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dir-scr Sam Levinson
prd Manu Gargi, Aaron L Gilbert, Anita Gou, David S Goyer, Matthew J Malek, Kevin Turen
with Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Bill Skarsgard, Joel McHale, Colman Domingo, Bella Thorne, Anika Noni Rose, Noah Galvin, Danny Ramirez, Maude Apatow, Jeff Pope, JD Evermore
release US 21.Sep.18, UK 23.Nov.18
18/US Universal 1h50
Circle of trust: Young, Nef, Waterhouse, Abra
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Full-speed from the opening shot, this riotously satirical action-horror veers dangerously close to becoming a Purge movie. But it's fiercely present-day, as writer-director Sam Levinson gives the film such a short attention span that split screens are often required to cram everything onto the screen. This makes it a kinetic, relentless thrill ride, even if it at times feels a little too viciously pointed.
In Salem, Massachusetts, where everyone knows everything about each other, there's a history of witch hunts. Lily (Young) is a gifted, smart 18-year-old who does everything with her best pals Bex, Sarah and Em (Nef, Waterhouse and Abra). But someone is hacking into the townsfolk's phones, widely releasing embarrassing photos and chat histories. The public reaction is swift, issuing immediate judgement followed by relentless abuse. And as relationships explode and lives are ruined, Lily finds herself at the centre of a growing storm of toxic violence.
At the beginning, this is a snappy look at youth culture, appropriately fragmented as it distractedly veers into random sideroads. Then it hones into its central theme: while hiding their own secrets, everyone judges everyone else. This is realistically scary before things evolve into a gonzo, blood-soaked apocalypse. Levinson cleverly coaxes the audience down this rabbit hole, playing on how smartphones have altered society before dragging us into ghastliness that's hyper-violent, misogynistic and extremely cautionary.
Performances are solid, establishing a nice connection between the various characters before things cut loose. The ensemble cast is massive, full of people who have complex reactions to what happens. And at the centre, Young has enough intelligence and charm to hold the audience's sympathy right through to the end, even as Levinson deliberately over-sexualises the girls' costumes, shifting the emphasis from internet anonymity to toxic masculinity. Levinson often shouts his themes loudly, with prominent American flags and not-so-subtle Trump references.
Thankfully, the issues are intriguing enough to grab hold, especially with such bold filmmaking. The most important comment is about recognising the real villain in these situations: it's not what is perceived as wrong, it's the accuser's self-righteousness. Plus the fact that each of us is lying about who we are while trying to make sure that others see only a flawless version of ourselves. It takes a pungent film to punch these themes so forcefully. But perhaps a little more subtlety would have made this movie more effective.
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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