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last update 16.Nov.18
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Adrift in Soho
dir-scr Pablo Behrens
prd Pablo Behrens, Owen Drake
with Owen Drake, Caitlin Harris, Chris Wellington, Emily Seale-Jones, Angus Howard, Lauren Harris, Olly Warrington, William Chubb, William Jessop, Martin Calcroft, Warwick Evans, Anthony Burrows
seale-jones and howard release UK 14.Nov.18
18/UK 1h48
Adrift in Soho Resolutely independent, this swirling drama may be base on a Colin Wilson novel but it's also an experimental mood piece that sets out to explore the singular nature of London's artistic district. The imagery is eye-catching enough to hold the interest, even though the characters never become people we can identify with. This seems to be due to the evasive script as well as an inexperienced cast.

In the mid-1950s, young philosopher Harry (Drake) travels to Soho to launch his writing career among the artists and outcasts. He immediately is befriended by the fast-talking James (Wellington), a womaniser who convinces Harry to support his wastrel lifestyle. Harry also meets student Doreen (Harris), as well as ageing literature fan The Count (Chubb). Meanwhile, "free cinema" documentarians Marcus and Jo (Howard and Seale-Jones) are shooting footage in streets, pubs, clubs and strip joints. But Marcus' commercial eye clashes with Jo's purism, and she instead teams up with young Marxist Marty (Warrington).

Much of the dialog consists of academic-style debates of various philosophies and the concept of "Sohoitis", some sort of mystery fatal illness that afflicts people who become enamoured with this scruffy neighbourhood of outsiders. As the characters meet up and interact in a series of largely disconnected scenes, there's never much sense of who they are as people. The dialog resists revealing much about their hopes and dreams, nor does it let them express their personal beliefs. Instead, it centres on sowing the seeds for the upheaval that's coming in the 1960s.

This written style of speech makes it fairly impossible for the cast to create realistic characters. Everyone seems to be overacting, with arch commentary that has meaning intellectually but no sense of emotional engagement. As a result, there's not really a character the audience can identify with on any level. They're intriguing, but far too sketchy to come to life. Drake's Harry is the only one with any kind of story arc, and the actor brings a nice lost-soul quality to him.

There's also a bit of trouble with the production style, as the film was clearly shot in the present day. Perhaps filmmaker Behrens would have been wise to play on this jarring dichotomy, placing period figures more audaciously in present-day settings. As is, it just feels painfully low-budget. Still, there are plenty of big ideas swirling around to stimulate thought, and it's an inventive approach to Soho's centuries of history as a home for creative people who don't belong anywhere else.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Breaker Upperers
dir-scr Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek
prd Georgina Allison Conder, Ainsley Gardiner, Carthew Neal
with Madeleine Sami, Jackie van Beek, James Rolleston, Celia Pacquola, Ana Scotney, Rima Te Wiata, Angella Dravid, Cohen Holloway, Troy Kingi, Rose Matafeo, Jaquie Brown, Jemaine Clement
van beek, sami and rolleston release NZ 3.May.18,
UK Oct.18 lff
18/New Zealand 1h30

london film fest
The Breaker Upperers With this engaging comedy, the Kiwi duo Jackie van Beek and Madeleine Sami keep up a steady stream of hilarious gags in their roles as writers, directors and actors. Much of the film has the awkward, absurd tone of Taika Waititi's work (he's a producer), creating riotously sloppy characters who are deeply likeable even when they're doing something painfully stupid.

In Auckland, Jen and Mel (van Beek and Sami) run a service to help people break up with unwanted partners, role-playing pregnant exes or concerned cops, for example. But the weepy reaction of client Anna (Pacquola) leaves Mel open to flirtation with dopey teen rugby player Jordan (Rolleston). Jen is concerned that Mel is violating their rule about getting involved with a client, and things are further complicated when Joe (Holloway) returns to town. Because both were dating him when they found out he was cheating with the other, and that's what launched their friendship.

The script is a marvel of understated hilarity, as each scene ripples on several levels. In fact, almost every element of a scene is witty, from the sets, props and costumes to the range of characters. Everyone is a surprise (most notably Scotney as the Maori rapper wannabe Jordan wants to break up with). And all of it carries break-up resonance. The script may have a nagging Screenwriting 101 structure about it, but its details are hysterical. And the actors add to it with every appalling thing their characters get up to.

Like antipodean variations on Kristen Wiig and Tina Fey, Van Beek and Sami are riotously fearless, willing to look profoundly silly as they delve deeply into their characters' insecurities while maintaining a wry sense of humour. Neither the actors nor the characters themselves are taking this very seriously (which makes the plot's big event that much more unlikely). And the surrounding cast is also hilarious, including silent players in the backgrounds.

This kind of freewheeling comedy never works unless it's rooted in real-world issues, and the way van Beek and Sami play with relationship themes is clever. From their exes to their inappropriate current liaisons, both of these women are a wonderfully honest bundle of confidence and anxiety. Their workday disguises are both fiendishly witty and darkly telling. And the crazy situations they find themselves in have a surprising underlying resonance that leaves us hoping this we'll be seeing a lot more of Jen and Mel.

