Friday, May 20, 2022

Worth Mentioning - The Flesh and the Spirit

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning. 

A World War II story, a psychological drama, and a return to horror.


For most of its 106 minutes, director John Huston's film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is basically a two-hander, focusing on stranded U.S. Marine Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum) and Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), a nun who has not yet taken her final vows, as they struggle to survive alone on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. Allison and Angela have to hide in cave when Japanese forces come onto the island, and most of the movie consists of these two talking to each other, trying to help each other, getting to know each other. Watching the opening stretch of Allison and Angela conversing, I kind of felt like I was watching a World War II version of a Richard Linklater movie.

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was based on a novel by Charles Shaw. I haven't read that book, but the source material certainly inspired writer/director John Huston and co-writer John Lee Mahin to make a great movie. This was really well written, and Mitchum and Kerr both turn in great performances. It's no surprise to see that the film earned Oscar nominations for the screenplay and for Kerr. I would say it should have gotten more nominations, but it still would have lost Best Picture to the same movie it lost the screenplay award to, The Bridge on the River Kwai. 

If you don't want to watch a Marine and a nun do a lot of talking, with Allison falling for this woman who has committed herself to God along the way, this is a World War II movie you should probably skip. There are moments of action and suspense involving the Japanese forces that come and go, but this is a talky drama more than an exciting war movie. The characters are so interesting, the dialogue so well written, and the acting so good, that I wasn't anxious to see any gunfire or explosions break out. But yes, there is some of that.

SWALLOW (2019)

Written and directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis, Swallow is a really uncomfortable movie to watch at times. There are things in it that are likely to make you cringe. But I don't think it should be labeled a psychological thriller like it is on some websites. It's a dark drama, a fascinating character study of a very troubled young woman. 

Haley Bennett plays that character, whose name is Hunter. When we meet her, she appears to have it all. She's married to Richie Conrad (Austin Stowell), a handsome, wealthy businessman with a CEO job in his future. They live in an incredible house with a stunning river view. She's pregnant with their first child. But Hunter's quiet, meek demeanor hides the fact that she is deeply unhappy. Bored with her empty housewife life. Largely ignored by Richie. It's like she barely exists. To deal with her unhappiness, and with a traumatic history, Hunter develops pica - a psychological disorder where a person is compelled to eat inedible objects.

That's where the cringe factor comes in. Hunter starts by eating a marble and progresses to swallowing some horrible things from there, including thumbtacks and even a screwdriver. Which doesn't go well for her. A man named Luay (Laith Nakli) is hired to keep an eye on her. There's threat of her being committed to a psychiatric hospital. And there story goes in directions I didn't see coming.

Swallow is Mirabella-Davis's first feature, and it's a great way to get a career started. It will be interesting to see where he goes after proving his first time out that he could make a captivating movie about a disturbed woman eating things she shouldn't.

The following review originally appeared on


After being absent from the genre for fifteen years, Elisha Cuthbert has returned to horror, taking on the lead role in writer/director Brendan Muldowney’s haunted house movie The Cellar. The movie does greatly benefit from having Cuthbert as the lead, but her involvement is also one of the most notable things about it. The Cellar covers some rather familiar ground, and doesn’t do much to stand out from the many films it can be compared to. As a genre fan watches it, they’ll probably be reminded of several other, better movies along the way. Movies like The Evil Dead, Insidious, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, and maybe even Phantasm.

You know the set-up, you’ve heard this one before. A family moves into an old house and soon realize they share the place with evil supernatural forces. In this case, American expat Keira Woods (Cuthbert) and her Irish husband Brian (Eoin Macken) have bought an old house in the Irish countryside at an auction, with no knowledge of the place’s history or why there are strange symbols placed above every doorway. There are also mysterious mathematical equations scribbled in the cellar and a phonograph that comes with a record of more equations being spoken out loud. When Keira and Brian’s children – teen Ellie (Abby Fitz) and tween Steven (Dylan Fitzmaurice Brady), both of whom share their father’s Irish accent – play that record while home alone one night, it stirs up the evil that inhabits the cellar. When the lights go out, Ellie has to go down into the cellar and check the fusebox… but she never comes back out. With her daughter missing, Keira has to dig into the history of their newly purchased home in an attempt to figure out what happened to her firstborn.

The Cellar isn’t a bad telling of a familiar tale, it just doesn’t do anything that makes it seem special. Cuthbert does a fine job of carrying the film on her shoulders, but it would have helped if she had more interesting characters around her. Given that Ellie shows a lot of personality in her few minutes in the film, butting heads with her mom and giving her some teen attitude, it might have been better if young Steven had gone missing and Keira and Ellie had to work together to figure out what happened. As it is, Keira works on this alone. Steven just hangs out in his playroom and occasionally comes off as creepy, while Brian is barely present. When Brian is around, he proves to be an incredibly bland character who barely seems to care that Ellie is gone and questions Keira’s investigation.

The mystery Keira has to solve is somewhat intriguing and there are some cool visuals – most of them packed into the climactic sequence, which is when the “that reminds me of another horror movie” moments really start piling up. There is some effective creepiness here and there, especially in the scene where Ellie disappears, which is re-used from a short film called The Ten Steps that Muldowney made back in 2004. I’m someone who grew up with a fear of the dark basement in their childhood home – I always felt like something was going come after me when I was going up the stairs – so there were some scenes that made me think of that old fear. But there really isn’t much going on for the majority of The Cellar‘s 94 minute running time.

It’s good to see Cuthbert in a horror movie again, and I hope she’ll continue to do genre work from time to time, with shorter gaps than fifteen years in between. It’s just a bit of a shame that her return comes in a movie that’s so easy to shrug off and forget. At least it’s substantially better than her last horror movie, Captivity.

If you want to kick back and watch a low-key variation on something you’ve seen before, The Cellar is a decent time killer. Just go into it with low expectations.

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