The Screen Critic: A dark adult mystery, top-notch horror, another Marvel misfire and a fun quiz show comedy

Nov 17, 2023
Barry Keoghan in Saltburn (Amazon/MGM); Rachel Zegler in The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Lionsgate); Awkwafina in Quiz Lady (Disney+) Source: Supplied.

As far as mystery thrillers go Saltburn serves up a delicious, depraved, distinctly adult treat designed to keep you guessing about where it’s going and what its rather nasty central character is up to.

Set in 2006, an awkward loner at Oxford University called Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is befriended by the handsome and wealthy Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi), who invites him to holiday with his family at his palatial country estate.

Big mistake.

The Catton clan turns out to be an assortment of upper-class eccentrics who intrigue Oliver as he enmeshes himself in their personal affairs, his agenda totally hidden from them and us. Saltburn is a slow-burn mystery that sometimes veers off in odd directions but, rest assured, it comes good in the end with a killer payoff that reveals the dark truth behind the story’s shocking moments.

Things get pretty vile in Thanksgiving, a horror-comedy offering from splatter maestro Eli Roth (Hostel; Cabin Fever) that mixes laughs with excessive gore before dialling the terror up to 11. One year after a chaotic Thanksgiving Black Friday sale that turned into a bloodbath, a mysterious figure arrives in town and begins dispatching those deemed responsible using methods that are increasingly messy.

Leading a typically young cast, Patrick Dempsey (aka McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy) plays the sheriff racing to catch the culprit before the next victim is live-streamed on everyone’s phone.

Designed for genre fans who don’t mind the sight of movie blood spurting from dismembered body parts, Thanksgiving is another satisfying slice of quality horror, which we’ve been getting plenty of this year.

Over at the arthouses is the French drama Paris Memories, an excellent, engrossing tale about the mental impact a mass shooting has on a survivor. Unlike others who lived through the terror, Mia (Virginie Efira) can’t remember anything about the shooting, a reaction to extreme trauma that brings on false memory syndrome and survivor guilt.

Written and directed by Alice Winocour, the film unfolds as a skilfully subdued piece, packing a hefty emotional punch as Mia attempts to piece together the event that changes her life. Easily one of the best movies of the year, discerning audiences will appreciate its sensitivity, maturity, and honesty.

Have you been hanging out for another Hunger Games film? No? Well, too bad. As if the teetering pile of studio fantasy action epics wasn’t big enough, we now have The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes to join the clutter. A rather half-hearted attempt to reboot the Hunger Games franchise, it’s a prequel intended to ignite a new series of films. Heaven help us all.

At an overly generous two-and-a-half hours – when will Hollywood return to decent running times? – the film takes place about 60 years before the events of the original four films, which took around $3 billion between 2012-15 and gave us Jennifer Lawrence.

All this film gives us is a series of very unexciting action scenes and a wholly uninteresting performance by Rachel Zegler, who spends most of her screen time singing and hiding. The story’s focus is on the rise of Coriolanus Snow (Tom Blyth), who later becomes the future leader of Panem, the main city in a dystopian world. Drably directed by Francis Lawrence (who did the three HG sequels), the expensive looking film is a long, slow haul that raises the question: do we really need more Hunger Games? Really?

And do we really need more Marvel superhero movies? That’s what The Marvels, the latest effort stamped out by Marvel Studios, seems to ask. And the answer seems to be – well, not really.

Already scoring the lowest Marvel opening weekend yet, The Marvels – the 33rd film in the 15-year-old mega-franchise – sees the return of the miscast Brie Larson as Captain Marvel. She is joined here by two superpowered friends (played by Teyonah Parris and Iman Vellani) to take on a super-villainess (Zawe Ashton) whose evil hobby is to tear holes in the fabric of space-time.

There’s a very funny scene involving intergalactic cats and the film is mercifully brief at 94 minutes (sans credits) but, all up, it’s just another collision of same-same action and barely comprehensible storytelling, with the first 40 minutes proving especially baffling.

As disposable entertainment the film is passable but far from exceptional, just like so many recent superhero movies. Hmm. Perhaps the party is finally drawing to a close.

If there’s one rule any intelligent criminal respects is never to go after somebody’s family. Yet that’s the big blunder made in The Killer against a professional hitman (Michael Fassbender) after he messes up on the job, prompting him to embark on a lethal quest for payback. With Fassbender putting in a chilling, straight- faced performance as he works through his list, director David Fincher (Se7en; Fight Club; The Social Network; Gone Girl) gives an uncomplicated crime drama loads of style, even as the killer gets down to the nitty-gritty.

Definitely not for the squeamish, the film features Tilda Swinton in a memorable scene. Catch it on Netflix.

For something slightly more light-hearted check out Quiz Lady, a breezy, energetic comedy lark on Disney+ about Anne (Awkwafina), a game show-obsessed office drone who is forced by her flamboyant sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) to become a contestant. They need to quickly raise money for their mother who owes money to the low-rent gangster holding Anne’s dog hostage until the debt is paid.

Things move briskly in this well-rounded, very funny lark, yet between all the antics are a handful of scenes that add a nice touch of depth to the high jinks. Producer Will Ferrell is terrific as the host of the show Anne has been glued to since childhood, their moment together giving the lark a well- judged hint of grace.

For more visit and @jimschembri on X for updates.

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