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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 13.Feb.19

The Hole in the Ground  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
The Hole in the Ground
dir Lee Cronin
scr Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields
prd Conor Barry, John Keville
with Seana Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, James Cosmo, Kati Outinen, Simone Kirby, Steve Wall, Eoin Macken, Sarah Hanly, Bennett Andrew, David Crowley, John Quinn, Miro Lopperi
release UK/US 1.Mar.19
19/Ireland 1h35


The Hole in the Ground
For his feature debut, filmmaker Lee Cronin crafts an experience in atmosphere. There isn't much plot, dialog or even character, but the engulfing creepiness is thoroughly unsettling. The film is strikingly well photographed by Tom Comerford to give it a dark fairy tale tone, and the nastiness plays into some primal fears. Although in the end it feels rather under-defined.

Fleeing some sort of marital collapse, Sarah (Kerslake) takes her young son Chris (Markey) to start a new life in rural Ireland. As they do up their new home, they explore the dense woods out back, discovering a massive sinkhole. So when crazy neighbour Noreen (Outinen) tells Sarah that Chris is not her son, a seed of doubt is planted that something evil is lurking in that hole. Noreen's husband (Cosmo) doesn't help allay fears, and soon pretty much everything Chris does is deeply suspicious.
Where this goes is never subtle, as Cronin works overtime to make sure the audience is unnerved from the opening shot. Clearly something evil is lurking in this forest, so it seems almost natural that the movie shifts into evil child horror (that extreme side parting is a giveaway). Actually, the narrative barely moves at all, as Cronin fills the screen with a collage of scary imagery, suggestive nastiness and downright freaky situations. It never makes much sense, but this is a genre we're required to just go with.

Kerslake gives a wonderfully earnest performance as a young women who slowly begins to slide into madness, even if there's never a doubt that her paranoia is justified. She spends much of the movie on her own, so doesn't get much chance to build chemistry with other characters. That said, she has superb early scenes with the terrific Markey, although there's not much he can do with the glowery Bad Chris. And apart from Outinen's full-on physicality, none of the side characters really register.

The film is so finely crafted that it's a little frustrating that it has so little subtext. The premise about a frazzled single mother starting afresh in a home that hides a secret menace isn't very original. Nor is the woodland mythology that drives the film's horror momentum. But it looks so good that it holds the attention, which helps Cronin as he adds several intensely nasty little set-pieces along the way. The finale may be a bit of a let-down, but getting there has its moments.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 14.Jan.19

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir James Gardner
scr James Gardner, Simon Lord
prd Nikolas Holttum, James Gardner
with Liv Hill, Sinead Matthews, Cyril Nri, Angus Barnett, Henry Lile, Jemima Newman, Tomos Eames, Lauran Taylor-Griffin, Jay Sajid, Connor Mills, Mark Sangster, Victoria Alcock
release US Apr.18 tff,
UK 15.Feb.19
18/UK 1h41


A dark social drama about a family falling through the cracks, this searing, astutely well-made film avoids being miserable by indulging in both unexpected drama and some brightly edgy comedy. While it's sometimes very funny, the general tone is rather grim. But filmmaker James Gardner and gifted lead actress Liv Hill make this the kind of movie you can't look away from.
Bored by life in seaside Margate, 15-year-old Sarah (Hill) has a snappy comeback for every insult from her loathed classmates. After school, she works in a gaming arcade and takes care of her two younger siblings (Lile and Newman) while her ex-addict mother (Matthews) sleeps. Then as their situation deteriorates, Sarah's boss (Barnett) pushes her heartlessly. She knows the system is hopeless, offering no help for her family. And her performing arts teacher Adam (Nri) is tired of her foul-mouthed outbursts, so he assigns her to channel her rage into a standup comedy routine.
Adam gives Sarah a list of angry male comics to watch, and the point is profound, as she revels in their hilarious rants, channelling her own attitude into jokes. Meanwhile, she navigates the social system to deal with her mother's scary behaviour. Gardner shoots this with a bracing authenticity, balancing Sarah's desperation with her lacerating intelligence. He also follows her into unsettling situations, such as when she meets a talkative property developer (Eames) in a bar and goes home with him.

Hill is seriously powerful as a teen girl forced to become a responsible woman far too early. She reveals Sarah's emotions under fierce bravado, facing her situation with tenacity and invention. The way she flirts with danger is downright shocking, but it's impossible not to root for Sarah even in the riskiest things she does. Meanwhile, the people around her are earthy and real, and they add surprising angles.

Gardner directs in an up-close way, never letting the camera travel far from Sarah. There are several darkly difficult scenes, thankfully shot with sensitivity and restraint. And the film pulls us into Sarah's perspective in a powerful way, letting us feel her emotions in ways that are often wrenching. The issue is that Sarah will never figure out who she is if she has to be her family's lifeline. Will she ever be able to pursue this new passion? Where the story goes is intense, but it's so skilfully resonant that it can't help but get under the skin.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 8.Jan.19

Old Boys  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Old Boys
dir Toby MacDonald
prd Luke Morris
scr Luke Ponte, Freddy Syborn
with Alex Lawther, Jonah Hauer-King, Pauline Etienne, Denis Menochet, Joshua McGuire, Nicholas Rowe, Eros Valhos, Robbie Fraser, Giles Malcolm, Jack Stimpson, David Gordon-Dixon, Archie Merry
release UK 22.Feb.19
18/UK 1h36


Old Boys
A revamp of Cyrano de Bergerac, this quirky British boarding school comedy-drama is often too goofy for its own good, undermining the characters with slapstick and general idiocy. But it's also bold and inventive, and generally engaging as it follows a nerdy kid on a journey of discovery. Director Toby MacDonald certainly has an eye for the oddities of English culture.

In a countryside school, possibly in the early 1980s, the boys play streamers, a rugby variation involving a river, a wall and a tree stump. Younger and smaller boys are routinely hazed, while teachers cheer the thuggish, entitled behaviour of the older ones. In this place, Amberson (Lawther) is a geek who's always last-picked for streamers and is instantly smitten by Agnes (Etienne), daughter of the new French teacher (Menochet). But she has fallen for Winch (Hauer-King), the handsome-but-dim jock. So to improve his lot in the pecking order, Amberson helps Winch woo Agnes.
The romantic plot has some nice touches that highlight the creative minds of these young people, as visual flourishes (pop-up dioramas, flip books, home-made videos) add internal angles. And the mixed-up yearning adds a nice sense of adolescence. Winch isn't as experienced as everyone thinks; Amberson is a lot braver; and the strong-willed Agnes isn't defined by the men around her (she's also the movie's only female character). So it's a little distracting that the film continually resorts to inane physical silliness and hackneyed plotting.

All three leads are solid, adding depth to their roles to add texture and meaning. Lawther visibly grows up over the course of the story, transforming from a weedy, wet noodle into a focussed young man. Hauer-King underscores Winch's bravado with an honest fragility. And Etienne gives Agnes a feisty inner life as she realises she can't spend her life caring for her needy single dad. Other actors kind of fade into the crowd of bullies, but a few seize the chance to chew the scenery.

As it goes along, the film's more intelligent touches outweigh its simplistic antics, offering a nice wave of both nostalgia and youthful empowerment, as well as some knowing pastiche of posh England, which is already absurd enough, and not nearly as harmless as this film suggests. And while the screenwriters never quite figure out something new to do with the material, the film is at least packed with solidly written and played moments that encourage the audience to laugh at how serious everything seems when we're teens.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 22.Jan.19

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