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By midlandsmovies, May 20 2019 08:36PM



Destroyer (2019) Dir. Karyn Kusama


As a huge fan of Kusama’s The Invitation, my expectations were high for her new crime thriller Destroyer which stars Nicole Kidman as an undercover cop taking out a gang years after she began working on the case.


Kidman plays Erin Bell in a role that’s as good as any she has delivered in the past. Dishevelled, weary and, what looks like, malnourished at times, the glamorous Kidman we've known from Hollywood is nowhere to be seen as she embodies a hard-nosed detective both physically and mentally.


Her character Bell is brought back to a case from her past by the appearance of a dye-soaked $100 bill from a botched robbery she was involved in whilst undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan). The bill and the death of a man suggests that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) may have returned, so she begins to track down remaining gang members in order to find him.


The film’s narrative jumps from the present investigation back to the past when Erin and Chris were deep undercover. Questioning whether they should in fact become further involved with the crime, Erin and Chris begin a romantic liaison that has serious repercussions later on. Kidman is a tour-de-force here managing to perfectly play her naïve and unknowing cop from the past as well as embodying the rugged and vengeful vigilante version of herself in the present.


Harsh scenes of threats, sexual favours, violence and blackmail all add up to a world of horrid crime and one Erin is trying to protect her wayward daughter from. As each member leads her to the next, she ends up in a firecracker of a scene with lawyer turned money launderer Dennis DeFranco who is played fantastically by a sleazy Bradley Whitford. His spiteful confidence clashes with Bell but he underestimates both her resourcefulness and her lust for revenge.


The whole cast are fantastic but it’s Kidman’s great portrayal of a disparaged and down-and-out cop that has you rooting for her even when she’s aggressively settling scores.


And Kusama’s film manages to mix sadistic and cruel circumstances with intense scenes of emotional vulnerability – Kidman’s absent mother reigns in her most brutal tendencies when dealing with her daughter and her big-headed boyfriend – leading to an outstanding balance of tones and themes.


Narratively, as our protagonist begins to go off the rails, we never once get confused as to her motivations and Kidman says as much with a dismissive gesture and roll of the eyes as she does when delivering verbal take-downs of the city’s villainous crew.


With a tremendous cast throughout and first-rate scenes exploring the consequences of violence, Destroyer is an exceptional thriller from start to finish. But more importantly, it will destroy all preconceptions you had of Kidman as she delivers a superbly astonishing turn in the type of repellent role I’d love to see more of.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Apr 9 2016 11:04AM

The Invitation (2016) Dir. Karyn Kusama


Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, in case it drives you mad like it did me) plays Wil in this new thriller-drama set around a strange reunion dinner party in the Hollywood Hills.


Wil and his girlfriend Kira drive to the home of Wil's ex-wife Eden and her husband David along with a host of friends for a long overdue catch up after the married couple disappeared for two years at a grief support group. Wil and Eden still have unresolved issues over the accidental death of their son but this is put aside to enjoy the evening with a group of friends - some old and a few new, including Sadie and Pruit, whom they met at the support group.


Despite the warm welcome, Wil relives his past angst throughout the house, remembering his ex-wife's attempted suicide whilst finding more pills and wondering why doors are locked. The film creates an immense atmosphere of dread and awkwardness, none more so when the happy couple share a video of a terminally ill woman passing away during their stay at the retreat. The uncomfortableness continues as they play a game of "dare" which results in Pruitt (a fantastic turn by John Carroll Lynch of Zodiac fame) admiting to a past crime he's now forgiven himself for.


Despite their shock, Pruitt expresses regret and explains how the support group helped him deal with his pain whilst Wil's paranoia continues to increase. The film captures an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia as the guests are huddled together in rooms but whether this is out of choice or not is the question the movie poses.


Increasing irrational accusations from Wil about his hosts' intentions are excused as a result of his emotional fragility over the death of his son and the film keeps the audience guessing as to why the guests are here - something sinister or to deal with unresolved issues from their pasts.


The film probes themes of mistrust, grief and loss and its achievement lies in not letting the viewer - as a guest themselves - get too comfortable within the house. A trail of circumstantial evidence - a bottle of pills, an unattended laptop, glasses of wine - are merely breadcrumbs to the film's subsequent thrilling reveal.


The final act turns the screws up for the viewer as secrets are exposed and a sudden twist of events leads to darkly tragic conclusions. Although the film is almost entirely filmed within the anxious environment of this lavish gathering, a final shot implicates the wider ramifications of the proceedings.


Sinister and slow-building, The Invitation is one of those films that rarely get made these days - a mid-budget thriller with a great premise and well-executed. It also reminded me of the thrills of the "unknown threat", covered in indie sci-fi flick Coherence (2013) which was similarly set around a middle-class American dinner party.


Director Karyn Kusama has got nearly everything right with the film, getting great performances out of a good mixed cast, as well as filling her dark shots with trepidation, terror and a fair amount of fear. One tiny flaw were the character motivations - at times I was shaking my head in disbelief about their choices - but this was a one-off and towards the end I inwardly cheered as a guest got what they deserved.


Expertly crafted by Kusama, The Invitation creates anxiety through a superb central performance by Logan Marshall-Green, and is an alarming achievement where nothing is what it seems. Filled with fear and a few frightful revelations, this is one party I recommend you RSVP to on its release.


8/10

Midlands Movies Mike

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