Review by Jonathan Berk
In space, no one can hear you sigh from extreme depression. Well, Adam Sandler puts this idea to the test in director Johan Renck's new film Spaceman. Renck uses the isolation of space and man's desire to explore the unknown to reflect on exactly what we are running from.
Jakub (Sandler) is a lone astronaut six months into a mission to explore a mysterious cloud just past Jupiter. His wife, Lenka (Carey Mulligan), has gone radio silent, and he has started to suspect his marriage might not be waiting for him when he returns to Earth. Jakub discovers he's not alone, as a mysterious creature (voiced by Paul Dano) is hiding in the bowels of the ship. The creature helps Jakub work through things as he contemplates if there is still time to fix what he left behind.
Sandler's performance in the film is a bit uneven. His dramatic roles in films like Punch-Drunk Love or Uncut Gems have been some of his best, but sometimes he feels like he's phoning it in here. There are moments when he seems to be sleepwalking through the film. While his character is sleep-deprived, it seems that's merely an excuse for some of the deadpan reactions. Fortunately, there are a few moments where we get some of the Sandler charm that makes us hope there is still time to patch things up.
Mulligan gets to work off more than a computer-generated creature. She's on Earth and often has to justify her decision to end her marriage. Her situation is even more complex than we initially suspected. Dano brings an ethereal quality to the creature, and while his visage will infinitely disturb some audiences, his performance is undeniable. Not all the exchanges with his character and Jakub actually work, but that isn't the fault of the performances.
The film tackles some major existential topics, and sometimes it comes off as cheesy. The purple cloud that sent Jakub on this space odyssey plays heavily on some high-concept ideas that don't all connect. It isn't easy to address some of life's big mysteries, and if you don't subscribe to some philosophies, it may feel silly to try and nail them down.
Much of the film looks good, but sometimes, the visual effects look a little cheap. Some of the little things may feel like they didn't need as much attention. For example, there is an early scene where several objects float around Sandler, and it looks like CG clutter. It isn't enough to wreck the film, but it is noticeable.
While not all the film's ideas pay off, and some performances are uneven, Spaceman offers enough to get the audience to reflect on their own life choices and maybe shed a few tears. Other science fiction films broach these topics in more impactful ways, and some are even more grounded than that. Still, these topics are universal and deserve reflection. Why are we always so willing to go into the unknown, seeking what we don't know instead of cherishing what we already have?
Spaceman is now in theaters and streams on Netflix on March 1.
Review by Adam Donato
Esther Povitsky turned down the opportunity to star in a comedy series about her life. That’s not where her opportunities end, as she starred in, wrote, and executive produced Drugstore June. The film is also directed, written, and produced by Nicholaus Goossen, who experienced niche success in the comedic movie Grandma's Boy. It tells the story of a woman stuck in life by her delusions of being a social media influencer. When the pharmacy she works at gets robbed, June makes it her mission to solve the case. With hot comedic talents attached, such as Bobby Lee and Bill Burr, can this modern comedy make an impact?
Povitsky’s character begins the movie at the most annoying place possible. This can be draining, but over time, it becomes one of the funnier aspects of the movie. Her character lives in her own world outside of everyday reality, so the other character’s reactions to her are quite comical. While the character works from a comedic perspective, once the plot really starts to kick in, she becomes much less engaging. She goes through an arc that has been done to death, and Drugstore June does little to make itself stand out amongst similar stories. At the end of the day, this movie is a comedy, and the title character supplies consistent laughs throughout. It will be interesting to see what projects Povitsky chooses going forward.
Not only does Povitsky’s character become less engaging as the plot thickens, but the story ends up dragging the personality down. The mystery of who robs the pharmacy is not compelling and has an underwhelming payoff. It was a shame to see such little inclusion of Bill Burr’s character, as his scene was one of the funniest in the film. Weirdly enough, Bobby Lee has a very reserved performance. He’s still funny when used, but his character becomes a non-factor for most of the second half.
Drugstore June has a charismatic lead and a solid supporting cast. This movie looks to be a launching pad for Povitsky’s comedy career in film. From the poster alone, this looks like the perfect movie to be dropped on a streaming service. Seldom do movies feel more appropriate for streaming than on the big screen, but this film would thrive off casual at-home watches to find its audience. While the plot doesn’t keep up with the humor, Drugstore June is worth the watch.
Drugstore June is now in theaters.
