Padey is also Director, Cinematographer, and, just because he obviously has some spare time on his hands, also composed the soundtrack. Martinez is also an Executive Producer and, of course, plays the lead role of Sara who, shortly after visiting her childhood friend Will (Sean Osmond) starts having strange water related visions, often resulting in her being inextricably transported from her apartment living room to the bottom of the swimming pool where something invisible and malevolent tries to prevent her from reaching the surface. In addition to her friend Will, the apartment block is home to a group of buffed and tanned twenty-somethings (maybe it is Melrose Place). There’s Kate (Josephine Phoenix) the caring nurse, Zac (Dennis Mencia) the bodybuilding, narcissistic model, Alex (Raul Walder) the slightly goth, socially awkward loner and Will’s girlfriend, Lindsay (Natalie Blackman) who’s headed off to the airport just before Sara arrives. Oh, and there’s Jennifer as well (Omara Garcia) but she’s only around for the prologue scene where we see whatever’s in the pool drag her under until she not only drowns… she vanishes.
It’s a pretty neat set up with a pretty good opener but once we’ve established the threat and the characters that Sara thinks she can depend on as well as (more importantly) those who she’s suspicious and wary of, the story starts to meander in too many directions to keep us focused on the main game – which is, of course, what the hell’s happening in the pool? It’s these times, when we break out of the chamber piece to meet Alex’s nasty stepfather, or for Sara to consult the strange old fortune teller or to follow Lindsay on her secret trip to Greece to try and find out the origins of the thing in the water, that the narrative becomes overly complicated. We spend too much time trying to keep track of all these tangents, rather than being scared by the liquid tendrils of the entity that eventually rise from water (The water creature reminded me a bit of the ‘water-tentacle’ from James Cameron’s The Abyss… obviously, not as great a CGI effect as that was but, considering the low budget, a pretty well- realised creature). Unfortunately, these departures from the heart of the story also result in more and more implausible elements and that collectively serve to undermine the whole thing.
Eventually, though, the story finds its way back to its focus on the pool and our handful of characters in time to make a reasonably satisfying end with a nice twist or two (which you’ll probably guess) and a really nice final shot. But, by the time we get there I, for one, was a bit confused about what the creature was and what the ‘rules’ of its particular corner of the horror universe were. For me, these kind of films live or die by their ability to quickly and easily establish the rules of the evil force at the story’s heart and then, to stick to them. DROWNING ECHO (not a great title, by the way) plays a bit fast and loose with its rules. Early on in the film, there’s a terrific idea that uses other sources of water as the means by which Sara is wrenched back to the bottom of the pool against her will. This is such a strong device that it’s a shame to see it diluted (excuse the pun) by a lack of consistency in its application alongside a number of other ideas about how and why the creature exerts itself on our heroes. It’s disappointing, because there’re a lot of good ideas here, that with the best of intentions, just don’t end up reaching their potential.
DROWNING ECHO is now available on VOD via High Octane Pictures.
With an enticing promotional campaign, US has arrived with an added level of expectation. The various trailers promised a bold and confident premise with expert direction, and now that it's upon us the verdict is in... and I can confirm that it is – indeed - confident. As for bold and expert... not quite, as far as I'm concerned.
The Wilson family are spending their Summer vacation in Santa Cruz, a beachside resort with a waterfront amusement park. Their holiday is cut short, however, when a family of doppelgangers crash their house in an intense home-invasion, and wage a violent assault against them. The intruders are exact replicants of the mother, father, daughter and son, and through a series of flashbacks we discover that the mother experienced an incident 30-years ago, which determined the unfolding events. Obviously this is a layman's synopsis because to reveal more would be to unleash a world of spoilers upon you.
What I will say is that US is a formulaic film disguised as something important. Peele garnered a justifiable reputation for being an important voice. Get Out was an astute social commentary that coincided with a significant social movement, and the world has become so enamoured with him that people are expecting his next big statement. And while I have no doubt that there is a lot of allegory to be found, and that one viewing is not enough to tap into the film's layers, I can say without reservation that the story itself is wearisome and conventional.
Imagine Jordan Peele as a barman at a cocktail lounge and his personal concoction consists of a variety of spirits. Mix a little bit of The Strangers with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, followed by a shot of Disturbing Behaviour and a tipple of Funny Games. Garnish with a slice of Dawn of the Dead and the drink is called US.
Needless to say I wasn't impressed. It is a generally well acted (overacted at times) affair with notable effectiveness coming from the two child actors. They have a good understanding of the genre and give genuinely chilling performances. The adults, on the other hand, give hammy and feigned turns that venture into caricature territory. There is never a sincere sense of dread from them as their world is turned upside down by lurking menace. Instead they crack wise and find look for lame gags.
On the bright side, the one standout component to US is the phenomenon soundtrack and score. Composer Michael Abels's music is the heart and soul of the film, providing a pulsating, brooding and thematic sound design. His infusion of strings with trip-hop is amongst the most memorable film scores I can recall in recent memory and it - on its own - is worthy of accolades.
Obviously one passing of US makes for a secondary impression and it's impossible to be scholastic about it without further exploration. It is a film I would be happy to revisit on the promise of further discovery, however as of right now I have not been impressed and I cannot overlook the mundanity of it. It is full of improbabilities and inconsistencies that undermine the horror. There is a pretext that US is supposed to be important and that's a pretentious and shit-house way to approach a film.
20-years ago it was expected for astute cinema-lovers to cite him as a favourite director, but with the past decade of hit-and-miss fodder including Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, his work has become deceitfully hollow. It is true that he has fought to maintain his trademark dark-fantasy aesthetic by making movies like Dark Shadows, Sweeney Todd and Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, but throughout it all there is the absence of originality and innovation. There is no longer an anticipation for “the next Tim Burton movie”, but rather fond memories of the trailblazer he once was.
His career began with Disney when he was an animator on films like The Fox and the Hound and Tron, and so it is rather fitting that he would find himself back in their stables for the better part of the last decade. DUMBO is his third Disney film since 2010 and it adds to the seemingly endless string of live-action adaptations of their previous animated classics. This is a new era for the company and one that has been a wish-washy journey thus far. Some of their titles - like Cinderella and Pete's Dragon - have been fantastic, while others such as Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book have been mediocre at best. This is a moving freight train that Disney has launched and there's no slowing down as far ahead as we can see. DUMBO rests somewhere between those aforementioned titles, sitting comfortably in the middle where the positive balances out with the negative.
The original Dumbo was quite a dark film, full of twisted imagery and psychedelic hallucinations. It often finds itself listed amongst the scarier of kids movies, despite its cute and cuddly facade, and Burton's new adaptation taps in to that reputation, spending its time traipsing the murky depths.
The film opens with a montage sequence introducing us to The Medici Brothers Circus, a travelling sideshow lead by the so-called “world famous” Max Medici (Danny DeVito), a dishevelled ringmaster who struggles to keep the show afloat. His luck turns around when his largest performing elephant gives birth to an adorable floppy-eared cutie named Dumbo, who has the incredible ability of flight. Naturally Dumbo becomes a global success and is purchased to become a star-attraction at Dreamland, a mega-theme part run by a ruthless entrepreneur (Michael Keaton).
The overall storyline adheres to that of the 1941 original, however much more has been added to facilitate a 112-minute running time (the original was only 64-minutes long). The introduction of human characters is obviously essential, with the previous film having only a mouse to guide Dumbo through his trials, and these include a young brother and sister and their one-armed father (played by Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins and Colin Farrell respectively). In addition to DeVito's character the circus also includes an ensemble of carnie performers, including Eva Green as a French traipse artist. Michael Keaton's is the villain and his henchman is played by Joseph Gatt.
Of course creating human characters for a live-adaptation was important, and individually they have merit, but this is a film so full of clutter that the characters become almost irrelevant... or more-so they get lost in the wash. Make no mistake, Burton has crafted a beautiful looking film with a glorious production design, but as has often been his foible the saturation of CGI is overwhelming. It's difficult to connect with a film emotionally when most of what you're watching is computer generated (at least in Burton's case), and when the characters lack depth it's especially hard to connect.
