Monday, March 7, 2022

Reviews: Three Victims Try to Escape a Horror Not of Their Making in “Great Freedom,” “Fresh” and “No Exit”

Great Freedom (c) Mubi

Reviews:  Great Freedom, Fresh, No Exit

Film: Great Freedom 
In Cinemas 

It is a stretch to call Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom” a horror movie, but ask Hans (a terrific Frans Rogowski), who was thrown in a concentration camp during World War II for being gay (per the Paragraph 175 law), and when liberated was thrown in jail to serve the rest of his sentence. “Great Freedom” won the Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2021 and was Austria’s submission for Oscar’s Best International Feature – it made the shortlist but didn’t get nominated. Based on the synopsis alone, I really didn’t want to see another gay prison drama, but the movie is so much more. It jumps between three periods: 1945, when Hans first arrives in prison and shares a cell with the angry and very straight Viktor (Georg Friedrich); 1957, when they meet again with some hostility; and 1968, as older men who have been through way too much. The evolution of their relationship is at the heart of this film, which is both a story of survival and the pains of living in a homophobic society. “Great Freedom” goes through the usual prison tropes of violence and solitary confinement, but it is more interested in the sad life of Hans than addressing prison atrocities. Rogowski’s heartbreaking performance will stay with you long after the film is over. 

Fresh (c) Searchlight Pictures, Hulu

Film: Fresh 
In Cinemas and Hulu 

Not sure how much I should give away of the Sundance hit, “Fresh,” a cautionary tale about a young woman named Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who is fed up with meeting losers through a dating app, until she meets a cool guy named Steve (Sebastian Stan) in a supermarket. Just from the trailer and the poster, you know the movie is going to devolve into horror, but just how director Mimi Cave and screenwriter Lauryn Kahn do this is part of the dread…I mean, fun. “Fresh” shares some DNA with “Split” and the heroine played by Anya Taylor-Joy. Like Taylor-Joy, Edgar-Jones is not your usual “final girl” horror trope, especially given the creators of the film are female. In fact, the girl power theme at least kept me occupied during the exhaustingly gory second half (we get it, horror is not only a male dominated genre). Added to the mix is Noa’s best lesbian friend Millie (Jonica T. Gibbs) playing detective, and the movie certainly has enough fun diversions until the eventual bloodbath. Stan is very game as Steve, considering this is his second movie in the last year in which he gets to play a toxic male in need of some “girl-splaining.” Edgar-Jones, giving off younger sister vibes to both Anne Hathaway and Dakota Johnson, made quite an impact in the limited series “Normal People” and here shows she is equally adept at genre film. There’s a lot to chew on in “Fresh,” just not a whole lot of nutritional value. 

No Exit (c) Hulu

Film: No Exit 
On Hulu 

If you were hoping for a movie adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play about three people stuck in a room for eternity, you’re out of luck, although when the bloodshed and the violence starts happening in this “No Exit,” it certainly feels like an eternity to get to the conclusion. What makes this even more disappointing is that the first half of the film is very suspenseful and engaging. It starts out, uninterestingly enough, in a rehab group circle, where we meet Darby (Havana Rose Lu), a resentful young girl with a drug problem and an “I don’t believe in any of this” attitude. When she escapes the facility and steals a car to get to her dying mother, she is thwarted by a snowstorm that leaves her stranded at a visitor’s center with four other sidelined travelers. Darby, standing in the parking lot to try to get some cell reception, discovers a young girl tied up in the back of a van. Like “The Hateful Eight,” even down to the blizzard contrivance, Darby must figure out who’s the kidnapper: Could it be the older couple (Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert) on their way to gamble in Reno, the easy-going college bro Ash (Danny Ramirez) or the agitated and itchy Lars (David Rysdahl)? Thankfully, director Damien Power doesn’t keep the kidnapper’s identity a secret for long, because he has violence and blood-splattering to get to, although a late third-act twist was a nice touch. Lu is effective as the film’s damsel, being both smart and too smart for her own good. But I knew once Chekov’s nail-gun was introduced, there was no turning back.

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