Thomas’s Guide to the Hereafter: Netflix’s The Discovery, a review

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***spoilers***

Cover image for Netflix feature, The Discovery

Netflix’s sci fi feature, The Discovery- IMDB -cover image

The Discovery is a 2017 Netflix production written by Charlie McDowell and Justin Lader (The One I Love) and directed by Charlie McDowell. Starring Robert Redford, Rooney Mara and Jason Segal, The Discovery considers what might happen if people knew for sure there was life after death. I’ve enjoyed many of Netflix’s productions. Unfortunately, The Discovery was not one of them.

Is there life after death? The Discovery leaves you with more questions than answers.

Robert Redford plays Thomas, a scientist who proves that there is life after death. What is the proof? We’re never given specifics, but the world reacts with a tsunami of suicides. On the hour, the number of people who have offed themselves in hopes of a better reality is updated. People have suicide parties.

The movie opens on a TV interview in progress. The journalist (Mary Steenburgen—director McDowell’s actress mother) asks Thomas if he regrets making his research public. He doesn’t. A crewmember thanks Thomas and then shoots himself in the head.

As a species, knowledge of the inevitability of death sets us apart. Fearing the unknown, we all want to know what comes after.

The scene changes to a ferry. Will (Jason Segal), a neurologist and one of Thomas’s sons, is on his way to see Dad. The ferry is empty except for Isla (Rooney Mara) an enigmatic young woman who runs hot and cold in her encounter with Will. Although Will is opposed to his father’s research, he confides that as a child, he had a brief after death experience. The ferry lands and they part company. Then Will has a premonition. He races to the beach as Isla tries to drown herself and despite her protests, he rescues her.

Toby (Jesse Plemons, one of the best young character actors working—Black Mass, Fargo season 2) is Will’s brother. As they drive to Dad’s new residence, Toby tells him to be prepared for Dad’s project.

I wish I wanted to know more about The Discovery.

There’s an emotional distance. The scenes are dreamlike and like many dreams, emotionally flat. Thomas himself is a cold fish; we have no idea what drives him. The low-key dialogue, almost whispered at times, bothered me. The director wants to keep us at a distance. Why?

Thomas owns a building that was once a private school. People wearing orange jumpsuits roam the grounds. Are they members of a cult? No, we’re told. It sure looks like one. These people are failed suicides, Thomas claims. He gives them purpose. Soon, Isla wanders in and joins the group.

Besides job assignments, there’s a meeting every night and oh yes, there are experiments. Thomas wants a better look at what’s on the other side of death. He’s invented a cap that has a zillion wires attached to it. The wires connect to antiquated video equipment. The idea is to briefly kill someone and then revive him. Maybe the brain camera will record some netherworld home movies.

After another failure, involving an honest to goodness fresh corpse, Thomas is ready to give up. Will, who hates the experiment, accidently discovers that some footage did, in fact record on the monitor.

The monitor’s jumpy images made me want to find some rabbit ears (ask your parents if you don’t know what rabbit ears are) and thump the side of the monitor.

Like every soap opera character in TV history, Will decides not to reveal his discovery, especially not to Dad. Studying the recording’s clues, he decides to find out what it means. Lots of detective work yields little until Isla joins him. Then they fall in love. She tells him more about her life, including how her son died.

As the story meandered to an end, it seemed this film, like Thomas’s wired cap, was an intellectual experiment, devoid of any emotion, its only purpose, to yield data for analytic discussion. Jason does come up with an answer for the why of the afterlife, but it made me shrug (hint—watch Groundhog Day).

Another movie that explores the existence and purpose of an afterlife is 1990’s Flatliners, starring Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts.

Flatliners’ plot centers on medical interns whose experiments resemble Thomas’s. Each intern dies and is brought back by the others. The results are similar to Thomas’s, however, Flatliners kept you on the edge of your seat. It had interesting characters, a dynamic conflict and sharp editing. A remake of Flatliners is scheduled for a September 2017 release.

Will there be a remake of The Discovery? If there is, just shoot me, but make sure you bring the rabbit ears.

