Review: ‘Voyagers,’ starring Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Fionn Whitehead and Colin Farrell

April 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Lily-Rose Depp and Tye Sheridan in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers”

Directed by Neil Burger

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in a spaceship from Earth, the sci-fi drama “Voyagers” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Asians and Latinos) who portray American scientists and crew members involved in exploring a new planet where human beings can possibly live.

Culture Clash: A power struggle erupts among the crew members, and it turns deadly.

Culture Audience: “Voyagers” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies that borrow heavily from dystopian young-adult novels with “survival of the fittest” themes.

Quintessa Swindell, Reda Elazouar, Fionn Whitehead, Archie Madekwe and Lou Llobel in “Voyagers” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Voyagers” is a disappointing space travel movie that’s the equivalent of being stuck on a pointless road trip with bickering 20-somethings from a bad soap opera. “Voyagers” is not an adventure story about exploring a new planet. The movie is really about a group of young people isolated on a spaceship in a bland ripoff of “Lord of the Flies.” The cast members’ overall serviceable performances can’t quite save “Voyagers” from the movie’s annoying “bait and switch” in its story, which has too many plot holes and not enough originality for it to be a truly enjoyable film.

Written and directed by Neil Burger, “Voyagers” begins with a captioned intro that explains why this space voyage is taking place: “As the Earth grows hotter, and drought and disease ravage the population, scientists look for a new planet—one that can support human life. In 2063, they find it. The human voyage to the planet will take 86 years.” Although the movie never says which government is spearheading this voyage, viewers can assume it’s the United States because all of the people involved have American accents.

Leading this experimental voyage is a scientist named Richard (played by Colin Farrell), who tells people in a meeting that the plan is to have 30 qualified crew members—all who were born and bred to live on a spaceship. These crew members (who were born from artificial insemination) will have a pre-determined number of children and grandchildren during this 86-year journey in outer space. During this time, these voyagers and their descendants are supposed to learn enough about this new planet to return to Earth and bring back this knowledge so that other humans from Earth can possibly start relocating to this new planet.

From the start, there are some major problems with the story. Richard is the only person who’s shown interacting with and educating the children who were selected to be born and and bred for this program. He has been involved in raising them since birth. The movie should have had more scientists and government officials involved in this training. Just because “Voyagers” is a low-budget independent film is no excuse for this lack of credibility. If you can afford Colin Farrell to be in your movie, you can afford to hire some more cast members to portray the people training the children.

The children, who are in the same age group, are first seen as 4-year-olds in a sterile spaceship simulation environment where they are solving puzzles on computers. Richard interacts with them while wearing a hazmat suit. He is kind and patient with the kids, who have deliberately been raised indoors their entire life. The reason for always keeping the children indoors is because if the kids knew what it was like to be outdoors on Earth, it could have negative effects on their mental health if they knew what they were missing on Earth.

There’s a scene early in the movie that completely contradicts what happens later in the story. During a teaching session, all of the kids are happy to see Richard when he enters the room. Most of the kids run up to him and hug him, and he hugs them back. But later in the story, when the children begin the voyage when they’re 24 years old, they act as if they’ve never expressed public displays of affection before. It doesn’t ring true at all, but it’s the basis for a huge turning point in the movie.

Richard, who is a bachelor with no kids of his own, has grown attached to these children. He’s so attached that he wants to go with them on this voyage. His supervisor Marianne Sancar (played by Veronica Falcón) is very reluctant to allow it. However, Richard tells her that he really won’t miss living on Earth at all. And the next thing you know, Richard is the only adult over the age of 30 who’s with the crew members who were bred for this voyage. Once Richard and the crew members live on the spaceship, he no longer has to wear a hazmat suit when he’s around them.

Here’s another problematic part of the story: No government would realistically allow a bunch of 24-year-olds who don’t have any life experience outside of a spaceship environment to be on their own to explore a new planet. It’s what would have happened if Richard had not insisted on going on this voyage too. Any scientific exploration like this one would require people who would know what it’s like to live on Earth (indoors and outdoors), to make informed decisions on whether or not a new planet could be inhabitable by human beings whose biology was wired to live on Earth through centuries of evolution. It’s basic science for any scientific exploration to have that comparison point.

The “bait” part of “Voyagers” starts off misleading viewers into thinking that these young people, who’ve been trained specifically to explore this new planet, will get to do this exploring in the movie. But no, here comes the “switch” part of the movie: “Voyagers” has absolutely zero screen time of these so-called explorers doing any exploring. It’s not really spoiler information to reveal this fact about “Voyagers.” It’s a fair warning to viewers that this so-called “new planet” is never seen in the movie. Instead, “Voyagers” is essentially a predictable and often-dull soap opera on a spaceship.

Out of the 30 young people who are the crew members, three are the main focus of the story. It’s telegraphed early on that these three are the main characters, in a scene with the future voyagers as 4-year-olds. They are the only three characters Richard is shown tucking into bed and calling them by their names when he says good night to them.

The three main characters at 24 years old are:

  • Christopher (played by Tye Sheridan), who is even-tempered and analytical.
  • Sela (played by Lily-Rose Depp), who is the group’s assertive and intelligent chief medical officer.
  • Zac (played by Fionn Whitehead), who is the group’s rebellious chief surveillance officer.

And because “Voyagers” is really a soap opera in space, you know what that means: love triangle. There are some other crew members whose personalities are given some notable screen time. They include:

  • Kai (played by Archie Madekwe), a mischief maker who likes breaking the rules.
  • Julie (played by Quintessa Swindell), a flirtatious engineer who has a mutual attraction to Kai.
  • Peter (played by Viveik Kalra), who becomes a rival to Kai for Julie’s affections.
  • Phoebe (played by Chanté Adams), who is the group member most likely to stick to the rules and protocol.
  • Edward (played by Isaac Hempstead Wright), a nerdy control room officer who’s the most “book smart” one in the group.
  • Anda (played by Madison Hu), a level-headed type who is good at negotiating.

All of the crew members except Richard are given a blue liquid called (unimaginatively) The Blue as part of their dining routine. Christopher finds out through some computer hacking that The Blue is really a drug that dulls human senses. It contains a toxin called T56j, which makes people docile and eliminates sexual desire and other sensual urges.

Zac is with Christopher when this information is discovered. Christopher then confronts Richard about it. Richard admits that The Blue is a medication that was given to the crew members to make them less likely to rebel or get distracted.

It’s also explained in the movie that the outer-space program doesn’t want the crew members to conceive children naturally. All conceptions are supposed to be by artificial insemination. It’s been pre-determined how many children and grandchildren each voyager will have, in order to prevent over-population.

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t sit too well with Christopher and Zac to find out that their lives have been strictly controlled and manipulated by being given The Blue drug without their knowledge and consent. They decide to stop taking The Blue. And eventually, Christopher and Zac tell some other crew members that The Blue is really a drug to keep them complacent. And, of course, the word gets out to everyone else, and they also stop drinking The Blue.

Remember that scene of the cute and cuddly kids running up to Richard and hugging him? Well, the filmmakers of “Voyagers” want people to forget that scene, because (plot hole alert) they want viewers to think that these kids have now grown up to be people who don’t know what it’s like to express affection. It’s unclear how long the voyagers were taking The Blue, but it doesn’t matter because it’s not a drug that causes amnesia where they would forget childhood memories.

There’s a scene on the spaceship where Christopher sees Richard and Sela talking, and Richard has his hand affectionately on Sela’s shoulder, like a father would for a daughter. Christopher gets a little freaked out and acts as if Richard is one step away from being a sexual predator because Christopher can’t believe that someone is actually touching Sela in this way. When Christopher asks Sela in private if there’s anything inappropriate going on between her and Richard, she denies it, but Christopher doesn’t look completely convinced. It’s all just sloppy and contradictory screenwriting.

Keep in mind, these voyagers are the same people who, when they were children, were jumping up and hugging Richard and letting him tuck them into bed. It’s quite an unrealistic stretch that Christopher, now in his 20s, would suddenly act like he’s never seen Richard touch Sela in a fatherly way before, when Richard is essentially the only father these kids have ever known. By the way, this movie never shows the young voyagers being curious about who their biological parents are, even though Christopher mentions in a conversation that they’ve inherited physical and personality traits from their unknown parents.

After certain characters in “Voyagers” stop taking The Blue, the movie makes a big deal of showing them acting out as they lose their inhibitions. For Zac, that means a touch can’t just be a touch. When he touches Sela’s face affectionately, it quickly turns into fondling her breasts without consent. Zac and Christopher suddenly get the urge to wrestle each other a lot. And there are multiple scenes of the crew members running playfully through hallways, as if they’ve never done it before in their lives.

Through a series of circumstances, the voyagers also learn about violence. And the rest of the movie plays out as predictably as you think it would. Christopher and Zac go from being friends to being bitter enemies. And in true “Lord of the Flies” fashion, people take sides, and there’s a battle over who’s going to be in power.

And what about the mission to explore this new planet? That gets lost in the arguing and fights that take up almost all of the last third of the movie. And there’s some nonsense about a possible alien that’s invaded the ship, which is a fear that Zac uses to manipulate people to do what he wants.

While all of this childish drama is going on, no one seems to be operating the spaceship. It must be on auto-pilot, just like this formulaic, substandard sci-fi flick is on auto-pilot for almost its entire duration. Out of all the actors portraying the young voyagers, Whitehead seems to be the one having the most fun (probably because he’s playing a villain role), and he smirks it up to the hilt.

Unfortunately, the scenes in the movie where the voyagers have been taking The Blue drug require them to talk in almost-robotic monotones. And so, there are long stretches of “Voyagers” that are quite boring because the actors are supposed to be portraying “numb” people. Richard is the only character on the spaceship who maintains a strong sense of lucid humanity, but the power structure ends up changing on the spaceship, so Richard isn’t in the movie as much as some viewers might think he would be.

