The big news for the coming week, regarding film in Sacramento, is that Friday marks the opening of the 16th annual Sacramento French Film Festival – which means two solid weekends of remarkable French cinema downtown. More information can be found here.
Meanwhile, at the multiplex, last week’s powerful launch for “Wonder Woman” appears to have been followed by a second weekend with a lower dropoff in box office revenue (the percentage drop from Week 1 to Week 2) than for any other superhero movie, which suggests extremely strong word of mouth and likely significant repeat viewings. That results in “Wonder Woman” remaining at the top of the charts, with almost twice the take of the relatively dead on arrival “The Mummy” (see below).”
Lower down those charts, but still at a solid Number 6 for this week is the modest, low budget thriller “It Comes at Night” (directed by Trey Edward Shults). This is a film that’s going to take a lot of people by surprise, albeit not necessarily in a good way. When I watched it a couple of weeks ago with an advance audience, there were clearly many people who seemed disappointed in the film, but largely because they were expecting it to be something it’s not. This isn’t an effects-laden creature feature – it’s a slow burn suspense yarn.
Joel Edgerton (who also Executive Produced the film) stars as Paul, the father in a small family living in a boarded up farmhouse in a post-apocalyptic near future. The film opens with the death and disposal of his wife’s father, from a disease that clearly threatens them all. The exact nature and origin of the disease is never explained – and this seemed to bother others in the audience. But, as with most of these futuristic tales of either simple sickness or zombie outbreaks, the cause is generally less important than the effect.
If one found oneself in such a situation, the fight for survival and the steps one would take to protect oneself and one’s family are far more pressing and defining than pondering what’s likely, in the middle of the woods, to be unknowable and largely irrelevant. And it’s those actions and their limits that are tested when another small family shows up, with similar needs and concerns.
If you sit watching “It Comes at Night” impatiently waiting for monsters to leap out of the darkness, in some tangible and literal interpretation of the title, you’ll also be disappointed. What the film shows as coming in the night, in a far more realistic take on calamity, are self-doubt, dread, fear, uncertainty, rage, and the other figurative monsters and nightmares of human emotion, existence, and self-preservation. That’s an even darker tale than a simple creature feature and “It Comes at Night” tells it effectively.
In the screenplay for “The Mummy,” there’s a fairly detailed explanation of how to inter an inherently evil Egyptian princess so that she won’t see the light of day for thousands of years. If only they had followed those same instructions with the film itself we all might have been saved from this exercise in brain embalming. Tom Cruise plays an opportunist American soldier, looting ancient sites as he moves through Iraq (and he’s supposed to be the sympathetic protagonist), until he gets caught up in the unearthing of that same princess and the ensuing complications. The bigger problem here is that this isn’t just a bad Mummy movie, it’s an attempt to launch an entire franchise that crosses creature storylines, like television’s “Penny Dreadful” – a title that suddenly feels like a film review.
“My Cousin Rachel” comes across as a Victorian “Black Widow,” with Sam Claflin as the young man who’s convinced Rachel Weisz’s character killed his cousin in order to inherit his wealth. Determined to denounce her, he plots his revenge until the moment he actually meets her and finds himself drawn into her web. It’s an interesting film that leaves one second guessing quite what has been going on the whole time, but unfortunately the first 90 out of 106 minutes don’t feel as though that’s going to be the outcome. It’s a little like a joke with a fairly solid punchline that takes so long to tell that half the audience has gone back to the bar before you get to it. The performances, costumes, and locations are all decent but this pacing lets them down. If you want to check out the story in film form without leaving the house, you could also track down a 1952 adaptation of the same novel starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. That one was nominated for four Oscars and won Richard Burton a Golden Globe. The new one seems unlikely to receive such recognition.
Another new film with pacing problems is “Meagan Leavey” – which is a shame because it’s a touching story of a young woman who, somewhat directionless, joined the Marines and after a series of missteps became a handler for a dog trained to detect explosives. After an incident that injured them both, she ended up out of the Corps and fighting to adopt her ex-partner. The film is told in a very conventional, linear fashion and that somewhat undermines an otherwise neat and moving account. The battlefield scenes are far more cinematic than the later scenes depicting the gathering of signatures for her adoption petition, which makes one wonder whether it might have had more of a rising crescendo of appeal and engagement had it started towards the end of the story and then jumped backwards with one of those “Two years earlier” captions. As it is, the movie stumbles in the somewhat anti-climactic third act.