GRINGO [R] D+
As the creator of a dastardly series of shorts, Nash Edgerton (“Spider” & “Bear”) has taken full advantage of his background as a stuntman to generate a sense of real peril in his karmically twisted tales, but for “Gringo,” his second feature, Edgerton goes for broke, focusing on the dark side of the human heart. To engage audiences, he employs dark comedy and a talented cast (featuring Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Thandie Newton, Sharlto Copley, and his own brother Joel Edgerton). The problem is that the script, by Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis, heaps on the mayhem, but strands several of the performers with one-note roles. Such frenzied characterizations can sometime work in shorts, but feature films require more commitment and connection between actors and the audience.
THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT [R] B
The home invasion premise of “The Strangers,” the original 2008 horror-thriller gets twisted further in the new installment “Prey at Night,” as the setting shifts to an out-of-the-way trailer park. A family-in-crisis (Christina Hendricks, Martin Henderson, Lewis Pullman, and Bailee Madison) face off against three masked killers with no supernatural abilities or method beyond sheer madness, but it should come as no surprise that this time out, the odds are not impossibly staked against the underdog family. The added tension provides a meaningful jolt to the action, although by the end, director Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”) reminds us that survival doesn’t mean the nightmare is over.
THOROUGHBREDS [R] B+
In Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Olivia Cooke), the arch upper-class teens at the center of “Thoroughbreds,” first-time writer-director Cory Finley has seemingly separated the DNA strand of the protagonist from India (Mia Wasikowska), the unsettling protagonist from Chan-wook Park’s dramatic thriller “Stoker.” Each case presents calculating characters willing to push the limits of propriety in typically Hitchcockian situations pitting them against not just adults, but family members. While the pitch-black world of “Thoroughbreds” is decidedly unfamiliar, the performers, especially Taylor-Joy (who, after startling audiences in “The Witch” and “Split,” continues to find new creepy crevices to inhabit), make us believe in the soulless alternative reality.
A WRINKLE IN TIME [PG] B-
As someone who has never read Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel, I can only imagine that the story’s “unfilmmable” nature came down to a dizzying blend on science fiction specificity and fantasy elements attributed to Meg (Storm Reid), the young protagonist who embarks on a quest to save her father (Chris Pine), a scientist lost somewhere in the far reaches of the galaxy. Director Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) creates a positive message-based adventure about trusting in yourself and the idea of inclusivity, but I found myself longing for more of the wonky science aspects that might truly inspire young audiences to dial in to technology. In its place, we get a collection of otherworldly mentors (Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling) with unbelievable powers.