Review: Twisty thriller ‘Piggy’ seeks justice and more
Early in writer-director Carlota Pereda’s twisty thriller “Piggy,” a teenager named Sara (Laura Galán) is faced with a dilemma. After getting teased mercilessly about her weight by the girls at a public pool, Sara sees her bullies violently abducted by a stranger who treated her with kindness. She should run immediately to the police. But those kids are jerks, and she wouldn’t mind if she never saw them again.
Expanded from an award-winning short film, “Piggy” is a masterful mix of dark comedy, social commentary and raw suspense. Sara is a no callous kid. She doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. But she’s accustomed to being ignored or misunderstood; and the longer she goes without telling anyone what she saw, the harder it becomes to say anything at all. Pereda never wants the audience to become too glib about what might be happening to the abductees. But she also wants us to understand that this movie is ultimately about how complicated the situation is for Sara.
In its final third, “Piggy” takes a turn toward horror, with scenes of torture and gore as Sara tries to exact some justice. But Pereda and her crew maintain an artful approach throughout, with stark lighting that keeps the focus on faces and bodies, showing how all these characters — not just Sara — are vulnerable to abuse, both physical and emotional. It doesn’t take a slasher to turn a kid’s life into a horror show. Their peers and parents do just fine.
‘Piggy.’ In Spanish with English subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 39 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, LOOK Dine-In Cinemas Downey
Fans of the pioneering Italian thriller director Dario Argento will be pleased to hear that “Dark Glasses” — his first movie in 10 years — looks and feels more like the visually striking and psychologically slippery suspense pictures he made in the ‘70s and ‘80s than it does his wildly uneven assortment of art films and exploitation films in the ‘90s and ‘00s. Ilenia Pastorelli hits exactly the right notes of deadly seriousness and operatic exaggeration, playing a classic Argento protagonist: Diana, a top-dollar escort who is blinded while escaping a serial killer and has to adjust to her condition in time to fight off her attacker one more time.
Argento fans should also temper their expectations, though. “Dark Glasses” isn’t a delirious masterpiece like his “Suspiria” or “Tenebrae.” It’s a modestly scaled and at times unusually relaxed character study — never especially intense or shocking. Much of the film is about Diana’s friendship with a young orphan, Chin (Xinyu Zhang), who helps her overcome the trauma of her assault and becomes her eyes as they try to escape the killer.
Still, there are set pieces scattered throughout “Dark Eyes” that are as strange — and as strangely beautiful — as the best of Argento, starting with an unnerving opening sequence that sees a group of people in a park gazing at a solar eclipse. The great Argento films were never just about titillation and blood-spatter. They’re about how the world sometimes seems unknowably mysterious, in ways both dangerous and awe-inspiring.
‘Dark Glasses.’ In Italian with English subtitles. Not rated. 1 hour, 26 minutes. Available on Shudder; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Glendale
One rainy night in the Smoky Mountains, a polite young man who calls himself Joe (Marc Senter), disoriented and lost, knocks on a cabin door and finds a cantankerous elderly hermit (Stephen Lang). A contentious conversation ensues between the two, before they eventually settle into a calmer chat, swapping stories about their lives and explaining why they each disappeared into the wilderness. But throughout the long evening, it’s clear something is off-kilter. Why did Joe feel compelled to come to this particular cabin? And exactly how long has this old man been living here?
“Old Man” director Lucky McKee and screenwriter Joel Veach don’t have especially startling answers to these questions. Their movie resembles one of those super-psychological mid-20th century stage plays exploring problematic masculinity via a combination of absurdism, metaphor and hyper-realism. In the case of “Old Man,” there are supernatural elements woven into what is a very talky, largely predictable psychodrama.
Nevertheless, this film is a superior example of how flavorful dialogue, talented actors and excellent staging can make something familiar really pop. Though shot mostly on one small interior set — with fake rain and sound effects establishing some atmosphere — this movie is utterly absorbing. It almost doesn’t matter what these two guys are talking about. The precise way they’re framed and the multiple levels the actors find in their performances tell their own story: about people who struggle to coexist with others, and how loneliness consumes them.
