Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of the Pacific Northwest, the horror film “Significant Other” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Asian person) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A dating couple travel to an isolated wooded area for backpack hiking and camping, but they encounter something sinister that changes their lives forever.
Culture Audience: “Significant Other” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching unimaginative and slow-paced horror movies.
“Significant Other” blandly rips off plot developments from other movies about terror in a remote wooded area and sci-fi body horror. The acting is unremarkable. Everything in the movie looks like a lazy imitation of other films with the same ideas. The ending of the movie is so sloppily edited and underwhelming, it looks like the filmmakers ran out of ideas.
Written and directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, “Significant Other” was shown as a sneak preview at the 2022 edition of New York Comic Con in New York City. One of the movie’s biggest flaws is that it takes too long to get to any real horror. And even then, that horror is mind-numbingly predictable. It’s yet another horror flick about people stranded in a wooded area where something dangerous is about to happen.
“Significant Other” has a very small number of people in its cast. The two characters with most of the screen time in “Significant Other” are a couple who’ve been dating each other for the past six years. Unfortunately, because so much of the movie revolves around just this dreadfully dull couple, the movie gets bogged down in a lot of wishy-wishy drama about how these two people handle their relationship.
Ruth Miller (played by Maika Monroe) and her boyfriend Harry (played by Jake Lacy) have driven to this wooded area somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, for what Harry hopes will be a romantic getaway of backpack hiking and camping. (“Significant Other” was actually filmed in Oregon.) Ruth is reluctant to go on this trip because she says these activities make her nervous. Therefore, Ruth is already in a bad mood when they begin their trp.
Harry assures Ruth about the trail they’ll be taking on their hike: “This is the fourth time I’ve done this trail. There’s nothing scary about it.” He also comments to Ruth, who loves to surf, how he thinks it’s interesting that hiking makes her more frightened than surfing. Ruth says she’s comfortable with surfing because she grew up around the ocean. It’s at this point in the movie that you know there’s going to be a scene in the movie where Ruth’s swimming skills will come in handy.
Some more low-key bickering happens between Harry and Ruth. Unbeknownst to Ruth, he plans to propose marriage and give her an engagement ring on this trip. The problem is that Ruth is very cynical about marriage. As she says later in the movie, after Harry proposes, “All that marriage does is lock you in, and you lose control of your life.” Stung by this rejection, Harry tells Ruth that she’s probably afraid of marriage because of she’s still bitter about her parents’ divorce.
The couple’s bickering turns into a full-blown argument. Ruth’s mental health issues (she has panic attacks) and her therapy treatment are discussed at length. Harry often has a condescending tone with Ruth about her psychological fragility, which makes him look like not quite the nice guy he first appeared to be in the beginning of the movie. Ruth (who does a lot of pouting and vacant staring) isn’t exactly easy to deal with though, because she’s very neurotic and moody.
Meanwhile, during all these time-wasting scenes, viewers will be wondering if “Significant Other” is a horror movie or a very boring relationship drama. Will Harry and Ruth resolve their differences? Will Ruth change her mind about marrying Harry? Will anyone watching this movie really care? “Significant Other” makes this couple’s relationship so lackluster, the answer is a resounding “no” to the last question.
There’s a little bit of a foreshadowing of the horror that might happen later, when a deer is shown in the woods getting attacked from behind by something that has a tentacle. And then, there are repetitive scenes of Ruth becoming afraid because she thinks she saw a deer in the woods. Harry reassures her every time that there’s no reason for her to be frightened.
In the last third of the movie, Harry and Ruth meet another couple hiking in the woods: spouses Ray (played by Matthew Yang King) and Vivian (played by Dana Green), who encounter Harry and Ruth under some very stressful circumstances. The horror in the movie comes too little, too late. And by the time the big “reveal” happens, it’s all very unimaginative and looks like an inferior patchwork of sci-fi horror clichés that have been done much better in many other movies.
Paramount+ premiered “Significant Other” on October 7, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Bucharest, Romania, the horror movie “Watcher” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After a young married couple moves from New York City to Bucharest, the wife begins to suspect that a man in a nearby apartment building has been stalking her.
Culture Audience: “Watcher” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror movies that take their time to build suspense, even if the movie’s ending is entirely formulaic.
“Watcher” succeeds more often than not when it comes to immersing viewers into a tension-filled stalker mystery. The cast members’ believable performances elevate the movie’s repetitive tendencies and predictable ending. As far as horror movies go, “Watcher” is slightly better-than-average, but it’s not outstanding.