Review by Daniel Lima
There was a time when the prospect of a silly, lazy pastiche of old kung fu movies that attempted to coast entirely on charm and good vibes was catnip to me, regardless of how well they emulated those films or whether they had a clear voice of their own. Now, the moment I see fake film grain and scratches added in post over digital footage, the blood in my veins freezes up as I prepare for a test of endurance. The Invisible Fight — the latest in this ignoble subgenre — is no better than any of the films that preceded it. In some crucial ways, it is much worse.
Ursel Tilk stars as a Russian soldier at a military outpost who is the sole survivor of an attack by high-flying, leather-clad, metalhead warriors. Spurned on by this experience, he becomes a monk at the local Eastern Orthodox monastery with the intention of becoming a “badass at black metal kung fu.” Though he takes to his duties well, jealous brothers, disdainful mothers, and a vexing love interest all vying to pull him away from the spiritual journey he has embarked on.
The first scene is the attack by a small group of warriors, blaring Black Sabbath’s music from their boomboxes. It is immediately evident that this film will only superficially borrow the aesthetics of the ones it is aping, amounting to the aforementioned post effects plus the occasional dramatic zoom. It’s not a bad-looking movie, with some interiors displaying genuinely striking lighting, but it is very conventional and in keeping with a modern independent comedy. It fails to either evoke the particular feel of classic martial arts cinema or establish a particular feel of its own.
The basic structure is, at first glance, not dissimilar to any number of films about brash young students who labor to join the ranks of Shaolin monks. While they at first join because of their status as legendary martial artists, the tough training instills in them the value and philosophy of the ascetics, to the point that they become genuine converts. They are constantly faced with temptation, but their commitment allows them to persevere.
Importantly, however, it is an actual challenge for the heroes of those Chinese (well, typically Hong Kong) films. Tilk’s character is shown to immediately understand all the lessons being impressed upon him, and his many transgressions are all immediately forgiven due to the ease with which he accomplishes his tasks. It could be argued that this allows for the development of the character played by Kaarel Pagga, a pious monk incredibly jealous of Tilk’s success and nonconformity. However, that means most of the runtime is spent with a protagonist who never has to grow or change.
To make matters worse, this movie is nearly two full hours, when most of its inspirations would barely hit an hour and forty minutes. This is the result of a very shaggy narrative, filled with superfluous fluff that never amounts to anything. An encounter with Soviet officials seems like a satiric attack on their policies towards religion, but that is not elaborated on. Many scenes are spent with the women who live in the monastery, but these are ill-defined. There simply isn’t enough here to support such a long runtime, so the film quickly outstays its welcome.
One would hope that, if nothing else, the action would capture at least a bit of the spark of people like Lau Kar-Leung, that classic choreography that was so expressive and distinct. That does not happen. These actors are not martial artists or stunt people, nor is the director, and that is made clear by how stiff and immobile all the fight scenes are. There are some inspired beats throughout the action design, mostly involving wirework, but it does have the feel of a high school production where the primary concerns are safety, then comedy, and then excitement at a distant third.
This naturally begs the question: “Is it funny?” After all, this movie is more in conversation with the likes of Kung Fu Hustle and Kung Pow: Enter the Fist than Shaolin Temple itself. How does it hold up to the standard of post-modern martial arts comedies?
Obviously, this is the most subjective quality of any film. All I can say is that I personally found the film so deeply and abrasively unfunny that it feels like a moral failing on the part of the filmmakers. Like so many other small-scale comedies, director Rainer Sarnet appears so tickled by the idea that he is transposing the classic Shaolin training narrative to his native land and blending it with incongruities like metal music that he forgets to make actual jokes. Most of the comedy is physical, rooted in the spirited performance of Tilk, but he can only go so far when the material is so dusty and hack. Two monks attempting to stop their speeding vehicle give the appearance of performing oral sex; Tilk gets a tour of the abbey in undercranked footage, and he trips on a garden hose; Tilk dumps a bunch of pepper into his food and doesn’t like the taste. That these are some of the comedic highlights of a two-hour film makes most of that runtime agonizing.
The most interesting and distinct aspect of The Invisible Fight is the one most frustratingly never fully explored. The Hong Kong films that so mythologized the Shaolin monastery reflected both the spiritual tenets of Chinese martial arts and the contemporary relationship Hong Kong had with mainland China (or, more specifically, the CCP). In setting this film in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union, there are ample opportunities for an exploration of the religion and traditions of the Orthodox Church and the Church’s relationship with a militantly nonreligious government. This thread is not picked up; instead, it simply uses empty platitudes while going through the motions and mimicking the plots of those action classics without recognizing what gave those films that staying power. This, more than anything, is its greatest failure.
