In-House Reviews: Women Talking, The Son, Plane, Skinamarink & More!

Aaron Neuwirth has reviews for Women Talking, The Son, Plane, There's Something Wrong With the Children, Skinamarink, Alice, Darling, and Sick.

Beyond the expansion of award contenders, January may not be offering the highest of highs, but that’s in the eye of the beholder, as there are many new releases out there. This set of write-ups includes a drama with an all-female cast, a dramatic stage adaptation, an evil kid horror movie, a cosmic horror movie, a psychological drama, and a Covid-era slasher flick. The following features reviews for Women Talking, The Son, Plane, There’s Something Wrong With the Children, Skinamarink, Alice, Darling, and Sick.

Women Talking: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Do nothing. Stay and fight. Or leave. Inspired by actual events, several women in an isolated religious colony struggle to reconcile with their faith after a series of sexual assaults.

Review: A film driven by this plot, utilizing minimal locations, and featuring themes easily connecting with real-world issues certainly casts the impression that Women Talking is the type of film meant to fall under the award season banner. Its simple existence is not a detriment, but director/writer Sarah Polley’s first feature since 2012’s Stories We Tell does feature a few detriments in its structure and some performance choices that hold it back. Women Talking is correct, as the film features so many conversations that attempt to draw lines between faith and salvation, but end up moving things in circles for long stretches. Perhaps stronger characterization for some would have helped it feel less primed for the stage, as Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley may be the loudest but come up lacking. The most vital work comes from Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy, the older women of the group (Frances McDormand briefly appears and all but disappears, making me also question the editing choices). Ben Whishaw easily deserves his share of credit as well, especially given how the film wisely shifts Miriam Toews’ book’s perspective from him to the women. Not at all lacking in its punch when considering the baseline for these performances as a whole, the score by Hildur Guðnadóttir, and the moody atmosphere. I only wish I had felt more affected by the work overall.

Where To Watch: Opening in more theaters on January 20, 2023.

The Son: 4 out of 10

The Setup: Peter (Hugh Jackman) has his busy life with new partner Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their baby thrown into disarray when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) turns up to discuss their troubled teenage son, Nicholas (Zen McGrath), who has been missing school for months.

Review: Following the success of The Father, I can’t blame director Florian Zeller for trying to bring another one of his plays to the screen. Unfortunately, The Son is a wild misfire that I’m sure works better on a stage with more time to build out the story. As a feature, this plays out as an aggressively frustrating melodrama further hampered by the limitations of utilizing a few locations, with little to help things open up cinematically. Jackman and Dern undoubtedly give their all to this film, as McGrath tries to keep up. And even a brief appearance from Anthony Hopkins shines a light on The Son in a way that kept me hopeful for what was to come. Alas, the narrative trickiness of The Father was a far more interesting challenge to portray on film than what amounts to an off-putting affair revolving around a young man’s depression and the irresponsible actions taken to counter it.

Where To Watch: Opening in more theaters on January 20, 2023.

Plane: 7 out of 10

The Setup: A pilot (Gerard Butler) finds himself caught in a war zone after he’s forced to land his commercial aircraft on a war-torn island during a terrible storm. He’ll have to work with a prisoner-in-transport (Mike Colter) to fend off the dangers threatening them and the passengers.

Review: The title says it all, with the exception of its homophone, as this Butler actioner is anything but plain. No, here’s a movie that delivers a straightforward plot that features little complication beyond the various turns to keep the story exciting. Much like Greenland (another solid Butler vehicle), the first act is more harrowing than one may expect. Watching a commercial jet narrowly escape a storm proves to be quite intense, even on a budget. Once on the ground, I appreciated how Butler never becomes a superhero. He gets into scrapes and has to use some wits, but he’s far from the seasoned action vet we saw with King Leonidas in his breakout film, 300. Instead, there’s a buddy element of sorts, with Butler and Colter both underplaying their parts as if they’re both too generous to want to hog the spotlight. Add in some cuts to the rescue attempts being led by Tony Goldwyn back in America and some brief commentary on the militias that hold control over these hostile territories, and you have a tight little package delivering enough fun and suspense to elevate this to a standard I hope other Butler action flicks can keep delivering on.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

There’s Something Wrong With the Children: 7 out of 10

The Setup: When Margaret (Alisha Wainwright) and Ben (Zach Gilford) take a weekend trip with longtime friends Ellie (Amanda Crew) and Thomas (Carlos Santos) and their two young children (Briella Guiza and David Mattle), Ben begins to suspect something supernatural is occurring when the kids behave strangely after disappearing into the woods overnight.

