A few movies to catch up on tonight, two of which happen to star Amanda Seyfried. Chloe is Atom Egoyan’s interesting tale of a middle-aged couple (Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore) who have a comfortable life and a lovely home shared with their teenaged son. Moore suspects that Neeson, a college professor, has been conducting an affair or two with his students. She notices a young prostitute (Seyfried) working near her office and, figuring that her husband would be attracted to her youth, concocts a plan to have the prostitute “accidentally” meet him and gauge his capacity for infidelity.
I’m not sure what most viewers would think of such a plan. As someone who believes in flexible relationships and honesty between partners, I figured it would end badly, and of course it does. I did appreciate that Egoyan’s script is complex enough that it does not demonize the prostitute, even as the relationship between the two women gets a lot more intimate. I did not always care for where the plot wanted to take me – especially in the end – but the actors did well with what they were given. Like some of his other films, Egoyan mixes eroticism with an examination of the moments in relationships that are rarely discussed.
Gone, on the other hand, is a by-the-numbers revenge picture where Seyfried is given a second chance to confront her kidnapper when he returns and takes her sister instead. She tries to tell the police, but they do not believe her, nor do they believe that she was ever kidnapped, due to lack of evidence. So, the film chiefly consists of her doggedly pursuing one slender clue after another, occasionally doubting her own sanity, but generally focused on revenge.
The Chernobyl Diaries was a surprisingly effective horror film set (of course) in the abandoned city adjacent to what remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which had a catastrophic meltdown over 25 years ago. Four young Americans and a couple of other tourists hire a Russian called Uri to take them there on what he promises to be a unique opportunity: to walk through the buildings of a place that had to be abandoned immediately. When they arrive at a security checkpoint, Uri is surprised that the guards refuse them entry, so he offers to take them in through a back road.
The tour proceeds as advertised; Uri parks his van in the town square and they walk through an apartment building, viewing the ruined power station from a balcony. Uri explains that the radiation levels are safe as long as they do not stay long and as long as they do not go close to the plant. When they return to the van and discover their distributor cap severed, you can imagine how things start to go terribly wrong.
The Chernobyl Diaries is not a great film but it is far better than I expected, especially in the first two thirds when the cast is still making their way through a creepy foreign landscape. I was not as enthusiastic about the nature of what terrorizes them, but it was appropriate enough given the setup. It felt like a bit of a wasted opportunity in the end.
The Woman in Black is probably best known for being Daniel Radcliffe’s first film after Harry Potter, and he is suitably serious as a young widower and father tasked with sorting through the estate of a house off the shore of a decidedly cursed English village. The house is haunted by the woman in black, who hung herself after her young son drowned in the nearby marsh due to the someone else’s negligence. Now, whenever the local children die – which is often – she can be seen in the background, driving them to do it.
Plotwise, The Woman in Black mixes both standard ghost story tropes with more contemporary ideas about how (and if) the ghost can be placated. The art direction is the true star here, not quite reaching the level of Alajandro Amenabar’s The Others but definitely in the same ballpark. Amusingly, this big-screen version shares the same source novel as a 1989 TV-movie starring Adrian Rawlins, who also played James Potter. From what I recall of the TV version, this new version is significantly darker.