Friday, 30 September 2011

The Woman (2011)

Horror starts at home.

Image: Revolver Entertainment

You may well have seen the YouTube video of one Sundance Festival attendee’s reaction to The Woman. He’s disgusted, outraged, and feels that the filmmakers (writer/director Lucky McKee and co-writer Jack Ketchum, adapting from their novel) are amoral monsters. Of course, this is one vociferous man’s opinion, but The Woman has definitely provoked heated reactions. It’s been called both misogynist and feminist, described as fiercely intelligent and not as clever as it thinks it is. We went to the film’s UK premiere at FrightFest to decide for ourselves.

Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) seems like a pillar of his community. However, a closer look reveals that his wife Belle (Angela Bettis) and eldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter) are terrified of him, while his son Brian (Zach Rand) is developing some disturbing habits of his own. Only young Darlin’ Cleek (Shyla Molhusen) seems unaffected. One day Chris finds a feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) in the woods. He traps her, chains her up in the cellar, and tells his family that their project is to civilize her. 

If you’re faint of heart or stomach, or easily disgusted and shocked, sit this one out. As Sundance showed, The Woman is a provocative film. McKee and Ketchum absolutely have set out to provoke reactions and discussion. It’s unflinching in its depiction of domestic abuse, not to mention the brutality inflicted upon the chained woman. Taken at face value, the story of a man abusing a captive in the cellar sounds like just another unpleasant torture porn flick. But this is something different. 

First there are the Cleeks, McKee and Ketchum’s satirical, nightmarish version of the all-American family. The tension when Chris is onscreen with his family is almost unbearable. Belle is wide-eyed and frozen, horribly aware of what’s going on but unable to do more than linger in doorways and acquiesce to her husband’s commands. Peggy’s silent desperation and baggy clothing are signs of something that only her teacher seems to have noticed, while Brian is definitely his father’s son. It’s made very clear from the start that Chris is the real monster of the film, with Brian a close second. What the Woman does is provoke the characters into self-examination and action. Chris begins to lose control over himself and his family, Brian’s darker urges are given horrifying focus, and Belle and Peggy have to determine whether to stay quiet or fight back. It’s fair to say that the Woman is a metaphor for the bound and gagged rage of the two women of the house, indeed as a metaphor for the horror of domestic abuse in general. But at the same time, she is a living, breathing creature of feral violence herself. And which violent force do you root for?

The Woman herself is introduced twice. McKee opens the film by showing her baring her teeth, hissing, and killing a wolf, before a gently-scored dream sequence has her seeing a wolf licking blood off a baby. When Chris first lays eyes on her, half naked and biting into a fish she’s just caught, the music is reminiscent of testosterone-fuelled, all-American rock. The musical choices are bold and will almost certainly not work for everyone, but they put the viewer into the mindsets of the various family members. It’s an odd mix of rock and bubblegum pop tunes that were written for the film, which we found worked incredibly well. 

The cast is fantastic, but the clear standout is McIntosh (Exam). It’s an incredibly brave performance that’s stunning in its physicality, while her growing manipulation of the different family members is hypnotic. Bridgers (Deadwood) is horribly believable as Chris, while McKee’s muse Bettis (May) is predictably excellent as Belle. Rand and Carter also give impressive performances that bode well for their future careers. 

The film demands a lot from its audience. They have to be willing to endure the brutal and frequent scenes of violence against women, next to which the music choices might seem disrespectful. There’s the sly sense of humour that rears its head and causes nervous laughter in unexpected places. And finally there’s the blood and guts of the third act as things build to a violent crescendo. There are a couple of jarring notes in the build-up to these scenes, but the finale is done with such ferocious energy and intensity that they don’t matter too much. 

It’s intelligent and inventive while not shying away from any of the harsh realities of physical and sexual abuse. The film is quick-witted, gut-wrenching, brutal, clever, and has an incredible central performance from McIntosh. There’s a good chance that you’ll hate it and disagree with this review, but you’re certainly going to have an opinion.

