Review: ‘Late Night With the Devil,’ starring David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri, Georgina Haig and Josh Quong Tart

April 17, 2024

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Late Night With the Devil.” Pictured in front, from left to right: Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian and Laura Gordon. Pictured in back, from left to right: Rhys Auteri and Ian Bliss. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Late Night With the Devil”

Directed by Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily during a “found footage” tape made in New York City, on October 31, 1977, the horror film “Late Night With the Devil” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A late-night talk show host, who is desperate to boost his ratings, does a live seance on his show to summon the devil that reportedly possesses a 13-year-old girl. 

Culture Audience: “Late Night With the Devil” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star David Dastmalchian and well-made supernatural horror movies taking place in the 1970s.

Laura Gordon, Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian and Ian Bliss in “Late Night With the Devil” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Late Night With the Devil” hooks the senses with sinister suspense that might give nightmares to some viewers. This “found footage” horror flick taking place in 1977 shows parallels between devil possession and ruthless ambition. It’s an impressively made original horror movie that is an instant classic.

Written and directed by Australian brothers Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes, “Late Night With the Devil” takes place in New York City, but was actually filmed in Melbourne, Australia. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival. “Late Night With the Devil” does a superb job of recreating the late 1970s in every way, such as the production design, cinematography, costume design, makeup and hairstyling.

“Late Night With the Devil” begins with a voiceover narrator (Michael Ironside) with a fairly extensive backstory (shown in a montage) about the late-night talk/variety show host at the center of the movie. Jack Delroy (played by David Dastmalchian) was a popular radio host in Chicago when he was chosen to host and produce a national TV talk show called “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” (based in New York City) on the fictional UBC network. The first episode of “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” was on April 4, 1971.

Over the years, “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” had mediocre success, with the show always coming in second place to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Johnny Carson had A-list celebrity guests. The guests on “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” were considered less than A-list, often with tabloid-like fame. Still, Jack earned enough respect in the industry to get an Emmy nomination for the show.

Jack is a member of all-male private club called The Grove, whose members are influential and powerful. The Grove’s secretive activities have been the subject of a lot of speculation. In November 1972, UBC owner Walter Bedford (played by John O’May) signed Jack to a five-year deal for Jack to continue to host and produce “Night Owls With Jack Delroy,” a show that is filmed before a live studio audience.

Jack’s personal life was also going fairly well: He married an actress named Madeleine Piper (played by Georgina Haig), who is described as Jack’s “muse and confidante.” Jack and Madeleine became known as a well-liked “power couple.” However, tragedy struck when Madeleine (a non-smoker) was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In October 1976, she did an emotional interview on “Night Owls With Jack Delroy.” It was the highest-rated episode in the show’s history. Madeleine died soon after filming this episode.

After Madeleine died, Jack took a hiatus and “disappeared” for about a month. He returned to doing the show in December 1976. However, the show’s ratings went on a downward spiral. By the time “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” did its Halloween episode on October 31, 1977, Jack’s contract was up for renewal (or cancellation), and he was feeling enormous pressure. Jack and his fast-talking and ambitious producer Leo Fiske (played by Josh Quong Tart) were desperate to boost the show’s ratings, so they planned a Halloween episode that they wanted to get a lot of publicity.

Things went horribly wrong, of course. The rest of “Late Night With the Devil” shows the master tape from this episode, as well as previously unreleased footage. The show’s guests on this fateful episode were a famous self-proclaimed psychic named Christou (played by Fayssal Bazzi); Carmichael Haig (played by Ian Bliss), a former magician who became world-renowned skeptic of all things supernatural; “Conversations With the Devil” non-fiction book author Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (played by Laura Gordon); the book’s subject, a 13-year-old girl named Lilly (played by Ingrid Torelli), who was said to be possessed by the devil; and jazz singer Cleo James (played by Nicole Chapman), who actually never performed in the episode, due to all the chaos that ensued.

in the production notes for “Late Night With the Devil,” Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes both say that Australia’s “The Don Lane Show” (which was on the air from 1975 to 1983) was a big inspiration for the concept of this movie. The character of Carmichael was inspired by the real-life James Randi, whose magician name was the Amazing Randi. And the character Lilly could be seen as inspired by Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil character in the 1973 Oscar-winning horror classic “The Exorcist.” In “Late Night With the Devil,” Lilly is the only survivor of a cult that was ordered by cult leader Szandor D’Abo (played by Steve Mouzakis) to set themselves on fire.

Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes also had experience working in TV studios and saw firsthand the intense stress that workers can experience when filming episodes. That’s why the “Late Night With the Devil” scenes (especially those take place during commercial breaks) are convincing and why the movie is so effective in showing an increasingly tension-filled environment.

After Madeleine died, Jack took a hiatus and “disappeared” for about a month. He returned to doing the show in December 1976. However, the show’s ratings went on a downward spiral. By the time “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” did its Halloween episode on October 31, 1977, Jack’s contract was up for renewal (or cancellation), and he was feeling enormous pressure. Jack and his fast-talking and ambitious producer Leo Fiske (played by Josh Quong Tart) were desperate to boost the show’s ratings, so they planned a Halloween episode that they wanted to get a lot of publicity.

“Night Owls With Jack Delroy” has an amiable band leader named Gus McConnell (played by Rhys Auteri), who is like many band leaders on late-night talk shows: He’s there to be a sidekick who laughs at the host’s jokes. As things spiral out of control, Gus’ conscience starts to bother him about decisions that are made to increase the show’s TV audience. When Gus expresses his concerns, the response he gets is entirely realistic in the cutthroat world of television. Subordinates are often told that if they don’t do what they’re told, they’ll be fired, and there are plenty of people who are ready to replace them.

The screenplay and direction for “Late Night With the Devil” expertly build the ominous tension throughout the story. The movie stumbles during one particular gruesome scene where the in-studio audience members stay, despite the horror they just witnessed. In real life, most people in this type of audience would leave the studio in fear or disgust. It’s a minor but noticeable flaw in the otherwise realistic-looking way that the audience is portrayed in the movie. And to be clear: “Late Night With the Devil” gets very graphic and does not leave a lot of the horror up to the imagination.

Dastmalchian and Torelli give the movie’s standout performances. As Jack, Dastmalchian has an uneasy desperation that becomes increasingly dangerous as he pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable to put on television. Torelli does an excellent job of balancing the “innocent-looking” and “demonic” sides to Lilly, the mysterious girl who never seems entirely “normal.” Thanks to horrific scenarios and a knockout ending, “Late Night With the Devil” is a memorably disturbing scary movie. Some viewers might never look at TV talk shows in the same way again.

IFC Films released “Late Night With the Devil” in U.S. cinemas on March 22, 2024. Shudder will premiere the movie on April 19, 2024.

Review: ‘BlackBerry’ (2023), starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Rich Sommer, Michael Ironside, Sal Rubinek and Cary Elwes

August 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton in “BlackBerry” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“BlackBerry” (2023)

Directed by Matt Johnson

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada and in the United States, from 1996 to 2013, the comedy/drama film “BlackBerry” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Canada-based technology company BlackBerry becomes a global success as the maker of the world’s first smartphone, but internal power struggles, bad management and an inability to compete with Apple’s iPhone all lead to BlackBerry’s downfall.

Culture Audience: “BlackBerry” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in watching scripted movies that depict behind-the-scenes business dealings of real-life famous companies.

Pictured in center: Jay Baruchel and Matt Johnson in “BlackBerry” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“BlackBerry” takes viewers on a roller coaster ride in telling this “based on a true story” about the rise and fall of BlackBerry, the first popular smartphone. Glenn Howerton gives a standout performance as a greedy corporate villain with a nasty temper. The movie is made with a mockumentary-styled combination of a comedy and drama. “BlackBerry” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival.

Directed by Matt Johnson (who co-wrote the “BlackBerry” screenplay with Matthew Miller), “BlackBerry” is based on the 2015 non-fiction book “Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry,” by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff. The movie’s story takes place in chronological order, from 1996 to 2013. BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion Ltd., which was founded in 1984, went from being a scrappy start-up company headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario, to being the world’s first and leading company for smartphones.

At its peak in 2008, after Research in Motion became a publicly traded company, its stock price was valued at $147 per share, with an overall estimated company value $85 billion. Research in Motion changed its name to BlackBerry Ltd. in 2013. For the past several years, BlackBerry’s stock price as hovered between $8 to $10 per share. How and why did it all go so wrong?

The “BlackBerry” movie shows that this train wreck didn’t go off the rails right away. Like many tech startups, Research in Motion was founded by eager entrepreneurs with big ideas and a fanatical work ethic but not the best business acumen when it came to sales and managing money. And when you bring in a toxic troublemaker to co-lead the company, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Research in Motion was co-founded by two self-admitted computer nerds named Mike Lazaridis (played by Jay Baruchel) and Douglas “Doug” Fregin (played by “BlackBerry” director Johnson), who (for a while) could have been considered the Canadian versions of Apple Inc. co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Just like in the Jobs/Wozniak relationship, one person in the partnership was the master of overall concepts and marketing, while the other person was the technical/engineering whiz.

In the case of Research in Motion, Mike was the concept/marketing guy, while Doug was the technical/engineering guy. In the “BlackBerry” movie, Mike is a constant worrier, and he tends to be too gullible in business. Doug has a jolly personality, but he approaches business with more logic and healthy skepticism. Eventually, the different personalities of these two friends will lead to several clashes between them on decisions for Research in Motion.

An early scene in the movie takes place in 1996, when Research in Motion is still a struggling start-up, but Mike and Doug are still the best of friends. Mike tells his all-male team of computer geeks (there are about seven employees on this team) that he had a shop teacher who once told him that anyone who could put a computer inside a phone would change the world. Doug thinks of a prototype that will be like a combination of a pager, a phone and a device that can send and receive email. Mike’s name for this invention is Pocket Link, but the name would eventually be changed to BlackBerry.

As ambitious as this idea is, Mike struggles to find investors for it. Part of the problem is that introverted Mike isn’t very good at sales and marketing presentations. He’s articulate when it comes to tech jargon, but he often has a hard time explaining technical issues to non-tech people. Mike is also not very fond of public speaking.

An early scene in “BlackBerry” shows Mike coming back from a business meeting where he was rejected by a potential investor. The reaction of Doug and the other staffers is to shrug it off and gather to watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which is Mike’s favorite movie. However, Mike is in no mood for this diversion, which he would normally use as a way to cheer himself up.

Meanwhile, at another company, cutthroat sales executive Jim Balsillie (played by Howerton) is feeling very discontented at Sutherland-Schultz Limited, a construction company headquartered in Cambridge, Ontario. Jim wants to run a new division of the company, but his boss Rick Brock (played by Martin Donovan) won’t let it happen. Jim is also upset because he feels that he is being sidelined. It isn’t long before volatile Jim gets fired.

Around the same time, Jim and Mike end up meeting each other. Mike tells Jim about Research in Motion’s new phone invention. Jim doesn’t tell Mike right away that he’s currently unemployed because he’s been fired. Jim thinks this phone will be a massive hit, but Research in Motion needs the money to make and market this phone. Jim offers to be the co-CEO who can bring in these capital funds, but on one condition: Jim wants to own half of Research in Motion.

Doug is vehemently against this business proposal, because Doug and Mike made a deal with each other that they would never sell at least 50% of the company. Eventually, a compromise is reached: Jim will own 33% of the company (which he buys for $125,000) and be co-CEO with Mike. Jim will oversee all the company’s sales and marketing, while Mike will oversee all the day-to-day operations. Jim also takes out personal loans to help keep the business afloat.

Jim’s aggressive style and his sales connections initially benefit Research in Motion. And as many people already know, the BlackBerry phone (which pioneered having a mini-keyboard as part of its interface) was launched in 1999, and was the market leader for nearly 10 years. BlackBerry also had the nickname CrackBerry because of how addictive it was for many people. Apple launched the iPhone in 2007.

In no uncertain terms, the “BlackBerry” movie puts most of the blame on Jim for the downfall of the BlackBerry brand. He’s portrayed as someone who got too greedy and too delusional about his power. Howerton gives a riveting performance that’s a great character study of a tyrant who’s out of control. Anyone who thinks what’s in the movie is exaggerated has no idea that Jim’s heinousness is not only a very accurate portrayal of how many corporate CEOs act but this damaging toxicity can also be a lot worse in real life than what’s shown in the movie.

Mike is portrayed as someone who changes from being an accessible “one of the guys” part of the team to becoming an increasingly cold and distant CEO. Doug repeatedly tries to warn Mike that Jim will run the company into the ground, but Mike is blinded by the spectacular profits that the company is making. Doug eventually makes a decision about how he’s going to handle all of these changes.

