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last update 11.Jun.10
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The Collector
dir Marcus Dunstan
scr Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan
prd Brett Forbes, Julie Richardson, Patrick Rizzotti
with Josh Stewart, Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth, Juan Fernandez, Karley Scott Collins, Madeline Zima, Daniella Alonso, Haley Alexis Pullos, Robert Wisdom, Alex Feldman, William Prael, Diane Ayala Goldner
stewart release 31.Jul.09,
UK 25.Jun.10
09/US 1h29
the collector It's not hugely surprising that this film was made by the guy who wrote the last four Saw and three Feast movies: it's another relentlessly violent rampage with no discernible point whatsoever.

Handyman Arkin (Stewart) is having money problems while trying to help his ex (Alonso) pay back a loan shark. With his daughter (Pullos) also under threat, Arkin hatches a plan to break into the safe of one of his clients (Burke), who is taking his wife (Roth) and daughters (Zima and Collins) on a family holiday. This seems simple enough until he gets into the house and finds a mysterious figure (Fernandez) doing unspeakably nasty things to the family. Does Arkin take the money and run or can he help stop the mayhem?

The script sets up the characters economically with just enough detail to make them believable before plunging us into what is essentially a torture-porn movie. The fact that we can identify with some of these people makes the outrageously engineered violence quite freaky, even if we haven't a clue why this masked villain is inflicting so much agony on the people he collects. And there's some hope as well, since Arkin might be able to help.

Stewart is effective as the hapless man who stumbles into a ludicrously overwrought house of horrors. The problem is that he's the only character who's remotely believable. Everyone else is a scary movie type, from the victims to the insanely obsessive villain. Even so, his sadistic inventiveness keeps us watching, as we prepare to look away from whatever grisly booby trap someone might spring next.

Director Dunstan adds plenty of visual style along with macabre little touches, mainly creepy bugs and spiders. Each discovery Arkin makes is more appalling than the last, and much of this is so excessive that it's almost unwatchable. Meanwhile, the detail of the villain's set-up is so fantastical that it's impossible to believe: besides the central question of why, there's virtually no way anyone could actually do all of this. But fans of hideously nightmarish movies will probably enjoy it, not because of any suspense but because it's so brutal.

18 themes, extreme violence, language, sexuality
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Exhibit: A
dir-scr Dom Rotheroe
prd Darren Bender
with Bradley Cole, Brittany Ashworth, Angela Forrest, Oliver Lee, Charles Davies, Emily Button, Jason Allen, Belinda Lazenby, David Walker, Terry Mann, John Douglas, Dennis Turner
cole release US 16.Mar.10 dvd,
UK 7.Jun.10 dvd
07/UK Warp 1h25

exhibit a This inventive low-budget British film applies the hand-held genre to a comedy-drama about a happy family with a very dark side. It's much more inventive and engaging than most of these films, despite the requisite descent into tragedy.

In Blair Witch style, the police found this videotape in the daughter's camera after some sort of incident. It's like a stream-of-consciousness diary by the teenager Judith (Ashworth), featuring her lively parents (Cole and Forrest) and bratty brother Joe (Lee). Judith is clearly unhappy that her dad's new promotion means they'll be moving, perhaps because she has a secret crush on her neighbour Claire (Dutton). So does Joe. But the real problem is that Dad seems to be losing his grip on reality.

The camerawork feels authentic, like it's been done by normal people who have never heard of a tripod and are blissfully unaware of the stop button. So it's rather like watching someone's annoying holiday video that seems to go on forever. But as it continues, filmmaker Rotheroe starts developing a plot by dropping in telling snippets of dialog. It also helps that the characters are extremely well developed, from Dad's jokester antics to Mom's short fuse.

As things start getting messy, each person's temper flares, turning into desperation as they try to look happy and normal. Judith spies on several scenes that hint at very big problems, capturing some seriously nasty altercations and meltdowns with her camera. The performances are raw and realistic, with Cole delivering a particularly unnerving performance as a natural comic who gives in to the dark side as he tries to hold on to his dignity.

This is a chilling domestic drama about the pressures of modern-day suburbia, made in 2006 but prescient in its vivid depiction of financial anxiety. That said, it's also somewhat contrived that someone remembers to keep the video camera running even in the most harrowing moments of their lives. In the final act, things drift over the top, uncovering the family's secrets and building to a hideous confrontation that lives up to the promise of the premise. It's effectively harsh and twisted, and Rotheroe manages to make us think even while he's freaking us out.