Verdict: The Woman is not for everyone but it’s violent, shocking, gory horror that reaches out and grabs you by the throat. You will be thinking about it and talking about it afterwards.

4.5/5

JH

Monday, 26 September 2011

30 Minutes or Less (2011)

Friends rob banks together

Image: Columbia Pictures

Zombieland came along quite late for both the zombie craze and the horror comedy craze, but it emerged as a high-point in both. For his latest, director Ruben Fleischer has re-teamed with Jesse Eisenberg for a comedy that trades horror apocalypse for crass slackers in Detroit.

Aimless pizza boy Nick (Eisenberg) is kidnapped by thugs Dwayne (Danny McBride) and Travis (Nick Swardson). Dwayne and Travis need cash to hire a hitman to kill Dwayne’s dad, and unless Nick robs a bank for them, the bomb they’ve strapped to his chest will explode. Panicking, Nick turns to his best friend Chet for help. 

For a significant amount of its running time 30 Minutes or Less is almost as dark as slacker comedy gets, and that’s a pretty big sub-genre. With a mix of movie-reference-heavy banter and some pretty full-on violence, the film plays like an odd mix of the harsher moments of Pineapple Express and the lighter bits of Observe and Report. Whether you’ll enjoy it or not will depend heavily on whether you can warm to Nick and Chet. They bicker, they moan, and they list the various ways in which they’ve betrayed each other. You’ll either find them funny, or you’ll wonder why you should care.

Luckily, Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Ansari (Funny People) make an excellent team. Their rapid-fire dialogue is superb, especially when their characters find themselves under pressure. It’s very much down to them that we were often laughing out loud. Swardson (Blades of Glory) is fine as the dim-witted but kinder of the two villains, and Michael Pena (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done) is hilarious as the fey, softly spoken hit-man. It’s just a shame that McBride’s character is one we’ve seen him do too many times recently. He often plays variations on the same theme, but they are normally distinguishable from each other. Dwayne’s deeply unlikeable, but he’s not consistently funny.

The script is very slight indeed and the film relies heavily on the actors to be funny during long interludes where nothing really happens. If we’re with Eisenberg and Ansari, then this tactic works fine. If we’re with McBride and Swardson, the film drags. That being said, there are some excellent set-pieces, including the bank robbery itself and the subsequent car chase. The film does slowly build towards a violent finale that will turn off many viewers, but does, given the dark premise, hold water.

Verdict: Too mean-spirited and patchily plotted for a mainstream audience, but Eisenberg and Ansari’s excellent comic riffing make it worth a look for those who like their slacker comedy dark.

3/5

JH

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Change-Up (2011)

The old body-switcheroo

Image: Universal

The body-swap premise isn’t exactly the highest-regarded of the comedy genre. There are exceptions, but it does seem to imply a desperate wackiness that’s just an excuse for fish out of water antics. But The Change-Up does star two very fine comic actors in Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds, so we went in hopes that they signed on for a good reason.

Dave (Bateman) is a workaholic family man who has three children with his beautiful wife Jamie (Leslie Mann). His best friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds) is a foul-mouthed slacker with no responsibilities and lots of time for meaningless sex and getting high. Both envy each other’s life, and one night, after pissing in a fountain and wishing, they wake up in each other’s bodies. Can they live each other’s lives while waiting for the chance to change back?

The Change-Up starts surprisingly strong. There’s an elaborate nappy-changing poop-gag that had us giggling, mainly for the shocked expression on Bateman’s face. It’s also good to see Reynolds in a comedy again, and he shows he can still pull off “likeable asshole” with aplomb. The two actors have good chemistry both with each other and with the underrated Mann (Knocked Up). For the first fifteen minutes, we were laughing fairly consistently.

