As Above, So Below Review

as above so below

As Above, So Below is a a 2014 horror/thriller movie about a group of explorers that venture into the catacombs of Paris in search of treasures.  The group is led by Dr. Scarlett Marlowe, who’s quest for Flamels legendary Philosophers Stone, leads the group to hell and back.

The story is unique and well executed.  The film takes place in a universe where Dante’s Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno is proven to be real.  Hell exists and the entrance lies far within the catacombs beneath Paris.  Scarlett and her ragtag crew of explorers descend through several layers of hell in pursuit of treasure and their eventual freedom.  There hasn’t been a modern adaption of Dantes Inferno to my knowledge so I was really excited to see this film give its interpretation of Dantes Hell and I wasn’t disappointed, yet I wasn’t wowed by it.  Aside from the overlay of Dante’s Hell and the lore surrounding it over the overall story its kind of dragged down by the bland characters.  Scarlett is basically a Mary Sue, she has like three PhD’s, she knows everything about everything, and always comes out on top to the point where you never feel there’s any real danger to her character.  The rest of the crew are basically forgettable cannon fodder that don’t make an impression.  That’s not to say that it wasn’t well acted, just that the characters were generic.

The setting primarily takes place underground in the catacombs.  The cool thing about this movie was that it was actually filmed in the real catacombs, so everything around them is real for the most part.  As the group progressed deeper and deeper into the catacombs I liked how the atmosphere changes.  Things get darker and more tense among them as they’re forced to go deeper as they believe its the only way to reach freedom.  Down there they’re faced with their individual demons and must conquer them in order to absolve themselves and escape.  My favorite part was when they reached the final level and they see this figure in a black robe sitting in a chair with its back to them.  They take their eyes off of it and when they turn back it silently starts to approach them, leaving a smokey mist behind it as it moves, while similar creatures appear around it.

Overall, As Above, So Below is an average movie.  I tend to like it more because I’m a fan of Dantes Inferno and love seeing the lore of that story in a modern setting.  The story was good and unique, yet dragged down by the generic characters.  The setting was one of my favorite things about it.  Its worth a watch.

7/10

-Andre

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Kanopy

Kanopy Logo

Announced last month here, the library now offers Kanopy as one of our streaming options! Today I will be taking a look at this new and exciting service along with a few recommendations. Kanopy is a video streaming service specifically for both university and public libraries. Unlike Netflix and Hulu that focus on popular titles, Kanopy is geared towards Independent, foreign, and foreign films as well documentaries.  The service supports desktop and mobile viewing through its free application. Similar to Hoopla, users are only allowed to watch a certain number of movies per month (8). While this may be unfair to shorter titles (like the highly acclaimed animated short Coda which is only 9 minutes), the breath of options available more than makes up for it. Just learn to spend your monthly credits wisely. One notable highlight is that it carries much of the Criterion Collection, filled with such classics as Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’avventura. Here are a few films that are currently popular and show off the options available across many genre:

 

Loving Vincent Poster

Independent – Loving Vincent

“In the first fully painted feature film, 2018 Oscar-nominated LOVING VINCENT tells the story of the mysterious and tragic death of the world’s most famous artist, Vincent van Gogh. Featuring the voices of Saoirse Ronan and Chris O’Dowd.

Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2018 Academy Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, and the BAFTA Awards.”

 

 

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Horror – My Friend Dahmer

“Former Disney star Ross Lynch stars as the awkward, adolescent Jeffrey Dahmer – before he became one of America’s most infamous serial killers. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel, this is the haunting, sad, funny, true story of Dahmer in high school. Also featuring Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and Anne Heche (Psycho, Wag the Dog).

Official Selection at the Tribeca Film Festival. Winner of Best Picture at Austin Fantastic Fest.”

 

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 War & Action – Oldboy

“Oh Dae-su is an ordinary Seoul businessman with a wife and young daughter who, after a drunken night on the town, is locked up in a strange, private “prison” for 15 years. No one tells him why he’s there or who his jailer is but he is kept in reasonably comfortable quarters and has a T.V. to keep him company.

