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Devil: A Throwback Horror Clinger
In one of cinema’s most ironic twists, Devil’s reason for existence turned out to be its own worst enemy. The blessing of M. Night Shyamalan, director of the brilliant The Sixth Sense and a whole bunch of other loathed films, puts Devil in the unfortunate position of having to overcome Shyamalan’s own baggage to earn viewers’ interest. This is a shame; as Devil is a truly gripping horror thriller free of Shyamalan’s usual off-putting pretences.
The premise is simple but quite effective: five sketchy individuals are trapped in an elevator, unaware that one of them may be the devil. There is the sleazy salesman who has screwed his fair share of innocent people out of their savings; a posh, good-looking lady that's also an unapologetic gold-digger; an unassuming old woman who is also a compulsive pocket thief; a brawny looking fellow with a criminal past, and last of all; a suspiciously coy man who has witnessed excessive brutality during his days in the military.
From this classical horror setup, Devil manages to deliver some interesting twists; keeping the mystery alive and present for the film’s entire 80 minutes, which fly by fast. The elevator scenes depict the claustrophobia of the situation well through cleaver camera angles, never exhausting the location’s confined space. However, Devil is most ingenious in its use of darkness as a means of generating fear, projecting pivotal scenes in the viewers’ imagination in their entirety– harrowing and unnerving.
Getting trapped with the Prince of Darkness is a horrific prospect in itself, but director Dowdle gives it a moody spin with his insular and bleak cinematography. There is a sense of vacancy in Devil’s open landscape scenery that contrasts with the confined setting of the elevator. Devil’s cast of unfamiliar actors add to the film’s mystique while delivering competent performances that ground the film’s sense of foreboding and hopelessness.
Devil’s religious themes are heavy-handed and the film often hammers home its point too blatantly. However, it’s not uncharacteristic or out of place for a film that carries such a bold title.
Unlike other horror affairs that opt for gore and blood to turn your stomach, Devil never feels exploitive or nihilistically ambivalent; if anything, the film leaves you with a renewed sense of hope.
With many Americans still picking Thanksgiving turkey out of their teeth and others already embarking on Christmas shopping, Jimmy Hayward’s Thanksgiving-themed, animated comedy, Free Birds, is the first of what will almost certainly be a production line of hastily put-together films capitalising on the festive season.
Meet Reggie (Wilson); a nonconformist turkey who has always been viewed as an outsider for his ‘radical’ thinking. The idea of having himself – and the rest of his fellow-turkeys – fattened up for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities, is a notion that doesn’t sit too well with Reggie. He continuously tries to warn everyone of their imminent slaughter, but his warnings go unheeded. That is until they realise the stark reality of their situation and throw Reggie under the bus to save their own necks.
However, much to his surprise, Reggie ends up being the White House’s ‘pardoned turkey’ and is soon sent off to Camp David to live the good life; lots of TV and a great deal of junk food.
One night, he’s approached by Jake (Harrelson); a cheeky and rebellious turkey who informs him that there’s a way of travelling back in time to the very first Thanksgiving, where they can take Turkey off the menu for good.
Intrigued and fascinated by the possibility, the duo soon find themselves jumping into the secret government machine, named S.T.E.V.E (voiced by Takei), and travelling back to 1621. They quickly learn, however, that becoming ‘free birds’ is going to take some serious work.
While the idea behind Free Birds might sound solid on paper, the final result is not. Essentially, this is not a film that holds the wide appeal of the likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo. Kids will love it, though adults will probably find the cutesy humour and inattentive storyline difficult to engage with. Moreover, the endless-parade of product placements and tiresome references to other, unquestionably better, films only serves to undermine it.
The film’s only redeeming feature lies with its two leads. Owen, in his usual carefree and offhand style, injects the character of Reggie with enough likeability, while Harrelson approaches his character with conspicuous willingness and excitement. The rest of the cast is equally deserving of praise, especially Poehler – voicing Reggie’s love interest – who brings zesty and feisty personality to her role.
Despite Free Birds’ good intentions, this underdog story – or in this case an underturkey, if you will – would have been a lot better if it spent a little bit more time in the oven.
Considering the talent and amount of potential sitting behind Brad Furman’s latest endeavor, it’s saddening to see that the end-result does very little to please. Failing to fulfill its promise of delivering either an engaging or a believable storyline, Runner Runner is a crime-drama set in the deceitful world of gambling.
Riche Furst (Timberlake) is a savvy, shrewd student at Princeton University who is desperately trying to earn a Masters’ degree in Finance. With tuition bills piling up, the only way Richie can make ends meet is by working as an associate for a major online gambling website. His job is to recruit both students and professors to bet online; however, when the dean finds out about his undertakings, Richie is threatened with the possibility of expulsion.
Despite this, Richie takes the risk of investing the remainder of his savings in a high-stakes poker game. Hoping to win big, the skilful player starts off strong, only to see his earnings slipping away to a suspicious player.
After learning that the online-gambling site is operated by Ivan Block (Affleck) - a devious business mogul who runs his businesses from Costa Rica - Richie travels to confront the man who has taken everything away from him. He soon falls for Blocks’s charms - and his beautiful assistant Rebecca (Arterton) - and agrees to work for him in order to earn back the money he lost, and more. However, with the involvement of FBI Agent Shavers (Mackie), Richie needs to figure out a way out, fast.
Despite his limited acting experience, Timberlake sustains a certain likability throughout; serving up a decent, charming performance as the struggling student blinded by glittering lights. He offered just enough to distract from the tedious storyline. Similarly, Affleck gave a convincing performance as the conniving business kingpin, and it’s clear he did the best he could with the little material given. Along with the rest of the supporting cast, Arterton’s character was both underused and under-developed.
On paper, Runner Runner offers a decent amount of potential; award-winning cast, intriguing storyline, reputable director and a pair of writers who have successfully dabbled in the genre before. In reality, however, the storyline is incredibly rushed, making it – and the characters – difficult to connect to.
Shallow and superficial, Runner Runner never takes the risk to explore deeper into this intriguing life of high-flying gamblers; doing very little to rise above the predictable narrative, the end-result is mediocre at best.