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

Destination Wedding   or: A Narcissist Can’t Die Because Then the Entire World Would End
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Destination Wedding
dir-scr Victor Levin
prd Gail Lyon, Elizabeth Dell, Robert Jones
with Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves, Ted Dubost, Dj Dallenbach, D Rosh Wright, Greg Lucey, Donna Lynn Jones, Curt Dubost, Michael Mogull
release US 31.Aug.18,
UK 10.May.19
18/US 1h27

reeves and ryder
Hilariously acerbic, this jaunty comedy follows a close encounter between two relentlessly unpleasant people. With only two characters who speak, almost nonstop, the film feels very theatrical. And because these people are so similarly miserable, the obvious romance between them feels implausible. But the dialog is entertainingly vicious, and almost every line has a barb in it.
On a tiny regional flight to San Luis Obispo on the central California coast, two curmudgeons have a battle of words before discovering that they're both travelling to the same wedding at a winery. It's difficult to tell which is crankier: Frank (Reeves) and Lindsay (Ryder) both complain angrily about everything. It turns out that Lindsay is the ex-fiancee of the groom (Dubost), Frank's brother. Over the weekend, they withdraw from the crowd, criticising everyone else while challenging each other's opinions and begrudgingly admitting that they rather like each other.
During the sassy banter, writer-director Levin carefully unpicks these two resolutely loathsome people while all of the others remain far in the background. Not only do they insult everyone else, but they also let details of their own personalities out, subtly revealing the issues that cripple them, sometimes unintentionally. Many of their comments are so relentlessly vile that it's hard to know why they bothered to attend this wedding at all. And all of their lines are written in the same voice, presumably Levin's.

In their third film together, Reeves and Ryder deliciously chomp through their outrageously snarky dialog, tearing everything and everyone down around them. Frank and Lindsay are too similar to fall for each other, although it's also unlikely that they've connected with anyone for years. The scene in which they analyse each other's physicality is both funny and telling, and oddly sweet in a clinical way, speaking about how attraction has to do with survival, not love. And it works perfectly that the other characters never speak; everything we know about them comes from Frank and Lindsay's insults.

There's an intriguing acknowledgement that despite their grumbling, they actually have easy, comfortable lives. So no one is interested in their problems, Frank observes, because "we're trite, trivial, tiresome, tone-deaf narcissists". This would definitely be the case if these people weren't so funny. And if they didn't have as much effortless chemistry as Reeves and Ryder have. They are enough to hold a movie together, even if it isn't dark enough to be properly cynical or silly enough to elicit a happy sigh.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 23.Apr.19

Room for Rent  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Room for Rent
dir Tommy Stovall
scr Stuart Flack
prd Marc Sterling, Tommy Stovall
with Lin Shaye, Oliver Rayon, Valeska Miller, Ryan Ochoa, Linda Cushma, Casey Nicholas Price, Tonya June Moore, Trevor Stovall, Jose Rosete, Justin Roberts, Michael Harrelson, Greg Joseph
release US 3.May.19
19/US 1h21

rayon and shaye
Set in rural Arizona, this thriller starts out quietly, carefully building the characters and situations before things begin to go nuts. Indeed, the film opens as a gentle drama with only slightly offbeat touches before slipping softly in new directions. There isn't much to the film, even though it touches on some big themes. But it's a nicely constructed thriller, controlled and unnerving as it veers into some very dark places.
After her husband's death, Joyce (Shaye) is both grieving and shocked to discover that she has no money in her bank accounts. To make some cash and meet new people, she decides to rent a room on Sharebnb. Her first guest is Sarah (Miller), whose husband Edward (Price) is relentlessly rude. After they leave, Sarah and Joyce begin corresponding, and Sarah eventually plans a return visit. Meanwhile, Joyce begins more aggressively marketing her room, finding a new tenant in biker Bob (Rayon). But her fantasies begin blurring with reality.
Writer Flack and director Stovall add angles to Joyce that pull the audience in. For example, Joyce's life is hard enough without being bullied by a nasty gang of local teen boys. And her friendly hospitality toward Bob extends to fresh lipstick and licking his coffee spoon. But then, she reads a lot of romance novels, and begins treating him like her knight in shining armour. From here, things spiral in somewhat over-the-top directions, but the atmosphere remains contained and realistic.

Shaye shines as Joyce, bringing her usual on-screen complexity to a lead role for a welcome change. She may be clearly unhinged, but the extent of her problems is only revealed gradually, with the occasional psychopathic outburst. The people around her are realistically flawed, haplessly getting a little too close to Joyce without realising that it might not be a great idea. Scenes with both Miller and Rayon are nicely played, especially when they take a chilling turn, which they often do.

The first half of the film is an intriguing exploration of loneliness as compounded by grief. As things begin to turn creepy, Stovall resists the temptation to shift the film into gonzo horror craziness, cleverly building a sinister sense of tension that works because Joyce is so off-balance, Bob is so mysterious and Sarah is so nice. The film's tone does of course go off the rails here and there, but Stovall holds his nerve, keeping things under control right to the abrupt, bitter end.

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

The Skin of the Teeth  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Skin of the Teeth
dir-scr Matthew Wollin
prd Amanda Hammett, Matthew Wollin
with Pascal Arquimedes, Donal Brophy, Tom Rizzuto, Chuja Seo, Greg Barker, David Cruz, Chris Raffaele, Kathryn Shasha Claudia Beauchesne, Tom Martone, Tracy Miles, Ana O'Conner
release US 10.May.19,
UK 13.May.19
18/US 1h19

Striking a kind of Twilight Zone vibe from the opening shot, this quirky thriller maintains a clever mix of wit and creepiness. Writer-director Matthew Wollin creates a film that feels contained within its specific universe. It's fairly clear what's happening here, but watching this dreamlike nuttiness unfold is mesmerising, blurring lines between a police procedural and an unnerving personal odyssey.
In New York, John (Brophy) is at home preparing for his date to arrive. Josef (Arquimedes) is shy, but their conversation gets going over dinner and wine. Josef seems surprised by this, since he was expecting a simple hookup. They talk about hopes and dreams before the subject turns to drugs. Then as he snoops around, Josef finds a bottle of pills and takes one. When it starts to affect him, John explains that it's something experimental. Then things take a startling turn, leading to a police station interrogation with two detectives (Rizzuto and Seo).
The opening scenes are infused with a heightened sense of realism, which helps guide the audience through the more implausible moments (who swallows a random pill?) as well as some repetitive scenes. At the start, there's something enigmatic about John that adds to the atmosphere, as he cooks from scratch and has a telescope trained on his neighbours. But this is Josef's story, and as the events turn increasingly odd, the film becomes darkly surreal, from the sets and costumes to the bizarre characters who turn up.

Performances are nicely offhanded, placing real people in slightly askew situations. Arquimedes has a superbly loose presence, likeable because he seems rather uneasy wherever he is. In the interrogation room, his evasiveness is funny and prickly, hinting that perhaps all is not as it seems. Other characters are more broadly aggressive, and some are more than a little random, but all very nicely played in ways that increase the mystery, which means that each encounter bounces Josef off in a new direction.

Wollin's filmmaking is gleefully hypnotic, dragging the audience down into a rabbit hole with Josef, twisting and turning in unusual directions. Some of the narrative wrinkles are enjoyably bonkers, while others are just ridiculous. But the freakiness is darkly involving, especially as things shift again in the final 20 minutes. In the end, there are elements in the script that hint at an exploration of identity and sexuality. Even more intriguing is the way the film touches on how we can never quite understand each other. Or ourselves.

cert 15 themes, language 18.Apr.19

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