Four Four-Letter Reviews: Dune, Lamb, Maid, and Mass

Dune – a top-notch adaptation

This scene is especially intense, easily my favorite part of the film

Though I haven’t read the book myself, I have a friend who’s a superfan, and they were thoroughly impressed by the film. So I’m led to believe it’s a solid adaptation. It’s certainly an epic experience – the production design is breathtaking: the costumes, vistas, special effects, the Hans Zimmer soundtrack… And if you’re worried about the plot being too complicated, don’t panic, the movie is easy to follow without being simplistic or overly expository.

The only two complaints I have, which are minor and understandable given the nature of the story, are the runtime (2.5 hours) and the fact that part two hasn’t been released yet. Otherwise, the movie is superb – I can’t remember the last movie I saw where the audience was dead silent the entire time. Not out of boredom, but out of awe, almost reverence, for the grand scale of the story. #DesertPower

Lamb – an unacceptable concept


Spoilers ahead!!

Lamb is about a family raising a child who’s half-lamb, half-human. Which is creepy as all get out. It takes a little too long to build to that reveal, but when it does, it’s cringe-inducing. Kudos to the special effects and makeup team, the child is beyond unnerving. Even when their presence is played for laughs, there’s a pervasive sense of A24’s signature discomfort throughout the film.

And then in the last five minutes, the discomfort turns into flat-out absurdity, as an ugly, hairy, ram-human hybrid shows up with a shotgun and kills one of the humans. It’s jarring to the point of stupidity, and it completely deflates the genuinely creepy buildup. As uncomfortable as the lamb child is, at least the ambience is consistently unnverving. The ending was like a cymbal clanging, and while it’ll certainly stick with you (and hopefully become a meme), it’s so bizarre that all the previous drama is regrettably reduced to a joke. Ah well, hopefully The Tragedy of Macbeth will make up for it.

Maid – an emotional roller-coaster

What an intense experience. Maid is a 10-part Netflix miniseries that’s all about abuse. Substance abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse, generational abuse… It centers around Alex (Margaret Qualley, The Leftovers) who is escaping an abusive relationship. But she quickly starts to question whether the abuse was real, and whether she deserves to even seek help if her ex wasn’t being physical. In other words, what level of abuse crosses the line, and when can she feel justified in seeking help?

This is just one of the complex themes that’s explored in the first episode, and the show continues to broach equally messy, difficult, realistic topics. I’ll avoid spoilers except to say that the ending is cathartic, and the final episode actually feels final – not like a shameless setup for a second season. Story aside, the cast is incredible (particularly BJ Harrison as the DV shelter manager), and everything about the series works perfectly. It’s one of the few shows that’s ever made me cry – really cry – and I can’t recommend it enough.

Mass – nearly flawless

I had very high hopes for Mass, and for the most part, it delivered. It’s a small-scale, high-concept film: two sets of parents meet to discuss a school shooting. One set of parents lost their son in the shooting; the other parents’ son was the shooter. And the majority of the film is the four of them in a room, just talking. Venting. Processing. Emoting. Blaming. Listening. Ignoring. Understanding. Hurting. And eventually healing.

It’s an understatement to say that the four leads are phenomenal. It’s rare to see such strong performances with no weak links. The interplay between them is heart-breaking, and the dialogue is so plausible that you forget you’re watching a movie. It feels like somebody taped this conversation, it’s that authentic.

What’s even more compelling is the movie’s unflinching sympathy for both sets of parents. We realize how one-sided the debate about school shootings tends to be, and after hearing what the parents of the shooter have been through, you can’t help but empathize with their predicament. A different predicament than the parents of the victims to be sure – and the movie certainly doesn’t downplay their suffering – but the parents of the shooter feel loneliness, hate, and ostracism on top of wrestling with the fact that the child they raised became a murderer.

It’s a lot to process, and the movie gives them space to wrestle with their feelings openly and uncomfortably. But it also allows the parents of the victim to grieve and vent their own frustrations. To veer off into discussions of politics, the nature of psychopathy, memories of their son’s childhood, the final moments when he died… To try and find closure amidst the senseless tragedy.

The only thing holding the film back from perfection (and I say this with love, Fran Kranz, but it needs to be said) – everything outside of the four parents talking is bad. There’s a ten-minute opening setup with some of the most awkward, rambling, unnecessarily cringe-inducing dialogue I’ve ever seen. We see characters setting up the room, which is a waste of time that almost ruins the conversation that they’re preparing for. And after the conversation ends, we cut back to those awkward characters for the last ten minutes, and every time they’re on screen, it’s terrible.

I’d love to see a cut of the film that focuses exclusively on the four main characters. No filler, maybe one other cast member to escort them to the room, and that’s it. Do that, and I think you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands.