Movie Review: The Giver (2014) – A Cerebral Approach to the YA Dystopia Template

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Whenever I see Meryl Streep in a movie, I always automatically assume she is there to make me cry. She just has this completely tragic face, like she’s always just heard that her puppy was run over. So of course, when I saw her in a top roll in The Giver, I know it was going to be a real laugh fest.

The Giver is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a young man who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Then, he starts hanging out with The Giver (Jeff Bridges). The giver is the sole keeper of all the memories in his community, including the stories of its dark, violent past. The giver is based on a 1994 Newbury Award winner of the same name.

Just writing the synopsis gave me depression. Not that I’m saying it’s not good, but it’s an unusual take on the genre. In most teen dystopian literature, most of the focus is spent on the plucky heroine who doesn’t know she’s pretty and is in the midst of a love triangle. The Giver doesn’t follow that plot line. It’s is far more dramatic and dark.

One interesting thing they did with this movie was along the lines of Pleasantville. In that movie, black and white was done at the beginning, while color came into the world as people gained knowledge. The same idea is used here, and it really is a direction that involves beautiful contrast. I’m very glad they chose to do this because it really does add something to the film.

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Meryl Streep is back to increase the grey melancholy. She plays the head honcho in the supposedly utopian community and the heroes’ main antagonist. She does a bad girl passably well, albeit a boring one.

The theme of the film is really about the absence of emotion used to solve world conflicts. People are medicated and can only see in black and white. They don’t know how to clap or laugh or what a real elephant is. It’s an odd mix of The Gods Must be Crazy and Equilibrium with some teen angst thrown in.

For the most part, it works. This was a book I enjoyed as a child and I’m glad to see that the makers did justice to it. While it might be a bit darker and more cerebral than most teen dystopian offerings, it is by no means unwatchable. I’d rather suffer through this one than watch Christian Bale’s never changing face in Equilibrium anytime.

While the film showed up 2 decades after the book, it feels as if it was worth the wait. The characters are well played, the scenes fleshed out and the plot unfolds at an even pace. At times, it might plod and try too hard to be intellectual, but for the most part, it’s an easy watch.

If you’re tired of teen dystopian with the same leading ladies more worried about which crush they’re going to date than saving the world, then you’ll probably enjoy The Giver. This is a clever take on an old premise, in fact this is the tale that started the old premise that many teen Hollywood movies take.

WE GAVE IT: 3.5 Stars – Watch the Official Trailer and Official Movie Poster below!

3.5 stars

 

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Movie Review: Oculus (2014)

 Oculus (2014) movie posterA cleverly written, and truly unsettling horror

Star Ratings

Oh my god, I finally found a scary movie that actually scares me. That hasn’t happened since I saw the first and only good Paranormal Activity movie.

Oculus starts with a great back story. 10 years before, tragedy struck the Russel family, when Tim Russel (Garrett Ryan) was committed following the brutal murder of his parents. He has recently been released, and now just wants to move on with his life. His sister Kaylie (Annalisse Basso) isn’t so laid back. She is still haunted by visions that she had the night her parents died and she doesn’t believe everything is quite as it seems. Instead, she blames their deaths on the Lasser Glass, a mirror which was in their childhood home. Kaylie tracks down the mirror, determined to prove her brother’s innocence. The problem is, everyone who owns that mirror seems to come to an untimely, and usually mysterious death.

“An evil mirror?” You might be thinking. “How scary can that be?”

My answer is, it will make you fear your mirrors. Seriously, I went home and put sheets over ever single one of mine. I haven’t been able to put on makeup or fix my hair for a week, because I am utterly convinced that a evil supernatural being will use my mirror as a portal while I’m smearing on my lip gloss.

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What makes Oculus unique is that it doesn’t scare through cheap jump scares or gore and blood. It scares through pure dread and some serious mind screwing. It’s impossible to tell if the mirror is evil, or if Kaylie is crazy and the plot unfolds like a corkscrew.

Basso plays the unreliable narrator Kaylie well. She seems genuinely convinced, but at the same time, also a little bit nuts. As the background unravels in flashbacks, you will change your mind about 40 times as to what she really is.

This is an unsettling horror movie, cleverly timed in order to gain the maximum effect from the plot. The director toys with giving you the details, and then takes them back, so you will be left guessing.

This was a cleverly written, and truly unsettling horror, which is difficult to find in the age of Paranormal rip-offs and found footage garbage. Instead of focusing on scary makeup and ridiculous special effects, Oculus goes back to the good old days of writing a movie that actually had a good, multilayered plot.

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It’s really hard to pull off an unreliable narrator movie. In many cases, those who try to do it wind up giving away too much, or just being incredibly confusing (i.e. American Psycho). I haven’t seen a movie mislead an audience so well since I saw eXistenZ. Coming from me, that is incredibly high praise

I will say the ending was a bit of a disappointment, but this isn’t really the kind of movie that will leave you feeling satisfied, with all the lose ends tied up in a neat little bow. There’s no scene where the bad guy comes out, admits all his crimes and then explains why he did it. The movie is designed to leave you feeling unsettled, and the ending will do just that.

And then, just like me, you’ll go home and cover up all your mirrors…just in case.  Watch the official trailer below.

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