“Watcher” is the feature-film directorial debut of Chloe Okuno, who previously directed the “Storm Drain” segment for the 2021 anthology horror film “V/H/S/94.” Okuno co-wrote the “Watcher” screenplay with Zack Ford. It’s a movie with a very straightforward, easy-to-follow story—even if it recycles the over-used horror concept of a pretty young woman who thinks she’s being harassed by a “fill-in-the-blank” attacker, but she has a hard time getting anyone else to be believe her. “Watcher” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.
There are no ghosts in “Watcher,” but the movie’s protagonist, whose name is Julia (played by Maika Monroe), feels haunted by her own feelings of inadequacy of being unemployed in a country where she can’t really speak the language. Julia (who’s in her late 20s) and her husband Francis (played by Karl Glusman), who’s in his early-to-mid-30s, have recently moved from New York City to Bucharest, Romania, because of his job. Francis is a businessman who works for an unnamed company. The movie never mentions any further specifics about what Francis does for a living.
Francis, who grew up in the United States, feels comfortable living in Bucharest because his mother is Romanian, so he’s fairly fluent in the language. By contrast, Julia knows only a few words in Romanian and is starting to learn the language. She feels ill-at-ease about not being able to communicate in the way that she was accustomed to when she lived in the United States. There are enough people who speak English in Romania that Julia can get by on speaking English in most places, but she still feels like an “outsider.”
The language barrier isn’t the only thing that makes Julia feels insecure. When she was living in New York, she was an aspiring actress, but things didn’t work out for her, and she’s now given up on her dream to be an actress. In Bucharest, her employment prospects are also very slim. Her immigration status is unclear, since she doesn’t have a work visa. So, for now, Julia is a homemaker with a lot of time on her hands. Luckily, Francis makes enough money to support the both of them.
Soon after moving into their high-rise Bucharest apartment, Julia and Francis get the first inkling that something might be wrong. On their first night in their new home, Julia notices that a man in the high-rise apartment building across from theirs is looking directly into their apartment and staring at her while she’s alone. Julia can only partially see the man’s face, because the room he’s in is fairly dark, and his face is somewhat obscured by shadows. The man (played by Burn Gorman), who appears to be in his 40s, is of average height and build.
It unnerves Julia that this man might be spying on her, but there’s not much she can do because they’ve just moved into the apartment and haven’t had time to install drapes or blinds on all the windows facing this other building. Julia tells Francis that they might have a neighbor who’s a voyeur, but he tells her not to jump to conclusions. He also thinks that this mystery man is probably curious to see the new residents of this apartment.
Soon after Julia and Francis have moved into the apartment, they have a small dinner party with one of Francis’ male co-workers and his wife. It’s during this dinner that Julia and Francis first hear about a serial killer who hasn’t been caught and has been targeting young women in the area. The unknown serial killer beheads the murder victims and has been nicknamed The Spider in the media. You know where this movie is going as soon as you find out that the movie has a serial killer on the loose.
Julia then meets the neighbor who lives alone in the apartment unit next door. Her name is Irina (played by Madalina Anea), who’s about five or six years older than Julia. Irina asks Julia if she can hear any noises coming from Irina’s apartment. Irina seems relieved when Julia says no. However, Julia’s first impression of how soundproof the apartment walls are might not be a correct impression.
Not long after Julia and Irina meet for the first time, another creepy incident happens to Julia. She’s watching an Audrey Hepburn film by herself at a movie theater. There are only a few other people in the room, but she notices that a man has decided to sit directly behind her, even though there are plenty of other seats that he could’ve taken.
Julia can sense that the man is staring at her, but she’s so frightened that she doesn’t turn around to get a good look at this stranger. The theater is pretty dark anyway. Instead of moving to another seat, Julia quickly leaves the theater before the end of the Hepburn movie.
And then another incident happens. But this time, it’s at a grocery store, and Julia can clearly see the man who appears to be following her. Julia is pretty sure that it’s the same man who was staring at her from the apartment building across from hers. Julia and the man don’t say anything to each other, but he noticeably follows her in the grocery aisles, keeping enough of a distance away to not invade her personal space.
Julia impulsively hides in a stock room at the grocery store, in order to get this man to lose track of where she is. However, a store employee named Sebastian (played by Stefan Iancu) sees Julia in the stock room and tells her to leave this employees-only room. He doesn’t know much English, so he doesn’t understand her explanation of why she was in the stock room.
