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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 25.Nov.20

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
dir-scr Keith Bearden
prd Keith Bearden, Joseph White, Jonathan Burkhart, Kim Jackson, Peter Ernsky
with Chloe Levine, Kimie Muroya, Bubba Weiler, Steve Lipman, Clea Lewis, Laith Nakli, Chil Kong, Ajay Naidu, Jojo Gonzalez, Damian Young, Norm Magnusson, Sondra James
release US 15.Oct.20,
UK Nov.20 rff
20/US 1h21

raindance film fest

Is it streaming?

muroya and levine
With a scattershot approach to teenage life, this loose comedy follows two teens through the school year, confronting big issues from body image to pregnancy. It all feels a bit random, struggling to build momentum without much sense of narrative drive. Filmmaker Keith Bearden takes a deliberately quirky approach, bringing out comedy in fragile characters as well as some starkly serious situations. And his sense of humour is lacerating.
At a small-town high school, Kat (Levine) and her best friend Janet (Muroya) use cynicism to get through their nightmarish lives. While Kat fends off the boys, after hooking up with the goofy Stevie (Lipman), she's now labelled the school slut. Meanwhile, Janet ends up hanging out with Kat's awkward stepdad (Nakli) and is prescribed a drug that makes her wonder if she's hallucinating the nice boy Rian (Weiler), who wears a spacesuit. Yes, each thing they have to deal with feels like a violation, something else to endure as they wait to grow up.
Kat's garishly coloured style is nicely contrasted with Janet's more earthy look. And indeed, the two have very different self-images, which feeds in to how they express themselves and interact with others. Their friendship is intriguing, with some terrific textures and a nice sense of their lifelong history together, girls from very different backgrounds who still maintain a close bond. So it's a bit of a problem that they spend so much of the film apart, leaving them to experience important events on their own.

Both Levine and Muroya have a lot of fun with the fast and witty dialog, which races from topic to topic, dropping telling commentary and throwaway gags throughout conversations. They also nicely play their heightened emotional reactions to the things that happen to them, often using adolescent angst as a shield. And the unshakeable connection between them is sharply well played. By contrast, almost everyone else on-screen is cartoonish, including their absurd parents, teachers, doctors and counsellors.

The film takes several pointed jabs at family relationships, especially the usual over-involved parent who is coldly unsympathetic to a child. These things are often played out in broadly comical style, using exaggeration to poke fun at the idiotic things well-meaning adults do. Some of the more outrageous things are clearly meant to be shocking, but they're instead presented in ways that are merely silly. Still, if the overall story doesn't quite hang together, there are strong points made along the way.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 4.Nov.20 rff

County Lines  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
County Lines
dir-scr Henry Blake
prd Victoria Bavister, David Broder
with Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson, Tabitha Milne-Price, Anthony Adjekum, Carlyss Peer, Marcus Rutherford, Johanna Stanton, Chizzy Akudolu, Ebenezer Gyau, Michael Oku, Micah Loubon
release UK 4.Dec.20
19/UK 1h30

london film fest

Is it streaming?

Haunting and deeply involving, the title of this British drama is the term for grooming young teens to become drug traffickers between cities and rural communities. Writer-director Henry Blake centres his story on a vulnerable boy, played with razor-sharp precision by astonishing newcomer Conrad Khan. What happens is often harrowing to watch, and might have been even more powerful if the film didn't occasionally get a bit melodramatic and preachy.
At 14, Tyler (Khan) is a thoughtful, bright teen who helps his hard-working single mum Toni (Madekwe) take care of younger sister Aliyah (Milne-Price). Bullied at school, Tyler is often in trouble, but the headmaster (Adjekum) knows he's a good kid at heart. Tyler also gets help from the super-cool Simon (Dickinson), who seduces him with a flashy car, shiny watch, new trainers and a free burger, offering him a way to help support his mother financially. Pushed into a corner, Tyler takes a job travelling from London to the coast to deal hard drugs.
The film's plot carefully forces Tyler down this perilous path, at one point using a rather simplistic distraction to prevent him from opening up to someone who might have helped point him in the right direction. That said, the situation itself still feels believable. Tyler is never a naive kid; he's an adolescent seeking independence, so his increasing isolation and surliness are eerily recognisable. As are both his and Toni's reactions to the horrors of what happens.

Khan is a seriously gifted young actor who can convey defiance and vulnerability at the same time. He makes Tyler compelling and likeable even as he willingly enters this violent world. His connections with his family, friends and teachers are warm and close, even as he pulls away from them, squaring off and lashing out. And he's terrific in scenes opposite Dickinson, another young actor who can bring unexpected nuance. Meanwhile, both Madekwe and Milne-Price add layers of complexity to their roles, as does Peer as straight-talking counsellor Bex.

The film opens with Bex explaining to Tyler that in his business he is what's known as "acceptable loss". This idea of destroying young lives for quick financial gain infuses the film with a sense of righteous anger while adding a powerful feeling of unpredictability to the plot. Whether or not Tyler gets out, the people who care about him are doing everything they can to help, although this might not be enough. And the skilful filmmaking and performances drive the point home in an unforgettable way.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 7.Feb.20

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
dir Rob Savage
prd Douglas Cox
scr Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage, Jed Shepherd
with Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Edward Linard, Seylan Baxter, Alan Emrys, Patrick Ward, Jinny Lofthouse, Jack Brydon, James Swanton
release US 30.Jul.20,
UK 4.Dec.20
20/UK 57m

Is it streaming?

Webb, Ward, Bishop, Baxter, Moore and Drandova
Shot during lockdown and set on a Zoom screen, this British horror packs a lot into its brief running time. Filmmaker Rob Savage establishes an amusing tone before beginning to throw in creepy little touches. And the cast superbly improvises their interaction, which makes the film both funny and unnerving as the story unfolds in real time. This is an impressively well-made thriller, terrifying simply because it feels so authentic.

As Haley (Bishop) gathers five friends for a video-chat seance, everyone's a bit freaked out. Clairvoyant Seylan (Baxter) has never done one this way, but introduces the process matter-of-factly. Teddy (Linard) is immediately taken offline by his pushy girlfriend (Lofthouse), then scary things begin to happen. After Jemma (Moore) speaks about a dead friend, Radina (Drandova) sees a strange light, Haley's chair comes to life, Caroline (Ward) hears noises in the attic, Emma's (Webb) wine glass bursts and Seylan's (Baxter) internet cuts out. By not taking things seriously, they may have invoked a demonic spirit.
The movie is infused with humour, as these friends joke around, engaging with the seance even as they can't resist poking fun at it. Their friendship feels realistic: they know each others' situations and stories and play on them with jokes and insults, especially when it comes to relationships. Then as their conversation continues, things turn increasingly inexplicable and outrageous things happen to each of them. It's a terrific mix of slow-build scares, jumpy jolts and gnawing suspense.

Providing their own cinematography by carrying laptops around, the actors dive all-in, finding offhanded comedy in their interaction while being terrorised by whatever paranormal craziness comes along. Even if there isn't much character development, the actors find ways to add small touches in their performances that bring each person to life. And each actor is excellent at playing someone who's absolutely terrified about what's happening to their friends. And to themselves.

The effects work is disarmingly simple, providing full-on horror for each of these young people while the others watch at a helpless distance. None of them gets through this unscathed, and while what happens to each of them is unexplained, it's genuinely horrifying because it feels so authentic. Rarely for this genre, there's never a dull moment, as stripping the nastiness down to its bare essence works its magic. Things escalate in hideous directions, so there's a clear sense that all of this is going to end with a punchline. And Savage keeps something properly chilling up his sleeve.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Nov.20

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