Movie watching has been at a minimum for me lately, but I did manage to catch up on a few indie films from last year. Here are some quick thoughts on each of them:
Grand Piano [dir. Eugenio Mira]
Imagine if Phone Booth took place on stage in a symphonic hall. That’s the basic scenario behind Grand Piano, a straight-to-VOD thriller that just hit Netflix. Elijah Wood stars as Tom Selznick, a legendary pianist who is set to perform his first concert since breaking down from stage fright five years ago. As if his nerves weren’t already sky high, when he sits down on stage he spots a note in his music sheet — “Play one wrong note and you die.”
Via his earpiece, Selznick learns that he is being targeted by a sniper (helpfully indicated by a red dot). This villain, played maniacally mostly through voice acting by John Cusack, threatens to kill both the pianist and his wife if he doesn’t comply to his demands. His request? Selznick must play, note-for-note, the exact same piece he choked on during his last public appearance.
It’s all so preposterous, but yet delightfully so. The film never really takes itself seriously, and it’s all the better for it. The climax, in particular, is so ridiculous and over-the-top that it will either make or break the movie for most people. Grand Piano is not a great movie or even really a good one, but it’s fun, light fodder that’s worth a watch if you’re ever in the mood for a cheesy thriller.
Jug Face deserves recognition simply because it tries — successfully — to do something new in a familiar horror setting. Set in an unspecified backwoods area, the film focuses on an isolated community that worships a mysterious hole in the ground known as The Pit. There is a strange supernatural presence near The Pit, and every now and then it requests a nearby person to be sacrificed. The person in demand is revealed by a local potter (Sean Bridgers) who is forced to craft a ceramic jug with that person’s face on it.
When teenage Ada (a very impressive Lauren Ashley Carter) secretly discovers that her face is on the next jug, she does everything in her power to save her life. Yet it’s not so easy to get away from her cult-like collective.
Jug Face utilizes familiar hillbilly stereotypes — both incest and moonshine-making are critical plot devices — but it differentiates itself by giving a reason for their deviance from regular society: The Pit. The setting and concept alone were enough to draw me into the film, but I was pleasantly surprised with the polished filmmaking as well. A stronger ending would have been beneficial, but overall I quite enjoyed my stay near The Pit. Check it out on Netflix.
You’re Next is 2/3 a terrible movie, 1/3 a great one. What starts off as a painfully run-of-the-mill home invasion flick finally gains some steam when one of the female targets starts fighting back. The first act of the film focuses on a family getting together for their parents’ 35th anniversary. They all have issues with each other, but none of this is explored too deeply before the attackers show up. The characters lack any real development and therefore aren’t all that interesting, and even the cameos are uninspired and too meta for their own good (Ti West plays a filmmaker! Joe Swanberg bashes underground film festivals!). As the family began to thin out thanks to a series of uninspired killings, I found myself checking my watch.
It wasn’t until Australian actress Sharni Vinson stepped up and stole the show that I got back into the movie. Her performance comes out of nowhere, and she becomes a bona fide badass in a matter of minutes. With the rest of the characters seemingly content to act dumb and get picked off one-by-one, she is the only one that bothers fighting back. Her Home Alone-style booby traps and inventive attacks are truly a sight to behold, and the film gets infinitely more entertaining when she takes over. It’s just a shame that the rest of the film isn’t up to snuff.