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last update 30.Jan.19
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Await Further Instructions
dir Johnny Kevorkian
scr Gavin Williams
prd Alan Latham, Jack Tarling
with Sam Gittins, Neerja Naik, Grant Masters, David Bradley, Abigail Cruttenden, Holly Weston, Kris Saddler
kksaddler and weston release US 5.Oct.18,
UK 7.Dec.18
18/UK 1h31

fright fest
Await Further Instructions There are heavy Cronenbergian touches to this British horror thriller, which traps a feuding family in a house as the world collapses around them. The interpersonal drama is sharply played, even if the script creates characters that are simply too stupid to be credible. This basically leaves the film feeling rather superficial, eliminating any subtext or thematic resonance. But it's grisly and intense.

After three years away, Nick (Gittins) takes his girlfriend Annji (Naik) home to meet his parents Tony and Beth (Masters and Cruttenden) for Christmas. So when Nick's heavily pregnant sister Kate (Weston) and her husband Scott (Saddler) turn up, old resentments immediately emerge. This includes vile racism aimed at Annji from Kate and Tony, clearly inherited from Grandad (Bradley), who gleefully stirs trouble from his armchair. Then they discover that the house has been sealed tightly shut, with increasingly bizarre instructions written on the television screen.

Director Kevorkian makes the most of the film's limited setting, moving around this normal suburban house. It feels increasingly claustrophobic even before anything strange happens, simply because it's clear these people can barely stand each other. Then when this odd black corrugated sheeting seals every entrance, they're trapped. Dad takes the instructions on the television far too seriously, while bigotry and insecurities further undermine the situation, leading to some nasty violence. It's all a bit much, frankly, with characters who are just too wilfully idiotic to believe.

But the cast members play them realistically. The voices of reason, Gittins and Naik offer the emotional and intellectual balance that's lacking in anyone else. They're the only people the audience can root for, and they play scenes in which they are marginalised and bullied with nice insight. Masters is simply an over-the-top monster, clearly bullied himself and dishing it out tenfold. By contrast, Cruttenden is the emotional wreck, spending much of the film quivering. Bradley and Weston just spout ignorant abuse, while Saddler has a more likeable haplessness.

Where all of this goes is intriguing, even if the filmmakers abandon their smart approach as the final act arrives and things begin to become insane, and then outrageously grotesque. The idea is clever, and the effects work is very strong, but the film feels under-imagined. Perhaps the script could have used at least one more rewrite to iron out the character inconsistencies. As is, genre fans will enjoy the escalating mayhem and some moments of inventive, audacious grisliness. But it would have been nice to have a thematic payoff too.

15 themes, language, violence
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Eighth Grade
dir-scr Bo Burnham
prd Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Lila Yacoub, Christopher Storer
with Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger, Imani Lewis, Luke Prael, Catherine Oliviere, Nora Mullins, Gerald W Jones, Missy Yager
fisher and hamilton release US 3.Aug.18,
UK 26.Apr.19
18/US A24 1h33

Sundance London film fest
Eighth Grade Sharply told from a 14-year-old's perspective, this astute drama finds wry humour and wrenching angst in almost every scene. First-time feature writer-director Bo Burnham cleverly conveys how a young girl feels as she follows social media to see how life should be, then dispenses advice she struggles to follow herself. In other words, it's almost painfully easy to identify with her.

In the final week of middle school, teen vlogger Kayla (Fisher) is voted quietest in her class, perhaps because she works so hard to avoid the popular kids, secretly crushing on the athletic Aiden (Prael). Her nice-guy single dad Mark (Hamilton) tries to engage with her when she's not staring at her phone. But whatever she does, Kayla's life stubbornly refuses to come together according to her master plan. Then she's teamed with the chatty Olivia (Robinson) to prepare for high school next year. This includes meeting Olivia's friends, which is both wonderful and terrifying.

Through Kayla's eyes, the film makes a range of hilarious observations, such as teachers trying to be down with the kids or a dad who truly believes that his painfully shy daughter is cool. When attending a snooty popular girl's (Oliviere) pool party, putting on a swimsuit almost makes Kayla ill. And the thought of getting romantic with a boy is both thrilling and unnerving. With superb camerawork, Burnham makes sure we see what Kayla can't: that all of her classmates are equally geeky, insecure and needy.

Fisher approaches the role with raw, often uncomfortable honesty. Kayla thinks she knows what will make her life better, but nothing seems to work. It's a bold, dryly hilarious performance underpinned with strong emotion. Other students are smartly played to reveal their own issues, not that Kayla notices. And through her eyes the adults seem more ridiculously oblivious than they actually are. All are very well played, with Hamilton managing to be embarrassing and sensitive at the same time.

Structured as a series of anecdotes that build to often excruciating punchlines, the squirm-inducing humour only occasionally masks a dark current of sadness. Kayla tells everyone that her life is amazing, when she clearly believes the opposite. She understands that she's growing up, which means putting childhood behind her. But does this include the need to abandon her dreams? A lovely father-daughter scene offers a glimmer of hope for her future, pushing her to take her own advice for a change. Be yourself indeed.

