Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
< <
I N D I E S > >
last update 29.Jan.14
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
The Banshee Chapter
dir-scr Blair Erickson
prd Sean Akers, Christian Arnold-Beutel, Corey Moosa, Stephanie Riggs
with Katia Winter, Ted Levine, Michael McMillian, Corey Moosa, Monique Candelaria, Jenny Gabrielle, Vivian Nesbitt, Chad Brummett, William Sterchi, Alex Gianopoulos, John Lawlor, Kevin Wiggins
gabrielle and winter
release US 10.Jan.14,
UK 27.Jan.14
13/US 1h27

The Banshee Chapter Sharp directing and acting hold our interest, but this unsettling horror thriller never quite engages us because its plot feels badly undercooked. Every scene is weakened by lapses of logic, and the only scary bits are the result of filmmaking trickery. But there's enough intrigue to keep us from giving up hope that something might make sense along the way.

British journalist Anne (Winter) is concerned that her friend James (McMillian) went missing after trying an experimental drug, and his buddy Renny (Gianopoulos) vanished two days later. So she decides figure out what happened. After learning that the drug is actually an extract from dead bodies, Anne consults with a codebreaker (Sterchi) who is monitoring suspicious radio signals coming from the desert. So Anne heads off to investigate, tracking down counterculture novelist Blackburn (Levine), who's experimenting with the same drug with his girlfriend Callie (Gabrielle).

The film opens with a mixture of archive footage and TV reports about how the US government experimented with mind-control drugs on its citizens in the early 1960s. From here, writer-director Erickson uses a fake investigative documentary style, stirring video from James' experiment and police footage as well as a few flashbacks. And then there are videotaped images of the visions patients are having, which makes us wonder what's really going on.

Erickson also gives the movie a slick visual style, making the most of the New Mexico locations. And the cast is up-for-it, offering nicely naturalistic performances even as things get increasingly insane. On the other hand, their characters continually do inexplicable things, which leaves us weighed down with nagging questions that are never properly answered. (For example, the police never properly investigate James' disappearance, leaving the evidence untouched for Anne to discover.)

There's also the problem that the filmmaking is extremely gimmicky, indulging in sudden jolts and random noises rather than any actual suspense. And since there's nothing identifiably intelligent holding the plot together, it feels like a random series of corny movie freak-outs. But the oddest idea that creeps up along the way is how a drug can induce hallucinations in people who don't even ingest it. This may allow for some unnerving moments, but it leaves us scratching our heads in frustration.

15 themes, language, violence
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir-scr-prd Lloyd Eyre-Morgan
with Janet Bamford, Olivia Sweeney, Daniel Booth, Jody Latham, Coby Hamilton, Joe Watts, Josh Croft, James Devlin, Neil Ely, Ryan Pope, Michael Ross, Lyn Eyre-Morgan
dlatham and sweeney release UK 27.Jan.14
13/UK 1h49
Celluloid Once again adapting his own play, Eyre-Morgan (Dream On) spins a disturbing thriller about teen issues and mental illness. And it's once again too broad for the cinema, with overwrought performances and an often too-hysterical tone that's unintentionally ridiculous. It also feels simplistic despite the tangled plot.

At 15, Josh (Booth) prefers to see life through his video camera, which puts some distance between himself and his mentally unstable mum Dawn (Bamford). His 16-year-old sister Nicola (Sweeney) copes by hanging with her wild pal Chrissy (Hamilton) and her druggy friends (Latham and Ely). Meanwhile, Josh is secretly struggling with his sexuality and falling for his best pal Mikey (Watts). So he turns to American blogger Ryan (Croft) for support. Finally, Josh and Nicola believe their mother's memories of child abuse have been implanted by her therapist (Devlin).

In addition to addressing family dysfunction and teen sexuality, the film feels like a full-on attack on regression therapy. But it's the mysterious plot that draws us in, as the three central characters' situations lead them into strong emotions and dark drama. On the other hand, some elements are overdone, such as Nicola's crass rudeness and Dawn's crazy insistence that she has the right to make her children miserable. Is this really false memory syndrome or is her therapist just terrible at his job?

And this leads to some laughably clunky sequences, such as a nice but utterly unnecessary montage of Josh and Ryan frolicking across London. And the whole film feels oddly dated, with cheesy video effects and only the occasional mobile phone. Much of it looks like a low-budget soap, and the stage origins show in the talky script, botched action and a cast that acts to the back row rather than for a camera, which is ironic in a film about a video-blogger.

But the real problem is that there's no one on-screen we remotely like or care about. Everyone is prickly, obsessive or cruel, so the melodramatic plotting feels extremely heavy-handed. Eyre-Morgan can't resist striking a preachy tone as Nicola is led into inebriation by her friends. And the climactic moment is a dramatic cheat. Even so, the basic premise is a strong one, and there are unsettling observations that resonate along the way as each character charges blindly into perilous emotional territory.