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Let Us Prey: The God Squad

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A Review of Let Us Prey

***spoilers***

Cover Image from Let Us Prey

Let Us Prey cover image from IMDB

  Let Us Prey is a 2014 film by director Brian O’Malley (first feature film) and writers Fiona Watson and David Cairns (first feature). Starring Liam Cunningham (Titanic, Game of Thrones) as Six, Let Us Prey, is a blood-drenched story about the wages of sin.

As I watched this movie, I remembered Frailty

Frailty is a 2002 American movie starring Bill Paxton (and oh how he is missed) and Matthew McConaughey. In Frailty, Paxton played Meiks, a single father with two sons. Meiks has a list of names, given to him, he claims, by God. These people are demons, he assures his boys. His sons are enlisted to help him as he kidnaps and kills, crossing names off his list. One son suffers doubts as seemingly innocent people are killed. Later, we discover that father knows best as the crimes of each “victim” are revealed. In Let Us Prey,” “Six” (Liam Cunningham), like Meiks, has a battered notebook listing names of the guilty.  Six will exact payment from those who murder and are cruel in the name of justice, self-hate and cowardice.

The film begins with the rolling waves of an angry sea. 

Soon, we’re on a deserted highway leading to a small Scottish town where a woman wakes from a nightmare. After rising, she puts on a police uniform. Rachael Heggie (Pollyanna McIntosh—The Walking Dead) is the newest member of the town’s police force, which includes Sergeant Macready and officers Jennifer Mundie and Jack Warnock. 

It’s night as Heggie walks to work. The streets are deserted except for a man standing in the middle of the road. A car suddenly appears and hits him. The unrepentant driver, a young punk named Caesar, stops, but there’s no trace of the victim. Heggie cuffs Caesar and delivers him to Sergeant Macready who greets Caesar with a punch to his insolent gut.

Heggie radios Mundie and Warnock who are busy having sex in the squad car. Heggie tells them to find the victim. When they don’t find him, they report back to the station where Caesar waits in a cell across from Mulvey, a schoolteacher arrested for beating his wife.

Unlike Frailty, there is no question of innocence in Six’s baleful stare.

Then the “victim” walks into the station. His name is Six, he tells them, and there are seven names in his book of to-dos for tonight. From his fingerprints, Macready and Heggie discover that Six is an old man, much older than he appears, and his records say that Six died years ago.  The officers call in Dr. Hume to examine the victim. As the doctor takes a look at him, Six murmurs something. Hume gasps, saying, “You know!!” Without warning, Hume attacks Six. This results in Hume’s joining the teacher and the punk in the pokey.

The eerie tone of this movie, with its isolated streets and empty shops, reminded me of The Twilight Zone.

As the evening progresses, with the flick of a match, the sins of each character are revealed. Six calls each sinner to account. The guilty panic and turn on each other until only a crazed Macready and Heggie are left.  We learn that as a little girl, Heggie was the victim of a child predator. Unlike The Twilight Zone, the violence is graphic and bloody,  reflecting Six’s humorless character, whose disagreement with someone in power he tells them, landed him this gig.

His Old Testament stare is enough to make you think twice about leaving the cap off the toothpaste. Despite the violence, Heggie has kept to the moral high ground. So what’s her sin? 

“You’ve evolved,” Six explains after dispatching Macready to Hell. The others are new to Hell, he confides, and in for a rough ride. When it comes to Hell, Heggie is a frequent flyer and eligible for an upgrade. Six’s explanation was confusing; I thought we were in Old Testament territory, not Buddhist reincarnation land.

This highly stylized film practices what Six seeks to punish—gratuitous violence.

“I’m lonely,” Six tells Heggie; would she like to be his companion? He entices her with promises of raining hellfire on the worst of humanity. The thought of being on the God Squad, playing Hutch to Six’s Starsky makes Heggie smile.

They kiss, and after all that blood and all those body parts, the kiss seemed a little out of place. Even so, I can think of worse things than an eternity with Liam Cunningham; however, if I were Heggie, I’d remember to always put the cap back on the toothpaste.