In-House Reviews #118: In A Violent Nature, Garfield, The Dead Don’t Hurt, Atlas & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for The Garfield Movie, The Dead Don’t Hurt, The Young Wife, Backspot, Atlas, What You Wish For, and a bonus review.

It’s a bit of a slower week here in terms of big releases before an eventful June comes along. Still, plenty of smaller films out there. This set of write-ups includes a slasher with a twist, a western, a relationship drama, a sports drama, a sci-fi adventure, an animated take on a classic character, and a darkly comedic thriller. The following features reviews for The Garfield Movie, The Dead Don’t Hurt, The Young Wife, Backspot, Atlas, What You Wish For, and a bonus review.

In A Violent Nature: 7 out of 10

The Setup: When a group of teens takes a locket from a collapsed fire tower in the woods, they unwittingly resurrect the rotting corpse of Johnny (Ry Barrett), a vengeful spirit spurred on by a horrific 60-year-old crime. The undead killer soon embarks on a bloody rampage to retrieve the stolen locket, methodically slaughtering anyone who gets in his way.

Review: I really enjoyed the conceptual idea behind this movie, which is why I come away mildly disappointed that it doesn’t quite pull it off entirely. Writer/director Chris Nash has delivered what he calls an “ambient slasher,” in which we follow this movie almost wholly from this mute undead killer’s point of view. As a result, there’s a minimalism to the feature I admired, along with the terrific cinematography. Yes, it’s another indie film calling on academy ratio to let viewers know this is a non-traditional modern film. Still, there are so many shots of serene nature and empty forests (apart from the lumbering murderer) that it’s hard not to recall films from Gus Van Sant or Terrence Malick (just as intended by Nash). Even when we see the kills taking place, as elaborate as some of them are (and a couple are pretty gnarly), the film almost finds a way to make the viewer feel at peace with what’s taking place, as if it is a part of the grand scheme of things.

I only wish In a Violent Nature more willingly stuck to its guns. Other characters eventually receive more attention, and while that’s not inherently an issue, the way this film finds a way to wrap up (including a clever cameo) didn’t leave me as satisfied as I would have hoped. Still, there’s plenty to admire throughout this film, and given the tranquil nature of the picture (again, outside its major genre element), it’s not a bad one to pair with Evil Does Not Exist.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on May 31, 2024.

The Dead Don’t Hurt: 7 out of 10

The Setup: When the man she loves, Holger Olsen (Viggo Mortensen), goes off to fight in the Civil War, Vivienne Le Coudy (Vicky Krieps) must fend for herself in a place controlled by a corrupt mayor and his unscrupulous business partner. When Olsen returns from the war, he and Vivienne must confront and make peace with the person each has become.

Review: Here’s a thoughtful western featuring great leading performances, and an effectively antagonistic one embodied by Solly McLeod as just the worst guy around. Still, it is that thoughtfulness that should win everyone over. While this is a film that doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of what it was to live out west in the 1860s, it’s ultimately about the love two people share for each other, even under the most extreme circumstances. Mortensen also wrote and directed this film, and given how selective he is with his projects, I like paying attention when he comes along to deliver. For The Dead Don’t Hurt, he happily places Krieps front and center, and she is excellent here. Without delving too far into where this story goes, moments entirely informed by her facial reactions allow this film to shine in the right sort of ways.

I’m not quite sure the film needed to have a limited sort of use in its editing of chronology, just like I’m not sure if a particular imagination element is ever fully effective. Coming in at just over two hours, perhaps choosing one of those conceptual ideas would have been better than both for a slow-folding story. Still, for a character-driven story that finds plenty of ways to satisfy in an old-fashioned sense, there’s enough in the way of good foundation and strong performances.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on May 31, 2024.

The Young Wife: 7 out of 10

The Setup: On her wedding day, all that stands between a young woman (Kiersey Clemons) and marital bliss is surviving the chaos and expectations of family and friends, each intensifying her spiraling panic.

