STREAMING REVIEWS: From light to dark

Here are reviews of the film that brought people back to the theaters in droves in the USA this summer, and a series on Netflix that knows how to play on the right side of creepy, earning the description of ‘the best TV adaptation of a Stephen King work that King never wrote’.

Free Guy (Video On Demand) - This was the big summer hit in the USA, responsible for bringing droves back to the theaters, and maintaining its #1 position over several weekends. And it’s easy to see why this very smartly designed crowd-pleaser would be the perfect escapist fare from the pandemic and COVID-worries. First, it pays homage to the gaming culture, and if we saw something rise over this COVID, it was the immersion into RPG as a form of escape. Then with wit, it celebrates all those nameless individuals who inhabit the world of video games, and exist as victims, collateral damage, and non-essential background people. It’s a savvy mix of action sequences, soapy but effective love angles, and a villainous tech giant CEO, plus cameos from the right kind of heavy-duty stars. What more does a summer hit movie need?

In terms of narrative, think of it as a cross between The Truman Show and Ready Player One, but put through a feel-good, only happy thoughts blender. And I’m not kidding, you’ll never really feel anyone’s life is at stake or there’s the real danger, it’s all just fun and games with moments to go Awww, and smile at the person watching this film with you. Ryan Reynolds stars and produces, and you know he’s a smart cookie when it comes to these things, a feel for the public’s pulse. In fact, if you’re on the lookout for depth of character, avoid this film like the plague. It’s just not designed for that. It’s the kind of film you’ll enjoy while watching and completely forget by the time the end credits stop rolling. I’d liken it to a film equivalent of a snow globe - pretty to watch while it lasts.

Midnight Mass (Netflix USA) - Let’s make it clear from the outset, this is pure Mike Flanagan, and there is no Stephen King novel named Midnight Mass. A Limited Series on Netflix, early viewers of this show were scrambling to find the King novel that inspired this series. Creepy to the extreme, the story has to do with how religion can take over our lives, about blind faith, and being careful about what you wish for. And in typical King style, it involves the sparse community of a small island, where faith plays an important role in status and keeping up with your neighbors. That it’s the Catholic faith is pure coincidence, as it could have been another organized religion controlling the lives of the people on the island.

There’s a damaged loner who returns to the island to heal, the local priest who people have leaned on for years, and his ‘replacement’, and there are those who have never left the island. Together, they make a melting pot of what can transpire when things go wrong for the right reasons. If anything, the series could have been more effective with some trimming and editing. Some plot twists just seem played out to stretch the running time or repeat what we already know. And it is a Horror series that plays more like meditation and psychological drama; than a typical Horror product with jump scares and visceral action scenes. So be forewarned that while creepy, and it preys on your mind and imagination, it isn’t one that’s out to shock or scare you. Flanagan writes and directs, and kudos to him for this King clone.