Elisabeth Moss turns 37 today and in the past decade or so has shown she’s a force to be reckoned with. From Mad Men as secretary turned copywriter Peggy to the enslaved Offred/June in The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss just always impresses, especially on TV. Though she is equally as excellent in movies too.So here are my best wishes to this powerhouse.
- Lupita Nyong’o
- Winston Duke
- Shahadi Wright Joseph
- Evan Alex
- Elisabeth Moss
- Tim Heidecker
A sophomore horror from Jordan Peele after the success of Get Out, Us may not reach the heights of its predecessor but it undoubtedly has something to say and is bolstered by fine acting.
As a child, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) was traumatised when she wandered into the hall of mirrors at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. She encountered what seemed like a doppelgänger but was never able to bring herself to tell her parents what happened. As an adult, Adelaide is now married to the affable Gabe Wilson( Winston Duke) and has two children, daughter Zora( Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason(Evan Alex). They are visiting Santa Cruz once more so they can see the wine-swilling and discontented Kitty(Elisabeth Moss) and Josh(Tim Heidecker), both friends of the couple. Adelaide has never confided in anyone about what happened all those years ago and is unsurprisingly apprehensive. While there, Jason wanders off which really terrifies Adelaide as it brings back bad memories and they return to their holiday home. A series of other coincidences alarm Adelaide and just as she is confessing to Gabe about her trauma , an eerie sight comes into view. To the horror of the Wilsons, they discover the figures outside are their doppelgängers . Menaced by their sinister counterparts, they are thrown into terror. And it appears that doppelgängers are not just for the Wilsons, but for many others too. Desperate to survive and protect her family, Adelaide must attempt to outwit the doubles and figure out their origins before it’s too late.
Jordan Peele is clearly going for something more ambitious here and displays immense talent too. Not every decision he makes is good, but he is largely at home with this kind of work. In relation to the highlight that was Get Out, Us falls short. But Get Out set a very high standard that it would be impossible to reach that level of success. On the praise front, Us most certainly keeps you glued with an unusual rhythm and the fact that we aren’t spoon fed information and is open to interpretation. Peele has you sympathise and get to know the Wilsons before all manner of hell breaks loose, which is commendable especially in the case of Adelaide. I don’t think Us will be a movie for everyone as it’s horror but with a difference. I’m firmly in the middle as of now, but I think the positives are outweighing the negatives.
Once you settle into the groove of the movie, Us begins to reveal its themes and message. And while it bites off more than it can chew, I was impressed by the allusions it made to the oppressive nature of society and duality. This is backed up by symbolism that eagle eyed viewers will eat up as it all means something. The humour gets a tad excessive and I would have appreciated Peele reigning it in a bit more. I found that some laughs overshadowed what Us was going for and didn’t really help. But the horror and off kilter imagery stands out for a start and continues throughout Us. It has been more than a bit overhyped, but definitely has its merits more than its faults. I feel that Us is one of those movies that will improve when watched again as there is mystery there and I’m sure parts that we might have missed. So watch this space as my mixed opinion may change in the future as I think more on it. There is some chewing the cud to do that’s for sure and certain.The score is pretty stellar at conveying the overall eerie and downright spooky nature of Us, while a well chosen soundtrack is in full swing too with many a highlight of juxtaposition.
The cast do wonders, especially considering each is playing two people. Lupita Nyong’o is the biggest standout with two fantastic and very convincing performances. While Adelaide is frightened but eventually strong, her doppelgänger is sinister and unnerving. She finely judges both roles and it’s simply amazing how much she puts into both, from the fierce look in Adelaide’s eyes to the skin-crawling voice of her double. It takes a strong actress to convince as two very different characters, but Lupita Nyong’o is more than up to the challenge. Nyong’o deserves nothing but praise for her accomplishment here which is two completely different performances executed handsomely. Winston Duke injects a lot of humour into the role of affable father and husband, he does get some of the best lines and runs with them with fine comic timing. He also provides a hulking presence as his creepy double. Usually kids in horror movies fall into two categories; believable and annoying nuisance. Thankfully Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are in the former category and hold their own against more experienced co-stars. In a small but memorable role, Elisabeth Moss conveys the dissatisfaction and vanity of her character with ease and commitment. Then she turns it up a few notches as a nefarious but strangely tragic double. Tim Heidecker supplies good support too as her husband.
A bit overly ambitious but nonetheless creepy and with many messages among the horror, Us gets by on atmosphere and excellent acting, particularly from Lupita Nyong’o.
