The final full week of August has led to the release of one of my most anticipated films of the year, Candyman. With that in mind, a batch of smaller films are still out there as well. This set of write-ups includes a psychological horror film, a revenge-action flick, an uncomfortable drama, a Cronenbergian thriller, and a warm-hearted martial arts film. The following features reviews for The Night House, Sweet Girl, Paper Tiger, Mosquito State, and The Paper Tigers.
The Night House: 7 out of 10
The Setup: Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep it together — but then nightmares come. Disturbing visions of a presence in the house calling to her, beckoning her with a ghostly allure.
Review: Director David Bruckner has crafted a psychological horror movie that works as a pretty solid “boo!” movie. The Night House has the gift of a very strong lead performance from Hall, but it’s easy to recognize the visceral thrills that come from the effective jump scares laced throughout this film. It’s important to note that these are not cheap scares, as the movie is more intelligent than that. I only wish it had somewhere to go by the end.
Perhaps the best choice is making sure Beth isn’t inherently likable. That’s not to say she’s a bad person, but even with the state of grief she’s going through, the film wisely allows Hall to play the role as high-strung, grating, and arrogant at times. These are obviously factors in the grief from the unforeseen suicide of her husband, but Hall makes the character far more interesting by having her be flawed.
Outside of that, the rest of the film works well enough in committing to the idea of Hall’s reality not always being what she believes. Bruckner has good handling of dream logic and the surreal, as evidenced in The Ritual, and seeing him continue to find effective ways to reveal things to be amiss is a great way for the film to build on its moody atmosphere. It’s just a shame The Night House doesn’t have much of an ending.
While resolution is had, the film’s personal stakes only amount to so much satisfaction on a horror front. Granted, this is not a movie that needed a wildly overdone finale either. Still, the answers given and the state of affairs presented leave me wondering if another trip to the dream world or anywhere else would have benefited the film.
Where To Watch: Now available in theaters.
Sweet Girl: 5 out of 10
The Setup: Devoted family man Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) vows justice against the pharmaceutical company responsible for pulling a potentially life-saving drug from the market just before his wife (Adria Arjona) dies from cancer. But when his search for the truth leads to a deadly encounter that puts Ray and his daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) in harm’s way, Ray’s mission turns into a quest for vengeance to protect the only family he has left.
Review: This is interesting. With many of these movies, I tend to go in pretty blind, so the idea of a Jason Momoa revenge/action film didn’t scream to me the prospect of doing much outside the norm. And sure, the movie is pretty upfront as far as handling a variety of cliches when it comes to fugitive-based thrillers. With that said, while still not a very good film, I can’t say I did not come away from it with no real thoughts on it.
For one thing, the film is trying to tackle corruption within the pharmaceutical industry, which ties it even more to The Fugitive and allows the movie to try and have something to say. Now, this is also a movie where Momoa has knockdown, drag-out fights with various individuals, but it’s still pushing for something. With that said, there’s another aspect that really tries to switch things up, and it’s certainly a choice.
Without delving into details, matching up Momoa and Merced is an element that works well for the film in terms of their chemistry and work as performers. How it chooses to resolve their relationship by dealing with them being on the run is an ambitious play with its own share of problems.
Director Brian Andrew Mendoza doesn’t exactly bring much to what’s on display, but he does get enough out of his performers to keep the film watchable. Notably, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo plays an assassin who shares some of the film’s best scenes with the stars, adding a wrinkle to an otherwise very straightforward tale. Again, Sweet Girl doesn’t have much going for it, but it’s a passable watch for a streaming film.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.
Paper Tiger: 6 out of 10
The Setup: An immigrant mother fears her mentally ill teenaged son is turning into a school shooter.
Review: It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone reading this plot description that Paper Tiger can be a very uncomfortable watch. Writer-director Paul Kowalksi provides a very short leash as far as how much a viewer can get away from the drama unfolding on screen. With that in mind, I can’t say the film is not effective in its objective. That’s especially the case with stars Alan Tong as Edward, the troubled high schooler, and his mother Lily, played by Lydia Look.