The mockumentary style of “BlackBerry” often mimics the sitcom “The Office,” with an occasionally shaky hand-held camera that often zooms in on people’s facial expressions. The characters in the movie sometimes have awkward pauses in their sentences, as if they’re self-conscious about being filmed. However, there is no mockumentary director or other filmmakers who are shown as characters in the movie. It’s a wise choice, because fabricating these types of characters would be an unnecessary distraction.

One of the best things about “BlackBerry” is its sharp and incisive screenplay. The dialogue in the movie is often hilarious to watch, even when the characters are being deadly serious. Perhaps the only noticeable flaw of the movie is that it doesn’t do a very good job of convincing viewers how much Mike ages over the decades portrayed in the film. Putting a fake-looking white wig on Baruchel doesn’t make him look older in the movie. It just makes him look like he’s wearing a white wig.

Despite a few minor flaws, “BlackBerry” maintains an entertaining level throughout the entire film, which shows other corporate sharks swimming in these smartphone business waters. Cary Elwes has an amusing supporting role as Palm CEO Carl Yankowski, who threatens a hostile takeover of BlackBerry, which at the time was the biggest rival to the PalmPilot. (In real life, Yankowski died on May 13, 2023, a day after “BlackBerry” was released in theaters.) Michael Ironside portrays Charles Purdy, a no-nonsense executive who’s brought in as chief operating officer of Research in Motion. Charles immediately starts to “crack the whip,” by forcing employees to have a more formal and corporate culture.

Rich Sommer portrays a fictional character named Paul Stanos, one of the lead design engineers on the BlackBerry team. Sal Rubinek has a pivotal role as John Woodman, a leader of Bell Atlantic. Apple is portrayed as a corporate rival whose principal executives are kept at distance in the story and are not characters in the movie. It’s a reflection of what would eventually be BlackBerry’s undoing: The Research in Motion executives weren’t paying enough attention to what Apple was doing with iPhone upgrades and ended up being crushed by the competition from iPhone products.

There are many movies that serve as cautionary tales of what can happen in business when greed and arrogance take over and lead to bad decisions. “BlackBerry” isn’t interested in doing any preaching. The movie isn’t a complete satire, but it pokes some fun at the Research in Motion executives who thought they were brilliant but ended up ruining a very successful company. Simply put: The comedy in “BlackBerry” is very bittersweet indeed.

IFC Films released “BlackBerry” in select U.S. cinemas on May 12, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on June 2, 2023. “BlackBerry” was released on Blu-ray and DVD on August 15, 2023.

Review: ‘Bloodthirsty’ (2021), starring Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Judith Buchan and Michael Ironside

October 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lauren Beatty in “Bloodthirsty” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“Bloodthirsty” (2021)

Directed by Amelia Moses

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of Canada, the horror film “Bloodthirsty” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one biracial/Asian person) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A semi-famous singer-songwriter is invited to work on her second album with a mysterious producer at his home studio in a remote wooded area, when she finds out that she is a werewolf. 

Culture Audience: “Bloodthirsty” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in low-budget, “slow burn” horror movies that don’t do anything groundbreaking but can convey a creepy and foreboding atmosphere.

Lauren Beatty in “Bloodthirsty” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

Simple yet effective, the werewolf horror movie “Bloodthirsty” takes its time to build to the inevitable transformation scene. This movie is not for impatient viewers, but it offers an interesting allegory about how the quest for fame and fortune can consume people. With only a handful of people in the movie’s principal cast, “Bloodthirsty” won’t satisfy horror fans who are looking for a movie where a werewolf goes on a massive killing spree. Instead, “Bloodthirsty” is more of a psychological portrait of how a woman slowly comes to terms with the reality that she’s turning into a werewolf.

Directed by Amelia Moss, “Bloodthirsty” is a Canadian film that was written by mother-and-daughter duo Wendy Hill-Tout and Lowell. The movie has some parallels to real life, because main character Grey Kessler (played by Lauren Beatty) is a semi-famous, piano-playing pop singer/songwriter in her 20s who’s under pressure to follow up her hit debut album with a second album that’s a even bigger hit. In real life, Lowell is a pop singer/songwriter (she wrote and co-wrote some of the original songs in “Bloodthirsty”) whose first album wasn’t a hit, but she used her anxiety-ridden experiences of recording her second album as a basis for the angst that Grey feels in “Bloodthirsty.”

