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The writers and studio folks who helped craft William Eubank’s Underwater could have gone with many other titles. “Roebuck 641” might have been considered, but that title probably not snappy enough. If they wanted to be cute, they could have called the film’s aquatic research facility and film “Eventide” as a slight nod (or jab) at the Twilight movie franchise, which Underwater‘s main star, Kristen Stewart, is most famous for.

Instead, they went with Underwater, which is totally on-the-nose and totally okay. It’s a movie that invites us along with its characters to “probe” inside an undersea facility as it starts breaking apart. The characters are both literally and figuratively underwater, and we’re right along with them.

What would we do in their situation? What tools would we have to communicate with the surface? Would damage control teams be sent, and rescuers? What about sharks or, yes, other mysterious monsters in the water? All of these questions, and more, await us in this film.

Why I Like ‘Underwater’

By no means is this a complex film, and it was almost destined to have failed (even coming out in January, considered to be the worst month for film releases). However, I don’t think it deserves hate, because it’s at least a competently done movie. I also don’t agree so much with the dismissals of this film as “derivative.” It’s actually not that much like Alien or Aliens, especially with so much of it involving their initial survival situation.

And yes, this is not really a character-driven film. You’re most likely to only remember two characters: Kristen Stewart’s character, Norah, and T.J. Miller as Paul Abel (an obvious choice, as he provides most of whatever could be considered “comic relief”).

However, what I like is that, instead of taking place on a spaceship, these scientists are (of course!) underwater. I think that’s a more relatable setting, simply because most of us have been in the water, and recognize how harrowing it is to risk drowning. Compound those basic fears with an unknown presence and hey, you might have something.

Suspension of Disbelief? Not Much Seems Requires, Actually

To me, this movie at first barely seems like sci-fi. As suggested, most of the dangers are the initial crisis and the uncertainty of exactly what to do, and the viewer will wonder if help is going to arrive. When their facility begins to take on water from an earthquake (which seems like an explosion), the characters are forced to make what may be final choices, for themselves and their crewmates. Whatever they do, everyone will face the consequences of their actions.

Much like outer space, the ocean will always represent the unknown. Anyone who wishes to explore either place will need every act to be a deliberate act, and there are endless scenarios of things going wrong. Would you manage to come up with an escape plan?

A lot would need to happen correctly in order to properly prepare a mission underwater, let alone a mission to Mars. Underwater reminds us that, no matter how well-planned things are, something can always go wrong. We need to hear that sometimes, if not most of the time.

What are your thoughts on Underwater? Explore the depths in the comments!

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Movies n TV

The Last of Us: Episode 2: Infected

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*WARNING: This review contains spoilers.*

If you haven’t read the review on The Last of Us’ first episode, click here.

HBO’s The Last of Us‘ second episode, “Infected,” released January 22, 2023. It was directed by Neil Druckman and written by Craig Mazin. The episode takes us to Jakarta in 2003, just days before the outbreak. Dr. Ratna (Christine Hakim) is a mycology professor at the University of Indonesia. The Indonesian government orders her to examine a dead body they killed at a flour factory. During her examination, Dr. Ratna discovers Cordycep mycelium growing in the body’s mouth. After learning the full story behind the dead body, including the high infection rate and its symptoms, Dr. Ratna’s only conclusion is to bomb the whole city because “there is no vaccine for this.”

Fast forward to present day and we once again witness the aftereffects of Dr. Ratna’s discovery.

Is that everything you hoped for?

Ellie, Joel and Tess walk to the capitol building

In episode one, Tess and Joel learned an infected bit Ellie a few weeks back and are reluctant to keep traveling with her. Joel threatens to shoot her the moment she starts showing symptoms, but it’s Tess who convinces him that they need to keep going to the Capitol Building to hand the youth off to the fireflies.

One of the most exciting scenes in episode two is when the trio takes a shortcut through a history museum that is almost identical to the one in the game. They enter a dark room and all seems well until they hear a slow, ominous clicking sound nearby. An infected with torn clothes and cordycep covered body creeps around them. When it hears Joel step on a piece of glass, it attacks.

Infected: a clicker

Clickers are the third stage of infection and it takes about a year for them to reach this point after exposure. They can’t see their prey, but have an incredible sense of hearing and communicate through clicks. (If you want a real life example, they sound awfully similar to crows clicking in conversation.) More clickers enter the museum room and Joel, Ellie and Tess fight them off, brutally killing them one by one, barely making it out alive.

