At The Movies: Reviews of slasher flick Halloween Kills and crime drama The Card Counter

There is plenty of action here as the citizens of Haddonfield square off against the masked man. PHOTO: UIP

SINGAPORE - The movies reviewed this week are horror flicks Halloween Kills and Antlers, and crime drama The Card Counter.

Halloween Kills (M18)

105 minutes, opens Oct 28

3 stars

This completely unnecessary slasher movie exists for a couple of reasons. It is the middle piece in a three-movie set, when it is clear that there is enough story for only two films. It also exists as a service to fans, as it includes actors and characters that aficionados of the original 1978 work will appreciate.

What saves this from being a waste of time is co-writer and director David Gordon Green's sense of pacing. Some might call it lumpy - moments of frenetic stabbing action are interspersed with mundanity, with victims-to-be making dinner or watching television, oblivious to the carnage next door - but there is a slyness to the juxtaposition that borders on black comedy.

After the events of the last film, members of the Strode clan think they are safe, but there would be no movie if they were. With serial killer Michael Myers on the loose, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) plan a defence while townsfolk, mourning loved ones lost in 1978 and incensed by the fresh killings, form a rag-tag militia.

There is plenty of action here as the citizens of Haddonfield square off against the masked man, but Green's mini-skits - quiet set-up, then maximum gore - stop things from getting repetitive.

It helps that morally good characters with strong backstories are as likely as anyone to get the chop. The way the slow-moving Myers appears out of thin air will never stop being corny, but that is forgotten when the action begins.

Antlers (NC16)

Still from the film Antlers starring Keri Russell. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

100 minutes, opens Oct 28

2 stars

In rural Oregon, a region plagued by meth addiction, a thin boy with haunted eyes (Jeremy T. Thomas) hides an awful secret. His teacher, Julia (Keri Russell), is concerned, but her brother Paul (Jesse Plemons), a police officer, believes her concern for the child springs from unresolved family trauma they both share.

Director and co-writer Scott Cooper ought to be in his element here. His body of work includes the country singer character study Crazy Heart (2009), the western Hostiles (2017) and crime drama Out Of The Furnace (2013) - all three of which this reviewer enjoyed.

He creates interesting stories from heartsick characters engaged in slow-motion suicide, by means of the bottle (Crazy Heart), warfare (Hostiles) or bare-knuckle prizefighting (Out Of The Furnace).

But in this unremarkable horror movie centred on demonic possession, Cooper's fondness for grounding events in Americana trips him up. Why go through the trouble of making the villain a vengeance-seeking native American deity, a being feared and respected by indigenous people, then have it behave in a wild, irrational manner that bears no relation to its culture?

The Card Counter (M18)

Still from the film The Card Counter starring Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

112 minutes, opens Oct 28

4 stars

Writer-director Paul Schrader loves his broken male characters. His career floats on a raft of them, from Travis Bickle in the revered Taxi Driver (1976, penned by Schrader, directed by Martin Scorsese) to Ernst Toller, the pastor consumed by doubt in First Reformed (2017), written and directed by Schrader.

Oscar Isaac's professional gambler, who goes by the name William Tell, can be added to the list of the walking wounded. The weight he carries has made him steely and almost obsessively meticulous, a fact that serves him well as a poker player, but which cripples him as a person.

Through flashbacks and encounters with gambling-circuit friend La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) and Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a stranger who reveals himself to be someone with ties to Tell's shady past, the cause of the gambler's anguish is revealed: He has been part of a system which dehumanised him so he could dehumanise others.

The rest of the film is taken up with the gambler reckoning with the stain on his soul.

Another film-maker might have Tell seek therapy or find that the root of his issues is toxic masculinity, but this being a Schrader movie, a grand, poetic act of atonement is necessary.

Structurally, it is not complicated, but Isaac's layered, often unnerving performance as the wary poker player revealing his hand sells it.

Late Night Ride (NC16)

Still from the film Late Night Ride starring Jayley Woo. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

80 minutes, opens Oct 28, not reviewed

In this local work of horror, Singaporean modes of transport - the bicycle, bus and ride-share car - become the setting for terror for a cross-section of society, including the parents of a young child, a group of young women who are social media influencers and a ride-share driver. It stars Lina Ng, Andie Chen and Jayley Woo, and is directed by Koh Chong Wu.

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