John Tucker Must Die (2006)

It irks me to have recommended a complex film to someone who watched it while distracted. I know sometimes you want to veg. Well, then here you go:

If you want something in the background, this one fits the bill. I first saw it at a girl’s night (board games and booze) with a group of chatty gals. No hard won victory, no poignant message; just goofy fun at the expense of a cheating high school boyfriend caught by his multiple side chicks, who team up to plot revenge. This movie is the perfect guilty pleasure because it’s pure fun.

The Mermaid (2016)

Revenge is a dish best served salty and wet. Impressive effects enhance a hyper-stylized modern fish tale. With the same wry disposition as Kung Fu Hustle, a young mermaid finds herself in a love triangle as she unexpectedly develops feelings for the businessman she’s been tasked with seducing then assassinating. Consequently, a battle ensues between her aquatic family and her new boyfriend’s business partners, in whose lucrative waters they’re dying.

The Foreigner (2017)

The depth of the story drew me in and made me want to follow the main character further. Too bad this wasn’t a TV pilot! To cast a movie that could so easily have been yet another formulaic action flick was no small feat; actors we’ve seem before were wisely utilized for their specialty while being given enough room to break out of their characatures. Moreover, their experience and professionalism allowed the seamless fusion of cultures to tell a story that’s a genuinely fresh perspective on the balance between Justice and Revenge.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

If you don’t own a copy, you’ve either forgotten about this movie or have never seen it. This is arguably each lead’s most famous role of their career. And for good reason: when an disparate team of jewel theives vie for their loot, Deception is the rule of law in what amounts to The Bermuda Triangle of relationships. Love and lust notwithstanding, greed and revenge bring out a range of emotions– and even slapstick– in those subjected to the whims of manipulative Wanda, a woman so dynamic, a beloved pet is named after her.

Terminal (2018)

Brace yourself for a trip down a rabbit hole where each character is equally mad as a hatter. This dystopian Noir has all the essential cinematic elements (e.g. literary references, an anonymous setting with faint whiffs of Americana), which masterfully serve the plot rather than the other way around, to the extent the multiple nods to various familiar stories feel as though every influence has led to—and culminates in—this dark comic come to life. Restraint and consistency keep it from drifting into the cartoonish realm of flat caricatures, fizzling story lines and sloppy plot holes. As the king said to Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Hard Candy (2005)

Like its title, this film isn’t something you’d likely choose but depending on who’s offering, might accept. Even if you aren’t prompted to buy it for yourself it was nevertheless enjoyable for the duration of its existence. In my case, it was chosen for me by a movie buff, of whose watch night I was a guest. They knew I never would’ve picked this out for myself. While I wouldn’t classify it as a story I’m interested in revisiting I don’t feel my time was wasted.

Unfortunately, what makes this film unique and interesting is unmarketable to general audiences, supervised or not: both the premise and subsequent plot explore a subject that’s taboo but shouldn’t be. That’s not to say everyone should see it; the exploitation of children is a delicate subject. This particular story happens to focus on cleverly devised revenge by way of poetic justice, which may be the only way to stir viewers to talk about it rather than unintentionally inciting their curiosity or accidentally making light of such a heinous offense. The result is riveting and effective.

The Good Neighbor (2016)

Counter to its title, each main character is anything but courteous. High schooler, Ethan enlists the help of his techie classmate, Sean to prank their reclusive, cranky old neighbor by staging a haunting that will be secretly filmed for a school project. Initially, Sean agrees to Ethan’s plan to watch their neighbor’s reactions to occurrences (e.g. slamming screen door), which they control remotely. To both the pranksters’ disappointment, the response is minimal. As the incidences intensify, it becomes clear that Ethan has a deep emotional investment in psychologically torturing the old man. A falling out between the two prompts Sean to demand his equipment back but he’s essentially blackmailed into continuing with the experiment since it was all purchased on his credit card. When Ethan breaks in to adjust a camera toppled by the old man’s cat, he experiences his own unexplainable occurrence.

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

As a preemptive strike against seeing another round of forehead vein-throbbing performances from a circle of actors with a knack for intensity, I deliberately ignored this movie at the theater. Much to my chagrin, when I watched it out of desperation for something new and available, I found myself moved by the struggle of grief and the realization that it hits everyone differently, often creating tragic separation from the very people, who should be drawn closer by it. The formidable ensemble is in capable hands, which keeps them under the reign of the story at hand. Somber, thoughtful and engaging till the end.