The Invisible Fight is now in theaters.
Review by Daniel Lima
With the U.S. releases of both Furies and Bad Blood last year, I wondered if the cinema of Vietnam has been overlooked as a hotbed for no-frills, old-school martial arts action. That may well be the case, but 578 Magnum shows that as high as the highs of that industry are, there are still incredible depths to be plundered. This belongs to a class of movies that could be described as a collection of images projected at a rate of twenty-four individual frames per second to give the impression of movement. Which is to say, it is barely even a movie.
The story is nominally about a father out to get revenge on the criminal organization that kidnapped his daughter. He’s a man with a particular set of… well, it’s Taken, just like Bad Blood last year. Curiously, by the time the laughably generic opening credits start rolling, she has already been kidnapped and returned, eliminating the sense of urgency that films of this ilk typically have by default. It’s a baffling decision, yet it’s one of the few even discernibly deliberate choices.
Breaking down 578 Magnum is difficult because there are precious few narrative films that have such a lack of coherence and continuity. What characters want at any moment — or are even attempting to do — is never entirely clear. Characters drop in and out of the story seemingly at random. Scenes are haphazardly cut together, making every transition feel jarring. Poor subtitles certainly don’t help clear things up. Every possible deficiency in storytelling pops up, to the point that it feels like the film was shot with nothing more than a general idea of what this kind of revenge tale consists of instead of an actual script.
That said, poor storytelling can be easily excused so long as there are commensurately great set pieces. Sadly, the fights here are almost as bad as those in Taken itself, plagued with the same scattershot editing as the rest of the film. It’s clear these performers are not all trained in stunts or choreography, with many of their movements looking sluggish and lacking any power, often clearly going wide of their target. There are a handful of inspired touches that show someone might have actually cared enough to think through the action design, such as a fight that goes under and inside a car here or a brawl where the hero gets blinded with colorful dyes there. Still, the moments where everything comes together are fleeting.
The single most surprising fact about 578 Magnum is that it was, for some unfathomable reason, Vietnam’s submission to the 95th Academy Awards for Best International Film. For such a shoddily made, incomprehensible work to be put for serious awards consideration, the same year that Furies would have also been eligible, calls into question the judgment and soundness of mind of every single person involved in that decision.
578 Magnum is now on VOD.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Italian director Matteo Garrone follows up his 2019 adaptation of Pinocchio with Io Capitano, a harrowing odyssey through Africa as two Senegalese teenagers try and make their way to Europe. This movie had its premiere at the 2023 Venice Film Festival and has been nominated at this year’s Academy Awards for Best International Film. While one could take issue with a European director making a film about the plight of African migrants, it’s hard to deny that this is an intensely captivating movie that manages to take hold of you due partly to its impressive young lead actors.
Seydou and his cousin Moussa are teenagers in Senegal who have aspirations and yearnings for elsewhere. They both have desires to migrate to Europe to achieve success and also help their families out back at home. However, they are not prepared for the dangerous path to Europe. As they leave Senegal, they enter a journey of danger both manmade and natural. This is a story that many African migrants have lived through, and it’s an experience that is important to highlight.
While the foundation of the story is quite simple, the writing manages to still make the movie feel wholly unique. It develops its lead characters well and allows the audience to get easily attached to them and invested in their success. The dialogue isn’t the best at times, but this is compensated for by the great performances and tight pacing. The narrative also feels naturally progressive without being predictable. It’s an uncertain journey, and the writing does a great job at reflecting that without losing sight of natural realism in how the plot progresses.
As mentioned before, the acting in this movie is impressive, especially for such new and inexperienced actors. Seydou Starr leads the film, and he is able to carry himself through the movie almost flawlessly. He has a delicate and unique control over how his young character slowly gets hardened by this odyssey. There are moments of exhaustion, joy, and pure desperation and pain that he nails perfectly. Moustapha Fall co-stars and while his material isn’t nearly as impressive as Seydou’s, he still does a great job playing off of him and having a natural chemistry on screen. Additionally, Issak Sawadogo has a great supporting role despite it being so brief.
