This past weekend, we had a trio of films that were released on a variety of platforms and streaming services: the survival horror film Centigrade, MJ Bassett’s latest action-centric project, Rogue, and Get Duked!, a wonderfully off-beat horror comedy from first-time feature director Ninian Doff. Here’s a look at my thoughts on this diverse trio of films that you can currently check out for yourself, all from the comfort of your own home (Centigrade is also currently playing in select drive-in theaters).
Centigrade: As a huge fan of tales of survival horror, Brendan Walsh’s Centigrade turned me into a tension-filled mess, and as the film progressed, I only got increasingly more and more stressed out for the film’s characters and their terrifying predicament. Walsh immediately throws viewers right into the thick of things, as the film opens with Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and Matt (Vincent Piazza) waking up in their car after pulling over during a brutal winter storm while traveling abroad, only to discover that their car is completely encased in ice and snow and won’t start. The weather conditions outside are unforgiving, so the couple has to make a choice: stay in the car and wait things out, or try and find a way out of the car and go for help.
What I appreciated about Centigrade is that Walsh confronts viewers with this nearly impossible decision about what they might do if they found themselves in the same situation as Matt and Naomi, but then ratchets things up even more for their characters, as Rodriguez’s character is like eight and a half months pregnant, which is an obvious concern, and they have very little resources at their disposal (which is why I always car travel with tons of water and snacks, kids, because you never can tell what’s going to happen). As the days roll on, things get more and more dire for the couple, and there was a point in the movie when it hit a certain number of days (which I won’t spoil for anyone here), where I audibly gasped a bit in shock, because it just seemed like an impossibility to be trapped inside of a car for that amount of time (apparently, someone had been trapped longer, too, so what do I know?).
But Walsh does keep tensions running high throughout Centigrade and there were a few times I noticed I was balling up my hands into fists because I was filled with so much anxiety over what these characters were enduring.
Where Centigrade falters a bit is whenever Walsh takes us outside of the vehicle. There is an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia that I felt whenever the film was inside of the car, but whenever we get one of the sweeping establishing shots of the frosty terrain outside, that’s when it feels like the story loses some of the tension that comes from the panic and fear that these characters are feeling. I also don’t feel like Mike and Naomi’s relationship is quite fleshed out as it could have been, but both Rodriguez and Piazza clearly give their all here, and their performances are a highlight in Centigrade, and I’d definitely recommend it to those who enjoy films centered around characters trying to survive against all odds.
Movie Score: 3/5
Rogue: I must admit, when I heard the premise of MJ Bassett’s Rogue—Megan Fox as a mercenary who has to deal with bloodthirsty lions after a rescue mission in Africa goes awry—I was already on board, sight unseen. That being said, Rogue ended up being a huge surprise for me, as it really is a well-executed action/eco-horror hybrid (which we don’t see all that often these days) that also ends up being an entertaining vehicle for Fox and the rest of the cast, who stole my heart along the way. It has some rough edges for sure, but Rogue is ambitious as they come, and I will always prefer to watch a film that clearly puts some effort in than one that feels soulless and pointless. And Rogue definitely gets the job done.
The plot for Rogue is pretty straightforward: Samantha O’Hara (Fox) and her team of mercenaries are guns for hire, and their latest job involves rescuing a group of high school girls from the clutches of a dangerous human trafficker named Zalaam (Adam Deacon, who honestly reminds me of DJ Khaled here). Complications arise during their mission, which forces Samantha and her team to take refuge at an abandoned lion farm. But with Zalaam hot on their tail, and one pissed-off lioness roaming around, time is running out for the team, and no one is safe in this deadly game of cat and mouse.
As far as the film’s action-oriented aspects, Bassett does a great job with Rogue, and the film’s opener, which runs for about 20 nonstop minutes, will leave you totally breathless by the time it’s all over. It sets the stage perfectly, and from there, Rogue settles in nicely, blending together a handful of well-executed combat moments that aren’t reliant on excessive edits to keep the energy up, along with some entertaining character beats, making Bassett’s latest cinematic endeavor an impressive feat, especially considering her limited budget, unforgiving shooting locale, and a large-scale ensemble that all get their own moments to shine, respectively.
When it comes to Fox’s performance in Rogue, I think it’s the best work she’s done since Jennifer’s Body and she clearly put in the work to make her character Samantha feel wholly authentic alongside her fellow castmates. I also enjoyed the fact that even though Samantha is brilliant at her job, she doesn’t always have all the answers, and Fox does a great job playing up the conflict her character is often faced with throughout Rogue. I also really enjoyed Philip Winchester in the film as well, and his appreciation for a certain Backstreet Boys song adds a whole lot of charm to the otherwise straightforward actioner.
Admittedly, the CGI work in the film isn’t really great (it’s the only aspect of Rogue where you can feel the budgetary limitations), as the lioness that’s stalking the mercenaries doesn’t quite feel finished. But it was something I found easy to overlook, especially whenever the action amped up a bit, and it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of Rogue overall (I don’t need a film to be perfect to be entertained). There’s something particularly satisfying about Rogue and maybe that’s partially due to me being a sucker for underdog action films. Or maybe it’s the fact that even though it’s a thoroughly entertaining action-fueled saga, Rogue still has a lot to say beyond all the blood and the bullets, and I can’t help but admire a director who swings for the fences the way Bassett does here.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
Get Duked!: If someone were inclined to try and quickly sum up Ninian Doff’s Get Duked!, the best I can come up with is that the film feels like Hot Fuzz meets The Most Dangerous Game and then that movie got hopped up on a ton of drugs. Honestly, though, that’s really not doing the film justice, as I was absolutely charmed by Doff’s genre-blending comedy that truly stands out as one of the most visually unique movies to be released in 2020.
Get Duked! starts off with a quartet of troublesome teens (Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Rian Gordon, and Lewis Gribben) who set out to participate in an event known as “The Duke of Edinburgh Challenge” in the Highlands. They are tasked with a series of exercises that should help them bond over their time together and teach them about the importance of working as a team to meet their goals. Initially, the teens have relatively little interest in participating in the Duke’s challenge (as they’re more content to smoke the map they’ve been given than actually use it to get to where they need to go). But after they figure out they are being hunted by a maniac who calls himself “The Duke” (played by the always hilarious Eddie Izzard), they set out to try and survive this deadly one-sided competition, getting into all kinds of shenanigans along the way.
While the teens at the center of Get Duked! initially feel like your run-of-the-mill slackers who are only interested in making themselves look cool on social media, the more time we spend with them, the more they end up winning you over in the end, which is a credit to the actors and their infectiously funny performances. As expected, Izzard once again kills it in Get Duked!, and I also think two other bright spots in the film are both Kate Dickie, who we rarely get to see taking on comedic material, and Alice Lowe, who shows up briefly, and practically steals the whole damn show away from everyone in just a few minutes of screen time.
What really impressed me about Get Duked! is that on paper, it seems like such an easy thing to try and pull off: it’s just a bunch of folks running around the Scottish countryside, how hard can it be, right? Wrong. Doff’s ability to keep the film’s momentum going throughout most of the story is pretty damn impressive, and the way he’s able to mix up the movie’s visual style keeps Get Duked! from ever feeling repetitive or dull.
There’s definitely a slight dip in the film’s energy during the middle act, but Get Duked! rallies in a big way in the end, delivering up a vivacious battle of the ages that often left me in stitches. As far as feature film debuts go, Doff’s efforts on crafting an irreverent and often absurd coming-of-age horror comedy hybrid with Get Duked! show both a great deal of promise and innovative style to boot, and I do hope we get to see more from him in the future.
Movie Score: 4/5