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dir James McTeigue
scr Ryan Engle
prd William Packer, Gabrielle Union, James Lopez, Craig Perry, Sheila Taylor
with Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Meaden, Seth Carr, Mark Furze, Jason George, Christa Miller, Damien Leake
release US/UK 11.May.18
18/US Universal 1h28
Don't mess with mama: Union
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
This lean, contained thriller is elevated by a strong cast that makes the most of the shift in the usual gender balance for these kinds of movies. The plot may be somewhat obvious, but at least it's a refreshing take on the usual formula. And it's great to see Gabrielle Union at the centre of an action movie for a change, delivering a performance that's far more nuanced than it needs to be.
After her estranged father (Leake) dies, Shaun (Union) needs to sort things out at his vast Wisconsin ranch. Her teen kids Jasmine and Glover (Alexus and Carr) aren't thrilled to be spending a weekend in the countryside, but the sprawling high-tech mansion is pretty cool. But they arrive just after a gang (Burke, Cabral, Meaden and Furze) breaks in looking for granddad's rumoured $4 million stash. Startled to find someone in the house, the burglars kidnap the kids. And they realise quickly that a desperate mother is not someone to be messed with.
Aside from the female empowerment motif, there isn't much to this movie. It's basically a Die Hard/Home Alone mash-up with a female hero and a souped-up house that can be conveniently controlled using a hand-held device. The threat is made more complex by the varied personalities of the interlopers (Burke is the mercurial alpha male, Cabral the psycho, Meaden the sensitive soul and Furze simply terrified), while the mother and children work through their fear to boldly stand their ground.
Union holds this together, injecting sharp humour that grounds the mayhem in the real world. This makes the scary stuff that much more intense, and also nicely draws out the parent-child bond. Alexus and Carr each get to shine along the way. And all four baddies have moments too, even if Burke merely evolves into a blunt thug. Hilariously, the script completely sidelines George (as Shaun's husband) to let Union get on with things.
McTeigue orchestrates this efficiently, making the most of the house's sleek lines and the inky darkness outside. The violence is nasty enough to keep the audience gasping, and the peril at least seems real to the characters. But it's impossible not to see that the formula at work here, so the outcome is never really in question. Still, there are some surprises along the way that play with audience expectations of the genre. So it's thoroughly entertaining, especially as a celebration of a mother power.
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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