The cinematography and visual effects for “Voyagers” aren’t terrible but they’re not outstanding either. The movie’s production design for the spaceship isn’t entirely convincing. The interior rooms often just look like a shiny, sterile cafeteria, office building, or lounge space. There aren’t many exterior scenes in the movie because the voyagers spend more time quarreling or goofing off inside than actually working outside.

You know that “Voyagers” is a terrible sci-fi movie because it cares so little about this mission to explore a new planet. Not once do any of the voyagers talk about any hopes or fears that they have about what they might find on this new planet. You’d think that people who were raised to be these pioneering explorers would be curious. But no, not in this movie. “Voyagers,” just like the space mission in the movie, was badly conceived from the start and should have been aborted.

Lionsgate released “Voyagers” in U.S. cinemas on April 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Enhanced’ (2021), starring Alanna Bale, George Tchortov, Chris Mark and Adrian Holmes

April 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Alanna Bale in “Enhanced” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Enhanced” (2021)

Directed by James Mark

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi action film “Enhanced” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and Africans) portraying mutants and humans.

Culture Clash: An elite military squad is tasked with rounding up and imprisoning mutants who have deadly powers, while a “super mutant” is looking for more mutants to absorb their energy so he can take over the world.

Culture Audience: “Enhanced″ will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching derivative and forgettable sci-fi movies.

Patrick Sabongui, George Tchortov and Eric Hicks in “Enhanced” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The filmmakers of “Enhanced” should have titled this movie “Flimsy X-Men Ripoff” if they wanted more truth in advertising. It’s a formulaic and mindless flick about mutants being hunted by humans. The visual effects are weak, most of the acting is mediocre-to-terrible, and the action scenes are just filler as one scene clumsily lumbers to the next.

Directed by James Mark, “Enhanced” has almost no suspense because it’s obvious which characters will survive in this “humans versus mutants” war that is going on in an unnamed city in Canada. How do viewers know who’s going to survive until the end of the movie? Time and time again, there are two characters in the movie who could easily be killed when they’re cornered by the “enemy,” but these two characters inexplicably are allowed to get away. It’s all so that movie can drag along to its very predictable conclusion.

“Enhanced” (which has the title “Mutant Outcasts” in Germany) was written by “Enhanced” director Mark, Matthew Nayman and Peter Van Horne. And having three writers for this lackluster and unimaginative screenplay just makes “Enhanced” look worse, because three minds were clearly not better than one in this case. There’s almost nothing that’s original in this movie, which recycles ideas from other, much-better movies about persecuted mutants. By the way, the humans in this movie have a very bland name for the mutants: The mutants are called “subjects.”

“Enhanced” begins with an elite military squad hunting down a mutant named Joseph or Joe (played by Patrick Sabongui), who works as a janitor in an office building. Leading this squad into action is George Shepherd (played by George Tchortov), who is the type of generic “alpha male” who’s supposed to be the story’s hero. George’s closest sidekick in the squad is Scott Cromwell (played by Eric Hicks), who is more laid-back than “take charge” George. Scott, George and some other members of the squad ambush Joseph while he’s doing some janitorial work when the office is closed for the night.

This is the type of bad dialogue in the film. George tells Joseph that they know his real name isn’t Joseph, and that Joseph’s number is 78-934BRAVO. Apparently, he’s escaped from a secret prison that the government has for mutants. Joseph, or whatever his name really is, shouts to the squad: “I’m not going back there! I haven’t hurt anyone!”

Joseph’s eyes turn a glowing blue (it’s how the movie shows the mutants unleashing their powers) and replies in desperation, “You don’t understand! They did this to me!” George says, “Joseph, this is your last chance.” Joseph answers, “No, this is your last chance!”

Joseph runs away and ends up using his mutant powers to burst onto the rooftop of the building. But the squad is right behind him, and Joseph is cornered and captured. He’s taken back to the secret prison, which is is shown later on to be just a space with several glass-enclosed rooms. It looks more like a modern office building than a prison.

Usually in movies like this, the mutants would be held captive so that the government can do secret research on them. But no, not in this dimwitted movie. These mutants are just being held captive until the government can figure out what to do with them. Taxpayer money down the drain.

Meanwhile, there’s a mutant named Anna (played by Alanna Bale) in her late teens or early 20s who ends up being one of the hunted. She works as a mechanic in an auto body shop owned by her boss Danny (played by Jeffrey R. Smith), who doesn’t know that she’s a mutant. For example, he doesn’t notice when Anna uses her mutant superpowers to do things like unscrew major auto parts with her bare hands when it would take tools and a lot of human strength to do it.

Danny is targeted for extortion by some local thugs, who gang up and assault him one day at the auto shop while Anna is there too. You know what happens next. Anna uses her mutant superpowers to kill the thugs, but it’s not enough to protect Danny, who has been shot during this brawl. Anna makes a phone call for emergency help. As Danny lies seriously injured on the floor, he asks Anna, “What are you?” She doesn’t give an answer because she’s already out the door as a fugitive on her bicycle.

During her time on the run, Anna meets a guy named Eli (played by Michael Joseph Delaney), who’s a stereotypical nerdy researcher who always seems to be in movies like this one. The researcher fulfills the role of explaining all the “secrets” that they’ve uncovered in their research. When Eli first meets Anna, he already knows that she’s a mutant. However, Anna doesn’t trust Eli at first because she think he’s another human who wants her to be locked up.

Eli has found out that there’s a “super mutant” on the loose who’s been killing other mutants to absorb their energy. This “super mutant” can sense other mutants’ presence and track them down like he’s got some inner mutant GPS system or psychic ability or some other nonsense that’s explained in the movie. And guess who finds out about the secret prison filled with mutants?

This “super mutant” has the very unremarkable name of David (played by Chris Mark), and he’s an extremely dull villain with no personality. Glaring into the camera doesn’t count as having a personality. Chris Mark’s performance as David is so lifeless that you almost wonder if he thought he was playing a zombie, not a mutant. The actor shouldn’t get all the blame because the director didn’t cast this movie very well and should have given better direction to the cast members.

Meanwhile, George clashes with his supervisor Captain Williams (played by Adrian Holmes) over something, so George ends up going “rogue.” It’s not a spoiler to reveal this information, because how else would it explain why George and Anna work together when they inevitably cross each other’s paths? And let’s not forget about Eli, who has to play the role of the “computer/technology expert” so that someone can conveniently tap into secret computer networks when needed.

Bale gives the best performance in the cast, but that’s not saying much when her Anna character, just like everyone else in the movie, is as two-dimensional as a cartoon character. Don’t expect any of this movie’s characters to have interesting stories about their lives. And the fight scenes aren’t very impressive when you consider that certain people could be easily killed during certain fights, but they aren’t killed because the movie obviously wants these characters to survive.

Mutant villain David has the ability to regenerate when he’s wounded, but the movie isn’t consistent in showing this ability in some of David’s fight scenes. This movie is called “Enhanced” because the mutants have enhanced physical powers. But the movie is so woefully lacking in originality that the quality of the movie is diminished to being creatively bankrupt.

Vertical Entertainment released “Enhanced” in the U.S. on digital and VOD on March 26, 2021. The movie was released in Brazil in 2019.

Review: ‘Come True,’ starring Julia Sarah Stone and Landon Liboiron

April 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Julia Sarah Stone in “Come True” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Come True”

Directed by Anthony Scott Burns

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi drama “Come True” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A runaway teen enrolls a university’s mysterious sleep study and finds out that she could be part of a dangerous experiment. 

Culture Audience: “Come True” will appeal primarily to people who like atmospheric sci-fi that is deliberately ambiguous until toward the end of the story.

Julia Sarah Stone in “Come True” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Come True” is the type of sci-fi movie where the movie revolves around experiments that you know immediately aren’t what they first appear to be, but the movie takes its time to reveal the true meaning of what’s supposed to be happening. With its aqua-tinted scenes and dreamlike stylings, “Come True” has an otherworldly feel, but the story takes place on Earth, in an unnamed Canadian city. It’s the type of movie that is best enjoyed if people don’t mind if the story doesn’t really explain what’s going until the last third of the film.

Written and directed by Anthony Scott Burns, “Come True” definitely has influences from David Cronenberg, a filmmaker who has a penchant for sci-fi/horror stories that make Earth look disarmingly normal and futuristically dangerous at the same time. According to the “Come True” production notes, there were only five people on the film’s on-set production crew (about seven times smaller than the movie’s cast), and the results are very impressive with the movie’s visual style.

Less impressive is the often-muddled storytelling that tends to be a little repetitive until things become much clearer toward the end of the movie. The movie’s protagonist is 18-year-old Sarah Dunn (played by Julia Sarah Stone), a rebellious student who’s a misfit and loner at her high school. Sarah keeps having dreams where she sees a mysterious tall and faceless creature that resembles Slenderman.

As a result of these nightmares, Sarah has had a hard time sleeping at night. In an early scene in the movie, she’s dozed off in class and has another nightmare and wakes up startled. The other students notice and start to laugh, while a student in the class calls Sarah a “freak,” and Sarah tells the bully to “fuck off.” Sarah’s home life is barely shown (her parents are irrelevant to the story), because the next thing you know, Sarah runs away from home with only her bike and a few basic possessions. She sleeps in a park and somehow doesn’t get in trouble for loitering or vagrancy.

It’s never really shown how Sarah gets her meals as a runaway, but something comes along where she doesn’t have to worry about finding a place to sleep, at least temporarily. A friend of Sarah’s named Zoe (played by Tedra Rogers) tells Sarah about a local university that’s doing a two-month sleep study where the participants have to sleep in the study center. During an interview with a sleep study staffer in her 20s named Anita (played by Carlee Ryski), Sarah says that she drinks five to six cups of coffee a day and that she used to sleepwalk when she was a kid.