15 themes, language, sexuality

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Hell Fest
dir Gregory Plotkin
prd Gale Anne Hurd, Tucker Tooley
scr Seth M Sherwood, Blair Butler, Akela Cooper
with Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Roby Attal, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Courtney Dietz, Tony Todd, Stephen Conroy, Cecil Elmore Jr, Michael Tourek, Brooke Jaye Taylor
edwards and forsyth
release US 28.Sep.18,
UK 16.Nov.18
18/US 1h29
Hell Fest A throwback to teen horror movies from the 1980s, this energetic romp never displays even a hint of originality. The director and writers avoid breaking the standard Halloween slasher formula, from the dull masked killer to his oblivious young prey. As a result, the film is never very much fun, and it's jumpy rather than scary. But the young cast is watchable.

Nat (Forsyth) returns home from college to see her best pal Brooke (Edwards) for Halloween, and the plan is to visit the sold-out Halloween theme park Hell Fest for the night. Accompanied by Brooke's boyfriend Quinn (James), flatmate Taylor (Taylor-Klaus) and her boyfriend Asher (Mercurio), Nat has been paired up with her shy school friend Gavin (Attal). But there's an anonymous killer lurking within the scary cast at the park, and he quickly develops an unhealthy obsession with Nat, targeting her friends one by one.

Director Plotkin never gives the characters more than one salient personality trait, so the chemistry between them feels manufactured. Forsyth and Attal attempt to build a hint of nicely geeky romance, but Plotkin is more interested in showing this masked murder lurking around them. And he's so utterly anonymous that every close-up elicits a yawn. Not only is his look generic, but his seeming omniscience leaves the entire movie feeling downright fake.

The six young actors playing the villain's prey are likeable, offering funny banter and snappy interplay. There's a sense that these are old friends, even if the relationships never ring true. But all of them are rather bland, even when they're being cheeky. And the script kind of gives up on its own premise about halfway through, as if the writers couldn't be bothered to think up any more murderous scenarios so opt instead to dispatch characters with no fanfare. The survivors barely seem to react.

Frankly, it's just not good enough to make a movie like this without trying to twist the cliches. Plotkin and his writers make a vague attempt to acknowledge the tired formula, then just fall back on it themselves. But in neglecting to deepen the vulnerable or make the killer a proper character, there's simply nothing here to hold on to. It's not even nutty enough to crack a smile; each set piece plays out exactly as we think it will. And in the end, the real world outside the cinema feels a lot scarier than anything on-screen.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir Matthew Ross
scr Scott B Smith
prd Stephen Hamel, Keanu Reeves, Gabriela Bacher, Braden Aftergood, Dave Hansen
with Keanu Reeves, Ana Ularu, Pasha D Lychnikoff, Veronica Ferres, Molly Ringwald, Dmitry Chepovetsk, James Gracie, Eugene Lipinski, Rafael Petardi, Boris Gulyarin, Alex Kudrytsky, Vlad Stokanic
reeves and ularu release US 13.Jul.18,
UK 16.Nov.18
18/US Saban 1h44
Siberia A rather tired script and low-energy direction undermine what might have been an enjoyably slow-burn thriller. Director Matthew Ross makes sure that it looks good, capturing a nice sense of the settings while injecting the film with some underlying menace. But the plot and dialog are riddled with cliches, and the narrative moves at such a creeping pace that it never quickens the pulse or captures our sympathy.

Arriving in St Petersburg, Lucas (Reeves) learns that his contact Pyotr (Gulyarin) has fled. The swaggering Boris (Lychnikoff) demands delivery of 12 rare blue diamonds, and South African trafficker Vincent (Gracie) is also applying pressure. With two days to sort this out, Lucas tracks Pyotr to snowy small-town Siberia. The only friendly person he meets there is straight-talking cafe owner Katya (Ularu), who distracts Lucas from his quest. As does a spot of bear hunting with the men. And on returning to St Petersburg, he's further compromised by a pesky Russian fed (Lipinski).

It feels like everything screenwriter Smith knows about Russia has come from bad movies, including vodka-chugging men and tough-minded women who make trite comments like, "Americans think money solves everything". Katya is a strong female character, so it just feels like lazy writing to have her brother (Chepovetsky) drunkenly warning Lucas off. As if. Oddly, before launching into a sexual tryst with Katya, Lucas has a video chat with his wife (Ringwald) back home. Which does little but muddle the point.

Reeves plays Lucas with his standard whispery understatement, barely offering any personality at all. Combined with the blank-slate screenplay, everything Lucas does feels random and rather pointless. He has no passion for anything at all and only shows brief glimpses of humour. Ularu's Katya is more interesting, despite her badly over-egged backstory. When she's off-screen, the thriller plot is only barely enough to hold the attention, because everyone else is just too stereotypical. And their romance is never convincing.

Oddly, Smith's script continually reminds the audience that Lucas isn't a spy, even as it tries to add spy-thriller beats at every turn, with clandestine meetings, double agents and a rather chilly romance. But the frequent sexual scenes become increasingly comical, mainly because they strain so hard to add emotion into an ice-cold movie. The problem is that there's not much suspense or intrigue either. The story generates some churning intensity but no real momentum. So it's impossible to care what happens.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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