Fun, crazy movie with default ambient horror music. Andrea Riseborough (the titular Mandy, and I think Oblivion is due a rewatch) is a hitman who possesses the minds of people who can get close to the target, kills target then self. Jennifer Jason Leigh is her boss, and she ends up going two levels of virtual – so far, so eXistenZ. She possesses Chris Abbott but stays too long, and he begins to see her memories and visit her home and kill her family.

Ex-soldier returns for a secret mission with a small group of new teammates who get picked off one-by-one… sounds like the usual, but it’s got some neat twists that make it play more like a prequel to Under the Skin. Natalie Portman is a scientist (unsubtly reading the Henrietta Lacks book in flashback) who volunteers to go into the “shimmer,” an alien-comet-infected zone of lifeform transformation and combination, searching for whatever has freaked-out and half-killed her soldier husband Oscar Isaac.

“Very few of us commit suicide, but we all self-destruct” – musings on life and death and states in between, as they pass beautifully mutated flora and flee from horrific bear-creatures that imitate human screams. The second half of the film has the trailer music, themes played on a sampling keyboard programmed with the Inception Sound, but the first half is surprisingly full of acoustic guitar, as the team struggles to make a plan when some want to turn back and their sense of time and direction is disoriented. The white girl with the weakest distinguishing characteristics (Tuva Novotny) dies first, fortunately. Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) gets paranoid and ties up the others before her face is ripped off by a screaming bear. A very young-looking Tessa Thompson gives herself up to the transformative space and becomes a tree. Team leader Jennifer Jason Leigh and Portman carry on, and Portman discovers a shimmery humanoid that learns how to imitate her before the real Portman dies from a fire grenade, same as her late husband, and the Alien Portman joins the Alien Husband outside the zone.

I didn’t enjoy Heaven Knows What, but this Safdie follow-up is splashed across the covers of all three film magazines I subscribe to, so I went out all by myself (does nobody else in this town read the magazines?) to sit too close to the screen and watch a movie where everything is shot too close-up. Felt like maybe a bad idea, and I’m not always a fan of electro music scores, and I was already aware of certain accusations against the movie, but against all odds, it’s… extremely good. The nervous energy from the close camerawork and pulsing electro plus all the lurid colors and frantic performances add up to a… not a good time exactly, but a hell of a ride.

The only time the title is spoken in the movie is by Nick’s psychiatrist. The doctor is a white-haired nemesis to Connie, conspiring to restrict his brother’s freedom, appearing early in the movie’s trailer as Connie talks about “the program [Nick] is forced to attend and how he shouldn’t be there.” We see Nick going to prison in the trailer, getting beaten as his brother races against time to rescue him, then as images of violence flicker across the screen faster and faster the psychiatrist reappears: “This place where we are now can be a lot of fun if you let it. You’re gonna have a good time,” then the title sears across the screen. It feels like this wicked psychiatrist is taking advantage of helpless Nick, the title a bitterly ironic reference to the bad time Nick is gonna have in his evil institution. In the movie itself, it took me a couple scenes to shake this idea, since the psychiatrist seems harmless and Nick is the one getting his brother into trouble then trying to get him back out, in a rapidly escalating series of near-successes. Connie is (argh) a con-man, an expert manipulator, and we follow him as our would-be protagonist, the movie barely giving us time to contemplate the havoc he’s leaving behind him, until the deep-breath relief of the ending. In fact, the title is supposed to be a reference to getting reduced prison sentence for good behavior (Connie and Nick are both fresh out of prison) and the end of the film shows the psychiatrist actually helping Nick after his villain brother is sent away.

The first thing we see after Connie “rescues” his brother from the institute is a bank robbery, wearing dark-skin masks and getting hilariously foiled by a dye pack. In the ensuing chase, Nick smashes through a window and gets busted, and Connie fails to bail him out with Jennifer Jason Leigh’s cancelled credit card. Connie then breaks the wrong guy out of the hospital – a plot twist I saw coming but dismissed as too ludicrous-obvious – then teams up with him (Ray: Buddy Duress, Holmes’s buddy in Heaven Knows What) to make quick cash for bail money. Ray was busted at an amusement park, and stashed a sprite bottle full of pure liquid LSD and possibly some money, so they trick underage Crystal into giving them a ride there, fuck with the security guard, and everyone gets arrested except Connie and Ray, who escape with the LSD-soda to the guard’s apartment, where Ray calls his dealer and finally things go wrong.

J. Safdie on the controvery:

I don’t think Connie is a racist. I think that he just knows how society functions. He knows that society is racist.

Brian Tallerico:

Connie makes choices instantly, and one gets the impression that it’s an instinctual ability that has helped him at times but will only prove his downfall on this particular night … Pattinson perfectly conveys the nervous energy of being essentially hunted by your own bad decisions without ever feeling like he’s chewing scenery.