Review: Following Selah and the Spades, it’s neat to see writer/director Tayarisha Poe take another traditional premise (in this case, watching a long wedding day play out) and not only feature a predominantly Black cast but imbue the film with a unique sense of style. For an indie drama, it’s very evident that thought went into every camera choice to deliver on the film’s mood. In this case, it’s a chaotic sense of having everyone constantly around a person questioning their next steps. Clemons does fine work in the lead, portraying the feeling of being suffocated by both the support around her and the criticism, let alone the random acts bound to make things even more complicated. And yet, none of this feels like it’s too much.

There’s a measure to how much is too much, and while, yes, I could practically feel the anxiety one would go through based on some of these scenes, there’s a nice quality about having been able to capture something so specific. Not hurting is the fine supporting work from Sheryl Lee Ralph, Michaela Watkins, and Judith Light, among others. All of that amounts to a well-made feature tapping into a sense of naturalism reflected through an interesting set of characters, older or young.

Where To Watch: Available on digital starting May 31, 2024.

Backspot: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Riley (Devery Jacobs) gets the chance to cheer with the all-star squad, Thunderhawks. With a competition looming, she must navigate her crippling anxiety, her relationship with family and friends, and her desperate need for approval from her new coach (Evan Rachel Wood).

Review: There have certainly been plenty of movies focused on obsession and how to channel that through sports films, but Whiplash certainly holds a top spot for the modern version of this. With that in mind, I’ve appreciated various films that have come along since then (The Fits being one of my favorite films of the past decade in that regard). It’s especially compelling when seeing these sorts of stories through the eyes of female characters, as the character arcs tend to be less about selfishness and more focused on a study of perfection, placement within groups, and more compelling areas regarding those we follow. All of this is a way of saying Backspot really nails what works about these stories in a well-delivered way.

Jacobs, coming off of FX’s Reservation Dogs, puts in a lot of good work here, showing the mental balance someone needs for the position they’ve placed themselves in. Wood makes for a solid, intense coach who must have some level of empathy inside her. On top of this, director D.W. Waterson knows how to play into the mild body horror aspect that comes with these types of drama featuring thrilling elements. There are intense practice sessions, stretches that go too far, and cheer competitions where the stakes are intensely personal. It all makes for a compelling feature, sitting alongside films like The Novice in terms of what they can get across.

Where To Watch: Opening in theaters on May 31, 2024.

Atlas: 4 out of 10

The Setup: In a bleak-sounding future, a brilliant data analyst (Jennifer Lopez) with a deep distrust of AI finds it may be her only hope when a mission to capture a renegade robot (Simu Liu) goes awry.

Review: I’m aware I’ve bought into flimsier premises, but this is the sort of movie that feels like it came out of a dartboard result on the 7th floor of a Netflix office. It’s a movie star (Lopez) + genre (sci-fi) + relevant topic (A.I.) + affordable co-stars (Sterling K. Brown, Mark Strong) + familiar Netflix face that can play a villain (Liu) + director who won’t aim very high (Brad Peyton, San Andreas, Rampage). The result is a script that hits all the most straightforward beats to detail the story of a woman who has to learn to love the thing she hates while battling the worst version of that thing that she happened to help inadvertently create.

Moved a few degrees in another direction, and this could be a parody of the kinds of bleak sci-fi action flicks that Netflix, among others, trots out now and again (speaking of which, watch Fallout; it’s much better). As it stands, despite a reasonable effort by Lopez to go toe-to-toe with a disembodied AI voice (Gregory James Cohan) that learns to become sassier, the further this movie goes along, it all ends up being a pile of special effects with not a lot of weight in a film that somehow looks too expensive for what’s it’s got and not budgeted high enough to pull off what it aims for. But hey, mech suits are still cool.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.

The Garfield Movie: 4 out of 10

The Setup: After Garfield’s (Chris Pratt) unexpected reunion with his long-lost father, ragged alley cat Vic (Samuel L. Jackson), he and his canine friend Odie (Harvey Guillén) are forced from their perfectly pampered lives to join Vic on a risky heist.

