Review by Joseph Fayed
The ultra wealthy tend to be portrayed out-of-touch individuals who don't understand life outside their own circle of the elite. The Origin of Evil has the same type of family, with the addition of an outsider in the form of an estranged family member. Tensions flare as the French drama directed by Sébastien Marnier leaves you questioning the motives of everyone during this abrupt family reunion.
Stéphane (Laure Calamy) is financially struggling. She is working a dead-end factory job and her lover is incarcerated. She reaches out to her estranged father to get to know the family she never had. No one is quick to embrace her into their mold as the family and Stéphane begin to wonder if she is truly one of them.
Deplorable behavior is what draws the family together. The cast proved that with their performances to various degrees. Many of our characters are either enablers or abusive themselves so we are spared from having any sort of forced empathy try to overshadow their lifestyle. Our helpless protagonist Stéphane is the one hiding in plain sight, Calamy has a reserved approach to her character. Later scenes utilize her talent to expose the anxiety she has brought upon herself. But the script manages to do all of this without drawing too much pity for Stéphane, a smart choice as she tries to become what she never had.
The film intertwines elements of Knives Out and The Talented Mr. Ripley for the characterizations of its ensemble. Lavish wealth and having a safety net so secure they don't think twice about their actions remind you of the former. Meanwhile, Stéphane feels as if she is living in a facade and must lie her way out of like Tom Ripley always did. These films also deal with wealth management and what power over it does to individuals, as no one has a change of heart until their lifestyle has changed. That message is rooted in money, which consistently is the driving factor behind every decision made on screen in this film. The consequences seem far-fetched, and every character is guilty of embracing that mentality.
The Origin of Evil is more than just a blanket statement about generational wealth. Greed is embraced within this film as insecurity is an unknown concept to our characters. The flashy lifestyle on screen isn't what makes a family dysfunctional. Rather, it's the betrayal of each other every chance they have. Nothing is over the top ridiculous outside of a few set pieces and the score ripping off more classic mystery thrillers. Cinematography choices by Romain Carcanade were wise in certain scenes that framed a split screen to showcase everyone's own desires to fulfill their life. Ultimately, Marnier's thriller is a great example of wealth that does not cover how an empire was built, but how fragile it truly can be.
The Origin of Evil arrives in theaters on September 22.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Queer cinema doesn't have many mystery comedies under its belt. So, when director Sebastián Silva announced his latest film Rotting in the Sun, I was excited to discover how his take would heavily feature elements of satire. There are loads of laughs in its first half but falls short of living up to the same standards of parody in its second act.
Sebastián (playing a fictionalized version of himself) is in a career slump. He becomes suicidal and to take his mind off everything he goes on a beach getaway. While there, he meets Jordan Firstman (also playing a fictionalized version of himself) and the two agree to collaborate on a screenplay. Soon after, Sebastian goes missing and Jordan begins to wonder if the cleaning lady (Catalina Saavedra) in Sebastián's building in Mexico City is involved.
The tone of the film remains consistent throughout. Its dry sense of humor is always present, never backing out from the film with plenty of uncomfortable moments. Meta in nature, its humor knows exactly what audience it is trying to appeal to. Jordan, best known for his social media impressions, plays the role of the chronically online influencer very well, understanding what exactly it entails. Sex and sexual innuendos are all over the place, as Jordan and Sebastián's characters are mostly rooted in hyper-sexualized behavior. That behavior consumes them like the number of penises that consume the screen during the beach getaway scenes.
None of the characters and their actions will be widely accepted as redeemable. Based on that alone, the film could have leaned into developing more toxic personalities for the main three characters. None of them had to serve as the catalyst when mischief is a plot device. Vero fades in and out of having a conscience over Sebastián's disappearance, when the film never allows itself to have a complex narrative to justify a range of emotions. Jordan's storyline is about nothing more than personal gain from Sebastián, so with him seemingly out of the picture he has nothing else to embrace. It ultimately felt that two key characters forgot they were supposed to be in the satire the first hour set up.
Rotting in the Sun, well, rots in the sun for a bit too long. Its meta commentary will bring laughs to the table as do the lead performances, even if they become a bit tiresome by the end. Sebastián Silva directs a satire that where everyone behaves badly, it really does not need more substance than that. At the end of the day, there are 32 penises on screen throughout this film so if that pleases you more than anything, ignore my critiques and get yourself a Mubi subscription if you haven't already.
