A review digest for films you can watch right now on Netflix!
Under the Shadow
The language of film is an international one. The image of a heartbroken husband or grieving mother translates without words or even context. Joy, despair, melancholy, curiosity, can all be displayed with a look. And it doesn’t matter if that face is black or white or anything else in-between. So, it should be no surprise that Hollywood is now the third most prolific producer of movies behind Bollywood and Nigeria. A region rising quickly in film production is the Middle East, and that’s from where the horror movie UNDER THE SHADOW hails.
Under the Shadow is a subtlety complex horror film. On the surface, it’s similar to films like The Babadook or The Conjuring with slow-burn scares, possession, and children. But Under the Shadow puts its family in the middle of Tehran, Iran during the 1980s War of Cities. It’s a layer that creates horror within horror that grounds the supernatural horror with real-world horror. But there’s a third layer of fear pulsing through Under the Shadow — loneliness.
Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a mother of one who is worthy of being a doctor but not allowed the chance because she is a woman. Shideh’s husband is a doctor who is called away to help with the ongoing war. Shideh and her daughter Dorsa are on their own in an apartment full of tenants terrified by war. As the film plays on, Dorsa is haunted by an evil spirit while the war rages and more tenants leave. Shideh grows more alone within the surrounding chaos, in a country that won’t listen to her because of her sex, while Dorsa is made to turn on her mother by nefarious forces.
Iranian-born writer and director Babak Anvair makes his debut with a film co-produced by three countries: Qatar, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. For a “rookie,” Babak is deft with his use of imagery, setting, atmosphere, and pacing. Under the Shadow is near-perfect slow-burn horror. There are looming presences in the form of the spirit and war that haunt every frame similar to Kubrick’s The Shining and the ghosts of the past. That’s high praise, and while I won’t put Under the Shadow quite on the same level, there’s a strong intellectual core to the film. That core sets Under the Shadow a step ahead of the general horror entertainment.
With all that said, it’s horror in a loose sense of the word. There’s no gore in Under the Shadow, so it won’t please those looking for blood splatter and head shots. Like I mentioned before, this is more like The Conjuring or House of the Devil. Under the Shadow takes its time to psychologically terrify viewers as a mother loses everything around her, from her friends to her husband, daughter, her city, and her mind. My only real complaint is that Netflix doesn’t offer a subtitled version without the dubbing.
Sound & Music 3
Visual Effects 3
Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050
Say what you will, but movie snobbery aside, there is an art to making b-movies. And the Picasso of that art form is Roger Corman. A decades-long career of producing b-movies with a capital ‘B,’ Corman races into 2017 with another installment in the Death Race franchise. DEATH RACE 2050 is classic Corman, which is a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you feel about the legendary filmmaker’s slipshod style.
Not to be confused with the 2008 Universal Studios reboot, Death Race 2050 is a sequel to the 1975 original Death Race 2000. If this were a Marvel movie or a similar cohesive cinematic universe I’d say that watching the previous movies mattered. Here, it’s not necessary. The premise of both is the same — in the future, a deadly race takes place every year and though crossing the finish line first is important, causing chaos and mayhem along the way scores you points too. It’s not entirely clear how the death race works or why. There’s haphazard background info delivered by actors who are — at best — doing a job. But I can’t fault performances in a film with a plot so tiny and almost nonexistent that it makes Donald Trump’s hands seem huge.
It sounds like the movie is a dud, huh? Well, it is, and it isn’t. Remember, this is Roger Corman, and he’s the master of low budget cheese. Death Race 2050 is low-budget and filled with ham-fisted dialogue which aims high for satirical social commentary but usually arcs back down, slamming into the solid, silly ground. Star Manu Bennett (Deathstroke on Arrow) plays Frankenstein, a character who is built up in the first 10 minutes to “never show his face” then takes off his mask almost immediately for the entire world to see.
Comparing the original and the new one is tough. The original had a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine. Though it’s been a while, I remember the dark humor, violence, and action was decent for a low-budget affair. Death Race 2050 looks low budget, particularly the race scenes, and while cutting edge stunts aren’t what Death Race has ever been about, why not mix the two? Satire and violent action is the pillar upon which directors like Paul Verhoeven stand. In this day and age of GoPros and drones, even low-budget movies, with clever filmmakers, can produce some amazing stuff.
So what’s the final verdict? If you love b-movies in the most b-movie sense then you should take a weekend and devote it to Roger Corman. Death Race 2050 is not Corman’s best, not even close, but it’s fun in that Roger Corman way. And Tori Spelling’s peculiar sidekick will puzzle me for all time. However, if b-movies aren’t your thing, then avoid this at all costs.
Sound & Music 1.5
Visual Effects 1.5