Quick Movie Reviews (Collective, Freaky & Residue)

Collective

The title of Alexander Nanau’s taut procedural documentary Collective, comes as a reference to the Colectiv nightclub in Bucharest, Romania, where in 2015, a fire sparked from a metal band’s pyrotechnics during a concert that ultimately killed dozens. It was a tragedy that rocked the conscience of the public, who demanded the government answer for its alarmingly lax approach to regulating businesses. But, it wasn’t too long till another crisis began: Dozens more people who were injured in the fire started dying in hospitals from infections that took place because of the unsanitary conditions. And from there, the institutional purges only continued.

It’s all those events in which Nanau’s film tracks. With Collective‘s opening half more following a team of reporters from the newspaper, the Sports Gazette, who are chasing and reporting the whistleblower tips and hustling to expose the truth about a widespread practice where politicians are giving hospital manager jobs to unqualified but well-connected individuals, who then take bribes from even more shady characters and stock their shelves with cheap, “diluted” antiseptics. Nanau displays and executes all this with no character introductions and no talking-head interviews. Outside of the occasional on-screen text info-drop, he completely drops the viewer into this yarn of various conference rooms and stakeouts.

Image via Magnolia Pictures

Even as Nanau shifts his subject focus in the second half, he still continues a very unsentimental approach to any one of his subjects. There isn’t a moment of sanctimony or lionization to the heroes shown; they’re seen primarily as people who care enough to do their jobs properly. The villains are definitely there: the veteran bureaucrats and their vacuous TV mouthpieces, who have a lot of experience in redirecting public outrage. Rather than owning up to their past failures, they accuse the Sports Gazette of scaring people away from getting medical care as they assemble a new scandal out of thin air to patch-up their reputations. (It’s all disturbingly effective.) Collective has a calm and collected, “just the facts” tone to itself that can be both obvious at times, but also emotionally wrenching. The investigatory legwork can be riveting, while the political defamation can be infuriating. The footage of the smoldering Colectiv ceiling becomes an instant inferno can be make you speechless. The pictures of unattended, maggot-infested wounds churn the stomach. In the end, Collective is a document that captures the endurance, perseverance and gamesmanship of moral courage against the suffocating power of institutional rot.

Grade: B

Collective is available on VOD

Freaky

In recent years, director Christopher Landon has been hard at work with the taking various blooded, pre-established formulas of the horror genre, and finding his horror-comedy groove by twisting them in some way. And now, with Freaky, he’s taken a stab at a body-swap farce that lacks a real, lethal blow, with his blueprint this time, feeling a little too tired. Locking in a high-school setting and the sex humor that comes with it, Freaky focuses on the all too familiar lonely heroine, Millie (Kathryn Newton), who’s in love with the handsome jock (Uriah Shelton). In fact, she’s even more pitiable, as she’s a senior with just two friends and is the beaver mascot for her high school. Oh, and her father is dead and her mother is often sauced, all nice and tidy to set up the slew of threadbare pop psychology of character, and really everyone else.

Image via Universal Pictures

Yet this is all before Millie encounters the infamous Butcher (Vince Vaughn), a slasher of very productive proportions with decades of killing under his belt. It’s one night after a football game that Millie and the Butcher cross paths, and the Butcher stabs Millie with a recently acquired Aztec dagger which causes the two to unexpectedly swap bodies and have only twenty-four hours to fix it before it turns permanent. It’s a fine set up that gives this genre-mixer some inventively messy ends and room for its leads to experiment, with Vaughn stealing the show: He very much could’ve reduced his teen-girl imitation to a trite caricature, yet he instead opts to add more subtle touches to his shtick. By design, it gives Newton much less to do, which isn’t exactly helpful. Even as the movie handles its romantic subplot with an unexpected sensitivity, the whole endeavor feels diluted by the lazy plotting and Millie’s trite emotional baggage. If it sometimes takes a serial killer to heal a damaged family, Freaky isn’t exactly convincing. As effective as Vince Vaughn can be, Freaky is more crushed by its shopworn tropes and rocky mixing of genres.

Grade: C+

Freaky is available on VOD

Residue

Written, directed, produced and edited by Merawi Gerima, Residue, with its problems still standing, undoubtedly announces and a distinctive and anguished directorial voice to watch. The film focuses on Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu), who returns home to Washington D.C. from L.A., after struggling to get an autobiographical film project off the ground. From the opening drive home, he’s already reflecting on his doubts: “Did you actually think that script could make a difference? You thought that film could save us?” It also doesn’t help that, once he arrives home, there’s already a hassle. As he tries to get some boxes inside, a man glances up from his cellphone to tell Jay that the music from his pickup truck is too loud and that he’s double-parked. As if Jay can’t see that himself.

Image via Array/Netflix

As he settles in and seeks out old friends, Jay discovers that his childhood neighborhood is just remnants — or residue, as the title suggests — of what it used to be, and the people of his past who still remain are indifferent or hostile to his inquiries. The longer Jay stays, the more flashbacks to his childhood we see; which are a mix of joy and deprivation, both of which soon become inextricable. Gerima’s filmmaking style through all this is both a mix of realism and impressionism; where what’s out of the frame is often as or more important than what’s in the frame. At the same time, as Jay’s confusion over the gentrification of his neighborhood grows, Gerima occasionally turns his camera to overhear the clueless new white neighbor’s conversations, pushing our empathy more towards Jay. The result is a little uneven, as its character dynamics and non-actor performances aren’t always consistent. Still though, as a collage of distant memories and the realities that threaten them, Residue remains effective. As blunt and rough around the edges at it is, Residue reverberates with an impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness of looming trauma that’s too hefty to turn away from.

Grade: B-

Residue is available to stream on Netflix

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