When a terrified Julia gets home, she tells Francis about this stalking incident and asks him to go back with her to the store, so they can look at surveillance footage to prove that the man was stalking her. Francis thinks Julia might be overreacting, but he accommodates her request. They find store employee Sebastian, and Francis explains to him in Romanian what happened to Julia and why they need to look at the surveillance footage.
The footage does show the man looking at Julia in the store and appearing to follow her. Julia exclaims, “See! He’s staring at me!” Francis is still skeptical: “Maybe. Or he’s staring at the woman who’s staring at him.” Because no crimes were committed, there’s nothing more that can be done about this incident.
After Julia has this scare at the grocery store, Irina invites Julia to hang out with her in Irina’s apartment for a drink. During their conversation, Irina tells Julia a little bit about herself: She studied ballet in London, but her dream of becoming a professional ballerina was crushed when she injured her knee.
Julia mentions that she once thought that she’d be an actress, but she’s has given up on pursuing that dream. Because Julia and Irina have a similar experience of not having their dream career in the arts, it establishes a rapport between them. It seems like Julia might have found her first friend in Romania.
During this get-together, Irina’s ex-boyfriend Cristian (played by Daniel Nuta) shows up and bangs on the door. Irina doesn’t want to see him, so she tells him to go away. When he leaves, Irina shows Julia the gun that Cristian gave to her. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that gun is going to be used. “Watcher” is not subtle at all when it comes to foreshadowing.
The rest of “Watcher” is about more stalker incidents experienced by an increasingly terrified Julia, who turns to law enforcement for help but also decides to do her own investigating. Meanwhile, because many of these incidents are a “he said/she said” situation, what Julia experiences is a little hard to prove. Far from being a supportive husband, Francis questions Julia’s credibility. And eventually, he questions her mental stability.
Yes, it’s another horror movie where the woman who’s the “target” is not believed and is perceived as mentally ill by certain people. However, where “Watcher” is most effective is in creating a growing sense of dread that something terrible really is going to happen. The movie also keeps viewers guessing until the last 30 minutes if the mystery man in the apartment building is just a stalker, or if he could be the notorious Spider serial killer too.
Monroe has been in other horror movies before where she’s played the “female in peril” leading role—most notably, 2014’s critically acclaimed “It Follows.” Therefore, she’s definitely got the skills to make her Julie character in “Watcher” look authentic and relatable. Glusman’s Francis character isn’t very interesting and isn’t in the movie as much as some viewers might think he is, mainly because Francis is at his job during a lot of the moments that Julia experiences terror.
However, what makes this movie work so well (in addition to Monroe’s acting) is Gorman’s ominous performance as the stalker. (The stalker’s real name is eventually revealed in the movie.) One of the best scenes in “Watcher” is when Julia sees him looking out his window, but she can’t be entirely sure if he’s staring at her. As a test, she gives him a slow wave. And he gives a slow wave too. It’s a moment that will give chills to viewers. The rest of the movie’s cast members give serviceable performances.
The movie’s last 15 minutes stretch some bounds of credibility and could have been handled better. And the way that the serial killer is revealed is sloppily edited, because the serial killer suddenly disappears from sight in a moving subway car when a certain person finds out the killer’s identity. Despite these flaws, “Watcher” is an overall solid horror thriller that doesn’t really do anything particularly inventive, but there’s enough to the story to keep viewers in suspense.
IFC Films/IFC Midnight will release “Watcher” in select U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on June 21, 2022. Shudder will premiere “Watcher” on August 26, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “Flashback” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A man in his early 30s tries to figure out why he’s having confusing nightmarish visions and memories of when he was in high school.
Culture Audience: “Flashback” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent movies that are boring.
The generically titled “Flashback” was originally titled “The Education of Frederick Fitzell.” There are at least three other feature films titled “Flashback,” and this one certainly won’t be considered the best. “Flashback” is an ironic title for this movie because it’s so forgettable. In addition to having an incoherent and nonsensical plot, “Flashback” is exceedingly monotonous and a waste of the film’s talented cast members, who have all been in much better movies.
“Flashback” is supposed to be a psychological thriller, but the only thrill anyone might feel is when this slow train wreck of a movie finally ends. It’s one of those movies that people might keep watching with the hope that it might get better or that the story’s big mystery might reveal interesting answers. But “Flashback” fails to deliver anything intriguing on almost every level.
