Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (dir. David Slade, 2018) – A young programmer attempts to adapt a fantasy novel into a choose-your-own-adventure video game, but loses control over the choices in his own life.
Bearing the hallmarks of a typical Black Mirror episode, Bandersnatch pulls us into Charlie Brooker’s deeply engaging mind game that yet again flaunts his creative brilliance and dark tendencies.
Named after the creature of the whimsical Wonderland tale, Bandersnatch is itself a monster of a wildly imaginative story. Black Mirror’s first interactive episode has us live and re-live the multiple lives of Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead), whose obsessive creation of his choose-your-own-adventure game soon starts to warp his own reality.
“I feel like I’m not guiding [my decisions],” he tries to explain his building disorientation. “Someone else is.”
And every time we choose whether to have him destroy a computer or hit a desk, he looks down at his own hands fearfully as if they do not belong to him. His conviction that he is being controlled brings about a tinge of guilt – that we may just be responsible for recklessly manipulating the fate of a sentient digital being (see: USS Callister, Hang the DJ).
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2018 would be incomplete without a look back on some of the most stellar movies of the year. Blessed be the filmmakers who have produced something brilliant for everyone, be it for the good ol’ cinema or Netflix, the wondrously odd or the charmingly conventional.
At the time of writing, I have not had the pleasure of seeing Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which I have a feeling that I would enjoy tremendously. Regardless, here goes a quick countdown of what I have seen and liked.
10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (dir. The Coen Brothers)
Anthologies are often collections of hits and misses, but not The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Coen Brothers deftly binds the six distinct chapters on the western front with the consistency of their signature dark humour, topped with a familiar dose of cynicism.
As the pages turn, light absurdity shifts into bleak tragedy and sudden violence, all underscored by Carter Burwell’s stirring score. In what would certainly dismay the optimistic crowd, their tar-tinted lens reveals more about human nature than we wish to admit, drawing in the ones who care to know.
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Apostle (dir. Gareth Evans, 2018) – Thomas Richardson travels to a remote island to rescue his sister from a religious cult, demanding a ransom for her safe return.
Ostensibly to do with the supernatural in its grim mythology, Apostle concerns itself more with the devious nature of Man in their acts.
Writer-director Gareth Evans may be best known for his choreography-driven craft in The Raid and Merantau. But his latest venture is an altogether different beast. Abandoning the high-octane action that defined Evans’ early career, Apostle contrastingly keeps its pace steady with patience, and prowls with quiet intensity.
Following a brief exploration in anthology V/H/S 2 (‘Safe Haven’), Evans’ first true step into horror cinema marks a deeper foray into the subject of pagan cults. The suspenseful genre feature comes in at a little over two hours. Not a second feels extraneous, continually building a palpable sense of dread.
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How It Ends (dir. David M. Rosenthal, 2018) – After a mysterious event sends the world into chaos, two men set out on a desperate drive to find their missing family.
How It Ends itself is as much of a disappointment as how it actually ends.
An unsettling disruption cuts short a call between Will (Theo James) and his pregnant fiancé Sam (Kat Graham). Flights are soon cancelled, cell services down, and the power, out. As an apocalyptic event seems to edge closer, Sam’s father and ex-marine Tom (Forest Whitaker) wastes no time and sets out on a perilous drive with Will towards Seattle, where Sam was last seen.
The rescuers are on poor terms. But they soon reconcile in favour of survival, while coming to face the uncertainty of the unknown disaster ahead. Above all, they embattle the dangerous desperation of humanity, when ass hysteria quickly elevate thefts to murders.
In this, How It Ends steps into familiar territory, but does little more than its genre neighbours have done before. Competent visual effects and outstanding cinematography keep it from being labelled a b-grade disaster movie, though they remain inadequate to make any lasting impact.
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The Cloverfield Paradox (dir. Julius Onah, 2018) – During the testing of a device that may solve the Earth’s energy crisis, a space crew ends up facing a dark alternate reality.
While a decent work of entertainment, The Cloverfield Paradox is as much a sequel to Cloverfield as Toy Story is the second parter of Puppet Master. (It isn’t.)
By now, the secret is out. The Cloverfield Paradox has turned out less of a sequel to the monster movie than an ambitious concept riding on the waves of it. It would not be wrong to call this a marketing scam. But on the bright side, the anthology has lent a boost to scripts that would have usually gone under the radar.
After all, the trick had worked once. Two years ago, 10 Cloverfield Lane sprung a pleasant surprise, where John Goodman’s conspiracy theorist abducts a young woman and claims the role of her protector. His ambiguous motives tease his insanity, but also a possible catastrophe beyond the bunker. Could the disaster be connected to the titular monster? The question rouses anticipation for its arrival, which makes the final minutes particularly gratifying.
Similar loose ties should have been expected of The Cloverfield Paradox. If only the Netflix production had not been touted as the answer to how the monsters first arrived on Earth. Setting viewers up for disappointment from the get-go, The Cloverfield Paradox is off to a shaky start.
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