Rotting in the Sun will release in theaters on September 8, and will stream exclusively on Mubi starting September 15.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank has a body of work that could be considered underwhelming given all the acclaim she has received throughout her career. The Good Mother is her latest film, a thriller that not only flatlines story-wise, but also fails to utilize Swank in the capacity of her role. Her acting skills are held back by an unimpressive script and direction by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte.
Journalist Marissa Bennings (Swank) learns her estranged son has been murdered. To find out who killed her son, she must work with his pregnant girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke). As they enter a world surrounded by crime, they discover what they knew about their loved one only touched the surface.
None of the characters, including our protagonist Marissa, are well-rounded. This is largely due to a sequence of events involving flat characters that ultimately lead to nothing. Marissa herself has a history with Paige that isn't established beyond their initial physical confrontation. Marissa also has an investigative journalistic career that doesn't become a crucial plot device. Many thrillers have taken the same character arc of a journalist trying to stop seedy drug underbelly in their town. However, since Marissa spends so little time prying others for information and searching for clues, her being a journalist feels underdeveloped.
Our titular mother goes through the motions many parents with estranged children go through — deny everything they might have done wrong and blame others. Naturally, this is supposed to cause a conflict of interest given that her son was murdered for his part in the drug trade. That being said, there's little dedication to understanding Marissa's conflicting feelings about her son. A rare moment that serves as the exception to this takes place at a recovery meeting Marissa attend with Paige. Marissa hears another woman open up about loss, but her words of wisdom get sidetracked to go after one of the more obvious suspects in murder mystery thriller history. Marissa doesn't even get to have a moment of reflection once the dust has finally been settled, making it puzzling to see a journalist act as if a resolution to her son's murder can be brushed off.
The Good Mother isn't very good. Hilary Swank seemed bored in every scene and it's hard to blame her for looking that way. Weak film cliches on the drug trade and how it affects a family took over a script that has nothing interesting to say. Even the lead actors couldn't seem to emote at any of their losses into pain or the single twist into shock. I'm afraid Hilary Swank has been stuck in her flop era for a while, and perhaps she needs to work with better writer and directors if she wants a shot at a third Academy Award someday.
The Good Mother hits theaters on September 1.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Ellie Foumbi's directorial debut Our Father, The Devil will make you feel uneasy. The psychological thriller asks if trauma and redemption can both be possible. The answer is explored through emotionally charged performances that acknowledge how difficult it is to move on from our past.
Marie is a chef at a retirement home in a quiet French village. Her life is going well. Her friendships are stronger than ever, she is given a remote cabin by a resident of the retirement home, and she is being pursued romantically. All of that is upended when she recognizes the new priest at the retirement home, Father Patrick. Marie is reminded of a brutal chapter of her life she has not told anyone else about, and to not disrupt her new life, Marie must figure out what to do with Father Patrick.
Babetida Sadjo, who plays Marie, nails the personality traits of one experiencing trauma in phases. Trauma does not have a particular time span, but the events that unfold with Father Patrick trigger a sense of discomfort and dread back into her life. Her slow withdrawal from her everyday life and the guard she has put up are acted brilliantly by Sadjo. The rare cathartic release we see from her is devastating, especially after her chilling performance dominates most of the film.
The film is well-paced, since little time is devoted to setting up what Marie will do to Father Patrick. Her choice of action is revealed quite early in the film, and from there we learn fragments about her past. Through this, we learn more about Father Patrick and the lines between who is the victim and perpetrator. The story also tries to establish a redemption arc between Marie and Father Patrick. With its complex narrative, what the film gets right is that nobody — particularly Marie — walks away unscathed. The bleak ending matches the tone of the entire film.
Our Father, The Devil has Michael Haneke undertones throughout it. The trauma on screen not only makes you wonder how the characters impacted will rethink their lives, but also asks what if it's not worth it. This is not your typical revenge tale per sé — it is also a story of fulfilling a personal redemption arc. Both are executed well and show a promising directing future for Elle Foumbi. Trauma doesn't just erupt inside of us overnight; it spills over to our daily routine. Pain is inflicted throughout. This is an unsettling watch, but one I would recommend if you wondered how can someone forgive themselves for the worst thing they ever did to another human being.