While watching T.V., he discovers that he has been framed for his wife’s murder, and during one of the occasions when he’s knocked out by gas, someone has drawn blood from him and left it at the scene of the crime. The imprisonment lasts for 15 years until one day, when Dae-su finds himself unexpectedly deposited on a grass-covered high-rise roof. He’s determined to discover the mysterious enemy who had him locked up for all those years. While he’s eating in a Japanese restaurant, his cell phone rings and a voice dares him to figure out why he was imprisoned…

Winner of the Grand Prize of the Jury and Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2004”

I chose to watch They Call Me Jeeg (Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot) from director Gabriele Mainetti.

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“Enzo, an ex-con from the poor outskirts of Rome, puts his newfound superpowers to use furthering his career as a delinquent, a fact which makes the local crime bosses far from happy.

When he falls in love with Alessia, an unstable girl who brightens her dark world with elements from a Japanese anime, Jeeg, Enzo learns the value of helping others. But what price must he pay to become a hero?

Nominated for Best European Feature at the Fantasia Film Festival. Official Selection at Fantastic Fest.”

Released in 2016, this Italian black comedy/superhero film portrays a “man of steel” who is a far cry from Superman as he bashes, breaks, and steals his way to fortune and accidental fame on Youtube.  Similar to Kick-ass, the the main character is a sorry excuse of a hero (there is one scene that may make you lose sympathy for him completely) and he doesn’t earn his mask until the last half hour of the film when he faces off against a similarly powered villain in a cliché, but appropriate final conflict. Still, the deeply flawed but enjoyable cast leads to many very entertaining scenes of suffering, personal growth, and comic ultra violence. Unless you grew up in Italy in the 70s, most references to the eponymous show will go over your head, but the contrast to the general idea of a superhero is used to great effect. If you liked Deadpool or Super, check this film out on Kanopy.

-Jay

Working With Upset Customers – LYNDA.COM

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Here at the Fountaindale Public Library we have a vast selection of databases and eresources in which one can choose from.  These include ones that fall under specific categories of research as pertaining to such topics as Articles & Research; Career & Consumer Information;  Education & Homework Help; Genealogy, History, & Culture; Home & Lifestyle; Lifelong Learning; Movies, Music, & Entertainment; Reading, Writing, & Publishing; and Servicios En Español…just to name a few.

Today I will be looking at those that fall under the category of “Education & Homework Help” as well as “Lifelong Learning”.  These include Universal Class, Mango Languages, Lynda.com, and Gale Courses.  Specifically, I will be discussing Lynda.com and my experience with it and using it.

Lynda.com is an online subscription library we offer here at the Fountaindale Public Library that teaches the latest software tools and skills through high-quality instructional videos taught by recognized industry experts.

To begin with, you have to create an account.  Once you have done that, you are now ready to be exposed to a plethora of various subjects and topics to examine and purse.

 

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The course I took and will be discussing is “Working With Upset Customers”. “Working With Upset Customers” is taught by Jeff Toister.  Presented in five parts of video instruction, Jeff examines the various facets of what you need to know and what you need to do to effectively serve angry and upset customers. He does this through proven techniques for effectively neutralizing negative situations.  He also shares specific actions employees can take before and after encounters with upset customers that will reduce the likelihood of problems occurring in the future.

He begins with a brief introduction of the course overview.  From there, he dives right in and examines customers two basic needs.  The first need customers have are they’re rational needs.  Rational needs can be defined as what a customer needs us to do for them.  And then there is the second need, their emotional needs, this is how a customer wants to feel about the service they’re receiving. Pointedly, he states that when someone is working with an angry or upset customer taking care of their emotional needs is and must be the absolute top priority in the given situation.

He first looks at Serving Angry Customers.  In doing so, he examines understanding our natural instincts.  Then he focuses on listening with empathy, helping the customer be right, and using the Acknowledge and Refocus technique.   The Acknowledge and Refocus technique is made up of two steps.  The first step is to acknowledge the customer’s feelings. The second step is to refocus the conversation on solving the problem. By doing so, it steels away from blame or confrontation and allows working with a customer to find a resolution. It can also help a customer cool down since they are no longer focusing on the thing that made them angry.  However, one thing he is very adamant about is that a line needs to be drawn when it comes to abusive behavior by an angry customer and that no matter what such behavior should never be tolerated.

