“Your Mum Was Tough At First. And Then We Had Our First Kiss, And I Understood…”
Whilst not the most delightful of subject matters, the notion of cannibalism has been rife within horror cinema ever since the exploitation days of the mid-to-late 20th century when films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust highlighted the cinematic pleasure of watching controversial subject matter erupt on the big screen and blow raspberries at many who believed such stories simply could not be classed as any form of legitimate entertainment. Whilst the days of video nasties have thankfully been and gone, the idea of cannibalism still remains to this day, and with the release of Raw, a French-Belgian production directed by Julia Ducournau, cannibalism has never been presented so ripe or ridiculously enjoyable, with the movie blending seamlessly elements of comedy, romance and shock-tastic body horror, culminating in an experience which is not only effective in its’ sheer willingness to exploit the squeamish nature of its’ audience but one which lives long in the memory or quite possibly, your nightmares.
Dropped off by her parents in order to start her education at veterinary school, dedicated vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) is swiftly integrated into the dedicated rituals of the school’s “elders”, of which her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is already an integral part of. After being forced to surrender her will and consume a raw rabbit kidney as part of the school’s initiation, Justine begins to experience a dramatic change in both body and mind, resulting in a realisation regarding not only herself but others around her. Whilst the shock-tactic set pieces within the movie are the elements which are bound to either disgust or delight the movie’s audience, the underlying black comedy within the both the narrative and direction place Raw in completely its’ own category, and whilst the film obviously owes a debt to the jet-black seriousness of We Are What We Are and its’ subsequent American remake, traits of the likes of The Neon Demon, Let the Right One In and even Black Swan are all visible in the movie’s genetic makeup even when it is undoubtedly an original release in its’ own right.
In the leading role, Garance Marillier is absolutely superb in attempting to portray a conflicted youth struggling to contain her inevitable and violent change, and with the aid of some juicy and flawless practical effects and brilliant sound design, particular set pieces including a nightmarish desire for scratching and a shaving incident gone terribly wrong, are as wonderful in their sheer execution as they are joyously terrible to observe. Not for a long time has a film been so outlandish in its’ sense of exploitation greatness that I have resorted to covering my eyes in fear of scaring my mind and although some may even regard such sequences as overtly stupid and seemingly searching for the cheapest of thrills, my response to such was one of utmost bliss even when admiring it through partially closed fingers. If exploitation horror is simply what you want from a particular movie, Raw is a much bigger and better beast than simply just that, and when contemplating the likes of The Handmaiden and Elle, Ducournau’s big-screen debut continues to prove that foreign language exploits are sometimes leagues above the likes of their English-speaking counterparts, particularly when it comes to horror.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”
It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.
After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Gave It All To Her, Right In Front of Me…”
Tackling the ridiculously difficult genre of the erotic thriller for a debut picture, new kid on the block, Denise Di Novi, seems to have gone full flow with the notion that to get somewhere quickly, the hardest options are sometimes the best to get out of the way. In regards to recent depictions of such a genre, within this year even, the widespread level of excellence ranges from the utter shoddy in the form of the Fifty Shades franchise to the interesting and brilliantly executed, with Elle and Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden being top-end depictions of eroticism upon the big-screen, helped primarily from scripts which attempt to shake up the format and offer something original instead of simply falling into the pot of generic silliness. Unfortunately for Di Novi, Unforgettable is the type of movie which you question how it actually managed to make it onto the big screen with it clearly being the type of erotic thriller that is destined for the clearance DVD bin in your local supermarket sometime in the near future, yet with star power in the form of Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl holding down the fort, Unforgettable is passable, generic popcorn nonsense which ticks all the boxes in a manner which is both swift and unoffensive.