Being directed by a European, a movie like this one was always at risk of feeling out of touch or exploitative, but Garrone goes to lengths to avoid this. He has expressed his understanding of the nuances and implications of himself directing this African story, and he has done his due diligence to work closely with those who have experienced similar things. As a director, he worked with people who migrated out of Africa and faced the same dangers as Seydou and Moussa. This allowed the movie to not be an observation of these challenges from an outsider, but to be a direct reflection of the immigrant experience. The main success of this movie lies in the fact that the audience doesn’t feel like they’re watching this journey but that they’re a part of it.
Io Capitano is hard to watch at times, but it’s an emotional journey from start to finish. It’s beautifully shot and directed, and it’s sadly a story that happens all too often. It might not be the best of this year’s international film nominees at the Oscars, but it’s still a worthwhile experience due to its gripping story and phenomenal acting.
Io Capitano is in theaters February 23.
Review by Sean Boelman
Despite only lasting three years, the cult classic Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender has a lasting legacy, including being one of the most popular shows of all time on the streaming service Netflix despite not being an original title to the streamer. Although there are certainly some strong elements to Netflix’s new live-action adaptation, it doesn’t focus enough on the things that make it unique for it to stand out in a crowded genre.
As with its source material, the series is set in a world where different tribes control the elements, and a young boy arises as the “Avatar” — the savior of humanity who can bend all four elements and is destined to unite the warring world. Even if you haven’t seen the animated show on which it was based, Avatar: The Last Airbender tells an incredibly familiar story, and it ends up feeling like just another hero’s journey.
Interestingly, unlike many adaptations, Avatar: The Last Airbender is working with a similar runtime to its predecessor. This is eight one-hour episodes, while the animated series was 20 twenty-minute episodes — each adding up to eight hours in total. Yet, this live-action adaptation often drags, feeling like it’s going through the motions rather than telling the story earnestly.
The show does an incredible job of building the world of ATLA through mostly excellent production design and CGI. The series’s creators clearly wanted to make an adaptation that was faithful in the ways fans would demand. The only thing they don’t quite nail is the tone, which feels a bit too self-serious to work.
That being said, the scale of the series is massive, allowing it to give the audience some truly awesome action sequences. The bending scenes look great, and the spectacular finale that the entire season builds up to is shot in a way that is creative and exhilarating. This show has come far from being a Saturday morning Nickelodeon cartoon.
As far as the cast goes, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Gordon Cormier is excellent, having all the charm he needs to be Aang, nailing the delicate balance between maturity and youthfulness the role calls for. Kiawentiio and Ian Ousley are fine — not making much of an impression, positive or negative. The weak link is Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko, who seems utterly unable to deliver his lines seriously.
In terms of the adults, the show has an incredibly talented cast. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Daniel Dae Kim, and Ken Leung all do a great job in their roles, propping up the younger, less experienced actors working alongside them. Fans of the series will also be delighted by James See’s performance.
Ultimately, Avatar: The Last Airbender is a passable adaptation. Strong casting for its lead and some very well-done action sequences make it worth watching, even if the writing has glaring weaknesses. But hey, it’s better than the M. Night Shyamalan film — although that’s not a very high bar to surpass.
Avatar: The Last Airbender is now streaming on Netflix. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was one of the biggest successes of the pandemic era — a sci-fi epic so massive and good that it became a theatrical event despite a simultaneous release on HBO Max. After the success of the first film, Villeneuve was given a bigger budget and more creative free rein, allowing him to make Dune: Part Two into something more grand, more ambitious, and more epic than the last, even if it’s occasionally a bit long-winded.
Dune: Part Two picks up with Paul Atreides on the run with the Fremen, plotting a way to get revenge against the Harkonnen and the Emperor who killed his father. Although Lynch’s 1984 adaptation showed this portion of the story, it crammed it into around 45 minutes — meaning much of the two hour and 46 minute runtime of Villeneuve’s sequel feels completely different.
From a purely technical standpoint, Dune: Part Two is a masterpiece. Everything from the production design to the CGI and the cinematography is on point. A few scenes can be difficult to see, but these decisions feel very deliberate. And as with the first movie, the MVP of the below-the-line team is Hans Zimmer, whose booming score is incredible and transports you to the world of Arrakis.
Something that was missing from the first film was the political context of Herbert’s writing. While Villeneuve doesn’t explore the anticolonialist elements as much as one might like, he does go into a lot of depth into the property’s religious themes. Frequently, this subplot is just as — if not more interesting — than the bids for power among these various groups.
The one area in which Part Two is a step back from its predecessor is its pacing. There are a handful of really incredible action sequences in this sequel, but all in all, it feels somewhat anticlimactic. The finale, which we have spent two movies building up to, feels particularly unsatisfying — like it is holding back the level of battle we have been teased with.
In the first movie, Timothée Chalamet was the weak link in an otherwise astounding cast. Chalamet has thankfully stepped up his game for this second entry, likely owing to the much meatier role he has here. However, nearly everyone else in the cast has also taken their performances to the next level. Rebecca Ferguson, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin all add new layers to their roles. No one quite takes their role to the next level like Javier Bardem, though, whose turn is gripping and humanistic beyond what a movie like this should require. The weakest link here is Zendaya, who is fine but feels like she is trying too hard.
In terms of newcomers to the cast, the biggest splash is made by Austin Butler, whose performance is shockingly sinister and unhinged. After his very first line, which has lingering shades of Elvis, he goes fully chameleonic in a horrifyingly effective way. Florence Pugh and Léa Seydoux are solid, but don’t have large enough parts to make much of an impression. Christopher Walken does stick out negatively, though, as it feels like he’s phoning it in most of the time.
Dune: Part Two is one of the most impeccably-crafted blockbusters in years from a technical standpoint. It truly is a feat of filmmaking. Even if it is almost held back by some pacing issues, this is such an undeniably epic, visionary achievement that it’s hard not to be astounded by the level of artistry on display.
Dune: Part Two hits theaters on March 1.
THE SECOND BEST HOSPITAL IN THE GALAXY -- GREY'S ANATOMY Meets RICK & MORTY in Excellent Animated Sitcom
Review by Sean Boelman
Rick & Morty kicked off a new trend in adult animation that many have tried (and failed) to replicate. We may finally have something that lives up to its precedent. Leveraging its tremendously talented cast and premise that is ripe for wacky, creative adventures, The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy ends up being one of the funniest, most charming adult animated series in quite a while.
The show follows two alien doctors who work at a hospital specializing in “rare sci-fi illnesses.” The elevator pitch for this show would be a cross of Grey’s Anatomy and Rick & Morty — and if that mixture of medical drama with absurd sci-fi humor appeals to you, this is sure to be an addictive new watch.
As far as world-building goes, there’s nothing to really distinguish The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy from any number of other animated sci-fi comedies, but it accomplishes its goals well enough. The character design, while straightforward, is playful and colorful. And even though much of the series is set within the hospital, minus a few adventures outside, it feels satisfyingly expansive.
That being said, where the show does stand out is its incredible sense of humor. There are lots of funny premises to be found in the series, from time loops to alien STDs, and the writer’s room really takes advantage of them. There’s a lot of really insightful and funny sex humor, but it never feels overly crude or out-of-place.
The show also deals with some incredibly mature, complex themes, although this is par for the course for recent adult animation. Despite having a premise that’s inherently absurd and ridiculous, this show has what might be one of the best, most sincere depictions of anxiety that has ever been attempted.
Part of what makes the show work so well is that it gets us to care about the characters. We buy into the friendship between the two heroines immediately in the first episode, but we also get shockingly invested in the lives of all their coworkers. Even though some of them only take part in a few episodes, it feels like everyone who has a pronounced subplot is fully developed.
The voice cast of The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy is also stacked, adding a lot of charm through their performances. Keke Palmer and Stephanie Hsu are great leads, having impeccable chemistry and infectious energy. Kieran Culkin nails the quirky and awkward love interest. Pop musician Sam Smith is also a stand-out in their supporting role. And that just scratches the surface of who’s in this cast — Maya Rudolph, Natasha Lyonne, Jay Ellis, Bowen Yang, Tracee Ellis Ross, and more all make appearances.
Although the world of The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy may not be the most original, the writing is incredibly refreshing, allowing this to become one of the best new adult animated series in a minute. Between Hazbin Hotel and this, Prime Video is really stepping up its game in the adult animation sphere, and it’s an exciting time to be a fan of the genre.
The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy streams on Prime Video beginning February 23. All eight episodes reviewed.
Review by Cole Groth
Inspired by a true story, Meg Tilly and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig tell the story of Sharon Stevens (Hilary Swank), a recovering alcoholic hairdresser who finds a new purpose in life: saving the critically ill daughter of a recently widowed father (Alan Ritchson) in Ordinary Angels. Directed by Christian filmmaker Jon Gunn, this film feels a little overly sentimental at times. Still, it will make for great viewing for family or those looking for a story of everyday heroes doing something remarkable.
