Film Dispenser Short Takes (12/30/16)

It’s that time between Christmas and New Year’s when so many of us are holed up in the house, trying to stay warm. If the weather or your mood is keeping you from heading to the theater, here’s a brief look at some films that are new to home video streaming and rental platforms. It’s a good week to be a horror fan with two stellar releases hitting home video.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Scott Phillips): Every year seems to have a horror film that burns up the festival circuit, generating positive buzz (It Follows, The Babadook, etc.) For 2016, it was this little gem starring Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as a father-son team of coroners who are presented with the dead body of a young woman that is in absolutely pristine condition. The film begins as a forensic thriller seeking an elusive cause of death and slowly morphs into something otherworldly. The pace of the opening hour is perfect, sprinkling brief little chills along the way as the atmosphere grows more and more eerie. As with so many horror films, the third act threatens to spin out of control, but the grounded performances of Cox and Hirsch anchor the film until it reaches a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. The Autopsy of Jane Doe is the kind of pleasant surprise that VOD horror fans live for.  (8.5 out of 10)

A Kind of Murder (Scott Phillips):  This is 2/3 of a good mystery that unfortunately loses its way in the final act. Walter Stackhouse (Patrick Wilson) is a successful architect with a mentally unstable wife (Jessica Biel). When his wife dies, we are left to wonder if she killed herself or if Walter helped her reach her untimely demise. The fact that she dies near the scene of another recent murder muddies the narrative waters, but it also breaks down any semblance of logic in the film. A Kind of Murder is a film where allegedly intelligent people do so many stupid things so frequently that it leaves audiences frustrated.  With its Mad Men visual aesthetic and heavy Hitchcock influences (namely Strangers on a Train), this film has a lot going for it until it crumbles under the weight of its coincidences and inconsistencies.  (6.5 out of 10)

Train to Busan (Scott Phillips):  Just when you thought that zombies were completely played out as a horror genre, along comes  writer/director Sang-ho Yeon to prove us all wrong. This is the film everyone was hoping World War Z (2013) would be. The premise is simple.  A little girl wants nothing more than to see her estranged mother on her birthday.  So her father gives in to her wishes and boards the title train to escort his daughter to her mother’s home. They just happen to be traveling on the day the Zombie Apocalypse breaks out (which could happen any day now, after all). Utilizing “fast zombies” and the ultra-quick “turning” of the recently deceased, Train to Busan offers actions set pieces featuring hundreds of the undead chasing our small group of survivors. With bodies hurtling through windows and falling off trains, it’s a wonder that everyone survived the shoot. If you’re a horror fan, this is a must-see.  If you’re not, it’s a thrill ride nonetheless.  (8.5 out of 10)

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