Written and directed by Christopher MacBride, “Flashback” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was actually filmed in Canada. The movie begins with Frederick “Fred” Fitzell (played by Dylan O’Brien) and his wife Karen (played by Hannah Gross) getting some bad news about Fred’s terminally ill, widowed mother (played by Liisa Repo-Martell), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Mrs. Fitzell’s physician Dr. Phillips (played by Donald Burda) informs Fred and Karen that Mrs. Fitzell has no more than two days to live.
The news is devastating, of course, but this movie then goes on a long and confused ramble about Fred’s hallucinations and flashback memories. Fred, who in his early 30s, has just started a new job as an information analyst at a company that does data analysis. Fred and Karen, who are happily married, have recently moved to a new apartment. They don’t have children but want to start a family.
Fred’s new job is the type where he has to wear a suit, and he works in a generically bland office in a generically bland cubicle. His boss Evelyn (played by Amanda Brugel) wants Fred to succeed, but recently he’s been slacking off by showing up late. And there’s a big upcoming presentation that he’s in charge of that Evelyn doubts that Fred will be able to handle. Fred assures her that he’s got everything under control.
What’s the reason for Fred being so distracted? He’s been having nightmarish hallucinations that involve memories of people he knew in high school. And some of the people in his hallucinations (which happen at various hours of the day or night) are people who are strangers to him.
One day, while Fred is in his car in an alley, he sees one of the strangers from his hallucinations—a scarred man (played by Connor Smith), who aggressively approaches the car. Fred is able to drive off before anything bad happens. The other strangers who regularly appear in his hallucinations are a tattooed woman (played by Maika Harper), a horned man (played by Ian Matthews), a pierced man (played by Aaron Poole) and a 12-year-old boy (played by Andrew Latter), who likes to wear hoodies.
The boy talks to Fred by saying one word with each sighting, like a message that Fred needs to put together. In one of the boy’s messages, he says, “I’m in your lobby.” When Fred goes to his apartment building’s lobby, he’s led on the type of wild goose chase that this movie is filled with, as time-wasting gimmicks.
One of the people Fred knew from high school was a former love interest named Cindy (played by Maika Monroe), whom Fred hasn’t seen or spoken to in the 13 years since he was in high school. Cindy keeps appearing in his dreams in a scenario where she seems to be in distress and says, “Fred, don’t let me go.” Fred can’t shake the feeling that Cindy is in danger.
He goes home to look at his high school yearbooks and notices that one of the yearbooks has Cindy’s class photo marked over with a dark pen, so that her face isn’t showing. What does it all mean? Don’t expect “Flashback” to give any clear answers.
The rest of the movie is a combination of Fred’s flashback memories, more hallucinations and scenes of Fred struggling with his mental health when these visions become too much for him. Fred goes back to his alma mater Fairgate High School and talks to an elderly schoolteacher named Mrs. Shouldice (played by Jill Frappier), who knew Fred and Cindy when they went to the school. The teacher says that Cindy never graduated because she just disappeared with no forwarding address.
Mrs. Shouldice also mentions the fictional psychedelic pill drug Mercury, and that student use of the drug was like a rampant plague in the school back then. Somehow, this triggers Fred’s memories of his experiences taking Mercury (also known as Merc) with Cindy and two other students he used to hang out with in high school: sleazy drug dealer Sebastian Bellamy (played by Emory Cohen) and eccentric misfit Andre (played by Keir Gilchrist). Does Fred try to find these former classmates? Of course he does.
This movie wastes a lot of time with psychedelic hallucinations that don’t go anywhere. There are also flashback memories to Fred’s childhood when he was a baby (played by Parker Antal and Emmett Antal) and when he was 6 years old (played by Myles Isen), which don’t give much insight into his family background, except to show that his mother sometimes got impatient with him.
Fred’s present-day life is also shoddily written. In several scenes, it’s shown that he likes to draw sketches of people. He even sketches people during boring business meetings. Is Fred’s interest in art explained in the movie? No. It’s one of many examples of how “Flashback” has a frustrating tendency to introduce things that look like it might add depth to the characters or might bring some substance to the story, but it’s just another unnecessary distraction.
The actors’ performances in the movie aren’t terrible, but they look like they’re going through the motions and don’t really have any deep emotional connections to the characters they’re portraying. That’s because the dialogue is just so bland and often terribly written. The movie’s cinematography is frequently cheap-looking and ugly.
