dir-scr Sebastian Silva
prd Max Born, Sebastian Silva, Jacob Wasserman, Gigi Graff, Carlos Zozaya
with Jason Mitchell, Christopher Abbott, Michael Cera, Caleb Landry Jones, Roddy Bottum, Max Born, Michael Zegen, Philip Ettinger, Nicolas Arze, Ann Dowd, Reg E Cathey, Trust Arancio
release US 5.Dec.18
18/US 1h26
Dudes party weekend: Mitchell and friends

abbott cera jones
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Tyrel Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva infuses this offbeat drama with earthy, improvisational energy as nine men escape the city. It cleverly hints at both topical Get Out style horror and the cabin-in-the-woods genre, as Silva revels in imagery that disorients the audience. This makes the film bracingly involving. And while the parable within the narrative is a little heavy handed, where it goes is pointed and important.

After running out of petrol, Tyler and Johnny (Mitchell and Abbott) make it to Nico's (Arze) cabin for a wintry weekend break with the guys. Awkward games ensue, which make Tyler feel like an outsider. Then Eli (Zegen) arrives with a voodoo stone he stole, and Alan (Cera) brings an effigy of Trump. As alcohol flows, the interaction loosens and some shadiness begins to grow beneath the rambunctious joviality. Tyler barely copes after a wrestling match with the hyperactive Pete (Landry Jones), and burning a painting of the Virgin Mary may be the last straw.

Alexis Zabe's wide-screen photography adds a cool cinematic flourish to the isolated snowy setting, creating superb visuals to go with the quietly unsettling events. As these men become increasingly drunk, topical tensions emerge as guys are called out on their casual bigoted language because there are gay and black men in the group. Some story elements are a little obvious (Tyler is reading Lord of the Flies and bonds with the dog). And there are constant moments that bring race, religion, sexuality and violence into the conversation in ways that niggle at both Tyler and the audience.

Performances are offhanded and natural, revealing friendships as well as unspoken rivalries. Mitchell anchors the film as a quietly observant guy trying not to let the offhanded insults get to him. Most of the time, Tyler's wariness is contrasted with the chucklehead antics around him. There are perhaps too many characters for many to properly spring to life, although each actor injects plenty of life into his role, creating strongly realistic interaction that alternates between laddish, funny and darkly uncomfortable.

There's a powerful sense of dread even in the silliest scenes, as this weekend continually threatens to spiral badly out of control. On the surface, everything seems happy and relaxed, but there's a continual chipping away at Tyler's resolve to remain light-hearted. Silva and the cast adeptly build a sense that something is badly wrong here. So where the story goes and what it reveals is far more subtle than expected.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Dec.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall