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Sunshine (2007)

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Sunshine review!Starring Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Cliff Curtis, Michelle Yeoh

Directed by Danny Boyle


There have been many movies where a crack international science team bands together to save the planet from impending destruction. Some enter the room, guns blazing, hoping to overwhelm your senses with spectacle while pulling at your heart strings with the dueling, quivering lips of Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck. Others rely too heavily on modern computerized effects, depicting a giant drill hurtling through the planet or meteors pelting tourist attractions … all flash and no substance. Why do disasters always target iconic landmarks by the way?! Now we get Danny Boyle’s new epic Sunshine. This is the part where I say … and now for something completely different.

Sunshine is a dark tale set in the not-so-distant, non-descript future. It seems our sun is dying and the planet is doomed to become a giant ball of ice unless the greatest minds the Earth can muster can do something about it. The solution is simple: Build an explosive device the size of Manhattan Island, strap a rocket to it and set it off in the heart of the sun. Easy peasy! Of course there are a few obstacles in the way, one of which being that the sun is 92,955,820.5 miles away so you need the resources to make the trip there and back, while keeping the crew alive to deliver the payload. Also, there’s the nagging fact that the last ship sent out was never heard from again, and seeing as how you can still make an igloo in Africa, it seems they didn’t quite make it.

Deep space missions require a level head to begin with. Picture yourself living in a nice sized house with a number of relative strangers, one bag full of your belongings and a finite amount of energy you can utilize daily. After about two months, I’d probably have already gotten on someone’s nerves and threatened to smother three others in their sleep. Sunshine echoes this human dilemma, showing equal parts claustrophobia and awe for what this crew is trying to accomplish. Danny Boyle emphasizes the emptiness of space like a tiny rowboat in a still ocean — no sound, no wind, just an uneasy stillness. You’re totally exposed with only your Earthly inventions to keep you and your vessel in one piece. At any moment, things can shift out of your favor. This impending doom shadows the film in its dark embrace, reminding you that not only is this crew living on borrowed time, but each member is expendable when weighed against the survival of the human race.

Sunshine review!Cillian Murphy trades in his official 28 Days Later hospital gown for a jumpsuit and plays Capa, the scientist who built the bomb, making him the most important man on the ship. Murphy plays this role with a sort of breathlessness, as if to show he’s fully aware of his enormous responsibilities and is doing his best to handle it, like a child just told his parents will die unless he finds a way to move an entire collapsed house off of them. You either sit there crying, wasting what little time you have, or you suck it up and do the job. Capa is ready to die so his world will live on. Mind you, he doesn’t want to die. Cliff Curtis plays Searle, the ship’s physician, whose relationship with the sun seems to have surpassed that of someone enjoying a warm summer’s day, to say the least. As Searle sits on the observation deck, a look of overwhelming wonder crosses his face. It’s as if he’s just been allowed to stare in the face of God. Having a character that is responsible for the mental and physical well being of the crew becoming slightly unhinged himself lends a level of trepidation to all events in the film. When is this guy going to snap and drive the ship straight into the heart of the sun??!! The thought is always there and Curtis sells it like there’s no tomorrow. Chris Evans portrays Ace, the gung-ho American hellbent on completing the mission at all costs. In a very human story, it’s easy to forget that all crew members are just tools to get the job done, and should one break, there is no time to mourn. Ace knows what is at stake here and is your constant reminder that even he is not worth more than the human race. Most people will discount Evans as the cocky Johnny Storm from Fantastic Four, but after watching Sunshine, things will change. Evans displays the stern resolve of a life-long soldier while showing moments of vulnerability worthy of note. Let’s hope other studios give him a chance to really act after this.

The crew of the Icarus 2, aptly named after the man why tried to fly to the sun, come across as a group with amazing resolve. This is not quite a family in a touchy-feely way, but each member is respected and given care equally. From this, Sunshine plays much like certain beats in the original Alien. These are people with a job to do, doing the best they can … only the Icarus crew has far more at stake. The acting is of such a high caliber, from every cast member, that you become fully immersed in their plight. Many of the people around me gasped often and shifted quickly in their seats, so it’s safe to say, Sunshine will leave you breathless!

