⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for aberrant behavior, bloody and grisly images, strong sexuality, nudity, language and drug use/partying. In subtitled French.
Ah, the pleasures of the flesh. Discovering them is quite a lesson for Justine (Garance Marillier), a fast-rising 16-year-old new arrival at a large French veterinary college, joining her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf). In this bloody good horror film, the school is a life form of its own, a natural breeding ground for students’ animalistic urges.
This smart, funny and extremely dark shocker gives writer/director Julia Ducournau a debut showcasing her prodigious creative instincts and perverse sense of humor. It’s not by accident that she copied her bashful heroine’s name from the Marquis de Sade’s cruel bestseller “Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtue.” Ducournau gives the transgressive tale a feminist, 21st-century twist, conveying the bloody, primitive nature of all humans, women and men alike.
Marillier is breathtakingly subtle as the gentle, highly intelligent wallflower. A classic ingénue obediently following the guidance of her vegetarian parents, she is forced in a hazing ceremony to take a “Carrie”-style bloodbath. Worse, she’s forced to eat a bite of uncooked rabbit kidney. It quickly makes her sick, physically and otherwise.
Justine begins exploring her nascent sexuality and indulging culinary tastes that would delight Hannibal Lecter. Like women everywhere, she’s criticized for not wanting life’s good stuff enough, then wanting it too much.
Ducournau handles the film with surgical vigor, beautifully framing carnage, setting up car accidents that go the extra mile to upset us. She maintains a clever linkage between Justine’s matter-of-fact school days, debauched dormitory parties at night, and her mutating desires.
The script sets up its layered characters by seeding fear into your imagination. Justine and worldly wise Alexia oscillate between playfulness and an increasingly unsublimated drive to mess with each other. Between them, and throughout the movie, you have no idea which direction things will go. The love/hate rivalry between the siblings morphs into wicked mean-girl bullying. And much worse.
Without rinky-dink jump scares or soundtrack explosions, this is the kind of film that creates anxieties that last for a month. It’s horrific in the good way, as in being utterly frightening, not in the bad way of being physically disgusting — though in parts it is that, as well. You’ve been warned! Now go see it.
⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor.
Some reboots should be booted back where they came from. Case in point: “Power Rangers,” a movie for people who find “Transformers” too intellectually challenging.
Since Saban Entertainment found a way to repackage a cheesy old Japanese TV adventure with “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” it has generated 24 seasons of TV programming, two earlier movies, and a passel of video games. The plot this time — oh, sigh, is this really necessary? — is a meandering origin story. Five high school kids meet in detention, find glowing color-coded coins on a hike together, and use their powers to channel their upstart personalities into a righteous team of costumed heroes. Their fictional hometown of Angel Grove is threatened by alien desperadoes. With the mentorship of floating head Zordon (Bryan Cranston, shamelessly beefing up his piggy bank) and his little robot minion Alpha 5 (Bill Hader, doing a flawless Patton Oswalt vocal impression) they fight back against wicked space witch Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
The tone that director Dean Israelite aims for is light, campy fun. With its obnoxious lack of worthwhile focus, the film comes nowhere near that target. The laughs appear largely through the appearance of signs all across Angel Grove promoting the film’s marketing partner Krispy Kreme, which works as a running joke, if an unintentional one. Pushing a brand of doughnuts and reviving an antique TV program are not what the film industry was created to do. It’s supposed to tell stories.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image. In English, and subtitled French and German.
Maureen, a young American living in Paris, fits nowhere since the death of her twin brother. She spends evenings trying to connect with him in the afterlife. They both claimed the spiritual skills of a medium to examine the beyond, and promised that the first to pass would reach out to the survivor with some message. During the day she is the fashion assistant to a wealthy “high-profile media personality who doesn’t have the time to worry about practical things.” Understandably, Maureen is skittish 24 hours a day. Even more so when an occult figure makes a milky, ectoplasmic appearance before her eyes. And further still when anonymous messages from a possible stalker flood her iPhone.
At the center of almost every shot, Kristen Stewart is sharply focused and totally committed to the role of a woman for whom life, death and the everyday environment don’t add up anymore. Her second collaboration with French director Olivier Assayas (after 2014’s “Clouds of Sils Maria”) is a handsome, peculiar amalgam of supernatural thriller, character portrait and crime story. It’s also a challenging choice for Stewart, who is film-by-film erasing memories of her “Twilight” work. This project fits her, since, like romance, horror is a genre usually devoted to female characters. Her tense Maureen is unmoored in the shallow, materialistic fashion world, and unable to reach spiritually beyond it.
As much a study of solitude, intimacy and otherworldly longings as it is a contemporary ghost story, the film is both genuinely scary and psychologically serious.