Against the Ice, The Privilege, Big Bug, Windfall, The House
It’s been a few months of new Netflix Original movies, so I decided to do a catch-up with five of them, starting with Against the Ice. When I first saw the trailer for this, I immediately thought it was like The Terror (2018) but a movie, which immediately made it very exciting and set a pretty high bar of expectations (The Terror is a brilliant horror series and you should check it out if you haven’t already). Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joe Cole, and Charles Dance, Against the Ice is an adaptation of the true story of two Danish explorers fighting to survive Greenland’s harsh weather after an expedition went wrong. It has everything required for a great movie; contrasting personalities between two people who will soon be left alone in a dangerous situation; polar bears; man vs nature. However, while it delivers on some aspects, Against the Ice is not a very remarkable movie especially when it is compared to The Terror, a very similar and vastly superior experience in all aspects. Both lead actors (Coster-Waldau and Cole) do great work in carrying the movie and ramping up the stakes when their mental health is pushed to the limit after certain events, while director Peter Flinth and cinematographer Torben Forsberg utilize the beauty of the environment to create a visually satisfying experience and one that creates dread for the characters and their wellbeing as they barely survive another day, delaying a seemingly inescapable fate. What I consider to be the biggest letdown of Against the Ice is how it never manages to show the transition between hopefulness and mental stability to utter despair and instability of the psyche; it does happen and there are scenes that show that transition, but unlike The Terror that uses serialized television to convey this transition in a much more impactful way, the movie version feels too rushed to have the same impact. Overall, it’s a good movie especially if you see it before The Terror, but fans of that show hoping for something similar should be warned that it is much more of a drama and much less impactful.
Seeing as my thirst for good horror went unsatisfied, I decided to check out The Privilege, a German teen-horror movie about wealthy teens trying to stop/solve supernatural horrors that are plaguing their area and school; unfortunately for me, I did not satisfy my desire for good horror movies. The Privilege is an unfocused, boring, and unenjoyable movie that tries to add meaning and thought alongside the thrills of the slasher tropes and fails miserably at both. It’s not scary, the characters are not endearing enough to have any care for them, and the supernatural elements are just not entertaining enough to hold any interest; moreover, the writing, directing, and acting are just not engaging enough to at least try and claw any entertainment value from them. Just to add more fuel to the fire, it is one of those movies that tries to shoehorn in nostalgia with a synth soundtrack and a Stranger Things vibe, without any narrative or technical reason for it other than it is weirdly popular. I did not enjoy this one bit and would not recommend it to anyone.
While on the subject of European Netflix Originals not being great, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 7-year absence since his last movie has come to a disappointing end. The Amelie and A very long engagement director has a go at a sci-fi, quirky comedy (thankfully it is not in the Alien universe this time) and it is a really bad one. While his style is still here of popping colors and wide angles, it just feels pointless. The message and metaphor are pretty clear and the lack of nuance alongside any other interesting themes makes this movie boring. The sense of humor is odd and often I found it more like a children’s joke where the surprise or strong punchline or entertaining performance is missing and the joke (while theoretically sound) falls flat. There is a lot of effort put into the vision of the movie like striking poses for the camera and interesting designs for characters and sets alike, but at the end of the day, all the hard work will go unnoticed since none of it is used well.
The last two movies are very similar to Big Bug in that, there was a lot of work and effort put into them that doesn’t necessarily translate to great entertainment, but these two are very interesting to dissect for movie buffs that want to understand their own tastes better and quantify the reasons why they like the movies that they like. Windfall is especially interesting in this context. Directed by Charlie McDowell (known for The One I Love and The Discovery) and starring Jason Segel, Lily Collins, and Jesse Plemons, Windfall is the story of a man breaking into a rich billionaire’s holiday estate before he and his wife return unexpectedly. Under every theoretical context, Windfall does exactly what it should do to pull off what it is going for; McDowell’s vision for a Hitchcock-esque mystery that adheres to a lot of 60s stylistic choices fits the story perfectly and are well-executed; there are only 3 actors, but all provide good performances with the exception of Plemons who is chewing the scenery with his unmatched energy; the writing and pacing provide plenty forward momentum alongside moments to set up and explore the movie’s themes. In practice, Windfall is a very messy movie. The performances of the actors are all individually good, but as a collective and within the context of the movie’s attempts, they all fail; Segel never really manages to communicate his character’s desperation or contempt for the other characters; Collins has a lot to do throughout the movie to subtly set up the ending, but never managed to do so; Plemons delivers a great performance with energy and “bold” decisions, but those elements contrast the subtle and quiet performances of the other two actors, making his feel like out of a different movie. Furthermore, the writing just doesn’t manage to deliver the exploration of the themes it sets up nor does it manage to keep up with its own pacing which at times feels slow and other times feels fast. Where the movie fails is in the details and in its writing; some will be more annoyed by the logistics of the plot, but I just felt that a movie that is so clearly aiming at social issues and fails at exploring them beyond a surface level is always going to be adequate at best.
Adequate is also the best word to describe The House, the last movie of this article. Stop-motion animation is something that always excites me when I see it and The House is not only a Stop-motion movie but also has a lot in common with the Coen brothers’ attempts at comedy; to cut to the chase, The House is The Ballard of Buster Scruggs but not as good and stop-motion. It is a darkly comic, dramedy that depicts 3 stories that took place in the same house; one is about how an eccentric architect built that house for a family; the other is about a renovator trying to fix the house and sell it; the other is about the landlady trying to keep the house afloat (literally) as apartments while trying to find the resources to make it something she can be proud of. Out of these 3 stories, I found the first two to be mildly interesting but mostly skippable. The first one has some great visuals that elude more towards horror, but its attempts at humor are particularly bad and its storytelling is weirder for the sake of it, rather than as an interesting way to depict a story/theme. The second one was the funniest of the bunch, but it felt mean-spirited as well (which is clearly deliberate and one of the points of that story, but doesn’t have the balance to make that experience bearable); its less weird and more straightforward, which is why I liked it the best out of the first two. The third one is the one that depicts how this movie should have been for it to have been a success; it is darkly funny, its themes and exploration of them are satisfactory, and it has an ethereal feel to it that flows through you without realizing most of that story is about nothing in particular. Having said that, The House is the movie I would recommend the most, because of its stellar animation work.