In this edition of my monthly movie and television catch-up article series titled ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews,’ I talk about my experience of trying to catch-up on some of the 2021 films released earlier this year, including an entire trilogy of films! What did I think about the Fear Street-films? Is the Rear Window-inspired flick, The Woman in the Window, worth a watch? Is Bad Trip, the hidden camera comedy, funny enough for its runtime? Are Doug Liman and Alexandre Aja’s latest films any good? Well, scroll down to find out in another jam-packed edition of Additional Bite-Sized Reviews!
- What are Additional Bite-Sized Reviews?
– My monthly movie and television catch-up review series ‘Additional Bite-Sized Reviews‘ is an evolution of the Overview-article section previously titled ‘What I Didn’t Write About.’ I was originally inspired by film critic Peter Sobczynski’s article series ‘Films I Neglected to Review,’ wherein he writes short, or brief, reviews of films that he hasn’t had the time to write full reviews about. Therefore, in articles such as this one, I will provide my readers with my thoughts on select films, shows, and even classics that I feel like giving my thoughts on, even though I don’t have the time to dedicate thorough reviews to them.
- Why do the bite-sized reviews not include either a letter grade or a review score?
– In my full and thorough reviews, I like to score or grade what I watch. But since these reviews aren’t as detailed, I think it is fairer to the films and shows to simply just decide whether or not to recommend them. I guess you could say this is the only type of review that is basically ‘scored’ with the classic thumbs-up/thumbs-down-method on my site.
Fear Street Pts. I, II, and III | 3 Films | Dir. Leigh Janiak | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.
Netflix is slowly but surely making itself a home for young adult horror and science-fiction films and shows that are inherently nostalgic tributes to trends of the past, which itself is a bit of ongoing trend in Hollywood what with the constant bombardment of reboots aimed at a younger audience or consisting of younger cast members. For Netflix, it started with Stranger Things, which, in a way, was following in the footsteps of J. J. Abrams’ Super 8. It is extremely obvious what films are being paid tribute to in each of the seasons of Stranger Things, and perhaps some of these references are, to some people, cheap or easy, but, at the end of the day, they capture the public’s attention.
Fear Street, a trilogy of horror films released on Netflix over the course of a single month, has itself followed in the nostalgic young adult horror footsteps of Stranger Things, and this new trilogy has even been hyped up and marketed as a true summer movie event. Like Stranger Things, it is easy to tell what films or subgenres are referenced in each of the very different Fear Street films, and, even though I wouldn’t say any of the three films are ‘great,’ all three horror films, which feature plenty of lore and some relatively grisly scenes, are consistently entertaining.
All three films are based on one of R. L. Stine’s series of books that was also titled Fear Street, which I must admit that I have never read (I did read some Goosebumps-novels when I was younger, but that’s neither here nor there), and every film is about some horrific event that took place in the same town, which appears to be cursed or haunted or both.
The first film, Fear Street Part One: 1994, which has somewhat of a neon aesthetic at times, obviously takes place in 1994, and, since this film includes an opening death scene that is eerily similar to Wes Craven’s Scream, it feels like a proper modern tribute to the Craven modern classic, which is one of my favorite horror films. This was my favorite film of the three, in part, due to the film it was making an homage to, but also due to the fact that I didn’t always dig the structure of the next two films that jump in time or include frame stories.
Fear Street Part Two: 1978 is an obvious nod to the Friday the 13th-franchise since it is a teenage horror film that takes place in a summer camp. It is notably slower than the previous film, I thought, and while some of the horror scenes are quite shocking, the film felt a little bit too predictable, to me. The final film, Fear Street Part Three: 1666, has a very different mood and aesthetic as it is inspired by folk horror, but it doesn’t ever reach the heights of A24 folk horror with one notable exception, which is the haunting imagery in one scene where a Pastor has locked himself and others inside of his church.
While I liked all three films, I have to say, though, that they do feel a little bit generic. I’ve already mentioned that at least two of the films feel like homages or tributes, so, in a way, it must be kind of intentional that all three films feel derivative. In the end, these three films, though very entertaining, are best described as R-rated young adult slasher films with a cast befitting a Stranger Things or CW-style kind of show (and a very unsubtle soundtrack).
One of the things that kind of irked me in retrospect, however, was that I feel like these three films could’ve easily been just a limited series, or a season, on Netflix that would consist of perhaps 6 or 7 episodes. When you consider that these three films were released over the course of a single month, as well as the fact that they are not standalone stories, it is difficult to think of this as a trilogy of films rather than a ‘just’ mini-series with feature-length episodes — à la Sherlock.
In a way, I think that Fear Street blurs that line between films and series. Indeed, a part of me thinks that this would’ve been a better series, in part due to the fact that the framing story can feel a little bit awkward in the second film and the fact that the third film feels split down the middle. However, I also do want to acknowledge that Fear Street would not have gotten as much word-of-mouth and good press, if all three ‘episodes’ were released at once, so — you know, I get it — it certainly got the attention of the masses by being released as a trilogy. And, in the end, it perhaps doesn’t even really matter if it is a trilogy of films or not. What ultimately matters is that all three films are very solid.
