Death Drop Gorgeous
by Rachel Willis
Don’t let the low-budget look of Death Drop Gorgeous deter you from watching this film because if you do, you’ll miss out on a hilarious, campy slasher film.
Recently dumped, Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves) has returned to Providence and begged back his old job as a bartender at The Aut Haus. Rooming with best friend, Brian (Christopher Dalpe), Dwayne comes back to work just as a serial killer begins hunting the queens and patrons of The Aut Haus. Using the dating app, Poundr, the killer lures his victims to their doom.
Populated by drag queens and serious shade, this movie sends up some of the best of 80’s camp horror. Writers, directors and stars Dalpe, Michael J. Ahern and Brandon Perras manage a lot with a low budget. By doing double and triple duty with their cast and crew, they mine every bit of talent they can from what they have available.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its distractions. The camerawork and lighting are occasionally poor. However, there are also times when it perfectly sets the tone. Some of the actors, most of whom have no previous acting experience, are better than others. Michael McAdam is perfectly cast as gloriously named Gloria Hole, a queen who no longer commands the respect she used to. McAdam plays perfectly against younger, hotter queen Janet Fitness (Matthew Pidge). Their nasty back and forth offers some of the film’s stand-out moments.
A few scenes toward the beginning of the film are a bit longer than necessary. But the pace picks up in the second act as more and more people are dispatched in gruesome ways. You’ll probably never look at a meat grinder the same again.
Social commentary is delivered via catty banter and barroom brawls. The culture surrounding Dwayne and Brian is quick to deride certain qualities. One man goes so far as to say Brian is “too fem” and that he doesn’t date “blacks” in reference to Dwayne. Gloria Hole is shamed simply for aging. This is deeper content than one might expect from a campy slasher flick, but it works.
The writers and the actors camp it up for all its worth, and it makes Death Drop Gorgeous a cut above many films benefiting from a bigger budget.
by Hope Madden
Right from its scientifically precise and profoundly unsettling opening, Filip Jan Rymsza’s Mosquito State is almost unwatchable. The film, about Wall Street analyst Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) and the 2008 financial collapse, takes on an upsetting metaphor.
Richard, brilliant and socially awkward in equal measure, brings two bodies home with him one evening: the poised and lovely Lena (Charlotte Vega) and a thirsty mosquito. Thanks to Richard’s intimacy ineptitude, things don’t go well with Charlotte, but that mosquito gets all she came for.
Though the buzzing of the bloodsuckers that soon breed in Richard’s apartment may suggest those Wall Street parasites whose appetites will soon collapse the market, Rymsza has something less obvious on his mind.
Any underlying themes about benevolence versus predation serve the filmmaker’s somewhat confounding allegory, but his aesthetic is as pointedly horrific as they come. My god, that whining buzz! The sound threatens to overwhelm you as certainly as the insects themselves overwhelm Richard, who becomes utterly submissive, offering his naked body to the unholy swarm.
Rymsza orchestrates a certain ghastly beauty, but first he has to immerse you in sounds and sights that trigger an automatic, primal revulsion and need to swat and flee.
Knapp’s performance suggests a bloodless Nicolas Cage as Elephant Man — bloodless not just because he’s made Richard the mosquitos’ feast, but because Knapp drains his character of charisma and flamboyance. Richard’s as unpredictable and difficult to enjoy as the film itself, but that makes him —and Mosquito State — no less distressingly intriguing.
Rymsza’s anticlimactic finale will leave many unsatisfied with his film. But for a wild combination of revulsion and beauty, Mosquito State is worth a look.
by Christie Robb
With Materna, director David Gutnik presents four emotional vignettes of women and their relationships with either their mother figures, their children, or both.
While the four women’s stories intersect in a brief, tense moment on a New York subway car, their backstories and how they came to be in that particular car are quite different.
The flashbacks don’t depict simple, saccharine, Hallmark Mother’s Day card relationships. These relationships are layered and complicated—with longing and frustration, the urge to shelter and the urge to smack.
Each of the four lead actresses, Kate Lyn Sheil, Jade Eshete, Lindsay Burdge, and Assol Abdullina, rises to the challenge and convincingly demonstrates the emotional range of her subject. (Eshete and Abdullina also co-wrote the screenplay with Gutnik.)
Rory Culkin shows up to illustrate that the maternal instinct is not solely the purview of those with two X chromosomes.
It’s not a perfect film. The initial segment, while it does pique the viewer’s interest, maybe doesn’t best set the stage for the ones that follow. There are elements that seem to signal sci-fi or body horror that aren’t carried through in the rest of the film. And because of the brevity of each of the vignettes, some of them seem a little roughly sketched, lacking in details that would more solidly ground the perspective of the woman depicted.
At the point of intersection in the subway car, each of the women is keeping herself to herself and adhering to the unspoken etiquette of public transportation. But then a white man starts loudly trying to engage them in conversation that quickly devolves into harassment and violence.
This screaming, egomaniac clearly sees himself as the most important person in the shared space and aims to capture everyone’s attention, making his private life public, doing a kind of emotional manspreading. It’s interesting to contrast this with what the women are dealing with and how their private lives either do or do not impact this public space.
This is Gutnik’s first feature film and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.
by Rachel Willis
When Nena (Rachel Alig) meets Olivia (Kate Beecroft), there’s an instant spark. So even though Nena is married to Drew (Ryan Caraway), that doesn’t stop her from pursuing Olivia. In writer/director Victor Neumark’s first film, First Blush, an unconventional relationship forms as a duo becomes a trio in an exploration of a polyamorous relationship.