18 themes, language, drugs, strong imagery
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
The Devil’s Bargain
dir-scr Drew Cullingham
prd Drew Cullingham, Ian Manson
with Jonnie Hurn, Chloe Farnworth, Dan Burman, AJ Williams, Lulu Briggs, George Brown, Ian Manson, Victoria Ruskin
hurn and farnsworth release UK 17.Jan.14
13/UK 1h17
The Devil's Bargain There isn't much to this ambitious micro-budget British drama, but it's made with a mesmerising sense of visual style. And even if the film sometimes feels a bit slow and ropey, it touches on big themes as three characters circle around each other while they wait for the end of the world.

In 1974, Adi and Angi (Hurn and Farnworth) are in the countryside to prepare for the apocalypse, due to arrive at sunset. They're still grieving over the death of their young son (Brown in flashbacks), which has caused serious tension between them. So they decide to get naked and focus on their love instead. Then they spot Luca (Burman) in the bushes taking photos of them, and when they confront him, the world's end becomes deeply personal. The question is whether they can make peace with their demons before the planet is obliterated.

Narrated by a drunken deejay (Williams) and shot in groovy Super 8 style, filmmaker Cullingham cleverly creates a hippie vibe. After a free-love 1970 prologue, the story shifts into the more devilish conflict between the three characters, stirring in a sense of grief, fear and regret to add emotional resonance. And then there's the obvious Adam and Eve imagery (apples galore) plus witty references to period films like Barry Lyndon and, ahem, Women in Love. And as the story progresses, the story is packed with blackly funny revelations and jarring tonal shifts.

Annoyingly, the characters are also rather inconsistent. For pacifists, Hurn's Adi is a seriously violent hothead and Farnworth's Angi is oddly callous. Meanwhile, Burman's Luca is a diabolical provocateur, chattering, swapping loyalties and flirting relentlessly. Fortunately, all three characters are complex and intriguing. Although if the apocalypse is really coming, why would anyone waste time on jealousy, bitterness and violence? And for flower-power hippies, the sex is astonishingly clumsy.

Cullingham makes up for the too-loose script with swirly, colour-saturated imagery and a clever use of the low-hanging sun, creating a mystical atmosphere that adds all kinds of subtext. He also has a lot of fun playing around with issues of human existence and the loss of passion in both relationships and artistic work. On the other hand, the hammy melodramatics make the film drag badly, leaving us to wonder if it could have been a tighter, zingier 30-minute short.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir Benjamin Johns
scr John F McDonald
prd Isabella Battiston
with Billy Cook, David Essex, Kerrie Hayes, Khan Bonfils, Lois Winstone, Eoin McCarthy, Ronnie Fox, Seb Castang, Jason Maza, Sue Maund, Adrian Sharp, Stephen Manwaring
Traveller release UK 27.Jan.14
13/UK 1h40~
Traveller While this independent film tackles a thorny topic from a perspective we rarely see, its low-budget production values will make it difficult for audiences to connect with the characters. It doesn't help that the somewhat clunky direction pushes all of the actors to overplay their scenes.

Owen (Cook) is a half-caste gypsy who doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere. After a robbery goes horribly wrong, he hides out in the local caravan camp with community leader Blackberry (Essex) and takes a job with Mongolian horse-wrangler Tolui (Bonfils). Meanwhile, young cop Ann (Hayes) is snooping around, and strikes up a sympathetic relationship with the now-wanted Owen. But then he's also drawn to single-mum Litzy (Winstone), the widow of his best pal (Maza). And he's aware of the danger as the brutal thug Harshall (Fox) figures out where he's hiding.

Frankly, the biggest problem is that Cook isn't quite up to the challenge of such a demanding role. He looks great on camera and has real presence, but struggles to convey Owen's inner turmoil. His voiceover narration is flat and awkward, like the first reading of an overwritten script. Indeed, novelist-turned-screenwriter McDonald strains to insert too much poetic philosophising into the dialog, so it becomes almost laughable.

This defeats pretty much everyone in the cast, frankly. Only Essex manages to convey some genuine charisma on-screen. Hayes and Winstone are fine as the two women vying for Owen's half-gypsy soul, but these are both thankless roles that go nowhere interesting. Bonfils gets the very worst of the corny dialog, which is saying a lot, but he's far from the most ludicrous character on screen.

By shooting the film mainly outdoors, director Johns at least gives us a terrific sense of this lifestyle, even if there's nothing particularly new for us to see. We get the usual bare-knuckle brawls, horse-cart races and of course the town council threatening to evict the gypsies from their encampment so evil businessmen can redevelop the land. Amid such hackneyed plotting, the filmmakers continually shout their themes so loudly that they wear us out. So in the end, instead of sympathising with this horribly persecuted minority, we just want to get away from them.

15 themes, language, violence
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< < I N D I E S > >

© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall