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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 24.May.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir-scr Peter Lee
prd Robin Rose Singer, Rabia Sultana, Ricardo Vilar, Peter Lee
with Jimi Stanton, Destiny Frasqueri, Erin Davie, Rosie Berrido, Stanley Simons, Bobby Plasencia, Alejandra Ramos, Sebastian Chacon, Sandy Tejada, Kaelyn Ambert-Gonzalez, Kyle Glenn, Ivan Mendez
release US 27.May.20
19/US 1h36

stanton and frasqueri
Based on a true story, this earthy, earnest drama is nicely written and directed by Peter Lee to depict strong characters in lively communities. The story touches on a number of huge issues in an everyday way, creating compellingly honest confrontations that never turn melodramatic. And while both the romance and the drama feel somewhat undercooked, the film is also warm and involving, and refreshingly free from cliches.
In 1993, 20-year-old Brendan (Stanton) is working in a Bronx supermarket to help support his self-involved mother Mary (Davie) and troubled younger brother Conor (Simons). When Brendan meets Eva (Frasqueri aka Princess Nokia), there are instant sparks. From the Puerto Rican community, Eva is planning to attend university, something high-school dropout Brendan can't do himself. Both of these young people are under huge personal pressure from their families, complicated by Mary's racist hatred of Latinos. And Eva's mother Altagracia (Berrido) isn't much better, demanding far more of her than seems reasonable.
There are all kinds of complications swirling around these characters, which gives the film a striking kick of realism. Brendan has accepted his position as the sensible one in his family, but is beginning to wonder if there's more to life. Meanwhile, Eva is studying accounting, something she's good at, rather than following her dream to become an actor. "We don't do that kind of thing," she's told. Both of them are fatherless, surrounded by expectations and demands from their families, which building a relationship rather stressful.

Performances across the board are offhanded, anchored by the likeable Stanton and Frasqueri as smart young people who are beginning to take ownership of their futures. Their chemistry is cute and sexy, and perfectly understated. The characters around them are much more fiery, challenging them at every point. Davie adds some harsh edge as the relentlessly thoughtless Mary, while Berrido mixes compassion into Altagracia's pushy rants. These and others vividly create the environment that presses in on Brendan and Eva from all sides.

Lee's gentle approach downplays the big themes the film is addressing but never over-dramatising. Mary's casual cruelty underscores the narrative without taking over. Conor mixing with druggies lands him in jail, but this is merely a step in both brothers' journeys. Eva's beloved disabled brother (Mendez) is simply part of her life and responsibility. And as she quietly takes in some advice from her chatty friend Ricky (Chacon), so do we: "It doesn't make sense waiting to do something that's going to make you happy."

cert 15 themes, language 21.May.20

Edge of Extinction  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Edge of Extinction
dir-scr Andrew Gilbert
prd Andrew Gilbert, Julian Hundy
with Luke Hobson, Georgie Smibert, Chris Kaye, Bryn Hodgen, Neil Summerville, Richard Summers-Calvert, Nick Chambers, Susan Lee Burton, Eve Oliver, Kirstie Shapiro, Grant Kempster, Rudy Barrow
release UK 18.May.20
20/UK 2h22

hobson and smibert
With remarkable ambition, filmmaker Andrew Gilbert overcomes a small budget to tell a sprawling post-apocalyptic tale. Shot in striking locations, the imagery is very strong, even if the filmmakers' inexperience shows. It's impressively staged, even if the writing and direction lack texture and the whole movie is badly in need of tighter, less indulgent editing. The messy action scenes are particularly jarring. Still, it's a bracingly original approach to the genre.
Fifteen years after a nuclear war, a solitary young man (Hobson) is quietly hiding in the desolate English countryside, while gangs of marauding thieves prey on the weak, and eat them. One day he meets a needy young woman (Smibert) and against his better judgment lets her in. But things quickly spiral into violence, and now he needs to work with her man (Kaye) to rescue her from a vicious gang led by Chief (Hodgen) and his righthand goon (Summerville). Can they trust a pair of hunters (Chambers and Burton) to take their side?
Flashbacks reveal this unnamed young man's memories from the early days of the war, so it's no wonder he's so haunted after years of loneliness. The excess running time seems due to the fact that Gilbert gives each actor a big emotional monolog, but what they say adds little interest. Otherwise, there's plenty of sensational grisliness, plus endless macho posturing. And aside from our protagonist, there doesn't seem to be a single decent human being left on earth.

The blunt dialog, especially in those rambling speeches, nearly defeats the cast, as everyone sounds equally broken and desperate. Hobson has a thoughtful charisma in the lead role, holding his cool opposite Kaye's shouty hothead. But all of the men have given in to their most sadistic instincts. Some, like Hodgen's thuggish leader, are smarter than others, but they're all snarling animals. Smibert is the other standout, showing inner steeliness even in horrific situations.

Hideous thing happen throughout this film, but Gilbert thankfully never glories in the considerable bloodletting. He also he shies from the sexual violence. Some chase sequences are thrillingly kinetic, but fights are just nasty and incoherent. The real problem, though, is that nothing justifies the epic running time, which leaves the movie feeling pointless and indulgent, stretching the plot out an hour longer than necessary. Nothing much is made of issues like toxic masculinity, the sex trade or the collapse of civilisation. So while it's pacey enough to stay watchable, it's too shallow to hold the interest.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 19.May.20

Evil Little Things  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Evil Little Things
dir Matt Green
scr Yasmin Bakhtiari, Nancy Knight
prd Yasmin Bakhtiari, Nancy Knight, Matt Green
with Hannah Fierman, Courtney Lakin, Zach Galligan, Geoff McKnight, LA Winters, Mason Wells, Courtney Hogan, Jonathan Horne, Piper Collins, Drew Youngblood, Tim Richardson, Benny Demuis
release US 12.May.20
19/US 1h26

This movie was made by Creepy Doll Films, so you know what to expect. Director Matt Green has fun building a sinister atmosphere, gently establishing the characters before ratcheting up the nastiness in three thematically linked stories. It's directed in a hesitant style that struggles to build momentum. And the narrative also feels half-formed, with vague plot points and gaping holes. But it's still a guilty pleasure.
Afraid of the dark, young Jason (Wells) is scolded by his stepdad (Galligan), but his mother (Winters) takes him to toy maker (McKnight) who unhelpfully tells scary stories about dolls he's repairing. First, horror writer Jessica (Fierman) moves into an old house, where her children (Collins and Youngblood) are frightened of local leprechaun legends. Then a creepy leprechaun doll appears on the porch. Next is Abby (Lakin), whose cracked-faced best doll Patty is jealous of a pristine new arrival to her collection. And Patty also doesn't much care for Abby's nice-nerd boyfriend Jeremy (Horne).
Since dolls are inherently creepy, it's pretty easy to make them look downright demonic, like the the pitch-black side of Toy Story. Refreshingly, Green never resorts to digital effects or cheap jolts, instead deploying maniacal puppetry. So the action feels handmade and enjoyably corny, especially when Patty cuts loose. That said, actual incidents are few and far between in this movie, which relies on creating unsettling situations for its unbalanced characters rather than anything particularly scary.

The acting is heightened, with lots of foreboding glances as well as some hilarious throwaway lines. Most interesting is Lakin's Abby, who carries on conversations with her creepy dolls and has never been the same "since the fire". Most roles are pretty bland, but McKnight has fun chewing the scenery while spinning his insinuating yarns. By contrast, other actors inject some casual realism into their scenes, which gives us something to identify with in between the bonkers nuttiness.

The script is packed with ominous references that never quite pay off, but the conversations have a certain offhanded charm to them. There are also some riotously unhinged flourishes along the way, such as how Abby dresses as a doll to attend a fan convention, adding a Baby Jane angle to her freaky relationship with Patty. Each tale feels oddly unfinished, never quite paying off on the promise. At least the framing story turns enjoyably bonkers after a clown doll turns up. "Clowns are protectors of happiness," the toy maker says. But we know better.

cert 12 themes, violence 14.May.20

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