Negotiating Netflix at times can feel like Theseus traversing the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur, full of twists, turns and false hopes. But alas we’re here with our trusty guide on what to watch, and what to avoid on Netflix, risking films so you don’t have to. But did we slay the Minotaur this time or did we get lost in the labyrinth?
April Fool’s Day – Dir. Fred Walton, 1986
A group of college students spend the weekend at a friends isolated mansion for spring break. In the lead up to April Fool’s Day the group are constantly pranking one another with exploding cigars and folding chairs until laughs turn to screams as one by one the group are killed off by a mysterious killer.
I’ll keep this short, quite simply April Fool’s Day has not held up well, and everything now about the film is just dated. The only exception is that it still stands out from the thoroughly blood soaked teen slasher genre due to it’s lack of visual gore, opting for suspense over blood. Unfortunately watching it today there is no suspense to be found, anywhere, and the lack of gory special effects, that usually give us something fun to look back at in other slashers from the decade, make this a very empty slasher film. The upside…it does star Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen from Back to the Future). In other words, avoid.
Starry Eyes – Dir. Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmeyer, 2014
Sarah (Alex Essoe) is a young aspiring actress struggling to find her feet in the acting industry, that is until she receives an invite to an audition for a horror film called The Silver Scream for famed production company Astraeus Pictures. Determined to break free from her job as a scantily clad waitress, and from the negative energy of her circle of friends, Sarah though determined to win the role comes face to face with the dark prices that must be paid to obtain fame and fortune.
Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer are relatively new to the scene but have found a home in the horror genre thanks to this disturbing tale of the aspiration and fame, as well as their contribution to the new horror anthology Holidays. Starry Eyes is a solid independent horror that easily doubles as an dark allegory for the trials and tribulations of becoming a famous performer. The film patiently builds it’s way to the finale following Sarah through her several auditions to star in The Silver Scream, and meetings with a powerful producer, and pitting them against the lackadaisical nature of her friends. Then when the film gets to it’s climax, it’s bloody, brutal and worth the wait. It’s not the most original horror film out there, but Starry Eyes does set itself apart from the mountains of generic rubbish going straight to DVD and even hitting the silver screen.
Clue – Dir. Johnathan Lynn, 1985
Directed by one of the minds behind Yes Minister in Johnathan Lynn, Clue is based on the popular board game of the same name (also known as Cluedo here in the UK). A group of strangers are sent letters asking them to come to Hill House under pseudonyms (Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet etc) to protect their identity, their purpose being there is a mystery until it is revealed that they are all being blackmailed by the same person. Then somebody dies, and another, leaving the remaining guests at the house to try and figure out who killed who, with what weapon and which room.
For a film based on a board game Clue does alright at assembling a coherent premise to bring the characters together, but struggles to maintain its grip on your attention, which for a film that is trying to make you guess who did the deed is a big no no. The cast is full of names and promise, with Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn and Michael McKean all starring but because it’s a murder mystery you can’t possibly develop story or characters otherwise it gives the game away. Now Clue isn’t a poor film, it’s just distinctly average, with the slapstick like humour being one of it’s redeeming features. Apparently 20th Century Fox have just picked this up for a remake…I’ll not be holding my breath.
Rogue – Dir. Greg McClean, 2007
Pete (Michael Vartan), an American travel journalist is sent to Australia on an assignment leading him to take a river cruise in Kakadu National Park watching crocodiles. On the way back one of the tourists on the cruise spot a flare in the distance, feeling a duty to respond the cruises captain Kate (Radha Mitchell) makes a detour to find the source of the flare. After a lengthy search they come across a sunken boat, but no sign of survivors, then without warning the boat is attacked by a large unseen force. The damage to the boat causes it to sink, and the tourists left stranded on a small island that is slowly going under water as the tide comes back in. Stopping them from swimming to safety is something in the water, and it’s watching them waiting for the opportunity to strike.
As far as creature features go Rogue is a lot more refined than your usual fare, but as it also takes the creature more seriously than something like Sharknado so it is to be expected. Having Radha Mitchell and Sam Worthington amongst the cast elevates the quality, but there are too many supporting characters with few lines that contribute little to the film, half of them aren’t even crocodile fodder which makes their inclusion slightly mind boggling. Greg McClean made a very tense, uncomfortable film in Wolf Creek, and he tries to imbue the same feeling here but because it’s a creature feature we sort of already know how it’s going to play out. Though as predictable as it might be, it’s a decent watch and well worth your time if you like films about killer crocodiles, in fact it’s probably one of the best.
The Reef – Dir. Andrew Traucki, 2010
Needing to deliver a yacht to a customer in Indonesia, Luke invites four friends to accompany him and fellow sailor Warren on the trip for sun, swimming and fun. One early morning, after a day or two at sea the boat hits some coral reef causing it to capsize, and leaving them stranded at sea. The group are left with a decision, stay on the boat and hope for rescue before it sinks or attempt to swim to Turtle Island. Luke opts to swim towards Turtle Island taking his friends with him, but Warren fearful of what sharks swim in these waters stays on the boat. As Luke and his friends start swimming to the island they soon become the target of a great white shark that continues to stalk them as they struggle to safety.
The shark sub genre of creature features is brimming with stupidly daft films such as Ghost Shark and Sharknado, but to create an intense dramatic shark film is something few people have been able to craft. Steven Spielberg painstakingly did it with Jaws, and Jaume Collet-Serra recently did a good job with The Shallows but Andrew Traucki has also done a sublime job with this small Australian film. Admittedly any serious shark film will draw comparisons with Jaws and they’re expectations The Reef was never going to meet, but it does a damn fine job in its efforts. The use of footage of actual great white sharks is expertly spliced with the scenes of the film, meaning no dodgy CGI or uncooperative mechanical sharks and it adds to the tension significantly. Do yourself a favour and give The Reef a watch, this little Australian film doesn’t disappoint.
So there it is, our latest edition of Negotiating Netflix, and it was very much a hit and miss endeavour. To finish what my intro started, I’d say I’m still firmly stuck in the middle of the labyrinth. No minotaur yet, but there is always next time. Let us know if you gave any of the above films a watch and let us know your thoughts on them, except April Fool’s Day.