Next, he addresses Learning from Angry Customers.  This includes preserving the relationship, conducting an after action interview, finding room for improvement, and passing along complaints.

Finally, he discusses Preventing Customer Anger.  This includes creating personal connections, avoiding unpleasant surprises,  replacing trigger words, and using the Pre-emptive Acknowledgement technique.  The key to the Pre-emptive Acknowledgement technique is spotting situations where a customer is likely to get angry. You prevent their anger from boiling over by acknowledging their feelings before they actually get mad. When customers get angry, it’s often because they have an unmet emotional need. It feels like nobody cares about their problem. The Pre-emptive Acknowledgement works because it acknowledges the situation and the customer’s negative emotions before they boil over.

With that he concludes the course, with a brief summary of all the topics that were discussed.

As you proceed through the course, it tracks your progress.  Finally, once the course is completed, you are then able to print up a certificate of completion.

I found the course to be very informative, easy to follow, and well presented.  You can tell Jeff is well versed in all the intricacies of working with upset customers and all that it entails.

I really enjoyed my experience with Lynda.com.  It makes learning very easy and hands on.  It allows you to learn at your own pace.  If there is a certain section or any material that you aren’t too sure or familiar with, Lynda.com lets you go back to those parts and/or sections and replay them.

If you get a chance to check out Lynda.com, do so.  Learning has never been easier, more user friendly, or convenient. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

 

– Brian S

Hereditary Review

hereditary

Hereditary is a thriller/psychological horror film from 2018.  Following the death of her estranged mother, Annie and her family struggle to maintain their sanity as tragedy and dark forces threaten to consume them.

SPOILERS

Hereditary is a breath of fresh air when it comes to modern horror movies.  These days horror is filled with sub par acting, overuse of jump scares, and lackluster storytelling.  Hereditary knocks it out of the park with its acting.  The main character Annie is played by Toni Collette, and she delivers on all fronts with this role.  She really shows off her acting ability as she convincingly ranges from grieving mother, to seemingly having a psychotic break.  Shes a character that reveals that because of what her mother was involved in, she never wanted to have a son and despite her best efforts to raise him regardless of the failed abortion attempts those feelings still affected who he was.  Alex Wolff plays her son Peter.  He’s an emotionally crippled teenager who starts to revert back into some childish habits like calling his mother “mommy” and crying when things get intense.  His mental state begins to deteriorate following the death of his little sister.  He blames himself for it since it happened when he was with her, but he also partly blames his mother since she forced him to bring his sister with him.

The best thing about this movie is that atmosphere and tone.  There’s constantly this sense of dread and hopelessness building and festering through the movie.  From the families initial response to dealing with the grandmothers death to the way they deal with the death of the daughter shortly after.  Everyone blames themselves in a way and they each clash with each other as a result.  There is a nice use of subtlety to some parts where if you pay attention you’d notice how it comes up and effects the story later on.  For instance, when Annie is in group therapy and talking about the issues she had with her family growing up, she mentions how her brother was schizophrenic and kept claiming their mother was trying to put people into him.  This is a detail easily glossed over but something that becomes central later in the film.

The movie does a great job of building and keeping the tension high and keeping you guessing as to whats going on.  I liked the way that the movie shows Annie talking about her family issues as she breaks down, detailing about how her mom had dissociative identity disorder and dementia, then later on in the movie we see her seemingly showing symptoms of the same mental issues her mother had.  Other characters seem to believe that she’s mentally breaking and becoming like her mother as she struggles to offer proof of the supernatural to them.  Once she shows her proof things take a turn for the worse, and her mental state seems to worsen as she acts completely irrational at times, leading her husband and son to view her as a threat.

The first half of the movie dealt with more drama than anything, but the last part was strictly supernatural horror and my favorite part.  Even though it delved into straight horror, it didn’t rely on average horror tropes like jump scares and people doing dumb things.  Towards the end its revealed that the dead grandmother was the leader of a demonic cult and everything that was happening was in fact supernatural and Annie wasn’t losing her mind.  The whole thing ends up being a plot to use Peters body as the entity the cult serves wanted a male from the grandmothers bloodline as there was something in their genetics that it favored.  What I loved about the last part was the use of tension.  For instance, there’s a scene where Peter wakes up in bed at night and looks a toward his door where he heard something, out of focus and shrouded in the dark behind him you can make out that his mother is crouched in the corner on the ceiling of the room.  Its a really creepy scene and had me on edge wondering what was going to happen next.

