The Forest (2016)

9149Movie–Identical twin sisters Sara and Jess have always been very close, brought together by their parents’ death when they were children. Sara is nothing but supportive when Jess, who has struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, decides to go teach English in Japan to get a fresh start. Sara is stunned, though, when she receives  a call from Japanese authorities that her sister is missing and was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. Aokigahara Forest, as the characters in the movie love telling Sara in as spooky a manner as possible, is a popular destination for those contemplating suicide and is full of yuurei, vengeful Japanese spirits that try to get you to stray from the forest path and give you hallucinations to prompt dark thoughts. Naturally, Sara decides to plunge right into the forest to find Jess, whom Sara is sure has not yet succumbed to yuurei. Accompanied by a guide and a new acquaintance, Sara is making headway towards finding Jess when she makes the predictably terrible, horror-movie-protagonist decision to stay in the forest overnight.

This movie excels in its first two thirds at building suspense. It has a lot of well-composed shots that will stick in my memory and makes the audience care about Jess’ fate through Sara’s eyes. However, as is often the case with horror movies, the last third is a bit of a muddle. The protagonist makes a series of seriously poor decisions and the money shots of vengeful yuurei are a bit too direct and silly-looking to inspire real terror. The unique setting and great first two-thirds, however, are enough to make the movie worth a watch.

 

A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014)

A-Walk-Among-the-Tombstones-2014-movie-posterMovie –  Based on the mystery novel by Lawrence Block, Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) is an ex-cop turned unlicensed private investigator. He finds himself reluctantly finds his way working for a heroin dealer who’s wife was brutally murdered by way of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Along the way he meets a young street kid named TJ, who takes a liking to Scudder’s profession. TJ inserts himself into Scudder’s job by proving he is needed for his computer and technology skills, something Scudder is just to old to understand and use. Scudder realizes that the people he is after have committed this horrible crime before, and will continue until they are stopped. Working together Scudder and TJ follow a plan to finally put an end to this once and for all.

This movie is a winner with Liam Neeson fans. Although its a little slow to start it has his typical butt kicking, big man confidence you know and love about him. There are a few plot twists that I never considered being an option for the movie, yet somehow they work well.  I found the ending to be very thought provoking and left me wondering if there will be a sequel in the future.

If you are looking for an action mystery with a mild tug on your heartstrings kind of movie, this is the one!

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

BmTk6UbnC1k.movieposter_maxresMovie – The zombie apocalypse has come! Or is it an alien invasion? A terrorist attack that wiped out the US government? Either way something bad has happened to the country and civilization is descending into anarchy! Or is it?

In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard (John Goodman) has prepared for the worst. He has a bunker and everything he needs to survive an event of catastrophic proportions. While out Howard finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the side of a road. She has been in a car accident. He takes her to his bunker to save her life. Michelle wakes up to find she is chained to a wall in a bare room and has injured her leg in the accident. Howard explains what happened and that an apocalyptic event has made the world up top uninhabitable. Michelle is unsure and does not want to believe him. Howard unchains Michelle and allows her into the common area. There she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett reassures Michelle that everything Howard has told her happened. Emmett is also hurt like Michelle. As the movie progresses Michelle discovers something which points her to think Howard lying and begins to doubt his story once again.

The film has a slow pace at the beginning and viewers with little patience might give up. But if you stick with it, it picks up quickly and the ending is something worth seeing. When the film first came out many speculated whether it was a sequel to Cloverfield (2008). All I will reveal is that I don’t know if it is or not. Viewers who like movies with a short character list, a good soundtrack, and suspense will enjoy this one. Patience is a must, though.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Cover Image - The Woman in Cabin 10Book – Lo Blacklock, a journalist, lands a plum assignment to travel and report on the maiden voyage of the boutique, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora. Two days before her scheduled departure for the trip around the Norwegian fjords, Lo’s apartment is robbed while she is home asleep after an evening of drinking. The event triggers her anxiety and panic attacks, for which she has been formerly diagnosed and treated. Nonetheless, she is determined to take advantage of the opportunity the cruise offers in the hopes of getting a promotion. When Lo boards the boat, she discovers their are 10 cabins and a crew devoted to the passengers’ comfort. However, as she soon finds out, the guests may not be who them seem to be and it’s hard to get help when you are out at sea. One night, after dinner and drinks, she returns to her cabin and thinks she hears a body fall into the water. She reports the incident, but no one believes her and everyone seems to be accounted for. Lo’s panic, drinking and confusion kept me guessing about the outcome of this suspenseful tale. I’m certainly not in any hurry to take a cruise on a small ship after reading this book! Ware also wrote In a Dark, Dark Wood.

