Revenge (2018)

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Women are not to be messed with and ‘Revenge’ surely shows this, in an exploitation thriller bursting with female power.

Richard (Kevin Janssens) is a married man but has a young and attractive mistress called Jen (Matilda Lutz), who are both enjoying some time in Richard’s secret desert home. That is until two of his hunting buddies show up and drool over Jen, one thing to leads to another and then she’s out for revenge.

This is director Coralie Fargeat’s debut full length feature and if this anything to go by, then she’s someone I look forward to directing again. It easily could have been a schlock fest and gory sexplotation for the sake of it but the film rises above that simple route and provides an action thriller, led by a woman that messes with the genre and takes you on a sprint, almost making me need to catch my breath once the film was over.

There’s a brilliantly directed sequence where Jen suffers hallucinogenic nightmares which rivals ‘Dumbo’ for weirdness and it’s so perfectly edited that it becomes a frightening moment that worms into your very own head and plays tricks on you. It isn’t just that scene that’s scary, the blokes are obviously nasty too. The majority of the movie chooses to have close-ups which do a great job in adding engaging tension but also showing what disgusting creatures men can be; proved further by shots of a lizard cut after a shot of one of the men. Plus an extreme close up of a man eating a chocolate snack is a case in point of the ugly side of masculinity, that enhances the movie’s feminist spirit.

Colours pop with sharpness throughout this movie, but the saturation is truly turned up to the max in the house bound opening, with pinks, blues, reds and yellows searing the screen with vivid intensity. That bold play with colour comes back with attack come the latter stages of the film, with rivers of crimson red enhancing the revenge experience.

I was thinking, perhaps twice during the run-time, that it could have been a little punchier. It doesn’t ever feel long but it doesn’t zip along in the same vein as the zany ‘Mom and Dad’ did. I feel it could have been more energetic if ten or so minutes had been shaved off. There’s also a great example of needing to suspend disbelief at a crucial part in the story, that’s very far-fetched and I couldn’t shake it, but it doesn’t ruin what is a tense and explosive visceral flick that makes you squirm with imaginable pain at many points.

Lutz certainly goes through the ringer and has a tougher time of it than Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’, which is randomly what came to mind when I watched this Italian actress fight for her survival. She’s an incredible presence and does a mighty job in being believable, bad ass, vulnerable, motivated and someone to root for.

‘Revenge’ is a rip-roaring outing that’s soaked with so much blood, that the opening elevator doors in ‘The Shining’ look like a mere leaky tap.

8.5/10

 

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Wildling (2018)

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It’s upsetting but no, this is not some adventurous flick starring Ygritte from Game of Thrones. Instead it’s a horror fantasy from Fritz Bohm, which serves little scares but provides just enough bite.

After finding herself freed from locked confinement, Anna (Bel Powley), learns about the outside world and her own self. Whilst under the supervision and care of Sheriff Cooper (Liv Tyler), Anna begins a drastic change of character which puts her in harms way.

There’s something magically rare about seeing a film that kind of appear without warning and this happened with ‘Wildling’, of which I’d only heard who was in it and avoided any posters, trailers or such story-like information. In that sense, this is a film that’s truly engrossing because I wasn’t waiting for something I’d seen in a trailer but it doesn’t mean it’s a winner.

It never felt like the film was too long in my eyes, in fact, the later stages of Anna’s opening eyes to womanhood and outside world civilisation came across as rushed and never built a scale or weight to her learning. It’s most definitely a wild and weird movie, the coming of age aspect like a cauldron of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, Old Universal monster movies and ‘Raw’.

The film has this relentless feral look and Toby Oliver’s cinematography captures the twisted Brothers Grimm like world well. It’s like every darkly blue scene is splattered with dirt and keeps on track with the developing characteristics of Anna. Though the look of the film may be good, the story as said doesn’t feel fully realised and it’s not really that interesting to follow because from the outset it’s obvious who she is and I knew exactly where the lost shot of the film would be. The romantic entanglement is perhaps a bit dull and the story descends into generic Hollywood storytelling.

Powley is fascinating to watch; her commanding presence with the impressive runs, super hearing and ever reactionary eyes are nice quirks and she held my attention nicely playing this confused but sharply adaptable young lady. Tyler is not at all convincing as a sheriff and has little to do but she’s believable in wanting to make Anna feel settled and safe.