And no amount of editing tricks can cover up that this movie is just an insipid, muddled mess. “Flashback” isn’t completely useless though. The movie is so dull that it can actually be used as an effective way to fall asleep.
Lionsgate released “Flashback” in select U.S. cinemas and VOD on June 4, 2021, and on digital, Blu-ray and DVD on June 8, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Philadelphia, the crime drama “Brothers by Blood” features an almost all-white cast (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, the middle-class and the criminal underground.
Culture Clash: Two cousins who work for the Irish mobsters in Philadelphia have their loyalties tested due to family secrets and involvement with Italian mobsters.
Culture Audience: “Brothers by Blood” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching generic and tedious movies about “thug life.”
“Brothers by Blood” makes a half-hearted attempt to be a compelling crime drama, but the movie still ends up being formulaic and forgettable. It’s one of those mobster movies where two family members have an up-and-down relationship that propels much of what happens in the story. The problem is that all of the characters in the movie are derivative of other characters in much-better mafia films. “Brothers by Blood” is essentially a cheap wannabe Martin Scorsese gangster film.
Written and directed by Jérémie Guez, “Brothers by Blood” is based on Peter Dexter’s novel “Brotherly Love.” The original title of the movie was “The Sound of Philadelphia” (the city where the movie is based), and it’s easy to see why the title was changed, because “The Sound of Philadelphia” could mislead people into thinking it’s a music-oriented movie. Philadelphia is nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love, but the only love in this movie is tainted by brutal crimes and paranoia about betrayal.
The two main characters in “Brothers by Blood” are cousins Peter (played by Matthias Schoenaerts) and Michael (played by Joel Kinnaman), who own a small construction business that’s really a money-laundering front for the illegal work that the cousins do for the Irish mafia in Philadelphia. Peter is the introverted, level-headed cousin, while Michael is the extroverted, hot-headed cousin. Crime dramas often have a cliché of opposite personalities who have to work together and often clash with each other. “Blood Brothers” leans into this cliché hard enough to the point of over-reliance and stifling any depth for other parts of the story.
It’s very easy to see where this movie is going to go, once it’s established that Michael has a tendency to make impulsive and dumb decisions. About 70% of “Brothers by Blood” is a monotonous plot repetition of Michael doing idiotic things, while Peter tries to smooth things over and clean up Michael’s mess. Most of the movie takes place in 2016, but there are several flashbacks to Peter’s and Michael’s childhood, shown from Peter’s perspective.
Michael is impulsive and erratic, but Peter isn’t exactly mentally stable either. The opening scene shows that Peter has suicidal tendencies. In this nighttime scene, Michael and Peter are on the rooftop of one of their construction sites and listening to a friend drone on about a proctology exam that he recently had. (Yes, it’s that kind of movie.)
Peter steps onto the edge of the roof and suddenly jumps. Michael and the friend race to the street and see that Peter has landed in a very large pile of garbage and hasn’t been physically hurt. While their buddy is freaking out, Peter offers no explanation for why he jumped, while Michael says nonchalantly about Peter’s disturbing jump: “He does that all the time.”
It’s shown early in the movie that Michael and Peter have shady dealings with a local councilman named Taylor (played by Tim Ahern), who tells the cousins that he’s under ethical scrutiny for hiring six of his relatives, so he had to cut these family members loose from his employment. Taylor asks Michael and Peter to find jobs for these relatives at Michael and Peter’s construction company, even if these relatives aren’t qualified. During this office meeting with Taylor, a Republican presidential debate is shown on TV, and Michael predicts that Donald Trump is going to win the election.
One night, Peter and Michael end up drinking at a restaurant/bar owned by their friend Jimmy (played by Paul Schneider), who confides in Peter that he borrowed a lot of money from Michael to keep Jimmy’s business afloat. Peter tells Jimmy it’s a mistake to be in debt to Michael, but Jimmy is too drunk at the moment to heed any warnings. It’s later revealed that Michael has his own money problems that will get the cousins into trouble.
While they’re at the bar, Jimmy introduces his younger sister Grace (played by Maika Monroe) to Peter and Michael. She’s recently arrived from out of town, and Jimmy has given her a job as a bartender. Michael immediately flirts with Grace. However, Peter and Grace eye each other in a way that it’s obvious that these two will end up together in some way later in the movie.
