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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Nov.20

A Dim Valley
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
A Dim Valley
dir-scr Brandon Colvin
prd Brandon Colvin, Tony Oswald, Nora Stone
with Zach Weintraub, Whitmer Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Rachel McKeon, Rosalie Lowe, Feathers Wise, Terry Tocantins, Evan Millard, Bookie Ginter, Joann Barber, Maddie Ragan
release US Apr.20 off,
UK Oct.20 rff
20/US 1h32

raindance film fest

Is it streaming?

mckeon, thomas, wise, lowe
There's a loose stoner vibe to this wilderness-set comedy, a gently loping film that generates lots of smiles and a few solid laughs. While nothing much seems to be happening, the way the characters so aimlessly interact is often amusing, as they simply neglect to express what they want, either personally or professionally. It's deliberately quirky, like a joke that's funnier when you're inebriated. But it runs deep.
Biologist Clarence (Longstreet) is on a study trip in a mountain cabin with two students, smart-funny Ian (Weintraub) and dopey hunk Albert (Thomas). For all three of them, smoking weed is a lot more fun than collecting bugs or guano. Then one night Ian sees three girls dancing in a clearing, and he's pretty sure it wasn't a hallucination. Indeed, Rose, Iris and Reed (McKeon, Lowe and Wise) are backpackers hoping to discover their purpose. "It could be you," Reed tells the shirtless Albert. And they look like they might be a useful distraction.
The interaction is hilariously hesitant, matching the film's tentative pace. Scenes hang on a little long, with witty static shots that catch offbeat angles. The addition of some (possibly pot-induced) magical realism adds a flicker of intrigue. There are strange connections between the characters, based on their individual expectations. Although the simmering attraction between them feels a bit stretched out, with endless suggestion and very little actual forward motion. But perhaps that's the point.

The performances are slightly heightened, even with the minimalistic dialog. This is partly because the camera is continually catching knowing glances or wry reactions. While the girls are playfully opaque, there are a few more insights into the boys. Weintraub's thoughtful Ian is silent about the fact that he's attracted to Albert, whom Thomas plays as a goofball who might run deeper than expected, with hints that he might share Ian's feelings. And Longstreet's Clarence is a hilarious bundle of conflicting emotions.

In their random snippets of conversation, the film swirls around a series of intriguing themes relating to internal desires and aspirations. All of these people are open to the world around them in their own ways. There are glimpses into their pasts as they recount stories, describe dreams and tease morsels of information from each other. So as the story continues, there's the sense that this film is a cheeky play on masculine timidity, a knowing comment on how our culture suppresses our underlying yearnings. And perhaps it'll take something supernatural to set us free.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Oct.20 rff

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr Guy Davies
prd Toby Cook, Matthew Cook, Guy Davies
with Joshua Glenister, Kim Spearman, Jack Gouldbourne, Charlie Frances, Harry Lloyd, Alexander Lincoln, Jen Bird, Grace Englert, Elizabeth Healey, Windson Liong, Marc Danbury, James Faulkner
release US Oct.19 hiff,
UK 30.Oct.20
19/UK 2h05

Is it streaming?

Skilfully shot in rural England, this drama evokes that adolescent mix of confidence and uncertainty. In his feature debut, writer-director Guy Davies has a lyrical, introspective perspective on teens at a pivotal point in their early lives. It may feel slow and overlong, with some overreaching story elements, but instead of falling back on the usual formula, Davies takes a fresh approach that's engaging, unsettling and impossible to predict.
In his final week of school in Gloucestershire, aspiring writer Kai (Glenister) and his lively friends Megsy and Sammy (Gouldbourne and Frances) are still trying to decide what to do next. But first they need to have a few parties and play an epic prank. Plus the annual naked chapel dash. Kai is frustrated because the girl he likes, Grace (Spearman), has an arrogant tough-guy boyfriend (Lincoln). But Grace and Kai have been friends since childhood, and both are interested in the possibilities. Meanwhile, the cheeky Lisa (Bird) makes a move on Kai.
The title refers to the fear of falling in love, zeroing in on this awkward connection between Kai and Grace. But the dynamic between Lai and his pals is more interesting, highlight the gap between smart kids with options and those destined for working-class lives. This week features many lively adventures, including smoking rather a lot of weed and riotous slapstick antics, plus some heightened intensity. So while the film takes its time, it's also a heady blend of fun and romance, rooted in serious thoughts and feelings.