In the beginning of “Bloodthirsty,” which takes place in an unnamed part of Canada (the movie was actually filmed in Edmonton, Alberta), Grey comes home to her live-in girlfriend Charlie (played by Katharine King So) after doing a photo shoot. Charlie is a painter who is completely supportive of Grey and her career. Grey is openly queer and isn’t hiding her relationship with Charlie, but she’s careful about not exposing too much about her relationship to the world. At the photo shoot, a reporter (played by Jesse Gervais) asked Grey when she and Charlie plan to get married. Before cutting the interview short, Grey’s response was: “We want to keep our relationship private.”

Grey has other things on her mind besides questions about her private life from a nosy journalist. She’s been having nightmares about turning into an animal and eating other animals that she has killed. In these nightmares, she savagely eats these animals raw, as she tears at their flesh, and her mouth is covered with blood. Grey is also a vegan, so these nightmares have an extra layer of terror for her.

Grey’s psychiatrist Dr. Swan (played by Michael Ironside) has tried different treatments for her, but none seem to have worked so far. At a recent session with Dr. Swan, he suggests that they try cognitive behavior therapy next. In the meantime, Grey is on medication to treat her nightmarish hallucinations. An early scene in the movie shows Grey looking into a mirror and briefly eeing that her eyes’ irises have turned yellow, like a wolf’s eyes. Later in the movie, she has visions of her nails turning into long, yellow canine nails.

After coming home from the photo shoot, Grey tells Charlie that a famous but reclusive middle-aged music producer named Vaughn Daniels (played by Greg Bryk) has invited her to his mansion, where he has a home recording studio, because he wants to record Grey’s second album with her. Charlie looks up Vaughn on the Internet and sees that more than 20 years ago, he was acquitted of the murder of a singer in her 20s named Greta Sturgis, who had been working with Vaughn in his home on her album. Vaughn was Greta’s mentor.

Charlie expresses her concern to Grey about Grey working with Vaughn , but Grey dismisses her concerns by saying that Vaughn was found not guilty, and he’s too important of a producer for Grey to pass up a chance to work with him. And so, Grey and Charlie drive to Vaughn’s spooky mansion that’s in a remote wooded area. (Aren’t they all in horror movies?)

This trip takes place during the winter when there’s snow outside, which means that there will be an inevitable scene later in the movie when someone’s car gets stuck in the snow. On the way to Vaughn’s mansion, Grey (who is driving her SUV) accidentally hits and kills a rabbit on the road. Grey is mortified, but there’s nothing she can do about it.

And why is Charlie on this trip? As Grey tells Vaughn when they show up to stay at his place at his invitation, Charlie hopes to get some inspiration for her artwork. Vaughn is a bachelor who lives in the mansion with his loyal housekeeper/cook Vera (played by Judith Buchan), who seems to be his only servant. In other words, this is a low-budget movie, so don’t expect to see any other servants on the property.

Vaughn is every bit as creepy as you would expect him to be, but Grey is eager to impress him. When she plays him a song that she’s been working on, he tells her: “I think your writing is good. It could be better.”

Most of the movie is about Vaughn and Charlie working on the album (the songs are solemn piano-based ballads) while he tests her limits on what she’s willing to do for him. In the first test, Vaughn tells Charlie to run outside in the snow and cold temperatures as fast as she can until she can’t move anymore. She doesn’t go far before she runs out of breath.

Vaughn catches up to her quickly, without showing any signs of physical exertion. He doesn’t answer Grey’s question on how he could move so fast without being winded. It’s the first of many obvious clues that Vaughn might not be who he first appears to be. Eventually, Vaughn (who says he’ll never give up eating meat) pushes vegan Charlie’s boundaries when it comes to dead animals.

Later in the movie, when Grey is playing the piano, Vaughn sidles up next to her and starts sniffing. He says, “I can smell it all over you—something animal. You need to use that. It’s what makes you special.” This movie is not subtle at all.

Grey grew up in foster homes and had a fairly unhappy childhood. Not much is said about Grey’s family background except that her mother abandoned her when she was a baby. Vaughn knows this information and uses it to emotionally manipulate Grey.

Meanwhile, Charlie grows increasingly uncomfortable with being in Vaughn’s mansion. Charlie and Grey argue about it because Charlie wants to leave, while Grey wants to stay. Charlie says to Grey about Vaughn: “He’s a psycho!” Grey responds, “He’s an eccentric!” Charlie says, “He scares me!” Grey replies, “You know what scares me? My second album flopping!”