Sarah is accepted into the study, and she has a roommate in her 20s named Emily (played by Caroline Buzanko), who doesn’t interact much with Sarah. The head of the sleep study is Dr. Meyer (played by Christopher Heatherington), a meticulous and intellectual type in his 60s. Anita and a man in his 20s named Lyle (played by John Tasker) are among the assistants who work closely with Dr. Meyer.

One day, Sarah is in a bookstore when she sees a bearded man in his late 20s, wearing glasses and a trenchcoat, who seems to be following her. They make eye contact and she assumes he’s just a random creep and manages to slip out of his sight. Later that evening, Sarah and Zoe go to a movie theater to watch the 1968 classic horror film “Night of the Living Dead.” And Sarah sees the same man in the movie theater, and he’s sitting not too far from Sarah and Zoe. Sarah tells Zoe about seeing this man earlier, because she doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.

It’s not. It turns out that his name is Jeremy, nicknamed Riff (played by Landon Liboiron), and he’s part of Dr. Meyer’s team. Why was he following Sarah? He won’t say, but Sarah eventually meets him at the sleep study center. She’s annoyed with Riff because she doesn’t know why he was stalking her, but he makes an attempt to be nice to Sarah, who has her reservations about him.

There’s a lot of unanswered questions that Sarah has during the study. When she asks the sleep study staffers something basic, such as, “What are you studying?,” she usually gets this answer: “I can’t tell you that.” After a while, it becomes repetitive and frustrating for Sarah, as it will be for viewers of this movie.

Sarah’s dreams start to get worse until she wakes up with panic attacks and minor convulsions. At one point in the movie, her left eye starts to bleed, so she has to wear an eye patch. And in an unexpected incident, Sarah passes out in a laundromat.

One day, Sarah finds out that her roommate Emily has disappeared with no goodbye. When Sarah asks about Emily, Sarah is told that Emily dropped out of the study. Anita tells Sarah that it’s fairly common for people to not complete these types of studies because they want to go back to sleeping in their own homes.

Gradually, it becomes apparent that Riff is starting to become attracted to Sarah. It’s a little creepy, because although Sarah is legally an adult, she looks like she’s about 15, and Riff is in his late 20s. The movie doesn’t acknowledge the breach of ethics of someone conducting a scientific study who then gets romantically involved with a study subject and how that could compromise any data gathered.

Because it takes to so long for the movie to get to a meaningful explanation of what the real reason is for the sleep study, a great deal of “Come True” involves a lot of hallucinogenic imagery of what Sarah is experiencing in these dreams. These visuals will either keep people interested or it will bore people who want the mystery to be solved at a much quicker pace.

The music of “Come True” was composed by electro-pop duo Electric Youth and writer/director Burns under his musical alias Pilotpriest. (Electric Youth’s song “Modern Fears” is featured prominently in the film, and it sums up the atmosphere that “Come True” is trying to convey.) The music and visual effects greatly enhance the mystical haze of questionable reality that permeates throughout the movie.

Stone’s performance as Sarah makes her a believable character, but the movie skimps on details about Sarah’s interests and life goals, because so much of what viewers see of Sarah consists of her dreams/nightmares. The last 20 minutes of the film are a bit rushed when the mystery of the sleep study is revealed. But the ride getting there is fairly captivating for those who have the patience to find out what happens in the end.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Come True” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Little Fish’ (2021), starring Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell

March 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jack O’Connell and Olivia Cooke in “Little Fish” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Little Fish” (2021) 

Directed by Chad Hartigan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle from 2020 to 2022, the sci-fi drama “Little Fish” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British woman and her American husband struggle with fear and health issues during a global pandemic of the fictional disease Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA).

Culture Audience: “Little Fish” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-acted apocalyptic dramas that have romance and surprises.

Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell in “Little Fish” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Little Fish” is the type of plot-puzzle drama that appears to be straightforward in its intentions but turns out to be quite different from what was initially presented. The movie succeeds largely because of commendable acting from Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, who play a newlywed couple struggling with a health crisis when one of them becomes afflicted with the fictional disease Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA) during a global pandemic. Because the movie takes place primarily in 2022, with flashbacks to previous years, the parallels are eerily similar to the real-life COVID-19 pandemic, although “Little Fish” was written and filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic existed.

Written by Mattson Tomlin (who adapted the screenplay from Aja Gabel’s short story) and directed by Chad Hartigan, “Little Fish” is told from the point of view of a lively Brit named Emma (played by Cooke), who works as a veterinary technician in Seattle. The movie’s tone is fraught with anxiety because Emma starts to see signs that her worst fears are coming true: The two people she loves the most have become afflicted with NIA, a viral disease that causes dementia.

The movie is a series of scenes in non-chronological order, with the “present day” scenes taking place in 2022. Emma gives voiceover narration during much of the story, and there are many scenes where she is articulating her memories so that she can write them down for herself and her American husband Jude (played by O’Connell), a photographer who is slowly showing signs of having NIA. It’s an activity that she does with a heavy heart because she knows it might be a matter of time before Jude will forget who she is and everything about their relationship.

In addition, Emma’s mother, who lives in England, is also showing signs of NIA. Emma’s mother (whose name is not revealed) is never seen in the movie, but her voice is heard when Emma speaks to her on the phone or leaves a voice mail message for her. Emily Stott is the voice of Emma’s mother in the movie.

In the world of “Little Fish,” NIA does not have a vaccine or cure. And there doesn’t seem to be much knowledge about how it is spread, although people occasionally wear masks as a precaution. Because a lot of the movie takes place in flashbacks, viewers see in bits and pieces how Emma and Jude met and how their relationship evolved.

Emma and Jude met while she was sitting by herself on a deserted beach. She sees a dog nearby and asks the man walking near her if the dog is his. He says no. The way that Emma and Jude look at each other, there’s an obvious attraction. Emma is talkative, while Jude is a little bit more emotionally reserved.

Jude has a camera with him and asks if he can take her picture. She obliges, they talk, flirt a little, and they exchange numbers. There’s only one problem. Emma already has a boyfriend, but she doesn’t tell Jude that the first time that they meet.

Shortly after Jude and Emma meet each other at the beach, Emma is at a Halloween costume party. She’s dressed as Claude Bourgelat, the French doctor who was considered a pioneer of veterinary medicine in the 1700s. Emma looks bored at the party, and her boyfriend Tim (played by David Lennon), senses that she’s become emotionally distant. However, Emma insists that everything is just fine.

While at the party, Emma gets a call from Jude, who asks her to come over to his place because he’s feeling kind of lonely at his apartment. Emma doesn’t hesitate, so she ditches the Halloween party and goes to Jude’s place. Once he sees her, he immediately guesses that she’s dressed as Claude Bourgelat. It’s one of many indications of why Emma fell for Jude so quickly.

Jude and Emma then head to a nightclub, where she tells him that she has a boyfriend named Tim. When Jude asks Emma if she loves her boyfriend, she says no. Jude asks Emma why she’s with this boyfriend if she doesn’t love him. Emma tells Jude that it’s complicated. More than once Jude gets Tim’s name wrong (Jude calls him Tom), which could be a mental block or a deliberate attempt to show Emma that he’s so unconcerned about Tim that he can’t be bothered to remember Tim’s name.

While hanging out at the nightclub together, Jude and Emma’s attraction to each other continues to grow. They share a similar sense of humor, such as pointing out people in their sight and trying to guess what these people’s stories are. The movie doesn’t delve too much into Jude’s family background, but it’s implied he’s on how own, while Emma (who has a working-class northern England accent) only has her mother has her closest living relative.

During their flirtatious conversation at the nightclub, Jude asks Emma if she can kiss her. She says no because she has a boyfriend. Not long afterward, Emma says she has to leave, and then she surprises Jude by giving him a romantic kiss on the mouth.

Needless to say, Emma’s relationship with Tim doesn’t last. Jude and Emma’s romance quickly heats up, they end up moving in together, and then they get married. Emma mentions in the movie that their wedding was on October 14, 2021, which means that they were married for a year or less when Jude began showing signs of having NIA.

At first, Jude’s forgetfulness is about little things. For example, Emma and Jude have a dog named Blue. One day while riding together on a bus, Emma says it would be great if they could adopt another dog as a companion for Blue. Jude says no because they don’t have room in their apartment. They get into a minor argument about it, but Jude is firm in saying it’s not a good time for them to get a second dog.

But then, on another day not long after that argument, Jude mentions to Emma that they should think about adopting a second dog. Emma is shocked and reminds Jude that this has been an ongoing disagreement with them, with Jude being the one who was against the idea of getting a second dog. Jude tells Emma that he honestly can’t remember them disagreeing about this issue.

Emma and Jude never do get a second dog, because they have much the more pressing matter of how to deal with Jude’s disappearing memory. Jude shows other signs that his memory is slipping. He forgets where he lives and doesn’t think about looking at his driver’s license to get his home address. On another occasion, he’s very late for an important job to take photos of a wedding. And speaking of weddings, there’s a pivotal scene where Jude and Emma have very different memories of their wedding day.

While all of this is going on, Emma confides to her mother about her suspicions that Jude might have NIA. But to Emma’s horror, her mother starts to forget names and experiences too. And then, Emma gets a phone call from England and finds out how much her mother’s health is deteriorating. Emma has to decide if she should go to England to try to help her mother (who apparently has no other relatives to turn to) or stay in the U.S. to help Jude.

Emma and Jude’s closest friends are a couple named Ben Richards (played by Raúl Castillo) and Samantha (played by Soko), an alternative rock duo who are musical partners and love partners. Ben plays guitar and Samantha is the singer. Ben and Samantha knew Jude first, because Jude used to go on tour with them as the duo’s photographer.

