On DVD & Blu-Ray: March 24, 2020

At the risk of spoiling a truly grisly moment in writer/director Sam Mendes' latest film, there is an instance not fifteen minutes into the film when our protagonist, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), injures his hand on a barbed wire fence. It is not this injury that is cause for the gruesome winces 1917 is sure to induce though, but rather that moment comes a minute or so later when Schofield's mission partner, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), knocks into him as the two hurriedly slide into a trench so as to not be spotted by enemy planes overhead. It is in this moment that occurs shortly after the film has set the stage for our expectations of what we might expect war to really feel like that it then shows us the reality of those expectations in turn aiding the audience in realizing that no amount of preparation or precedent could ever prepare one for the true nightmares that are the unspeakable things one human can subject another human to. It is in this quick, but effective moment that remained with me for the duration of the film's nearly two-hour runtime that emphasizes the power of the film in general over the would-be gimmick of the single-take experience in that not only does Mendes' and cinematographer Roger Deakins' technique provide an enticing challenge for seasoned filmmakers such as themselves, but it is in the challenge of balancing that technique with the ability to tap into something real, something raw and something that speaks to who these two men were in their souls that keeps the audience engaged. Successful or not, the technique of it all will largely go unnoticed by general moviegoers and in turn only make the immersion greater even if that general moviegoer isn't aware of what's creating said effect. Mendes and Deakins have proven time and time again they have the skill to pull off exactly what 1917 does, but for them to ultimately have the artistry to pair that craft with the character's drive to simply do the right thing in accomplishing their mission, a mission that will save hundreds of lives, while being surrounded by the ugliness of humanity on that mission is what makes the immersive quality of the single shot idea worth the trouble; the technique elevating the film to something unexpected not in that it is a dazzling technical achievement, but an emotionally involving experience with real stakes and a clear perspective. Video review here. B+

Andrea Riseborough is the kind of actor who, even in a movie like 2020's re-make/sequel(?) of The Grudge, goes to the extent of having her character sport certain tattoos that are never brought up, but that she probably knows the backstories of which undoubtedly inform some of the character choices she makes even if those tattoos only make it into a handful of shots in the final film. This is kind of the perfect distillation for the ratio of talent involved versus the quality of the final product for this new take on Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On property. Meaning, there is a depth to the writing, directing and acting here (or at least a certain level of credibility) that is lost in the final edit; glimpses of what could have been only showing up in a handful of moments in the final cut. If you've seen writer/director Nicolas Pesce's 2016 feature debut, The Eyes of My Mother then you know the filmmaker is adept at tackling the unsettling and framing it within such an atmosphere that it truly becomes one of those situations where you want desperately to look away, but can't help but to continue to watch for fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, with his latest all one really wants to do is look away and not for fear of missing out on what happens to the film's characters, but because we largely don't care about what's happening to them in the first place. As stated, there are hints at reasons as to why we might be inclined to care about any one of the recognizable faces on screen and the peril they're facing whether it be John Cho and Betty Gilpin's plight as new parents, Frankie Faison and Lin Shaye grappling with mortality or Riseborough and Demián Bichir coming face to face with their fears, but the screenplay spreads these scenarios and characters so thin with such disparate connections to one another that it's difficult to become invested in any of them and easier to simply give up on all of them. Besides the fact no one was necessarily asking for another installment from this franchise there seems to be no particular motivation even from Pesce's script to try and tap into the core idea of what the curse at the heart of The Grudge is really about; a curse that is born when someone dies in the grip of extreme rage. Shimizu's original short films, like this new version, operated as seemingly unconnected vignettes that are pulled together by police investigating the various, strange events, but whatever it was that made those original films launch the franchise has become lost in translation in this latest iteration. Video review here. D

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