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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 30.Aug.19

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
dir Ray Xue
scr Matthew Abrams, Padgett Arango
prd Sean Thomas, Jason Ross Jallet
with Keenan Tracey, Brittany Raymond, Spencer Macpherson, Brittany Teo, Luke Goss, Emmanuel Kabongo, Joshua Joel Bailey, Shanel Maida, Suzanne Cyr, Richard Clarkin, Stephen Bogaert, Emilie Ullerup
release Can Oct.18 tadff,
UK 21.Oct.19
18/Canada 1h30


tracey, teo, macpherson, raymond
There's a quietly building intensity to this dramatic horror movie, basing its nastiness in realistic teens and small-town life. Director Ray Xue establishes a dark and very serious tone while keeping things authentic with offhanded interaction and complex character detail. Where the story goes feels a bit pointless, but it's thoroughly unnerving. It's also grisly enough to offer fans an intriguing twist on the genre.

By day, brothers Derek and Ian (Tracey and Macpherson) and their friends Miriam and Jenny (Raymond and Teo) are popular, straight-A high school seniors. By night, they commit super-grisly murders around their small town wearing freaky masks. They plan the killings as meticulously as they approach their classwork, which is starting to infringe on their spree. Uncoincidently, Derek and Ian's dad Alan (Goss) is the local police chief trying to solve these cases. Then the couple (Cyr and Clarkin) they target on Halloween put up more of a fight than expected.
It's rare to find a teen horror thriller that features a salient discussion of Calvinism to feed into the idea that these kids feel like they can be forgiven of any sins. And the script also takes time building each of the characters and the dynamic within this secretive foursome, each of whom has something that could distract him or her from the plan at hand. By comparison, the procedural plot-thread centring on Alan and his deputy (Kabongo) feels oddly low-key and predictable, as the kids are setting up a teacher (Bailey) to take the fall.

Performances are nicely understated and internalised, as all four young people are preoccupied with issues in their lives. This is sometimes almost comically gloomy, and the lack of naturalistic humour is noticeable, but it does add a driving intensity to the narrative. Each teen has a strong presence as an overachiever who feels both invincible and expectant. A romance between Miriam and another girl (Maida) feels random, and the attempt to add emotion in the final act feels a little hollow.

Because of the sober tone, it's natural to expect something a bit deeper regarding the kids' motivations for these random murders. Is school that unchallenging? Is this rural community that boring? Or is it just the old cliche about smart, disaffected young people, flipped around to tell the story from the point of view of the slasher killer rather than the victim? So shifting this perspective during the violence perhaps reveals the filmmakers' intentions.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 11.Aug.19

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5   MUST must see SEE

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find
dir Abner Pastoll
scr Ronan Blaney
prd Junyoung Jang, Guillaume Benski
with Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, Andrew Simpson, Jane Brennan, Caolan Byrne, Packy Lee, Rudy Doherty, Macie McCauley, Susan Ateh, Josh Bolt, Siobhan Kelly, Sean Sloan
release UK 25.Oct.19
19/UK 1h37


There's a gritty, earthy undertone to this melodramatic thriller that lifts it far above the usual low-budget British potboiler. Writer Ronan Blaney and director Abner Pastoll have made a working-class drama that's packed with both nasty suspense and pointed commentary on the system, with a superb cast in complex roles. So even though the production values are basic, the film has a remarkable urgency.
In Belfast, the widowed Sarah (Bolger) struggles to care for her young children Ben and Lucy (Doherty and McCauley). Ben hasn't spoken since witnessing his father's murder, which the police dismiss as drug-related. And Sarah's harsh mother (Brennan) is no help either. Then surly young criminal Tito (Simpson) breaks into her flat to escape drug goons (Byrne and Lee) he's robbed. Initially terrified, Sarah sees that he might be useful for her survival, as well as perhaps finding out who killed her husband. If the vicious mob boss Leo (Hogg) doesn't catch him first.
The film is shot with cameras that prowl around Sarah like the callous people who surround her, expecting more of her than is humanly possible. So her odd connection with Tito is understandable, because he sees her. Thankfully, the writers also steer clear of adding the usual simplistic romance between them. Indeed, Sarah is not a woman who needs a man; she's capable of taking care of things herself. So is it too much to be asked to be treated like a human being?