Whilst the trailer for the movie conforms to the common issue of giving away not just the main bulk of the movie but indeed the entire bleeding plot, Unforgettable comes across as representing itself as the 21st century model of Basic Instinct, yet without the shore footing of Elle director Paul Verhoeven in its’ corner and without the iconic image of Sharon Stone as the film’s leading bunny boiler. Replacing Stone in such a role is Katherine Heigl, the plain faced barbie doll who takes the character of the kooky and wholly obsessive ex-wife and completely runs with it. demonstrating the idea that girls with slicked back hair and a penchant for cleaning silver utensils are without question a grade A psychopath. On the other side of the court is Rosario Dawson’s leading heroine, a character who through a wide range of questionable decisions ends up battered, bruised and completely ostracised from her newly found fiancee throughout the course of the movie in a manner in which is meant to exert a sense of tension from the audience, an audience which are way too clever and knowing to see where the entire plot is heading straight from the outset. The Handmaiden it ain’t, Unforgettable is ironically, quite forgettable and is saved primarily due to its’ two leading stars which prevent the film from disappearing into nonexistence forever.
Overall Score: 4/10
“We’re Looking At The First Proof Of Life Beyond Earth…”
Battling head-to-head this year with Alien: Covenant for the most obvious rip off of the original Ridley Scott classic, Alien (1978), Child 44 director Daniel Espinosa returns this week with Life, a sloppily directed and face-palm inducingly stupid science fiction movie which steals so many cues from previous and inherently better movies that I began to lose count just over the halfway mark. With an impressive cast, featuring the likes of the always superb Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds, Life suffers from a fundamental flaw of failing to be something it really isn’t, with its’ utter silliness and complete lack of plausibility failing to stack up to the movie-maker’s obvious intentions, resulting in a sometimes painful experience which exposes its’ audience to a rough reek of sanctimony, particularly in a final act in which the film loses all sense of credibility due to wacky direction and a element of deafening inevitability. In a month in which Get Out reset the bar in regards to the power of contemporary horror movies, Life is unfortunately the type of film which just really lets the rest of the team down.
Whilst the film does boast an impressive leading alien species in the form of Calvin, a terrifyingly murderous martian which in a similar vein to the Alien franchise’s Xenomorph’s, feeds and grows at the rate of knots, Life doesn’t entirely put the leading foes’ effective features to good use, primarily due to a narrative which conflicts with the intellect of its’ supposed lead characters who throughout the movie are incredibly prone to making the most obviously stupid decisions in order to crank the plot into a dramatic submission. Whilst the death of an early character is strikingly shocking in terms of both its’ timing and the manner in which we are introduced to the power of Calvin the killer martian, the movie slowly loses its’ element of suspense and threat, resulting in moments of utter tedium when there should have been particles of strong horror which I personally was looking forward to after being warned of within the opening BBFC classification. A messy sci-fi which weakens as it progresses, Life is surprisingly uninspiring and mediocre. Also, what is it with films using defibrillators in the wrong way? YOU CAN’T SHOCK A FLAT-LINE. Peace.
Overall Score: 4/10
“I’m Lost. I Can’t Tell Whether Or Not I’m Going Crazy…”
Whilst many will link the complex aura of Kristen Stewart almost automatically to the Twilight franchise, her reputation as one of Hollywood’s most interesting actors has increased delightfully over the course of the past few years, with her desire to work primarily away from the heavy headlines of big budgeted productions ultimately resulting in a change of perception from the moody teen vampire star to a truly remarkable and reliable screen presence. Continuing on from 2014’s critically acclaimed Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart reunites with director Olivier Assayas this week in Personal Shopper, a bone-chillingly creepy ghost story which although is undeniably original in execution, provides enough classic gothic horror motifs to appreciate the cine-literate nature of Assaya’s direction which harks back to everything from The Haunting to a Mulholland Drive-esque air of ambiguity throughout its’ more than appreciative runtime of 105 minutes. If it’s cheap jump scares you’re after, go watch Paranormal Activity, Personal Shopper is a marvellous platform for Stewart to work her unappreciated magic in a manner which is calculated with an utmost efficiency from its’ impressive director.
After the tragic loss of her twin brother, Kristen Stewart’s Maureen, a self-proclaimed medium, capable of sensing and communicating with the afterlife, attempts to reconnect with her recently deceased twin in an attempt to seek closure and continue with her life in Paris where working as a personal shopper for Nora von Waldstätten’s high-profile yet entirely egotistic fashion model, Kyra, is a financial necessity rather than a enjoyable pastime. After embracing the existence of an unknown spirit in her lost brother’s previous home, Maureen becomes transfixed with the thrill of the unknown, resulting in a supposed game of cat and mouse between her world and the spirit world, concluding with dire and unexpected consequences. Featuring perhaps two of the most unnerving, bone-tingling scenes of recent years, Personal Shopper is a wildly subversive thriller which leaves the audience to fill in the blanks in a manner which totally understands and respects its’ intended admirers. With Stewart in the leading role, her performance is both utterly mesmerising and entirely convincing, creating an air of tension in certain scenes which in the hands of others would have been completely lifeless and forgettable, particularly a long drawn-out scene in which our leading heroine communicates with her unknown admirer via smartphone. Between herself and director Assayas, Personal Shopper is another winning formula for the duo and is indeed one of the more interesting movies of the year so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Both Of Us, It’s Sickening. It’s Perverse. I Was In Denial But Now It’s All Very Clear…”
To say Paul Verhoeven is a man whose career is somewhat contrary in terms of both critical and financial success is on a similar vein when stating the current leader of the US of A isn’t exactly held in the highest esteem, and whilst the infamous Dutch director is best known for the likes of cult favourites such as RoboCop, Starship Troopers and the excellent Phillip K. Dick influenced, Schwarzenegger starring, Total Recall, other cinematic ventures including Hollow Man and the hotly panned, Razzie-winning Showgirls, show that excellence isn’t exactly the result every time the great Dane decides to release a new film. With Elle however, the highly publicised Oscar nomination for the film’s leading star Isabelle Huppert follows in the footsteps of a large amount of hype, a reputation which we all are well aware of doesn’t always result in an overly positive movie-going experience come release day. Thankfully for Verhoeven however, Elle is a gripping and wholly twisted depiction of sexual violence and subversive desires, whilst the portrayal of the most dysfunctional family in the past few years of so gives an air of black comedy to the film’s wide range of elements which all in all make it a riveting success.
Helmed together by a simply majestic performance from leading star Isabelle Huppert, who throughout the movie is effortless in portraying a rape victim who cautiously and calmly finds her way to exact revenge on the person who wronged her, Elle features quite extensively a narrative which reasserts Verhoeven’s knack for the genre-bending uncanny, taking all the sliminess and rough-toughness of previous movies such as Basic Instinct and Showgirls and forming them around a leading character who is both subversive in makeup yet undeniably interesting from start to finish. Whilst Elle is categorically not a film for the majority of audiences, the one-two duo of Verhoeven and Huppert have created a movie which stands head and shoulders above the limited amounts of erotic-based thrillers released in previous years (looking at you Fifty Shades) with its’ quirky jet black sensibility propelling the finished article into a existential thriller which verges on the edge of total B-Movie splatter come the final act but ultimately one which is cautiously enjoyable nonetheless.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Got Multiple Explosions. We Need Help Down Here..!”
Of the many cinematic pleasures within 2016, Peter Berg’s Deepwater Horizon was a surprisingly entertaining thrill-ride, utilising the on-screen likeability of Mark Wahlberg to helm a dramatisation of one of the 21st centuries’ most infamous accidental disasters in a vein both poignant and wholly respectful. Whilst the one-two pairing of Wahlberg and Peter Berg shared mild success previously with Lone Survivor, the release of Deepwater Horizon last year has ultimately pushed the duo into a formidable partnership, returning this year with yet another live-action adaptation of a high-profile disaster in the form of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a recent example of terrorism action within the United States. With a supporting cast featuring the likes of Kevin Bacon, J.K. Simmons and John Goodman, Patriots Day is a thrilling continuation of the Berg’s recent cinematic success, creating a sometimes breathtaking drama which mixes white-knuckle tension, Michael Mann-esque action set pieces and an effective screenplay which amalgamates a wide range of on-screen depictions of many who were involved in the events which occurred during that terrifying day almost four years ago.
