At The Movies

Worlds submerged in mystery, horror and crime

The Night House stars Rebecca Hall (above) as a bereaved widow, while Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps (both left) play a couple holidaying at a beach in Old.
The Night House stars Rebecca Hall (above) as a bereaved widow.PHOTOS: UIP, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY
The Night House stars Rebecca Hall (above) as a bereaved widow, while Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps (both left) play a couple holidaying at a beach in Old.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps (both above) play a couple holidaying at a beach in Old.PHOTOS: UIP, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

REMINISCENCE

NC16, 116 minutes, now showing

Rating: 3 Stars

This moody detective mystery set in the future comes with fine credentials - it stars the dependable Hugh Jackman and is written and directed by Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy - but cannot quite come to grips with the emotions that drive the story.

Jackman is Nick Bannister, a Miami-based private eye who is an expert in the use of the reminiscence machine, a device that lets viewers relive their past as waking dreams while projecting those memories as a hologram. Skilled operators like Bannister view the holograms to extract information for clients.

A new client, the sultry Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) walks into his office, setting in motion a search that will ensnare Bannister in a conspiracy that might destroy both him and his assistant Watts (Thandiwe Newton).

Joy, making her feature film debut as director, creates a world of the near future that feels rich and plausible by projecting forward today's global warming and ethnic diversity trends.

This drowned purgatory is liveable - there are flashes of beauty in its floating markets and watery thoroughfares - but scarcity has worsened wealth inequality.

The feeling of groundedness is reinforced by the reliance on grand yet practical water-based sets and effects.

These are a speciality of her husband and producer, Jonathan Nolan, whose work with his director brother Christopher (space epic Interstellar, 2014; the drama The Prestige, 2006, which also stars Jackman) steers clear of computer-created effects.

Joy's love of the noir cinematic style is everywhere. In a shadow-drenched world, a jaded gumshoe pits himself against a corrupt establishment, with love as his way out of the whole dirty mess.

Perhaps more attention should have been paid to the romantic obsession that drives Bannister's journey - it feels as chilly and inert as the melting icebergs threatening his city.


THE NIGHT HOUSE

NC16, 107 minutes, opens today

Rating: 4 Stars

In this work of psychological horror, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone following the sudden death of her architect husband Owen. Their beautiful, isolated lakeside home he designed is both her retreat as well as a ghastly reminder of his passing.

When her dreams are interrupted by terrifying visions, she suspects that there are secrets lurking in her home and its surrounding woods.

This story blends familiar horror elements, such as the gaslighted wife of the novel Rebecca (1938, and given several film treatments), with a minimalist approach that relies on extracting fear from the unseen and the unknowable - the shadows on the other side of the lake, the void that lies within the grief-stricken soul, the silence that surrounds the bed at 3am.

The less-is-more approach taken by director David Bruckner (the supernatural horror work The Ritual, 2017) relies on actress Hall's ability to fill in the blanks with her performance, often wordlessly, as Beth is alone for a great deal of the film.

Hall makes Beth, a woman forced to draw on inner reserves when faced with sinister forces, a compelling, relatable presence.


OLD

PG13, 108 minutes, now showing

Rating: 2 Stars

There are two kinds of M. Night Shyamalan movies. There are the ones based on superhero ideas, such as Split (2017). Then, there is this variety, the single-location mystery thriller in which innocents are stalked by death in an inexplicably irrational world.

All is explained at the end, but in between, there is running, screaming and dying.

Taking the Swiss graphic novel Sandcastle as his source, writer-director Shyamalan has crafted a straightforward holiday-gone-wrong story.

A group of guests at a tropical resort, including Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal), Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and their children, are invited to an off-limits beach. What was supposed to have been a day of fun in the sun turns into something else entirely.

The film tries to pretend that its central gimmick has not been given away by its posters and trailers. It is frustrating to watch characters stumble in the dark for so long.

The loss of suspense could have been compensated for by stylistic touches such as body horror or claustrophobic terror. The plot-driven Shyamalan, however, is not that kind of director. Viewers have to trudge on, watching one thing after another happen in unsurprising, almost banal ways.


RAGING FIRE

NC16, 126 minutes, opens today

Rating: 3 Stars

All you need to know about this by-the-numbers but dependably high-octane crime thriller is that it stars Donnie Yen as good cop Cheung and Nicholas Tse as rogue cop Yau.

Once as close as brothers, Tse's Yau is now a crime lord set on revenge against the Hong Kong police force and especially against Yen's straight-arrow cop character for an unforgivable act of betrayal.

The final movie by veteran director Benny Chan (the Jackie Chan action vehicle Rob-B-Hood, 2006) before his death from cancer last year, this production leans on old-school hard-hitting fight and stunt action as its central draw.

Yen and Tse, along with an army of cohorts, do battle in a shopping mall, an MTR subway station and a church, showing off rapid-fire hits and painful-looking falls.

In between, they spit lines at each other about doing the right thing versus doing right by one's brother.

Director Chan loads it up with plenty of critique - Hong Kong's capitalist overlords are the real villains of the piece - and visual symbolism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2021, with the headline 'Worlds submerged in mystery, horror and crime'. Subscribe