‘Wildling’ is a film I’ll forget about come the end of 2018, perhaps by the end of summer, but for the time being it’s a film I’m content I’ve seen and I found it to be an ambitious creature feature.

5.5/10

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Cashing up at the box office and treating critics and audiences alike with great fanfare, is this almost deathly silent feature. I was hooked from the get go and felt fully interpolated throughout, finally mustering courage to breathe out once the credits roll.

Set in 2020; a world ravaged by blind monsters which strike by sound have driven the few survivors to adapt and learn to be quiet in order to survive. The Abbot family reside out on a farm but their usual silent routine will be tested by a new arrival.

John Krasinksi directs this horror with a great eye…and ear for building a landscape filled with fear. He’s careful to let the setting briefly feel understandable for the audience and then most bets are off, as the film screeches from one clever jolt to the next. Assisted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinksi also writes a screenplay that focuses on the human side of proceedings, ensuring the character drives the plot forwards and not typical cliched horror tropes. The family ramp up the scary aura because we worry for their predicament and it’s not too often you care for more than one character in a horror, but here you most certainly do.

‘A Quiet Place’ is a movie with scares but smarts. It truly grips you from the start with an alarmingly peaceful world, initially unseen creatures and a small, simple family story which you can feel for. I felt drawn in effortlessly and then it continued worming around inside me, like a pang of pent up nausea whilst we see the unseeing beasts stalk their prey.

It’s not just a brilliantly smart horror, it’s a gorgeous one too. There’s beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen as she brings this dusty, leaf ridden, barren environment to life. Marco Beltrami’s score is damn effective also, with the same rising sound used to confident effect in eliciting a sense of dread. Honestly, I felt like I was having multiple anxiety attacks watching this film but in the best way possible because it’s just wonderfully done. When talented individuals, including horror icon Stephen King begin singing your praises, then you know this is something special.

Fear is heightened in such a captivating way thanks to the minimal spoken dialogue. The majority of the film is divulged via sign language or subtitles, which is refreshing to see and is done in an engaging way, but an important way too, in sticking true to what it must feel like to be in that situation. It’s when music or diegetic sounds suddenly vanish and a wall of silence hits you, that the film enraptured me and made me swallow my breath. Adding the alien clicks and wails from the Demigorgon-like monsters is another chilling touch and their drip-fed reveal elevates the menacing presence they hold over this dystopian land.

Emily Blunt is a sensational force to watch, without a lot of speaking she conveys her part as Evelyn wonderfully. At one moment of dramatic irony, knowing she’ll hurt herself, she acts the visceral pain in such a way that makes you wince horrendously, her continued pain silence as she’s trying to stay out of danger is very powerful indeed. The children are great also and a scene within a silo is just another moment that added to my seat squirming anxiety.

It’s great to see a film like this, as a cinematic experience it’s something else because it frightens noisy eaters into silent submission and makes the film much more immersive. The scares pack a punch, the world and the angels of death are greatly realised in what I’d say is a quiet gem and a near masterpiece.

8.5/10

Thoroughbreds (2018)

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Posh and psychotic in a way that keeps you guessing and enthralled; this film is never one you can predict and thank goodness to see something original like this. Bolstered further by great performances, this is a nicely wound thriller left best without knowing too much going in.

After committing some extreme off screen act, unfeeling Amanda (Olivia Cooke) gets tutored by distant but once childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy). The two girls talk, study and ultimately spend their time coldly discussing an idea to kill someone.

I’ll leave the plot at that, because I feel this film is definitely more rewarding with less prior expectations. This is how I entered, literally knowing who was in it and that’s it, luckily I avoided trailers and this made my viewing experience much better. Debut director and writer Cory Finley has certainly whipped up Patrick Bateman vibes in his story, featuring two females as similarly pinpoint sharp and calculated personas. When we watch the pair chat, reminisce and plot it’s a fascinating blend of dark humour and uneasy creepiness.

The music throughout this movie is perfectly designed, the choice of cellist Erik Friedlander gifts a good number of scenes a very unsettling string arrangement that almost makes you sit bolt upright with the goosebumps over your skin raised. It’s also mixed in with some sounds that I can only describe as unique, oddly pleasant and unsettling at the same time. Also, a workout machine throws another detail of tension as its sounds reverberate around the house.