But when the change-up itself actually happens, the film can’t maintain the rate of decent jokes. Interestingly, Reynolds is much more comfortable playing Jason Bateman than Bateman is at playing Ryan Reynolds. This might just be a consequence of the script, which has Mitch-as-Dave being actually pretty horrible to Jamie and the kids, while Dave-as-Mitch suffers through acting in some “light-porno” before realising he has time to read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, learn to roller-skate, and masturbate in peace. While Mitch-as-Dave must learn to be a responsible adult, Dave-as-Mitch must decide whether he would actually like to sleep with his incredibly sexy and fun colleague Sabrina (Olivia Wilde). But the fact is, while Bateman clearly has a lot of fun playing against type, it’s hard to find the character’s antics amusing when he’s such a tool.

There’s a ton of swearing, gross-out humour, not to mention nudity (some of it apparently digitally altered), as the filmmakers aim for grown-up and filthy. Some of it works (mostly thanks to Reynolds and Bateman) but there is too much that misses the mark. Meanwhile, Mann is given a couple of good moments and there is an attempt made to give her character a bit of depth, but essentially the character is lied to and treated horribly. Can someone give this actress a comedy of her own instead of casting her as the put-upon spouse, please?

Verdict: It’s certainly not terrible, with Reynolds, Bateman, and Mann on form, but it’s inconsistent and overlong.

2/5

JH

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Warrior (2011)

Some brothers fight. Some brothers fight professionally.

Image: Lionsgate

Warrior seems to have been under the radar for a while. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t want to be too closely associated with Oscar winning The Fighter. While both deal with sibling rivalry in violent sports, Warrior is aiming for tougher and grittier.

Tom Conlon (Tom Hardy) arrives at his father’s (Nick Nolte) home for the first time since he left with his mother when he was a boy. Pa used to be an abusive alcoholic but now lives clean and alone. Tom’s brother Brendan (Joel Edgerton), who stayed with Pa, is now a married physics teacher with two kids and a mortgage he can’t afford. Tom and Brendan separately decide to enter the WMA championship for different reasons, which sets them on a collision course with each other.

Sports movies are strange beasts. At their very heart they’re completely riddled with clichés, but the good ones manage to transcend the genre trappings to be genuinely affecting. Happily, we can report that Warrior does exactly that.

It’s vital that a sports movie gets you invested in the characters and their situation. Typically (especially when the sport is boxing or other fighting) this involves a blue-collar setting, estranged families, and financial hardship. On paper, what could be more cloyingly familiar than two estranged brothers fighting their way towards each other for the final showdown? Throw in the alcoholic dad, the war heroism, and the supportive-but-disapproving wife and you’re pretty much throwing every cliché in the book into a big pot.

But director Gavin O’Connor (Pride and Glory) makes it work. There’s a trio of superb performances from Hardy, Edgerton, and Nolte. Hardy (Inception) is totally convincingly as the hulking, mad-eyed, battle-scarred Tom, Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) is great as the better adjusted but financially troubled Brendan, while Nolte alternately growls and wheedles as only Nick Nolte can, looking for forgiveness while knowing he doesn’t deserve it. Jennifer Morrison (House) does good work as Brendan’s wife, while Kevin Dunn (Transformers), Frank Grillo (Mother’s Day) and Noah Emmerich (Super 8) lend support.

Much of the praise that Warrior has coming its way will no doubt be focused on the cast, and rightly so. But O’Connor does more than draw good performances. He makes the fight scenes bone-crunchingly convincing, the wintry Pittsburgh setting suitably grim, and shoots the whole thing with a grounded, realistic sensibility that offsets the cheesier aspects of the story. It’s often a little overripe, but it’s acted and shot with such conviction that you’re completely swept along by it. By the time it reaches the inevitable confrontation, we challenge you to remain unmoved.

Verdict: Warrior may not eschew the clichés of sports/fighting movies, but the trio of lead performances are superb while the blue-collar setting and family dynamics are totally convincing. 

4/5

JH

Monday, 19 September 2011

Troll Hunter (2011)

Portrait of the working man

Image: Momentum Pictures

There’s been a lot of good horror creeping out of Scandinavia recently. Some of it has hit the mainstream with a vengeance, such as the Swedish vampire hit Let the Right One In, and some of it has stayed within the genre audience, like the excellent Norwegian slasher Cold Prey. Last Christmas, the very entertaining Finnish horror comedy Rare Exports failed to cross over. How will Troll Hunter fare?

A student documentary crew is trailing a mysterious poacher named Hans. When they finally track him down to a forest, there are strange lights and crashing noises before he sprints out of the trees shouting “Troll!” He’s a troll hunter for the Norwegian government, and he agrees to let the three youngsters film him. 

Troll Hunter is a wonderfully odd mix of genres. It’s a monster movie on a budget, and it’s also a found footage horror movie. What makes it fresh is its mockumentary style, reminiscent of Christopher Guest’s comedies (Spinal Tap, Best in Show). Hans is fed up of doing an incredibly dangerous and exhausting job all by himself. There are a wealth of wonderful little bureaucratic moments, such as the extensive form Hans has to fill out after killing a troll, and the amiable Polish bloke who delivers dead bears to account for missing tourists that the trolls have eaten.

As we discussed with horror guru Kim Newman, found footage does seem to be a horror trend that has run its course. However, Troll Hunter is definitely helped by its sense of humour rather than taking itself too seriously. The special effects are obviously done with a relatively small amount of money but they are decent enough and add to the film’s offbeat charm. Meanwhile the unfamiliar cast help the film’s mockumentary aesthetic, with Otto Jespersen especially strong as Hans, and good turns from Glenn Erland Tosterud and Johanna Mørck as the presenter and sound girl respectively.

There are occasional missteps as the filmmakers try to balance the humour with reality. It’s good that the film doesn’t go for a completely comedic approach but the consequences the characters face for following Hans are sometimes a bit jarring. But this is a witty new spin on the tired found-footage sub-genre that has some laughs, some decent scares, and a great character in the shape of tired, grizzled troll hunter Hans.

Verdict: Funny and innovative, Troll Hunter is worth hunting down.

4/5

JH

Friday, 16 September 2011

You Instead (2011)

Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse

You Instead tells the tale of two musicians, Adam and Morello, who are rapidly handcuffed together at a music festival (T in the Park) in an attempt to stop their squabbling. However, minutes before Morello is due on stage the security guard who cuffed them runs off with the key. With no release in sight, the two war-birds must find a way to make it through the day together, as well as sing a “chained” melody.

After a rocky, unsuccessful first half, in which the duo struggle to create plausible rock star personas and male lead Luke Treadway juggles both British and American accents, You Instead finds its footing. The movie fails to steer clear of the usual rom-com clichés: they meet, they fight, they make up, they make sweet music, but there are a few funny scenes and lines sprinkled in amongst all the festival mud to make you stick with it until the end.

Verdict: The beginning is quite disjointed and stale, but You Instead ultimately turns into a cute festival foray. And while the two leads are watchable, the film actually impresses most during the musical numbers on stage when director David Mackenzie, using big crowd cutaways and strobe lights, totally convinces you that you’re watching rock stars.

3/5

FG

The Skin I Live In (La Piel que Habito) (2011)

The dressmaker and the mannequin

Image: Sony Pictures Classics

For his latest, legendary Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has reteamed with Antonio Banderas for the first time since 1990’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. On the surface it looks like the auteur has made a horror film, and we were curious to see what that would look like.

Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a surgeon working on a new type of highly durable, burn-resistant skin. Vera (Elena Anaya) is imprisoned in his home, locked in the room next to his, and serves as the subject of his experiments. As the film unfolds, we slowly learn more about the relationship between Vera and Robert, and what terrible events led them to this point.

Art-house and world cinema fans who normally shy away from scary movies can rest easy. While The Skin I Live In is certainly rooted in the horror genre, and we would describe it as a horror film, it’s very much a film about relationships and personal trauma, rather than blood, guts, and scares. Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, from the basic plot synopsis and the film’s advertising campaign, the touchstone for the film would be the classic French horror Eyes without a Face, in which a professor kidnaps young women to steal their faces for his disfigured daughter. But the similarities don’t go far beyond that.