When the trio reaches daylight outside, Ellie realizes she was bit. “If it had to happen to one of us…” she jokes, still shaken by their encounter. But Tess is less than amused; she’s furious by how narrow their escape was. Even when Joel and Ellie have a sweet moment, the first sign of warmth Joel gives the girl on their journey together, Tess interrupts and tells them to keep going because there is still a long way to go.

The Last of Tess

After two episodes, HBO’s The Last of Us mirrors the video game while creating a brand new story. Spores moving through the air are a significant threat in the video game, but are merely a terrifying thought in the show’s universe. Instead, HBO’s version illustrates how the Cordyceps’ mycelium creates a “hive mind” in infected. If one infected is killed, a message is sent to everyone else it’s connected to.

After escaping the museum, the trio eventually make it to the capitol building, only to find that all the Fireflies they were supposed to meet are dead and gone. Tess rummages through the bodies’ clothes in hopes of finding a map, but there’s nothing. Suddenly, a runner lunges into the air and tries to take them down. When Joel shoots it, the mycelium hive mind alerts the rest of the infected outside the building. They swarm to their new pray.

Joel is in a rush to get going. But before they can all escape, it appears that Tess was bitten at the museum, too. In just a short amount of time, her bite has worsened while Ellie’s remains the same. Tess holds Ellie’s arm up and shows it to Joel. “This is real,” she cries, desperate for Joel to believe her. She needs him to keep taking Ellie out west, to wherever Marlene needs them to go. Maybe there is a cure after all.

The Verdict

Episode two continues to show promise of The Last of Us being a great video game adaptation. It maintains the game’s plot while creating new rules to make the story more suitable for TV. When the episode begins in Jakarta, we see how the world, not just the United States, is devastated by the impacts of this disease. And it is hopeful we will see the state of the present day world in later episodes, too.

Additionally, the filming of mycelium growing and spreading throughout the infected is convincing for the new hive mind theory. While spores and gas masks worked well for the game, many of those rules were still inconsistent; it’s for the best that The Last of Us‘ writers did away with spores in the show. The makeup for the bite marks and prosthetics for the clickers make the fight scenes more high stakes and terrifying. The actors, from infected extras to the main cast, are phenomenal. Bella Ramsey as Ellie especially shines, particularly with her whipsmart comebacks and various facial expressions.

It is evident the creators did not cut corners when it came to filming, makeup and casting these last two episodes. If they wanted to create as authentic an experience as possible for this video game adaptation, they did not disappoint.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Until next time, check out what else we’re watching and playing at Haunted MTL.

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Movies n TV

Dahmer, Doin’ a Dahmer

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Episode three of Netflix’s Dahmer was, to put it mildly, difficult to watch. Mostly because it depicted an awkward and uncomfortable time in young Jeffery Dahmer’s life. But also because the pacing of this episode wasn’t great. 

We start the episode with an uncomfortable look at Joyce Dahmer. She’s pregnant, and she’s struggling. Her doctor has her on a lot of medications, and her husband doesn’t like it. He doesn’t seem to care about her emotional well-being. His concern, as he indelicately puts it, is the fetus.

Evan Peters and Emma Kennedy in Dahmer

I would think that most of us, after finding our partner sitting barefoot in a thin nightgown at a bus stop in the snow, would be putting their well-being before anything else.

We go from there to the Dahmer’s bitter divorce. Joyce gets custody of the boys and takes off with her younger son. Lionel decides to leave home, and spend his time at a hotel. This leaves Jeff at home alone, at the age of 17.

Abandoned by his family, Jeff is living his worst/best life. Mostly he’s drinking and working out. He starts going on long drives, often passing a young man jogging. This young man, as I’m sure you can imagine, catches Jeff’s attention.

Evan Peters and Cameron Cowperthwaite in Dahmer.

This episode ends with what might be the first of Dahmer’s murders and the fallout from it. 

As I mentioned earlier, the pacing in this episode was slow. It was so painfully slow. In hindsight, I think this was an intentional choice. 

While the action was slow coming, the feeling of most of the episode was incredibly intense. The viewer is left nervous every time Dahmer is alone with anybody. We know that he’s winding up to do something horrible. But we have no idea what he’s going to do, or who he’s going to do it to. 

That being said, not every scene in this episode needed to drag as much as it did. The scene with Joyce and her boss at the women’s shelter went on far too long. The repetitive clips of Jeff working out, drinking and melting bones took too long. 