“Brothers by Blood” also has poorly written subplots about Peter’s and Michael’s business interests aside from their construction company and thugging around with mobsters. Peter wants to possibly invest in boxing. He goes to a local boxing gym, where his acquaintance Carlos (played by Carlos Schram) is training a promising young boxer named Ryan (played by Tarek Hamite), who is living with Carlos because Ryan’s father is a “crackhead,” according to Carlos.
Michael is more interested in investing in horse racing. He’s bought a horse for $80,000, with the hope that the horse can be trained into becoming a champion. But something happens with Michael’s horse-racing investment, and how he handles it shows how much he’s an out-of-control loose cannon. In another scene in the movie, Michael can’t stand the thought of Peter being successful at anything without him, so Michael makes their hanger-on friend Leonard, nicknamed Lenny (played by James Nelson-Joyce), box Ryan in the ring. Lenny quickly and soundly gets beaten by Ryan, and that defeat aggravates Michael, who holds grudges.
Because of some debts and double-crossing, Michael has managed to anger the Italian mafia in Philadelphia. And so, a goon named Bono (played by Antoni Corone) from the Italian mafia has a threatening meeting with Peter and warns him that the Italian mafia will come after the cousins unless Peter kills Michael. Peter tells Bono that he won’t kill Michael. The rest of the story is about how much danger these two cousins get themselves into, as Michael continues with his screw-ups and some people inevitably get hurt or killed.
“Brothers by Blood” has frequent flashbacks to Peter’s childhood. It’s revealed that his seemingly happy life went on a downward spiral when he was 8 years old (Nicholas Crovetti portrays Peter as a boy) and witnessed his younger sister (played by Grace Bilik) accidentally get killed when she ran out into the street and was hit by a car. The car’s driver was a cop named Victor Kopec (played by Michael McFadden), who lives nearby. And Peter’s ill-tempered father Charley (played by Ryan Philippe) vows revenge.
A childhood flashback shows that Peter’s life gets even worse when his grieving mother has a nervous breakdown and she’s put in a psychiatric hospital, which is talked about but not shown in the movie. Peter’s father Charley is obsessed with getting revenge on Victor. Michael’s father Phil (played by Felix Scott), who is Charley’s brother, vehemently disagrees with Charley’s plan to murder Victor, because Charley and Phil are already involved with the Irish mafia. If Charley becomes a cop killer, it could cause problems for the brothers, not only with the police but also with the mafia.
Like a lot of derivative mobster flicks, “Brothers by Blood” limits the female characters in very sexist and shallow ways. Grace is the only female character with a significant speaking role in the film, and she’s really just there to be a potential love interest for Peter. Writer/director Guez has such little regard for Peter’s sister (whose death is the catalyst for a lot of the family drama) that he didn’t even give her a name in the story. In the end credits, she’s only labeled “Little Girl.” And Peter’s mother is reduced to being a nameless, background character who’s briefly shown sobbing over the death of her daughter.
Despite solid performances from Schoenaerts and Phillippe, “Brothers by Blood” could be called “Brothers by Boredom,” since this so-called gangster film has a lot of dull talk and not much action. Too much of the movie is about Michael being a swaggering fool and pulling guns on people, while Peter just stands around looking embarrassed and occasionally steps in to stop Michael from making things worse. We get it. These cousins are dysfunctionally co-dependent.
Peter’s childhood flashbacks are more interesting than the storyline with the adult Peter and adult Michael, because the flashbacks give some insight into how and why Michael and Peter ended up being so close. Their family experienced more tragedy besides the death of Peter’s sister. But this backstory isn’t enough to save “Brothers by Blood” from being a hollow and drab movie with a completely predictable ending.
Vertical Entertainment released “Brothers by Blood” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 22, 2021.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the crime drama “The Stranger” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A woman who’s a rideshare driver picks up a very dangerous passenger who stalks her and tries to frame her for murder.
Culture Audience: “The Stranger” will appeal primarily to people who like convoluted crime dramas and don’t expect the story to be very believable.
The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in “chapters” that look like episodes.
One of the original movies that Quibi debuted on April 13, 2020, is “The Stranger,” a thriller about a Los Angeles female rideshare driver being stalked by a mysterious young man who seems intent on framing her for murders that are being committed in the city. Unfortunately for Quibi’s “The Stranger,” it arrives just after the January 2020 premiere of Netflix’s original series “The Stranger,” which is about a stranger who arrives in a suburb and starts exposing scandalous secrets about the residents. It’s one of the reasons why entertainment creators need to come up with more original titles.
