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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Mar.19

Devil’s Path  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Devil's Path
dir Matthew Montgomery
scr Matthew Montgomery, Stephen Twardokus
prd Steve Callahan, Jon Gale, Matthew Montgomery, Stephen Twardokus
with Stephen Twardokus, JD Scalzo, Jon Gale, Michael Hampton, Matthew Montgomery, Steve Callahan, Spencer Kelly, Michael van Why, Mike Kiraly, Luis Lowenberg, Gary McDonald, Mason McGahan
release US 5.Mar.19
18/US 1h27

twardokus and scalzo
A dramatic thriller set in the early 1990s, this film strikes an intriguingly philosophical tone. Actor-turned-filmmaker Matthew Montgomery is superb at building an atmospheric sense of dread, even as the characters remain authentic, both prickly and sympathetic. So while it turns a little corny, this is a refreshingly simple approach to telling a suspenseful story with a sharp human angle.
Along a mountain hiking trail, Noah (Twardokus) is nervously searching for his missing big brother (Kelly). Armed with a set of tarot cards, he approaches handsome stranger Patrick (Scalzo). As they get to know each other, Noah follows Patrick into the woods. When they're attacked by a pair of thugs (Gale and Hampton), they are chased further into the backcountry. But the path to safety seems eerily elusive. Especially since men have been going missing in this gay cruising ground, and perhaps Noah or Patrick knows more about that than they're letting on.
As Patrick reminds Noah, men don't go to Devil's Path for love or romance. Director-cowriter Montgomery fills the woods with shifty figures, some looking for a bit of fun and others for trouble. The suspense is gripping simply because it's never exaggerated, layered with little touches like Patrick's asthma and Noah's naivete. The ominous music is overplayed, as are some deliberate jolts and melodramatic touches, but the quiet chills are superbly effective, such as the snap of a twig or a throwaway glance.

Twardokus and Scalzo are terrific, creating complex and enigmatic characters who hold the interest. Both are likeable even with hints that there are important things they don't know about each other. Why is Noah's back so badly scarred? Did Patrick know Noah's brother? As they work together to find a way out of their predicament, the actors find clever ways to connect and clash with each other, building realistically awkward chemistry and camaraderie. And each discovery about the other raises some grim questions.

Montgomery maintains a nice balance between impending nastiness and character-based interaction between two men who continue to debate big issues while running for their lives. The film is skilfully shot to make the forest look dense and dangerous. And the script cleverly drip-feeds hints to the audience; we never know more than the characters do, so the sense of menace becomes darkly overwhelming. Even if the final act becomes rather unhinged, the strong attention to character detail pulls the audience into the grisly mayhem.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 4.Mar.19

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
dir Princeton Holt
scr Brian Ackley
prd David Vaughn
with David Vaughn, Devin Fuller, Irina Abraham, Dean Cain, Stefanie Bloom, Stormi Maya, Hope Blackstock, Shannone Holt, Chris Riquinha, Jace Nicole, Jonathan Ercolino, Merill Joseffer
release US 5.Mar.19
18/US 1h44

This offbeat sci-fi comedy-drama plays on the premise that in the future people will fall in love with robots. Director Princeton Holt deploys clever camerawork and editing to keep the film looking colourful and cool, while lively characters and some scrappy plotting help overcome the preachy script and cheesy approach to science. But the central idea of seeking that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling has resonance.
In New York, bickering couple Brooke and Michael (Abraham and Vaughn) are startled to learn that Brooke's little brother Drew (Fuller) is getting over his breakup with the help of a robot girl (Maya). Michael is a little too fascinated that these sexbots can be programmed with such detail, so Drew refers him to the "e-mate" company Butterfly Chasers and its host Maxwell (Cain). While Michael creates his perfect bot Sophia (Bloom), Drew tries to get his goofy friend David (Riquinha) to help him win his human ex (Nicole) back from her robot lover (Ercolino).
Aside from the sexbots, Holt's only vision of what things will be like three decades from now is a sky full of delivery drones. But the film's playful visual approach is packed with surprises, both snappy cinematic references and colour-drenched fantasy. The filmmaking is oddly coy, especially as it depicts a society in which sexuality is out in the open. But then Holt is taking a lightly comical approach even as Ackley's script touches on serious themes about identity, fidelity and the nature of romantic connections.

This offbeat tone gives the actors a chance to play realistically complex characters, mixing throwaway humour with darker comedy and drama. Fuller and Vaughn are solid in the central roles as likeable guys trying to sort out their love lives. Abraham is also engaging, although her character is more sidelined. Meanwhile, actors playing robotic e-mates vary in stiffness, some expressing sassy attitude and others remaining rather blank. Other side characters have their moments, while Cain lends some star gravitas in an offhanded role.

As the intertwined story-threads continue, there are philosophical conversations that supply the audience with plenty of ideas to chew on even if they never really draw us into the character journeys. This makes the film feel almost like a series of disconnected scenes, rather than a narrative with a sense of momentum. It also lends itself to some rather over-the-top moralising about the nature of love and happiness. The film is intriguing, and it looks great, but it's also choppy. And the best moments involve simple humanity.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 4.Mar.19

The Wedding Guest  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Wedding Guest
dir-scr Michael Winterbottom
prd Nik Bower, Deepak Nayar, Melissa Parmenter, Dev Patel, Michael Winterbottom
with Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh, Harish Khanna, Nish Nathwani, Sidhu Manpreet, Meherbaan Singh
release US 1.Mar.19
18/UK 1h37

patel and apte
Pulsing with intrigue, this dramatic thriller holds the attention with a sense of unpredictability, even if the plot and characters feel naggingly undercooked. Writer-director Michael Winterbottom builds strongly emotive atmosphere while withholding most of the back-story. But the settings are vividly utilised, and the two lead actors make the most of their enigmatic roles.
Travelling from Britain to Pakistan, Jay (Patel) is clearly up to something. He rents a car, buys some guns and grabs bride Samira (Apte), then takes her across the border into India. As they travel around the country, Jay is contacting Dipesh (Sarbh), the man Samira would rather be with and who is behind her kidnapping/rescue. But these three people are all strong-willed and determined, and not particularly trustworthy. Jay just wants to see this through, Samira wants to be free to live her life, and Dipesh seems unconcerned about anyone but himself.
This is pretty much all we know about these three. The script never offers more insight into their backgrounds, so connections remain sketchy and circumstances are never brought into sharp focus. This adds a sense of peril as the story takes some surprising turns, although the generally melodramatic plot makes most of what happens feel both forced and pointless. Still, there's a visceral kick to the film that grips the attention, mainly in the textured performances and real-world locations.

Patel gives Jay a driving sense of purpose as a man determined to get the job done, although the way he plays the role hints that he probably doesn't have much of a life to go home to. This makes him a fascinating figure, charismatic but darkly haunted. He also remains likeable even when he does some nasty things. Opposite him, Apte builds her own powerful presence as the events unfold, defining Samira more by her sheer force of will than any other factors we might know about her (and we never know much). And in a smaller role, Sarbh adds a superb smiley swagger.

Since the narrative has no real sense of where it starts, it's difficult to care much about where it's heading. The only hope is that these people can extricate themselves from an increasingly thorny situation and find a way to have a less stressful future, either together or apart. The guns, stolen jewels and cultural intolerance never feel like more than plot contrivances, so the internal journeys these people take are what draw the audience in. Although we're basically only seeing a segment of those journeys.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 26.Feb.19

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