Our Father, The Devil is now playing in theaters.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Thrillers that involve deception through their main character don't often have that character be multi-layered enough to understand the depravity of their actions. Madeline Collins has Virginie Efira in a predicament, where she proves she is good at being bad. This Hitchcock style thriller directed by Antonie Barraud effectively lets you piece the puzzle together, while slowly taking you through the motions of a lie being uncovered.
Judith has two picture perfect lives. In one, she lives in Switzerland with Abdel, where they raise their young daughter. In the second, she lives in France with Melvil and two older sons. Her weekly routine of going back and forth between these two lives begins to unravel, and soon she realizes that to preserve one of these lives, she must sacrifice everything she has come to love.
The biggest distinction this film has is how the character of Judith is almost identical in her two lives. She shares similar traits in each lifestyle, despite living a facade. The truth of Judith is acknowledging that she is living a lie, but this also paints the picture that certain people around her are active participants in her far-fetched life. Judith is inherently messy this way because she fears losing half of what she has, but neglects to think of her other family. She is narcissistic, and the more she talks, the more Judith exposes her true self. I thought the decision to have her gradual breakdown caused by her longstanding actions was well done. It really rings true to how actual narcissists are uncovered.
Virginie Efira is a force to be reckoned with. She carries the film with her performance, and while playing a narcissist from a clinical perspective must be daunting, she acts brilliantly when she's expected to maintain composure and when she's not. Efira bases her character around the sense of liberation from either of her lives. She acts nearly the same when she's with both families, but she is grounded in not accepting the boundaries of the men she's with. From one scene to the next, Judith is living quite a comfortable life, but she only feels free when she travels from one life to the next. Her painless re-entry into her other life is well acted throughout the film by Efira too.
Madeline Collins simply put is a story of how you can only hide your morals for so long until they catch up to you. With a brilliant performance at its center, you'll be enthralled by the double life of Judith and taken aback by her every move. I suppose we have a French Amy Dunne equivalent now.
Madeleine Collins is now playing in theaters.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Characters breaking free from the normalcy that plagues them serves as a basis for most indie road trip dramas that earn rave reviews at film festivals these days. Between the beautiful scenery lies an interesting character study. The Unknown Country draws you in through the former, but leaves you disappointed in how the latter was overlooked.
The film follows Tana (Lily Gladstone) is invited to her cousin's wedding. After reconnecting with her family, Tana decides the best way to honor her late grandmother's legacy is to continue traveling and retrace her grandmother's steps. Along the way, she meets a variety of people from different walks of life who define her journey.
A filmmaking technique that worked well in the films favor was the hybrid style narrative approach featuring non-professional actors in supporting roles. They are the backdrop of this film. Every time Tana departs somewhere, we learn their backstory. These moments serve their purpose in explaining their lives in the actual small towns parts of the film were shot in. The catalyst of this film is supposed to be Tana's grandmother's death, but her unorthodox journey takes its focus away from that. The shift in highlighting the people Tana meets along the way gives much more to anticipate than a single course of action like honoring her grandmother.
Lily Gladstone is a bright light with her performance. Her desire to connect with others or reconnect with her family through times of isolation is what elevates her performance. While I appreciate this, there are definitely parts of the film that needed more of her character. The glimpses of humanity we see from this cast are just glimpses. The lack of dialogue Gladstone has in these scenes is upsetting because her on screen presence indicates she wants to engage more with who she encounters, but she instead becomes secondary to them, mainly listening to what they have to say, but rarely chiming in. Each supporting cast member is given their own monologue, so Tana's reduced dialogue seems counterproductive here.
The Unknown Country is part of the new wave of minimalist cinema. These types of films often explore a region overlooked by mainstream media, unless a tragedy of some sort happens. Like every place in the world, there are moments that remind us that the core of humanity still exists. Tana's road trip may not be particularly exciting to watch, but there is interest that makes up for it in the stories the characters she meets have to tell. There's no Frances McDormand using a bucket as a toilet, like in Nomadland, but what those two films do have in common is showing you how to approach living in the moment when what tomorrow holds is uncertain.
