Disclaimer

Disclaimer: My reviews of media here do not mean that I lay any claim to the media in question. All reviews are entirely subjective. I may talk about how well the movie objectively works in my opinion, but it essentially all comes down to what I think of the movie. My liking a movie is not the same as thinking it's a great movie. If I trash a movie that you love, or love a movie you can’t stand, it’s not because I hate you. Also, all reviews are likely to contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen the movies in question and don’t want to know what happens, then you probably shouldn’t be reading about them here. Finally, a blanket trigger warning for people who don't want to read about common horror movie content such as sexism, racism, violence, etc.: I will likely discuss all of the above when they show up in the films I review, so please tread with caution. Check out this post for more on how my reviews are set up.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Horror Episode Review: Bates Motel, Episode 3

Episode 3: What’s Wrong with Norman

Overall: C+
Acting: C+
Writing: C
Story: C+
Technical aspects: C
Effects: C


Directed by:
Paul Edwards

Starring:
Freddie Highmore
Vera Farmiga
Max Thieriot
Nicola Peltz
Olivia Cooke
Mike Vogel

Particular trigger warnings: creepy incest vibes, images of/implied slavery, mentioned rape
Passes the Bechdel test? No.

            The plot continues to thicken. As was fairly obvious from the last episode, Dylan (Max Thieriot) is now working guarding the pot fields. Emma (Olivia Cooke) confesses to Norman (Freddie Highmore) that she hadn’t initially believed that the sketchbook described anything real, but had just wanted to spend time with him; however, now she realizes it is true and feels like they have to do something about it. Norman tells her to give the book back and forget about it. Norman then has a blackout in class, and is hospitalized. Bradley (Nicola Peltz) visits him, and Norma (Vera Farmiga) checks him out early. The police have searched the house, and Norman confesses that he kept Keith Summers’ belt after they disposed of his body, and the belt is now missing. Norma meets with Deputy Shelby (Mike Vogel), and he tells her that he took the belt and is willing to protect her. Later, Norman hallucinates his mother blaming him for the danger they could be in from the police, and she tells him to go to the Deputy’s house to retrieve the belt. While there, he finds a locked room in the basement, and a terrified Chinese girl locked in; apparently one of the girls depicted in the sketchbook.

            This is one of those times I feel somewhat conflicted, this time about pacing. I’ve complained a lot about shows that feel like they’re plodding along without progress toward a goal (see pretty much every review of an episode of The River.) This time it feels like it’s racing along too fast, especially where Norman is concerned. The hint of crazy during his attack on his brother (defending Norma’s honor) was good. And the reveal in this episode that he didn’t remember doing so is also good. But adding in the scene where he’s envisioning his teacher in bondage, that he’s full-on hallucinating conversations with his mother… seems like it’s jumping pretty far forward. The allure, in my opinion, of a “prequel” of sorts to the Psycho story that we know, is in seeing how he got that way. And the controlling, manipulative actions of Norma’s in the first episode especially, though continuing into the second, really make sense as the kind of thing that’ll fuck a kid up, considering the codependent/near-incestuous relationship they have. But now we’re being shown a Norman who is clearly already all the way crazy, not one who is slowly slipping.
            There could also be complaints regarding how convenient it is that all of our characters find ways to be tied to each other. The Deputy with the enslaved women, Dylan with the drug ring, etc. But hey, it’s a show with a relatively short guaranteed run, so I’m willing to forgive that. (Though I think it’d make more sense if they also did more to capture the small-town feel in other ways.)
            Once again, I found it jarring when we’re given scenes that really look like they could be set decades in the past (the old-style TV, a lot of the wardrobe, the rest of the sets in the Bates’ home) and then someone whips out their iPhone. I don’t know if it’s some kind of deliberate anachronistic choice, if I’m supposed to be inferring great meaning from it, or what.
            The acting was pretty all over the place. Freddie Highmore is great, I think, and there were a couple scenes where he looked very much like Anthony Perkins. And I still really like Vera Farmiga as Norma. Most of the rest was pretty serviceable. But Nicola Peltz had some badly delivered lines… she’s seemed shaky to me on and off since episode one, but this one was not her best.
            Otherwise, everything seems pretty unremarkable, in a not entirely bad way. Nothing about the sound direction or filming or effects sticks out in a bad way, but nothing being done makes me think “oh, that’s amazing” either.
            The bad things (some lousy acting, weird pacing) bugged me a little more this episode, but not in a way that makes the show unwatchable or anything. I’ll keep tuning in.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Horror Episode Review: Bates Motel, Episode 2

Episode 2: Nice Town You Picked, Norma

Overall: B-
Acting: C+
Writing: C+
Story: B-
Technical aspects: C
Effects: B




Directed by:
Tucker Gates

Starring:
Freddie Highmore
Vera Farmiga
Max Thieriot
Nicola Peltz
Olivia Cooke
Mike Vogel

Particular trigger warnings: creepy incest vibes
Passes the Bechdel test? Yes, barely.

Episode 2 is an episode mostly devoted to thickening the plot, it seems. Norman’s (Freddie Highmore) older half-brother, Dylan (Max Thieriot) shows up to stay, despite his obvious hatred for Norma (Vera Farmiga). One of Norman’s friends, Bradley (Nicola Peltz) witnesses her father crash his car, after he’d been burned alive. The authorities are more deeply investigating Keith Summers’ disappearance. Deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel) starts to reveal to Norma that there are some… odd and less-than-legal practices common in the town, beneath its “small-town charm.” And when Norman starts a project with another friend, Emma (Olivia Cooke), she finds the sketchbook he’d found in the house, and investigates the drawings of tortured women, and she comes to believe that the drawings describe real events. Later, Norman and Emma stumble upon a field of weed in the woods, after which they’re pursued by armed men. And apparently the “eye for an eye” justice that Deputy Shelby described has led to another man being burned.

I liked this episode more than I liked the first one. There’s at least some sense of an ongoing plot forming. We get to see how Norman himself is already a little unhinged, especially regarding how other people may treat his mother, yet how na├»ve he seems in other regards, like with Emma when she kisses him. Norma still switches back and forth between “good mother” mode and “oh-so-creepy” quite well. (I definitely laughed at the “It’s not like it’s weird!” line.)
I’m not sure yet how I feel about the characters we’ve been introduced to. The addition of a brother seems odd, though his absence from prior canon can probably be easily explained by how unwelcome he seems in the family. I’m wondering if we’re going to be stuck with an obnoxious love triangle plot in the future with Bradley, Norman, and Emma, but I suppose we’ll see. (It’s fairly obvious that nothing will really work out in the long run, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to drag it out.) I'm also skeptical about their skill in handling Emma's cystic fibrosis; this episode already seemed inconsistent regarding it. One scene she's gasping for breath walking up the hill, but then she's able to run away from the men chasing them without too much visible trouble.
            The hints so far about whatever underbelly the town’s economy is based on are interesting enough, though it's apparently pot, which was maybe revealed a little too quickly. (Dropping hints about the town's dark side is well and good, but they could have gotten a little more tension out of it.) I do wonder just how “small” this “small town” is supposed to be. It seemed like it was supposed to be pretty small, both to fit Norma’s idea of a new life with Norman, and from comments made about how everyone knows everyone… yet much of it feels larger to me.
            The technical aspects are all still pretty good. The effects have been good, too, even if it’s not an effects-heavy show.
            I probably liked this episode a little better than the first one, so we’ll see if the trend continues.