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last update 3.May.12
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3/5   aka: Womb
dir-scr Benedek Fliegauf
prd Gerhard Meixner, Andras Muhi, Roman Paul
with Eva Green, Matt Smith, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight, Tristan Christopher, Istvan Lenart, Hannah Murray, Ruby O Fee, Natalia Tena, Ella Smith, Wunmi Mosaku, Alexander Goeller
smith and green release US 30.Mar.12,
UK 4.May.12
10/Hungary 1h47

london film fest
clone Painfully slow pacing makes this finely crafted film a bit of a trial, even though the story is packed with fascinating ideas. There's plenty of emotional intensity, but very little energy, which limits our ability to get involved in the increasingly creepy story.

As children, Rebecca and Tommy (Fee and Christopher) strike up a friendship in their rainy seaside village. But Rebecca is soon sent to live with her mother in Tokyo, and it's 12 years before she returns. It takes Rebecca (now Green) awhile to track down Tommy (now Smith), and once again their romance is suddenly cut short. But rather than accept Tommy's death, Rebecca decides to give birth to his clone, which makes their mother-son bond a bit freaky. Especially in a society in which clones are considered second-class citizens.

The film has a quiet, elegiac atmosphere that amplifies Rebecca's internalised feelings while playing on the futuristic period and bleak landscapes. Even though it gallops through time, the film moves at a snail's pace (echoing a key on-screen image) except for the moments when Smith snaps things to life as both incarnations of the quirky, intelligent adult Tommy. Intense side roles for the terrific Manville and Wight (as Tommy's parents) help too.

Writer-director Fliegauf tells the story almost like vintage 1960s sci-fi, with spacious, understated settings and eerie references to the ways things aren't quite right. Rebecca never even tells Tommy Mach II that he's a copy, let along anyone else. So the bald-faced prejudice of the neighbours stings Rebecca very deeply. Meanwhile, her relationship with her son is starting to feel a bit too close, especially as she takes him to live in an isolated beach cabin.

These kinds of issues make the film quite intriguing, even though the tone is rather dull and ponderous, especially in the overwrought, under-developed final act. But the film is beautifully shot with glacially grey cinematography that really sets off the actors. And Green delivers an inviting performance that builds underlying tension as she struggles with her own feelings and whether or not to tell Tommy the truth. And it's in this underlying theme that the movie finds surprising resonance.

15 themes, violence, sexuality
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dir-scr Carol Morley
prd Cairo Cannon
with Maxine Peake, Paul Hilton, Joe Dempsie, Nichola Burley, Marjorie Yates, Ania Wendzikowska, Julie T Wallace, Keeley Forsyth Tom Harmer, Bill Wheatley, Rory Batchelor, Toby Crouch
hilton and peake
release UK 13.Apr.12
10/UK 1h33

london film fest
Edge Haunting and moody, this gently paced film gets under our skin by drawing us into three loosely connected stories that all hinge around deeply personal mysteries. It's somewhat stagey in its rather convenient plotting, but is beautifully made.

Five guests arrive at the snowy, isolated Cliff Edge Hotel, perched high above a foreboding beach: Elly (Peake) is struggling to come to terms with a past tragedy, Glen (Hilton) is a has-been rocker in need of inspiration, Philip and Sophie (Dempsie and Burley) are on a blind-date weekend, and Wendy (Yates) intends to end it all. Chambermaid Agata (Wendzikowska) takes care of them for the weekend, which doesn't go as any of them planned. This is mainly because each person's isolation is interrupted in ways that will change their lives.

Morley's dreamlike visual style is mesmerising, drawing us into the situations as she continually hints at something dark and rather frightening. The stark white landscape contrasts strikingly with the tatty, gloomy hotel interiors. And even the most banal dialog, such as Philip and Sophie's awkward attempt to break the ice, is charged with a sense of eerie menace. Elly just wants to be left alone, so Glen's constant chatter is deeply annoying. Wendy is frustrated that Agata keeps interfering with her plan.

Each of these people is on an internal journey, and working out what's going on under the surface makes the film feel almost like a puzzle. Indeed, the characters themselves are looking for clues about each other. And Morley and the cast continually reveal details that catch us off guard. The interaction derails expectations as people start thawing out in ways that are warm or terrifying. This catches us as off guard as the characters, allowing the cast to give layered, unusually introspective performances.