DUMBO's strength lies with Dumbo himself. As a focal point he is stunningly realised and animated, and does indeed radiate warmth (what does that say when an animated elephant out-acts the human cast?). He is an adorable character pitted against some of the darkest imagery that Disney have every committed to film. This is also a strength of the film. This is a movie that will challenge its younger audiences and parents ought to be prepared for the questions and restlessness that follows. There is little light to be seen and the film tells a gruelling tale of animal cruelty from start to finish. Don't worry you will be spared the agony of enduring graphic depictions of torture, but you will be confronted with awful psychological abuse and implications of physical harm. This is the tone for most of the film and animal welfare informs the entire narrative. I personally like this aspect of DUMBO and am a staunch supporter of challenging kids through film. Lots of lessons can be learned and if this new adaptation can instil historical context and awareness to such issues, then good.
Therefore it is heartbreaking when DUMBO is delivered with a terrible script, accompanied by substandard performances. Young Nico Parker is particularly average as Dumbo's biggest ally. Where her role should be one of strength and determination, she is reduced to oddly sign-posted lines of dialogue to signal obvious points of reference to young viewers. Michael Keaton shouldn't be let off the hook either as he turns in one of the worst performances of his career. This film should signal a triumphant reunion between him and Burton (after Batman, Batman Returns and Beetlejuice) but there's little fun to be had as he phones in an archetypal portrayal of a villain... and don't get me started on the hair-piece. The rest of the cast are adequate, though no one stands out above the rest. Like I said, the cartoon elephant owns this one.
DUMBO isn't a bad movie, nor is it a good movie. It is simply an average one. There are positives to be taken from it, as well as an equal measure of negatives. It is dark, confronting and mostly sombre... with a centrepiece of cuteness. That's about the most I can say about it. You will have to be the judge on this one.
Firstly let me say that PET SEMATARY (2019) is amongst the best contemporary mainstream horror films of the moment. It is a quality horror film - better than most theatrical horror releases - and it is definitely worth the price of admission. But the problem I have is that I had planned on approaching this review without ever referencing the previous 1989 version. I was adamant on treating this as a new adaptation and not a remake, and yet you can imagine my frustration when the new film ends up relying so heavily on the audience's knowledge of that original movie, that ignoring it would be a mistake. Oy Vay.
Fans will know the story well and PET SEMATARY adheres to the familiar plot... for the most part. Louis and Rachel Creed (Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz) move to the small town of Ludlow with their two children, Ellie and Gage (Jete Laurence and Huge & Lucas Lavoie), and discover an old pet cemetery in the woods behind their house. When their pet cat is hit by a truck they follow the advice of their elderly neighbour, Jud (John Lithgow) and bury its body in an ancient burial ground beyond the cemetery. The feline is resurrected and returns a little different... and undead. Tragedy later strikes the family and the ritual is repeated, leading to macabre consequences. Fans know the drill but I will say no more for the benefit of newcomers.
Co-directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (Starry Eyes) come to PET SEMATARY with a few tricks up their sleeves, and by playing on the viewer's awareness of the story, they shake things up a bit to catch everyone off guard. Of course I am not going to spoil those surprises, but I will do my best to work around them. The most fundamental shift in the story is also the most audacious, and the result is open to interpretation. Where it could be argued that the story's dramatic and emotional crux is sacrificed, there is merit in the adverse effect of the gratuitous horror being amplified. Various iconic moments and themes are shuffled about to catch viewers off guard and many of the tropes are exploited to the max, while a few components are abandoned entirely (most notably an entire character is excised).
I imagine the response from fans will go either way, with those who cherish King's underlining themes being confused and disappointed, while open-minded viewers may relish in the trickery and manipulation of the story. I have tussled with my feelings since seeing the film and I have ebbed and flowed towards my conclusion. I am sorry to have lost the raw emotional charge of the previous film (and the novel) but I am grateful that consideration was given to my want for something fresh. And having witnessed the movie and its horrors with a willing & responsive audience, I am landing on the side of praise.
Despite the cinema itself playing the film without it's full stereo mix (an unfortunate accident), PET SEMATARY was delivered with a completely atmospheric production and sound designs. From eerie fog-swept forests to effective sound-stage set pieces, the look and sound of the film is torn straight out of the pages of King and unfurled before our eyes. The iconic cemetery itself looks much the same, as described in the novel, and the two houses central to the story are effectively located. The interiors are also as described by King and reminiscent to the 89' film and each room is used effectively as the horror unravels.