Ordinary Angels is one of those saccharine movies meant for your grandparents. It’s incredibly satisfying and fairly easy to follow. Bolstered by two knock-out performances from Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson, the film presents a pretty easy format: there’s a big problem that Ritchson’s character faces, and Swank’s character finds a way to solve it. The problems mount up very quickly. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt, failing livers, snowstorms, you name it, and he probably had to deal with it.
The principal problem with a movie like this is that even though it’s framed through a true story narrative, it seems outrageous that anything like this could happen. I simply don’t believe that a woman could convince a group of hospital executives to forgive $400k in medical bills from one visit or get five CEOs to get private planes on standby to help out the little girl. It’s all a little too inspiring, and say what you will about how cynical that sounds; the film doesn’t do an amazing job of making the unbelievable stuff seem believable.
Even if it doesn’t seem entirely believable, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t emotional towards the end. Tilly and Fremon Craig’s script brings a great deal of sincerity, and Gunn also handles the emotions quite nicely. It’s perfectly illustrated to have everything come together in an almost magical way towards the end.
I mentioned earlier that Gunn’s a Christian because he does a great job incorporating religion into the film. Hollywood doesn’t quite understand how to integrate Christianity into movies, and it’s important that films like this recognize it as a very helpful thing for some people. Ritchson’s character is anchored through his religious beliefs, which is believable, and Swank’s character is not. This is what life is like, and it’d be nice if other movies could do this.
Life is so miserable nowadays, and maybe nostalgia isn’t the best way around it, but it’s also necessary to remember that movies are supposed to be an escape. Do you want to feel happy during this bleak winter? You’d be well off watching this. If you’re looking for something to see with your mother that doesn’t push any boundaries and is just decent overall, Ordinary Angels is that movie.
Ordinary Angels releases in theaters on February 23.
Review by Sean Boelman
You do not often see animation in the horror genre, which is surprising considering how the medium allows imagination to flow freely. Despite an interesting concept and some very spooky imagery, Stopmotion is underwhelming because it struggles to find its narrative rhythm and hold the audience’s interest.
Stopmotion follows a stop-motion animator who finds the line between reality and her imagination blurred after the death of her overbearing mother. For the most part, it’s a very standard psychological horror flick, but what makes the film stand out is its incorporation of stop-motion animated sequences as the protagonist’s work comes to life.
Considering that director Robert Morgan’s background is in stop-motion shorts, it’s no wonder that the animated sequences are the strongest part of the movie. With horror animation, Morgan’s creations are crude and grotesque, but they have an incredible level of detail nevertheless. Although the images and symbols aren’t particularly novel, Morgan uses them effectively to create a lingering, unsettling effect.
However, Stopmotion is dragged down by its dreadfully slow pacing. It’s clear from the moment the movie starts that this is designed as a slow burn building up to an explosive climax. While the conclusion is satisfyingly gory and weird, the hour and 15 minutes that precede it feel like Morgan and co-writer Robin King were more interested in creating eerie imagery than telling a cohesive, compelling story.
The themes that Morgan and King explore are nothing new to the genre: grief, obsession, legacy. A few moments show the potential to be something unique — like a storyline involving the protagonist’s toxic relationship with her mother — but these are generally brushed aside because of the emphasis on horror rather than drama.
This emphasis also wreaks havoc on the character development. Although the protagonist has her arc (albeit a conventional one), none of the supporting characters are remotely interesting. We meet the protagonist’s boyfriend (Tom York) and a mysterious, nameless girl (Caolinn Springall) whose role in the story is needlessly confusing.
Frankly, it would have been more interesting to see this story told from a wholly isolated perspective, with Aisling Franciosi as the only performer in the movie. Franciosi is an incredible actress, and she made a lot out of this role despite how little it gives her to work with. The character has few defining personality traits, yet Franciosi makes the role feel entirely authentic — even during the far-fetched final act.
Stopmotion is the type of directorial debut that is more effective as a demo reel than a satisfying film in its own right. Robert Morgan is clearly very talented, with a knack for creating genuinely unsettling imagery, but this movie lacks the focus on storytelling and character development that is necessary for effective horror.
Stopmotion hits theaters on February 23.