That said, some of the scenes feel a bit talky and melodramatic, as these people lash out against their loneliness. The three strands feel like separate (but converging) one-act plays, each dealing with a different life-or-death issue. Although each person finds some catharsis through their encounters in the hotel, Morley is careful to never simplify things. This is a quietly insinuating film that holds our interest, even if the heightened drama makes it difficult to sympathise with anyone.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir-scr Kieron Hawkes
prd Leo Pearlman, Danny Potts
with Martin Compston, Paul Anderson, Louise Dylan, Roland Manookian, Neil Maskell, Ed Skrein, Lorenzo Camporese, Josh Herdman, Tommy McDonnell, Jumayn Hunter, Ryan Winsley, Troy Glasgow
harris and hendricks release UK 4.May.12
12/UK 1h46
piggy Stylish filmmaking makes this dark thriller worth a look, even if the tricky premise feels rather stale. We understand from the start what writer-director Hawkes is doing here, so the way it plays out feels frustratingly flat, especially as the grisliness escalates.

Working as a messenger in London, Joe (Compston) is a loner who doesn't like to be around people but is bored with his repetitive, numb life. Things improve when he reconnects with older brother John (Maskell) and his girlfriend Claire (Dylan). But Joe is terrified of violence, and rightly so, as both he and John are attacked in the streets. Then he meets John's street-thug friend Piggy (Anderson), who wears a rubber pig-nose as a disguise. He makes Joe feel eerily safe as he teaches him how to get revenge.

Narrated by Joe as an explanation for his descent into violence, it's hard not to immediately figure out exactly where this is heading. This gives the film a strong whiff of pretentiousness, as do the ponderous voiceover and surging score. Although along with the lushly dark photography, this over-egged filmmaking style does give the the movie a moody tone that draws us in. Like Joe, our main question is who Piggy really is. This seems plainly obvious, but is it?

Hawkes is certainly a gifted filmmaker, making the most of the settings and situations while drawing emotionally resonant performances from the actors. Even the violent scenes, which are sudden and vicious, are layered with emotion as Joe struggles to grasp the horror of the grisly situations he stumbles into. Compston is terrific as a sort of innocent young man struggling to accept the darkness within himself. And the sometimes cartoonish Anderson is a terrifying, haunting presence goading him forward.

In the end, this is essentially a souped-up B-movie trawl into man's innate tendency toward violence. Filmmaker Hawkes invests it with so much atmosphere that we can't help but think he had delusions of grandeur: it's not nearly as slick or insightful as it looks, and often feels lumbering. Although provocative acting and directing make it watchable, the plot's lack of originality leaves us somewhat unimpressed. Which also means that the emotional punch misses the mark.

18 themes, language, strong violence
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Silent House
dir Chris Kentis, Laura Lau
scr Laura Lau
prd Laura Lau, Agnes Mentre
with Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Eric Sheffer Stevens, Julia Taylor Ross, Adam Barnett, Haley Murphy
olsen release US 9.Mar.12,
UK 4.May.12
11/US 1h25

Silent House A remake of the 2010 Uruguayan thriller, this is reportedly based on a true story. Shot as if it was filmed in a single continuous take, this claustrophobic horror film sends chills down our spines. But instead of deepening the story, the growing creepiness becomes an exercise in superficial horror: it's scary, but it's hard to care.

Sarah (Olsen) is working with her father John (Trese) and her uncle Peter (Stevens) to clean out a family-owned lake house that's been trashed by squatters. Sarah is clearly unnerved by the blacked-out windows, requiring the use of lanterns inside even during the daytime. Then she starts hearing loud noises upstairs. And when Peter is out getting supplies and her father is in the basement, she sees someone stalking her in the shadows. Soon she's running for her life. But even when she gets outside, she simply can't escape the house.

It's fairly clear early on that something metaphysical is going on here, so we begin to take what we're seeing with a grain of salt, waiting for some sort of twist or revelation. But this isn't the filmmakers' aim: they just want to freak out the audience, so they contrive scene after scene that jolts us out of our seats, mainly because of the clever close-up camerawork, which doesn't give our eyes any space to escape from Sarah's terrified face.

And indeed, Olsen creates a palpable sense of fear that's difficult to resist. Even as we begin to understand why she's so frightened, the terror in her eyes is seriously horrific. And with the camera on her for the entire real-time fright-fest, we live every moment of her ordeal. The only relief comes through the offhanded naturalism of Trese and Stevens, while Ross (as Sarah's forgotten childhood friend) gets a few moments of camp eeriness.

It's fun to be so disoriented by a horror film that you start to feel that, like the main character, there might be something wrong with your ability to perceive what's actually going on. But while this approach to the narrative is inventive, the relentless rug-pulling will frustrate most moviegoers. If the script had provided a little more insight into the characters, the final act would have been much more wrenching.

15 themes, language, violence
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