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Review Round-Up: “The Command” and “Nightmare Cinema”

As the weekend hits, it’s time to bring back the review round-up in order to cover a few more titles arriving in theaters. Today, we’ll be briefly discussing two particular genre efforts, each of them quite different from the other. The movies in question are the true life drama The Command (formerly known as Kursk on the festival circuit) as well as the anthology horror tale Nightmare Cinema. Both of these flicks offers up something different and may or may not be worth your time. That question is something I’ll attempt to answer right now, so let us dive in!

The Command

It’s impossible not to currently think about HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl while watching The Command. A high profile Russian tragedy that could have, if not been prevented, then reduced with less bureaucracy and corruption? Yeah, there are parallels. However, while the cable prestige program has drawn raves, this once high profile drama has been met with shrugs since its film festival bow last year. Did critics at Toronto and other such fests miss the boat, no pun intended? Yes, a little bit. While not an Oscar vehicle, it’s a compelling picture that hints at the greatness it otherwise could have contained. This is still a quality flick, even if it’s also a missed opportunity.

The film is a look at a tremendous recent naval tragedy for Russia. Set in 2000, this is the story of the K-141 Kursk submarine disaster, from how it happened to the massive negligence from the Russian government that followed. At first, we meet sailors like Mikhail Averin (Matthias Schoenaerts), as well as his wife Tanya Averina (Léa Seydoux). Then, there’s higher ups like Vladimir Petrenko (Max von Sydow) and Admiral Vyacheslav Grudzinsky (Peter Simonischek). Once we’ve met the crew, we’re out on the water with them as they participate in some naval exercises. When an explosion rocks the Kursk, the submarine sinks, killing many on board. As the surviving sailors engage in a fight for survival, their families, led by Tanya, initially wait, but then begin fighting the political machine in order to save them. At the same time, foreign aid, including a British rescue effort led by Commodore David Russell (Colin Firth) is waiting for the okay from Russian leadership to help out. The waiting game continues, as lives hang in the balance. Thomas Vinterberg directs a screenplay by Robert Rodat, with supporting players including August Diehl, Bjarne Henriksen, Magnus Millang, and more. Anthony Dod Mantle handles the cinematography, while the score is by Alexandre Desplat.

What saves this movie is the intrigue of the story. The Command features a bizarre mix of accents, to the point where you sometimes can’t tell who someone is supposed to be, as well as an odd aversion to the politics of the situation. However, the crew of the submarine and their potential survival, as well as the frustration of the British Naval officer, that comes through in spades. Additionally, there’s a tremendous sequence where Schoenaerts and another man have to hold their breath while looking for an important item underwater. If the rest of the flick had contained that immediacy and tension, this would have been something special.

There’s an awards worthy premise somewhere within The Command. We sadly didn’t get that, though the combination of director Thomas Vinterberg, scribe Robert Rodat, and a cast led by Matthias Schoenaerts, Léa Seydoux, and Colin Firth, not to mention DP Anthony Dod Mantle and composer Alexandre Desplat on hand, was never going to be a disaster. This movie simply takes a lot of shortcuts, presenting a far too simple version of a compelling story. The simplicity makes it impossible to be passionate about, though the execution of the flawed material is good enough to warrant a slight recommendation. This film is not nearly as good as it could have been, though it’s arguably better than the festival season suggested it was.

Nightmare Cinema

Horror anthologies are an endangered species, theatrically. Over the past decade, a number of attempts have been made to revitalize the genre, including the VHS franchise (V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and V/H/S: Viral), as well as The ABC’s of Death and its sequel, The ABC’s of Death 2. The former franchise began promisingly, before running out of steam, while the latter was a bit too ambitious to fully take off. Here, the new attempt at this, Nightmare Cinema, finds a happy medium, existing to make you smile as well as unsettle you. Bloody and ridiculous, anyone hoping for a quirky horror outing will be in luck, as it delivers exactly what you’d expect.

The movie consists of five segments, along with a framing/wraparound device. Essentially, someone will wander into a movie theater after seeing their name on the marquee, sit down in a seat, and be trapped while a short film starring them plays, highlighting a nightmare or fear of there. In between, The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke) acts as a harbinger of doom. The segments consist of The Thing in the Woods, which begins as a slasher send up and gets weirder as it goes on, essentially turning sci-fi by the end (It’s the best and most fun of the five), followed by the medical horror of Mirari, the religious scares of Mashit, the psychological terror of The Way to Egress, and finally the ghost centric tale Dead. Through it all, The Projectionist informs Samantha (Sarah Withers), Anna (Zarah Mahler) and David (Mark Grossman), Father Benedict (Maurice Benard), Helen (Elizabeth Reaser), and Riley (Faly Rakotohavan) of their impending doom. The segments are helmed, in order, by Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Ryûhei Kitamura, and David Slade, with Garris also having helmed the wraparound sequences. In addition to Brugués, Garris, and Slade among the writers, the scribes here consist of Sandra Becerril, Lawrence C. Connolly, and Richard Christian Matheson. Other cast members include Richard Chamberlain, Kevin Fonteyne, Annabeth Gish, Chris Warren, and more.

What sets Nightmare Cinema apart from other anthologies to come out recently is that there really isn’t a slog of a segment to be found. Some are stronger than others, but none drag the whole project down. The first two are sillier than the last two, with the middle one being caught right in between. However, while they all entertain while ignoring logic, they compliment each other fairly well. Filmmakers like Alejandro Brugués, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, and David Slade are having fun as much as they’re showing off their horror chops, so it’s almost an inside joke for fans of fright flicks.

This is how I’d rank the five segments:

5. Mashit
4. Dead
3. The Way to Egress
2. Mirari
1. The Thing in the Woods

Overall, Nightmare Cinema exists on its own logical plane and offers up something enjoyable for fans of horror cinema. The movie doesn’t ever try to be high art, so the sillier aspects fit in to the package quite well. Only having five segments allows these tales to breathe a bit, as opposed to other similar horror anthologies that have rushed from one director’s outing to the next. This film does not do that. Admittedly, the framing device with Rourke is somewhat pointless, but it ever so slightly ties everything together, so it’s no big issue. All in all, if you like scary stuff, this is something to check out…

Both of these films are in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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