Posts by Chris Love

data professional, runner, photographer; these are my hobbies at present, I make no guarantees to the future.

Beyond the Woods (2018)

Release Date: 5th February 2018

Running Time: 82 minutes

Language:  English

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Independent horror fans will savour Sean Breathnach’s feature length debut as a group of friends face some mysterious happenings after a sinkhole opens up near their isolated holiday retreat.

Filmed on location in Ireland, Beyond the Woods sees seven friends gather at a holiday cottage. Undaunted, if a little nauseated, by the smell emanating from a nearby sinkhole they set about enjoying the weekend. As drink and drugs flow, the group of thirty -somethings settle in for a weekend without mobile signal and internet, and the sinkhole remains an unvisited, though pervasive threat. Soon though it is affecting the groups behaviour – an ill-advised threesome threatens friendships and one of the group goes missing next morning. Before long the slowly diminishing group are facing a far greater threat than the smell.

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This budget supernatural horror takes a while to find its feet but after a slow and patient opening Breathnach is soon deftly ramping up the tension as increasingly bizarre happenings add to the feeling of unease established at the outset. Here it’s worth commenting on the simple plot devices used to establish the tension, for example mud and ash trails are found outside the bedrooms repeatedly, and mirrors are used several times to offer to hint at supernatural happenings. It’s easy for budget horror to stray into clichés, and while Breathnach uses well established horror devices such as “stalker” camera angles through leaves and sudden power cuts, they’re not over used. Although there are gory moments it’s the unseen that creates the terror here, and the film is better for it.

This is a compact and well crafted horror film that deftly ratchets up the tension to breaking point, recommended viewing for horror fans everywhere.

The Beguiled (2017)

Release Date: 23rd June 2017 (United States)

Running Time: 94 minutes

Language:  English

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Sofia Coppola remakes Don Siegal and Clint Eastwood’s 1971 red-blooded original, providing an altogether more delicate piece as an all-girls’ seminary finds its peace shattered by the arrival of a wounded soldier.

The American Civil war is raging in Virginia close to the Girls’ School run by Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) when pupil Amy finds Yankee mercenary Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) who has deserted the battle following a leg wound. She helps him to the school where Miss Martha, teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the five remaining students are immediately fascinated by their handsome guest.

The unconscious Corporal is locked in a room and tended by Miss Martha, who mends his wounds and washes down the soldier, soon finding herself rather overcome by the process. As he recovers McBurney is soon visited by a succession of the pupils, as well as the two teachers, who all pander for the attention of the new arrival. McBurney for his part revels in his new found situation, telling Edwina “In all my travels, I’ve never come across a delicate beauty like yours” and Amy “I consider you my best friend in this place”, though we’re never quite sure who is the predator and who is the prey.

Between the attentions of Alicia (Elle Fanning), a teenage student who desires seem a little less ladylike than the others, as well as Miss Martha and Miss Edwina then it seems a recuperated McBurney is certainly in no mood to leave, and as Confederate soldiers arrive at the door the females resolve not to give up their guest. A rather delightful dinner follows, brimming with understated humour as girls fall over each other to claim a hand in an apple pie their guest is enjoying.

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The period detail and mooted, sepia colours set the tone throughout and Copella and cast let the scenes play out with subtlety, as much said in glances and body language as in the script. The atmosphere is twinged with tension that borders on Gothic horror from early on; white dresses providing a blazing contrast to both moody exterior and dimly lit interiors, as well as blood later.

The cast never misstep and Kidman in particular revels in the role of the prim and proper headmistress. The group scenes are the punchiest; music recitals and dinners providing the coquettish female harem with room to compete for the soldier’s attentions, Coppola giving the women centre stage in a reversal of Siegal’s rather over the top, macho affair.

The subtlety and pace at times though borders on languor, and when the tempo changes it does so with a staccatoed abruptness, the pace and story almost moving too quickly to the film’s climax. The overall impact is somewhat underwhelming and despite the gentle, almost camp, humour and underlying tension in the set up, the rushed finish leaves a disappointing aftertaste with Dunst’s character Edwina in particular feeling rather neglected at the climax story-wise.

This is an ambitious remake for Coppola, and one that is broadly successful despite a few missteps in the pacing.

 

God’s Own Country (2017)

Release Date: 1st September 2017 (UK Release)

Running Time: 105 minutes

Language:  English

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A young Yorkshire farmer battles loneliness before finding romance in this directorial debut from Francis Lee.

Johnny Sexton (Josh O’Conner) lives on a Yorkshire farm with father, Martin, and Nan, Deidre. His father’s stroke has left him increasingly responsible for the day to day working of the farm, a task we quickly find out is increasingly at odds with his binge drinking and sexual exploits with other men. An emotionless tryst with an apprentice Auctioneer in the back of a cattle van leaves him late home and leaves his struggling father to cope with a pregnant heifer, the result being a dying calf which Johnny is forced to dispatch with a pellet gun by his angry father.

Johnny has lost many friends to University, and the constant nagging at the farm is driving him further into self destruction. His treatment of new farm hand, hard working Romanian migrant Gheorghe (the excellent Alec Secareanu), does not give much room for sympathy.