The most striking part of the film is the dynamic between Robert and Vera. Almodóvar takes his time revealing to the audience exactly who Vera is and how she got there, dropping teasing hints along the way. Robert’s housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes) clearly doesn’t trust her, and makes comments about how “history repeats itself”. Robert tries to maintain a professional distance, keeping her locked in her room, but watches security camera footage of her on a screen so large it covers most of his bedroom wall.

The film’s core themes are voyeurism, identity, and grief. None of these are especially out of the ordinary for an Almodóvar film, although visually it seems a little more controlled than some of his efforts. There are exceptions, such as the sequence with the man in the tiger suit (it will make sense when you see it). It’s almost as if the filmmaker decided that the story was outlandish enough that any visual fireworks were unnecessary.

It’s great to see Banderas in a good art-house film, and he plays against type very nicely as the frosty, grieving Robert. The star of the film is undoubtedly Anaya (Mesrine), who gives a fiercely intelligent and emotional performance. There’s also an excellent turn from Paredes (The Devil’s Backbone) as the motherly housekeeper with secrets of her own. 

It’s a little (and unexpectedly) cold, but there’s a lot to admire. The performances are superb, the set-design outstanding, and as the story develops you will find yourself drawn into this strange tale.

Verdict: Stylish horror for the art-house crowd. Anaya is superb and the characters and their strange, dark lives are engrossing.

4/5

JH

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Hour Series 1

And we’re on in 5...4...3...

Image: BBC

50’s-set BBC newsroom drama The Hour was inevitably compared to Mad Men during the weeks before it started airing. That’s pretty close to impossible to live up to. A six-part BBC drama against what has generally been acknowledged as one of the best television series ever broadcast? It was no surprise that the first episode of The Hour was something of a letdown. However, those of us who stuck with it found much to enjoy.

1956. Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) is appointed producer for a new hour-long news programme (guess what it’s called?). She brings along old friend Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw), who’s a talented journalist but is constantly rubbing his superiors the wrong way. Presenting the show is war hero ex-public school boy Hector Madden (Dominic West), who clashes with Freddie and shares heated glances with Bel. Can they come together to create a news programme that challenges the government’s position on Suez?

This main storyline is fairly predictable but does improve after a wobbly first two episodes. The secondary (or is it primary?) storyline, in which Freddie becomes embroiled in an MI5 plot that he refuses to let go of, would seem to be the most exciting but it’s here that The Hour’s weaknesses and appeal become apparent. It’s admirable that writer Abi Morgan (Sex Traffic) wants it to be more than a newsroom drama with inter-office affairs and shouting about deadlines. However, with only six episodes to work with, there’s simply too much to fit in. Secondary characters are played by incredibly talented actors but are given short shrift. The conspiracy reaches a vaguely satisfactory conclusion but leaves too much unexplained. The Hour wants to be both a period newsroom drama and a spy thriller, but in its efforts to cover everything from the BBC studios to the shady government dealings to Gosford Park-esque country houses, there’s simply not enough room to do it quite satisfactorily.

That being said, it’s certainly well-written and has an excellent cast. Garai (Atonement) helps to make Bel a strong, well-rounded character. Whishaw (I’m Not There) suffers early on from overly earnest dialogue but finds Freddie’s humour and weaknesses to make him awkwardly heroic rather than a grating crusader. West has the least to do of the three leads, but convinces as Hector, with a straight back and a wandering eye. Anna Chancellor (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Julian Rhind-Tutt (Stardust) get to have a bit more fun as Bel and Freddie’s older and wiser colleague and creepy government liaison respectively.

It’s the interplay between the three main characters that ends up being the best thing about The Hour, though the various plot machinations do become more and more involving as the series progresses. It finishes on a fairly high note despite a plot twist that you only won’t have seen coming if you missed half of the episodes. A second series has been commissioned so hopefully some of the problems will have been ironed out and some of the seemingly ignored questions will be answered. 

