualley's Mia), captures the attention of a quirky law-enforcement figure named only L (Lakeith Stanfield). It's an almost inherently engrossing premise that's employed to progressively hit-and-miss effect by director Adam Wingard, which is especially disappointing, no doubt, given the thoroughly entertaining nature of its blisteringly-paced first half - with Light's initial discovery of his newfound powers as irresistibly captivating as one might've hoped. (The Final Destination-like bent of the film's first few kills undoubtedly heightens the engaging vibe.) Death Note benefits, as well, from a narrative that almost immediately takes the setup to unexpectedly epic heights (ie Light isn't just using the book to take out school bullies), with the ensuing midsection containing a mix of appealingly compelling and frustratingly convoluted elements. (The most obvious example of the latter remains Stanfield's twitchy turn as the seriously off-the-wall L, although, to be fair, the reasons behind L's oddball behavior are eventually explained.) The movie does, however, fizzle out quite significantly once it passes the one-hour mark, as the aforementioned convoluted elements become more and more prominent in the buildup to the somewhat overblown finale - with the prolonged coda only perpetuating the excessive atmosphere. It's ultimately clear that Death Note would've benefited from a more streamlined approach to the material, as there's just too much going on here to comfortably sustain a 101 minute feature (ie this feels like a trilogy that's been somehow compressed into one film).