As Jude reveals later in the story, during their touring days, Jude and Samantha got caught up in partying too much with alcohol and drugs, and they decided to “dry out” in Seattle, where Samantha’s parents live. By the time Jude met Emma, he had been clean and sober for a few years. In flashbacks, Samantha and Ben are shown to have a loving and harmonious relationship.

Unfortunately, things change when Ben’s mental state does downhill because he has NIA. At first, Ben’s forgetfulness shows up as not remembering the musical notes of his guitar strings, so Jude comes up with an idea to tattoo this information on Ben’s arms. But then, Ben’s memory loss results in a very disturbing incident that has Samantha questioning if she should continue to be in a relationship with Ben. And the dark turn in Samantha and Ben’s relationship has Emma worrying about how she and Jude need to prepare in case something similar happens to them.

Shortly after Jude began losing his memory, it’s in the news that the government is doing a clinical trial for a possible NIA vaccine. The clinical trial is open to people who show NIA symptoms. Emma immediately encourages Jude to apply for this clinical trial, but he’s reluctant, because he’s still somewhat in denial that he has NIA. How this issue is resolved is one of the turning points in the movie. There are a few scenes that also show how desperate people can become when they think there’s a chance that they or their loved ones have a chance to be cured of this terrible disease.

The heart of “Little Fish” is in the scenes that show Jude and Emma’s romance. They have a relationship that’s very realistic, such as an ease with one another in how they live as a couple, share emotional intimacy, and even how they handle disagreements. Despite their occasional conflicts, Emma and Jude are very much in love and committed to each other. And as NIA starts to take over their lives, the decisions they make are a direct result of their fear of losing each other.

The movie is titled “Little Fish” because of a scene in the movie where Jude proposes marriage to Emma. They are at a fish aquarium store when he pops the question, and she enthusiastically says yes. However, Jude tells her that he doesn’t have an engagement ring.

Emma is so happy that she doesn’t mind. She replies, “Then buy me a fish.” Later, Emma and Jude get matching tattoos of little fish on their respective right ankles to commemorate this special day. It should come as no surprise that there’s a scene in the movie where these tattoos are a way to see how much Jude remembers about his relationship with Emma.

“Little Fish” can be described as a sci-fi romantic drama, but there are parts of the movie that have the qualities of being an apocalyptic horror movie without all the bombastic “run for your lives” scenes that are usually in these types of apocalyptic movies. In “Little Fish,” the NIA horror sneaks up on people but shows up in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

In one of the flashback scenes, Emma is at her job and signs paperwork for a stray dog that is turned in by a city employee named Frank (played by Toby Hargrave), who works for the city’s animal control department. Emma is a little surprised that Frank can’t remember her name. Observant viewers will not be surprised later in the movie when another driver named Annie (played by Angela Moore) shows up and tells Emma that she’s Frank’s replacement because he stopped showing up for work. The implication is that Frank has NIA.

The horror of NIA is exemplified in real life-or-death situations. While taking a tourist-type boat ride to get their mind off of their troubles, Emma and Jude witness a woman run hysterically toward them because the woman doesn’t remember her husband and thinks he’s a stranger trying to kidnap her. The woman on the boat is so distraught that she does something desperate and tragic.

And there are also missing-person flyers that start to become more prevalent as the NIA pandemic worsens. That’s because the disease has spread at such a rate that more people forget who they are, wander off, and go missing. It’s something that Emma fears might happen to Jack, her mother, and other people she know, including herself.

Cooke and O’Connell (who are both British in real life) have the type of natural chemistry with each other that give their performances considerable authenticity. Because Jude and Emma are a very believable couple, audiences will be rooting for Jude and Emma to somehow make it through this crisis against all odds. “Little Fish” director Hartigan and film editor Josh Crockett skillfully weave the story in such a way that viewers of “Little Fish” will be engrossed in putting all the flashbacks together to find out who Jude and Emma are. What makes this movie memorable is how these perceptions compare from the beginning of the movie to the end of the movie.

IFC Films released “Little Fish” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 5, 2021.

‘Avatar’ reclaims title as biggest-selling movie of all time

March 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in “Avatar” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

Thanks to a 2021 re-release in China, the 2009 sci-fi epic “Avatar” (from 20th Century Fox) has reclaimed the title as the world’s biggest-selling movie of all time for ticket sales. In 2019, Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Endgame” had broken this ultimate box-office record, with $2.797 billion in worldwide ticket sales, compared to Avatar’s then-total gross of $2.790 billion. With the re-release of “Avatar” on March 9, 2021, worldwide ticket sales for “Avatar” currently stands at $2.84 billion, according to Box Office Mojo. In the U.S. and Canada, ticket sales for “Avatar” total $760.5 million, while the total for “Avengers: Endgame” is $858.4 million.

Directed by James Cameron, “Avatar” tells the story of a paraplegic U.S. Marine named Jake Sullivan (played by Sam Worthington), who is sent to the planet Pandora. Using an avatar disguise to fit in with the residents, he encounters conflicts about his mission and other choices when he falls in love with a Pandora resident named Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana). The movie’s cast also includes Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Michelle Rodriguez. “Avatar” was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie ended up winning three Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects.

“Avengers: Endgame” easily became the world’s highest-grossing movie of the 2010s decade, surpassing 2014’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” whose ticket sales totaled $914 million in the U.S. and Canada and $2.1 billion worldwide. (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is still the No. 1-selling movie of all time in the U.S. and Canada.) “Avengers: Endgame” then became the world’s No. 2 highest-grossing movie of all time, surpassing 1997’s “Titanic,” which had $659 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales and a total haul of $2.2 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

Review: ‘Parallel’ (2020), starring Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King, Mark O’Brien, Alyssa Diaz, David Harewood and Kathleen Quinlan

December 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Aml Ameen, Martin Wallström, Georgia King and Mark O’Brien in “Parallel” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Parallel” (2020)

Directed by Isaac Ezban

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Seattle area, the sci-fi drama “Parallel” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black and Hispanic people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four housemates discover that their house has a mysterious mirror that leads to a parallel world where every person on Earth has an alternative look-alike counterpart in the parallel world, which operates at a slower time pace than Earth does.

Culture Audience: “Parallel” will appeal primarily to people who like twist-filled science fiction where the characters in the story have ethical dilemmas.

Martin Wallström and Georgia King in “Parallel” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

What would you do if you could take knowledge from a parallel world that’s almost identical to Earth and bring that knowledge to Earth? And how would it affect your life and the lives of others? Those are the major questions behind the plot and character actions of the sci-fi dramatic thriller “Parallel,” which brings suspenseful and philosophical moments to a flawed but overall entertaining story.

Directed by Isaac Ezban and written by Scott Blaszak, “Parallel” has a few plot holes that aren’t resolved by the end of the movie. However, these unanswered questions don’t take away from the overall storyline, which is held together by the entirely believable premise that people will often go to extremes if they think there’s a shortcut to what they think will make them happy. “Parallel” throws in the complications of greed and loyalty to demonstrate that this shortcut to happiness isn’t as simple as it might seem.

The story in “Parallel” essentially revolves around four friends/co-workers in their mid-to-late 20s who live together in a house in the Seattle area. (“Parallel” was actually filmed in Vancouver.) Noel Eggerton (played by Martin Wallström) is the group’s “alpha male” who think he’s the smartest one and always acts as if he should be the one to make the most important decisions for the group. Devin Parkes (played by Aml Ameen) is also very intelligent, but he’s a lot more sensitive and compassionate than Noel. Leena Fortier (played by Georgia King) is a free-spirited artist who used to be Noel’s girlfriend, but she decided that it wasn’t a good idea to mix business with pleasure. Josh Resig (played by Mark O’Brien) is a laid-back, creative type who has a mischievous side to him.

The four pals work together as the founders of a start-up tech company that’s trying to sell an app where people can rent private parking space to the public. (The name of the company is never mentioned in the movie.) Their goal is to eventually incorporate the app into technology for voice-activated cars.

Noel, Devin and Josh are the main developers of the app, while Leena and Josh share artwork duties, with Leena being the lead artist. Noel and Devin are in charge of sales and marketing. So far, the four friends haven’t had much success with the business. Money is running out, and the four friends might be evicted from their home if they can no longer pay their rent and other bills.

Near the beginning of the film, Noel and Devin are seen giving a sales pitch for the parking app in a boardroom full of bored and skeptical businesspeople. The leader of this business meeting asks if Noel and Devin can have the app ready by a deadline that Noel and Devin admit that won’t be able to meet. To Noel and Devin’s dismay, they find out that an acquaintance of theirs named Seth has put in a competitive bid with the company to develop a similar app. Seth has guaranteed that he can make the company’s deadline.

Adding insult to injury, Seth had previously interviewed to work at the four friends’ start-up company. But instead, Seth took the intellectual property information that he found out during the interview and used it to develop a similar app. Seth’s backstabbing move is an indication of the four friends’ lack of business savvy that they didn’t patent their idea and make Seth sign a non-disclosure/non-compete agreement when he interviewed for a job with their company.

The four friends had been counting on selling the app to the company that has now rejected them. Without this sale, they have reached the dejected conclusion that they can no longer afford to pay their house rent, and their start-up will probably have to go out of business. To drown their sorrows, the four pals go out for drinks at a local bar. Devin tells the other three that he’s thinking of taking another job.

One of the employees of the bar is a bartender named Carmen (played by Alyssa Diaz), who is somewhat aware that Josh has a big crush on her. However, Carmen has a boyfriend, so Josh doesn’t want to make any moves on her. Carmen is friendly to Josh, but she’s not flirtatious. This love triangle ends up being a pivotal subplot to the story.