18 themes, language, strong violence
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dir-scr Gareth Edwards
prd Allan Niblo, James Richardson
with Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able
mcnairy release US 29.Oct.10,
UK 3.Dec.10
10/UK 1h30

edinburgh film fest
the big gay musical For an alien-creature thriller, this film has such an unusual tone that it immediately takes us aback, focussing far more on the characters than the monsters. The result is like District 9 crossed with Right at Your Door. Yes, it's that good.

Andrew (McNairy) is a photographer covering the six-year-long alien infestation of Central America. Annoyingly, his work is sidetracked when he's assigned to escort his boss' daughter Sam (Able) back to the US before he's even seen one of the gigantic spider-squid things in person. But their travel plans go awry, and they miss the last ferry around the "infected zone", namely northern Mexico. Can they get through on foot instead, escorted by a network of armed human traffickers? And why are they carrying gasmasks?

McNairy and Able play their scenes with such off-handed realism that it never seems like they're acting at all. Even when things get quietly emotional and/or loudly terrifying. And the people around them are so authentic that they seem like locally hired extras: indeed, that's the only credit they get. As a result, we take this trip with Andrew and Sam, recoiling at the freak-out moments and reacting with anger, fear or compassion. It sometimes turns horrific, but it's also funny and sweetly moving.

This refreshing approach to the genre makes it continually surprising. Yes, there are eye-popping special effects along the way, as well as much more subtle digital trickery. But these elements appear in the film as if by accident, like we only happened to see them because we're passing by. Of course, this means that the film isn't hugely action packed; it often stops completely for interpersonal drama. And it also means that the road movie takes on an It Happened One Night quality as these bickering strangers are thrown together against the odds.

This is a masterful filmmaking debut for Edwards, especially as he also edited the film and produced the effects himself. Most of the time it feels more like a romantic comedy than a monster movie, and yet there's relentless tension all the way through, erupting into almost unbearable terror at times. But it never abandons the human angle for a split second, from jungle commandos to probing alien tentacles. And as a result it's more gripping and entertaining than Hollywood movies that have 20 times the budget.

15 themes, language, violence
15.Jun.10 eiff
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Winter’s Bone
dir Debra Granik
scr Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini
prd Alix Madigan, Anne Rosellini
with Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson, Lauren Sweetser, Tate Taylor, Valerie Richards, Shelley Waggener
release US 11.Jun.10,
UK 17.Sep.10
10/US 1h40


edinburgh film fest
winter's bone Based on the Daniel Woodrell novel, this film is a riveting exploration of old-society notions of responsibility and obligation, loyalty and betrayal. It deserves the awards it's swept up so far, and more are surely to come.

After her drug-cooking dad jumps bail, 17-year-old Ree (Lawrence) is in an impossible situation: she's desperate to get out of town, but the bondsman (Taylor) is seizing her house, and she's has to take care of her nearly catatonic mother (Richards) and younger siblings (Stone and Thompson) who aren't old enough to hunt their own food. So she decides to find her father, calling on her uncle (Hawkes) for help. But her dad's disappearance is tied up in local customs, and by digging around she stirs a hornet's nest.

The filmmakers capture life in the wintry Missouri Ozarks with remarkable skill, never giving in to cliches in the way the community is portrayed. And even the plot unfolds organically, without any cinematic manipulation. Within moments, we feel like we are right in the middle of this situation, and we cling to Ree for dear life, hoping she makes it out of this alive. Most impressively, Granik builds this anxiety even though we're not initially sure what the threat is. Every scene is packed with subtle detail that draws us in deeper.

Lawrence delivers an Oscar-calibre performance that doesn't have a single forced moment, although one climactic scene is so wrenching that we can hardly watch. She gives Ree an understated steeliness that really takes us aback, especially as she walks into increasingly dodgy situations; whether its bravado or desperation is irrelevant when the character is this complex and sympathetic. And the supporting cast members hardly seem like they're acting at all, bristling with a whole range of barely suppressed emotions.

This is a powerful film about a tightly interconnected community in which people understand their place, everyone knows everyone else's business, and help is offered but never requested. Granik's cameras observe this with quiet intensity that's rooted in the characters themselves. It's reminiscent of other independent-woman dramas like Frozen River and Trucker, but this one has more soul than any of them.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
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