Monthly Archives: May 2018

“THE FRENCH WAY”— Josephine Baker and Young Love

“The French Way” (“Fausse alerte”)

Josephine Baker and Young Love

Amos Lassen

I have always heard what a tremendous performer Josephine Baker was but I had never been lucky enough to see ant footage f the real Miss Baker until I received a copy of this new Blu ray rerelease of “The French Way”. I was amazed at her homeliness when in plain clothes but when she was in costume and on the stage performing she was amazing. Any story for this movie is necessary—when there is Baker, we need nothing else.

Josephine Baker rose from a childhood living in a St. Louis slum to the toast of France where she captivated audiences through the stage, recordings and motion pictures, and you’ll get to see why in “The French Way”, a farcical romantic-comedy set in contemporary WWII France, about young lovers forbidden to marry by their respective families. Baker, as Zazu, the owner of a nightclub, inherits a job restoring harmony between the two families and allowing the young lovers to marry. French character actors add to the fun but when Josephine’s on the screen she is “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw” as Ernest Hemingway once said .”The French Way” was filmed in 1940 (amidst bombing raids) and then released in France in 1945, and briefly shown in the USA in 1952 where the order of some scenes was changed and about 2-3 minutes of dramatic footage was cut. Josephine Baker aided the French Resistance and was awarded, among other honors, the Croix de Guerre by the French military.

.Josephine Baker said that the reason she decided to reside in France was because it was a country where “she wasn’t afraid to be black”. Her skin color doesn’t factor into the plot. This is one of Baker’s lesser vehicles, because despite her top billing, she is only one part of an ensemble cast. She plays a nightclub owner determined to help two young lovers convince their feuding parents to consent their marriage. Her effortless charm, charisma, and beauty carry the entire film in a few all too infrequent cabaret numbers. She sings and dances her way through “To Live Alone under One Roof” and “No Nina.”

The plot is pretty silly. It’s a “Romeo & Juliet” story with two young lovers who want to be together but their parents (both single as the film starts) hate each other and don’t want their offspring to marry or even to date. The songs and dance numbers are not very long but we do hear a lot of them.  This is the first Josephine Baker movie on HD home video, and while it may not be her greatest, but it is still a small treasure. The video quality is beautiful.

“THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT”— A Sleeper from 1972

“The Last House on the Left”

A Sleeper From 1972

Amos Lassen

“The Last House on the Left” is an influential film in the 1970s horror canon. It is still genuinely shocking and has merit both as a reaction to the Vietnam war and a commentary on the way violence was and is typically portrayed on film (as too sanitary and without consequences). It’s certainly a film that should be seen by all horror fans at least once. It is a tough, bitter little sleeper of a movie that’s about four times as good as you’d expect. There is a moment of unforgettable sheer and unexpected terror. The film is horrifying but in ways that have nothing to do with the supernatural. It’s the story of two suburban girls who go into the city for a rock concert, are kidnapped by a gang of sadistic escaped convicts and their girlfriend, and are raped and murdered. Then, in a coincidence even the killers find extreme, the gang ends up spending the night at the home of one of the girls’ parents.

The parents accidentally find out the identities of the killers, because of a stolen locket and some bloodstained clothing in their baggage. The father is so enraged that he takes on the gang single-handedly and murders them. If this sounds familiar, this is roughly the plot of Ingmar Bergman’s “The Virgin Spring.” The story is also based on a true incident as we are told at the beginning of the movie. “Last House on the Left” is a powerful narrative, told so directly and strongly that the audience is shocked.

Wes Craven’s direction never lets us out from under almost unbearable dramatic tension. The acting is unmannered and natural with a good ear for dialogue and nuance. And, of course, there is evil in this movie and by that I do not mean bloody escapism, but a fully developed sense of the vicious natures of the killers. There is no glory in this violence. And Craven has written in a young member of the gang (again borrowed on Bergman’s story) who sees the horror as fully as the victims do. It is important that as you watch it you remind yourself that “it’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.”

