BURNING KISS is set six years after a fatal car crash that took the life of Juliette Bloom (Nichola Renton-Weir) and left her Detective husband Edmond (Richard Mellick) in a wheelchair. Edmond is now an ex-cop living with his daughter Charlotte (Alyson Walker) in an ambiguous relationship that might just have a few unhealthy elements to it (a bit of self-harm and a few control and daddy issues to contend with). Hanging over their heads is a dangerous cocktail of grief, guilt and an inability to let go of the past. Edmond needs to know who was responsible for Juliette’s death (the driver of the other car drove away and was never found).
In the opening scene, a young man, Max Woods (Liam Graham) walks out of the desert and into the Bloom home to confess that he was the one behind the wheel. But Edmond doesn’t turn him in. Instead, he enlists Charlotte’s help to set in motion a series of actions that will partially recreate the events of the night of the crash in order to allow the case to be properly investigated and solved by Edmund’s former colleague Sophia Valmont (Christie Sistrunk).
This story is complex enough, but Studsor pushes it even further by interspersing the film with gaudy, colourful, hallucinogenic flashes of wild imagery drawn from the psychological states of the characters, in particular of Max and Charlotte who inevitably become entangled creating somewhat of a triangular tension with Edmond.
Graham is believable as the troubled Woods who goes along with this strange plan and Walker makes a good fist of a difficult role that requires her to walk a tightrope between dominance and vulnerability along with some deeply buried guilt that must eventually come out. Mellick works hard to overcome the limitations of playing a character stuck in a wheelchair; it’s a challenge that he sometimes gets the better of, but that sometimes gets the better of him.
This is a pretty good-looking film nicely shot by Cinematographer Ivan Davidov and underscored by a cool, quirky and effective soundtrack composed by Christopher de Groot. What’s most impressive, though, is that a film made on such a miniscule budget (much of raised through crowdsourcing) has maintained the integrity of Studsor’s vision for a wild, non-naturalistic parallel layer of visuals that underpin the narrative. At times they reminded me of both the 1977 and 2018 versions of Suspiria in their bold and audacious renderings of the interior worlds of these characters. This imagery may have, at times, been incomprehensible, but the confidence with which they are rendered encourages the audience to go with the things they might find indecipherable rather than penalise the film for them. It might not be a film that’s to everyone’s taste but, for me, it’s a film worth our consideration.
In VIVARIUM, the hero(es) are young couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) who maybe want to settle down and maybe want to have a baby and so maybe they should buy a house. It’s a pretty normal set up, but the normality of this story ends when they walk into the sales office for a suburban housing estate called Yonder. Here they meet the marvellously strange Martin (Jonathan Aris) who takes them to a display home on the Yonder Estate that could easily be what Pete Seeger was referring to when he sang “Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Little boxes on the hillside and they all look just the same” only instead of a ‘pink one and a blue one and yellow one, they’re all the same unsettling shade of avocado green.
At Number 9, Gemma and Tom start to imagine their lives in the suburban perfection of Yonder but when they go to ask Martin a question about the house, he’s nowhere to be found. What’s even more disturbing to them, though, is that when they attempt to drive away no matter where they go (like a scene out of Peter Weir’s The Truman Show) they always end up back at Number 9. Then, as they accept that they’ll be staying here for at least the night, they discover a box out the front that contains food. (someone’s in control of this situation!) And in the morning, there’s another box, only this one contains a baby (Côme Thiry) and a note that informs them that once they raise the child they can leave. And so, our heroes find themselves unwitting parents to a ‘deliveroo’ child in a genuine suburban nightmare.
It's at this point that the audience is probably starting to ask itself ‘what the hell is going on?’... but instead of answers, things just keep getting weirder. The child grows in quite unnatural spurts very quickly becoming an infant (Senan Jennings) and then a young man (Eanna Hardwicke) and in each incarnation, the unnamed adopted offspring is a demanding brat that emits a piercing inhuman shrill when he doesn’t get his way. He also maintains an insistence that Gemma is ‘mother’ and she maintains an equal insistence that she is not! Meanwhile, Tom seems to be disassociating himself from the whole idea by digging an escape tunnel in the front yard. And so their unhappy homelife continues on for what seems like years but could equally just be days. This world is one without a sense of time or logic or explanation and, for me at least, this is where the problems lie.
It’s difficult to watch a film like this and not look for clues as to what’s going on. Let’s start with the title; vivarium means ‘an enclosure prepared for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for observation or study as pets’ which makes it sound like we could be in for something like the final scene of George Roy Hill’s classic adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five where Billy Pilgrim and Montana Wildhack live an observed existence in an alien dome for the pleasure of the Tralfamadorians. But, despite a few alien hints, that’s not where we end up. Nor does the fact that the boy sits glued to what could be messages coming from the Poltergeist-like white noise on the television take us to any conclusion. And there are other hints that I don’t want to give away, suffice it to say that all our efforts at trying to nut out the answer to the bizarre question posed by Gemma and Tom’s new existence never find a satisfactory answer. Instead we’re left with a slightly cliched punchline of a final scene that doesn’t seem worthy of the film’s impenetrable narrative.