Quibi’s “The Stranger” (written and directed by Veena Sud) takes place in a 12-hour period (7 p.m. to 7 a.m.) in the life of a young woman named Clare Johnson (played by Maika Monroe), who works as a rideshare driver for a company called Orbit. One evening, Clare picks up a young male passenger named Charlie E. (played by Dane DeHaan) at a Hollywood Hills mansion for a trip to the airport.
Charlie has only a duffel bag as his luggage, and he immediately asks if he can sit in the front of the car with Clare. Sensing her hesitation, Charlie offers to sit in the back if it would make her more comfortable. Not wanting to alienate this presumably wealthy passenger, Clare says in a friendly manner that it’s no problem for Charlie to sit in the front.
While they’re driving to the airport, Charlie finds out that Clare is so new to Los Angeles that she’s surprised that their trip to the airport will take about 45 minutes. She tells Charlie that she recently moved to L.A. from Kansas to become a screenwriter. In the meantime, Clare has become an Orbit driver to pay the bills.
Charlie quickly becomes flirtatious with Clare. When he sees that she has some mustard on the side of her mouth, he gently wipes some of it off. Clare sheepishly admits that the mustard is from a veggie burger that she had eaten because she didn’t have time for a full dinner. Charlie then says that he doesn’t feel like going to the airport after all, and he would rather have dinner with her instead.
He starts to insist that they have dinner together. Clare then mentions the mansion where Charlie came from as a way to deflect his advances, and he tells her nonchalantly that he doesn’t live there. When she asks him if his parents live there, he tells her no.
The conversation takes a very dark turn when Charlie tells her with an evil smirk that he actually doesn’t know the house owners because he randomly went to house and killed the entire family (a mother, a father and their daughters) who lived there, by shooting and stabbing them. He then shows her the knife that he says he used for the stabbings.
A terrified Clare is now a hostage to this demented person as the car heads down the hills. Because Charlie knows that Clare is an aspiring screenwriter, he demands that Clare tell him a story while she’s driving, and he says he’ll kill her if he doesn’t like the story. Rather than remain a hostage, Clare decides to crash her car in a nearby signpost. Charlie is thrown out of the car by the impact, and Clare speeds off to get help.
Clare calls 911, describes what happened, and she tells the operator that she’s frightened that this deranged passenger will still come after her. Clare stops at a parking lot of a convenience store, because the 911 operator tells her that police officers will meet her there. When the two police officers arrive, they tell her that the occupants of the mansion are two senior citizens who are alive and well, that no one reported any disturbances in the area, and that no one fitting Charlie’s description was seen in the area.
Clare, who is shocked by this information, tells the cops that Charlie mentioned having a gun, so she asks them to check the duffel bag that he left in the back of her car. But when the officers inspect the back of the car, they see the duffel bag (which doesn’t have a gun) and a life-sized female blow-up sex doll outside the duffel bag.
That’s the first sign that “The Stranger” is going to have some ridiculous twists. Clare and Charlie were in the front seat the entire time that they were in the car together. How did the doll get outside the duffel bag in the back seat? How did the blow-up doll get inflated? None of that is ever explained in “The Stranger.”
Clare insists that she’s telling the truth and offers to show the cops the text messages that she exchanged with Charlie before she picked him up, as well as the reservation that he made. But when she goes to look for that information on her phone, she finds that every trace of Charlie has mysteriously disappeared from her phone. It never occurs to Clare to have Orbit confirm the record of the reservation and Charlie’s Orbit account. It’s one of many obvious plot holes that “The Stranger” has.
The two police officers who take Clare’s report are very irritated with her because they think she’s playing some kind of prank. They tell Clare that they’re not going to charge her with filing a false police report, but warn her that if they catch her doing anything else that’s illegal, she will be arrested.
A confused and now angry Clare starts to throw away the blow-up doll and the duffel bag (wait, isn’t that evidence?) in a garbage dump at the side of the convenience store. But then, a store employee rushes out and tries to stop Clare.
The employee’s name is Jay, nicknamed JJ (played by Avan Jogia), and he nervously tells Clare that she can’t throw away anything weird there because his boss frequently checks the garbage dump to look for anything suspicious that could get the convenience store in trouble. (Really? Who does that?) Clare explains that she’s had a rough night, so JJ takes pity on her and lets her throw away the blow-up doll and the duffel bag.
