Unlike many moviegoers, 17-year-old farm girl Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell,The Day) has no memory of the events of The Last Exorcism, a found-footage smash of three years prior. The Last Exorcism Part II
finds her taking steps to build life anew, beginning in a boarding
house for troubled girls, where the deeply devout Nell is exposed to
such heretofore corrupting influences as lipstick and rock music and
YouTube and cotton candy.
Suspense novelist Jeffery Deaver once praised the short-story format,
writing that the minimal time investment on the part of the reader
allows the writer to get away with endings he or she cannot in the long
form. In other words, the writer can be meaner, more devious. He's
absolutely right, and the theory applies wholesale to The ABCs of Death, more or less a horror anthology depicting "26 ways to die."
Don't ask why Ninja III: The Domination
begins with a ninja assault on a municipal golf course. Just be
grateful it does. You also may wonder why its sex scene employs a can of
V8: Don't question it. Just lie back and enjoy it.
Tobe Hooper got a raw deal. The director of horror hits The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Poltergeist didn't deserve to be sent to movie jail for 1985's Lifeforce.
It's a well-crafted, well-intentioned work that was mismarketed and
misunderstood, losing a bundle of money and soon sending Hooper into the
lands of episodic television and direct-to-video features.
First with “Red” and now with “The Debt,” Helen Mirren has cornered the
market on films with senior-citizen assassins. Whereas “Red” was goofy
and spoofy, “The Debt” is stone-cold serious — the rare thriller that’s
actually smart. Would you expect less from a director as literary-minded
as “Shakespeare in Love”’s John Madden?
The way “The Debt” is structured, it’s as if audiences get two movies in one: a late-’90s-set spy movie with its mid-’60s prequel already attached, both roughly an hour apiece. In the ’90s half, essentially the wraparound story, Mirren plays Rachel Singer, one of three Mossad agents who, in the ’60s half (when she’s played by Jessica Chastain, “The Help”), hunkered down in a dingy Berlin apartment to track down a German gynecologist (Jesper Christensen, “Quantum of Solace”) wanted for Nazi war crimes.
I won’t spoil what Madden quiet effectively keeps secret from moviegoers until their need-to-know point, somewhere after the halfway mark, even if plot summaries and marketing materials do. The colder you are going in, the richer your experience will be. After all, how often does a spy movie with an Oscar winner rely more on story than shrapnel and sex?
The script — written in part by “X-Men: First Class” director Matthew Vaughn, remaking the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov” — presents itself in a nonchronological manner at first, so confusion over the dual time periods’ counterparts may have you scratching your head for a bit. Don’t worry: It’s only for a bit — all is cleared up by the time the plot requires it to be.
While Mirren is front-and-center on the poster and in the credits, “The Debt” really belongs to Chastain, who’s quite remarkable. So compelling is her role in the mission, that I wish the film were all about that. She has some scenes opposite Christensen, where she visits his practice under the guise of being unable to conceive — that’ll make you cringe. In a good way, of course. —Rod Lott