The Unknown Country is now playing in theaters.
Review by Joseph Fayed
One of my greatest fears is being trapped in quicksand. Another one of my fears is being trapped there with my soon to be ex. My biggest fear, though, would be if someone made a painfully boring film based on these fears, as is the case with Quicksand.
The film follows Sofia and Josh, who are on the brink of divorce, as they travel to Colombia for a work conference. While on a hike through the rainforest, a storm causes them to become trapped in a pit of quicksand. Unable to move, it becomes a struggle for survival as they battle the elements of the jungle to escape.
Their struggles — marital or caused by the quicksand — are simply underdeveloped. Suffering from unimaginable pain is not a plot device, but that is what we see for 85 minutes. This type of suffering exists to carry the film from one scene to the next. One particular example includes an invasive species that early on causes a severe injury to Sofia. In an effort to save Sofia, Josh unintentionally reveals a secret he had been keeping. There are hints at the secret previously, nor mention of it later. If it were better explained, this secret could provide a better look at why this couple is deciding to divorce.
The physical threats Sofia and Josh face are nothing that hasn't been seen in a survival thriller before. It is frustrating that the characters' strengths don't present them with a new challenge. Their backgrounds as doctors reduce the stress and intensity that we normally associate with fighting for survival. The two of them have the knowledge to survive their surroundings, and despite their panic, crisis is averted. The cast does a good job acting fearful, but even watching them go full panic mode won't grasp your interest. Certain themes the film could have played into, such as isolation and regret, were largely ignored in favor of pain and suffering, which didn't intensify the plot at all.
Quicksand tells a sequence of events in a fight for survival. However, someone who has watched anything related to being lost in the woods could tell exactly what that sequence of events was going to be. Calling this a thriller, as any twists and turns it has to offer must have gotten lost in the Colombian rainforest. Two uninteresting protagonists bury the film deeper than this repetitive plot does. If the biggest takeaway is that Sofia and Josh always had each other, then I wonder how we got here. I didn't even shudder once while watching this Shudder original, how disappointing.
Quicksand is now streaming on Shudder.
Review by Joseph Fayed
I'll Show You Mine is a unique take on rehashing familial trauma and our relationships with family. Under the helm of Director Megan Griffiths and produced by the Duplass Brothers, is a film that, while worthy of praise for its honesty for discussing these topics openly, makes some confusing creative decisions that tamper with the film's integrity.
The plot follows Nic, a former male model and current "porn cartoonist," as he meets with his Aunt Priya to discuss her latest novel about Nic's former modeling career. The conversation takes unexpected turns, and the two discover secrets about each other in their conversation, which range from sex to infidelity and the boundaries surrounding them.
We see the brightest red flag immediately upon learning these two characters are aunt and nephew. While their relationship is written to lay the groundwork for their years-long appreciation for each other, in spite of how the rest of the family treats them. Nic and Priya are supposed to have a deep admiration considering the abuse both have suffered, but that curtails into kink fantasies real fast. Their relationship, even if it is by marriage, makes these cringeworthy remarks uncomfortable to hear.
The film is confined to one setting, and its only characters are Nic and Priya. This intimate play-like atmosphere removes all third party distractions. Stripped from everything else, the two leads build off of such awkward tension quite well. I wouldn't consider their performances to be poor acting, with the perplex range of emotion their characters feel. Both disappear in their roles, and neither the pansexual ex-model nor feminist author feels like they aren't rubbing off each other.
Nic and his character's agency are the most troubling plot element that's left with a rapid conclusion. Nic's revelations about his abuse and the exploitation he felt during his modeling career are underdeveloped. Towards the end of his meeting with Priya, we learn the real reason he quit modeling. The film skips around his pansexuality and reclaiming himself on his own terms and his hypersexual nature. None of these get the focus they deserve, yet Priya only has one element of her past focused on, and it's focused on heavily from the start. Nic's character development is meant to be a work in progress, but his third act reveal feels like it was done purely for shock.
I'll Show You Mine tries too much to say nothing at all. Intercut with animated title cards, it does nothing to elevate this story about an aunt and nephew from scattered ideas about sexual liberation in light of trauma. Unless you're Sam Levinson, I doubt you will be enticed by that.
