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last update 27.Aug.09
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dir-scr Antonio Campos
prd T Sean Durkin, Josh Mond
with Ezra Miller, Jeremy Allen White, Addison Timlin, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rosemarie DeWitt, Gary Wilmes, Paul Sparks, Lee Wilkof, Christopher McCann, Harrison Lees, Alexandra Neil, Emory Cohen
miller release UK 21.Aug.09,
US 9.Oct.09
08/US 1h47


afterschool As indulgent and preachy as his earlier BUY IT NOW, this drama shows the growing skill of 25-year-old writer-director-editor Campos. It's also packed with important themes that are addressed both artfully and hauntingly.

Rob (Miller) is a sullen sophomore at a New England boarding school, where he's dismissed as a poor kid by his rich classmates. His roommate Dave (White), who deals drugs in his spare time, won't even introduce Rob to the cool kids. When Rob joins the video class, he's teamed with the sparky Amy (Timlin) to make a film about the school. But they inadvertently record the nasty overdose of the school's most popular girls. As everyone's world comes undone, Rob maintains his aloof, awkward perspective, which unnerves the principal (Stuhlbarg).

Campos' terrific mix of imagery--pixelated YouTube clips, digital home video, crisp widescreen 35mm film--is extremely effective, establishing a strong point of view: we see everything through Rob's eyes. Even though he's utterly inexpressive, refusing to open up about anything to anyone (except in a brief phone call to his mother), we still feel like we get into his head. This is mainly due to the often off-centred camera work and a sharp editing style, which combines with Miller's remarkably contained, consistent performance.

All of the kids are eerily realistic teens (the adults are less convincing); we vividly feel their adolescent listlessness, interpersonal rivalry and tentative liaisons. And Campos shows things as they are, with an accurate and sometimes provocative depiction of high school that shatters most films' defanged fantasies. Conversations about subverting the rules and losing one's virginity have the ring of authenticity, as do some of the more intense dramatic confrontations.

Where Campos stumbles is in his tendency to moralise. There's an early suggestion that Rob's enjoyment of hard-edged porn might lead him into violence, and this threat of tragedy looms over everything that follows. Then after the overdose the school cracks down with its own Patriot Act, vowing to "never forget ... and be vigilant" so this doesn't happen again. These touches are rather heavy-handed, but they never overwhelm the central drama. Let's hope Campos realises that less pushing can actually be more effective.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Final Destination The Final Destination
dir David R Ellis
scr Eric Bress
prd Craig Perry, Warren Zide
with Bobby Campo, Shantel VanSanten, Nick Zano, Haley Webb, Mykelti Williamson, Krista Allen, Andrew Fiscella, Justin Welborn Stephanie Honore, Lara Grice, Jackson Walker, Phil Austin
release US/UK 28.Aug.09
09/US New Line 1h22

See also:
The Final Destination With a plot that's virtually identical to parts 1, 2 and 3, this fourth movie has one new gimmick that makes it worth a look: it's in 3D. And the filmmakers have a lot of fun with it, gleefully revving up the grisly carnage.

While attending a car race, Nick (Campo) has a vision of impending disaster and drags his girlfriend Lori (VanSanten), womanising pal Hunt (Zano) and Lori's best friend Janet (Webb) out just in time. But of course, Death won't let them off so easily, and everyone who escaped is killed in outrageous freak accidents in the order they should have died. So these four young people, with the help of an equally doomed security guard (Williamson), try to break the gruesome chain.

Anyone who has seen one of the other three films will know how this plays out, and it's a pity that the screenwriter hasn't come up with a single plot twist. Still, the formula works simply because of the elaborate scenarios in which seemingly innocuous things add up to big messiness. And since we're seeing this in 3D, all manner of sharp things, explosive flames and body parts are hurled right into our faces. It's pretty hard to watch this film without laughing all the way through.

The cast of anonymous hotties know exactly what they're in for, stripping off layers to tantalise the audience with their young, gym-toned bodies in underwear or swimwear. For the most part, they manage to keep straight faces while uttering the clunky expository dialog; they're adept young actors who hopefully will break out of the teen slasher genre. Some side characters even get to have personalities.

It's pretty hard to generate suspense when we know everyone is fated to meet a grisly end. So the filmmakers pull out the stops to keep us entertained with knowing references and corny puns (the favoured hang-out is the Death by Caffeine cafe, while the movie they watch, Love Lays Dying, is in 3D of course). The writer and director also briskly set up each calamity without wasting even a moment on grief or sadness. These films have no time for tragedy; it's all about the next set piece.

