Ambulance, Black Crab, and X.
For this week’s round-up there are two highly anticipated movies and a nice surprise; Michael Bay’s new movie, a highly regarded slasher, and a futuristic action-thriller with Noomi Rapace.
Starting with Ambulance which was directed by Michael Bay, written by Chris Fedak, based on a 2005 Danish movie of the same name, and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Eiza Gonzalez. The movie follows two adopted siblings who, after a bank robbery gone wrong, hijack an ambulance that carries a cop who was injured in the robbery and a first responder who are now the pairs’ hostages. Ambulance is a Michael Bay movie with all the faults and highs that come with the director and if that makes you groan then Ambulance won’t satisfy you; on the other hand, if a new Michael Bay movie excites you like me, then it will more than satisfy your thirst for “Bayhem”. This is one of the silliest movies of the year, as the plot hinges on the fact that the siblings are concerned with the cop’s health and the pursuers needing to keep one of their own alive, but during the course of the movie literally dozens of cops, citizens, and property, are destroyed in beautiful and violent explosions. Having said that, I wanted “Bayhem” and I got what I came for despite the silliness that came with it. The action is mesmerizing and completely bonkers in an exciting and disorienting way; unlike martial arts action or movies with the ethos to show everything happening on screen, Ambulance and Bay movies in general, use multiple angles and techniques to provide the illusion of coolness and impact rather than show it, and it works here as well. There are annoying things about the movie; the beginning is kind of slow and sets up a bank robbery that isn’t very interesting and is not that smart but mostly serves as an excuse for the main characters to get in the ambulance and other characters to become Bay’s signature side jokes of questionable success (one of them is a pretty dark joke that I found myself uncomfortably giggling at). There are also other unfortunate trademark Bay moves like obvious and painful product placement, but the big problem this movie has is the fascination of Bay with a specific technique enlisted for this movie; essentially, the production managed to get a movie-quality camera on a drone and then hired the world champion of drone racing to fly it around while wearing (what I assume looks like a Daft Punk helmet) 360 degrees field of view helmet that allows him to fly the drone as perfectly as possible. This technique is the highlight and the curse of the movie; there are scenes that are amazing to look at, like the camera following a car that crashes and lifts while the camera goes beneath. This is also used to show tall buildings several times or for ridiculous reasons like showing a conversation by speeding through a neighboring corridor and then going through a gap above a door to find the characters in a parking lot standing and talking. One good side effect is that the attractive female character is not needlessly sexualized, but a lot of the buildings are. Overall, I really enjoyed Ambulance and would rank it similarly with 6 Underground as a movie for Bay fans and people wanting to see the loudest and dumbest blockbuster, however, it doesn’t even come close to peak Bay standards.
The second movie is as a complete opposite to Ambulance as you can get; from a sunny LA to the snowy, frozen archipelagos of the Balkans; from experienced and celebrated director Michael Bay to Adam Berg’s feature film debut; from two bulky leads to Noomi Rapace’s sleek and lean figure. However, they share a ‘race against time’ theme, as Black Crab is about a speed ice skater along with a ragtag group of soldiers, trying to execute a suicide mission of skating across an iced archipelago for a chance to see her daughter. Black Crab is a Netflix Original that seems pretty cool at first glance, but it does suffer greatly from an indecisive vision; it has the pacing of a slow-burning, suspension-building thriller, but the plot progression of an action blockbuster about a ragtag group of individuals sent on a suicide mission. Both of these combine to sometimes deliver a great experience, but mostly to deliver the faults of both genres. While the world seems interesting, the lack of details doesn’t allow the audience to get invested in the stakes of the world. For action junkies looking for genre thrills, they don’t come often enough and don’t have the impact of similar movies that go for similar tropes. For example, we never learn what happened in this world or what Rapace’s character Caroline Edh has been doing since her daughter’s disappearance; this works for the ragtag ensemble which only exists because they all know how to skate, but the struggle and suspense of wanting this character to see her daughter never feel all that meaningful, despite Rapace’s brilliant performance. There are enough great action sequences and beautiful shots to make the movie worthwhile, but I wished that they narrowed the vision for this movie a bit and went with either a slow-burn thriller or an action-oriented, fast-paced movie. There’s enough of both for genre junkies looking for something new, but not enough to recommend to people wanting to see either over the many examples in both genres with much better execution.
Finally, X is a horror slasher that I have heard and seen big buzz for and it finally opened in my local theaters, so I rushed to see it and was not disappointed by it. Written, directed, produced, and edited by Ti West, the movie follows an adult entertainment crew that rents a guest house in Texas to shoot a movie for the booming home-video market of 1979. The crew consists of aspiring porn star Maxine (Mia Goth), her boyfriend and producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), fellow porn stars and couple Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi), and director and sound engineer couple RJ (Owen Campbell) and Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). What this movie was sold on (based on the buzz) was what I got and think is the perfect way to describe it: “elevated slasher”. This is, at its gory heart, a slasher, but the effort put into characters, the connection between the characters, themes, visual storytelling and foreshadowing, and suspense, not only matches the creativity of the slasher elements but surpasses them, which is something not often seen or even attempted. In a regular slasher, the characters are introduced and quickly “assigned” a sin, so we can get to the part where they are gruesomely murdered; in X, there is build-up, character development, setting up themes, and building suspense, before the deliciously gory deaths start. It still provides the slasher thrills I was looking for, but it adds that horror element that I love from other sub-genres: relatability. These characters feel and act like real people and their problems, aspirations, and qualities, make them genuine which only adds to the horror when they start getting dismantled violently. In most horror movies that I love, the implications (the things not shown) are the scariest part; it’s the thought of going through those themes the characters deal with (alongside their gory manifestations and consequences) that scares me, not the actual monsters. X is a slasher that successfully combines these two genres in a highly entertaining way and it quickly stuck with me as one of the best movies I’ve seen all year so far.