The one notable weakness is the addition of several fantasy sequences, which replace some of the original story's most effective cautionary elements. That iconic spectre who haunts Louis to forewarn him of his actions is given less significance, despite being emphasised, and is obscured by an overriding series of dreamscapes. It's one of the sillier misdirections that the filmmakers use to differentiate the film from the other, and their divergence from King's source material seems pointless. It is, however, just as easily overlooked.
The cast is excellent and all three central adult players approach the material with the sincerity it deserves. Clarke and Seimetz are very good and hone in on the true horror of the story, although their emotional arch is not as effective as previously portrayed by Dale Midciff and Denise Crosby. This is no fault of theirs given that the script never allows for them to explore too deeply. John Lithgow assumes the role of Jud perfectly and embodies the same ol' timer qualities of Fred Gwyne in the original, although less frivolously. Lithgow's portrayal is more stoic and remorseful, with perhaps the most emotional reach of the entire cast. And of course the children are fantastic, as is the adorable kitty. The less I say about them the better.
PET SEMATARY is a solid exploit, which takes the audience into the depths of horror without any apologies. It is a suspenseful, tense and unnerving cinematic experience that – like the book – offers no light. This is as grim as Stephen King gets, and that feeling of horrified invigoration also comes with a weighty sense of despair and melancholia. As a fan of the novel and the 1989 film I have no reservations recommending this latest adaptation. All three incarnations proudly occupy the horror landscape and will impress those open-minded King devotees.
So, it was with some fear and trepidation that I fronted up to this slightly obscure little film whose trailer doesn’t really do it justice. Here, Nighy is Alan, a lovely, quiet, contained role that is the polar opposite of the Cameron Foster character that made such an impression on me, but allows for a quintessentially Bill Nighy performance nonetheless.
Alan is a retired Merseyside tailor, an old school gentleman with a small obsession for words, especially on a scrabble board. As characterised by his son, Peter (Sam Riley) Alan is a man who would always choose the not-quite-right ‘copy’; a knock-off version of scrabble with the letters cut out of a cardboard sheet, or a Lego clone that wasn’t quite as good as the real thing. And in this little character quirk lies something that sits at the heart of the film. Alan’s son Michael has disappeared some time ago (walked out over a disputed word in a game of scrabble) and Alan’s life has become devoted to finding that lost son… at the expense of a relationship with Peter, the son who stayed. The real thing. We meet Alan and Peter as they are on their way to a village where the local coroner has an unidentified body that could be Michael. Here we also meet Margaret (Jenny Agutter) and Arthur (Tim McInnerny) who also have a missing son and who are also here to view the body. These kinds of random, off-kilter meetings and relationships are the norm for this very English film that sits somewhere between dark comedy and wry drama.
When Alan ‘pops over’ to his son’s house after they return from the viewing of the body, he not only accepts the dinner invitation from Sue (Alice Lowe) his daughter-in-law, he ends up staying several weeks, bunking in (literally) with his grandson Jack (Louis Healy) with whom he develops an entirely unexpected relationship. It’s also through Jack that we get the title of the film: Alan, the tailor, sets the rules for his grandson’s jacket - those three buttons – the top one is sometimes buttoned, the middle one is always buttoned but the bottom one is never buttoned. It’s this life of proper behaviour, etiquette and accepted ways of doing things that not only defines Alan, but make his irregular behaviour, improper actions and the breaking of etiquettes funny, moving and endearing. When Alan himself disappears, off on a potentially wild goose chase following an online scrabble clue that he’s certain will lead him to Michael, his absence becomes a galvanising force within the family and leads to an ending that isn’t quite what I expected.
This is Carl Hunter’s first outing as a feature director working with a screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Goodbye Christopher Robin, The Railway Man, 24 Hour Party People) and this partnership of highly experienced screenwriter and new director seems to pay off. Hunter has a talent for capturing this offbeat style of storytelling in a way that avoids the trickiness and self-consciousness that might otherwise be the touchstones for a film like this, and with cinematographer Richard Stoddard, the film finds a deft visual hand with moments of quite sublime photographic beauty.
In addition to Nighy’s captivating performance, Riley as the son and Healy as the grandson give lovely and compelling performances that strike a well-balanced family dynamic kept slightly off kilter by Lowe’s very funny role as the mother. And it’s great to see Jenny Agutter in a small but perfect role that reminded me of Sissy Spacek’s terrific turn opposite Robert Redford in his recent The Old Man & The Gun. In the end, Alan seems to find what we know he should have been looking for all along, and it’s mostly satisfying with the possible exception of the final image which I’m still pondering as to whether it undercuts the conclusion of the film or not. This is a small film that will come and go quite quickly. Blink and you’ll miss it. My recommendation is not to blink, and see what you make of that last shot.
