House Calls: TV's Sympathetic Serial Killer Cuts Through Narrative Fat In "Dexter: The Fifth Season"

This week's slate of DVD/Blu-ray releases also includes Jane Eyre, John Carpenter's The Ward, and Priest.

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Reviews by Matt Barone (@mbarone)

Dexter: The Fifth Season

Coolest extra: Interviews with the show’s cast, including Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, and Julia Stiles (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: Dexter, Showtime’s addictive and entertaining yet consistently flawed serial killer drama, roared into its fifth season on a shocking high. With the—SPOILER ALERT—slaying of Dex’s wife, Rita (Julie Benz), punching both the character and viewers in the gut at the end of Season Four, the wait for Season Five was a long, impatient one. Would seeing his spouse’s corpse soaking in a blood-filled bathtub send him into a depression, or, even better for gore fiends, on an unstoppable killing spree, taking out both innocents and his usual murderer targets? And would Dexter’s producers finally realize that Michael C. Hall’s fascinating lead is one of about two interesting characters on the show, meaning they should fall back on the lame subplots?

As for Dexter himself, he finds a new protégé, Lumen (played quite well by Julia Stiles), who gives the Robin Hood of mass murderers a newfound sense of purpose in the wake of Rita’s death. The fifth season hinges upon their mission to dish out homicidal payback to a crew of sexual deviants who nearly added Lumen to their growing list of cute female cadavers. Whenever focused on Hall and Stiles, Dexter’s fifth run sizzles, adding deeper complexities to the show’s demented psychosis.

But, much to the season’s detriment, all of bloodstain analyst Dex’s fellow Miami P.D. colleagues get disposable conflicts of their own. His sister, Deb (the strong Jennifer Carpenter), once again starts having sex with a fellow officer, this time Dex’s arch nemesis, Quinn (Desmond Harrington), and her rocky romance goes nowhere. There’s also an insipid storyline involving Agent Batista’s jealousy over significant other LaGuerta’s (Lauren Velez) retirement fund—you’ll wish that Dexter could kill the show’s writing staff for crimes against interesting narratives.

Despite its rampant inefficiencies, though, Dexter remains one of television’s most compelling shows, and its problematic fifth season includes enough highs to counter the lows. Showtime’s bloody good drama returns in early October, and, by the looks of the recently unveiled Season Six teaser, it’s ready to introduce viewers to a slew of new characters—hopefully they’re far removed from Season Five’s storytelling follies.

Buy it now: Dexter: The Fifth Season


Jane Eyre

Coolest extra: “A Look Inside Jane Eyre” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: Admit it, most guys would rather stare at a Rosie O’Donnell Playboy spread than read classic works of pre-Victorian and full-on Victorian literature. Unless it’s for an English class assignment, picking up a copy of any random Jane Austen novel isn’t a typical young man’s top priority, but, truth be told, such narrow-minded dudes show a considerable dearth in both sense and sensibilities (and if you don’t get that pun, you’ve clearly never stepped foot inside a Barnes & Noble). Books like Pride And Prejudice aren’t billed as masterworks for no good reason—they’re dense and emotionally potent reads.

Arguably the most fascinating of all 19th century English lit is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a love story that delicately meshes romance with Gothic horror, an unsettling atmosphere, and an unpredictable air of sweet macabre. There have been countless film adaptations, but the latest, director Cary Fukanaga’s follow-up to his astounding 2008 debut, Sin Nombre, is hands-down one of the best. And that’s because Fukanaga, a talented filmmaker with a keen eye for attractive darkness, effectively captures the aforementioned unease of Bronte’s original 1847 book.

Mia Wasikowska (gifted star of Tim Burton’s dreadful Alice In Wonderland) is a knockout as the titular Jane, a former boarding school whipping girl who starts a new job as governess (an in-house teacher of sorts for a rich man’s kids) to a little girl in the castle of a Mr. Rochester (X-Men: First Class standout Michael Fassbender); there, she and Rochester fall in love, a doomed connection that leads to moments of melancholic bliss, sudden heartbreak, and a disturbing plot twist that’s milked for the utmost creepiness by Fukanaga. For evoking a mood that’s more Edgar Allen Poe than Jane Austen, Jane Eyre deserves your eyes. It's our kind of costume drama.