The cast is strong across the board. Glenister's Kai is an observant kid dealing with the usual issues in a poetic inner monolog. And the emotions holds inside are overwhelming. He has terrific chemistry with his sparky and funny friends. And he also connects sharply with Spearman's likeable-but-opaque Grace. Even if it's sidelined, her journey is just as consuming as his is. And it's hard for Kai to see that not everything in his life hinges around her.

Essentially, this is a deep dive into Kai's confusion about his future. He's sensitive enough to identify with the complex people around him. And grappling with their issues will clearly feed into his career as a writer. But it does seem like he's watching everyone so closely that he fails to properly see himself. And his only male role model is a no-nonsense English teacher (Lloyd), plus clearly symbolic visions of a wild stag. But while the story goes perhaps too far, it's full of powerful moments.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 27.Oct.20

Under My Skin  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Under My Skin
dir-scr David O'Donnell
prd Alex Russell, David O'Donnell, Raynen O'Keefe, Chase B Kenney, Carrie Finklea, Paul F Bernard
with Liv Hewson, Chloe Freeman, Lex Ryan, Bobbi Salvor Menuez, Alex Russell, Alexis Denisof, Michael Ray Escamilla, Diana Hopper, James Saivanidis, Joseph Lee Anderson, Davida Williams, Dominic Russell
release UK Oct.20 rff
20/US 1h37

raindance film fest

Is it streaming?

With his feature debut, Australian filmmaker David O'Donnell uses some clever visual touches to reveal the inner life of the central character, whose various sides are played by four different actors. The film's sensitive tone is powerfully involving, and O'Donnell never takes a simple route through the material, quietly digging deeper into a provocative situation. And while it's a big topic, the story remains personal, never preachy.

In a bar, sharp-witted musician Denny (Hewson) meets nice-guy lawyer Ryan (Russell). Even though both say they have girlfriends, a spark develops between them, leading to a warm romance. But Denny begins to feel panicky, because she's afraid to admit her inner truth to Ryan: that she struggles with her gender identity. When they finally speak about it, Ryan doesn't understand, and moving forward he struggles to support Denny's increasingly non-binary persona. As things come to a head, both of them will need to redefine who they are if they're going to fit together.
Three more actors appear as Denny (Menuez, Freeman and Ryan) in scenes that reveal various thoughts and feelings, as well as artistic aspects of Denny's personality as a writer, musician and painter. This adds unexpected impact to a range of complex conversations between Denny and Ryan. It's understandable that he would struggle with Denny's issues but, when he's too busy to properly listen and react compassionately, it's painful to watch. Which of course makes Denny's journey even more intense.

Performances are understated and natural, providing unexpected angles. Hewson, Menuez, Freeman and Ryan each adds to Denny's textured personality, creating a vivid person who's very easy to identify with, because she's just longing for someone to understand her. Opposite them, the likeable Russell plays a kind, happy guy who struggles to react, perhaps because he isn't taking the time to look through Denny's eyes. But compared to his sexist boss (Denisof), Ryan is a saint.

The film's most powerful kick comes in Denny's aching hope that Ryan will love each part of them. Of course, this is complicated by societal pressures to conform to gender norms. So when Denny says they want to look, sound and feel different, Ryan needs to understand what that means. He also needs to learn how to ask the right questions. O'Donnell's writing and directing is so clear-eyed that we yearn along with Denny for Ryan to come round. This is an important film, powerfully eye-opening and hugely moving.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 30.Oct.20 rff

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