Netflix (ie the small screen) is the right platform for THE DIRT - which is based on the autobiography The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band – because it presents a second-rate true story, which hasn't the charisma or impact worthy of a theatrical release. It is, however, an entertaining time-warp back to the decade of big hair bands, excess and glam rock.
The film is told through the perspectives of each of the band members, their manager and their head of security. And as we journey through their career, from life before formation to the pinnacle of success, we are given a distorted glimpse into the workings of an out of control rock band. It is essentially the Wikipedia equivalent of their story, where notable milestones and incidents are retold while all of the in between stuff is essentially a fabricated patchwork.
I can say unreservedly that I enjoyed THE DIRT, but I also spent the entire time wondering what Mötley Crüe fans would think of it. Those loyal to them will know their story inside and out, and will undoubtedly be frustrated with this recollection. Whereas newcomers to their music, or even the passive fans, will be more inclined to take this story as gospel. And so it's difficult to say who this movie was made for.
Nevertheless the film is colourful, somewhat graphic and a little bit edgy. It depicts a fairytale account of stardom and exploits every cliché under the sun. Director Jeff Tremaine (of Jackass fame) makes his non-Jackass feature film debut and does a decent job of it. He has successfully recaptured the tone of the 80s with all of the glam stylings and spandex misdemeanours. The music is loud and the set-pieces are explosive. Massive balls of fire shoot across the screen during the live performances and copious amounts of drugs are consumed back stage.
Sadly the patchy script and subpar performances weigh the film down, anchoring it to its streaming platform presentation and preventing it from theatrical potential. I have no doubt of the sincere intentions behind telling Mötley Crüe's story, but none of it feels important. The glossy veneer that laminates the screen gives the false impression of parody, as if it were Spinal Tap or Wayne's World, and their heavier themes running throughout the film fail to resonate. Addictions, domestic violence, childhood trauma and death are all present in their story, and yet the script brushes past them all in search of the next big rock moment. No doubt these were the catalyst moments of their lives, and yet none of it matters when there's fans to woo and chicks to bang.
The likeness of the band is adequate, although obtuse enough to be distracting. Band members Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Mick Mars and Vince Neil are played by Douglas Booth, Colson Baker, Iwan Rheon and Daniel Webber respectfully and they do the best they can with what they've got. The routine and derivative script dictates the perimeters of their performances, which keeps them restrained and unable to flex any real dramatic muscle. The supporting cast includes Pete Davidson and David Costabile whose performances should provide significant direction, but ultimately fall by the way side.
Much like Bohemian Rhapsody, THE DIRT is a fairytale version of what really happened. It is more concerned about presenting a rock-n-roll odyssey than it is about depicting the earnest reality of fame. Sure it gets messy, and drug addiction is gross, but the moral of this particular film is that no matter what, through thick and thin.... ROCK AND FUCKING ROLL, MAN!!!!
Yes, there is a cat in PET GRAVEYARD but it is neither a pet nor a particularly logical part of the narrative. It is, however, arguably the ugliest feline I can ever remember seeing on screen.
The premise here is that Lily Newman (Jessica O’Toole) and her thrill-seeking brother Jeff (David Cotter) are distraught at the loss of their mother, Sara (Kate Lush) in a car crash some time before we catch up with the story. To compound matters, they both (Lily in particular) feel some responsibility for her death, having allowed her to drive off in a drunken state instead of demanding she surrender her car keys. Lily, it seems, is slowly making an effort at getting her life back together with plans to get her nursing studies back on track, but Jeff is reckless and out of control. So much so, that when he meets equally grief-stricken Zara (Rita Siddiqui) - who is mourning the loss of her little brother - and Francis - who was driving the car that crashed and killed his girlfriend – he is eager to believe their story about the ritual of brinking; a method by which the living can be suffocated to death in order to spend a brief time with the departed before being resuscitated several minutes later. But all is not what they expect when they reach the ‘other side’ and despite thinking they’ve ‘brinked’ or cheated death, the Grim Reaper (Clive Cohen in a not-very-convincing costume and mask) comes after them in the world of the living to claim what is rightfully his. It seems they were mistaken about the power of the ritual and that the Grim Reaper does not look kindly on those who think that the afterlife is somewhere they can come and go as they please.