2010's, Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd, Cherry Jones, Elisabeth Moss, John Carroll Lynch, Joseph Fiennes, Madeline Brewer, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella, O.T. Fagbenle, Samira Wiley, Sydney Sweeney, The Handmaid's Tale, The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2, Yvonne Strahovski
Expanding on from Margaret Atwood’s novel and opening up the universe created in Season 1, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale provides immensely disturbing viewing for us. It’s gruelling but so hard to tear your eyes away from it. Caution, spoilers may well follow.
We pick up where Season 1 left off, with a pregnant Offred( Elisabeth Moss)being placed in a van and heading for an uncertain future. As it opens, she along with the other Handmaid’s who refused to stone one of their own, are taken to Fenway Park. They believe they will be hanged, but it’s a cruel act of manipulation by the powers that be. Thrown into gruelling torture by Aunt Lydia(Ann Dowd), it looks as if it’s more cruelty for all of them. More defiant than ever, Offred takes on the regime with attitude and stays it out in the hope that help will appear. Eventually, Offred is spared as Aunt Lydia discovers she is with child and exempt from punishment. With help from Nick( Max Minghella) , who is the father of her child, and the resistance, she manages to escape from her captivity. Shedding her Handmaid’s life and proclaiming herself as June, she has to contend with knowing that in order to properly escape she may have to leave the daughter she had taken from her.
June may attempt escape to the border, but it’s short lived and she is forced back into becoming the Handmaid Offred. Nick tries to help her but is sidelined by being “gifted” a wife named Eden(Sydney Sweeney). She’s a pious girl and seemingly a true believer for what Gilead stands for, but also sets up events in a tragic way. There Serena Joy(Yvonne Strahovski) is starting to scoff ever so slightly at the regime herself, but is very unpredictable in her attitudes towards Offred/June. Commander Fred( Joseph Fiennes) is his usual hypocritical self and putting on his show of self-righteousness for all to see. Meanwhile, Emily( Alexis Bledel), formerly Ofglen is in The Colonies for her disobedience. Here she must work day and night among contaminating waste with death always a shadow over her shoulder. She is joined by disturbed Janine(Madeline Brewer), who doesn’t quite understand the situation at hand after everything that’s been done to her. We also catch up with June’s husband Luke(O.T. Fagbenle) and best friend Moira(Samira Wiley), who escaped to Canada and are grappling with their own demons and survivor’s guilt. June may be broken along the way, but her desire to fight comes back gradually as she is once more asked to contend with surviving the regime and. Things take many turns as she approaches her due date.
The first season covered the novel, so with this sophomore effort, the producers and writers are going beyond the source material in different ways. And they pay off very well, though I’m sure many where unsure of whether it would pan out successfully. Certain parts from the novel that were absent from the debut season are present, but Season 2 is largely its own beast that takes the story in different directions. Thematically, Season 2 delves into guilt and the price of rebellion. June must contend with her actions having consequences on others and the devastation that fighting for what is just can bring. Duality features heavily, most prominently with June/Offred and the constant struggle of the two. It’s like a constant battle of which side will win out as the regime digs its claws into her and forces her to make a choice. Once more, the visuals are strongly composed and extremely evocative. Particularly striking are the oranges and burnt golds of The Colonies; a barren landscape almost in a permanent dusk where those who oppose Gilead are enslaved and made to work among toxic waste. It’s so cinematic and disturbing. Plus the ever-increasing close-ups provide the uncomfortable ferocity and horror of Gilead and how much of a toll it takes on the characters. Flashbacks detail the rise of Gilead and expand on the characters as they reflect on life before the takeover. June’s voice over may be limited a bit more this season, but whenever it’s there, it sure as hell does the job at capturing her inner feelings.
Just like the debut season, this second season is chock full of shocking moments. There are plenty that truly stick with you for their brutality, disturbing nature and power. The mock execution scene where the Handmaid’s are rounded up like cattle, have their mouths covered with muzzles and have nooses placed around their necks in what they believe to be their last moments is a stark and traumatising opening. Set to the sound of Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’, it’s hard not to hold your breath. A ceremony where the Guardians of Gilead are awarded with wives who are a lot younger and basically children is chilling and totally horrifying. One of the biggest moments of sadness and emotion is June being reunited with her daughter briefly, before she is ripped from her arms once more. It’s a gut punch to the system. And in another shocking moment, never have the repeated words “We’ve been sent good weather” been so devastating and alarmingly creepy. If anything, Season 2 ups the ante on violence and suffering. Many have criticised the increase in violence but I think The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t doing it for exploitation value, but for a cutting and harsh impact on the viewer. It’s an undoubtedly tough series to endure but it’s ultimately worth it.