15 themes, language

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Newly Single
dir-scr Adam Christian Clark
prd James Dahl, Greg Gilreath, Adam Hendricks, John H Lang, Jordan Michaud-Scorza
with Adam Christian Clark, Jennifer Kim, Molly C Quinn, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Remy Bennett, Greg Gilreath, Raychel Diane Weiner, Marguerite Moreau, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Alexandra Skye, Jennifer Prediger, Austin Fryberger
edwards and forsyth
release US/UK 7.Dec.18
17/US 1h36
clark A series of sharp scenes, this film has a fresh tone, like an edgier Los Angeles variation on Woody Allen's jazzy New York comedies about a hapless guy in a world that just doesn't get him, and vice versa. Actor-filmmaker Adam Christian Clark nails the black humour, creating a wildly annoying protagonist who is also deeply likeable. And the film's heightened realism is strikingly inventive.

Geeky filmmaker Astor (Clark) has been dumped by his girlfriend (Quinn), which has shaken his self-confidence just as his career begins to take off. Preparing for his new project, he and producer Lawrence (Gilreath) have landed hot young actress Taylor (Brown) and hope to make an authentic, positive movie about relationships. With advice from his single friend Izzy (Kim), Astor launches into the dating scene, easily finding sex but not really connecting with women. His sister (Jacoby-Heren) offers some camaraderie, but his attitude is extending to some awkward negotiations with Taylor's management.

Clark builds a gentle narrative from a variety of scenes and story threads that feel somewhat random. Astor is so relentlessly needy that he annoys almost everyone he meets, failing to notice that anyone might have a problem with his self-obsession. Lashing out in a petulant way, he has no idea that he's actually sabotaging any chance at the relationship he so desperately wants. The flashback to his breakup is brutal.

Clark really goes for it in this performance, committing fully to Astor's boorish behaviour while revealing an oddly endearing naivete under his bluster. This adds a cleverly jagged texture to each of Astor's encounters, as his charm is undermined by his pushiness, which exposes his vulnerability. It's a superb combination of writing, directing and acting. And each of the costars brings an equally messy personality to his or her character.

In the final act, the plot kind of gets stuck in Astor's gloom, as various aspects of his life unravel, only sometimes due to his arrogance. The remarkable thing is that we never lose interest in him, so we feel the weight of each thing that happens in both his professional and personal life. There are hints along the way that he's going to learn some sort of life lesson here, although going there would actually betray the tone of the film. So it's great to see Clark hold his nerve and never soften his approach. And this makes the final shot remarkably punchy.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Wretched Things
dir-scr Gage Oxley
prd Sian Carry, Beth Fallon
with Adam Ayadi, Tommy Viles, Warren Godman, Thomas Loone, Dale Monie, Jack Parr, Bruce Herbelin-Earle, Sophie Mort, Roberta Winterton, George Crossthwaite-Mugglestone, Sharon Spink, Alix Lindsay
ayadi and friends release UK 18.Jan.19
18/UK 1h20

Wretched Things feature
Pushing boundaries

Interviews with the
film's cast and crew...

Wretched Things This triptych of dramas has a darkly involving tone that pulls the audience in to provoke thought on a variety of themes. Strikingly well shot (even if much of the camerawork is a tease) and solidly acted, it's a series of scenes that challenge the characters to push moral and ethical boundaries. There's a cautionary edge that becomes somewhat preachy, but it's involving and profound.

Ben (Godman) is a model going up for a spread in a major gay magazine, which turns increasingly sensual. The photographer (Loone) flirts relentlessly, pressuring Ben to pose in his briefs. Olly (Viles) is streaming a movie when he sees a pop-up advert for live-sex cams. Perhaps this is a way he can earn some extra cash, and he finds it liberating as well. But can he control who sees this? And Louis (Ayadi) indulges in unsatisfying drug-fuelled sex with his slave boy (Parr), even while wanting to be seen as a straight alpha male.

Writer-director Oxley has crafted a small film that looks remarkable for such a low-budget project. A terrific song score and a skilled cast also help, as do the realistic and picturesque shooting locations, which add texture and colour. Olly is perhaps a bit well-off to need webcam cash, and he's also too smart to have simply failed to think things through. But the point is that each of these three guys becomes a sex worker to some degree, and Oxley applies consuming guilt to each of them.

The lead actors are exceptional, bringing an earthy thoughtfulness to their characters. Godman's segment is brief but pointed, while Viles gets to have some fun with the tentative, smiley Olly as he digs deeper into his new job. Ayadi has the most complex role in the longest chapter, a self-loathing young man who seems to just go through the motions without enjoying his life. Each of these three men are intriguingly different types, and their experiences ripple with meaning.

Oxley's script works best when it's presenting scenes without moral judgment. It's obvious that there are dangers in each scenario, so the bleak twists can feel pushy. For example, it's clear that Louis is actually looking for tenderness, so a scene of him caressing a mannequin seems like overkill. Still, this moment is gorgeously shot and played. Indeed, the third segment is particularly artful, pushing its theme even further as it turns surreal and very dark.

18 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs

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