In terms of differences between the previous works of the successful duo, unlike in Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon where Wahlberg portrayed real-life characters, Patriots Day allows the Boston-born A-Lister to fill his boots with a strictly composite character, created to not only fill certain narrative gaps throughout the movie, but also act as the walking cinematic guide for the audience, seemingly being wherever the high-octane events take place as often and as quickly as possible. Whilst the film uses its’ leading stars to a somewhat solid degree, the frighteningly startling and wholly believable pairing of Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze as terrorist brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are the real stars of the show, using their intimidating capabilities to create one of the tensest scenes of the year so far in which they carjack and threaten to kill the life of a Chinese U.S national in a manner similar to feel and tone of a similarly haunting scene within last year’s Nocturnal Animals. Concluding with interviews with the true survivors and heroes of Boston, Patriots Day follows in a similar vein to Deepwater Horizon by not only being a entertaining body of work but by being one which is entirely respectful too.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Do You Know What The Cure For The Human Condition Is? Disease. Because That’s The Only Way One Could Hope For A Cure…”
Rather annoyingly, the use of the term “visionary” is something of which is pushed around so often in the current cinematic climate that to be regarded as such is somewhat of a negative down-stroke. With the likes of Zack Snyder and now Gore Verbinski proclaiming themselves as visionaries of modern cinema, directors who have released such “classics” such as Sucker Punch and Mouse Hunt respectively, the term has now officially become defunct and saved only for those who are deserved of the term, you know, like directors who have actually made films of some worth. Anyhow, Verbinski returns this year with the 18 rated A Cure For Wellness, a film which harks back to everything from The Ninth Configuration to Lars von Trier’s Riget, and a picture which can only be regarded as one of the most boring, misjudged and overlong works of horror I can remember within the remits of recent history. Whilst many have condoned A Cure For Wellness as simply nothing more than a Shutter Island rip-off, Verbinski’s latest makes Scorsese’s OTT two hours of mania look like a modern masterpiece, with it more likely to send you into a deep coma of confusion than inflict any real tangible sense of threat throughout a barnstorming length of two and a half hours.
After dropping a job-losing clunker and subsequently threatened with criminal prosecution, egotistic Wall Street flunky Lockhart, played by The Place Beyond the Pines’ Dane DeHaan, is sent to a mysterious health care centre in the heart of the Swiss Alps in order to retrieve a AWOL financial executive who has supposedly regressed into a complete and utter basket case and refuses to return to the US of A in order to complete a huge financial deal. Cue creepy looking patients, a mindless and ridiculously overcooked narrative and a concluding feeling of watching a movie which not only could lose at least an hour of its’ running time but one in which nothing actually happens, A Cure for Wellness suffers primarily from a runtime which is unbearable to say the least, and although Verbinski is renowned for an array of miscalculated movie lengths, with Pirates of the Caribbean 3 being a prime example, A Cure for Wellness is his pièce de résistance in terms of runtime malpractice. Whilst Jason Isaacs does do the best with what he’s given in the cliched “foreign stranger” role, the movie can’t escape the problems of its’ silliness, particularly within scenes of unnecessary violence including a cheesy R-rated dentist appointment and an attempted rape scene which borders on the outskirts of being a utter cringe-inflicted misstep. If you wish to see the type of movie A Cure for Wellness is so obviously attempting to be, seek out something like Shutter Island or The Shining instead, relieving you of the utter tedium of delving into a horror which is neither horrific or interesting. A cure for wellness? A cure for sleep deprivation.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Let Us Show Them What We Can Do. Let Us Show Them How Powerful We Can Be…”
If there is one thing to be said about M. Night Shyamalan’s career in the business of movie-making so far, to say it was one of the most diverse and critically haphazard back catalogues of all time wouldn’t exactly be a raging overstatement. Whilst films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable continue to be Shyamalan’s support beam for his seemingly imperishable reputation, people tend to forget the cinematic bombs such as After Earth, The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water, films which not only are regarded as utter, utter stinkers but films of which Shyamalan tends not to remind people of their existence in fear of not actually being allowed to be behind the camera ever again in Hollywood. With Split, Shyamalan seems to be on similar and overtly familiar territory, with a creepy, psychological premise at the core of the film’s screenplay and a final twist which is both surprising and overtly on-the-nose in terms of its’ utter silliness but one which too will leave the lay cinematic audience scratching their heads.