Bolger's performance ripples with both vulnerability and inner strength. She beautifully conveys how Sarah discovers reserves she never knew she had, all without knowing that Leo's path is converging with hers. Even the most extreme things Sarah does are sympathetic in context, and Bolger plays the role without flinching. Meanwhile, Brennan gets to add texture to her hard-nosed character. Of the men, Simpson is the only one with even a hint of sensitivity (and it's just a hint). Hogg is the opposite extreme, as his fury obliterates his humanity.

Pastoll builds a bluntly escalating thriller in which the men are simply ruthless, unhinged by their rage, which of course is a weakness the calmly intense Sarah can exploit, even when she's terrified. The filmmakers add a witty spin to the usual formulaic trajectory for a British sink-estate thriller, elevating it with Bolger's powerful performance and a story that refuses to glorify the machismo of lowlife thugs. Watching this mamma bear protect her young is frankly exhilarating.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 12.Aug.19

Spider in the Web  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Spider in the Web
dir Eran Riklis
scr Gidon Maron, Emmanuel Naccache
prd Michael Sharfstein, Jacqueline de Goeij, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery
with Ben Kingsley, Monica Bellucci, Itay Tiran, Itzik Cohen, Filip Peeters, Hilde Van Mieghem, Makram J Khoury, Mathijs F Scheepers, Marcel Hensema, Wouter Van Lierde, Luk Wyns, Jonas Leemans
release US 30.Aug.19
19/Belgium 1h54

bellucci and kingsley
Based on a true story, this drama has an easy intelligent energy thanks to Ben Kingsley's offhanded performance as a jaded spy at the end of his career. It's a quietly involving film that refuses to fall back on the usual cliches as it quietly winds through its twisting narrative. It's all a bit murky and underpowered, but there's a steely edge to Eran Riklis' filmmaking that holds the attention.
In Brussels, antiques dealer Simon (Kingsley) is actually a veteran Mossad agent trying to track down biological weapons through doctor Angela (Belucci). Then his friend and colleague Khadir (Khoury) is kidnapped by the Syrians. Believing that Simon is past his prime, his boss Samuel (Cohen) assigns young agent Daniel (Tiran) to work with and keep an eye on him. As they continue with the case, Simon slowly begins to win Daniel over as he carries on with his carefully elaborate plan to track down a chemical weapon network called "spider in the web".
As Simon goes about his business, he seems to be one step ahead of everyone else, all while seducing Angela and opening up to Daniel about his past. With his broad depth of experience, Simon is almost like a retirement-age James Bond, still confident in his abilities even as the ground beneath him seems to be shifting, because the lines between good and bad have blurred. Indeed, everyone seems dodgy, both within Mossad and in the local intelligence service. And maybe Simon needs to doubt himself.

Kingsley avoids the usual swagger of a secret agent character, effortlessly playing the role as a man who can grasp a situation before anyone else can. He barely seems to break a sweat in the role, but is investing each scene with layers of subtext, especially in his father-son relationship with Tiran's rather surly but thoughtful Daniel. By comparison, the always magnetic Bellucci doesn't get much to do here, mainly because her role is so badly underwritten.

While the complex interplay between characters is riveting, especially the connection between Simon and Daniel, the odd-couple romance between Simon and Angela never quite takes root. And action scenes, when they come along, can be difficult to follow with so many henchmen lurking in unmarked cars and even shadier spy bosses in the background. So while there are some strong scenes in the final act, the emotional kick simply isn't there.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Aug.19

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