When the four housemates go home, they find out through a series of random circumstances that the house has a hidden room that contains a mysterious full-length mirror. And they get very freaked out when they see that the mirror’s glass is actually more like a liquid substance. When someone puts a hand through the “liquid glass,” it disappears into a void, but the person is able to pull the hand out of the mirror.

Devin puts his hand in the mirror and describes the feeling as a “warm tingle, like your foot’s asleep.” And when Devin video records the mirror on his phone, he sees that the video shows the room without the four friends in it. Finally, curiosity gets the better of Josh. Before his housemates can stop him, Josh declares before he jumps completely into the mirror: “Neil Armstrong’s got nothing on me!”

What Josh finds on the other side of the mirror is a parallel world where he sees alternative versions of himself, Noel, Devin and Leena in the same-looking house. The four “alternatives” don’t see him though. The four friends in the parallel world have the same names as their Earth counterparts and look exactly like their Earth counterparts. Noel watches as the four “alternative” friends spend time in the backyard for a barbecue, which is something that the real Josh, Noel, Devin and Leena are not currently doing on Earth.

Josh makes his way back to the mirror and returns to Earth in the house’s secret room, where he tells his three friends what he saw. Of course, they’re very shocked at first. But when they see that Josh doesn’t seem to have any side effects from his trip, they decide to get more information about this parallel world. Through a few experimental trips back to the parallel world, the four friends find out that one minute on Earth equals three hours in the parallel world.

In this secret room that they’ve discovered on Earth, the four friends also find diaries from the house’s previous occupant: a hermit named Marissa Widdicomb (played by Kathleen Quinlan, in a cameo), who mysteriously disappeared before the four friends moved into the house. By reading Marissa’s diaries, the four friends discover that Marissa also found out about the secret powers of the mirror. Marissa was a widow grieving over her dead husband, and she decided to find out if her husband was still alive in the parallel world. She tracked down her alternative self in the parallel world, began stalking her alternative self, and found out that her husband’s alternative self was alive and well.

Marissa became so obsessed with wanting her husband back that she planned to murder her alternative self and secretly take her place. This murder is shown at the very beginning of “Parallel.” Viewers find out later in the movie who the people are in this scene and why this murder was committed. In her diaries, Marissa cautions against anyone coming face-to-face with their alternative or “alt” self because it will probably lead to the death of one of the selves.

Despite the tricky and possibly dangerous outcomes of messing with fate in two different worlds, it isn’t long before the four friends decide it’s worth the risk to use this mirror portal to their advantage. Because they’re desperate to sell their app to the company that rejected them, the four friends come up with a scheme to finish the app in the parallel world in order to beat Seth in the deadline. They call the mission “Operation Fuck Seth.”

Sure enough, the plan works. They finish the app before Seth does, and the sale is made. The four friends celebrate by driving to Seth’s house and gloating to him by telling him the news. Seth is incredulous that they made the deadline before he did. And he becomes increasingly suspicious when he sees the four friends’ fortunes go from bad to “too good to be true.”

That’s because greed inevitably takes over, especially with Noel, Leena and Josh. At first, they decide to go to the parallel world, pretend to be their alternative selves, and go on spending sprees by buying things that the alternative selves will have to pay for but the real selves on Earth can enjoy. (There’s a montage of all the gifts that the greedy pals buy for themselves and bring back to Earth.)

And then, two of the friends decide to take knowledge from the parallel world that isn’t known yet on Earth, and use that knowledge to get rich and famous. Noel decides to steal technology ideas, while Leena (who has always dreamed of being the type of celebrated artist who has her own exhibit at an art gallery) steals art ideas. They both get a lot of praise, recognition and financial rewards for their stolen ideas that they pass off as their own.

Josh doesn’t get as deep into stealing as Noel and Leena do, but Josh doesn’t disapprove of what they’re doing either. Josh’s main concern is how to win over Carmen. Meanwhile, Devin is the only one of the four friends who has a conscience and refuses to steal ideas from the parallel world. He warns his friends that they could face serious consequences if they’re caught, but his warnings go unheeded.

Devin has a reason for feeling as guilty as he does: It has to do with his father Martin Parkes (played by David Harewood) and something that haunts Devin that’s explained in the movie but won’t be revealed in this review. It’s enough to say that although Devin won’t steal ideas from the parallel world, he does have a very big motive to use the parallel world to possibly change things about his life.

One of the four friends ends up becoming the worst of the group (it’s easy to predict which one) and there are several things that happen in the story that indeed become life-or-death situations. “Parallel” somewhat devolves into the type of formulaic thriller where certain people turn against each other and loyalties are tested. However, there’s still enough suspense in the story to keep viewers interested in what will happen and how the story will end.

To distinguish between scenes on Earth and scenes in the parallel world, “Parallel” uses different techniques from cinematographer Karim Hussain. The scenes on Earth have a warmer hue, with a lot of gold and brown coloring. The scenes in the parallel world have a bluish glow, with tilted camera angles and slightly warped effects on the camera lens. Viewers who are paying attention will easily be able to notice the differences between these two worlds.

Out of the four actors playing the main characters in “Parallel,” Ameen does the best in portraying a well-rounded person. And that’s mainly because his Devin character is the only one who has a significant backstory. King also fares quite well in portraying Leena, who at times appears to be complicated because she could go either way in some of the decisions that she has to make.

“Parallel” clearly has influences from “The Twilight Zone” and taps into age-old questions about how much in life happens because of fate versus free will. The ending of the movie is a jumbled rush that could have been improved by answering a few questions that remain unanswered. However, the movie is enough of an interesting sci-fi jaunt that’s worth watching if viewers don’t mind keeping track of characters that have look-alike counterparts in a parallel world.

Vertical Entertainment released “Parallel” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020.

Review: ‘Monster Hunter,’ starring Milla Jovovich

December 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa in “Monster Hunter” (Photo by Coco Van Oppens/Screen Gems)

“Monster Hunter”

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and in an alternate world, the sci-action flick “Monster Hunter” has a racially diverse cast (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the U.S. military and otherworldly warriors.

Culture Clash: Members of the U.S. military find themselves transported to another world, where they have to fight off monsters with other people from that world.

Culture Audience: “Monster Hunter,” which is based on the videogame of the same name, will appeal primarily to people who like simplistic, formulaic action movies with little to no surprises or substance.

Rathalos in “Monster Hunter” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems/Sony Pictures)

The sci-fi/action time waster “Monster Hunter” is a perfect example of why most video games that get made into movies have bad reputations for being dumb, predictable and lacking a compelling storyline. Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who’s best known for the critically panned “Resident Evil” movie franchise, which is also based on a video game), “Monster Hunter” is based on Capcom’s video game of the same title. At least with the video game, audiences can control the action. With the “Monster Hunter” movie, audiences have to sit through an often-incoherent mess that seems recycled from countless other generic sci-fi/action flicks that have been done before and done much better.

The plot of the movie is as simple as its title. It’s really just a series of battles against giant monsters. Some of the creatures live in desert sand, while others live in caves. The monsters have names like Rathalos, Nerscylla and Black Diablos and resemble everything from giant scorpions to oversized versions of the deadly creatures in “Gremlins.” And just like many other sci-fi movies of this ilk, there’s a mysterious gateway portal that separates Earth from the world where the monsters live.

The beginning of “Monster Hunter” shows a glimpse of the other world, when a ship traveling in treacherous icy waters is attacked by giant monsters. Two of the people on the ship end up playing a pivotal role later on in the story: The ship’s captain named Admiral (played by Ron Perlman, wearing a silly-looking blonde pompadour wig) and Hunter (played by Tony Jaa), a bow-and-arrow slinging warrior who also has the stunt skills of a trained gymnast. It’s also shown that Hunter has a few superpower tricks.

The movie then cuts to an unnamed desert on Earth, where a small squad of U.S. Army soldiers are making their way across the land in jeeps. The squad is led by Capt. Lt. Natalie Artemis (played by Milla Jovovich, also of the “Resident Evil” franchise), who is tough and fearless but also shows a compassionate side and a sense of humor during the course of the story. She might be tough, but she also makes a lot of ludicrously bad decisions.

The soldiers in the squad don’t have much character development in the movie, but they are named Dash (played by Meagan Good); Marshall (played by Diego Boneta); Link (played by Tip “T.I.” Harris); Axe (played by Jin-Au Yeung); and Steeler (played by Josh Helman). Axe and Steeler seem to be good buddies since they have a rapport where they joke around with each other. However, the personalities in this group are fairly interchangeable because they’re so generic.

A tornado-like massive sandstorm with electrical current suddenly appears and overwhelms the squad. They soon find themselves in an even more isolated desert area that they can’t find on their map. Their GPS and communication devices aren’t working. It doesn’t take long for them to discover that they’re not on Earth anymore, because giant monsters (larger than dinosaurs) emerge from the sand and attack the humans. The military firearms and other weapons are no match for these monsters.

Dash is the only one in the group who openly disagrees with Artemis when Artemis tells her squad that they have to fight back against the monsters instead of hiding. Through a series of very predictable events, Artemis ends up meeting Hunter. And there’s the typical long stretch of the movie where Artemis and Hunter clash and don’t know how much they can trust each other.

The visual effects in a movie like “Monster Hunter” should be one of the main attractions, but the quality is uneven. The monsters are convincing in most scenes, but then there are other scenes with cheesy effects, where it’s obvious that the actors were in front of a green screen. One of the main reasons to make a video game into a movie is to have the movie look better than than the video game, but “Monster Hunter” falls short of that intention.

Even worse than the visual effects are scenarios where Artemis sustains injuries that would cripple most people, but she’s later able to demonstrate superhuman strength later on in the story. And let’s not get into the continuity and logic problems, where weapons are used that seem to come out of nowhere. And there are several scenes where Artemis is covered in dirt and grime everywhere except her face.

