Thursday 25 February 2021

The Lawyer by Romas Zabarauskas

In The Lawyer, Lithuanian corporate lawyer Marcus (Eimutis Kvosciauskas) meets a Syrian refugee, Ali (Dogac Yilkiz) on a cam service and travels to Belgrade to meet him and help him escape to Western Europe, while some complicated feelings slowly develop between the two men.

The premise might make you think you are about to watch an issue film, not there would be anything wrong with that but while film is acutely attuned to contemporary social concerns, it is the best kind of social films, one that never forgets about cinema and characterisation as opposed to just serving us a dour lecture, while still putting the focus on the injustice of the world.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Wrong Turn by Mike P. Nelson

In Wrong Turn, a group of teenage friends is hiking the Appalachian trail when their idyllic trip turns into a nightmare as they find themselves stalked and hunted by unseen assailants. As their situation becomes more and more desperate, their fight for survival forces them to challenge and reconsider their moral values.

In the mid 2000s, horror classics remakes were all the rage, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Amityville (2005), Friday the 13th (2009) and a few others of variable quality. Among those came Wrong Turn (2003), an original film despite some familiar tropes that became a beloved minor classic, one that spawned five sequels with diminishing returns.

The new Wrong Turn is neither a sequel nor a remake but a reboot. After a prologue, the action is mostly told in a long flashback and at first the story is fairly close to the first film except that the group of teenagers has been transposed to our era thanks to some  signifiers that are a little too obviously signposted without having much narrative weight.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Broil by Edward Drake

In Broil, Chance Sinclair (Avery Konrad), a troubled teenager, is sent to live with her grandfather in his sprawling mansion after she attacks a classmate who had provoked her. There she begins to realise the extent of her family's power and wealth as well as their monstrous secrets...

It is not that big a spoiler to discuss what the members of the Sinclair family really are, with clues early on such as their aversion to spending too long in the daylight and the daily blood transfusion Chance has to go through due to a "genetic disorder". So kudos to Edward Drake for coming up with a fresh take on the vampire lore.  It is not uncharitable to say that the plot is confusing however. He and co-writer Piper Mars, seemingly filled with ideas, let their enthusiasm get the better of the self-critical judgment and there is just too much going on, too many characters... If only the script had been tightened and allowed audiences to breathe a little.

Friday 12 February 2021

Willy's Wonderland by Kevin Lewis

In Willy's Wonderland, a drifter (Nicolas Cage) finds himself stranded with a broken car in a small town. Having to work to repay his debt at the local repair shop, he spends the night cleaning an abandoned family amusement park where the happy mascots suddenly come to life and run amok.

Comparisons between Willy's Wonderland and Five Nights at Freddy's, the iconic horror video game in which a security guard has to survive the night while surrounded by some homicidal animatronics, will be inevitable due to the similarities between their premises. There are also echoes of The Banana Splits (2019), an adaptation that subverted the family friendly TV series and turned its friendly furries into mechanical, murderous monsters. This is where the connection ends however as while that film aimed for a camptastic pop culture satire, Willy's Wonderland plays it mostly straight, surprisingly so for all its assumed silliness. The origin story behind the carnage is also more disturbing and gruesome than just a mechanical malfunction and while there are several funny scenes, Kevin Lewis is skilled enough to not let them derail the darker tone.

Sunday 7 February 2021

Sundance 2021: In The Earth by Ben Wheatley - review

Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Ten years after making a big impact with his sophomore feature length film, Kill List (2011), Ben Wheatley has remained a distinctive voice in the British film industry throughout the decade, with a prolific career in which he has experimented with various genres from the very dark comedy of Sightseers (2012), to the mind bending A Field in England (2013), all the way to his glossy remake of Rebecca for Netflix last year.

Last we heard from him he was attached to two blockbusters, the Tomb Raider and The Meg sequels (he has subsequently dropped from the former) so it came as a surprise when it was announced that a film he had directed in secrecy last year, In The Earth, was ready and was to have its world premiere at Sundance.

As the world is in the grip of a deadly pandemic, Martin Lowery (Joel Fry) is on his way to a research site deep in a forest, guided by park scout Alma (Ellora Torchia) when a brutal night time attack leaves them shoeless and at the mercy of the elements and nature, not to mention of an unseen presence seemingly stalking them.

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Sundance 2021: Prisoners of the Ghostland by Sion Sono

The announcement that Nicolas Cage was going to star in Sion Sono's new film sent some ripples in the cinephile world, a somehow improbable pairing although considering how the American actor has been willing to experiment more and more in his recent career with Mandy and The Colour out of Space, one that was perhaps not all that surprising. The maverick Japanese director suffered a heart attack during the planning of the film which delayed him but did not stop him and the film had its world premiere at Sundance 2021.

In Prisoners of the Ghostland, a bank robber, Hero (Nicolas Cage) is tasked by The Governor (Bill Moseley) to find his missing adopted daughter Bernice (Sofia Boutella) who is said to be in a wasteland populated by ghosts.

Monday 1 February 2021

Sundance 2021: Cryptozoo by Dash Shaw - review

Is a Utopia possible? Director Dash Shaw’s newest ambitious animated offering is a dive into a kaleidoscopic world of mythic creatures called Cryptids. It’s the sort of inventive swing that makes Sundance such an exciting festival for showcasing up-and-coming talent. As a follow-up to My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea Shaw pushes the potentials of animation into intriguing aesthetic and tonal directions.