Buy it now: Jane Eyre


The Ward

Coolest extra: Audio commentary by director John Carpenter (DVD/Blu-ray)

Complex says: After a year-long hiatus from feature filmmaking, horror legend John Carpenter returned with a soft clank early last month with The Ward, his unceremoniously released, theoretical comeback movie. Genre heads who came of age as horror fans through Carpenter classics like Halloween, The Fog, and Escape From New York hoped to leave Ward screenings with a resounding “Welcome back!” Instead, due to the derivative flick’s all-around lifelessness, the common utterances were more in the tone of “Why’d you even bother?”

Carpenter, a director once known for having a singular touch, treads through a litany of horror movie clichés here, from ripping off the violent, moaning ghosts of recent Japanese horror (The Grudge, A Tale Of Two Sisters) to steamrolling into an obvious, overused final twist with the excitability of Agatha Christie’s corpse. The Ward feels like the worst kind of paycheck job, not in any way a project that Carpenter took on for its artistic merits, and that’s a major bummer for the man’s longtime supporters; i.e., anyone who calls his or herself a horror fanatic.

Fighting valiantly to upgrade Carpenter’s symphony of cheap jump scares is a talented cast of young actresses, including co-stars Danielle Panabaker and Lyndsy Fonseca, who probably signed on for Carpenter’s name—joke’s on them. Amber Heard, trying her best to add gravitas to an otherwise hollow flick, stars as a mental patient who’s sequestered to an asylum’s private ward, in 1966, where her fellow loony birds start dying off gruesomely. But, unsurprisingly, the guards and on-site doctor (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) don’t acknowledge a damn thing.

If those last two sentences haven’t telegraphed exactly where screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s hackneyed script leads, you’ve clearly ignored every other sanitarium film ever made, including the infinitely superior Shutter Island. You’ve probably spent more time watching great horror pics, such as Carpenter’s earlier output, perhaps. Our advice: Keep it that way.

Buy it now: The Ward



Coolest extra: “The Blood Frontier: Creating The World Of Priest” featurette (DVD); Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception trailer (Blu-ray only)

Complex says: What’s somehow even more unoriginal than John Carpenter’s The Ward? Might we cite Priest, the latest collaborative shit-storm from actor Paul Bettany (who should know better) and director Scott Stewart (who needs an intervention). Their previous team-up, last year’s unendurably bad Legion, cast Bettany as the archangel Michael, a holy freedom fighter of sorts who tries to protect a group of people from God’s evil, cheap-looking army of CGI monster—yup, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds. But Legion is The Exorcist when compared to Priest, though, a shameless crock-pot stuffed with tired horror tropes, out-of-place western elements, and nonsensical action sequences.

Based on a South Korean graphic novel series, Priest is the kind of high-concept exercise in fantastical insanity that should never leave the comic book world—it’s too scatterbrained to work as a narrative feature, and too obvious in its pilfering of better films to not broadcast its idea thefts in a movie format. Bettany looks absolutely bored (or is it ashamed?), playing a spiritual warrior who breaks a code of peace with vampires to save his young niece (Lily Collins) from the bloodsuckers. To do so, Priest (that’s Bettany’s character’s name, mind you) engages in incoherent fisticuffs with anonymous vamps, blows up runaway trains, handles motorcycle stunts, and gets upstaged in fight sequences by co-star Maggie Q.

Priest looks fine enough, with a colorful and lavish visual sense that works overtime in trying to emulate a graphic novel aesthetic. But, like a paint-by-numbers illustration, it’s without a creative soul, existing as nothing more than a treat for the eyes. For the brain, though, it’s a lazy trick.

Buy it now: Priest

Reviews by Matt Barone (@mbarone)

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