Sunshine review!At our particular screening of this film, Danny Boyle conducted a Q&A after. When we asked how he integrates non-obvious moments of terror into a strong story, he replied “I honestly have no idea! I’m not setting out to make something scary from the start; I’m just following a thought, and it turns out that way.” I mention this because of Sunshine’s psychotic ending! You’ve just watched an amazing film full of stunning space scenes, incredible acting and a score that pulls it all together with perfection. Some crew members have died along the way, but as we’ve seen in the film’s trailer, there is someone else on board the ship. The reveal of this plot point is something you’ll never expect and is every bit the stuff of horror you’d want from a full-blown genre film! In one instant Boyle increases the dread level to 20 on a scale of 10, presenting scenes you’ll think were written by Clive Barker himself. The movie’s climax ALONE makes this a must see for anyone reading this.

Sunshine is a deep, brooding film, not without its lighter notes here and there. People have an amazing capacity to smile in the face of overpowering adversity, and Boyle shows this. Space films are often larger than life, and though we are along for the ride and are meant to feel compassion for the members of the crew, we are often kept at a distance so that the heroes can remain somewhat better than us — something to aspire to in a sense. Sunshine offers reality, as it were. The crew of the Icarus 2 are fully formed individuals who laugh, cry and at times are completely unpredictable. This element makes the film all the more tangible. You will be glued to your seat. Sunshine is the movie this summer’s blockbusters wish they could be. Do whatever you can to find a theater playing this film! If there was ever a movie you should fight to see on the big screen, this is it.

5 out of 5

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Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political

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Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside

Directed by Eitan Gafny

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.

Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.

Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.

The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.

The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Yafit Shalev as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.

So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.

Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.

The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.

Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.

  • Children of the Fall
2.5

Summary

While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.

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User Rating 3 (11 votes)
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Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama

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Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein

Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker

Reviewed out of Utopia 2017


One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.

The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.

Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.

The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.

While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.

All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.

  • Madam Yankelova's Fine Literature Club
3.5

Summary

Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.

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User Rating 3.57 (14 votes)
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Beyond the Seventh Door DVD Review – No-Budget S.O.V. Canuxploitation At Its Finest!

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Beyond the 7th DoorStarring Lazar Rockwood, Bonnie Beck, Gary Freedman

Directed by B.D. Benedikt

Distributed by Severin Films/Intervision


Two people trapped within a labyrinthine complex. Booby traps. Rigged doors. Death lurking around every corner. And a mysterious voice communicating clues every step of the way via recorded tapes. No, this isn’t the latest Saw film but a Canuxploitation entry from the shot-on-video market, 1987’s Beyond the Seventh Door. Oozing ambition and bolstered by a truly bravado performance from newcomer Lazar Rockwood – a man who looks like the love child of Tommy Wiseau and Billy Drago – this no-budget Canadian shocker delivers just as many twists and turns as Lionsgate’s dead-horse franchise. The main difference being that instead of having to mutilate yours or someone else’s body, the protagonists here are forced to solve obtuse riddles in order to move on to the next room; failure means death. Intervision has been crushing it throughout 2017 – and this release may be the best yet.

Boris (Lazar Rockwood) is a career thief and recent ex-con who is trying to turn his life around when Wendy (Bonnie Beck), a former flame, comes back into his life. She now works for a rich paraplegic, Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), who lives in an actual castle just outside of town. Desperate for “one more job” and a big payday, Boris begs for a gig and Wendy delivers; the plan is for the two of them to break into the basement of Breston’s castle and steal whatever treasures he has socked away, all while her boss is busy entertaining guests at his costume party. The next night, the plan is enacted and the duo clandestinely slip into the castle’s lower level, when suddenly the door locks behind them and a tape recorder begins to play. Breston’s voice is heard, welcoming the thieves into his home and offering up a challenge: use scant clues (or sometimes, none at all) and uncover a way out of each of the six rooms linked together down here. Succeed and a briefcase of money awaits; fail and you die. Truly motivating.