This isn’t a bad idea for a film and, although it has its moments, it suffers from some poor structural decisions in Suzy Spade’s screenplay. The first is that the story begins with a nine-and-a-half-minute prologue that follows the tragic and gruesome end of a couple of characters who tried this brinking thing three years earlier. For me, this was the most compelling and unsettling sequence of the whole movie with its mysterious goings on and terrified characters who were clearly trying to escape from a seriously malevolent force. The problem with this, though, is that it telegraphs the story beats that the rest of the film will focus on, using up all the surprises at the front end and leaving not much for us to wonder about or be scared by for the other ninety minutes. The second problem with the screenplay is that it follows what happens to the three ‘brinkers’ (Jeff, Zara and Francis) one after the other. The trouble here is that their stories are all a bit similar and unfold in much the same way and at pretty much the same pace which doesn’t help the problem created by the prologue. What that leaves us with is a sense that we’re always ahead of the story which, for a horror movie, is not a good thing.
Jessica O’Toole makes a good fist of Lily, the reluctant participant, and she manages to find what she needs to rise to the occasion by film’s end, but without the kinds of scares and thrills we need along the way, the ending falls a bit flat. This is the first feature outing for director Rebecca Matthews and in the prologue, at least, she gives us a hint of what the future might hold for her filmmaking.
The original title for this film was Reaper which, in the absence of any actual pets or pet graveyards, might have been a better way to go. If Uncork’d Entertainment had hoped the name change might give them the kind of boost that films from The Asylum seem to get from these knock-off titles, then I’m afraid they were sadly mistaken. Type "Pet Graveyard" into Google and, unfortunately for Uncork’ed, the first dozen hits you’ll get will all be for Pet Semetary.
PET GRAVEYARD is available on DVD/digital through Uncork'd Entertainment on April 2nd.
Director Michael Caton-Jones has a few interesting runs on the board, with his best film being 1995’s Rob Roy, but he’s been languishing a bit since 2006’s Basic Instinct 2 crashed and burned. Here he brings a journeyman’s efficiency and a practiced eye to the proceedings, using real locations to good effect (Syracuse standing on for Brooklyn) to draw us into the sepia-toned, ritualistic world of Jewish organised crime (see also: Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, David Mamet’s Homicide, or even Sidney Lumet’s oddity, A Stranger Among Us for more in this vein).
ASHER's key strength, though, is its cast. Perlman brings real complexity to the role of Asher, using his physicality to good effect (in his severe suit and handmade leather shoes, Asher looks like Karloff’s Frankenstein in silhouette) but also giving us a sense of his oppressive loneliness and yearning for connection. Janssen, always an underrated performer, makes Sophie not a prize to be won but a real person with her own life and problems – chief among them her mother, Dora (Jacqueline Bisset), who is suffering from advanced dementia. Bisset herself is remarkable in that challenging role, with Dora functioning as both a rather horrifying harbinger of old age (something Asher wrestles with) and a character in her own right. The character’s presence also allows for some gallows humour as Asher, who lest we forget is not just a nice guy but a really efficient killer, offers the most obvious solution to the issue at hand.
As a crime thriller, ASHER hits familiar beats with perfunctory precision, just like its hulking protagonist. It’s charm lies not in its genre trappings, but in the way it works as a late life romantic drama dressed up in John Wick’s old clothes. Asher is meditative rather than pulse-pounding, so while it won’t sate those solely looking for shoot-em-up set-pieces, it’s a quietly commanding little film nonetheless.
ASHER is available on DVD through Eagle Entertainment on April 4, 2019.
It’s a passing angsty teen fancy, of course – Leah doesn’t really want her mother dead and, besides, none of this black magic nonsense really works, right? Except this time it does, and Leah must now figure out a way to undo the summoning in the face of a series of increasingly creepy events that will, as both she and canny horror viewers know, culminate in her mother’s death.