Featuring a scenery chewing central performance from James McAvoy, one which echoes the full-blown madness of his role in the black-hole darkness of Filth, Shyamalan’s latest is undeniably a welcome return to some sort of form, with the obvious b-movie silliness actually resorting in a movie which is much more fun in terms of its’ exaggerated ripeness than one might have first expected, due mainly to the headline performance of McAvoy, whilst the go-to actress for creepy leading ladies in recent times, Anya Taylor-Joy, continues to impress after continuing on from her stand-out roles in both The Witch and Morgan. Of course, now the un-embargoed reveal of the very final act of Split is one of which will baffle those unaware of Shyamalan’s previous work, yet for those privy to a particular early Shyamalan picture, the concluding seconds bring with it a surprising sense of wanting to pat Shyamalan on the back for having the audacity to attempt it, let alone actually film it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Terrorism Is Just An Excuse…”
A dramatic tale of one of the most controversial figures in recent history you say? Who shall we bring on as director for that then? Oliver Stone of course, the man renowned for shall we say, colourful political views but more importantly probably the right man for the job when admiring his previous work such as the renowned Vietnam trilogy which included Platoon and Born on the Forth of July, both of which supplied Stone with Oscar wins, as well as his work on astute US political dramas such as JFK and Nixon. Although the Oscar winning documentary Citizenfour provided an in-depth examination of Edward Snowden and his role as the notorious whistle-blower, Stone’s dramatisation of similar events features Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the titular role, alongside a strange rafter of familiar faces such as Timothy Olyphant, Tom Wilkinson and Nicholas Cage who come and go in less-than supporting roles. If the man at the centre of the movie wasn’t so darn interesting, Snowden could have been in danger of being a sour, cold drama, yet with a top performance from Gordon-Levitt, Snowden is a interesting, if rather overlong, political drama.
Where the film is in its’ most interesting is scenes in which we delve into the technological aspect of Snowden’s past, whether it be hidden away in some James Bond-esque spy cave in Hawaii or hiding under a false name in the metropolitan sprawl of Geneva, yet Stone is also interested in the personal side of Snowden, giving us an in-depth examination of his relationship with partner Lindsay Mills (Divergent series’ Shailene Woodley) and the strain put on such by his classified occupation. Unfortunately for Stone, this aspect of the film is undoubtedly the weakest and therefore becomes an issue when at least two-thirds of the drama is focused upon such instead of the more interesting, political issues that Stone is renowned for taking more of an interest in. Throughout the course of the drama, the movie does seep into frank ridiculousness, particularly when Snowden is greeted to the pantomime silliness of the enlarged face of an angry Rhys Ifans, a scene in which it was hard to not laugh at the sheer OTT nature of Stone’s decision to enforce a higher level of dramatisation than the already interesting storyline needed. Snowden is overlong, silly and boring at times but with the one-two of Gordon-Levitt and Woodley attempting to do the most with what they can, the film does work on some level, just not the level the pedigree of Stone should be settling for.