In-House Reviews: Totally Killer, Fair Play, Saw X, Flora and Son & More!

While the week’s big release focuses on whether it’s a good time for an exorcism, plenty of streaming releases are also hitting. This set of write-ups includes a time travel horror-comedy, an office relationship thriller, a horror sequel, a coming-of-age South Bronx story, an Irish music comedy-drama, and an anthology New York story. The following features reviews for Totally Killer, Fair Play, Saw X, Story Ave, Flora and Son, and What Doesn’t Float.

Totally Killer: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Thirty-five years after the shocking murders of three teens, an infamous killer returns on Halloween night to claim a fourth victim. When 17-year-old Jamie (Kiernan Shipka) comes face-to-face with the masked maniac, she accidentally time-travels back to 1987. Forced to navigate the unfamiliar culture, Jamie teams up with her teenage mother (Olivia Holt) to take down the psycho once and for all.

Review: Here’s a high-concept slasher flick that works with an idea so seemingly solid that it’s hard to believe it took this long to get it out there. It’s even wilder that a film like this, so primed to be viewed in a theater by audiences, has gone direct-to-streaming. I have no time to argue the business strategy there, but this is easily a film worth gathering friends to watch together. At this point, with 80s nostalgia finally becoming less of a must for audiences, here’s a clever enough film that never hides its Back to the Future references but is also smart enough to know when to hold back on how far to go with the 80s gags. More fun is Shipka’s efforts to show what a Gen Z teen would act like amid people who don’t care about the term “problematic.” As for the horror of it all, while rated R, this film leans much harder into its comedy yet still does what’s needed to pump in the mystery/thriller angle when needed. Director Nahnatchka Khan (Always Be My Maybe) is entering new with this film, but the effort is there, and fun is totally had.

Where To Watch: Available on Prime Video starting October 6, 2023.

Fair Play: 6 out of 10

The Setup: An unexpected promotion at a cutthroat hedge fund pushes a young couple’s (Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich) secret relationship to the brink, threatening to unravel far more than their recent engagement.

Review: Here we are with what would have been a decent mid-budget hit with the right stars back in the 80s/90s that is now an acquisition from Sundance that gets attention for being a modern look at gender roles and power dynamics. That’s not exactly new, but the subject matter makes a lot of sense for right now. Perhaps one could see Michael Douglas leading the way with a film like this 30 years ago, but I also can’t see him being as pathetic as Ehrenreich’s Luke. That’s the issue. While well shot and cleverly conceived in its early goings by writer/director Chloe Domont, I feel like Fair Play spins its wheels moreso than just ramps up the tension. Once the stakes are made clear regarding who is running the show at work, there’s only one path and an inevitable conclusion for this film to reach. The two leads are certainly compelling enough, and I enjoyed Eddie Marsan being put in an intimidating manager role. Still, the eventual release only provided so much without playing with anything unexpected.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters and available on Netflix starting October 6, 2023.

Saw X: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Hoping for a miraculous cure, John Kramer, aka Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), travels to Mexico for a risky and experimental medical procedure, only to discover the entire operation is a scam to defraud the most vulnerable. Armed with a newfound purpose, the infamous serial killer uses deranged and ingenious traps to turn the tables on the con artists.

Review: My relationship to the Saw franchise is mixed at best, as I previously only actually liked parts III and VI, despite being devoted enough to keep up with the series and its incredibly convoluted timeline. Of course, Jigsaw and Spiral: From the Book of Saw attempted to provide some new spins, but audiences basically rejected them. Now we have Saw X, which is set between parts I and II, and relies heavily on Tobin Bell’s presence. The results are actually quite strong. For the gore hounds, the film delivers clever traps and puzzles designed to mutilate bodies, as usual. However, I appreciated director Kevin Greutert’s efforts to tone down some of the industrial flashiness and provide a deliberately paced first act to have us more rooted in Kramer’s journey. Yes, this is still a series with characters sneaking around in pig masks, a puppet set up as a dark joke when it appears, and elaborate games that aren’t exactly playing fair. With that said, when it’s done well, I can’t argue with the results. This is easily one of the best entries in the series.

Where To Watch: Now playing in theaters.

Story Ave: 8 out of 10

The Setup: After falling in with the wrong crowd, a gifted South Bronx teen named Kadir (Asante Blackk) tries to rob Luis (Luis Guzmán), a no-nonsense MTA conductor. To Kadir’s surprise, Luis offers his friendship and shows the young man how his artistic talent could lead to a better life.

Review: Whether this film is calling out to the scrappier days of director Spike Lee or attempting to feel in line with the more recent Blindspotting, director/co-writer Aristotle Torres takes a familiar structure and embeds strong performances, a terrific sense of place, and an ideal understanding of how to balance certain realities and art. Blackk is terrific as a young man whose artistic talents will only take him so far if he can’t figure out how to straighten up and avoid those who will only hold him back. Guzmán could have functioned as just a quiet and concerned mentor, but the film finds ways to let the character actor add different shades to let him shine even brighter. As with many of these urban dramas focused on young men, the exploration of masculinity is largely at play here, but it’s something about Torres’ handle on the environment, the injection of style now and again, and the confidence found within the performances that allows the film to feel like more than just the latest take on gangs and potential that’s in jeopardy. The lessons here are rich.

Where To Watch: Now playing in select theaters.

Flora and Son: 7 out of 10

The Setup: Single mom Flora (Eve Hewson) is at a loss about what to do with her rebellious teenage son, Max (Orén Kinlan). Encouraged by the police to find Max a hobby, Flora tries to occupy him with a beat-up acoustic guitar. With the help of a washed-up LA musician (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Flora and Max discover the transformative power of music.

Review: John Carney (Once, Sing Street) has arrived with a new movie about a couple of underdogs making music, so I just had to assume it would be delightful, and yeah, it was. Flora and Son doesn’t really match Carney’s biggest successes, but it’s no matter given how enjoyable it is to watch this set of characters interacting and making music together. That said, the problem is interesting, as the film has an incredibly long second act, allowing us to see Flora develop her talents as a musician and her connections to her son and Gordon-Levitt’s character. Then, just as the film arrives in a new setup, prompting the audience to feel as though things are moving in a specific direction, it ends. It’s something of a compliment to want more of a good thing, but it did feel rather curious, even if you can argue the film could be considered wrapped up. All of that in mind, Flora and Son features winning performances, great music, and the kind of sentimentality Carney has a knack for making register in a positive way. That’s enough to keep the beat going.

Where To Watch: Now available on Apple TV+.

What Doesn’t Float: 6 out of 10

The Setup: Seven stories. One city. A group of characters fill out this darkly comedic anthology of New Yorkers at their wit’s end. When the dailiness of urban life is suspended by unforeseen conflict, each character must make a decision. While the outcomes vary, a unified sense of the city emerges: New York becomes a mirror to the ego reflecting our true character, while the rest sinks to the bottom.

Review: I feel like I’ve been watching so many horror anthology films as of late that this was a bit of a refreshing change of pace. No, I wouldn’t call What Doesn’t Float a revelation, as it often plays out as a stereotypical indie movie. However, as a micro-budgeted project allowing for a variety of characters and some nice stylistic flourishes, it does just enough to sit on the right side of things. Even the varied structure feels unique, making the whole endeavor quite compelling. With that in mind, I feel as though the dramatic shorts and some of the more socially probing ones had the best success at landing more of a punch, whereas the more comedic efforts felt a bit flat. Still, as a fairly raw take on characters existing in New York, it’s got enough stories to tell that work.

Where To Watch: Opening in select theaters on October 6, 2023.

***

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.

Your Vote

0 0

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.