15 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality
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The Horseman
dir-scr Steven Kastrissios
prd Rebecca Dakin, Steven Kastrissios
with Peter Marshall, Caroline Marohasy, Brad McMurray, Jack Henry, Christopher Sommers, Evert McQueen, Bryan Probets, Steve Tandy, Chris Betts, Robyn Moore, Damon Gibson, Hannah Levien
marshall release Aus Aug.08 miff,
US Mar.09 sxsw,
UK 30.Oct.09
08/Australia Kastle 1h34

fright fest
the horseman This unflinchingly horrific revenge thriller has a whiff of Death Wish in its story of a father exacting retribution far beyond reason. But this ultra-violent bloodlust makes it hard to find a character to identify with.

Christian (Marshall) is a man on a mission, tracking down the men he holds responsible for his daughter's death from a heroin overdose after shooting a porn film. One-by-one, he stalks the pornographers, torturing them viciously to get the name of the next person in the chain. Along the way, he picks up a young hitchhiker (Marohasy) and begins to worry that she's making the same mistakes as his daughter. But by the time he realises that his fierce murder spree might be a terrible mistake, it's too late to stop.

Even though we feel horrible about what happened to his daughter, it's impossible to sympathise with a man who sadistically tortures and kills anyone, regardless of what they've done. At every turn, Christian is faced with people who tell him that his daughter freely made the porno and took the drugs of her own volition. This doesn't excuse what the men did, of course, but no one deserves their fate.

Fortunately, a serious theme gurgles under the surface about a man who is punishing everyone else for his daughter's mistakes and his own failing as a father. Eventually Christian does begin to realise this, and this is especially well-played by Marshall. The film threatens to take a much more interesting turn at this point, but the filmmakers can't resist a big blow-out of a final act. And fans of on-screen brutality won't be disappointed.

There are other problems with this film, such as the way the 44-year-old Christian is able to fight off much younger muscle-men, even when they come at him in fours. And one of his close escapes stretches credibility beyond the breaking point. But filmmaker Kastrissios assembles the film with remarkable skill, creating an effectively dark and gritty atmosphere while quietly alluding issues such as self-harming, teen runaways and fractured marriages. But it's impossible to root for someone who does things that are this vile. Or at least it should be.

18 themes, language, extreme violence
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dir-scr-prd Simon Welsford
with Alex Reid, Jamie Draven, Shauna Macdonald, Adam Shaw, Cal MacAninch, Richard Earthy, Sol Nicholson, Katie Welsford, Ian Jarvis
release UK 28.Aug.09,
US Jan.08 slamdance
07/UK 1h24

london film fest
jetsam Gritty and involving, this small British thriller is like Memento crossed with The Bourne Identity as it reveals its secrets through a fragmented structure that involves espionage and memory.

When a woman (Reid) wakes up on a beach, she's not sure what happened to her or who she is. As her memories start trickling back, she remembers being involved in a corporate spying case in London, working for one man (Shaw) while keeping an eye on her boyfriend (MacAninch). But none of this is quite adding up, and she'll need more clarity to remember the whole story. But first, she's got to get away from this stranger (Draven) who's chasing her.

As filmmaker Welsford defines the characters and offers tantalising details, we begin to realise that this woman perhaps shouldn't trust her own memories. We learn why later on, as the twisty plot resolves into a clever exploration of identity. This flickering around in a woman's confused memory is sometimes hard to follow, plus the constantly shifting point of view, but everything ultimately comes sharply into focus with an emotional kick.

Welsford and cinematographer Zac Nicholson shoot this in striking widescreen hi-def. The beach scenes have a wonderfully surreal sense to them, and it feels like even the weather was following Welsford's direction. The editing is tight and effectively disorienting, while Mat Davidson's music adds plenty of atmosphere. It's a remarkably enveloping film for such a low-budget production, and a terrific calling card for the cast and crew.

Reid is superb at the centre, both on the beach and in flashbacks as a woman who has perhaps thrown herself too fully into her job. She makes her character surprisingly engaging for someone who seems unable to sort real memories from slanted perceptions. The other actors also create complex, involving characters that surprise us as the story shifts and settles.

At several points, we get the feeling that each person is spying on everyone else. And indeed, concepts of data and identity theft are major themes here. It's rare to find a movie that so adeptly captures the feeling of living in an age when information is the most valuable commodity. But at its heart, this is just a terrific little thriller. And it also marks Welsford as a filmmaker to watch.

12 themes, language, violence
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