by Ian Morton
After the blockbuster season has been and gone, September is often known as a rather quiet month in the cinematic calendar. With as many schedule changes as the weather, it’s the time of year that we can expect to see either the dregs of a would-be summer smash or the million to one Oscar hopeful find its audience. While the box office king is anyone’s guess, the humble thriller can almost always be found duelling it out for the top spot.
Peppered with a string of hits, the ninth month of the year has arguably given us some of the best cinema over the last decade. Sicario, Hell Or Highwater, Prisoners, Wind River and The Guest have all shimmered in the dying September light and scored high with audiences and critics alike. While not quite reaching those same heights, Paul Feig adds one more to the list with an intriguing – if not slightly flawed – entry to ‘thrill-tember’ (copyright pending).
Perfect mum, Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) finds herself at the centre of a spiralling conspiracy as her newly crowned best friend, Emily (Blake Lively) goes missing without a trace. As our protagonist is pulled deeper down the rabbit hole, its not long before the intrepid single mother finds herself facing the ghosts of her own past while investigating the haunted tunnels of someone else’s.
Known mostly for his successes in comedy, writer/director Paul Feig successfully treads unfamiliar territory as he attempts to blend some of his signature style with a completely different genre of story. The opening act is a text book display of intrigue and mystery, underpinned with the bitey, no holds barred one-liners the director is known for. This mixed approach is perfect at drawing you in, making you immediately warm to the central characters as a sense of dread builds casually in the background.
Propping the production up nicely is the superb casting of our confident heroines. Taking advantage of her ‘girl next door’ persona, Kendrick plays the everywoman role with the same charm that has won over many an audience in the past. Lively on the other hand is relentless, chewing the scenery at every given moment and providing the perfect spice to Kendricks sweet protagonist. In theory, these characters aren’t too dissimilar to roles played by the actresses in the past but it’s an intriguing combination that is unlike any duo seen before.
For everything A Simple Favour does well; the unnerving atmosphere, tension building narrative and interspersed comedy, things begin to unravel slightly once the third act begins to take shape. Seemingly forgetting about all that came before, the tone needlessly shifts towards the slapstick as the finale plays rather like an offshoot of Bridesmaids than the staunch climax it deserves. Leaving you half expecting to see Melissa McCarthy wrap things up before the credits begin to roll, it’s a disappointing end to a movie that did everything right to begin with.
Regardless of the dodgy ending, it’s refreshing to see a director move from their comfort zone and try something new. As a sum of its parts, A Simple Favour has a lot to be admired and is more than worthy of a watch. Well staged, perfectly cast and dressed in an intriguing premise, it ticks many of the right boxes, but unfortunately disappoints with an ending that never quite garners the satisfaction it deserves.