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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, revivals and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 22.Aug.19
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Mark Jenkin
prd Kate Byers, Linn Waite
with Edward Rowe, Giles King, Isaac Woodvine, Chloe Endean, Mary Woodvine, Simon Shepherd, Jowan Jacobs, Georgia Ellery, Kate Byers, Tristan Sturrock, Martin Ellis, Stacey Guthrie
release UK 30.Aug.19
BERLIN FILM FEST
Stunningly shot and hand-processed on black and white 16mm film, this dark British drama is infused with earthy emotion and brittle black humour as it explores the fabric of a small, isolated town. Filmmaker Mark Jenkin's approach is bracingly experimental, mainly in the way he edits scenes together to make sure everything feels urgent and unpredictable. It's resolutely offbeat, but also bold and darkly involving.
In rural Cornwall, Martin (Rowe) is a fisherman without a boat, because his brother Steven (King) has repurposed their father's fishing boat to take visiting tourists around the coastline. Martin doesn't fight this, because Steven has just lost his wife. And also because Steven's son Neil (Isaac Woodvine) prefers fishing with Martin to doing the tourist thing. But the Londoners (Mary Woodvine and Shepherd) who have bought the family home for a vacation getaway are another thing. And now Neil is seeing their daughter (Ellery), while their gormless son (Jacobs) creates other problems.
There's a clear sense that this low-key story is headed for tragedy, partly because of the ominous word "before" on-screen at the start. But Jenkin also edits in glimpses of events to come, quick clips that are so evasive that they could be red herrings. He intercuts scenes and conversations to add unnerving tension in unexpected places. And as conflict between locals and interloping tourists builds to a series of clashes, there's a sense that this kind of thing has gone on for decades all over the world.
In keeping with the film's distinct style, the actors give heightened performances that are grounded in earthy situations. Rowe is terrific at the centre, holding his inner frustration in a gently clenched fist. He nicely captures Martin's connections with his brother and nephew, complex relationships that are also strikingly well-played by King and Woodvine. Endean provides some feisty moments of her own as a young woman who doesn't like following rules. By contrast, the actors playing the interlopers provide a superb sense of cluelessness.
The distinctive camerawork and performances create some properly gripping suspense. Jenkin only uses dialog when it's absolutely necessary, so much of the film is a wordless collage of imagery, skilfully assembled to set the scene and cut through the surface of the plot. This is a story about the eternal clash between old-world values and modern-day commerce, told through an disarming personal prism. Indeed, Jenkin's filmmaking is often so intimate that it makes the audience feel uncomfortable as we strongly connect to the people on-screen.
I Trapped the Devil
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Josh Lobo
prd Spence Nicholson, Rowan Russell, Scott Weinberg
with Scott Poythress, AJ Bowen, Susan Burke, Chris Sullivan, Jocelin Donahue, Rowan Russell, John Marrott, Aaron Larsen, Jack Vernon, Victoria Smith
release US 26.Aug.19,
Dark and insinuating, this gloomy horror thriller has a clever set-up and a strong cast, although writer-director Josh Lobo can't resist trying to heighten everything with gimmicks like perplexing visuals or pushy sound and music. Confined to a creepy house, the movie has a superb claustrophobic tone, both visually and psychologically. But the pace is slow as it churns along in between some atmospherically freaky moments.
When Matt and Karen (Bowen and Burke) pay a surprise visit to Matt's brother Steve (Poythress) for Christmas, Steve isn't happy about the intrusion. But Matt and Karen are worried that Steve has been isolating himself in the family home. Their concern grows when Steve matter-of-factly explains that the man (Sullivan) locked in the basement is Satan himself. Steve explains why he rationally believes this, while Matt and Karen become increasingly alarmed by his mental state. They also can't help but wonder who is actually behind the basement door saying, "Please help me."
Every moment of this film is awash in scary movie touches, from the under-lit rooms (the basement only has a single red light bulb) to glimpses of sinister nicknacks scattered around the house. There's even a gun hidden in a box and a TV constantly playing static. Matt continually swigs from a whiskey bottle. And Steve has a room in the attic where he has carefully plotted his prisoner's connection to pure evil. Oddly, Lobo doesn't make much of all of this. And nothing much happens for most of the running time as these three people circle around each other with only rare bursts of dialog.
Performances are low-key, often whispery, creating a believably tense family dynamic. Poythress and Bowen are effective as estranged brothers who have a strong bond despite the insanity of this situation. And Burke is engaging as the sceptical sister-in-law who begins to think that maybe something supernatural is going on. The connections between these three are cleverly played, with a growing sense of intensity. So even if some moments feel forced, there's some strong realism in the characters.
Essentially, this is seems to be a 20-minute short extended into a feature. It's been padded out to a feature length with several moody montages and conversations that feel oddly disconnected. Still, there are some terrific observations along the way, especially the note that evil is a subjective thing. And as Lobo builds suspense about the voice behind that barricaded door, the final scenes become properly unnerving, with an added unhinged emotionality.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Emma Tammi
scr Teresa Sutherland
prd Christopher Alender, David Grove Churchill Viste
with Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Ashley Zukerman, Dylan McTee, Miles Anderson, Martin C Patterson
release US 5.Apr.19,
TORONTO FILM FEST
Artfully shot and edited, this whispery thriller reveals its story by crosscutting between two timelines. Set on an isolated 1880s homestead, it's a slow-building atmospheric freak-out that unnerves the audience from the start with its disparate images, enigmatic characters and expansive setting. And as a story of a woman's mind in turmoil, it's also provocative and haunting. Director Emma Tammi is definitely one to watch.
On the Great Plains, Lizzy (Gerard) is on her own while her husband Isaac (Zukerman) and new neighbour Gideon (McTee) go for supplies. Having just been through the grisly death of Gideon's wife Emma (Telles) in childbirth, Lizzy is understandably unnerved, especially when a pack of wolves attacks her home and kills her goat. Then she finds herself pregnant and begins to question her sanity. In this state, even a kindly passing minister (Anderson) seems menacing. Is there an evil presence out there? Or is the knocking on the door just the incessant wind?
Tammi presents Lizzy's previous experiences in scattered flashbacks, stretching back to the first time she and Isaac meet their rather odd new neighbours, then try to help them settle in to prairie life. In the present, there's clearly a threat in the darkness that's far more sinister than the wolves, and it seems to be connected to violent flickers of what happened to Emma, who was unhinged long before she went into labour. As Lizzy begins to connect the bizarre goings on with her pregnancy, things get very, very dark. Complete with cleverly subtle effects work.
Gerard plays Lizzy as a complex woman, observant about things around her, quick to make a smart decision and resourceful in solving even the most unthinkable problem. Her matter-of-fact approach to situations is beautifully played, especially as the story takes some seriously nasty turns. Side roles are more straightforward, although they take on added layers as Lizzy begins to doubt herself. And each actor pays effectively with his or her character. Zukerman and McTee boldly take on men who feel naturally superior but also helpless.
Aside from the nearly inaudible dialog, which is mainly spoken under the breath, the film is sharply well put together, with beautiful cinematography (by Lyn Moncrief) and evocative editing (by Alexandra Amick) that connects the two time periods in an eery collision of nervy terror and wrenching emotion. The way it comes together in the final act is a little choppy, and the pace sometimes drags. But Lizzy's isolation and desperation are powerful, as is her inner resolve.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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