IT CAME FROM BELOW gives us a new spin to an old favourite, the swamp creature. When Jesse (Purvis) and Sam’s (Watkins) father dies, they decide to find answers about a creature that their father believed lived in the caves. With two friends, Joanna (Banks) and Marty (Taplin), the group set about learning the truth.
Our hero of the story, Jesse, is conflicted about the creature her father saw but is dedicated to proving him right. Sam and Joanna, however, are not convinced while Marty is open to the possibility. What they ultimately confront is a monstrous creature which sounds like a T-Rex crossed with Godzilla.
The acting from the main cast is relatable and their adventure is believable, Each character has their own motivation for following Jesse and Sam into the cave and when they venture deep into the darkness the claustrophobic atmosphere elevates their irritation, causing the group to split up,
IT CAME FROM BELOW has a simple story with a complicated world behind it. Written by Dan Allen and Sam Ashurst, the screenplay builds the tension well but lets the viewer down with the lack of answers. While we do follow Jesse, who only knows what her father has told her, the creature in the cave’s origins is only alluded to despite her father surviving with a diary of information. The teasing of an answer is shown through flashbacks of him on his deathbed, but the payoff is more emotional and psychological than the film alludes.
The strength of the film is the quality of the visuals and sound designs. Allen definitely has a style and a voice within the genre. Through his use of sound, light, and editing the he offers a classic and effective horror film. The use of the echo of drips and reverb while the four friends hike through the open woods gives an ominous and unsettling atmosphere.
IT CAME FROM BELOW is better than Allen’s first feature, but still has some story elements that need improving. While I don’t subscribe to ‘babying’ the audience, we are given very little information aside from the character's personal conviction that her father was right. This may be enough for some, but I could not help but wanting (or needing) more.
It Came From Below is available digitally from Sep 7, 2021.
Focussing on family for many years after, the video of his defeat goes viral when it is shared through forums in the late ’90s. When the public demands a re-match his chance at redemption comes knocking on his door.
Like many of these films, family is as important as the sport is itself. The love of this sport is shown through Flanery, as he is himself a black belt in karate and Brazilian jujitsu. But it’s the small but impressive cast that provides relatability in the film. Wife Layla (Bowden), their son Kyd (Charlie T Flanery), and best friend Rosco (Compte) are Kelly’s drive and support throughout the film. The heart-warming aspect of a man with impressive talent within jujitsu, feeling as though he can’t provide for his family, is Kelley’s main drive.
Set during the 1990s the film uses the interview style of narration well. It feels like a mixture between a sports documentary and a fictional film. It adds to the amazing cast's humble and loving nature, mirroring Kelley’s character. This clever writing and visual style add to the emotion you feel for Kelley and his needs as the film goes on. Finally, in the end, it’s the attachment to Kelley that brings the story home.
Not only is Flanery amazing in his portrayal of Mickey Kelley, but his part in writing the screenplay is commendable. It is a well-paced film that brings highs and lows in what feels like Kelley’s life story. The themes of resilience and purpose are strong throughout and maintain the idea that Kelley is not only good at jujitsu but also a good person. A ‘hero’ you want to see do well.
While at times it can come across too strong that he is a good person, such as the beginnings of his relationship with Layla, the encounter between Kelley and Mason (Quaid), or the story of how he became friends with Rosco. It does still feel necessary to explain why Kelley is the way he is. His motivations and ideals are just as important as the story itself. And as the supporting cast mirrors our hero, the subtle transformation of Mason’s opinion of Kelley, solidifies him as a true champion. To put himself through what he has needs to be explained to understand him better. And ultimately, they achieved that.
Overall, BORN A CHAMPION finds itself up there with some of the great sport-action dramas. It proves itself by mixing the love of the sport with family, hardship, and resilience. Alex Ranarivelo and Sean Patrick Flanery are a great team and bring this simple yet heart-warming story to our screen.
Born a Champion is available on DVD through Eagle Entertainment on September 9, 2021.
2021 | DIR: ILANTHIRAYAN ALAN ARUMUGAM | STARS: KABIR SINGH, ALBERT FISHER, PENNYANNE LACE, OZZIE DEVRISH, MARCO SINIGAGLIA, KOREY WILLIAMS, VINOD MOHANA SUNDARAM, TAHLIA JADE HOLT and CRAIG INGHAM | REVIEW BY SAMANTHA HOWSON
Kiran (Singh), our protagonist, gets a maintenance job working at the cemetery and funeral home when one day he is possessed by a vengeful soul. The mystery of the events is slowly revealed as we find out more about what links all these people together.