And what about the mystery over the death of Vaughn’s former protégée singer Greta? Vaughn tells Grey that he witnessed Greta shoot herself, and that was his defense that got him acquitted. However, is that what really happened? Secrets are eventually revealed which aren’t too surprising to people who’ve seen enough horror/thriller movies.

“Bloodthirsty” has visual effects and sound editing that are convincing, consdering the movie’s low budget. All of the performances are better than some of the simplistic dialogue in the screenplay. If you don’t like movies where people have a tendency to talk and move slowly, then “Bloodthirsty” isn’t the film for you.

The movie’s original songs written or co-written by Lowell are actually quite good and sound like music that moody pop divas would be recording. The songs are “Lemonade,” “No Talk,” “Psycho” and “God Is a Fascist.” People who like music from singers such as Billie Eilish, Lorde or Fiona Apple would probably enjoy Grey’s music.

The creation of Grey’s second album runs parallel to Grey’s transformation, so it can be seen as a metaphor for her metamorphosis of her identity as an artist as well as a sinister creature. The story is more than about the creative process though, because Grey could’ve created these songs on her own. Through a horror movie context, “Bloodthirsty” puts forth an incisive commentary about artists’ pursuit of being rich and famous to validate themselves, no matter what the cost.

Grey sees warning signs that Vaughn is evil, but she wants to keep working with him anyway. In that sense, “Bloodthirsty” doesn’t just apply to someone who turns into a werewolf. It’s also about someone who loses humanity when there’s an unquenchable hunger for fame, even if it means destroying other people in the process.

Brainstorm Media released “Bloodthirsty” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 23, 2021. The movie is also available for free streaming on Tubi and Vudu.

Review: ‘Nobody’ (2021), starring Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Alexey Serebryakov and Christopher Lloyd

March 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

RZA, Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd in “Nobody” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

“Nobody” (2021) 

Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Nobody” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mild-mannered husband and father becomes an angry, gun-toting vigilante who has Russian mobsters out to get him.

Culture Audience: “Nobody” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies filled with over-the-top fight scenes and deliberately satirical comedy.

Paisley Cadorath, Gage Munroe and Connie Nielsen in “Nobody” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

In a world filed with action films that take themselves too seriously, the cartoonishly violent “Nobody” wants to be like a court jester, by poking fun at the movie’s characters and the action genre overall. It’s a film that takes pleasure in having audiences witness an “everyday,” seemingly “normal” person transform into an ass-kicking heroic type who protects the vulnerable and the downtrodden. It’s definitely not a superhero movie, but it’s more like a vigilante dark comedy with messages about the dangers of underestimating people who look harmless.

“Nobody” might get some comparisons to the 2014 action film “John Wick” because it starts off with a home invasion that triggers the story’s protagonist on a path of violent revenge. There’s a cute pet in the story (a puppy in “John Wick” and a kitten in “Nobody”), and both movies have David Leitch as a producer. “Nobody” writer Kolstad is a writer for the “John Wick” movies. But that’s where the similarities end.

“Nobody” and “John Wick” have styles and characters that are very different from each other. And cute pets aren’t killed in “Nobody.” John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) is a mysterious loner without a family, while “Nobody” protagonist Hutch Mansell (played by Bob Odenkirk) is a husband and father. “John Wick” movies have a more sinister tone than “Nobody,” and the John Wick character has a more typical image of someone who’s ready for physical combat.

Directed by Ilya Naishuller and written by Derek Kolstad, “Nobody” actually taps into a similar mentality that Michael Douglas’ protagonist character had in the 1993 crime thriller “Falling Down.” Just like in “Falling Down,” the premise of “Nobody” is about an apparently law-abiding citizen whose pent-up anger at being underappreciated and ignored eventually explodes into a violent rampage against people he thinks are being bullies. “Nobody” takes a much more comedic route than “Falling Down,” but both films are commentaries on how seemingly respectable American men can be pushed over the edge and use self-defense or vigilantism as justification for their violence.

“Nobody” opens with a scene of Hutch sitting at a table in an interrogation room. Seated across from him are two unnamed law enforcement detectives (played by Kristen Harris and Erik Athavale). Hutch is bloodied, bruised and shows signs of other physical injuries. He’s smoking a cigarette, and he brings out a kitten out from underneath his jacket.