Review: A couple of messed up kids and a group of friends where only one sees upsetting things going? Yes, this is the sort of horror movie I can get behind. Creepy kid moves don’t need to do much to deliver in my eyes. I have such a visceral response to the notion of one person being presented with an impossible situation and no one believing them. Add to that whatever extra elements and the formula these kinds of films depend on doesn’t get to me. Sure, we find out what’s going on with these kids to a degree, but it’s the various shifts in how the four friends behave around each other based on secrets being revealed, repressed tensions, and multiple attitudes that only add to the sense of dread that threatens to ruin this weekend trip. Director Roxanne Benjamin seems to take a particularly sick delight in torturing Gilford (whose track record in surviving horror films is not high). That’s all well and good, as the sickly green font announcing the title makes us well aware something is wrong, but the film still feels pretty right.

Where To Watch: Now available on digital and VOD.

Skinamarink: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Two children wake up in the middle of the night to find their father is missing, and all the windows and doors in their home have vanished.

Review: If David Lynch made Home Alone using nightmare logic and a low budget, that would provide something of a clear idea of what to expect with Skinamarink. A film I most certainly admired more than I enjoyed, this cosmic horror film that inadvertently became something of a viral hit before its release (pirating has its way again) is bound to frustrate or bore many, regardless of their affinity for the genre. How does one turn this into a recommendation? It’s hard to say and a tough sell, but I can try. With no traditional plot and so many deliberately vague or ambiguous choices made on the part of filmmaker Kyle Edward Ball, it may come down to wanting to experience an experimental horror film attempting to condense a child’s perspective of the unknown within the realm of grainy, obscured, and doomed household. At 100 minutes, patience is certainly required, even while knowing that any sense of grand payoff is likely not going to occur. With all of that being said, I can’t say Skinamarink didn’t leave an impression.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Alice, Darling: 6 out of 10

The Setup: A young woman (Anna Kendrick) trapped in an abusive relationship becomes the unwitting participant in an intervention staged by her two closest friends (Wunmi Masaku and Tiio Horn).

Review: I’m only just now realizing that an overriding theme for this set of reviews has to do with darkly atmospheric movies set in contained locations. Alice, Darling presents a cabin in the woods story with no actual monsters, just the looming threat of one. Alice’s boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick), is clearly the worst kind of person in the way he’s affected her. The way it all dawns on these three primary characters, leading to tensions and bonding periods, allows for a more meditative approach to what could have veered into thriller territory. With that in mind, while there’s strong work coming from Kendrick, Masaku, and Horn, it still feels like there’s only so much story to tell, to the point of what feels like attempts to stretch by incorporating a few side missions for the friends to explore. So, Alice, Darling feels a bit uneven, yet the work done by debut director Mary Nighy (daughter of Bill) to portray the harsh ramifications of extreme emotional abuse deserves notice.

Where To Watch: Opening in more theaters on January 20, 2023.

Sick: 7 out of 10

The Setup: As the pandemic steadily brings the world to a halt, Parker (Gideon Adlon) and her best friend Miri (Bethlehem Million) decide to quarantine at the family lake house alone – or so they think.

Review: Closing things out with one more tightly potted and small-scale thriller, Sick is a slasher film I could have easily seen building an audience in theaters. Instead, it’s a streaming release, but a good one. Coming from a story by Kevin Williamson and directed effectively by John Hyams (who also made a similarly tight thriller, Alone), this film knows how to get in and get out with little fuss. Matching a standard stalker/killer setup with characters who behave intelligently means the fun comes from the cat-and-mouse games, as opposed to the desire to see the slashing occur. A solid opening does deliver on this to some degree. Still, even the effort there serves more as a way to reveal the clever camera work in store for this film. It’s a way of adding further dimension to this lake house setting. The third act may break the movie for some, let alone the nature of setting a film like this specifically during the pandemic. I felt those aspects only raised the film’s quality, eschewing thornier aspects in favor of prodding the viewer with a perspective within the confines of a movie that’s not responsible for anything more than providing entertainment.

Where To Watch: Now available to stream on Peacock.

***

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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