Verdict: Despite some major early missteps, being made up of familiar elements and wasting some tremendous actors, The Hour is rarely less than entertaining. Overall, this is a well-acted, well-directed, well-written piece of television that’s a cut above a lot of recent drama.

3.5/5

JH

Monday, 12 September 2011

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

They’re listening.

Image: StudioCanal

John Le Carré’s 1974 novel and the subsequent 1979 television adaptation starring Alec Guinness are very highly regarded and, while this may be the first film version, there’s a lot of expectation to live up to. Interest really picked up with the announcement of the film’s cast. With Oldman donning the iconic specs, and Let the Right One In director Tomas Alfredson behind the camera, our interest quickly turned into excitement.

Retired spymaster George Smiley (Oldman) is quietly recalled when disgraced “scalp-hunter” Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy) confirms old suspicions that one of the four top figures in MI6 is a Soviet spy. Together with Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), he must trap the mole and evade four of the most watchful and paranoid men in the country.

Well, they got the right men for the job. Alfredson is the perfect choice, and brings his downbeat sensibility to his English language debut. The director’s London is not only laden with period detail but is wonderfully damp, brown, and bleak. The world of international espionage is also not portrayed as being in any way glamorous. It’s a world of generally unpleasant men doing unpleasant things from behind a desk. It’s important that the closest thing that the film has to men of action are betrayed, beaten, and ostracized. The exiled Connie (Kathy Burke) may miss her “boys” but there’s little evidence that they ever actually liked each other. The workplace of TTSS is desperately lonely and sad, as evidenced by repeated flashbacks to a gloriously awful office Christmas party which slowly tells you everything you need to know about the characters.

As we’ve mentioned, the cast is a who’s who of British acting talent. Oldman gets Smiley exactly right: reserved, studious, and brilliant. The four suspects are played by Colin Firth, Toby Jones (Frost/Nixon), Ciarán Hinds (There Will Be Blood), and David Dencik (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Firth and Jones make the biggest impressions as the louche, sly Bill Haydon and the splenetic, ambitious Percy Allenine respectively. Then there’s Cumberbatch (BBC’s Sherlock) as Smiley’s loyal Guillam, Hardy (Inception) as the rough lady-killer Tarr, John Hurt as the paranoid Control, and Mark Strong (Kick Ass) as the wounded but upright Jim Prideaux. They’re all superb. 

The film does slightly flounder when it tries to ratchet up the tension. As good as Cumberbatch is, the scene in which he goes into MI6 to retrieve a file is never quite as tense as it should be, while the final revelation is deliberately underwhelming. Purists may also quibble about a couple of minor deviations from the novel, but there’s nothing too drastic that’s been changed. verall the film more than makes up for one or two slightly bungled sequences by succeeding everywhere else. It’s an atmospheric, mostly faithful adaptation that doesn’t condescend to its audience and paints a dark, cold, and violent picture of the Cold War, and shows the thankless isolation of the men who fought it. 

Verdict: This is a sharply intelligent, wonderfully acted, and beautifully directed thriller. 

4/5

JH

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Kill List (2011)

Image: Optimum Releasing

Word of mouth coming out of the festival circuit on Ben Wheatley’s hit-man horror has been nothing but superb. Having been told that it was best to know as little as possible, we went in appropriately clueless and hoping to be impressed.

Jay (Neil Maskell) is a killer for hire with a wife, a son, and money trouble. Gal (Michael Smiley), his best mate and colleague, approaches him with a job. Only three hits and the money’s good. Urged on by his wife Shell (MyAnna Buring), Jay and Gal take the work. But things get unpleasant and sinister very quickly.

It’s certainly true that it’s best to know as little as possible. So, what can we tell you? Well, for a start, it’s a very well-made film with excellent performances and a pervasive sense of dread seeping into the mundane, everyday world the characters inhabit. Jay and Shel’s financial problems and constant arguing are all too believable. An early dinner party scene, in which Jay and Shel invite Gal and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) round, is both very funny and incredibly tense, which sets the mood for the whole film.