Taking several leaves from the upper echelon Blumhouse playbook, MacDonald leans on atmosphere and performance rather than elaborate special effects, building dread and foreboding on a relatively basic narrative foundation that nonetheless provides ample opportunity for chills. Which is not to say that we don’t get the odd bit of splatter – just that scenes such as when Leah’s friend Janice (Chloe Rose) stays over at the house and they find her sitting in the car in the morning, terrified out of her wits and refusing to say why, are far more effective.
There’s not too much else to say about PYEWACKET (the title, by the way, comes from the recorded name of a demonic familiar to one of witchfinder Matthew Hopkins’ victims – history is fun) without going into detail that’s better off discovered in the course of viewing. It lacks the narrative verve and dizzying genre ambition of last year’s Hereditary, with which it shares a few commonalities, but it’s a solid, well-crafted entry nonetheless. MacDonald is going to be worth keeping an eye on if he continues down this path.
Pyewacket is released on DVD via Eagle Entertainment on April 10, 2019.
Between its high-stakes whodunnit, moral dilemmas and juicy family gossip constantly being revealed, viewers will find themselves hooked instantly.
The film’s plot sees Laura (Cruz) and her two children return to her tight knit hometown for a wedding, only for her daughter Irene (Carla Campra) to disappear under suspicious circumstances. A text message soon arrives from kidnappers demanding a ransom, which sounds a bit like a rehash of story beats from Taken at first glance, but Farhadi instead uses it as a springboard for exploring his characters and their relationships. For instance, although Paco (Bardem) is treated like another
member of Laura’s immediate family, many years ago he was merely the son of their servant. A successful vineyard owner by the time we are introduced to him, Paco becomes torn between helping his lifelong friends and respecting the boundaries of their family; after all, he’s built up his own life by this point. Similarly, Laura’s parents and siblings each form their own theories for who is behind the kidnapping and what should be done to get Irene back, which inevitably clash and make for some classic ‘dinner table argument’ scenes. While I can’t say whether any of them are ultimately right without the risk of spoiling some excellent twists, I found the resolution to each mystery Farhadi teased to be highly satisfying.
As my focus on his character’s arc may have suggested, Bardem is easily the standout among the film’s impressive cast. While English-speaking audiences will most likely recognise him from a memorable string of villainous turns (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Paco is Bardem’s most thoughtful and charming role since Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I’m admittedly a sucker for any actor successfully playing against type, yet watching Bardem exhibit a full gamut of emotions throughout EVERYBODY KNOWS truly reveals how under-utilised he is as a character actor, at least in his English roles. Cruz is unfortunately given less to do, which surprised me given how well Farhadi’s scripts usually flesh out their protagonists. Nevertheless, her portrayal of Laura’s unthinkable loss makes the most of its limited scope; even when she’s relegated to the background of a scene, Cruz is able to say more with simple looks than plenty of lesser actors could with monologues.
It’s also worth noting that, their characters’ long friendship notwithstanding, Farhadi thankfully resists the urge to stunt cast real-life couple Bardem and Cruz as husband and wife here; from Eyes Wide Shut to By the Sea, such a move has consistently proven to detract from performances. By contrast, Laura’s husband Alejandro is played by Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin, who brings an enigmatic calmness perfect for a character whose absence looms over the film’s first half. When Alejandro finally arrives, EVERYBODY KNOWS’ drama kicks into its highest gear as secrets quickly spill out, allowing the supporting cast to shine and carry their own remarkably well opposite Bardem and Cruz. In fact, despite Farhadi’s interest in family dynamics being clear from his past work, this is the largest ensemble I’ve ever seen him work with. While he certainly succeeds at delivering the tension a kidnapping plot requires, I was most impressed by how well this is combined with an intricately woven web of relationships. EVERYBODY KNOWS is a consistently captivating, fascinating career move that proves Farhadi is a filmmaker who’s (forgive me,) well worth knowing about.
Ignoring the printed world of Marvel, the MCU has come a long way since Iron Man kick-started it all in 2008. Looking back to its retrospectively humble beginnings, the franchise has gone on to monopolise cinema-screens with its intricate tapestry of stories and timelines. Personally, I enjoyed the novelty of the franchise early on, but found myself wearied and disconnected as the series unfolded. And so you can imagine my mixed emotions when Captain Marvel comes along and kicks some serious ass. Just when I thought I was on the outskirts of this cinematic movement, they pull me back in. Dammit… MCU21 is a belter and I cannot deny it due credit.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL REVIEW AT SCREEN REALM.