There are also some scenes that don’t make any sense at all. In one of these moronic scenes, Artemis (who’s already injured, exhausted and getting very dehydrated) is seen on top of a stone structure that’s about as tall as two skyscrapers. It’s a climb that would take several hours, but she’s suddenly shown standing on top, as if she’s some kind of super mountain climber.

Why would Artemis make this long and grueling climb that would deplete her energy and make her even more desperate for water? She did it so she could throw a rock onto the sand to see if any monsters would react. And sure enough, after she throws a rock, a monster emerges from beneath the sand and tries to attack. Keep in mind, this idiotic “test” is well after Artemis barely survived a vicious attack by several monsters that she already knows exist.

Jovovich seems to be doing her best to bring a sense of adventure to her role in “Monster Hunter,” but Artemis is really just a variation of her Alice character in the “Resident Evil” movies. Jaa’s Hunter character isn’t that memorable or unique. And viewers will have a hard time taking Perlman’s Admiral character seriously as a badass leader when he’s wearing a hot mess of a mane that looks like a reject from the Joan Rivers Wig Collection. And let’s not get started on the Meowscular Chef, the humanoid cat character that looks very fake and out of place with the humans.

The script problems, the tacky visual effects and the mediocre acting in “Monster Hunter” might be more tolerable if the action in the movie was truly innovative and suspenseful. But most of the action is very uninspired and at times can be considered quite dull, especially for viewers who’ve seen a lot of action movies. And the movie has an over-used action gimmick of making it look like someone is dead but the person was actually unconscious.

The fight scenes in “Monster Hunter” take a very lazy approach of gunfire, explosions, rinse, repeat. The movie also has a few laughable moments where Artemis believes a hunter-sized knife will be enough to kill these monsters. In one scene, she slices a monster’s skin with the knife, but the result is what would be the equivalent of a paper cut on a human. It’s unfortunate that “Monster Hunter” was made as if the filmmakers think the audience is as stupid as this movie.

Screen Gems released “Monster Hunter” in U.S. cinemas on December 18, 2020.

Review: ‘Greenland,’ starring Gerard Butler

December 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd and Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Greenland”

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of North America, the sci-fi action flick “Greenland” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A structural engineer, his wife and their 7-year-old son are selected by the U.S. government to be part of an elite evacuation program during a comet disaster, and this privileged status causes problems for them when they are separated during the chaos.

Culture Audience: “Greenland” will appeal primarily to people who like suspenseful apocalyptic movies that have underlying commentary about society’s conflicts over social classes and privilege.

Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

Out of all the types of apocalyptic disaster stories that can be told, perhaps the most terrifying is some variation of “the sky is falling,” whether it’s from meteors, comets or another deadly force from outer space. In the above-average sci-fi thriller “Greenland” (directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Chris Sparling), the threat from outer space is a highly unusual comet that scientists at first think is a natural wonder to behold. But the comet turns out to be the worst kind, because it ends up causing worldwide damage and has the power to wipe out most of Earth’s population. 

It’s a concept that’s been done in movies before, but “Greenland” ramps up the suspense level in realistic ways because it’s not too caught up in trying to scare people with visual effects, which are actually done very well in this film. Instead, “Greenland” focuses on the terror experienced by a family of three who get separated from each other in the chaos of an evacuation. There are added layers of stress because the child in this family is diabetic, and the family is targeted by desperate and envious people who want what this family has: privileged U.S. government clearance to be taken to a secret shelter that was built to withstand the worst disasters and attacks.

Like a lot of disaster movies, “Greenland” starts out with people being blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that’s coming their way. In Florida, structural engineer John Garrity (played by Gerard Butler), who is originally from Scotland, is on the job at a construction site, but he wants to get home as soon as possible because his 7-year-old son Nathan (played by Roger Dale Floyd) is having a party where several people in the neighborhood have been invited. John and his American wife Allison (played by Morena Baccarin), who were separated in the past and are now trying to work on their marriage, are organizing the party.

The big news around the world is that there’s an interstellar comet that is passing by Earth, and it’s expected to be the closest fly-by of a comet in Earth’s history. This highly anticipated sighting is such a big deal that people are having watch parties, and the news has been reporting the latest updates on the comet’s trajectory. The comet is considered so safe that it’s been named Clarke.

However, as soon as John gets home, something strange happens: He gets phone messages by text and by robocalls from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These messages order John, Allison and Nathan to report to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, because they have been selected for emergency relocation. The messages demand that no one else can accompany this family of three to the Air Force base.

John doesn’t know if these messages are real or some kind of prank. He tells people at the party about the messages, and they’re not sure if the messages are real either. A few of the adults at the party wonder why they didn’t get these messages too. John doesn’t know why he and his family were selected for this special evacuation.

However, it soon becomes obvious that the messages really are from the U.S. government. While the Garrity family and their party guests are in the living room watching the latest comet news on TV, the first sign that the comet is going to be disastrous comes when it’s reported that a fragment of the comet that was supposed to crash in the ocean near Brazil instead landed in Tampa. The shockwaves caused Tampa to burn, and the inferno blast spread all the way to Orlando.

John and Allison decide to quickly pack up some family belongings and go with Nathan by car to Robins Air Force Base, as instructed. There are some moments of high anxiety when a few of the neighbors beg to go with the Garrity family, but John refuses because he correctly assumes that anyone who doesn’t have government clearance will be turned away. However, he promises that he will contact the neighbors after he finds out more details about what’s going on with the evacuation.

Meanwhile, the Garrity family hears on the car radio that more of the comet’s fragments are wiping out entire parts of the world, including Bogotá, Colombia. Scientists are frantically trying to predict where the fragments might land next, in order to evacuate people from those areas. Anxiety then turns to sheer panic.

Word has gotten out that Robins Air Force Base is one of the designated meeting areas for the evacuees who were selected by the U.S. government. And so, when the Garritys arrive at the Air Force base, they see a terrified and angry mob of people who demand to be let in, even though most of them are not supposed to be there. It’s a foreshadowing of the “haves” and “have nots” conflicts that happen during several scenes in the movie.

Several military personnel are on duty to only allow access to people who are on the government clearance list. And those pre-approved people get yellow wristbands to identify them. There are several Air Force planes waiting to take thousands of people to the same shelter, which is in a classified location that is later revealed to be in Greenland.

The Garrity family makes it safely through the checkpoint, but things take a turn for the worse when they find out that Nathan, who is diabetic, accidentally dropped his insulin in the car when he was looking for a blanket. John finds out that he has only about 15 to 20 minutes before the family’s assigned evacuee plane leaves. He also finds out that all the planes are headed to the same place, so that if he can’t be on the same plane as his wife and son, he’ll hopefully be able to reunite with them at the shelter.

John and Allison hastily make a decision that John will go back to the car to get Nathan’s medicine, while Allison will stay with Nathan and board the plane. However, more complications ensue when Allison speaks to a military guard and tells him about their situation and how they can’t leave without John. And that’s when the guard tells her that because Nathan is diabetic, it’s a health liability, and the Garrity family shouldn’t have been approved for the emergency shelter.

The guard and a colleague then tell Allison and Nathan that they can’t get on the plane after all. Allison and Nathan are then forced to go with the guards to another area, where Allison pleads with another military person to let them on the plane because they don’t want to be separated from John. What happens next are several twists and turns to the story, some of which are unpredictable, while other plot developments are a tad cliché.

All of the cast members give very good performances, even though this movie is not on the type of prestige level where it’s going to get any major awards. The filmmakers avoided the stereotype that a lot of American-made disaster movies have: making the male protagonist/hero someone who was born and raised in the United States. Butler, who is Scottish in real life, keep his native accent in the movie. (Butler is one of the producers of “Greenland,” so that probably had a lot to do with the decision to make John Garrity a Scot too.)

Another non-cliché aspect to “Greenland” is that it doesn’t follow the disaster movie formula of having the hero’s love interest be a passive “damsel in distress.” Allison is no ditz who waits around to be rescued. There are moments where Allison steps up in a big way to help save her family. Baccarin’s portrayal shows a lot of authenticity in how real women would act in the same situation, with all the bravery and vulnerability that comes with it.

John and Allison’s son Nathan is thankfully not written as “too precocious to be true” or a “disease of the week” kid. Floyd capably portrays Nathan’s intelligent sensitivity as a kid who just happens to have diabetes. The movie also makes a point of showing how Nathan’s medical condition quickly changed the status of the Garrity family from “desirable” to “undesirable” candidates for evacuation. It speaks to the prejudice that people could encounter in a similar situation where governments decide who in the population will get preferential treatment in a mass evacuation. 

One of the other memorable characters in “Greenland” is Allison’s widower father Dale (played by Scott Glenn), who somewhat mistrusts John because of the problems in John and Allison’s marriage. And there’s a married couple in the story named Judy Vento (played by Hope Davis) and Ralph Vento (played by David Denman), who play a key role in one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the movie.

Throughout the film, director Waugh never lets up on the frantic pace after the comet disaster strikes. (Waugh and Butler previously worked together on the 2019 action film “Angel Has Fallen.”) And when it comes to characters, “Greenland” wisely takes a “less is more” approach, since the story is focused on this family of three and their perspective for the entire film. It’s a departure from the typical disaster movie that has different storylines for a group of strangers. Simply put: “Greenland” is an apocalyptic movie that isn’t going to change the world, but it largely succeeds in being suspenseful, escapist entertainment.

STX released “Greenland” on VOD on December 18, 2020. The movie will be released on digital on January 26, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 9, 2021.

Review: ‘Songbird,’ starring KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stromare, Alexandra Daddario and Demi Moore

December 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

KJ Apa in “Songbird” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Songbird”

Directed by Adam Mason

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles during a coronavirus pandemic in the year 2024, the sci-fi thriller “Songbird” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: During the pandemic, a minority of people have immunity to the disease but are also supercarriers of the virus, and this dichotomy affects relationships and has caused a black market to sell illegal immunity passes.