The best part of First Blush is that the characters seem like normal people. Save Olivia’s background as a Parisian model, the rest of the people we meet feel a lot like people we know. There were several moments that nailed the transition from single (or dating) twenty-somethings into married thirty-somethings – anxious Nena particularly reminded me of quite a few people (myself included).
Overall, these are characters who struggle with happiness, with what it means to be grown up, and with how to be brave. Nena’s resolve to say ‘yes’ more often is what leads her to pursue Olivia. While at first Drew seems simply along for the ride, Neumark makes sure to insert him (no pun intended) into the relationship as more than a bystander but an equal part.
The predictable ménage à trois montage, when it comes, is light on the sex, and more interested in illustrating the fun the three have as they fall into a relationship. The movie never stoops to voyeurism, instead it plays out as one would expect of any romantic dramedy – not to say it entirely follows a pattern, but by following a semi-predictable model, the film means to normalize the polyamorous lifestyle as a valid choice.
But the third act flounders. Following the film’s unnecessary time jump, Neumark isn’t as skillful at navigating the complications that arise within the trio. Unlike the naturalistic first and second acts, the third relies on things we’ve been told rather than shown. It would have been more interesting to see the interim time between the second and third acts, to give us a chance to watch as the tensions arise between the characters.
However, the movie never fails to engage emotionally. We’re invested in this relationship, we want to know how it will work, where it will go. While it might not be a relationship style most of us will experience, that doesn’t mean we can’t understand the appeal. You want the characters to be happy, in whatever relationship style that works best for them.
by Hope Madden
Spell is here to let you know that fear of backwoods folk is not for white people only.
Omari Hardwick is Marquis, an enormously successful corporate lawyer who is not above defending clients against class action lawsuits that would primarily benefit people of color like himself. Why does he do it? Because that’s his job, he’s good at his job, he makes a lot of money, and he worked very hard to get where he is.
How do we know that last bit? Well, nightmares about abuse wake him in the morning, plus he knows how to pick a lock when his wife somehow locks herself in her own bedroom. Marquis came from somewhere he’s not proud of, and now he has to pilot his own airplane with his wife and two teens back to Appalachia to go to his father’s funeral.
Spell is a by-the-numbers backwoods thriller. Our hero has forgotten where he comes from. This film plans to scare him into remembering.
Marquis wakes up all James Caan style in the bedroom of some helpful but controlling woman who wants him just to rest. He does not not want to rest, though. Quite reasonably, he wants to know where his family is, what happened to him, and why Miss Eloise (Loretta Devine) keeps the door to his room locked.
Deep in Appalachia, it seems, you will always find a creepy granny type who conjures a bit, an amiable grampa type who’s not as nice as he seems, and an extra-large, extra quiet Jethro kind of guy in bib overalls.
Screenwriter Kurt Wimmer doesn’t drum up too many surprises there. His screenplay borrows heavily from about a dozen films from Misery to The Skeleton Key to Green Inferno, not to mention every flick where a group stops off at a creepy gas station only to realize they’ve gone too far off the map for their own safety.
Wimmer is white, though, which makes this particular story an unusual one for him. Director Mark Tonderai does not get a screenwriting credit, so I guess we assume that this vernacular sprung from the head of Wimmer. I really hope not. It would be problematic enough coming from a Black writer.
Marquis’s foot, though. For gore hounds and the squeamish looking for a nasty thrill, that foot alone is almost worth it.
Until the third act. I am not one to suggest that ambiguity equals plot holes. I like movies that leave questions unanswered. Unless those questions are: Where did the entire cast of villains go off to, leaving the hero all the time in the world to travel wherever he needs to go in these woods? And why isn’t he even limping?
by Matt Weiner
Actors getting lost in a role can become the stuff of legends, or the butt of jokes—as Olivier’s advice allegedly went to Dustin Hoffman, “Why don’t you just try acting?” In The Truth, director Hirokazu Kore-eda takes one of film’s most iconic actresses and sets to demolishing the notion that an artist could ever separate who they are from what they have to say.
The film is Kore-eda’s first foray outside of Japan, and a worthy follow-up to his masterful 2018 drama Shoplifters. The drama, also written by Kore-eda, has a lighter touch in The Truth, but it’s no less arresting thanks to a brilliant self-referential performance from Catherine Deneuve.
Deneuve plays Fabienne, an idol of French cinema now at a point in her life when she’s ready to look back on her storied career. Fabienne’s daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) has brought along her family from America to pay Fabienne a visit. When Lumir gets an early look at Fabienne’s memoir, she lashes out at the wide gulf between Fabienne the myth and Fabienne the mother, the one who pursued her art to the detriment of everything else in her life.
One family’s drama becomes a delightful interrogation of memory and art. And as if the unreliable memoir weren’t enough to drive the point home, Fabienne is also currently filming a new movie against an up-and-coming actress playing her younger version.
The film’s quirky sci-fi twist forces Fabienne to face her younger self, and the grande dame of French cinema isn’t quite ready to relinquish her fading star power to what she sees as a poor imitation of her own youthful rise to celebrity.
Kore-eda blurs the lines even further by referencing Deneuve’s breakout years, specifically Belle de Jour, with posters and costumes dotting Fabienne’s house and still exerting a powerful hold on her sense of self-worth. (Ethan Hawke’s understated turn as Lumir’s bohemian husband Hank also feels like an alternate universe version of Jesse from the Before trilogy… but that might also just be Hawke’s natural “these are my ‘just chilling in France’ vibes.” Either way, the man is living his best life.)
The result is a family drama that manages to humanize the dysfunction without fully absolving anyone. Fabienne might be a legend, but she’s still only human. Living an entire life unmoored, unable to process anything in the moment without layers of artifice to mediate any real emotion, seems like it should be punishment enough.