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last update 15.Mar.15
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dir Joe Lynch
scr Yale Hannon
prd Adam Ripp, Rob Paris, Luke Rivett, Andrew Pfeffer
with Salma Hayek, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Laura Cepeda, Aisha Ayamah, Togo Igawa, Akie Kotabe, Gabriella Wright, Caroline Chikezie, Jennifer Blanc, Jelena Gavrilovic, Masashi Fujimoto, Uros Certic
hayek and Kotabe release US 27.Feb.15,
UK 1.May.15
14/Serbia 1h32
Everly Stylish and full of attitude, this fierce action romp looks both like a stage play and an adaptation of a Japanese graphic novel, but it's neither. Filmmakers Lynch and Hannon came up with the story, which is set in a single room as mainly Latina and Asian characters engage in a series of battles for survival. It's cartoonishly violent, with enough black humour to be entertaining. It's also fairly pointless.

After being held in a room for four years as a forced prostitute, Everly (Hayek) finally snaps, and in the ensuing massacre all the men in the room are killed. But getting out of the building seems impossible, and each visitor arrives with his or her own method of chaotic destruction. Everly's only thought is for her mother (Cepeda) and young daughter (Ayamah), who turn up and try to stay out of harm's way. Then after Everly encounters a goon known as The Sadist (Igawa), big boss Taiko (Watanabe) turns up.

The film opens in a scene of naked panic and only offers rare breaks from the frantic carnage. Moments of breathless conversation are followed by outrageous grisliness, all of which is so overplayed that the film becomes more ridiculous than scary (the soundtrack features Christmas carols). The relentless onclaught holds the interest, even if the episodic structure becomes rather repetitive. Since everything happens in one room, it feels like we're watching this in a theatre (it would make a great play).

Hayek is full-on, barking hilarious comments while inventively dispensing death and destruction. She's like a cartoon bombshell, all sexy curves and matter-of-fact action. But this is no male fantasy: she's the one with the power. Hayek is also effective in the warm moments, especially scenes with Cepeda and Ayamah, as well as Kotabe as a man who takes a long time to die. And the fact that Everly knows she's unlikely to leave this room alive adds a hint of pathos.

On the other hand, the film is only playing around with subtext, never quite making it genuinely meaningful. This woman is getting even for years of male violence and exploitation, even if she has to indulge in horrific nastiness in the process. In the end, the simplistic script is essentially a series of vicious battles. But it's cleverly directed to bring out black humour and primal responses. And it's packed with moments that make us gasp.

18 themes, language, violence
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Geography Club
dir Gary Entin
scr Edmund Entin
prd Michael Huffington, Anthony Bretti
with Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley, Andrew Caldwell, Meaghan Martin, Allie Gonino, Ally Maki, Nikki Blonsky, Alex Newell, Teo Olivares, Ana Gasteyer, Scott Bakula, Marin Hinkle
stewart and deeley release US 15.Nov.13,
UK 9.Mar.15
13/US 1h21
Geography Club Written and directed with skill and sensitivity by Edmund and Gary Entin, this teen drama tackles some important themes without ever getting preachy about them. It's a story about helping kids accept who they are and stand up against fear, both for themselves and for the people around them.

High school student Russell (Stewart) thinks he might be gay, but wants to work it out privately. When he discovers a mutual attraction with Kevin (Deeley), the school's star football player, his need to remain closeted only increases. But Min (Maki) notices them, and invites Russell to the "Geography Club", a secret support group for gay students afraid to come out. Meanwhile, Russell's goofy best friend Gunnar (Caldwell) wants him to date Trish (Martin) so he can date Kimberly (Gonino). But this further confuses Russell about what he should do.

The film has a gentle pace and is nicely shot and edited on a budget, with a strikingly truthful depiction of complex, confused teens. The club members (including Blonsky, Newell and Olivares) are a lively bunch of outcasts only just becoming comfortable with who they are. While Russell is caught between pressure to follow in his dad's footsteps, to not embarrass Kevin by coming out and to help Gunnar by hanging out with Trish.

Stewart is thoroughly likeable in the central role as a young guy working up the confidence to stop hiding his true feelings about all of this. And the actors around him provide the needed spark, sass, comedy and drama to pull him in various directions. Where the plot goes isn't always predictable, and certainly never simplistic, as unexpected waves of loyalty and forgiveness add texture to the bullying theme. And terrific scenes all the way through deepen each character.

While breaking the intensity with a generous dose of humour, this is a striking depiction of how tricky it is for teens to be themselves in a society that expects them to be "normal". They feel left out, unable to aspire to the path everyone demands of them and terrified of the hatred that oozes from everyone around them. Most telling is the film's comment on how bullying is accepted but being different isn't. Clearly, the only way to stop it is to talk openly. This subtle, honest movie may end on a too-positive note, but maybe that's the message kids need to hear.