There are times when I felt like yelling at these characters, to be honest. It’s a reaction that’s upsetting. For one, this is a movie, but it’s also due to how authentic it attempts to be. One could state what they believe these characters should do, but based on upbringing, stubbornness, or even just love, I get why Lily has trouble taking action to do more to get a handle on her son. At the same time, Edward just seems to be in a situation where the cards stacked themselves against him in the wrong way.
With all of this in mind, the performances are very strong. It can’t be easy to put forward such intense emotions, and the film finds many ways to twist the knife at points that raise the tension while also digging into thoughts on how things could change for the better if certain adjustments were made.
Everything ends up building towards a climax that will undoubtedly raise eyebrows. It’s not done for the sake of being shocking, as the film has provided enough to convey the dilemma faced by these characters. At the same time, having various questions and only so much of a read into where things go next mean I was able to connect enough, despite wishing for a bit more.
Where To Watch: Now available on digital and VOD.
Mosquito State: 6 out of 10
The Setup: August 2007. Isolated in his austere penthouse overlooking Central Park, obsessive Wall Street data analyst Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) sees ominous patterns: His computer models are behaving erratically, as are the swarms of mosquitos breeding in his apartment, an infestation that attends his psychological meltdown.
Review: I don’t think I could have guessed a film would come along that equates the 2008 financial crisis with a bloodsucking mosquito. Now, in retrospect, it’s entirely fitting. While The Big Short took a comedic approach to the buildup toward a disastrous situation, director Filip Jan Rymsza has decided to look to Cronenberg instead. The result is a creepy little film allowing one bloodsucker to size up another.
Knapp deserves plenty of credit for allowing himself to take everything with a committed level of devotion. Throughout the film, as he continues to embrace not only his own paranoid delusions but the role of a parent as far as his insectoid brood is concerned, we watch this man deteriorate physically. Still, his position on Wall Street takes dives and bounces back in ways that put him on all kinds of edge, even while everyone tries to brush past the disgusting boils that cover his body.
Is there a sense of humor at all with something like this? Perhaps. The film is deliberately paced and incredibly dry as far as how it chooses to wink at its commitment to the bit. Of course, the bit would be accepting the incredibly stylish production, complete with impossibly large apartment rooms, while seeing a film bend over backward to stay away from going into terror mode. No, Mosquito State is not out to frighten or become unnecessarily violent. This is just a whacked-out vision of what it was like to be smart enough during a time before the world took a fall.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Shudder.
The Paper Tigers: 7 out of 10
The Setup: Three martial artists–notorious in their prime as “The Three Tigers”–have grown into middle-aged men one kick from a pulled muscle. But after their teacher’s murder, they must juggle dead-end jobs, dad duties, and old grudges to avenge him.
Review: On an entirely different plane than Paper Tiger, The Paper Tigers is a wonderful little kung-fu flick, with personal stakes, a fine cast, and a good amount of heart. Not entirely broadly funny like a Jackie Chan film or as serious as other martial arts features, this movie works on its own terms. It’s about growing up and accepting who you are while also staying true to how you were raised. Plus, friendship is always key.
Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins make for a fine trio in this film that is part reunion comedy and part murder mystery. Written and directed by Quoc Bao Tran, there’s a good understanding of how to assemble fight scenes around an unlikely story that reflects on those who were once quite skilled but have pushed away from their training. As a result, one can’t deny feeling a lot of Shaw Bros. influence in what’s presented, despite having a natural level of humor running through it.
Set in Seattle, as a reference to Bruce Lee (one of many), I enjoyed how this story unfolded at its own pace and allowed plenty of time to establish our three leads and why we should care about them. Understanding what made them famous to a point when they were young, only to see where they are now, made for a fun way to see them earn back their stripes. Plus, the action is pretty solid. Yes, there’s a lot of reliance on how these are middle-aged men, with jokes about bad knees, but there’s action taking place that feels inventive and fun.
Thanks to embracing Hong Kong traditions while working to subvert certain tropes, The Paper Tigers feels like a film bound for further discovery by many that will benefit from the good time delivered in this film.
Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Netflix.