Overall Hereditary is a pretty good movie and a great horror movie.  For a modern movie I loved how it didn’t rely on cheap gimmicks and overused tropes to try and scare people and instead focused on building the story and an atmosphere that caused fear and tension.

8/10

-Andre

The Strangers: Prey at Night Review

strangers prey at night

The Strangers: Prey at Night is the 2018 sequel to the original The Strangers movie released in 2008.  This time out, the trio of masked killers sets their targets on a family of four in an isolated trailer park.  What ensues is a long night of terror and bloody murder, because “why not?” The Strangers: Prey at Night takes everything that was good about the original movie and throws it out.  This time out, the movie has everyone doing the absolute dumbest things possible in order to get themselves killed and the killers are elevated to be essentially a supernatural presence at times before they’re eventually dumbed down as well.

SPOILERS

Multiple times during this movie I found myself asking “why would anyone do that?”  Where do I even begin?  The family travels to a remote trailer park owned by their aunt and uncle who we see brutally murdered in the opening scenes of the movie.  The strangers remain after killing the couple as they hear a voicemail letting them know that they’ll have new victims arriving.  So the family shows up and doesn’t find uncle or aunt anywhere, just a note saying to take your room and they’ll see them the next day.  At dinner someone makes a comment that upsets the teenage daughter, who promptly leaves the trailer to go off alone into the night to sulk, mom and dad send her older brother to go and retrieve her.  The two kids end up discovering their aunt and uncles corpses and rush back to their parents to let them know what happened.  Instead of calling the police right there, the father, asking “is this some sort of joke?” has the son lead him to the bodies to verify.  I guess this is a family that likes to joke about finding the murdered corpses of their family members often?

With mom and daughter alone back at the trailer one of the masked killers sets after them armed with a knife.  There’s one moment where shes standing in the kitchen facing both of them and the two women stand there and stare at her, like hit her with a chair or something.  The killer chases the two women who lock themselves in the bathroom where the mother helps her daughter escape through the hatch in the ceiling to her safety.  While the daughter is safe on the roof reaching down for her mother the killer is breaking through the door.  Mom makes no attempt to try and climb out with her daughter.  The killer gets through the door and enters the bathroom, embracing the mom in a hug from the back before she stabs and kills her.  Mom never even turned to face the killer for some reason, she essentially accepted death as soon as her daughter got out, does she not have survival instincts?

The dad and son after verifying that it wasn’t a prank head back to the trailer and find mom dead and daughter missing.  What do they do now?  Obviously hop in the car and drive around the area really fast yelling the daughters name out of the window.  They crash and dad is pinned in the wreckage while son escapes with a loaded gun to find his sister.  The sister is being chased by the male killer through a woods area where she hides from him among a series of large cement tubes.  In the tube shes in, one out of a lot of other tubes, another of the masked killers jumps out from the dark to scare her.  Was this killer hiding in that tube all night waiting for that moment?  Did they plan to guide her to that exact tube for that scare?  I imagine the killers were using walkies and great effort to coordinate this and I find it hilarious.

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Sister escapes and runs into brother as they’re chased by a killer.  Brother remembers that he has a loaded gun on him and aims it at the killer, the same one that killed his mom mind you, before turning and running away for some reason.  They end up abandoning it later of course, and he ends up separated from his sister.  While running the sister ends up on a road where a cop happens to arrive to help her.  They’re in the middle of the road and there’s really no cover for anyone to sneak up on them, yet the cop ends up getting killed as hes speaking to the girl because I guess the killer was invisible when she walked right up behind him.  Why are cops always useless in horror movies?  After this the roles essentially switch and the killers become as dumb as possible for some reason.

Sister grabs the shotgun from the cops car and runs off into the woods pursued by the killer.  The killer chasing armed with a knife while the girl still has the shotgun.  At some point the daughter realizes this and shoots her pursuer mid mass before finishing her off with another shot.  She was already dying but sure, waste your last bullet.  Back with the brother, hes being pursued though a store when he grabs a golf club to defend himself.  Eventually hes confronted by another killer armed with just a knife again, and they have a stare off before he realizes he has the upper hand.  He manages to kill this stranger as well before hes attacked and injured by the last remaining stranger who leaves him for dead.

 

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This is where things get really ridiculous.  The sister heads back to the police car in an attempt to escape when the remaining killer rams into her with his indestructible truck.  He rams her several times, rendering the officers SUV useless except his last ram left him stuck to the SUV unable to move.  The daughter notices that his truck is leaking gas heavily and throws her lighter into it causing the truck to explode.  She hobbles away, seemingly safe before, surprise the killer survived his truck exploding! No really, he survived.  Not only did he survive, the truck is still fully operational whilst on fire.  The killer pursues her before cornering her and attempting to finish her off with his ax instead of just running her over.  He keels over and its revealed that he was impaled by a shard of glass.  The explosion was just a minor annoyance, its the glass that did him in. The daughter is rescued by a passing family but the movie has one last jump scare as the badly scarred stranger makes one last attempt at her life before he collapses dead in the street.

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The Strangers: Prey at Night was dumb.  It takes a believable premise like the first film and trashes it.  The killers went from being unsettling and spooky to hokey caricatures of themselves.  The acting was average but the bad writing drags everything down.  The protagonists aren’t likable, they have no development, they aren’t even memorable.  This film really isn’t worth watching unless you intend to laugh at the absurd moments in it.  The soundtrack was good though.

3/10

-Andre

A Quiet Place Review

a quiet place

A Quiet place is a 2018 sci-fi/horror  movie starring John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.  The film is about a post apocalyptic world in which blind aliens that hunt by sound have managed to effectively destroy human civilization.  The story follows a family of five as they struggle to stay silent and avoid the monsters roaming around them.

Spoilers

A Quiet Place is a movie that thrives off of the dark tone that it sets.  Within the first few minutes of the movie we see the youngest kid get killed as he activates a toy rocket whose noise immediately draws a monster to him.  This sets a somber tone for the film as it shows just how vulnerable and how quick things can go bad for them.  After the youngest child’s death we see how each family member blames themselves for it in their own way.  The parents struggle to prepare the remaining two children for survival in this hostile world while preparing to give birth to a baby and the danger that would immediately place them in.

The atmosphere and use of silence in this movie is extremely effective.  For the most part you only hear the sounds of the wind blowing and rustling trees or the sand shifting under footsteps.   The family is alone, and they are trapped.  The father works in the basement of the house attempting to establish contact with governments from various other countries but hears nothing.  All along the walls around him are newspaper clippings giving small glimpses of what led to the current predicament of the world.   There’s personal notes he has indicating that there are three creatures in the area, information documenting how they hunt, and his search for any weaknesses they might have.

This film uses great attention to detail to show how the family survives day to day in a silent world.  Early on when the family is scavenging through a store for supplies we see that they all use sign language to communicate, Krasinski and Blunts acting shines during these scenes since the only way they can convey emotion is through their body language and facial expressions.  The entire family travels barefoot all the time on paths that they’ve made by laying sand on the ground.  They lay sand through the grass, on concrete, an on the bridge that they cross.  There’s even tiny details like when they’re scavenging the store, from the appearance of it, its been scavenged quite a few times yet there is an entire section of unopened bags of chips that remains untouched as the noise would draw monsters.

Although this film is great in many other areas, there were a few plot inconsistencies and unrealistically dumb decisions made by the characters that subtract from the movie in my opinion.  For example, the monsters hearing tends to fluctuate.  In one instance we see them come from however far away they were to kill raccoons that were squeaking, yet in other scenes when a character is a few feet from them they don’t react to heavy breathing or a heartbeat.  The monsters also don’t react to each others sounds.  You’d think if one monster went tearing through the woods to hunt down the source of the sound it just heard that other monsters would be attracted to the first monsters sounds but that doesn’t happen.  There’s also another instance of inconsistency where a creature rips through a grain silo as though it were made out of tissue, yet the same creature has difficulty trying to get into a car.  Perhaps the biggest plot issue of all is that these creatures managed to topple every government and kill everyone.  From the fathers notes and the news clippings its stated that they’re completely bullet proof because they have armor yet towards the end one of the creatures is killed when shot in the head with a shotgun.  Granted it’s head flap things were open because it was listening, but through the whole movie we see that they constantly open these things when they’re hunting.  During their takeover of the earth, at some point, someone had to have shot one of them in the head and realized that they’re vulnerable when they’re listening, which is what they’re constantly doing.  I just have a hard time believing that creatures that cant rip through a car and die from getting shot in the head can kill off most of humanity.