Craven initially intended “Last House” to be a “hardcore” movie, but the actors convinced him that the story could stand on its own. The film makes quite an impact but only if you’re in the right mood to experience it. It stands out from other exploitation fare of its day precisely because it has a backbone that, if not entirely philosophical, at least seems more laden with meaning. Craven wanted to shock, but he also wanted to a make a point. He was rebelling against his strict fundamentalist background and inspired by gory real-life newsreels from the Vietnam war and sought to portray violence as it is—messy, sudden, repulsive, and always with consequences. The story is simple— on her 17th birthday, Mari Collingwood (Sandra Cassell) goes into the city with her best friend, Phyllis (Lucy Grantham), to see a band called “Bloodlust.” In an attempt to score some weed before the show, the two friends are kidnapped by a loose family of lunatic prison escapees. The leader, Krug (David A. Hess), is a kind of a professional rapist/serial killer, and his son, Junior (Marc Sheffler), serves as his slave. Rounding out the cadre are knife-toting child molester Weasel (porn director Fred Lincoln), and Sadie (Jeramie Rain), an “animal-like” bisexual psychopath. Aside from Junior, they are all remorseless repeat offenders. Junior’s conscience seems to exist somewhere beneath a heroin-induced haze and his own reality.

Mari and Phyllis are not long for this world. They’re both tortured, raped and murdered in the woods not far from Mari’s house, where her square, mild-mannered parents (Gaylord St. James and Cynthia Carr) are worried why she has not come home yet. After the murders are over (Mari is shot to death in a lake and Phyllis is eviscerated on the shore), Craven he tries to make us feel sympathy for the killers. He lingers on their faces and shows them bathing in the lake, trying to wash away the evidence of what they’ve done. By the time they arrive at Mari’s home—a coincidence that can’t help but feel contrived, we know, of course, that they’re going to get what’s coming to them.

Indeed, there are moments of unsettling power and even outright panic. The film is a blend of campy artifice and brutal realism. For its time, it was controversial and boundary pushing —and there’s value in that, from a cultural perspective. There are still many who feel that Craven ripped off the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman whose film is indeed a masterpiece and is filled with deeper themes of faith, redemption, the morality of revenge, and the problem of evil.

LIMITED 2 X BLU-RAY EDITION CONTENTS

Three cuts of the film newly restored in 2K from original film elements

Original Uncompressed Mono Audio

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

Double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork

6 x lobby card reproductions

Limited edition perfect-bound book featuring new writing on the film by author Stephen Thrower

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper

DISC ONE THE UNCUT VERSION

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Uncut Version

Brand new audio commentary by podcasters Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes

Archival audio commentary with writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham

Archival audio commentary with stars David Hess, Marc Sheffler and Fred Lincoln

Junior s Story a brand new interview with actor Marc Sheffler

Marc Sheffler in Conversation at the American Cinematheque

Brand new interview with wardrobe and make-up artist Anne Paul

Songs in the Key of Krug never-before-seen archive interview with David Hess

Celluloid Crime of the Century archival documentary featuring interviews with Wes Craven, Sean S. Cunningham, actors David Hess, Fred Lincoln, Jeramie Rain, Marc Sheffler and Martin Kove

Still Standing: The Legacy of The Last House on The Left archival interview with Wes Craven

Scoring Last House on the Left archival interview with actor/composer David Hess

It’s Only a Movie: The Making of The Last House on the Left archival documentary

Forbidden Footage the cast and crew of Last House on the film s most controversial sequences

Deleted Scene

Outtakes and Dailies

Trailers, TV Spot & Radio Spots

Image Gallery

DISC TWO THE KRUG & COMPANY & R-RATED CUTS

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the Krug and Company and R-rated cuts of the film

The Craven Touch brand new featurette bringing together interviews with a number of Wes Craven s collaborators, including Sean S. Cunningham, composer Charles Bernstein, producer Peter Locke, cinematographer Mark Irwin and actress Amanda Wyss

Early Days and ‘Night of Vengeance’ filmmaker Roy Frumkes remembers Wes Craven and Last House on the Left

Tales That’ll Tear Your Heart Out excerpts from an unfinished Wes Craven short

“THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ”— A New Look at Oz

“THE STEAM ENGINES OF OZ”

A New Look at Oz

Amos Lassen

Without a doubt Frank Baum’s Oz stories have stood the test of time and ever since they first appeared in 1925, there have been many adaptations. “The Steam Engines of Oz” is yet another of these but it is a steam punk version and animated. It is based on the graphic novel of the same name and features the voice talents of Ron Perlman, William Shatner and Julianne Hough.