Going into this film blind is my best recommendation, and so for that reason no other plot points will be revealed here. Besides, the real motivation for watching this movie is to witness the raw acting prowess of Lazar Rockwood. Glad in a denim jacket and rocking the ubiquitous ‘80s bandana headband, Rockwood has the delivery of a porno actor stammering lines between sex scenes. His accent is impenetrably thick and the range of his acting could fit within a matchbox, but dammit the man is weirdly magnetic on screen. He’s clearly throwing everything in his arsenal onto the screen with tremendous bravado. Modesty must be a scarce commodity when you have a name that would go perfectly alongside Dirk Diggler on an adult theater marquee in the ‘70s. My favorite line in the entire film is when Wendy is trying to solve the first clue, which has something to do with rings. When she’s rifling through possibilities and says, “Lord of the Rings?” Boris replies with, “Lord of the ring… who the hell is that guy?” said with equal parts confusion and annoyance. The kicker is viewers will believe that query could have come from either Boris or Lazar.

The rooms aren’t likely to impress viewers with their intricacy or set design, but each has a clever solution that is often a stretch to imagine our leads managing to solve within the allotted time. The clues provided by Lord Breston are esoteric and Boris isn’t exactly the erudite type, but working together with Wendy they are able to move ahead, often with mere seconds to spare. Evidence of past would-be thieves’ unlucky attempts are glimpsed, including one room where a body remains. NON-SPOILER: I completely expected the body to in actuality be Lord Breston, “checking up” on his unwanted guests much like John Kramer in Saw (2004), especially since you can clearly see the actor breathing, but this is not the case. Instead, the he’s-clearly-not-dead guy is played by a local eccentric, whose life is briefly chronicled in the bonus features.

Viewers will already be hooked on Beyond the Seventh Door by the time the climax arrives, but the final twists are what drive this S.O.V. thriller over the edge and into the cult territory it so richly deserves. It’s crazy to think this film went virtually unseen for years, being impossible to acquire on VHS and never receiving the proper home video release until now. Director B.D. Benedikt offers up further proof that strong ideas can be realized on any budget, and fans of films like Saw or Cube (1997) will enjoy this “store brand” version of those bigger budgeted hits.

The video quality review for every Intervision title could probably be a copy/paste job since each one is shot on video, always with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The quality here is comparable to a remastered VHS tape. There is a slight jerkiness to the opening but that passes quickly. Colors appear accurate and contrast is about as strong as can be. The picture is often soft which, again, is just something inherent to shooting on video. Film grain is minimized as much as possible; don’t expect a noisy mess just because this isn’t shot on film.

The English Dolby Digital 2.0 track plays with no obvious issues. Dialogue is clean and free from hissing and pops. The score is another awesomely cheesy ‘80s keyboard love-fest, with the three (!) composers – Michael Clive, Brock Fricker, and Philip Strong – getting plenty of mileage out of the main theme, which sounds like it would be the in-store demo default keyboard setting. No subtitles are included.

There is an audio commentary with writer/director B.D. Benedikt & actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com.

“Beyond Beyond the 7th Door features new interviews with Benedikt, Rockwood, and Corupe.

“The King of Cayenne” – Focusing on “legendary Toronto eccentric Ben Kerr”, a street performer who played the role of “dead guy in that one room”.

Special Features:

  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director BD Benedikt and Actor Lazar Rockwood, moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com)
  • Beyond Beyond the 7th Door: Interviews with Writer/Director BD Benedikt, Actor Lazar Rockwood, and Canuxploitation.com’s Paul Corupe
  • The King of Cayenne: An Appreciation of Legendary Toronto Eccentric Ben Kerr
  • Beyond the Seventh Door
  • Special Features
3.5

Summary

Virtually lost for nearly three decades, Beyond the Seventh Door deserves a wider audience and Intervision’s DVD should bring it. The then-novel plot and sheer ambition should be enough to get most viewers hooked, but if not the Yugoslavian wonder Lazar Rockwood will handily have them glued to the screen.

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User Rating 3.4 (20 votes)
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