The female detective looks at Hutch and asks him suspiciously, “Who the fuck are you?” And then the screen cuts to the title of the movie “Nobody.” How did Hutch end up in this interrogation room? The rest of the film is a flashback showing what happened.

It all started when Hutch and his family became victims of a home invasion robbery, late one night. The robbers are husband and wife Luis Martin (played by Edsson Morales) and Lupita Martin (played by Humberly González), who wear masks and have guns while committing the crime. It’s never revealed why they targeted the Mansell household, but Hutch is the first to notice the burglars in the house, which is an unnamed U.S. city. (“Nobody” was actually filmed in the Canadian city of Winnipeg.)

Hutch lives in the home with his wife Rebecca, nicknamed Becca (played by Connie Nielsen), who’s a successful real-estate agent; their son Blake (played by Gage Munroe), who’s about 13 or 14 years old; and their daughter Abby (played by Paisley Cadorath), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Blake also hears the intruders, but he lets his father go out in the living room to investigate. Hutch brings a golf club with him for protection.

Sure enough, Hutch is confronted by the robbers. Lupita sees some cash and loose change in a bowl in the living room and scolds Hutch for not having more cash in the house. Hutch replies, “I use a debit card.” She then demands that Hutch give her the watch that he’s wearing.

Just as she’s about to take Hutch’s wedding ring, Blake leaps from upstairs and tackles Luis. Blake and Luis get into a fight, while Hutch is about to hit Luis with the golf club. But Lupita aims the gun toward Blake, and Hutch tells Blake to back off of the robbers. Just then, Becca sees the commotion from the top of the stairs and tells the robbers to take anything they want.

But the robbers have had enough of this bungled home invasion and they run away. They’ve stolen about $20 in cash and Abby’s kitty-cat bracelet that were in the bowl in the living room. And they’ve also stolen the family’s sense of trust and safety in their own home.

When the police arrive to investigate, the cop asking the questions expresses surprised disappointment that Hutch didn’t do enough to stop the robbers. Blake shows some resentment toward Hutch because Blake feels that he and Hutch would’ve won in the fight against the criminals. And the end result is that Hutch is made to feel like he was a wimp who made the wrong decisions during the home invasion.

During the attack, Hutch noticed some big clues that might be helpful to the investigation. The female robber had a distinctive tattoo of a bird on her wrist. And her gun was an old Smith & Wesson .38 special. And when the shock of the home invasion wears off, Hutch remembers that this robber’s gun was actually empty. And knowing this makes Hutch feel even more like he wasn’t man enough to protect his family.

The next day, a neighbor named Jim (played by Paul Essiembre), who lives next door to the Mansells, tells Hutch: “I heard you had some excitement last night. Man, I wish they [the robbers] could’ve picked my place. I could’ve used the exercise.”

Jim then shows off the 1972 Dodge Challenger that he inherited from his dead father. The car is in tip-top shape. And it’s at this point in the movie that you know that this car is going to be in a chase scene.

The early parts of “Nobody” have a series repetitive montages to show that Hutch’s monotonous “daily grind” life has made him bored and unhappy. He works as an accountant at a dull office job at Williams Manufacturing Ltd., which is owned by his father-in-law Eddie Williams (played by Michael Ironside), who is preparing to retire sometime in the near future. Hutch has offered to buy the business, but Eddie has said no because he tells Hutch that Hutch’s monetary offer isn’t good enough.

Instead, Eddie said he’ll probably pass on the business to Eddie’s son Charlie (Billy MacLellan), a boorish lunkhead who taunts Eddie about the home invasion by pointing a gun to Eddie’s head when they’re at work together. Charlie then gives the gun to Hutch and tells him in a condescending voice, “Keep my sister safe, bro.” Hutch reluctantly takes the gun.

When Hutch exercises outside, he can see his wife Becca’s enlarged image in her real-estate ad at a nearby bus stop. Because of this ad, she literally overshadows him while Hutch works out. And it’s not said out loud in the movie, but it’s implied that Becca makes more money than Hutch does. It’s shown later in the movie that Hutch and Becca’s marriage has lost its passion and romance.