The story is set a century after Dorothy first clicked her ruby slippers together and the Emerald City is no longer a magical land but a toxic, heavily industrialized wasteland ruled by the iron fist of the once beloved hero, the Tin Man, who seems to have lost all heart.

Oz’s only hope rests with a young engineer named Victoria Wright, who is able to assemble a motley crew of  ill-mannered munchkins, mischievous flying monkeys and, a once cowardly Lion and Scarecrow who set out on a quest to find the tin man’s heart. As the travel together, they ultimately learn that friendship and determination can overcome any obstacle, and together end, up teaching everyone in Oz that a heart should not be judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.

“In Development” by Rachel Spangler— Changes

Spangler, Rachel. “In Development”, Brisk Press, 2018.

Changes

Amos Lassen

Cobie Galloway is a film actress whose career had been based upon her playing the girl-next-door on the silver screen. Now that chronologically she is no longer a teen, she feels that she is ready to play mature roles and to do so she realizes that she must appear “edgier” both on the screen and away from it. Lila Wilder is a pop star who is creative and has built a multimedia empire by always knowing what’s hot. Like Cobie, she stands at the door of change now that she is having difficulties keeping her name in the public eye. She is very aware that her love life that had once appeared all over the news is no longer of interest to the masses. (Oh, the troubles of the young and the beautiful).

Cobie and Lila agree to a headline-grabbing “fauxmance” and there are two simple rules that they must always follow— always play by the script and remember that in terms of public perception, nothing is as it seems. Now we have two women looking for love in a world of illusions created by others. Cobie feels that she has been America’s sweetheart for way too long and she really wants to play a liberated lesbian but that requires a complete makeover and a girlfriend. She thinks of Lila who is independent and does what she feels.

Basically, I see this as a story of the search for true happiness and loving, meaningful relationships. While we really never get to know how the two main characters really feel, we do read about their fears and emotions and see that just like everyone else, their lives are filled with contradictions.

It took a while to get into the novel but that is because writer Rachel Spangler spent time building up our characters who truly dominate the story that is written from both Cobie’s and Lila’s points of view. If she had not done this, I doubt the story would have been as successful as it is. And while writing about the author’s craft in character development, I must add that her prose is lyrical as it holds everything together. Little by little, the two women share of themselves with the reader but just enough to keep us guessing. They share amazing chemistry yet both are able to say and do how they feel. Because we get the back-story of the two, we really feel that we understand them even while they go through overhauling their images.

I do realize that I said earlier that we never really know how the two women feel and this might sound contradictory but once you read this you will understand. You will also notice that I have not spent much time on the plot and this is simply because I did not want to give anything away and hurt a wonderful read for others. All that you need in a good romantic novel is here yet adding your own imagination to it makes it that much better.

“Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” by Rob Sanders and illustrated by Steven Salerno— Teaching Acceptance

Sanders, Rob.  “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag”, illustrated by Steven Salerno. Random House, 2018.

Teaching Acceptance

Amos Lassen

“Pride” opens with a quote from Harvey Milk about hope— the connecting theme of this uplifting introduction to the symbol of the Rainbow Flag. The text starts with Milk’s decision to enter politics and Gilbert Baker’s design of the first flag and connects that to the flag’s modern appearances as a symbol of equality and pride and the use of it on June 26, 2015 across the White House. The illustrations are vibrant and lively and take their inspiration from 1970s fashions and styles while emphasizing the effectiveness of symbols. The narrative includes references to opposition to Milk’s dream of equality and the assassination of Milk and George Moscone but as I mentioned earlier, it is really about hope. We see an illustration of the candlelight vigil and the persistence of the rainbow flag as an icon. In the biographical notes we get more information about the flag, Milk, Baker, and the significance of the June 16, 2014 rainbow lights across the White House. The back matter also includes two time lines, a few suggested books and websites, and assorted photographs related to the story.

The publisher recommends the book for Kindergarten through Grade 3, but it can be a fine teaching tool for kids of all ages.

“Pride” focuses on how one person’s dream of improving the world can become reality. The book’s language is simple, succinct and direct, a welcome change from the recent trend of wordy picture books.

“Harvey dreamed that everyone—even gay people—would have equality.

He dreamed that he and his friends would be treated like everyone else.

He dreamed that one day, people would be able to live and love as they pleased.”

“Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” by Yossi Klein Halevi— Through Israeli Eyes

Halevi, Yossi Klein. “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”, Harper, 2018.

Through Israeli Eyes

Amos Lassen

Writer Yossi Klein Halevi makes an attempt to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians in “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”. We are immediately aware that he with Palestinian suffering and longing for reconciliation and he explores how the conflict looks through Israeli eyes.

In a series of letters, Halevi explains what motivated him to leave his native New York in his twenties and move to Israel and take part in the renewal of a Jewish homeland. He committed himself to see Israel “succeed as a morally responsible, democratic state in the Middle East.”

This is the first time this has been done by an Israeli author. Halevi directly addresses his Palestinian neighbors and describes how the conflict appears through Israeli eyes. Halevi looks carefully at the ideological and emotional stalemate that has defined the conflict for nearly a century. He is both provocative and lyrical and as he brings together the ideas of faith, pride, anger and anguish that he feels as a Jew living in Israel and he uses history and personal experience as his guide.

Halevi’s letters speak to his Palestinian neighbor and to all concerned global citizens, hopefully helping us understand the painful choices confronting Israelis and Palestinians that will help determine the fate of the Middle East. He does not shy away from the difficult questions and these include the ideas of people hood and choseness the Holocaust while at the same time acknowledging his neighbor’s “darkest biases.” The letters are filled with faith as expressed through sincerity, humility and gorgeous prose. We do not have to agree with any thing that is written here but we must allow ourselves to disagree when feeling necessary to do so. Halevi demonstrates that there are those who are willing to listen, “if only we’d talk.” It is important, of course, to understand why we returned home to Israel after the proclamation of the State.

Halevi lives with the hope that one day both sides come together in peace. He wants us to better understand the Israeli side and therefore perhaps humanize Israelis in their minds and convince them of his arguments of the necessity for peace. This is a wonderful idea that is not new and the real problem is in the execution. The letters primarily give a short history of the State of Israel and a number of arguments to justify her existence and actions over the years.

We go back to the story of Israel that we are all familiar with— the same story that Jewish children have learned in religious school— the centuries old connection to the land, the exile and the return. Halevi admits that the haganah expelled and massacred a handful of Arabs during the independence war, and he laments the Hebron massacre in the early 90s. Each concession he makes is always carefully rationalized in a way that leaves the basic Israeli narrative intact. It is as if he was saying that he Jews may have a few bad players but they are generally good while the Arabs are intransigent and even their children are bloodthirsty for Israeli blood.

Halevi is brutally honest about Israel’s obstacles to peace with its Palestinian neighbors. Jews have yearned to return to Zion for two millennia and now here, they’re staying.

I call you “neighbor” because I don’t know your name, or anything personal about you. Given our circumstances, “neighbor” might be too casual a word to describe our relationship. We are intruders into each other’s dream, violators of each other’s sense of home. We are incarnations of each other’s worst historical nightmares. Neighbors?

“Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car And How It Will Reshape Our World” by Lawrence D. Burns— Changing Our Way of Life

Burns, Lawrence D. “Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car And How It Will Reshape Our World”, Ecco, 2018

Changing Our Way of Life

Amos Lassen

There has been a great deal of talk lately about driverless cars and this is something that many of us have a hard time understanding. All of the automobile countries are involved in a race to build and perfect the vehicle that will change all of our lives. Lawrence D. Burns is a veteran insider of the automotive industry and in his book, “Autonomy”, he shares what he knows on the subject.

Burns is a former General Motors executive and now serves as advisor to the Google Self-Driving Car project. In his book, he presents a history of the race to make the driverless car a reality. In the past decade, Silicon Valley companies including Google, Tesla and Uber have put themselves into positions to change and revolutionize the way we get around by developing driverless vehicles while at the same time auto companies (General Motors, Ford, and Daimler) have been fighting back by partnering by with new tech start-ups. It is no longer a question of whether the self-driving car will disrupt the automobile industry but now rather a question of when, how, and who will do so.

It is predicted that the first driverless car will likely hit markets in less than five years and it is sure to change lives. Burns explains how this new technology will impact our lives (removing the hassles of driving, parking, and refueling our cars, to eliminating 90 percent of road fatalities and drastically reducing our carbon footprint, and automating yet another segment of blue collar industries thus putting more workers out of their jobs). Just think how the smart phone has so tremendously changed the way we live now.