But Clare’s night is about to get worse. When she gets home to her apartment, she calls Orbit to report what happened to her and finds out that her account has been suspended, pending an investigation into a customer complaint that Clare pulled a knife on the customer. Clare is furious and tells the person she’s speaking to on the phone that the customer is lying and that he was the one who pulled the knife on her.
Again, it never occurs to Claire to find out the real identity of the customer who filed the complaint, since Orbit has the record of the reservation and the customer’s contact info. But with no police report to back her up, it’s a “he said/she said” situation, and Clare is now out of a job at Orbit.
Clare feeds her small terrier dog Pebbles, who starts to growl, as if someone else is in the apartment. Sure enough, it’s Charlie, who chases a terrified Clare with an apparent intent to kill her. Clare picks up Pebbles, races out of the apartment with the dog, and Clare barely manages to escape in the elevator before the elevator door closes so that Charlie can’t get to her.
After narrowly escaping from Charlie, Clare gets in her car and drives to a local church. Clare calls her mother in the church bathroom and tells her everything that’s happened. Her mother pauses and sounds skeptical. That’s when it’s revealed that Clare has a history of fabricating stories and false accusations. Her mother wonders if Clare is having another one of these episodes.
Is Charlie real or is this all a figment of Clare’s imagination? That answer is eventually revealed, but the rest “The Stranger” is a cat-and-mouse chase between Charlie and Clare. While Clare is alone in the church’s ladies room, someone has plunged a bloody knife into the restroom’s front door.
Like an idiot, Clare takes the knife, only to find out that a street vendor outside the church has just been stabbed to death. She walks out with the knife, in full view of several witnesses, who (not surprisingly) think that Clare is the one who committed the murder. Clare panics and speeds off in her car.
Where does she go next? To the convenience store to get JJ’s help. She tells him what’s been happening to her and that Charlie (whoever he is) has decided to stalk her and ruin her life. JJ is skeptical until something something weird happens while they’re at the store: The security cameras at the store are suddenly showing the inside of JJ’s home.
In order to believe what’s going on in “The Stranger,” you’d have to believe that Charlie is able to predict Clare’s every move and he’s been able to elude the untold number of security cameras that are in a big city like Los Angeles. And the whole story is based on the shaky, far-fetched premise that a rideshare passenger like Charlie is untraceable, when rideshare companies require identity verification of the passengers making reservations.
There’s also a ludicrous scene where JJ and Clare are driving in JJ’s car somewhere at night. JJ gets stopped by a police officer, the police officer ends up dead, and JJ and Clare come up with a scatter-brained idea to run off to Mexico out of fear of being blamed for the cop’s death. JJ and Clare decide to take a train to El Paso, Texas, because the train will then head to Mexico.
Bizarrely, JJ and Clare are the only passengers on the train, until Charlie shows up and chases them on this empty train and shoots at them. JJ and Clare run away and jump onto the train tracks to escape. Is this a delusional hallucination or is this supposed to be real? All is explained at the end of “The Stranger,” but it’s a far-fetched and poorly conceived explanation.
During the frantic quest “to get to the truth,” Clare holds on to Pebbles like Dorothy holds on to Toto in “The Wizard of Oz.” But “The Stranger” is so badly edited that there are times, such as during a chase scene in the train tunnel, when the dog is nowhere in sight (because Clare dropped the dog somewhere miles away), but then a later scene shows Clare holding the dog again when she wouldn’t have had time to retrieve the dog.
There’s nothing special about any of the acting in “The Stranger.” DeHaan’s Charlie character is a very two-dimensional villain, while Monroe is stuck playing a character who makes so many dumb decisions that it’s hard to feel much sympathy for Clare. Jovia makes the most out of playing JJ, who is the most well-rounded character (he also has the funniest lines), but there’s a plot development involving JJ that is so moronic that it’s a big sign of how the rest of the story goes downhill.
“The Stranger” had an interesting, although not entirely original, concept that is ruined by substandard screenwriting and sloppy editing. It’s a letdown, considering that “The Stranger” writer/director Sud has done better work before. (She was a writer/executive producer for the crime-drama TV series “The Killing” and “Cold Case.”)
How many times have there been mystery thrillers where the plot is about a murder suspect who claims to be innocent? How many crime dramas have there been about a woman being mercilessly stalked? (A “stalker drama” describes about half of all Lifetime movies.) You can add Quibi’s “The Stranger” to the list of these unoriginal ideas, but file this show under the category of “disappointing” and “forgettable.”
Quibi premiered the first three chapters of the 13-chapter “The Stranger” on April 13, 2020.