 

Devil (2010)

devilMovie- Five people at an office building enter an elevator. Only one gets out. Devil combines a locked room mystery plot with the trappings of a horror movie. The five people trapped in the elevator all have guilty pasts and every time the lights go out in the broken elevator, they go back on to reveal that someone else is injured or dead. Police and security guards are watching through the security camera, comparing the sign-in sheet at the front desk to the elevator passengers and researching them and their histories to try to figure out who’s doing it. In true mystery fashion, just as they begin to suspect one passenger especially, that is the next passenger to die. Those watching from the security station are split on whether they are watching a horrific supernatural event (one security guard is superstitious and convinced that the Devil is roaming the Earth) or a bunch of frightened people acting irrationally (one of the police officers is determinedly cynical and irreligious due to personal tragedy). The audience, however, is not left wondering at the end of the movie. We get to see the big scary payoff scene of the Devil speaking through/being one of the passengers, and it is sufficiently creepy.

Devil will appeal to fans of both horror and mystery movies.  While it is not the cleverest movie ever, it has some good surprises and I did not predict too early which one of the people in the elevator was the culprit.

The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

The Equalizer (2014)

MV5BMTQ2MzE2NTk0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTM3NTk1MjE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,675,1000_AL_Movie – Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is your normal everyday person. He works at a hardware store. Has a small one-bedroom apartment and is reading the 100 books everyone should read before they die. This latter is an homage to his deceased wife.

The one thing that makes Mr. McCall different is he suffers from insomnia. Every night he goes down to his local diner to have a cup of tea and read. Every night his chats with a Teri/ Alina (Chloe Grace Moretz). Teri is a works in the sex industry. One night she is roughed up and ends up in the hospital. Robert decides to visit her pimp and makes him an offer for Teri’s freedom. He refuses, and this is where the movie goes sideways. It becomes fast paced after this scene and has some pretty good action sequences.

As a viewer, we all know Denzel is never just a regular person in his movies. It did take me some time to figure out who he was, however. I enjoyed how his character helped the everyday person beat back the criminals trying to take advantage. I did not like the watch. It looked as though it was going to be important to the plot, but then later it got lost to the action.

The Equalizer is very similar to another Denzel hit Man on Fire. The only difference is the girl is a grown woman and she was not kidnapped. If you like Denzel and action, this is a good choice. If you are looking for a Chloe movie, leave it. Her character may be why Denzel is doing most of this, but she plays a small role throughout.

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York?  So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.

Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives.  Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.

Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters.  To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

indexBook The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery.  The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art.  Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals.  What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.

Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed.  It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime.  Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion.  The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings.  It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.

Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family.  The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.

I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

41350y21tlL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book–How do you think you would react if you found out everything you knew about truth and life was a lie? That your parents where duped by a man with a silver tongue. That the world outside is not as evil as you were lead to believe. Meet Minnow Bly. For most of her life she grew up a Kevinian, a cult led by the “Prophet” Kevin. Life as Kevinian is not easy. Everyone lives in the woods, isolated from the world. The men take multiple wives in order to have lots of children. And people who leave or cause problems are punished, severely. Minnow herself lost both of her hands by the order of the Prophet.

But now the Prophet is dead and the Community burned to the ground. The FBI want to know what happened, but Minnow does not want to tell them the truth. Telling the truth means going back to that night. Telling the truth means revealing secrets. Maybe some secrets are meant to be kept quiet.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a quick read filled with mystery and intrigue. It also brings up themes of religion and questions about God. But it is mostly a book about a young girl finding her own way. It is about discovery, first love, and friendship. It is also a great read that you will not soon forget.