Those Who Walk Away


Sometimes you get a more accurate reflection in a cracked mirror.

(2022) Horror (VMI Worldwide) Booboo Stewart, Scarlett Sperduto, Nils Allen Stewart, Nancy Harding, Grant Morningstar, Bryson JonSteele, Devin Keaton, Josh Bradshaw, Connor McKinley Griffin, Michael Holub, Yash Gajera, Brandon Leonard, Ethan Wieland, Steve Hausler, Kim Smith, Paula Macfarlane Van Kuren, Alexis Curtiss, Dante Yatel Nayvaez, Beau Elliott, Daryl Anisfeld. Directed by Robert Rippberger

First dates can be magical things. They can also be terrifying. Often they end up being completely forgettable. How many times have we gone on first dates, only to be checking our watches…excuse me, smart phones… or fidgeting in place as we realize that it was an enormous mistake to ask this person out in the first place (or say yes when asked). Sometimes, however, there is a chemistry that just pops up without any provocation or intention and it becomes an event you never forget for as long as you live, however long that may be.

Max (B. Stewart) has been out of the dating game for a while. He had been taking care of his seriously ill mom, until the grind and mental fatigue finally overwhelmed him. He feels tremendous guilt for having walked away for caring for his mom, but here is a chance to get into a healthier relationship.

And at first glance, it seems like Avery (Sperduto) is tonic for the troops. The two met on a dating app and decided to take a shot and meet in person. Not only is she pretty, but she seems to be quite taken with Max. At first, both are awkward, particularly the chronically shy Max as the conversation sputters, reloads, stops, and shifts gears. The two walk slowly through their small town, making small talk as they take their time before arriving at their movie. Except that the movie has been canceled due to extenuating circumstances. Bummer.

After a brief stop at a bar where their mutual attraction seemed to take off into overdrive, Avery suggests visiting a reputedly haunted house on the edge of town. Max quickly agrees. Once there, the rotting and crumbling house seems to be the perfect place for a malevolent ghost and one lives there – Rotcreep (N.A. Stewart). Avery tells Max that Rotcreep has agreed to remain tied to the house so long as sacrifices are made, otherwise he would escape and rain terror on an unsuspecting world. And, as it turns out, nothing is at all what Max thought it was.

The first half of the movie is a stroll through town, moving at the kind of pace you would expect from a stroll. The strained small talk, the awkward conversation – all ring true, but Rippberger made the decision to film his movie in a single continuous shot, which feels unnecessary and gimmicky here. Note to aspiring filmmakers; if something like that doesn’t add anything to the narrative other than being an exercise in self-indulgence, then you don’t need it. It becomes distracting and irritating to the viewer. Just some friendly advice.

Booboo Stewart is perfectly cast as the shy, awkward Max who has tremendous burdens, but at heart is a kind young man. He has pretty good chemistry with Sperduto, which is necessary to carry the first half of the film. Unfortunately, that part of the film is going to be virtually excruciating for those who expect a roller coaster haunted house film, which is what the trailer is selling.

There are a lot of cinematographic twists and turns as cinematographer Diego Cordero spins the camera, flips it upside down in an effort to create a literal visual coaster effect; however, be warned that such effects can be vertigo-inducing and wear out their welcome after a couple of turns.

There are some pretty good ideas here, but the backstory of Rotcreep is confusing and contradictory; what is explained to be always fatal turns out to be survivable after all, and he doesn’t appear until comparatively late in the film (they don’t even get into the house until 45 minutes in). The production design is spooky and really well done, considering the miniscule budget. I would have liked to have seen a little less small talk and a little more development of the haunting set-up, but to be truthful, this isn’t bad so much as it makes a few missteps.

REASONS TO SEE: A good college try from both Stewart and Sperduto.
REASONS TO AVOID: Takes WAY too long to get going.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sensuality, disturbing images and terror.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Loosely inspired by the Ursula K. LeGuin short story “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Avery even mentions early on that she is writing a paper on that very story during their stroll around town.
]BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/16/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Autumn Road
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Marry Me

Tales From Earthsea (Gedo senki)


 

Tales From Earthsea

Have fun storming the castle!

