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

The Curse of La Llorona  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
The Curse of La Llorona
dir Michael Chaves
scr Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis
prd James Wan, Gary Dauberman, Emile Gladstone
with Linda Cardellini, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Patricia Velasquez, Sean Patrick Thomas, Tony Amendola, Irene Keng, Oliver Alexander, Aiden Lewandowski, Paul Rodriguez
release US 19.Apr.19,
UK 3.May.19
19/US Warners 1h33

thomas and cardellini
You know what you'll get from the Conjuring universe: deep shadows, creepy women, and loud noises that make you jump without actually scaring you. Yes, production values are very strong, the cast is solid and there are some intriguing things going on under the surface if you're brave enough to look. So the movie is entertaining, even if it's not suspenseful in any way.

In 1973 Los Angeles, social worker Anna (Cardellini) is worried about a case involving a woman (Velasquez) and her terrified sons (Alexander and Lewandowski) who are being chased by the spectre of "la llorona", the weeping woman (Ramirez) who murdered her own children. And now she's violently taunting Anna and her children (Christou and Kinchen). Anna turns to Detective Cooper (Thomas), her late husband's partner, before realising she needs supernatural help from Father Perez (Amendola). And he refers her to ex-priest Rafael (Cruz), who knows how to deal with malevolent spirits.
Director Chaves fills the screen with pitch-black corridors, creaky noises, loud crashes and deafening chords of music as things leap out of shadows. Random lamps are lit around Anna's house at night, but no one switches on overhead lighting, which seem crazy if you're terrified of an evil ghost hiding in the inky corners. There's even an attic and cellar, plus a seriously murky swimming pool. Viewers will instantly understand that all of these will come into play at some point.

Cardellini plays Anna as a woman who has never seen a horror movie. She screams on cue, flees in all the wrong directions, hugs her children as if that will protect them from a murderous ghoul. In other words, she nicely creates a true-believer persona, even if the script never gives her much to do. Both Christou and Kinchen are notably solid as well. Out of her fright-mask, Ramirez conveys a hint of unhinged emotion. And Cruz, Thomas and Amendola are effective as the useless men trying to offer assistance.

These films are almost ludicrously toothless. Neither the writer nor the director bothers to build the threat of real nastiness into either the story's everyday set-up or spirit-world terror. All that's left is to sit back and enjoy the freak-out atmospherics that transform each ordinary scene into a potential nightmare in which a woman in garish, grisly makeup will suddenly appear in a tattered white dress and try to grab one of the living. Laughter is the appropriate response.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 24.Apr.19

Madeline’s Madeline  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Madeline's Madeline
dir Josephine Decker
prd Krista Parris, Elizabeth Rao
scr Josephine Decker, Donna di Novelli
with Helena Howard, Molly Parker, Miranda July, Curtiss Cook, Jaron Elijah Hopkins, Okwui Okpokwasili, Jorge Torres-Torres, Sophie Traub, Felipe Bonilla, Sunita Mani, Lisa Tharps, Mike Hodge
release US 10.Aug.18,
UK 10.May.19
18/US 1h33

london film fest

howard and parker
There's a darkly intriguing idea inside this experimental drama, but it gets lost in filmmaker Josephine Decker's out-of-control indulgence. Deliberately inaccessible, this is the kind of movie that appeals to smug lovers of pretentious arthouse fare. While there are important themes and beautiful photography, the film has absolutely nothing to say about the central topic, mainly because it's so improvised that it never comes into focus.
Just about to turn 17, Madeline (Howard) has a strained relationship with her single mother Regina (July), who dotes on her little brother Damon (Hopkins) and has no idea what to do with Madeline. When her medication runs out, Madeline says nothing and simply drifts into mental instability, which is exacerbated by the free-form acting classes she takes from open-minded teacher Evangeline (Parker). The dramatic exercises involve letting her mind wander anywhere, and Evangeline makes things even worse by using Madeline's own story as the basis for the class' upcoming performance.
It's impossible not to get the idea that this film was assembled in post-production from improvisational elements. There isn't much evidence of a screenplay aside from a loose outline, as none of the characters take much of a journey. Instead, it's a series of images and scenes staged like the freeform acting exercises in Evangeline's class. It's gorgeously shot by cinematographer Ashley Connor to make full use of the actors' physicality, the settings and especially the light.

This approach leaves the cast adrift. Parker has the most coherent character, the only one who is grounded in a sense of reality. She's consistent right through the film and has some dramatic moments that resonate. July is in a constant state of confusion that often feels ridiculously overplayed. And while Howard shows enormous promise as a young actress, with some pungent moments that demonstrate real talent, the role is badly undefined.

Is Madeline performing for her acting class? Is she struggling with her mental state? Is she just bristling against the world around her like a normal teen? She does all of these things and more, with the result that the character never quite takes root. But perhaps Decker's intention was to create this kind of disorienting, abrasively visceral experience rather than try to tell a story the audience can connect with. It's a bold approach to mental illness, but by giving in to her artsy-fartsiness, she ends up failing to grapple in any meaningful way with an important topic.

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

Pond Life
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Pond Life
dir Bill Buckhurst
scr Richard Cameron
prd Rienkje Attoh, Alexandra Breede
with Tom Varey, Esme Creed-Miles, Angus Imrie, Gianlucca Galluci, Ethan Wilkie, Abraham Lewis, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Shaun Dooley, Sally Lindsay, Sian Brooke, Adrian Hood, Siobhan Finneran
release UK 26.Apr.19
18/UK 1h25

Pond Life
With a terrific sense of the time and place, this nostalgic ensemble movie beautifully captures the internal moods of a yearning teen. Based on screenwriter Richard Cameron's stage play, the film is perhaps not as focussed as it could be, lacking a central perspective. But the way it evokes humour and emotion is remarkably effective, thanks to director Bill Buckhurst and his gifted young cast.
It's 1994 in South Yorkshire, and Yes Yes Yes' Love Is All Around is the anthem of the summer. In his early 20s, Trevor (Varey) is the oldest kid in his neighbourhood, so he prefers to hang out at a nearby pond chasing down a mythical fish. Because she seems like an outsider in the community, he takes Pogo (Creed-Miles) under his wing. Meanwhile, lanky Malcolm (Imrie) has a crush on Cassie (Edgar-Jones), who is hanging out with swaggering tough guy Maurice (Lewis). And younger boys Shane and Dave (Galluci and Wilkie) are pestering everyone.
There's definitely a theatrical tone to the film, as it cycles between various pointed conversations in a place that feels intriguingly claustrophobic, even with an expansive landscape around it. The fishing hole has an almost surreal quality to it, a magical escape from the chaotic mess of life in the town. This is where the characters are allowed to reveal more about themselves. On the other hand, the dialog is elusive, alluding to past events that are never fully defined and leaving the audience to fill in the blanks.

The young cast of newcomers is excellent, capturing distinct attitudes and feelings in each of these young people, which gives their interaction a strong kick of emotional resonance. Varey's Trevor and Creed-Miles' Pogo are the most fully formed characters, driven by their respective yearnings to make some life-changing decisions along the way. Imrie's Malcolm also has strong presence; his role is somewhat clownish, but the actor brings pathos to this boy's unresolved passion.

Basically, each character here is a teen stereotype, rebelling against life as they try to work out how they are going to grow up. Buckhurst and Cameron both add a freshness that allows deeper truths to seep through, helping the audience see elements of themselves in each one of these kids. The direction particularly brings a sense of honesty and introspection even in the silliest moments. And while the stagey style of writing might leave this as an arthouse movie, it marks the actors and filmmakers as ones to watch.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 16.Jan.19

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