Then there are the decisions that make no sense.  When the kid is killed off at the beginning of the movie, its because he’s trailing behind the family and no one sees that he has the toy.  Why would you leave your youngest child to bring up the rear when there are monsters that hunt by sound running around you?  Towards the end of the movie the father is killed by a monster when he screams to draw its attention away from his kids trapped in a car by it.  The father was shown to easily be the smartest character in the movie, when the monster was going after his kids, they weren’t making any noise in the car, the slightest distraction would’ve drawn its attention away.  The movie shows them stop to go after white noise on a TV, or a ticking egg timer before it even goes off.  The guy could’ve thrown the ax he was holding off into the cornfield as a distraction without getting himself killed.

Overall I was a fan of this movie.  The acting from the two leads was great, the atmosphere and the tone really draw you into the movie.  If not for the inconsistencies I would rank A Quiet Place as one of my favorites.

7/10

-Andre

The Strangers Review

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The Strangers is a 2008 horror/thriller about a young couple returning late from a wedding reception to an isolated vacation home.  What follows is a violent home invasion carried out by three masked assailants as they violently harass and torment the couple.

The Strangers is a movie that draws heavily on establishing a dreadful tone and feeling of impending doom for the protagonist.  Everything about the attack was seemingly calculated by the strangers to maximize their advantage against their prey.  The home that the couple was staying in was isolated, far from anyone that would hear the commotion and attempt to help or call the police.  Their attack happened at four in the morning when anyone that could be of help is most likely asleep.  There’s no one out driving, no one walking their dog, no one is around to help.  This setting amps up the intensity of scenes where the strangers are stalking their victims.  For example, there is one scene where the female protagonist is in the kitchen having a drink after a particularly stressful evening.  Behind her and out of focus we can see one of the strangers silently watching her from across the room.  This goes on for roughly twenty seconds, tension building as you wonder what’s going to happen before she looks in his direction and sees nothing.

Although I loved the tone set by the movie, some of the actions of the couple left me irritated, particularly those of the male protagonist.  The entire ordeal starts when the couple answers a knock at the door at four in the morning.  Shortly after the strange interaction with the unseen woman the guy decides to leave the woman in the house alone while he runs out somewhere.  While he’s gone the strangers begin to torment the woman until he suddenly returns.  The woman lets him know what happened and for some reason he doesn’t believe her.  This makes no sense because it’s really not a claim that I think anyone would find unbelievable, moreover, why would she lie about such a thing?  Another complaint that I had was that after the couple is on the same page and realizes that they’re under siege, not once do they go through the house to make sure doors and windows are locked.  They lock the front door and that’s it, but it’s clearly shown that the strangers are using other means to enter and exit the house at will.  In another instance of bad decisions, the couple finds a shotgun and plenty of ammunition for it.  Great right?  No, after making a smart decision to hunker down in one room with their backs to the wall and the gun pointed at the door, the male accidentally shoots and kills a friend who happened to stop by to check on the couple.  For some reason he came by early in the morning before the sun was even up, but that’s beside the point.  After killing his friend the guy charges outside into the night with the gun, leaving the woman alone once again, to confront the strangers.  In a hilarious and head shaking turn of events he’s immediately disarmed and rendered unconscious, losing their best defense  against the invaders.  Overall I can’t decide if these characters just aren’t that smart, or whether them being deprived of sleep is the reason for the bad decisions.

Overall The Strangers is a decent movie.  I love the use of the setting and the minimalist approach that drives the somber, creepy tone of the film.  This movie did a lot with a small budget.  I wasn’t a fan of the way the plot was driven by some particularly foolish decisions by the couple, it felt cheap at times, although that can possibly be explained if you factor in their lack of sleep during the ordeal.  This film is entertaining and worth a watch.

6/10

-Andre