(2006) Animated Feature (Disney) Starring the voices of Timothy Dalton, Mariska Hargitay, Willem Dafoe, Cheech Marin, Matt Levin, Blaire Restaneo, Kat Cressida, Suzanne Blakeslee, Pat Fraley, Jessica Gee-George, Tara Platt, Liam O’Brien, Terrence Stone, Karen Strassman. Directed by Goro Miyazaki

 

We are often driven by forces within us that we ourselves don’t understand. When asked why we do the things we do, sometimes all we can shrug and say “I dunno.” Usually, that’s not a sufficient answer.

Arren (Levin) is a prince of the realm in the world known as Earthsea. His father is a well-beloved king who is preparing Arren for a reign of his own but one dark night in the castle, Arren cold-bloodedly murders his father and steals his enchanted sword, fleeing into the night and away into the most distant lands of the realm.

Arren himself doesn’t understand why he killed his own father – he loved him. He is being pursued by a strange shadowy figure who frightens Arren although the prince should be paying more attention to the wolves who gather around him. It looks like Arren will receive karmic justice but he is rescued at the last moment by a sorcerer named Sparrowhawk (Dalton).

It turns out that Sparrowhawk is one of the greatest mages in the land. He seeks to return balance to his world, which of late has been beset by dragons. Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly unexpected since dragons were thought to have left the world. At one time dragons and humans lived in harmony together but those days are long gone.

Into this mix comes Cob (Dafoe), another sorcerer albeit one whose intentions are far less benign than Sparrowhawk’s. Cob means to find immortality and doesn’t care if he has to blast Earthsea into nothingness in order to do it. The key to his immortality rests with Arren. Sparrowhawk knows that he must protect Arren from Cob at all costs and is joined by ex-priestess Tenar (Hargitay) and her disfigured teenage ward Therru (Restaneo) to help defeat Cob and restore Earthsea into harmony.

Although released in Japan in 2006, the movie didn’t make it to American shores until 2010. Much of that had to do with rights issues – the movie is based on the work of American author Ursula K. LeGuin (and mostly on the third book of her Earthsea saga, The Farthest Shore). Much has been made about the movie’s PG-13 rating, which is the second film from Studio Ghibli to receive such a rating (The Princess Mononoke was the first) and the first animated feature from Disney to get that particular rating. It certainly isn’t for small children.

The animation is gorgeous for the most part, not unlike a watercolor come to life. The dragons are nicely realized and there are some very nice bits of business here. However, this isn’t Hayao Miyazaki in the director’s chair, it’s his son Goro and the younger Miyazaki’s inexperience shows in places. The pacing can be downright slow (a crucial mistake in an animated feature) and the characterization is pretty shallow. For some reason, the decision was made to make Cob look a bit like David Bowie in his more androgynous phase and give him Willem Dafoe’s raspy voice. The combination is jarring to say the least.

LeGuin’s source material is rich in background and while she has disassociated herself from the movie, at least the palate that the filmmakers and writers drew from is vibrant. This feels like a lived-in world, for better or for ill.

This isn’t an easy property to bring to the screen, considering the hero commits patricide in the first few minutes of the film. You are left wondering if he is the villain from that point (if you’re not familiar with LeGuin’s work) and it takes a good long time to get behind Arren as the hero. Dalton, as Sparrowhawk, gives great depth and color to his character, projecting the gentle nature of the archmage as well as his infinite patience (Arren isn’t always the easiest companion to hang around with). Of all the characters in the movie, it is Sparrowhawk who remained with me the longest.

Even LeGuin admitted this isn’t a bad movie – in fact it’s a pretty damn good one, despite the fan base that decries it (both that of LeGuin and Studio Ghibli). It isn’t an easy movie to get behind in all instances but if you don’t give up on it, you might find yourself warming up to it as I did. This is far from the best film to come from the studio but it isn’t the worst either. Faint praise, I know – but believe me, this is a very good movie, worth looking up however you get your home video.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous animation. Dalton does a fine job vocally. LeGuin’s world is very much worth exploring, even if it isn’t exactly the way she wrote it.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The film lacks spark and passion. It also drags in places.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images are fairly graphic and violent.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki originally petitioned author Ursula K. LeGuin to direct the movie but she was unfamiliar with his work and turned down his request. After she saw My Neighbor Tortoro she was sufficiently impressed and changed her mind; however by that time he was too deep into making Howl’s Moving Castle to direct himself and as a result his son Goro made this his feature film debut. LeGuin was seriously disappointed with the final results and said so on her website.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is an interactive map and trivia game for previous Studio Ghibli features.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $68.7M on a $22M production budget; the movie was a hit.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: A Separation