The upper class is a platform for us to revel and revolt in, with the two prim, well educated and well off women shown to us as bored lasses, procrastinating from work and driven to conspire of murder like it’s nothing. The look of the film added to this interesting window-gaze into their lives, is clean and crisp; like the clinical white spa Lily and her mother visit. This precise cleanliness of every frame creates another layer of unease but doesn’t overtake the good moments of frost-bitten comedy that strikes in the same way as ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’.

Cooke excels in a role masterfully tailored to her performance power. She plays a character lacking joy or guilt in such a mesmerising way and she manifests tears, with an in-film technique that just shows what a talented actor she is. Taylor-Joy is an enigmatic presence, her large eyes drawing you in and really making us see how unflinching and cold they are. She perfectly travels a path into less empathy and cold hearted indifference which can be amusing and troubling to watch. The late Anton Yelchin isn’t involved much as Tim; a character that’s not wholly necessary or interesting, but the great Yelchin displays a maddening ferocity behind his eyes and future plans, which is a nice opposing quality to the skittish, on edge moments he goes through.

‘Thoroughbreds’ is probably something that’ll slip under the radar; like a horse left in the stables but it deserves to be seen because it’s different, killer and a jolt of talent from in front and behind the cameras.

7.5/10

Gringo (2018)

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Nash Edgerton, brother of Joel, offers up this misfiring Mexican set crime comedy as his debut film and with an opening that’s bombed hard, he may need to think about going back to the drawing board.

Head honcho of a company, that is heading into a merger is Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) who is a greedy piece of work, as is Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron). The two are laser focused on getting what they want and screwing everyone over, including apparent friend of Rusk; Harold (David Oyelowo) who is left behind in Mexico. Soon he calls through saying he’s been kidnapped and a barrage of heightened moments follow.

I think one of the biggest issues this film has is how messy the plot feels. There’s just a bit too much going on and as more madness ensues down in the heat of Mexico, it gets tiresome and badly handled. This is a great shame because this in fact could have been a nifty movie with surprising turns and cartel-ridden sequences but it falls short of that promising ideal by a big stretch. Another issue lies with the promotion of the film, from the trailer it seems like an oddball comedy and you end up with a crime narrative, which I would have liked had I not expected to be amused along the way.

It’s like I can imagine that Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis have written this thinking what they’ve come up with is funny but it either lands horrendously flat or comes across as rude; i.e – Elaine pretending to be deaf. There’s not one moment where I or the few other audience members laughed or even chuckled, I think I smiled once because of the sheer force that is Oyelowo as Harold trying to keep his head afloat on this sinking, stinking ship.

I will admit that some of the kidnap plot is quite engaging. It starts off interestingly and is vaguely entertaining to watch unravel but the folding in of other characters, places and story-lines just began to detract from this quite enjoyable mishap of errors that Harold finds himself in the middle of. On the whole though, this is something I won’t remember come the end of the year, the scenes are mostly forgettable and the majority of characters are insanely unlikable, in a way that I just didn’t care to try and get engrossed into the plot.

As said, a lot of the figures within this film have no redeeming qualities and leading the pack is Joel Edgerton who, to be fair, does encapsulate the arse-hat boss with arrogance and disloyalty worn on his clothes like badges. Charlize Theron is somehow even slimier and nastier than Richard Rusk, and again she plays these characteristics well but it was a role of spite that I didn’t enjoy. David Oyelowo and Amanda Seyfried are the only actors that exit this film with any real dignity intact. Both of their characters feel human, likable and warm, their interactions are some of the more grounded and better parts of this film.

There are some alright scenes that kept me sort of interested to the film and Oyelowo is great, but I was close to feeling bored in an up and down, messily made film that outstays its welcome.

5/10

Journey’s End (2018)

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Never shying away from the mud and blood of World War I, this British feature is moving and tense and like the soldiers, is committed to the last in showing this.

Set over a period of four days in March 1918, we follow young lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) into the front trenches. He wants to be here because he knows the captain from back in Blighty, though Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is a different man thanks to the war. There’s been a long stalemate and as Stanhope’s men are tasked with holding the line, any day now seems likely for German soldiers to make their advance.

Based on a play from 1928 by R.C. Sheriff, this drama is incredibly effective and at times almost emotional as we see the horrors and futility of war take hold. There are a lot of different characters and Simon Reade; who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation has ensured that they don’t become overblown stereotypes. Throughout this film there is a definite sense of crushing hopelessness, this works so well in highlighting how pointless actions of these men are and just how grim their situation is.