Culture Audience: “Songbird” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky disaster movies with ridiculous plot developments.

Peter Stromare in “Songbird” (Photo courtesy of STX)

In the horrifically tasteless disaster film “Songbird,” which takes place during a coronavirus pandemic that has killed millions of people and devastated the entire world, unscrupulous and greedy people have exploited the situation so that they can benefit financially. Ironically, it’s the same mindset that is obviously why this moronic film was rushed into production during the real-life COVID-19 pandemic—to cash in on people’s fears about the pandemic and use the movie’s pandemic storyline as a gimmick to sell it during a real-life pandemic. The results are a useless movie where every single second looks like it was based on an early, substandard screenplay draft, with none of the filmmakers caring about taking the time to improve the film’s quality.

“Songbird” (directed by Adam Mason, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Simon Boyes) takes place in Los Angeles in the year 2024. The worldwide mortality rate has risen to 56% and 8.4 million people have died because of COVID-23, which is supposed to be a deadlier strain than COVID-19. And there’s no vaccine. The desolate and devastated landscape of Los Angeles looks like a city in the aftermath of a tornado, and there’s a general atmosphere that a corrupt, totalitarian government is in charge. Because of this high mortality rate, Los Angeles has been on lockdown, with people ordered to stay at home, except for essential workers.

One of those essential workers is a bike courier in his mid-20s named Nicholas “Nico” Price (played by KJ Apa), who works for an online retailer called Lester’s Gets, which sells a variety of items that people can use in their homes. It’s not a giant company, because Nico’s boss Lester (played by Craig Robinson) is the only person shown in the dark video control room that monitors the movements of the company’s couriers, via GPS. In other words, the film’s budget was so low that the filmmakers didn’t bother to cast anyone else to work in this monitor room.

Lester communicates frequently with Nico and has to watch Nico like a hawk, because Nico often takes detours, goofs off, and is late with deliveries. For example, in one of the movie’s scenes, Nico randomly shoots hoops at a basketball court while in the middle of a delivery. Lester lectures Nico about Nico’s constant tardiness, but Nico acts like someone who knows he probably won’t be fired.

And why hasn’t Nico been fired because of his tardiness? Because he’s one of the small minority of people on Earth who are immune to COVID-23, and therefore he can freely go outside without needing any face coverings. However, these Immunies, as they’re nicknamed in this movie, are also supercarriers of COVID-23. And so, they’re both envied and shunned by the general population.

Immunies are identified by immunity passes (which look like yellow wristbands) that can be scanned to reveal their personal information. These immunity passes are highly coveted by people who want to be able to go outside whenever they want without fear of being fined or arrested. People are required to take frequent COVID-23 tests at home, which are done on government-issued hand-held monitors that can diagnosis people just by scanning their faces.

People who are found to be infected with COVID-23 are forced to go to the Q-Zone, which is not a health recovery center but it’s described in the story as a death detention center. These detentions are handled by the sanitation department, which is headed by Emmett D. Harland (played by Peter Stromare), who’s an Immunie. Emmett is such an over-the-top, creepy villain that you just know he’s involved in more misdeeds than just being rough and unmerciful with the people he detains.

Because of these drastic changes in society, Los Angeles (and presumably, most of the rest of the modern world) has become a place where people have become paranoid about going outside, for fear of being sent to the Q-Zone. Masked military soldiers patrol the streets and are ready to send people to the Q-Zone if they don’t have immunity passes. Some of these patrollers are quick to draw their guns if they see anyone on the street without a mask. It’s what happens to Nico when he tries his make his way to a home for a delivery, and he’s blocked by overzealous soldiers until Nico shows them his immunity pass.

The high demand for immunity passes has caused these passes to be sold on the black market at prices that can only be afforded by wealthy people or people who can come up with the cash any way that they can. Two of the people who are considered among the top-tier sellers of illegal immunity passes are unhappily married couple William Griffin (played by Bradley Whitford) and Piper Griffin (played by Demi Moore), who are already living an upscale life but apparently are greedy and want more money. William’s day job is as a high-ranking executive in the music industry, even though the movie never shows him doing any work except his illegal side hustle of selling immunity passes.

And because “Songbird” is a movie like the 2005 drama “Crash,” which eventually shows how everyone in the story is connected to each other in some way, the Griffins’ home is one of the places where Nico makes a delivery. People are not allowed to open their doors to delivery people. Instead, deliveries are dropped into a capsule outside a home, and the item in the capsule is then disinfected through ultra-violet rays.

Nico has been to the Griffin home enough times that the house residents recognize him when he arrives. William and Piper have a daughter named Emma (played by Lia McHugh), who’s about 11 or 12 years old and who has respiratory problems, because she always has to wear an oxygen tube. The implication is that she’s especially vulnerable to getting COVID-23.

Emma is really just a “token” underdeveloped character that doesn’t serve any purpose in the movie except to try to make William and Piper look more sympathetic. It’s a futile effort, because these two spouses, who have simmering hatred for each other, are ruthless and sleazy, although one of them turns out to be a lot worse than the other. An innocent and sweet kid like Emma doesn’t deserve the parents she has.

Meanwhile, although Nico might seem to have a cavalier and cocky exterior when he’s on the job, the movie slowly shows that he’s actually in a lot of emotional turmoil. His entire family is dead, presumably because of COVID-23. And before the pandemic, he was a paralegal with plans to become a lawyer, but he had to abandon those dreams. There’s a scene where Nico goes back to the now-deserted law office where he used to work and bitterly goes through some of the remnants of his past.

But more heartbreaking for Nico than the loss of his career dreams is the fact that he’s fallen in love with a woman who’s around his age, but they haven’t been able to be in the same room together because of the pandemic. Her name is Sara Garcia (played by Sofia Carson), who lives in an apartment with her beloved grandmother Lita (played Elpidia Carrillo), whom Sara calls Grammy. Sara’s parents are also dead because of COVID-23.

Nico and Sara met when he made a delivery to her apartment. They had an instant connection and fell in love through constant contact over the phone. Nico also visits Sara by going to her apartment, but not going inside and instead talking to her outside the apartment door. It’s explained that the apartment building is under heavy government surveillance, because it’s a “hot spot” for COVID-23 infections. Therefore, Nico and Sara know they could be arrested if he’s allowed inside her apartment, and Sara and Lita could be sent to the dreaded Q-Zone.

Sara sees firsthand (through her front-door keyhole) how brutal one of these arrests can be, when one of her female neighbors is dragged from her apartment, yelling and pleading for mercy, because the neighbor tested positive for COVID-23. Before the hazmat-suit-wearing sanitation workers arrive to take her to the Q-Zone, the neighbor begs Sara to let her inside Sara’s apartment to hide, but Sara refuses to hide the neighbor, on Nico’s advice. Emmett is supervising this particular detainment with sadistic glee. And he vows that he will be back to this apartment building to get more people because he’s convinced that the entire building is infected.

There are several scenes in “Songbird” where Nico talks to Sara through her apartment door, like he’s her pandemic Romeo to her quarantined Juliet. It’s supposed to be romantic, but Nico and Sara just utter cheesy soap-opera-type dialogue to each other that will make viewers roll their eyes or laugh at the corniness of it all. And when Lita starts having a persistent cough, you know exactly where this movie is going to go in the “race against time” part of the film that’s supposed to make this movie a suspenseful thriller.

Meanwhile, one of Lester’s employees who works from home is a lonely paraplegic named Dozer (played by Paul Michael Hauser), a military veteran in his mid-30s who lost the use of his legs during the war in Afghanistan. Dozer, who’s been a self-described shut-in for the past six years, uses a drone to keep track of Lester’s courier employees. Dozer has a strong sense of right and wrong and likes feeling as if he’s a “rescuer,” which all affect his actions later in the story.

Dozer has been a subscriber to a pretty YouTuber named May (played by Alexandra Daddario), who is a self-described struggling singer/songwriter. She has a YouTube channel called May Sings the Blues, where she sings cover songs and her own original music during livestreams and in prerecorded videos. People who watch her YouTube channel have the option to donate money to her, because she often tells her viewers that the pandemic has made it impossible for her to make money by performing in person.

Dozer has been one of her biggest donors, so May decides to connect with him online and reaches out to him to personally thank him. They begin chatting and soon get very candid with each other about the problems in their lives. Dozer tells May about being a shut-in: “I was in lockdown before it was fashionable.”

May tells Dozer that she moved to Los Angeles because a guy in the music industry promised to make her a big star. She and the guy ended up having an affair, which she now regrets, but the guy still wants to keep seeing her. And then the pandemic happened, and she’s been stuck in an uncomfortable limbo where she still needs the guy to help her with her career, but she wants to break off their affair.

Because of the strict lockdown, it’s illegal for people to have in-person social visits with other people who don’t live in the same household, but May’s lover insists on visiting her for their sexual encounters. May confides in Dozer that she’s afraid of getting infected and/or arrested because of this guy. Dozer offers to help her any way that he can. May’s “mystery lover” is eventually revealed, and it will be shocking to no one who’s seen enough of these types of formulaic, unimaginative movies.

Except for the COVID-23 pandemic aspect of the movie, there’s absolutely nothing unique about “Songbird,” which is a lot like many other badly made post-apocalyptic movies that have a weak, nonsensical plot and dumb action scenes. There’s a chase scene where Nico gets trapped in a building with Emmett and some of Emmett’s armed goons. And out of nowhere, Nico gets help from a gun-toting vigilante named Boomer (played by Paul Sloan), who randomly shows up in the scene and then is never seen in the movie again.