It’s a difficult needle to thread, pacing. What works for one scene will just crush another. And that was the case in this episode. The scenes that work, man do they work. The scenes that don’t, though, are a slough. 

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Sharkula

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Sharkula is a 2022 film where two men take jobs in an isolated seaside town. The town is revealed to be ruled by Dracula and a vampire shark.

I wanted to like Sharkula. As soon as I heard the concept, I was hooked. I love vampires. I love Dracula. I love bad shark movies. All bundled together with some Lovecraftian vibes? Yes. Absolutely. I was completely here for it.

This poster? Look at it. Beautiful. Amazing. Surely this is the perfect film!

Sharkula film poster. A vampire great white breaches out of an ocean of blood in front of a spooky castle.
Sharkula film poster

But alas, it was not to be.

Look, I love bad movies, but this movie is worse than bad. It’s boring.

It starts off so strong! We’ve got cheap special effects. A silly shark puppet. A few hilarious deaths. But it goes downhill so quickly. The movie becomes a snoozefest.

Sharkula, depicted as a shark puppet with bat wings.
Said shark puppet

Pacing Problems in Sharkula

I get what they were going for. I really do. I could see the beats they were trying to hit. But the pacing was off. Too much of the movie is spent on the buildup & there isn’t enough room for the payoff. In other similar vampire movies (particularly Dracula adaptations) the plot flows a bit like this: we start with the investigation, a buildup of strange incidents that rouse the suspicions of the protagonists, who then try to figure out what’s going on. Then the protagonists finally figure out there’s a vampire involved, and thus begins the hunt- a cat and mouse game between the protagonists and the vampire, which generally culminates in the vampire’s demise.

The movie is an hour and ten minutes long. The protagonists figure out that vampires are involved about 46 minutes into the movie. That leaves less than 24 minutes for the hunt and confrontation. Almost immediately after the remaining protagonist finds out about Dracula, Dracula teams up with him against Sharkula. In fairly rapid succession, they move against Sharkula, defeat Sharkula, get betrayed by Dracula, plan to kill Dracula, then kill Dracula.

The investigation drags on far too long, and the hunt is rushed through far too quickly.

There were several places they could have made cuts during the investigation section to make room for more of the hunt. For instance, Renfield’s bra-sniffing scenes didn’t add anything to the film and could go, along with the several scenes of what appears to be stock footage that ultimately hurt the film. Putting glossy, professional footage right next to the more low-budget fair makes it look a lot worse than it otherwise would.

Especially when that glossy professional footage is shot at night.

It Was (Not) A Dark & Stormy Night

It seems that only one of the scenes in the film that takes place at night was actually filmed at night. For the rest it’s clearly broad daylight, and they simply put this ugly blue color grading over the footage to make it look like night. It does not work. It feels particularly unforgivable in a vampire movie.

Two shots from Sharkula, with a bright yet blue shot of the film's characters on the left, and a shot of a fire dancer at night on the right.
These shots are from the same movie.

What About The Shark?

Sharkula also doesn’t feel a whole lot like a shark movie. The shark parts aren’t really balanced with the vampire parts, and the fact that Sharkula is a shark doesn’t feel significant to the film. You could swap Sharkula for Snakeula or Bearcula and it wouldn’t really affect the film a whole lot. It feels like it’s mostly just a shark ‘cause they needed it to be some kind of sea creature to help maintain the Lovecraft vibes, and to try and make bank off the popularity of bad shark movies.

If you come into Sharkula expecting a bad shark movie, you’re probably not gonna get what you’re looking for.

The Acting in Sharkula

Despite the material they were given to work with, I think the actors did fairly decent jobs. It’s definitely not Oscar-worthy acting, but the actors were making deliberate choices with their characters and I liked what they were doing. Jamie Morgan, who played Mina, was my favorite; her over-the-top performance brought much-needed energy to the film and she was the highlight of every scene she was in.

Verdict

Conceptually, this movie was the culmination of basically everything I love, but in execution it does not deliver. Unfortunately I was let down. I must regretfully give this film 1.5 cthulhus. If you’d like to watch this movie, it’s currently available on Tubi. You can also buy it on Amazon. Remember that we are an Amazon affiliate and if you buy anything using the Amazon links provided we will get some money back.

1.5 out of 5 stars (1.5 / 5)

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