The Woman in the Window | Film | Dir. Joe Wright | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: No.
Based on A. J. Finn’s thriller novel of the same name, Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window follows the agoraphobic psychologist Anna Fox (played by Amy Adams), as she tries to better herself, while she is observing what happens outside her windows from inside the relative comfort of her home. She is particularly interested in the Russell family that just moved in across the street, and, one night, she witnesses a murder from across the street. However, when authorities get involved and the alleged perpetrator confronts her, she becomes unsure of whether or not she can trust what she thinks she saw.
The Woman in the Window certainly wears its inspirations on its sleeve. I was honestly a little bit shocked by the fact that you actually see a brief clip from Rear Window early on in the movie. I guess they wanted to get ahead of the obvious comparisons, criticisms, and whatnot. It’s not that I can’t enjoy a film that is this ‘inspired’ by one of my favorite films — I enjoyed Disturbia for what it was — this movie just didn’t get its hooks into me.
I don’t think The Woman in the Window is as emotionally involving as it ought to be, and it definitely isn’t as tension-filled as it needed to be, which is a shame when you consider just how strong the film’s cast is. There are some really cool and evocative hallucination shots here and there, but this is the kind of movie that I think will be easy to forget about, which, I think, is really unfortunate because, at least on paper, it had a lot going for it from the outset.
Oxygen | Film | Dir. Alexandre Aja | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.
Alexandre Aja’s Oxygen is a, for the most part, single-location thriller about a woman, Elizabeth Hansen (played by Mélanie Laurent), who wakes up in a sealed medical cryogenic pod, which she is trapped inside while the oxygen level is falling rapidly. Meanwhile, MILO, an artificial intelligence, is communicating with Hansen and controlling the pod. To survive, Hansen has to try to convince the A.I. to let her out or, in some way, shape, or form, try to communicate with the outside world. However, something is definitely amiss, as she doesn’t exactly remember who she is.
Alexandre Aja’s latest film is a claustrophobic thriller, which, although I liked it, I thought I was often a step ahead of. It is basically a mix between Rodrigo Cortés’ excellent single-location thriller Buried and Morten Tyldum’s Passengers (with an A.I. that is bound to remind some people of 2001: A Space Odyssey).
For quite some time, the film actually struggled to get its hooks in me, but, thankfully, I found the ‘twist’ in the second half of the film to be shocking enough to really liven the film up, but it definitely wasn’t unpredictable. The film really needed that twist, which really makes it a different kind of movie, because I thought that the film was running in circles a little bit for a moment there. As a side note, I’m also shocked that it took the main character that long to figure out that she could use the other similar medical pods to her advantage.
I definitely prefer Cortés’ film, but Aja’s Oxygen is definitely a perfectly fine thriller, thanks in some part to Laurent’s more-than-solid performance, as well as the gripping scenes in which her character has to fight with a mechanical arm that is trying to sedate her.
Locked Down | Film | Dir. Doug Liman | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: HBO Nordic | Recommended?: No.
You know, I don’t think the premise is all that bad, it just so happens that it takes way too long until anything actually really happens here. If this were actually a true heist film set during the COVID-19 pandemic, then it could be a pretty good movie. But, instead, this film mostly features zoom-meetings (that sometimes revolve around characters firing other characters during their zoom-workday) and scenes in which very good actors who live in a very pretty, luxurious, and spacious home lose their minds about their own problems just like the rest of the world have during the pandemic.
We can all relate to some of that, but that’s not cinematic and it certainly doesn’t amount to escapism. The film feels much longer than it actually is, and nothing particularly exciting happens until the third act. Sorry, but I think this film is a bit of a dud. I’m sure there will be some pretty great films that are set during the pandemic, but so far I think that the only ones that I can recommend are Rob Savage’s zoom-horror-flick Host and, somewhat surprisingly, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.
Bad Trip | Film | Dir. Kitao Sakurai | Release Year: 2021 | Seen on: Netflix | Recommended?: Yes.
Speaking of Borat, Kitao Sakurai’s Bad Trip is a film that made me think of that modern comedy classic, as well as Jackass‘ Bad Grandpa-film. Superficially, it is not a particularly unique story. The film tells the story of two best friends on a road trip to New York City in a stolen car. Starring Eric André, Lil Rel Howery, Michaela Conlin, and Tiffany Haddish, Bad Trip is very memorable but not for its story. It is memorable because it is often laugh-out-loud funny.
I am, honestly, a little bit surprised by how much I liked this movie. Bad Trip, though a road trip movie, is built around these hidden camera pranks with real people. You’ll see André, Howery, Conlin, and Haddish in a number of ridiculous situations, and, while these situations may seem overly silly in a normal film, the fact that this is a hidden camera comedy film heightens the goofy situation. I think it is hilarious in spurts.
Eventually it does become clear as day that the film really only has that one hidden camera-gag over and over again, with slight variations each time. And, admittedly, that does diminish the effect of the film. The hidden camera gimmick does get a little bit old eventually, and it is only just able to sustain its 87-minute runtime. But at the end of the day, some of the genuine reactions can be a joy to watch here, and that’s why I ended up enjoying this movie.
– Reviews Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.