Review: Speaking of assembling a bunch of familiar stuff in a result that doesn’t really work, if the primary goal of The Garfield Movie was to have it pass the “this is colorful and loud enough to entertain my young child” test, it easily passes. However, surely there are other things both said child and parent could watch to make better use of their time. I’ll give Garfield this, the animation in this Mark Dindal (The Emperor’s New Groove) directed film is a decent enough 3D approximation of the original Jim Davis comic art.

That said, beyond the lack of laughs, my biggest issue is how interchangeable the character of Garfield feels in this. You could stick any other character here and have the same movie. Say what you will about the Bill Murray films, but at least he felt ideally placed. Sure, 2024’s take on Garfield eats a lot and speaks of laziness to a point, but Pratt is not imbuing this character with much of a personality that speaks specifically to the famous orange tabby, and none of the supporting characters are really balancing it out, either. It’s one thing to be harsh on a kid-friendly film for appealing to its demographic. Still, given the work that goes into animation, it used to feel like these sorts of movies were doing the bare minimum to work on a basic level. As it stands, I would much rather be watching something else while eating my lasagna.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

What You Wish For: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Ryan (Nick Stahl) is a talented, down-on-his-luck chef with crushing gambling problems. He heads to an unnamed Latin American country where his friend Jack (Brian Groh), a more prestigious chef with his own unique troubles, welcomes him into his home. Ryan has no idea how Jack can afford his extravagant lifestyle cooking for the elite in paradise; he doesn’t want to feel envious, yet he can’t help but want this life for himself. Soon, a grim twist of fate will give that to him.

Review: I appreciated only having a vague idea of what this film would be before starting it up. With that said, even with a general plot synopsis, writer/director Nicholas Tomnay has a film that’s not trying to go overboard with twists and turns but certainly opens up a lot of ideas and unexpected directions that keep this film moving. Stahl is the perfect player to inhabit the role of “down on his luck, but…” type of character he stars as here. His reactions to how this film ramps up the stakes are a lot of fun, as is the general tone Tomnay aims for with his direction.

Years ago, I saw Tomnay’s The Perfect Host with David Hyde Pierce, a film similarly trafficking in darkly comedic thrills. I’m happy to see he’s found even cleverer ways to hit a lot of neat beats with some stylish touches and a bit of tongue-in-cheek to top it all off. Yes, being vague is a risky way to show how much I appreciated what this film offers, but it is a fun ride while it lasts, as long as you don’t ask too many questions. So yes, it passes the taste test of how to work as an original mischievous thriller.

Where To Watch: Available in theaters and on VOD starting May 31, 2024.

Bonus: Robot Dreams: 8 out of 10 (Re-Post)

The Setup: Dog lives in Manhattan and is tired of being alone. One day, he decides to build himself a robot, a companion. Their friendship blossoms until they become inseparable, to the rhythm of 80’s NYC. One summer night, Dog, with great sadness, is forced to abandon Robot at the beach. Will they ever meet again?

Review: This film is delightful (and it’s finally arriving in U.S. theaters after being nominated for an Oscar). I need to say that right up front, as there’s a really nice core to all of this, even as the story takes turns that deliberately add tragedy to the good times being had. Writer/director Pablo Berger has adapted this story from a graphic novel by Sara Varon that I am unfamiliar with, but the results are immensely affecting. Stylistically, this is not the most ambitious animation I’ve come across from last year alone, yet it’s vibrant and lively in the way it creates a world resembling an 80s New York filled with only animal characters (along with some robots). On top of that, everything conveyed has nothing to do with dialogue, as there is none. This non-verbal film allows us to only take audio in through Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score and diegetic music, such as a vital usage of “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Despite the turns made that affect both lead characters, this is a charming and very lovely film about bonding, loneliness, exploration, and love.

Where To Watch: In theaters in NY on May 31, 2024, in LA on June 7, and expanding through June.

***

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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