The acting by Kabir Singh was brilliant and really showcased his ability to switch between the relatable Kiran to the possessed spirit. The other actors were also considerable in their roles such as Ozzie Devrish, Marco Sinigaglia, Korey Williams, Vinod Mohana Sundaram, and Tahlia Jade Holt; but played characters within the story that were unnecessary. While others were underutilized, such as Pennyanne Lace and Craig Ingham.
The non-linear storytelling, involving flashbacks to fill the gaps in the story, made it disjointed and created confusing elements that then needed to be established. It felt a lot like a murder mystery television show where the flashbacks are revealed as the suspect finally tells his side of the story. But in this case, it was more of an attempt to feel empathy for Kiran and his unfortunate predicament. Because of this, the scenes with his girlfriend, unfortunately, didn’t land. The flashbacks also stunted the momentum and was unbalanced. Some scenes went too quickly to establish emotion, and other scenes went too long for no addition to the story.
The cinematography was really well done, and it had great elements of show don’t tell throughout. The supernatural effects were also visually exciting and really added to the overall tone of the film. The wrathful soul itself wasn’t shown too much and it worked in the story's favour. In particular, the crematorium scenes were exciting, and would have been great to see more of the fire and ash element.
I wouldn’t call AIYAI: WRATHFUL SOUL a horror film; it is more of a supernatural thriller. The suspense and visual anxiety of the film add to the slow reveal of the mystery at its core. It has some great visuals and story elements throughout but is unfortunately stunted due to the complicated and unbalanced editing. For a directorial debut, Ilanthirayan Alan Arumugam mixes genres of thriller, mystery, and drama to create a very solid first film.
In a nowhere space between life and death Will (Winston Duke) watches through old television sets the lives of souls he has chosen to experience life. From the young boy who is constantly bullied at school, to a young bride-to-be, through to a disabled ex-policeman he takes notes on their everyday experiences and files them with recorded video cassettes. Of particular interest to him is the young music prodigy Amanda who kills herself on the way to a major recital. For Will, Amanda’s death is a failure on his behalf. How could he have sent a soul that wasn’t strong enough to survive? Furthermore how could he not see that Amanda was suicidal?
To fill the gap left by Amanda Will has to interview a series of new souls over a nine-day period to determine which of them will be given the chance of life. If they are not chosen they cease to exist even in the liminal space between his reality and the human reality. Each soul will remain themselves if chosen to live but they will have no memory of Will and the before time.
Bringing together a collection of diverse personalities Will sets them questions and tasks to assess their suitability. The questions range from the kind of first-year philosophy conundrums often set to establish ideas like choosing for the greater good to simply asking the souls to watch the lives of the living on television and telling Will what they do and don’t like about what they see.
Assisting will in his choice is Kyo (Benedict Wong) who can only help Will and not interview subjects. Only a soul who has lived can be an interviewer. Kyo is a mysterious presence but in many ways the audience’s de facto window on Will. Who was Will when he was alive? Only Kyo knows and Will is utterly reticent to discuss his life with any of the curious candidates. Edo’s script suggests that Will lived a sad and lonely life on Earth and with the death of Amanda he’s particularly keen to avoid sending a soul that is too sensitive to live lest they are destroyed by the harshness of what life can offer.
Playing the roles of the souls are a number of actors including Zazie Beetz as Emma, Bill Skarsgård as Kane, Arianna Ortiz as Maria, and Tony Hale as Alexander. Each soul is defined and a fully formed person, yet they are confused by the rules that will possibly allow them to experience life. Of all the souls Emma is the only one who refuses to engage completely with Will. Emma knows that she possibly only has days to live so even in the before time she completely embraces the life that she has. Will is deeply challenged by her attitude which makes him assess both his position as an interviewer and to contemplate his own time on Earth.
By focusing the film mostly on Will, Edo crafts a character-based drama that doesn’t get as bogged down by the high-concept philosophical questions it elicits. Winston Duke is the beating heart of the film and his restrained and at times heartbreaking performance carries the piece where it could have easily faltered. Zazie Beetz and Benedict Wong are both sterling as supporting characters. Beetz’s Emma is a beacon of life within the confines of a non-life.
NINE DAYS opened to much acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival and it is a festival film. For a general audience perhaps it is a little too ponderous is places. However Edo creates some stellar and beautiful moments which remind the viewer of why life is worth living – the feeling of the ocean, the wind in one’s hair when riding a bike, the gentle lover turning the light off so their partner can sleep. It’s easy to forget the simplicity of what it is to live when faced with so much despair, yet Oda reminds us that both can co-exist and it is worth risking the worst for even the most ephemeral times that are the best.
Alice (Beecham) is a senior plant breeder who has designed a plant that gives its owner happiness through its pollen, but only if it is talked to and looked after. Alice affectionately names it after her son Joe (Connor), who lives with her after the separation from his father. Joe’s loneliness is present when Alice’s guilt with her dedication to work surfaces. The story takes a turn when Alice decides to take one of the flowers home as a gift to her son.
LITTLE JOE successfully integrates all the filmic elements of science fiction and drama to create a stringent and cold atmosphere of suspense and uneasiness. The opening sequence introduces us to the plants. The soundtrack playing tribal wind instruments and xylophone sounds which gives an air of remoteness. Reminiscent of early 60s science fiction music. The audience knows that these plants will be the centre of the story. They are a vibrant red that looks like a Dr. Suess tree. The hothouse is a crisp white and the workers wear blocks of colour, with teals and blues. The characters introduced, Alice and Chris, speak precisely and hold themselves stiffly but professionally.
The introduction sums up the film precisely. The suspense and surrealness of the story are shown through the constant feeling of everything being ‘slightly off’. So slight that there could be nothing wrong at all. The creative way that the cinematographer, Martin Gschlacht took advantage of the ‘elephant in the room’, which of course is Little Joe; was done brilliantly. Slow movements where the viewer finds themselves looking into the in-between spaces make the presence of the flower there without physically being there. Large open spaces show the 60s inspired costume and set dressing.
The colour-blocking and clean sets brought warmth to the sterile feel of the characters and atmosphere. It provided a clean slate for the slight changes to shine through. Alice is clearly our protagonist and is shown visually with her costume design. With her red hair, she almost looks like the flower she has designed. This red colour is used throughout in small amounts. Showing its insidious nature and presence. The simple use of colour in this film elevated the narrative and complimented the amazing acting and camerawork.
LITTLE JOE shows a mother’s psychological journey through the changes in her life and apprehension in choosing herself over others. She is dedicated to her job and loves her son, but does she have to choose? And does Little Joe choose for her? This film was brilliantly executed, technically and narratively. While the story is a ‘slow burn’ the creepy and unique atmosphere keeps you engaged until the very end.
This film successfully shows a different perspective of a war where religion is centered, and the women are both warriors and marginalised. While the more violent scenes are present throughout the film the female-driven cast shows the equally lighter sides of the family which they find in each other, although from vast backgrounds.
It was interesting; during the happier scenes with the women, the suspense of the film made me half expect something horrible to happen and when it doesn’t, and I was relieved. It probably comes from watching a lot of war films where the happiness tends to be cut short to remind us of the reality of war. But this story is not about the action of war, but the humans involved. The most powerful scenes in the film tended to be the emotional and heavier injustices towards them, particularly Zara.
The scenery and events that take place show sincerity through the camera, there is no spectacle or over-exaggeration in the visual style which many war films utilise. This doesn’t impact the story, it in fact compliments the female-orientated vision. Utilising the camera in such ways that treat the audience as intelligent equals. As an example, the opening scene shows Zara and her brothers in a field of poppies. While they are happy, and the scenery is beautiful and calming. The visual representation of the poppy is one of wartime and used to remember those who died on the battlefield.
There is a lot in this film and Fourest’s writing and directing style is a pleasure to watch. Her ability to mix the emotional, nurturing, and warm female elements with the harsh realities of war was a powerful reminder of the diversity and stringency involved. She has credits in directing documentaries and visually this is seen in this film. Both taking advantage of the fictional camera and the ‘untouched’ camera of documentary filmmaking.
OPERATION RED SNAKE is, as one of the French female soldiers says, the all-female platoon was a “feminist revolution.” Equally brilliant in its filmmaking and telling of the female perspective of this particular war. Following the true story, the pace, tension, and emotional journey keep the audience engaged from the beginning to the very last scene. Fourest’s vision is inspirational and truly deserves to be praised for weaving such an intricate tapestry of stories.