Wheatley spends a good deal of time accumulating details. From the tins of tuna Jay buys (having forgotten to get toilet roll), to the awkward flirting at a hotel reception, to the juice box Gal nervously sucks at while Jay’s at work, there’s a lot of effort spent grounding the film in our own depressing England. Characters argue about the credit crunch, Fiona defends her job in HR, and Jay’s fiercely opinionated on the war in Iraq. There’s also Jay and Gal’s friendship, seemingly built on the foundation of there being no one else who can put up with them. They drink, they argue, they have childish punch-ups, and then they patch things up. Maskell (Doghouse) and Smiley (Burke and Hare, Spaced) are pitch-perfect. They’re awful people who do horrible, violent things but the two actors have a very funny, believable chemistry that makes them entertaining, if disturbing, company. Buring (The Descent, Doomsday) also impresses as the pushed-to-breaking-point Shel.

As for the plot’s twists and turns, well, we won’t go into that, except to say that it’s obviously not as simple for Jay and Gal as just killing three people. And if you’re paying attention and are at all genre-savvy you won’t be particularly thrown by any of the developments. There are a lot of varied horror influences at work here that you’ll almost certainly spot, but to name them would be to give the game away. As we’ve said, Wheatley’s more concerned about mood, and the impressively unpleasant atmosphere of Kill List slowly drags you in, helped by an excellent soundtrack and the clipped, unsettling editing. Our only major problem with the film is the ending, which will split opinion. We were disappointed. However, some audiences will feel that it’s a fitting end to a film that’s more interested in getting under your skin than making sure everyone’s on the same page by the end credits. 

Overall this is a savvy, atmospheric, nasty British thriller that wears its genre influences on its sleeve but transplants them to a horribly familiar, depression-era England. But we do have a problem with the ending.

Verdict: A little over-hyped, but this is brutally efficient and affecting horror that worms its way under the surface of the everyday. 

4/5

JH

Monday, 5 September 2011

Final Destination 5 (2011)

Because sometimes enough isn’t enough.

Image: Warner Bros.

It’s somehow easy to forget that Final Destination became a franchise. They are, with the possible exception of the fourth instalment which we’ve not seen, all entertaining enough but none of them are especially memorable. The poorly-received fourth film was called The Final Destination. Clearly that was untrue.

While on his way to a corporate retreat, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a vision of his and his friends’ gruesome deaths when the bridge their bus is on collapses. He manages to get them off the bus before the terrible accident occurs, but Death does not like to be cheated. Before long, the survivors start dying in elaborate accidents.

The filmmakers (director Steven Quale and writer Eric Heisserer, both new to the franchise) know what their audience expects, and they’re quite happy to stick to the formula. There’s got to be the elaborate opening disaster that’s spectacular enough to keep the audience in their seats. That’s mission accomplished for Quale, with the bridge collapse providing an early gory highlight. Then it’s a matter of killing off their characters in creative ways, with a gymnastics accident and a trip to the laser eye surgery the two stand-outs.

Clearly, the core audience knows this is coming, so whether or not a Final Destination film succeeds depends on how much they can wrong-foot you. There’s some success, ranging from some disappointing “saw-that-coming” to actually genuinely impressive shocks. Of course, it’s a film that wants to be a fairground attraction, so don’t expect much in the way of narrative tension or character development. It’s also a film that’s fully embraced 3D so expect plenty of CGI blood and guts jumping out of the screen.

The characters are reasonably likeable cut-outs, helped by a decent lead performance from D’Agosto (Rocket Science, Heroes), while Emma Bell (Frozen) fares less well as his under-written girlfriend. Happily, there’s solid comedic support from David Koechner (Anchorman) as his obnoxious boss. And yes, franchise veteran Tony Todd (Candyman) shows up to clue any Final Destination freshers into what’s going on. 

It’s all very standard FD stuff, but there’s enough here that will guarantee an entertaining ninety minutes for franchise fans and gore hounds, and it should give casual viewers a couple of shocks too. 

Verdict: Gleefully does what it sets out to do. Disengage your brain and enjoy the set pieces.

3/5

JH