Saul Dibb directs in a manner that truly throws the audience in amongst the ticking tension. There are plenty of tight frames and close ups of characters that give nearly the entire movie a claustrophobic wash of unease. Seeing these group of soldiers facing a horrifying possibility of death never really lets up, like some slower patriotic movies may have done. It hits home how devastating their plight is and the bitingly cold scenery of their sunken home for that time can be felt through the screen, as if the director is immersing us alongside these men. A camera movement following them through the sodden mud is a great example of how bleak and involving the film can be.

I would say that its only weakness lays in a raid scene, that builds up fantastically but once it hits the editing becomes too frenzied. I know in one way this works to show how maddening and scarily chaotic this would have been but trying to focus and keep up with what was happening on screen became difficult and you lose what happens to the characters.

Asa Butterfield is great in a role that guides us through the outskirts right into the very heart and disheartening midst of trench warfare. He plays the naive and excitable young soul well which makes certain changes in what he sees and eventually understands much more painfully real. Sam Claflin excels here, in what is the best performance I’ve seen him in. Clinging to whiskey and straining to retain calm is evidently felt and in one scene opposite Butterfield, he barks and foams at the mouth with an intensity that isn’t violent but one of increased frustration of how much he can bear. Paul Bettany gifts the film some good ol’ British spirit and stiff upper lip playing Osborne, and ensures to show that behind the eyes he’s just as scared as everyone. Stephen Graham and Toby Jones are other notable mentions who have moments of levity but ultimately are lost men drawn into the front.

This is a film that certainly makes you think. It’s a well made movie with an affecting tone which hangs over your head after the credits scroll. There’s an intensity and undeniable foreboding quality from start to finish.

7.5/10

Phantom Thread (2018)

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Like a fine piece of silk or a masterfully woven garment; this film is a stunning look at the toxic ups and downs of an odd relationship. It’s also, as expected, another fantastic showcase of acting from method man Daniel Day-Lewis.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a dressmaker who enjoys his time and order, he lives with Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister who has grown used to the ways of her sibling. Reynolds falls for a young waitress one day and she becomes his muse and model, she is in love with him but Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) sees that this is a relationship with differences and difficulties attached.

The whole film has a delicate touch, as if being handled by a careful seamstress itself. In any other hands I could imagine this story being slow or maybe even boring, but with Paul Thomas Anderson in charge it feels like almost perfect direction. PTA conjures up an effortlessly classic narrative that is filled with wit and visuals of beautiful design. He’s directed and written a wonderfully engaging product with stitches of humour sewed in greatly; which I wasn’t expecting when I first saw the trailer.

Breakfast clearly is the most important meal/time of the day for Mr. Woodcock; his ordered quiet he desires is seen on numerous occasions and when that calm is disturbed he becomes an animated and viciously spoken gentleman. What works so well, in character traits like this is the sound design within the film. It highlights the grating noises that he detests, such as a knife buttering toast or pouring tea, I found it an enhanced quality of sound that really brings focus to the character’s head space.

The lengths someone will go to, in a strained play of wanting attention and love becomes a significant thread; which is fascinating to watch unfold. It even gives the movie almost thriller aspects of darkness as their pairing moves forward. It’s in some of these lengths that the film does, for me at least, feel like a tiny drag. After the hour mark and one big step in their relationship, the movie feels slightly stretched and the bookend scenes are somewhat of a cliche but this is just me messily unpicking the tapestry of a film that has next to no weaknesses.

It may not be his best turn but Day-Lewis is a revelation as most would come to expect by now. There’s a charming intellect to his character and he plays with that quite a bit which provides some of the surprising many laughs. He touches greatly on the irritable and sassy side of this designer too and you can almost fear Reynolds in his concrete way of wanting everything to his perfecting standards. Krieps is stunning as this blossoming figure who grows into herself, firstly thanks to Reynolds’ aid but then down to her own self belief and desire. She too acts the comedy moments well, her loud quirks that annoy Woodcock are bliss. The two of them together work amazingly and concoct a truly believable strange yet mesmerising relationship. Manville says practically a thousand words with just a brilliant glare and she brilliantly equals Reynolds’ sharp tongue. On the other hand she has a nuanced display of her softer side in the growing adoration she feels for Alma.

I knew this would be a beautiful film but I wasn’t expecting to get wrapped up in it as much as I did. There’s great bursts of relationship-led comedy and well executed romantic tension that swirl and tumble neatly into a masterful entrancing design.

7.5/10