And when Blake says he has to do a school report on a military veteran, he asks Hutch if he could interview him for the assignment. Hutch replies that he was an auditor in the military, so he was “kind of a nobody. That makes for a pretty dry story.” Becca suggest that Blake interview her brother Charlie instead, since Charlie was “a real soldier.”

As soon as Becca says that she apologizes to Hutch, who looks like he’s used to these backhanded insults. Hutch then suggests that Blake interview Hutch’s father, “who saw some real [combat] action.” Hutch’s father David (played by Christopher Lloyd) is currently living in a nursing home.

With Hutch feeling powerless and emasculated in his own home, the only person he can turn to for advice is someone named Harry (played by RZA), who is in hiding for reasons that are explained later in the movie. It’s also revealed later why Harry and Hutch know each other. Until Harry appears in person (it’s not spoiler information, since it’s in the movie’s trailer), Harry is just a voice that Hutch communicates with over a stereo radio.

Harry can sense that this home invasion has triggered something dangerous in Hutch. Harry advises Hutch: “I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t do nothing stupid. You hear me?”

But it’s too late. Through a series of events, Hutch finds out the identities of the two home invasion robbers. It sets off several violent encounters, as Hutch goes into full vigilante mode. One such incident is when he’s on a city bus and notices that five young thugs have surrounded a teenage girl, with the intent to harass her.

They are the only passengers on the bus. Hutch calmly makes the driver stay outside the bus, and then he completely goes off the thugs in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. It’s the type of fight scene that’s completely unrealistic, but it’s entertaining for people who like watching outlandish stunts.

Throughout the movie, Hutch experiences the type of injuries that would land people in a hospital emergency room, but he’s able to walk away with just some grimaces and some heavy limping. Because this movie is intended to be a dark comedy, these far-fetched fight scenes are very slapstick. However, viewers need to have a high tolerance for bloody violence to enjoy this movie.

One of the thugs who gets badly injured by Hutch during the bus battle is named Teddy Kuznetsovj (played by Aleksandr Pal), whose injuries include brain damage and possible permanent paralysis. Teddy just happens to be the younger brother of a demented Russian mobster named Yulian Kuznetsov (played by Alexey Serebryakov), so you know what that means. Yulian finds out that Hutch s responsible for Teddy’s near-fatal injuries and vows to get revenge.

Yulian provides security for a Russian organization called Obshak, which houses a fortune worth millions. So there’s big money at stake in this crime saga. Yulian’s has several goons helping him track down Hutch. Among these accomplices is Yulian’s half-Russian, half-Ethiopian right-hand man Pavel (played by Araya Mengesha), whom Yulian viciously defends when some racist gangsters try to degrade Pavel for not being white.

As an example of some of the goofy quirks in this movie, Yulian likes getting on stage and performing to corny dance-pop music. There’s a scene of Yulian at his favorite nightclub Malina, which is the type of gaudy and tacky nightspot where you might see wannabe Eurovision Song Contest performers. Yulian leaps on stage with one of the singers and starts dancing as if he’s the star of the show.

Another sight gag in the film is during a big shootout at Williams Manufacturing Ltd., Hutch is near a wall sign that that reads, “This department has worked 204 days without lost time accident. The best previous record was 91 days. Do your part.” The number 204 is on a part of the sign that is erasable. In the middle of the melee, Hutch takes his elbow and erases the number 204, to indicate that the office isn’t a safe space anymore.

Even with these touches of comedy, the main attraction for “Nobody” remains the action. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t let up on its adrenaline pace. And the filmmakers understand that the spectacle of Hutch being a one-man combat machine isn’t enough, so there are more people who eventually join Hutch in his fight against Yulian and his thugs. The choreography and stunts in the fight scenes are much better than the movie’s visual effects. (For example, there’s a scene with a massive fire where the flames look very fake.)

Odenkirk carries the movie with an entertaining flair as Hutch, who never really loses his humanity underneath all of his rage. If viewers are wondering how Hutch is able to have such masterful fighting skills, it’s explained in the movie. The explanation isn’t surprising in the least, since there were many clues that Hutch isn’t as “average” as he first appears to be. The ending of “Nobody” is a clear indication that the filmmakers want this movie’s story to continue. And based on all the crowd-pleasing aspects of this movie, there’s a high likelihood that “Nobody” won’t be the last time that viewers will see Hutch Mansell.

Universal Pictures released “Nobody” in U.S. cinemas on March 26, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is April 16, 2021.

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