12 themes, language, innuendo
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It Follows
dir-scr David Robert Mitchell
prd Rebecca Green, David Kaplan, Erik Rommesmo, Laura D Smith
with Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Bailey Spry, Ruby Harris, Debbie Williams, Heather Fairbanks, Linda Boston, Christopher Hohman
it follows release UK 27.Feb.15,
US 27.Mar.15
14/US 1h40

london film fest
It Follows Despite filmmaker Mitchell's cleverly artful touches, this retro-style teen horror movie feels eerily familiar. But a tight point of view and engaging, realistic characters help make the frightening elements genuinely unsettling. And even though the film kind of runs out of steam in the final stretch, the thrills remain unusually involving.

In a Detroit suburb, Jay (Monroe) is out on an awkward date with her hunky boyfriend Hugh (Weary), menaced by a girl in a yellow dress that no one else can see. Then he confesses that he gave "this thing" to Jay, and it will follow her until she passes it on by sleeping with someone else. "If it kills them, it'll come back after you," he adds. So Jay runs away with her groovy neighbour (Zovatto), lovelorn pal (Gilchrist), little sister (Sepe) and a friend (Luccardi) to figure out what to do next.

Gorgeously shot by Michael Gioulakis, the film is set in the present day but has a strong 1970s aesthetic, with vintage cars and phones, a darkly sexual premise, jangling scary-movie music and parents who are nowhere to be seen. Writer-director Mitchell also gives the film a panicky, paranoid tone from the opening shot, forcing the audience to fear for the Jay's life using wide-screen, long-take camerawork that's witty, teasing, evocative and engulfing. And since the stalker appears in various forms, we are looking for its freaky approach in the background of every scene.

Monroe brings out Jay's sharp sense of humour, playing both the comical and horrifying scenes at full tilt. Indeed, the film kind of lurches from quiet to morose to crazed to back again, but the cast is up to the challenge, and both Zovatto and especially Gilchrist maintain a terrific sense of chemistry and connection with Jay. With characters this likeable, the film's jolts carry an extra kick, especially since these teens haven't a clue how to deal with this inexplicable menace.

Since the plot hinges on a sexually-transmitted killer, this movie has a rather joyless view of sex as something to get out of the way. Watching these happy young people turn into paranoid victims is both moving and unnerving. And if some of the set-pieces feel ramshackle, Mitchell at least knows how to twist with horror movie cliches like a cabin in the woods and a closed public swimming pool. And the fresh cast makes sure that the fear is unusually palpable.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Kissing Darkness
dir-scr James Townsend
prd Eric Kertudo, Thierry Willems
with Sean Paul Lockhart, Nick Airus, Kyle Blitch, Daniel Berilla, Ronnie Kroell, Griffin Marc, James Townsend, Sean Benedict, Roger Duplease, Kyan Loredo, Lorenzo Monroy-Ortega, Steven Tylor O'Connor
lockhart and airus release UK 9.Mar.15
14/US 1h27
Kissing Darkness With a cheesy low-budget style, this choppy horror romp indulges merrily in gay stereotypes as it stirs a killer vampire queen into the cabin-in-the-woods genre. There are some clever touches, but the film is so ineptly made that nothing works: dodgy plot, terrible editing, appalling performances. Yes, it's badly underdeveloped, but also a bit of a guilty pleasure.

Five guys head to a mountain cabin for the weekend. Jonathan, Skylar, Ashton and Brett (Lockhart, Blitch, Berilla and Kroell) are gay, annoyed they're missing Pride weekend, while their host Vlad (Airus) is an arrogant straight muscle boy. Jonathan flirts shamelessly with Vlad, much to his boyfriend Brett's annoyance. And after an ill-advised game of Ouija, they begin to encounter some sort of sinister presence. Is it a family of raccoons living in the attic? Or an immortal witch with centuries-long grudge and a blood-link to Vlad?

As the hilariously overacting vampire queen (an uncredited actress) makes each of the boys her slave, they maraud through the community munching on all the neighbours. But they also take the time to continue their ludicrous romantic melodramas, which involve petty jealousies, cheesy arguments and inexplicable visits from random exes and lovers (including Marc, Townsend and Benedict). None of this makes any sense, as Townsend's script never bothers to connect the dots. And the stiff dialog defeats the pretty-boy cast.

At least they spend much of the film flexing their muscles without their shirts on. Otherwise there's no real sense of character as disconnected scenes cut into each other without any narrative flow, indulging in corny cutaways and flashbacks that attempt to create the bare idea of a story. Technically, the film is a mess, with terrible camerawork and sound, inane musical cues and no sense of one scene leading into another. Still, there's a whiff of S&M that's sexier than anything in Fifty Shades of Grey.

That said, any sex here is just tease without payoff, so the vampire feeding-frenzy scenes are actually hotter.But there's the hint of a decent idea in the premise, as a woman stalks gay men: are they afraid because she's a monster or because she's female? Writer-director Townsend isn't sophisticated enough to make anything of this, but at least it adds some bite to the wacky mayhem. And at least the film is camp and nonsensical enough to keep us laughing at it.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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