This is not to say that VIVARIAN is bad. There are many engaging and fascinating aspects to the film. It’s smart and slick and its Production Design by Philip Murphy, Art Direction by Robert Barrett and Speical Effects by Sefian Benssalem are excellent. The performances are strong, especially Poots, but the standout role is Aris as Martin who we lose all too soon. In the end, the film goes nowhere. Perhaps it would have been more effective as a short film or even an episode of Jordan Peele’s new The Twilight Zone where it wouldn’t have the pressure of a feature film narrative to make us want a satisfying third act that rewards our investment in going down this rabbit hole. Unfortunately, the reward isn’t very satisfying and we just end up, like Gemma and Tom, driving around in circles in order to always end up at Number 9.
Is it the mark of a good horror-thriller that its twists and surprises are such that you can only really talk about that first twenty minutes without spoiling what lies in wait for the unsuspecting viewer? I think so. Consequently, I can’t tell you much more than the set up which has Elijah Wood (in outrageously bad hair that looks like some kind of ‘cool, hipster’ bowl cut) playing Norval Greenwood, a thirtysomething ‘celebrity’ DJ who gets off a bus in the middle of nowhere and follows a hand drawn map into the woods for what seems like an unreasonable amount of time, until he eventually hits the coastline and his destination; a quite amazing wooden beach house impossibly perched on a cliff above some dangerous looking rocks and a raging sea. Norval has come here at the behest of his estranged father who has written to his son thirty years after walking out on the family and requesting him to visit (presumably with map enclosed).
When Gordon (Stephen McHattie) answers Norval’s apprehensive knock at the front door, the reunion is about as far from affectionate as you can get. In fact, Gordon (a very serious drinker) seems to hold Norval (a recovering alcoholic) in contempt and, rather than explain the purpose of the letter inviting him to come, delights in baiting him at every opportunity. When Norval tries to impress his dad by showing him a limited edition, gold iPhone (only twenty in the world) Gordon lets it slip into the sea (now there’s only nineteen). When Norval tells him that it was Elton John who discovered him and set him on the path to DJ fame and fortune, Gordon pulls the rug out by revealing that he used to be a chauffer and that Elton was a regular client. In fact, why don’t they call up old Elton and see how he’s doing? Gordon has him on speed dial. With his bluff called, Norval admits that he’s not been entirely honest about himself. Turns out he’s not the only one deceiving.
The story runs quite happily like this, along with some strange noises in the night, Gordon’s unexplained late-night conversations on the phone and some other general weirdness. But just as it seems like this might be all its going to be about – an awkward, plodding, rekindled relationship with an undercurrent of darkness and a few secrets being kept on both sides – we hit the twenty-minute mark and I can’t say anything further...
..other than to acknowledge that first time New Zealand director Ant Timpson and second time feature screenwriter, Toby Harvard have taken Timson’s story idea and gone to town with it. Often when a film is billed with a triple genre (comedy-horror-thriller) you’re lucky if you end up satisfied with two out three but Timson and Harvard have, for the most part, navigated the tricky landscape between what’s funny, what’s scary and what makes you sit on the edge of your seat. It’s not one-hundred-percent successful. I’ve already noted that the protracted set up wears a bit thin and there’s a lovely relationship between Norval and Gladys (Madeleine Sami), an ambulance driver who finds her way into the story, but the spark and curiosity of their story gets abandoned in order to pursue the main game of the big twist. It’s a shame, especially when it’s one of only two female roles in an otherwise male-heavy cast. Similarly, there’s a hint of something untoward that involves Norval’s mother (an unseen character on the end of the phone) but whilst it seems that there will be a mystery to unfold in that little side-story, it never eventuates.
The comedy here is dark and well tempered by some good suspenseful scenes. The horror is suitably gory with some nice visual effects work. The ending, perhaps, gets a bit loose and convenient but the road that takes us there is full of some cleverly executed bumps and hairpin turns.
Wood is great as Norval and McHattie plays Gordon so tightly that you just know he’s going to explode at some point. The rest of the cast are strong and whilst I can’t reveal what characters Martin Donovan and Michael Smiley play, they do round out the assembly of characters to provide a well-balanced dynamic. Come To daddy is a great example of ingenuity, clever writing, well judged performances and sure direction that allows a low-budget movie to rise above the risk of becoming a schlocky mish-mash of ideas in order to create something far more entertaining than it might otherwise have been. Just down turn off before the twenty-minute mark.
2019 | DIR: TYLER CORNACK | STARRING: TYLER CORNACK, TYLER RICE, SHELBY DASH | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Please take a moment to comprehend all of that because what I am about to say might seem illogical. The movie is really good, and it seems entirely plausible.
By plausible I mean that director Tyler Cornack has taken this lowbrow and puerile concept and fashioned it into a cohesive and highly stylised police procedural thriller. The script is taut and the performances are impressive, and with the addition of a striking music score everything about BUTT BOY is better than it ought to be.
The characters take their lives seriously and the concept of rectal-insertion is never ridiculed. It is a simple fact within their world, and as viewers we are initially caught off guard by the concept, only to be conditioned to accept the situation for the sake of seeing the story through. And what a precarious position that is to experience. The joke is never lost on us, however the quality of craftsmanship is irresistible and all too consuming.
Cornack directs, co-writes and stars as Chip and his dedication to subverting one silly joke into an entire noir film is remarkable. He gives a great performance and plays it for keeps, while Tyler Rice steals the show as the generically-conceived (and cliché ridden) detective whose own life is in disrepair. He conjures an effective Sean Penn grade of performance – with a hint of De Niro – and singlehandedly gives the story merit.
And as if the premise couldn't be any more ludicrous, the final act takes things into some truly surreal and subversive territory. With a hint of Phantasm and a dash of Evil Dead informing the conclusion, BUTT BOY arrives at its final destination with a logical and satisfying outcome that will have you shaking your head and wondering how the Hell you actually invested your time into these characters and their story.
I tip my hat to Tyler Cornack because he subjected me to an experience that I can't imagine I will forget, and while I have no doubt BUTT BOY will be ridiculed for years to come, it actually deserves to be celebrated and held with regard. It is simply too outrageous to resist. And if you disagree with me... well..... then you can shove your opinion right up your clacker!
BUTT BOY is now available on DVD and VOD via Umbrella Entertainment.
2019 | DIR: JURGEN HANSEN and PIERRE-EMMANUEL LE GOFF | STARRING: THOMAS PESQUET, PEGGY WHITSON, OLEG NOVITSKIY, GUILLAUME NERY | REVIEW BY CHRIS THOMPSON
Pesquet’s time on the ISS was captured in Hansen and Le Goff’s earlier documentary, Thomas Pesquet: Spatial Envoy (2017), a one-hour doco in which the astronaut recorded his day to day life about the ISS. This second, slightly longer feature documentary (but only by 12 minutes), is a kind of prequel to that first film, taking us back to the beginnings of Pesquet’s training for the ISS mission and purporting to reveal to us (as the title suggests) how he became an astronaut.
Thomas Pesquet is an ideal subject for the screen; he’s charming, funny and has movie-star good looks (two years after returning from the ISS he’d make a cameo appearance in Alice Winocour’s movie Proxima with Eve Green). His athleticism seems to know no bounds as we see his prowess in sports, scuba diving, judo and more. He even plays the saxophone (and promises to take it on board his flight in order to serenade us with some sax jazz during his long stay on the ISS). But, despite the star’s charisma, the film itself is patchy in the way it traces his progress through the rigorous training. For most of the time there’s quite a laissez faire feeling to the film as we meander from one stress test to another without a clear sense of how close or how far away from completion we are at any one point. Many of these tests that expose the astronauts to the intense forces of gravity or the disorienting effects of weightlessness are ones that we’ve seen countless times before and so the fascination of the environment itself is short-lived. The film comes alive for a bit when the three astronauts (Russian, America and French) are together, but even then we always seem to be following Pesquet at a distance; always on the outside looking in on the process, rather than gaining any real insight to the ambitions, the emotions and the experiences of Pesquet and his colleagues. The biggest problem with this plodding journey (and I feel bad saying this) is that nothing really goes wrong. Obviously, that’s good for the astronauts in training, but not so good for keeping an audience engaged in the story.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this film is that it takes us into two very different space training programmes; the American NASA programme, of course, but also the Russian programme. Each ‘specialises’ in a different aspect of the training but even here in the 21st century, some of the 20th century hangover of what those of a ‘certain age’ might recall as the ’USA/USSR space race’ of the Sixties seems not to have entirely vanished. But again, these moments of interest are short-lived and don’t feel (to me at least) part of a cohesive whole. For me, this was all a bit disappointing. I love a good space doco (and with last year’s celebration of fifty years since Apollo 11 we’ve had a few) but this didn’t take me anywhere I didn’t feel I’d been before and, for a space doco, that has to be the cardinal sin.
Part of the disappointment is that (mild spoiler alert) we never actually get to go into space with Pesquet. Despite the focus of the film being about him training for this important and significant 2016 mission, the film stops short of his actual departure, ending instead with him watching the 2015 launch of an earlier mission that took Andreas Mogensen (for whom Pesquet was back-up astronaut) to the ISS. Pesquet grins as the rocket takes his colleague into space, turns to the camera and tells us he’s looking forward to that being him in the not-too-distant future. I have to say, I was actually looking forward to that being him right now as the climax of the movie. Sadly, the film ends on this unrequited note, completing my disappointment in it by not completing Pesquet’s mission. (to be honest, my biggest disappointment is that we never get to see him play sax in space). Perhaps the filmmakers felt that they’d covered that part of the journey in their previous film although that would seem to be a bit arse- about. Maybe I’ll have to look it up to find out what Thomas Pesquet actually did when he became an astronaut.