Yet for all the hurt and anguish heaped upon us, hope is mixed in there in doses. The last shot hints at searing determination and immense changes to come for the characters and story. And boy did I dig it, though it will definitely divide many. My only little gripes are that some of the latter stages feel a tad rushed in the scheme of things and some things don’t go anywhere. But this is a tiny flaw in what is otherwise an arresting and disturbing series.
Elisabeth Moss is once more on powerful form; bringing out the sadness, rebellion, grief, guilt and survivor of June/Offred. The character is very much in two halves here and the strong Moss plays both of them wonderfully and with skill. There’s the fighter side of June that scoffs and will do anything to escape and then there’s Offred, the subservient vessel. Again Moss and her eyes are marvels at telegraphing varying emotions almost simultaneously. Yvonne Strahovski also continues to excellently convey the complex Serena Joy, who is by turns despicable bitch and perturbed woman realising her role in her own unhappiness. It’s a balancing act that she walks exquisitely. A slithering nastiness covers Joseph Fiennes and his interpretation of Commander Fred, who is not above abusing his power for his own benefit and spouts lies at every turn. He really becomes very vile and hateful this season and Fiennes is very adept at playing to that. Ann Dowd is once again a big standout, essaying the part of Aunt Lydia. While still brutal and very vicious, the chinks of humanity begin to come through and you see that she does have a care for the Handmaid’s, even if her treatment of them is abhorrent. Dowd is just so endlessly watchable in the role. Max Minghella is quietly conflicted as Nick, who must contend with his love for June and staying alive in the heat of the regime.
Alexis Bledel is seen a lot more than last season and capitalises on it with a stunning performance. Those blue eyes of hers are deployed in forms of rage, resistance and tragedy as we see the impact Gilead has had on her mind. She’s still a fighter at the end of the day and Bledel plays to that strength spectacularly. Madeline Brewer also returns as the haunted Janine; her wild eyes and strange mannerisms are all in order and successful. One of the season’s best weapons is the appearance of the youthful Sydney Sweeney. She plays the seemingly pious and brainwashed wife of Nick, whose naivety and sincerity is worrying but sets in motion different and irrevocable things. Sweeney is fascinating to watch as she registers that there is more to Eden than meets the eye. Although their capacities are reduced this season, both O.T. Fagbenle and Samira Wiley give great account of survivors guilt and the process of change. I just wished I saw a bit more of them. In cameo parts, Marisa Tomei as a punished Wife, John Carroll Lynch as a man persecuted for his sexuality and Cherry Jones as June’s fighting mother make their impacts felt. I must say the entire cast where at the top of their game here.
A searing, brutal and memorable series, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale is alarmingly addictive even when it’s unsettling the hell out of you. You just want to know what happens next in the twisted world it so strikingly presents to us.
A hauntingly engrossing, evocative and vivid rendering of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale is compulsive television that presents many terrifying possibilities and ideas that will leave you glued to the screen but shaken. Be warned, spoilers may follow in my review of this season. Plus, I’ve just read that the show has been renewed for a second season which should be interesting.
In a future version of what was North America, the Republic of Gilead has come into power through unjust and harsh means. It rules with totalitarian authority and oppresses all, particularly women. They are divided into various ranks and treated as second class citizens by a male dominated world that uses religion to justify its regime. It is seen as a return to ‘traditional values’ by those in power, but is upheld by extreme brutality. Over the years, birth rates have plummeted and only a handful of women can bear children. Offred(Elisabeth Moss) is a Handmaid who represents the main character. She had a different name and a life before the rise of Gilead, but it is forbidden to talk about it now. She also had a husband named Luke(O.T. Fagbenle) and daughter, who we see was snatched away when they attempted to escape Gilead for the border. We hear her thoughts as she leads us through her terrifying circumstances. The main job of a Handmaid is to provide offspring for the household they are assigned too, as a sexual slave to a high-ranking official known as a Commander. The ceremony is a forceful one in which the women have no choice and are basically victims of institutionalized rape. Earlier, the handmaids are conditioned and brutalised by The Aunts, a group of women who drill into them the horrifying duty they must perform and use violence if disobeyed. Offred is stationed at house of Commander Fred Waterford(Joseph Fiennes). His wife Serena Joy(Yvonne Strahovski) , who was one of the instrumental figures in crafting Gilead, is desperate for a child and often acts in a cold manner to Offred due to her being barren. Navigating her way through this horrible existence, Offred slowly chafes at it and with the memories of her daughter and husband still with her, stiffens her backbone. For she intends to survive the hellish universe and with help from other handmaid’s who are part of a form of resistance, she may just do it. But in this tormented and oppressive world, can anyone truly escape?
