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last update 1.Oct.11
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Black Pond
dir Tom Kingsley, Will Sharpe
scr Will Sharpe
prd Sarah Brocklehurst
with Chris Langham, Amanda Hadingue, Colin Hurley, Will Sharpe, Helen Cripps, Anna O'Grady, Simon Amstell, Arnab Chanda, Sophia Di Martino, Elisabeth Vriend
langham and hadingue release UK Oct.11 rff
11/UK 1h23

raindance film fest
black pond While this independent British black comedy has a striking visual style, with clever camerawork, animation and effects, the intriguing central idea doesn't really stretch to feature length. It's entertaining, but it runs out of steam.

After press attention dies down, five people explain what really happened when a stranger died at their dinner table. Tom and Sophie (Langham and Hadingue) live in a suburban home where their beloved dog Boy runs in the woods near Black Pond. One day, Tom meets neighbour Blake (Hurley) in the woods and invites him back for tea. There's something odd about him, but Tom and Sophie aren't exactly regular folk. But things turn strange after Boy suddenly dies, and their daughters (Cripps and O'Grady) come home with their flatmate Tim (Sharpe) to bury him.

To call this family dysfunctional is an understatement; the script continually brings up absurd layers of tension between the four of them, all with a razor-sharp satirical slant that pokes fun at frightfully British attitudes. Sophie moans that they hadn't had an actual conversation in their home in years before Blake turned up. Tom dreams about ham sandwiches and broadband. And they can't agree whether a banana is something to eat for breakfast or a midnight snack.

Yes, the dialog often takes deeply surreal twists and turns, especially as Tim tries to explain his reason for tagging along. Tim later visits Amstell's deeply nutty therapist to try to make sense of things (fat chance!). And yet these people come together for Boy's ridiculously over-serious funeral before things get stranger still. All of this is played with deadpan wit by gifted actors who keep everything grounded with pointed jabs of humour and even some real emotion.

The problem is that the the central gimmick is really only funny enough to sustain a short film. After about half an hour, we've got the joke. And since the plot is told in flashback through interviews, we know where it's heading even if we don't know the details. So the tension dissipates as the story progresses. This is a real shame, since filmmakers Kingsley and Sharpe have such a great eye for detail and a brazen appreciation of the more absurd truths about everyday life.

15 themes, language, vulgarity
13.Sep.11 rff
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dir Michael Axelgaard
scr-prd Matthew Holt
with Emily Plumtree, Sam Stockman, Matt Stokoe, Jessica Ellerby, Simon Roberts
plumtree and stockman release UK Sep.11 rff
11/UK 1h22

raindance film fest
hollow Filmmaker Axelgaard establishes a terrifically atmospheric mood with this found-footage thriller. Although the plot gets a bit draggy, it holds our interest due to the interaction between the characters.

Two couples drive to the southeast British coast to spend a weekend in the country house where Emma (Plumtree) grew up. She's accompanied by her laddish fiance Scotty (Stokoe), her friend Lynne (Ellerby) and Lynne's boyfriend James (Stockman), who has a history with Emma that he won't let go. As their romantic entanglements grow more pronounced, they also become obsessed by the local legend of a haunted old tree where young couples have a history of hanging themselves. And for some reason, James decides to videotape every moment.

The creepy tree provides a nice sense of dread all the way through this film, complete with a cavernous, shadowy hollow and views of a stone church where the priest refuses to talk about the village's dark history. These kinds of touches add a foreboding tone to the otherwise offhanded improvisation-style scenes of these young people playing games (including strip Monopoly) and prowling around the countryside in pitch-blackness.

On the other hand, all of this nighttime action leaves much of the movie very hard to see. We hear lots of noises, so we know something horrible is lurking out there, but like the characters, we can't see anything. Of course, lights are unreliable and there's no mobile phone reception here.

Yes, the script is packed with convenient elements like this, as well as rather a lot of important expository dialog that's randomly "caught" by the strangely ubiquitous camera. How its battery lasts for the entire weekend is another mystery. At least Axelgaard throws in some humorous scenes to balance things out, but with all of the fake scares and seemingly endless nights, it's never very scary.

As it progresses, the most interesting thing on screen is Emma's romantic mess. We know the scary tree will do its thing eventually, probably in the darkness, so there's more tension in who she'll decide to be with. All of this makes the film feel a bit light and meandering. And when things start getting violent and nasty, we can't see what's going on. All we have to go on are the somewhat overwrought performances and lots of visual rattle and shake.

