The opening sequence of The Dark Horse depicts Genesis Potini wandering through the rain muttering to himself, intercut with his older brother teaching him the game of chess when they were both children. He stops in a store with a few chessboards set up, and continues his frantic word salad as the shop owners look on nervously. Then, Genesis starts moving the pieces with a preternatural celerity, waxing poetic chess theory, comparing the relative qualities of the Sicilian defense and the Scotch game. The preamble continues until Genesis is discovered by his handler and whisked back to the mental hospital. The title flashes across the screen, and we understand the fundamental themes of The Dark Horse immediately: dealing with mental health, the importance of family and community, and the transformative power of the game of Chess.
Pixar is renowned for original storytelling in the realm of animation. Often, the stories spun by these visionaries wonderfully meld style and substance together in a way that please both children and adults. And while the Cars franchise started off in this same vein, the sequel was a clear sub-par cash-grab. It’s easy to see why: merchandise from Cars was one of Disney’s biggest cash cows. You got keep that cow fat, so Cars 3 is the product. The plot, characters, and themes are familiar: anthropomorphic cars trying to win races to prove that they can still win races, with themes of obsolescence, expectation, following dreams, and believing in people (or, in this case, cars). Cars 3 is all of this and exactly nothing else, another lap around the track.
The name “Bobby Fischer” is synonymous with high-level chess, even decades after the Brooklyn-born grandmaster won his World Chess Championship match against the reigning champion from the Soviet Union, Boris Spasskey. Staged during the height of the Cold War, the match was seen by both sides as an opportunity to prove intellectual superiority. Pawn Sacrifice dramatizes this iconic battle-of-wits, but also delves into the psychological effects of obsession, dedication, and the heavy burden of worldwide expectation– even on the strongest of minds.
Lucia Aniello’s Rough Night is what happens when you let five raucous friends cut loose during a destination bachelorette party in Miami. All the normal accoutrements are here: beachfront rental property, alcohol-fueled bar crawls, penis-shaped everythings, cocaine, a shredded male stripper, and involuntary manslaughter. Hmm, maybe things got out of hand somewhere . . .
Consistency of tone is essential for a successful psychological horror story. In It Comes at Night, writer-director Trey Edward Shultz establishes an unyielding bleakness that completely permeates the entirety of his post-apocalyptic story. The constant pressure of this mood grows and oppresses the viewer, like an emotional constrictor squeezing all hope and joy from the proceedings. In short: It Comes at Night is not a fun or pleasant viewing experience, and it is clear from the opening shot that this is not a world where things turn out well. Its dogged pursuit of desolation is not mere pessimism – it’s an exploration of human fear, mistrust, and desperation.
Roger Michell’s adaptation of the Daphne du Maurier novel My Cousin Rachel peddles in interesting camera work, astonishing visuals, and solid performances, but lacks a thorough command of tone. The film feels obsessed with the ambiguity of its central romantic mystery, while at the same time laying on the cinematic clues with an unbelievably heavy hand. There’s fascinating technique in the expression of the mystery and the characters involved in it, but the execution misses often enough to infuse the film with an uneven mood. This makes it hard to understand when to take the ambiguity seriously and when to embrace the apparent obviousness of it all.