We are already a part of a technological revolution that promises to fundamentally change how we interact with our world. To understand all of this we need to be aware of the past, able to understand the present and ready to move into the future. A chronicle of the past, diagnosis of the present, and prediction of the future. Along with the driverless car, there will be many more changes and technological advances.  Burns was one of the first people to understand the enormous implications of driverless cars. His  involvement with those who have invented and commercialized this technology makes “Autonomy” not only a fascinating read but a very important read as well.

“Chesapeake Requiem:


 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island” by Earl Swift— An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Swift, Earl. “Chesapeake Requiem:


 A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island”, Dey Street, 2018.

An Isolated Community Facing Extinction

Amos Lassen

Earl Swift gives us a look at a two-hundred-year-old crabbing community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as it faces extinction from rising sea levels. Tangier Island is a 1.3-square-mile strip of land in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, an hour’s journey from the Virginia coast. Swift’s book is both the natural history of an extraordinary ecosystem and a meditation on a vanishing way of life based upon man’s relationship with the environment.

Tangier Island, Virginia is a unique American community. It was mapped by John Smith in 1608 and settled during the American Revolution. Today 470 people live there and they do so between two worlds— the modern world of the 21st century and the past. It is a twelve-mile boat trip across the nation’s largest estuary to reach the place and the water that surrounds the island is not always easy to cross. This same water has for generations made Tangier’s fleet of small fishing boats a chief source of the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and Tangiers is the soft-shell crab capital of the world.

But Tangier is disappearing. The same water that has long sustained is now eating away the land and since 180, the island has lost 2/3 of its size. Today the shoreline loses fifteen feet a year and this means that the island first American town to feel the effects of climate change.is the will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change. Experts predict that without intervention by the federal government, the islanders could be forced to abandon their home within twenty-five years. The conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen think about the end times.   

In “Chesapeake Requiem”, we get an intimate look at the island’s past, present and shaky future. Swift has spent much of the past two years living among Tangier’s people observing its long traditions and odd ways. This is the moving story of a world that has, quite nearly, gone by and a in-depth report on Tangier’s future. The destiny of the island foreshadows what can happen to many other coastal communities in the not-too-distant future.

“SIMON’S QUEST”— An Allegory

“SIMON’S QUEST”

An Allegory

Amos Lassen

When HBO’s “True Blood” began its run on prime time television, I was surprised at how many people took it as it was and not as an allegory/satire on the way the LGBT community was treated in this country. In fact, I still know people who refuse to see that aspect of the series. Now along comes Marley Yaeger’s 22 minute “Simon’s Quest” that uses the same idea but so much better.

Simon is a gay werewolf who must come to terms with his condition in order to start dating again or condemn himself to a life alone (While I am not [yet] a werewolf, I have been there and done that.) The short film is set in a world in which monsters are just beginning to “come out” and become publicly known and it is hard to miss seeing that the way they are treated is much the same as the way the LGBTQ+ community was treated not so long ago. Token acceptance and tolerance were not acceptable to those who were regarded as different and sinners in some places while in other places there were no problems.

In the alternate universe of the film, vampires, werewolves and demons are real and live in society along with everyone else. Of course, we understand that their interactions and relations with non-monsters are not always good. “Simon’s Quest” begins with an infomercial of a fire and brimstone televangelist selling weapons designed to kill “monsters” as they are collectively called. But not everyone is antagonistic and violent. We hear of support groups to help “monsters” accept themselves for who they are.

We meet Simon (Johnny Pozzi), the subject of a documentary and see right away that he has problems with self-esteem. But then his case is quite special since he had just begun to deal with coming out as gay when he discovers that he is also a werewolf. We can imagine his fear in trying to maintain contact with others. By and large, society disapproves of both of these aspects of Simon.

His support group activities are both sad and funny and he wins us over immediately. I saw something of myself in Simon and wanted to yell at him that it does get better. However Gwen (Talley Gale), the photographer making the documentary serves that purpose and is determined to help Simon. However, her assistant, Robert (Lucas Brahme) is not sure that this is the best thing to do. Writer/director Jaeger brings us a wonderful little film that has a great deal to say. Try to find this one— you won’t regret it. (And yes, that is Tim Cox in the picture below.

