Combustible Celluloid
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With: Chelsea Gilligan, Shane West, Stephen Lang, Sarah Hay, Annapurna Sriram, Vanessa Williams, Bruce Dern, Sebastian Quinn, Bill Chott, Emmy Perry, Sonja O'Hara, Kerri Brenan, Ellen Toland, Daniel V. Graulau
Written by: Mike Stern
Directed by: Sonja O'Hara
MPAA Rating: R for violent content, some language, drug use and brief nudity
Running Time: 105
Date: 06/17/2022

Mid-Century (2022)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bull House

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This thriller begins promisingly, reveling in architecture and with a stark commentary on misogyny, but at the halfway point it turns silly, relying on stale old cliches and an unsatisfying "twist."

ER doctor Alice (Chelsea Gilligan) and her architect husband Tom (Shane West) hope to repair their struggling marriage during a getaway in a beautiful mid-century home designed by the famous Frederick Banner (Stephen Lang). After poking around, they realize that they are in Banner's actual home.

They fight, and Alice leaves for work, leaving Tom to begin researching the house. He uncovers disturbing information about Banner. Creepy figures begin to lurk in the corners, and a strange woman (Sarah Hay) appears. Everything leads up to the night of the Blood Wolf Moon, and a bizarre ritual that could put Alice in danger.

The opening scene of Mid-Century, set in 1963, slyly demonstrates misogyny at its simplest; a husband brings his wife a gift. She hopes it contains books (Naked Lunch in particular) or a drill, but it's a pair of sexy undies. The husband then makes her try them on. Then, in the present day, Alice and Tom argue about having kids; Alice loves her job and doesn't want them. Tom's reply eerily recalls the 1963 husband: "can you think about me, too?" The villain, then, is a hyper-misogynist, showing its extremes, and offering context.

Director Sonja O'Hara uses the visuals cleverly, showing Banner's particular kind of architecture — a blend of indoor and outdoor spaces, plus creepy paintings of women — to underline her themes. So it's a letdown when the big climactic "ritual" simply forgets it all. The second half feels as if it were lifted from some other movie. The same goes for Tom's fate, which shall go unmentioned, but provides a tool for the big showdown; it, too, feels cheap and betrays the movie's good first half.

One final factor that places Mid-Century more as a trashy Z-grade movie than as a smart, promising indie gem is the up-front advertising of Bruce Dern — who has only a small role in a flashback — as one of the movie's "stars." It's a letdown.

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