Right off the bat, The Handmaid’s Tale is loaded thematic meat and backbone in the most eye-opening way. What definitely strokes the hardest is that the events depicted don’t seem that far removed from genuine reality and can be read as highly topical too. We live in a time where the future could go either way in terms of attitudes and God knows what else, so The Handmaid’s Tale functions as something of a wake up call to many. Themes of female subjugation, physical, sexual and emotional abuse along with rebellion, dictatorship and corrupt power flow like a river in this horrifying but compulsive series. Having Offred be the guiding force of the narrative, particularly her narration, is a well employed tool for framing the show. Often, her voice is at odds with her actions due to the way that the society has forced her into submission. But crucially it places us right into her mindset and how the world is seen through her eyes. We are privy to important information that moves the story along and allows us to be witness to her growing strength and rebellion.
On the visual side, shallow focus is supremely well employed in capturing the conflict of the world and just how much it takes a toll on the much abused women. Offred is the main window into events and intense close-ups that frame her are some of the most piercing moments in this disturbing tale. Bright lighting for exterior shots is one example of a pointed irony that permeates from the series throughout. The blinding sunlight is very much the opposite of what life is like for Offred and her fellow handmaid’s and that juxtaposition is palpably terrifying and cloistered. When inside, only a shaft of light creeps into the spaces which benefits the growing hope inside Offred as well as the dire situation at hand. In fact, irony is one of the shows greatest assets as it horrifies and disturbs with how the world has fallen. From the Handmaid’s being coerced into beating a man supposedly guilty of rape to death and a ceremony of sham for visiting dignitaries, the unfairness and hypocrisy of Gilead knows just how to unnerve the audience and shock with deep intent. The low murmuring of the sinister score echoes throughout the episodes, with a definite haunting quality that is both futuristic and spooky.
Leading the cast is the exceptional Elisabeth Moss as Offred. A mixture of desperation and steely gumption colours the work, with Moss hitting the notes and beats excellently in conveying the situation of a woman trying to persevere in a world of horror. so much is displayed through her eyes- fear, determination, pathos and defiance largely due to the fact that her character is trying to survive a regime that keeps everyone oppressed and silent. Elisabeth Moss has a gift for subtlety that is nonetheless expressive and nuanced, a string in her well armed bow that strikes to the heart of Offred and explores her beautifully. It’s a remarkable piece of acting that highlights just how talented an actress Moss is as she charts a gathering storm of feeling Offred goes through. Joseph Fiennes finds a deep ambiguity in the Commander, who is one of those responsible for the rise of Gilead. He manages to be both creepy and strangely charismatic, you never quite know what to make of him as he is a layered character. Yvonne Strahovski is cruel, cold and ever so desperate behind it all as the melancholy wife of the Commander. Chinks of humanity lie behind her nasty facade of devout righteousness as she knows that she is essentially a prisoner of what she wanted, but she’s best when being vindictive and callous.
Alexis Bledel is another fine addition to the series, essaying a tragedy and alternating will. Playing a seemingly pious Handmaid who is in fact a member of resistance against government, Bledel, much like Moss and her eyes, uses her orbs to enact her varying emotions to amazing degrees. I ask anyone to not feel intense feeling when she is put through the wringer of sadness and possible hope as Bledel is so good at making a very lasting impression. Madeleine Brewer, with alarming and childlike mannerisms, gets to the core of her part, who has been ground into near madness by conditioning and trauma. She has some of the most eventful moments in the series and delivers the goods. On scene-stealing form is Ann Dowd, who makes the absolute most of her time on screen. Starring as one of the Aunts, she is severe, abusive and authoritative. But Dowd goes beyond just the temptation to make her a simple villain by unearthing that she too is somewhat brainwashed by the cause and seriously believes she is doing God’s will. Samira Wiley, with her strong face and intense demeanor, compliments Moss when she appears largely in flashback as her best friend. Her sense of attitude and sarcasm are a welcome relief in a series that is largely dark. Max Minghella is another ambiguous presence, portraying the driver to the Commander who may or may not have bad intentions. He is most explored through his tenuous relationship with Offred, that shows that he’s got some good in him yet we still don’t know whether he is trustworthy or not. O.T. Fagbenle rounds out the cast as the husband of Offred, who appears for a big chunk in flashback. He is a welcome reminder that there was once goodness within man before Gilead totally took over.
A truly disturbing yet completely compelling series that benefits from its execution, visuals and acting, The Handmaid’s Tale truly stays with you for a long time after viewing it.