15 themes, language, grisliness, nudity
15.Sep.11 rff
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dir Julian Kerridge
prd Angela Gordon
scr Martin Sadofski, Julian Kerridge
with Jack McMullen, Reece Noi, Leila Mimmack, Georgia Henshaw, Rita Tushingham, Andrew Knott, Maggie O'Neill
mcmullen and noi release UK Oct.11 rff
11/UK 1h37

raindance film fest
Seamonsters This sharp British drama features especially strong filmmaking and acting, although the story bogs down in its final act. Adapted from Sadofski's stage play Outside of Heaven, it's a provocative bundle of big issues and momentous events, and the shift from comical to grim is somewhat draining.

Sam (McMullen) is a thoughtful teen who hangs out with his troublemaking pal Kieran (Noi) on the tidal flats of their seaside town. Kieran fancies himself a ladies' man, which causes trouble with Mooney (Henshaw), a bright aspiring chef who thinks she's his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Sam takes a liking to Lori (Mimmack), who lives on a cobbled-together gypsy boat with her mysterious mother (O'Neill). Lori seems to like Sam, but she's also strangely reluctant to push things forward. And Kieran continually comes between them.

The film's first half is an offhanded look at small-town teens who never dream of going off to university or pursuing a serious career. The boys understand that they'll probably end up working at the local tourist trap, Pirate World, and Kieran dismisses Mooney's desire to go to a London cooking college as ridiculous. All that's left for Kieran and Sam is to chase girls, but Sam is only looking for someone special.

Director Kerridge beautifully captures the rhythms of these young people, from their moody interaction to the jagged emotional shifts between silly antics and spiky roughhousing. The romantic attractions is handled cleverly, mainly because Sam's soulfulness makes his inexperience believably enticing to Lori. And the actors, who all have solid experience on TV, deliver terrific performances that are complex and engaging, even when the characters do something nasty.

The problem is that this nastiness begins to consume the film as Kieran starts circling around Lori, and the script begins to only hint at what's happening. It's like watching an episode of Skins with all of the smoking, cider-drinking and drug-using, but with the sex roughly edited out. These young people think about sex and sometimes talk about it, but it doesn't seem to affect their behaviour beyond some suggestive dialog. So it's impossible to feel the big emotions that the final series of events should bring up. The film is sharp enough that we get the idea, but we can't engage with it.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
12.Sep.11 rff
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Stranger Things
dir-scr-prd Eleanor Burke, Ron Eyal
with Bridget Collins, Adeel Akhtar, Keith Parry, Victoria Jeffrey, Rebecca Ward, Kim Joyce, Taran Wiseman, Vivienne Burke, Michael Horsman, Jenny Sheridan, Caroline Aragon, Bobby Webster
release US Oct.10 wff,
UK Oct.11 rff
10/UK 1h17

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stranger thigns This low-key British drama has a rather contrived premise. But of course, as the title suggests, stranger things have happened. And while the small budget shows, at least the cast and crew keep the tone intimate and intriguing.

Oona (Collins) heads down to the Hastings coast to sort out her late mother's seaside home, spending some time reminiscing with a neighbour (Jeffrey) before getting down to the work of cleaning out the house. But Oona discovers the homeless Mani (Akhtar) squatting there, and after throwing him out offers to let him sleep in the shed. A tentative friendship develops between them, as he helps her work on the house and she gives him a sense of dignity that he clearly lost a long time ago.

Filmmakers Burke and Eyal give the film a soft, flat visual look that kind of undermines the striking coastal setting. Images seem rather greyed out, either due to budget issues or to recreate Oona's rather murky sense of who she is. At the same time, the camerawork is telling and observant, catching tiny details of the characters' personalities and interaction. Both Collins and Akhtar give intriguingly internalised performances that draw us in, and the story is packed with scenes that are warm and gently funny.

Meanwhile, the tentative plot progresses extremely slowly, as Oona and Mani gradually drop their defences and open up to each other. Both are clearly lonely, confused people, so having someone to talk to is extremely important, even though both know there is no future to their friendship. The problem is that we know this to, so the filmmakers don't generate much tension or interest in what might happen. And a side story about Mani's ill friend (Parry) never really gels.

This is basically an observant slice of life focussing on two people who help draw each other out of their shells. But the most effective thing about this quiet, somewhat dull film is the way it vividly captures the essential isolation of life, as if to say that we all must go through the most difficult periods on our own. Even if we briefly find someone to share our problems, in the end we have to deal with them ourselves.

12 themes, language
15.Sep.11 rff
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