I don’t want to bury the lede, so let me get this out of the way: All Is Lost is a terrible movie.

Each year as I do this awards thing, there are movies I can’t stand that are nearly universally loved by critics (All Is Lost is 87 on metacritic and 94% on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this) and which also receive awards love (All Is Lost was nominated for Best Feature at the Spirit Awards).  Obviously I’m right and everyone else is wrong, but as I browsed through some positive reviews of the film, I think I’m beginning to better understand why.

All Is Lost is an incredibly simple tale.  Robert Redford struggles to survive as the small boat he is manning in the ocean becomes increasingly unusable and he is forced to the life raft.  That’s pretty much it.  There’s virtually no dialogue or subplots.  Simply Redford trying to stay alive as his situation gets progressively worse. Praise for the movie seems to mainly focus around two ideas.  First, Redford’s performance in this one man show.  To me, the love here is a function of Redford essentially being the sole actor in the movie and surprise that even at his relatively advanced age, Redford still has it.  Redford is a terrific actor (bold statement, I know), but I don’t think this performance is among his best. He’s incredibly restrained for almost the entire movie, reduced to futzing around with equipment or his vessel.  I’m not suggesting that a great performance has to have a ton of emoting, or that Redford doesn’t still have an engaging presence.  I just think we should adjust the degree of difficulty multiplier appropriately.

The other reason people generally like this movie (again paraphrasing from a collection of reviews) is its illustration of man’s drive to survive.  Some critics find not knowing whether Redford will survive the ordeal to be quite gripping.  Often some larger meaning of humanity’s struggle in general is placed on the character here.  To summarize, my argument is that the main reason critics appear to like the movie is the depiction of  a man desperately trying to stay alive.

This justification makes me unreasonably angry. Because you know what else is a story of a man desperately trying to stay alive?  Pretty much every slasher movie ever made, the majority of horror movies and about half of action movies.  Sure, this is obviously a much sparser, stripped-down take.  But I fail to see how a lack of plot or dialogue or virtually anything else interesting would work in this movie’s favor.

Multiple reviewers praise the action of the film (for example, A.O. Scott writes the film is: “an action movie in the most profound and exalted sense of the term”).  These critics are, for lack of a better word, lying.  Or, at least, completely unable to appreciate action films.  Because this one nearly put me to sleep multiple times and the few action sequences were totally uninspired.  And not that I care, but if you want to go there, this movie featured as many plot holes and implausibilities as the average action film derided for such.

I like it when people like movies.  But I get very frustrated when it feels like someone likes a movie not for the movie itself, but for what they project onto the movie.  And, you know, I get it, we can argue intent all day long, but I’d have to agree that writer/director J.C. Chandor was more likely to be making a statement on man and survival than whatever straight-to-DVD teen slasher movie you’d throw at me.  But, for me, that’s not the point.  This film is about a guy doing whatever he can to stay alive.  The teen slasher movie is about a guy or a guy or a group of people doing whatever they can to stay alive.  The latter may be more hokey, feature poorer acting, and have worse special effects, sure.  But if you are saying you like All Is Lost for the narrative, I don’t think it is reasonable to not like the teen slasher movie.

Obviously I’m being a little facetious here.  All Is Lost‘s deliberate, measured pace allows much more space for in-movie reflection on the human spirit, where a slasher film is an engrossing escape for the duration of the movie (at least, if it is good).  But I maintain it is a little unreasonable to spend time after the former thinking about the depiction without doing the same for the latter.  And regardless, if you are going to like this movie because it gets you thinking about humanity, aren’t you better off saving the twelve bucks and two hours of your life you’d spend watching the film and think about the will to survive on your own time?

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