Viewers will also have sit through lots of inane dialogue, such as during another scene when Emmett has cornered some people he wants to capture. He taunts them by saying, “Roses are red. Violets are blue. You think you can hide? I’ll find you!”

One of the producers of “Songbird” is Michael Bay, who’s best known as the chief filmmaker for the “Transformers” movie franchise and the first two “Bad Boys” movies. Even though those movies had mediocre-to-bad screenplays, at least those films had high-octane action to keep people interested and wanting more. “Songbird” doesn’t even have memorable action scenes, unless you think it’s an improvement that at one point in the story, Nico ditches his bicycle and replaces it with a stolen motorcycle.

It all leads up to an ending that’s so terrible that it will make people either laugh or get angry, depending on how much it might bother people that their time was wasted by watching this garbage. And why is this movie called “Songbird,” when the only singer in the movie is a supporting character, not a leading character? Just like this entire ludicrous movie, it doesn’t make sense and it’s too lazy to try to give any logical explanations.

STX released “Songbird” on VOD on December 11, 2020.

Review: ‘Mortal,’ starring Nat Wolff and Priyanka Bose

November 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Iben Akerlie and Nat Wolff in “Mortal” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Mortal”

Directed by André Øvredal

Some language in Norwegian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway, the sci-fi thriller “Mortal” features an almost all-white cast of characters (and one Indian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A mysterious young man is hunted by authorities because he has a lethal ability to conduct energy and electricity through his body.

Culture Audience: “Mortal” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic sci-fi flicks that put more emphasis on visual effects than in crafting a good story.

Priyanka Bose in “Mortal” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Mortal” starts off as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi flick before it turns into a ludicrous off-the-rails story. Even before the plot twist is revealed in the last third of the movie, “Mortal” had too many weak links for it to be strengthened by the “surprise” ending. This plot twist actually makes the movie worse, because the ill-conceived, drastic turn in the story looks very tacked-on and rushed. It’s as if the filmmakers were desperate to come up with an ending to bring “Mortal” out its repetitive rut.

Directed by André Øvredal (who co-wrote the screenplay with Norman Lesperance and Geoff Bussetil), “Mortal” is essentially a sci-fi chase movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. The movie centers on an American man in his mid-20s named Eric Bergland (played by Nat Wolff), who is in Norway looking for his relatives. The details of his family aren’t revealed until toward the end of the movie, because it’s part of the plot twist.

And so, for almost the entire movie, viewers don’t know anything about Eric except that he’s homeless in Norway and he has a very strange and deadly power: He can conduct and transport energy (especially electrical energy) through his body, giving him the ability to start fires and cause electrical storms. In the beginning of the film, Eric is by himself, looking like he’s a dirty and disheveled vagrant who’s trying to hide from the world.

He trespasses into a home to steal some scissors, medicine, bandages and candy. He eats the candy as if he’s been starving for days. He uses the scissors to cut his hair. And he uses the medicine and bandages to treat a festering wound on his leg.

It’s revealed later in the movie that Eric can get burns on his body when he’s at his peak of energy-conducting power. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief that Eric can be burned everywhere on his body except his face, because nothing bad ever happens to his face except for the unfortunate straggly beard that Eric has at the beginning of the film.

At a gas station in the municipality of Odda, Eric catches the attention of four teenagers (three boys and a girl) in a car. A bullying guy named Ole (played by Arthur Hakalahti), who’s the leader of the group, taunts Eric for looking like the dirty transient that he is. The car then happens to follow Eric to an open field.

Ole gets out of the car, while the other teens follow him and Eric into the field. Ole continues to harass Eric, who warns Ole in an ominous voice: “If you touch me, you will burn.” But of course, Ole touches Eric. And when he does, Eric stares at Ole intensely, while Ole appears to be suffocating without Eric touching him. Ole then immediately collapses and dies.

Eric is quickly apprehended by authorities, who don’t find out much about Eric except for these three things: (1) He’s a backpacker from the United States, but he’s of Norwegian heritage; (2) He’s in Norway to look for his relatives; and (3) He was seen at a farmhouse in Årdal, a municipality in Norway’s Vestland county, where three years before, a fire killed five people at the house. Eric is suspected of starting the fire, but he’s not talking to law enforcement about what happened at that house.

The sheriff of Odda is Henrik Jondal (played by Per Frisch), who’s in charge of the investigation into the death of Ole. The police aren’t making any progress in interviewing Eric, because he refuses to say much to them, so Henrik has the idea to call someone who has experience counseling teenagers and other young people. The hope is that this counselor will be able to break through to Eric and get him to open up about the death of Ole.

The counselor’s name is Christine Aas (played by Iben Akerlie), and she looks like she’s approximately the same age as Eric. And as soon as she appears on screen, it’s easy to see that she’s going to be Eric’s love interest because she has the stereotypical physical appearance (young, blonde and pretty) of a love interest in a formulaic movie like this one.

Even though Christine looks young enough to only be a few years out of college, the movie has made her a whiz at diagnosing medical conditions because she figures out very quickly what Alex’s superpower is. Not long after Christine is put in a police interrogation room with Eric to ask him some questions, he goes from being mute to gasping remorsefully about Ole, “I tried to tell him not to touch me.”

Meanwhile, Henrik is in another section of the police station, where he’s dealing with the parents of Ole, who want answers about what caused Ole’s death. Ole’s father Bjørn (played by Per Egil Aske) is very angry because he knows that the police have Eric in custody as a suspect. (The arrest has been all over the news.) Bjørn demands to be in a room alone with Eric, but Henrik refuses. It’s pretty clear at this point that this won’t be the last we see of Bjørn, who might as well have worn a T-shirt that says “Vigilante Justice,” because that seems to be the only purpose for his character in this movie.

Back in the police interrogation room, Eric reaches for a glass of water, and Christine sees that he’s able to lift the water out of the glass, just by putting his hand above the glass. This gives him such electrical energy force throughout his body, that when Eric places his hands on the wooden table, it scorches the table. And then, Eric gets so upset, the entire room lights up with an electrical storm caused by Eric.

Christine tells Eric the obvious: The energy comes out when he’s experiencing negative emotions, such as fear, anger or anxiety. She tells him that he can control the energy if he just breathes and calms down and gets to a relaxed emotional state. Now that Little Miss Expert has diagnosed Eric’s problem in a matter of minutes, you almost expect her to say, “I’ll be right back. Let me get a yoga mat for you so we can do some breathing exercises.”

Henrik rushes in and witnesses the “electrical storm” in the room, and everyone rushes out before more damage can be caused. The authorities sedate Eric with medication. And a U.S. Embassy official named Cora Hathaway (played by Priyanka Bose) is summoned to take Eric by helicopter to a place that isn’t made clear in the movie because this movie’s screenplay is kind of a sloppy mess. However, viewers can assume that he’s going somewhere for scientific tests.

Eric is strapped to a gurney during the helicopter ride. But when he wakes up and sees that he’s essentially being imprisoned against his will, he goes crazy and creates such a big electrical storm that it causes the helicopter to crash into the ocean. Everyone on the plane dies except for Cora (who ends up in a hospital) and Eric, who has temporarily disappeared. Cora eventually gets released from the hospital and makes it her mission to track down Eric so he can be put back into the custody of the government.

Meanwhile, Eric shows up in the outdoor parking lot of the apartment building where Christine just happens to be at that moment. Somehow, in the short time that Christine and Eric have known each other, Eric has managed to find out where Christine lives. Viewers will have to assume that he was able to look up that information in between causing electrical storms, surviving a helicopter crash in the ocean, finding his way back to land, and then showing up at Christine’s place in the hopes that she’ll want to hang out with him while he’s a fugitive.

It turns out that Christine does want to hang out with Eric and help him elude capture by law enforcement. She tells him, “I’m going take you to my friend’s cabin, and we’re going to figure it out.” The rest of the movie is basically Eric and Christine going on the run together. There’s only one moment when Christine doubts her decision to help Eric, but she shows the kind of immediate loyalty to him that makes it obvious she’s romantically attracted to him. Eric and Christine’s inevitable “big moment” kiss comes later in the movie.

Wolff is serviceable in this poorly written role. He tries to infuse a “lost soul” persona into Eric’s character, but the character is so vague that it’s a wasted effort to try to bring gravitas to the role. The problem is that “Mortal” tells almost nothing about Eric and his background until toward the end of the film, which makes it hard for viewers to root for Eric while he tries to evade capture. The other actors in the film are mediocre, while Bose is just plain awful with her emotionless, wooden delivery of her lines.

And speaking of the U.S. Embassy official Cora, it doesn’t make sense that she would be heading up the task force to find Eric. Embassy officials are political diplomats, not law enforcement or part of a government’s military defense. Based on all the destruction that Eric causes in the movie, the Norwegian military would be the ones to take over if a seemingly crazy guy was out there causing electrical storms that are bad enough to burn bridges, roads, buildings and people.

Even though Cora has seen firsthand how dangerous Eric can be, she wears no protective gear the entire time that she’s trying to hunt him down. She’s dressed as if she’s about to go for a nature hike. And the only indication that she survived a traumatic plane crash in the ocean is that she has a small band-aid on her forehead. Yes, this movie is that stupid.

As for Eric’s big “secret” at the end of the movie, it looks like a blatant cash grab to latch on to the popularity of a certain blockbuster movie franchise. It’s too bad that the filmmakers of “Mortal” couldn’t come up with a more original story. The visual effects and cinematography in “Mortal” are fairly good, but because of the moronic way that this story is told, it doesn’t matter how good the movie’s visuals might look if the dialogue and basic storyline are of such low quality that it’s embarrassing. All the electrical storms and fires concocted for this movie still can’t ignite the film’s very dull and unimaginative plot.

Saban Films released “Mortal” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 6, 2020. The movie’s Blu-ray and DVD release date is November 10, 2020.