Friend Request (2016)

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**/*****

Imagine logging on to your Facebook profile and discovering you have NO FRIENDS. Enough to make you die of fright, right?

Following last year’s disappointing Skype horror Unfriended, comes another unoriginal social media jump-fest, Friend Request.

The film follows Laura, a popular College student who befriends a strange and lonely new girl who attaches herself to our protagonist in an unhealthy way. Laura’s rejection of this girl’s affections results in her suicide, which spurs a murderous rampage across the groups’ digital profiles, deleting the characters one by one.

With unconvincing and dramatic performances, and underdeveloped characters, we follow each of them to their individual demises. The plot links social media obsession with the occult and ‘Black Mirror’ worshipping Witches, which makes a refreshing surprise from the norm for this kind of film – we are invited to learn ‘why’ this is happening to them, with a relatively-well thought through backstory for our antagonist, something that isn’t often explained in trashy social media horrors.

The cinematography is quite romantic, which I deem to be the films’ greatest achievement. Aside from dank, washed out darkness that often comes hand in hand with this style of filmmaking, Simon Verhoeven steers well clear of this approach.

The film is colourful, with evening landscape shots of a twinkling lit City, or the sunset pouring through trees in a forest at dusk, or the warm orange glow of Laura’s apartment. This unconventional style is nice to watch, and aids the scares by lulling the audience into a false sense of security and calm before unexpectedly pulling you out of it.

Overall – this film ticks all of the modern trashy teen horror genre boxes. The cheap scares, the slow build up, the iffy acting, the picking-off-one-by-one killing method. Everything you would expect from this film. But Friend Request partly redeems itself through unconventional shot and set design, even if it does end with my biggest pet peeve, the ‘scary face screaming at you’ end shot. Watch this film with low expectations, and you may leave the cinema feeling slightly satisfied.

 

 

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The Jungle Book (2016)

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****.5/*****

The hum of the jungle. Heat, sweat, dirt, and lots and lots of green.

The Jungle Book’s visuals are near-perfection, with rich locations overtaken by nature in the most breathtaking way. We are pulled into Mowgali’s world, a world of richness and beauty and nature and ease as he swings himself effortlessly from branch to branch, tree to tree, alongside his wolven brethren.

Just when you start to fall in love with this jungle, queue Sheere Khan, the frightening, domineering bengal tiger hellbent on revenge against the man-cub who is partly responsible for the scars on his burnt face.

The animals are stunning. Complete CGI is not always as good an idea as it seems, however the length that the crew went to in order to create a natural and believable group of animals is to be admired. A large amount of detail especially went into the texture of these animals. The rugged and thick furs of Sheere Khan and Baloo the Bear, the sleek coat of Bagheera the panther, and the coarse, red hair of King Louie the Gigantopithecus are all realistic and feel as though you can reach out and touch them.

This realism was perhaps enhanced by the fact that I saw the film in 3D (A medium that I often try to avoid). I usually deem 3D as an unnecessary gimmick, that neither improves the film nor achieves a greater sense of cinematic truth. However, if any film has an argument for this medium, it’s The Jungle Book. These textures are well and truly brought to life, alongside the accentuated thickness of trees and undergrowth of the films’ landscape.

This attention to detail is also mirrored in the way that they have animated these animals. No detail was spared in the recreation of animal behaviour – and the tiniest of animations, such as Sheere Khan adjusting his paw positioning ever-so-slightly when lying down and speaking to Akela the wolf, help to truly bring this world to life.

It would be impossible to review this film without addressing the wonderful array of star-studded cast members attached to our beloved characters. Bill Murray’s lazy and humble voice could not be more perfect than to be lent to Baloo the Sloth Bear, and Ben Kingsley’s sharp Britishness is a natural choice for father-figure Bagheera, the cautious and protective Panther.

This can be extended of course to Christopher Walken’s cunning and brooding King Louie, Scarlett Johansson’s soft and dangerous Kaa the Python, and Lupita Nyong’o’s motherly and strong-willed Raksha. In addition, Neel Sethi is wonderfully heartfelt and carefree in his performance of Mowgali, interacting faultlessly with the other creatures (regardless to their computer generated nature) and as such, we identify with him instantly.

This film respects the original tale, and the original Disney animated classic, in a modern way for a modern audience. It’s storytelling techniques are applied well, and we are left both satisfied and wanting more at the films’ closing credits. These beloved characters are respected and paid tribute to, and Bill Murray’s rendition of Bare Necessities will have you pining for childhood in a haze of joy and nostalgia.

The only fault I would give the film, is its’ slightly over-the-top insistence on bringing back the original movie’s soundtrack. Baloo’s Bare Necessities worked well as a natural progression for the character – Baloo is carefree and lazy, and it feels right that his character would sing about such things. However the addition of Christopher Walken’s King Louie, who in this film is portrayed to be conniving and untrustworthy, singing I Wanna Be Like You, feels off. The number feels forced and out of character for the large domineering ape, and actually took me out of the action to think “This is weird… Why is this happening?”.

This song aside, the film is touching, imaginative, and a credit to both Rudyard Kipling’s work and the 1967 Disney Classic. For young and old, this film delivers a thrilling and joyous adventure that leaves you hanging off the edge of your seat as our protagonist swings from tree to tree from enormous heights to escape the jaws and claws of the films’ dangerous villain, or singing along as he lazily floats down the river upon the belly of one very soulful bear.