I'll Show You Mine is now in theaters and on VOD.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Starting college and moving to a new country are two of the biggest adjustments one can make to their life. Add in conflicting career goals and meeting your first love interest, and you have described nearly everyone in the 18-25 age demographic. In that way, Montréal Girls is a coming-of-age film from familiar territory.
Ramy, an aspiring poet, has arrived in Montreal to begin medical school. His cousin introduces him to hidden subcultures within the city, where he meets two women. Shortly thereafter, Ramy immerses himself in his poetry and begins to feel torn between two different lives: the one he wants and the one his parents would be most proud of.
Ramy's journey is not one of self-discovery, nor does he live vicariously through other characters. The film's biggest flaw is not distinguishing itself between the two. Very early on, Ramy grows disinterested with medicine, and it's revealed his natural talent has been poetry. Despite what appears to be a major conflict of interest from his father, Ramy is attempting to do both for most of the film. The core of the story is that Ramy has always known that being a poet is his calling. Ramy is written as having made up his mind well before he has to make a formal decision at the film's climax. Not much is built up between Ramy and those closest to him either, leaving two key character arcs uncertain.
The titular Montreal girls, Yaz and Desiree, serve nothing more than eye candy for Ramy. Every moment they are on screen is coated in Ramy flirting with at least one of them. Neither of them progress past being friends with benefits, and that is their whole arc. Of the two, Yaz is the one who has a moment in the film where she mentions trying to overcome her past, like Ramy is doing. This one line of dialogue, had the film not already been half over, could have provided some much-needed depth to her character. Ironically, Desiree has a forgettable argument with Ramy about not wanting to be used as filler for his and Yaz's potential fling. These subplots are eclipsed by Ramy's poetry and his struggles to admit his true passion, so their resolutions don't matter at the end.
Montréal Girls is a misnomer. They simply appear in the background, as our protagonist simply declares his dreams. There's nothing wrong with a character doing that, but it is misleading to those who thought Ramy, Yaz, or Desiree would have to go through the motions of carrying that out. Ramy's poetry and this screenplay also have something in common: they both lack much needed substance.
Montréal Girls is now playing in theaters and hits VOD on June 27.
Review by Joseph Fayed
Every human needs a support system in their lives. We all need financial, physical, or emotional assistance in one way or another, and having the same group of those who provide us that support is crucial. You Hurt My Feelings tells a story of how a white lie can disrupt that and cause us to rethink everything we believed.
Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) has just finished writing her latest novel. She and her husband Don, a therapist, have a falling out over Don revealing that he has never really liked any of her work. Both Beth and Don seem to be struggling in their careers. The two begin to doubt themselves, much to the chagrin of their son Elliot. Meanwhile, Beth's sister Sarah notices parallels of her and her husband's lives with Beth and Don's.
On paper, Beth and Don seemingly have everything. The script makes subtle notes of their interactions and how they have covered up every aspect of themselves to everyone else. Deep down, both of them are miserable. Still, there tends to be a charming tone to this couple. Mixed in with dry humor all across the film, the two are written as realizing both are equally at fault for how they acted. The white lie Don told Beth is equivalent to a 93-minute argument. It's well paced enough that its simple premise focuses on how and why Beth and Don have been living a lie both professionally and personally.
The film also does a good job at showing how self-doubt increases even without discovering your partner hasn't been honest with you. Sarah and her husband Mark are the more hilarious counterparts to Beth and Don. Sarah has grown sick of her career as an interior designer. Mark is a struggling actor whose career has been full of highs and lows. They are framed as comedic filler, as neither of them can catch a break. Elliot, Beth and Don's son who wants to become a playwright, feels the most out of place. He feels shoehorned into a film that otherwise naturally reveals the pitfalls of telling someone how good they are when they really aren't. However, he doesn't fall down the rabbit hole of the young son who resents his parents for how they supposedly wronged him growing up, so that was refreshing to see.
You Hurt My Feelings tackles a nuanced subject in a prolonged narrative, and it works. The cast has great chemistry that holds together every scene. The dialogue is pretty funny at times, and the script's unconventional approach of making fun of something we've all been guilty of before sets this above other comedy-dramas about upper middle class white women for upper middle class white women. Good to know they finally have an A24 film to worship.
You Hurt My Feelings hits theaters on May 26.