‘Old Man.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 37 minutes. Available on VOD
‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow’
Despite a clever premise, decent special effects and an amiable tone, the horror-comedy “The Curse of Bridge Hollow” never makes the jump from “mildly pleasant time-killer” to “entertaining.” The film is best-suited to viewers who want to get a little spooky season buzz without being subjected to anything scary or gory — or anything that requires their full attention.
Marlon Wayans plays Halloween-hating science teacher Howard Gordon, who moves his family to a quaint small town, where an ancient spell causes all the skeleton, pumpkin and zombie decorations on his neighbors’ lawns to spring to life. Working alongside his teenage daughter Sydney (Priah Ferguson, of “Stranger Things”), Howard has to reverse the curse, even if it means drawing on the supernatural hoo-hah he detests.
Director Jeff Wadlow keeps the movie’s tempo reasonably brisk; and all the menacing Halloween creatures look cool. But “Bridge Hollow” never approaches the manic, dangerous energy of a “Gremlins” or “Tremors.” When the Gordons first drive into this Halloween-crazy town, Howard jokes that it looks like they’ve taken a wrong turn into a Party City store. That’s how this whole movie feels: exuberantly festive, but not exactly “fun.”
‘The Curse of Bridge Hollow.’ TV-14, for language. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on Netflix
Based on Rebecca Serle’s young adult novel “When You Were Mine,” the romantic comedy “Rosaline” retells William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” from the perspective of Juliet’s cousin: the woman Romeo was swooning over before he locked eyes on his true love. Kaitlyn Dever plays Rosaline, a free-thinking young noblewoman who has little use for the poetry-spewing, sword-fighting guys on the swanky Verona party scene — that is until her suitor, Romeo (Kyle Allen), switches his affections to her cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced). Then Rosaline goes into sabotage mode.
Director Karen Maine and screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber follow the lead of too many recent period romances, throwing modern slang, attitudes and music into a story set many centuries ago. But even with the Gen Z-friendly touches — and Dever delivering a winning performance — “Rosaline” still feels frustratingly stale. The film follows along the fringes of the “Romeo and Juliet” plot without finding anything new or funny to say about it. Instead, the actors all look like they’re playing dress-up, inhabiting characters they’re not invested in, because the whole underlying concept of this project is that there’s no reason to take any of this stuff seriously.
‘Rosaline.’ PG-13, for some suggestive material and brief strong language. 1 hour, 36 minutes. Available on Hulu
‘Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday’
The punchy, witty 2018 action movie “Accident Man” came across like a combination of “John Wick” and a Guy Ritchie film, with the skilled martial artist Scott Adkins playing hired killer Mike Fallon, who specializes in making his deaths look like flukes. The sequel “Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday” pits Mike and some of his colleagues against a succession of colorful assassins, all targeting a mob boss’ creepy son. As with the previous picture, Adkins co-wrote the screenplay with Stu Small, though this time the veteran British thriller director Jesse V. Johnson has been replaced by newcomers George and Harry Kirby, who tip the tone from tongue-in-cheek self-reference to something more akin to a live-action cartoon. The shtick still works though, thanks to Adkins’s singular combination of brutishness and physical grace, and thanks to the Kirby brothers’ relentless pace. This is a movie for adrenaline junkies who want to watch as many slapstick fights as can fit into about 90 minutes of screen-time.
‘Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday.’ R, for strong bloody violence, pervasive language and brief drug use. 1 hour, 37 minutes. Available on VOD; also playing theatrically, Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica
Also on VOD
“American Rapstar” is a fascinating and informative tour through a rising hip-hop subculture, built around young people sharing lo-fi songs about drug abuse and despair with their millions of fans on the internet. Director Justin Staple combines live performances, commentary from music critics and woozy interviews with the stars to paint a picture of a movement that is incredibly popular yet largely ignored by the mainstream media. Available on Hulu and VOD
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song” is a documentary portrait of the influential singer-songwriter, framed by the history of a song that was barely noticed when originally released in 1984 but subsequently became one of the most beloved ballads of all time. The film considers Cohen’s career as a whole — with the help of vintage footage and new interviews — in the context of his simple and haunting “Hallelujah.” Sony
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