“TRUTH OR DARE”— A Horror Movie?

“TRUTH OR DARE”

A Horror Movie?

Amos Lassen

“Truth or Dare” is not campy nor emotionally involving enough to be more than the sum of its awful parts. This is a PG-13-rated horror movie where college seniors are persecuted by a haunted version of Truth or Date, a party game that’s more menacing than Twister, but not as dangerous as Spin the Bottle. Now those of you who follow my reviews known that I rarely give a negative review in the first sentence but have a look at this and you will understand why. In fact, I am surprised that I wrote more than one sentence.

The makers of “Truth or Dare” have tried to make their protagonists just sympathetic enough that we care what happens when they try to impale themselves on a pool cue, or gouge out an eye with a fountain pen. Unfortunately, director Jeff Wadlow and his three credited co-writers don’t humanize their immature subjects and/or make them die amusingly sadistic deaths and the film overall seems to hate itself.

There are a few scenes that serve our canned expectations of who these characters are and what their pre-graduation lives are like. But many of these assumptions are based on superficial generalities. We have several stock types  ion. Our heroine is, of course, reserved Olivia (Lucy Hale), a moral-minded, smarter-than-average piece of nothingness who gets roped into one last pre-college spring break by her flirty best friend Markie (Violett Beane) Markie brings along a number of their mutual best friends, including Ronnie (Sam Lerner), a leering but harmless horndog, and Brad (Hayden Szeto), an indistinct supporting character whose most exciting trait is that he’s openly gay. Now here is a cast of famous people, yes? I have never heard of any of them before and after this bomb of a film, I do not think we shall see them once again on the screen.

Brad and Ronnie are the most under-developed characters in the film but they are not as offensive or bothersome as Lucas (Tyler Posey), a prize for Olivia and Markie to fight over and law student Tyson (Nolan Gerard Funk—who?) an in-your-face attitude of a garden variety jock, a quality that’s mildly amusing given his chosen area of study.

Ronnie is a one-note joke who screams “no homo” before he is teased with the possibility of giving another guy a lap dance. As with Lucas, Ronnie has a moment where he suggests that he’s capable of growing out of his adolescent need to hit on any woman in sight. But this isn’t college (as we know it—the place where young adults are supposed to learn who they are or maybe who they want to be).

Brad’s queerness is almost exclusively defined by his fear of coming out to his police officer father. The reaction that Brad’s dad gives him after he comes out is supposed to be unexpected, but it’s not, really, once you consider the confusing paternal tone that defines “Truth or Dare.”

Here a sentient game of Truth or Dare is a messed-up parenting tool. These bright young things are going learn to be truthful to themselves, even if it means hurting themselves or others during the learning process. Because apparently, stabbing yourself in the eye when you fail to come clean in a job interview is a fitting punishment. And surviving trauma since considering ways to come clean to your best friend about your not-so-secret crush on their boyfriend builds character. 

The joke is on our heroes, but this time, every cruel punch line is seemingly pulled at the last minute. We’re supposed to like these victims, not gasp in horror and delight when they’re compelled to die campy deaths by an evil game.

When we meet Olivia, she seems like a decent person, as she’s planning to spend the spring break of her senior year of college volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. But her friends put a wrench in this and take her to Mexico where they booze it up, beach it out, and French kiss like crazy. They’re very ugly Americans, setting themselves up to seem like they deserve all the devastation and death they’ll soon encounter.

At any moment, a roomful of strangers, your closest friends, or dead bodies could transform into fiends who demand the revelation of sensitive secrets or the performance of mean-spirited stunts: coming out to a homophobic parent, breaking your best friend’s hand, or having sex with your best friend’s boyfriend.

The dares can also be deadly, like finishing a bottle of booze while walking along the edge of a roof, or stealing a cop’s gun and making him beg for it. But there is no mystery here and this is a silly horror flick that is unconcerned with its silliness. But every once in a while there are flashes of the darkness that one wishes that the film had used more often. The amiability of the group of college pals is built upon a delicate web of deceit that quickly comes undone when they’re forced to tell the truth, and the disclosures become increasingly nasty and vicious— one character must confess while having sex to loving someone else; another must declare a cringe-inducing connection to a friend’s father’s recent suicide. In this most cynical and black-hearted of films, even the kindest of people are filled with sinister secrets.