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The two men share a few nights lambing in the “Top Field”. Whether it’s the diet of instant noodles or the bleak weather but Gheorghe sees something we can’t in Johnny and the two start a passionate, intense relationship. Johnny’s rough lovemaking gradually tempered by his tender lover. As the two grow closer, Martin’s health worsens and the young men’s relationship is tested to breaking point as Johnny struggles with responsibility and his burgeoning emotions for the Romanian.

This is a tender, romantic story full of real feeling with excellent performances from the limited cast. O’Conner, as Johnny, has a limited script but wordlessly conveys Johnny’s struggle with perfectly judged emotion. Wonderfully paced throughout, Francis Lee uses the farm setting to expertly control the action and move the romance front and centre of the story.  Yorkshire itself shines throughout, offering contracts of bleak desolation and beauty.

The one problem throughout though is that Johnny’s character offers little in the way for the viewer to connect with. His loneliness, lack of love from a broken family and isolation all offer reasons for his behaviour, but one can’t help but wonder what Gheorghe sees in him. Even as the film draws to a climax his desperate attempts to win Gheorghe’s love are selfish and clumsy.

Ultimately this is a film about hope, and boy it delivers.

I Am Not a Witch (2017)

Release Date: 20 October 2017 (UK Release)

Running Time: 92 minutes

Language:  English, Bemba, Nyanja and Tonga

 

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Rungano Nyoni’s debut I Am Not a Witch offers a bold, satirical take on witchcraft in modern Zambia.

The film opens with a glimpse of a Zambian “Witch Camp”: the “witches” sit in rows with white painted faces, while white tourists arrive by bus and view them like animals in a zoo. The surreal fact that such camps do exist in modern Arica provides the material for the film.

8 year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is accused of being a witch, her crime as minor as being present as a local woman falls over, dropping the water she is carrying. As the police interrogate the witness in front of gathered mob her story is backed up by a man claiming Shula cut off his arm with an axe – the fact this happened in a dream explains away the fact he still has both arms.

Mr Banda (Henry BJ Phiri), a corrupt Public Official, soon gets involved in Shula’s case and, having given Shula the option of confessing her witchery or be turned into a goat, she finds herself tied to a spindle by a long white ribbon like with other witches and working in the fields. Banda quickly turns to using Shula as a supernatural judge and jury in the solving of crimes, making a tidy profit for himself and earning gin for the witches. An enterprise both sides benefit from, aside from young Shula who faces harassment as she moves from village to village.

As the mainly mute Shula, a self-assured and confident Mulubwa plays it absolutely straight, despite the obvious satire being portrayed. The cinematography plays over ribbons and dry earth as a gentle counterpoint to the satire, ensuring the serious subject matter being portrayed isn’t overly ridiculed. One minor misgiving is that sometimes lingering a fraction too long, stretching contemplation into langour.

Clearly witches don’t exist, but here the film offers just enough room for doubt as the film nods towards a surreal, supernatural edge; albeit such belief among the protagonists is often reserved for getting rid of unwanted elements of society, namely elderly relatives, as opposed to a sustained belief system.

Phiri’s clumsy portrayal of clownish Mr Banda doesn’t sit comfortably but Muluba’s clinical performance, perfectly placed satire and camera offer much to enjoy throughout. Chaotic, original and brave this directorial debut offers much to be excited about.

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Toni Erdmann (2016)

Release date: 14 May 2016

Running Time: 162 Minutes

Language: German / English / Romanian (subtitled)

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A strained father – daughter relationships bears the focus in Maren Ade’s beautifully constructed oscar-nominated comedy drama.

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek), divorced school teacher, and father to straight-laced business consultant Ines (Sandra Hüller), enjoys a prank or two. The opening scene sees him tortuously tease a delivery driver regarding his mailbomb-making “brothers” package – the “joke” continuing as he returns to the door having donned fake teeth and sunglasses to play the part of the “brother”.

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The false teeth continue to take starring role as Winfried pays an unannounced visit to his somewhat estranged daughter in her Budapest office. Staking out her arrival in reception for several hours, he dons teeth and sunglasses and jocularly buries his head in a newspaper, walking alongside as she enters with several key business contacts. The scene, almost painful to watch, plays out like much of the film – the laughs coming through a grimace as father’s prank falls on daughter’s straight-faced indifference.

The two, briefly and awkwardly, spend time together before Winfried apparently leaves for home, albeit only to reappear in Ines’ life once again as ill-disguised (with aforementioned teeth and glasses) alter-ego “Toni Erdmann”; a larger than life character who is apparently life-coach to one of Ines’ clients (or the German Ambassador).

The relationship takes centre stage throughout the film’s long 162 minutes, but also  provides a backdrop upon which themes of misogyny, European politics and capitalism are overlaid. However the film remains at its best when the comedy is at its most awkward. From a “naked party” to a gloriously painful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” this is a film often watched through parted fingers; these moments are cringe humour at its finest.

Throughout though the balance of drama and comedy is kept tight; the characters are three-dimensional and complex. Despite his misfiring pranks Winfried isn’t allowed to become the butt of the joke, his sensitivity and concern for his daughter never far below the surface. As Ines, Hüller never sets a foot wrong, moving deftly from playing straight-man to chasing a costumed Winfried / Toni through the park for an emotionally charged hug.

The result is a tender and rather beautiful film, pieced together with alternately light, bizarre and at times cringe-worthy humour and comes highly recommended.

 

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