Capsule reviews for Feb. 17

American Fable

This low-key thriller is never more than mildly chilling or unsettling, but provides an example of how ambition and atmosphere can help overcome muddled storytelling. It takes place in the 1980s and follows a fledgling farmer (Kip Pardue), whose socially awkward young daughter (Peyton Kennedy) befriends a stranger (Richard Schiff) imprisoned in a nearby silo. However, secrets about the man’s identity and motives prompt a sinister revenge plot. The screenplay by rookie director Anne Hamilton has a few intriguing twists to mask its contrivances — and it avoids becoming too heavy-handed about the plight of the American farmer. Meanwhile, her filmmaking is appropriately stylish yet restrained. (Not rated, 96 minutes).


Fist Fight

Cyberbullying might be all the rage these days, but two teachers agree to settle their feud the old-fashioned way in this lackluster variation on Three O’Clock High. A timid high-school English teacher (Charlie Day) inadvertently causes a hot-tempered colleague (Ice Cube) to be fired on the last day of school — amid a bevy of senior pranks — leading to the titular after-school challenge along with a social-media frenzy. Instead of a timely satire on the burdens of teachers in contemporary public schools, the film defaults to low-brow gags that feel completely detached from reality. There are some big laughs amid the predictable build-up to the fracas. (Rated R, 91 minutes).


From Nowhere

Recent headlines have added a layer of urgency to this otherwise modest drama about immigrants chasing the American Dream. In this case, the bittersweet film follows a trio of undocumented teenagers from different backgrounds attending high school in the Bronx — a Guinean boy (Mallory McCree), a Peruvian girl (Raquel Castro) and a Dominican girl (Octavia Chavez-Richmond). As they tackle cultural issues in their everyday lives, they also encounter plenty of bureaucratic red tape with immigration officials. What it lacks in technical polish and unique context, the film compensates with heartfelt performances from its leads and gritty insight into its characters. It’s easy to root for them. (Not rated, 89 minutes).



Some outtakes from Blair Witch iPhone fan fiction might as well comprise this amateurish micro-budget horror exercise that’s more consistently cheesy than frightening. Using the tired found-footage conceit, the film tracks an emotionally fragile New Orleans woman (Samantha Stewart) during her California vacation to visit a cousin (Ruth Reynolds), only to realize that some sinister family secrets have followed her. After rambling through some bad accents, annoying female bonding and a Ron Jeremy cameo, the film sends its lead character literally to Hell, at which point at least some creativity kicks in. Unfortunately, it’s more gimmicky than scary. And little of it makes any sense. (Not rated, 84 minutes).


You’re Killing Me Susana

It would be easy to dismiss this low-budget Mexican romantic comedy for its broad approach and familiar narrative structure, yet there’s a perceptive cross-cultural texture beneath the surface that causes it to rise above typical relationship squabbles. It follows a fledgling telenovela star (Gael Garcia Bernal) with a history of infidelity and alcoholism whose wife (Veronica Echegui) leaves him one night without explanation. He quietly tracks Susana to an Iowa university where she’s pursuing her writing dream, although he’s now an outsider, both physically and emotionally, seeking redemption and reconciliation. Solid performances cause the film’s character-driven moments to resonate beyond its more formulaic trappings. (Not rated, 102 minutes).