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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 6.Jan.21

The One You Feed  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The One You Feed
dir-scr Drew Harwood
prd Gareth Koorzen, Drew Harwood
with Drew Harwood, Gareth Koorzen, Rebecca Fraiser, Richard Watson, Michelle Latta
release US 29.Dec.20
20/US 1h26

Is it streaming?

koorsen and harwood
There's a dreamy tone to this artful drama, which loosely explores connections between people on a variety of levels. The plot is meandering and vague, so it's not clear what actor-filmmaker Drew Harwood is saying, but the ideas that he throws around have an intriguing kick to them, while the archly surreal tone and quietly intense interaction holds the interest. And the film's offbeat atmosphere is enjoyably provocative.
A stranger (Koorzen) leaves home to go camping in the desert. When he's attacked by something in the night, he's rescued by a man (Harwood) and a woman (Fraiser), who nurse him back to health. But their farm seems like it's located somewhere outside time itself, and the woman rules the roost, growing furious as she sees interest brewing between her kind man and the hapless stranger. And with the man and woman both invading his privacy, the stranger begins to think about escaping. But his leg isn't healing. And something is keeping him here.
The film is skilfully shot and edited in an impressionistic style, making the most of both the wide-open landscapes and tactile intimacy that often comes along at unexpected times. The characters are unnamed, and echoing imagery suggests that they exist beyond limits of gender and age, including a few visits from an elderly man (Watson). What dialog there is remains fairly perfunctory, so the story develops more strongly in the silences, augmented by the gimmicky camerawork. But it builds a terrific tension between these three central figures, expressed in a variety of ways.

Both Harwood's and Fraiser's characters are clearly obsessed with this stranger, although the true nature of their interest remains a bit opaque. This is mainly because the sexuality they express feels primal, and their expressions of love to each other sit oddly alongside their constant abrasiveness. Opposite them, Koorzen adds intrigue as he observes the goings-on in this house, struggles with his injured leg and copes with some freaky nightmares. He also has physical and emotional connections with both the man and woman.

The stranger begins to realise that something else is going on here. "I feel you inside my head," he says to the man. And indeed all three characters seem to be aware of what's happening with each other even when they're not present. The way everyone is trapped in this place echoes in the film's exploration of gender roles and sexuality, so the stranger's desire to escape takes on a clever thematic angle. In the end, the allegory begins to feel a little pushy. And where it goes is downright chilling.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 22.Dec.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Sam Kelly
prd Vicky Pope
with Jake Ryan, John Tui, Seth Flynn, James Matamua, Haanz Fa'avae Jackson, Jack Parker, Olly Presling, Lotima Pome'e, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Poroaki McDonald, Alex Raivaru, Italiyah Wilson
release UK 1.Jan.21,
US 29.Jan.21
19/NZ 1h40

london film fest

Is it streaming?

tui and ryan
Inspired by true stories from New Zealand's ferocious street gang culture, this film traces the life of a young man over three decades. It's tough to watch, as most of the characters operate based solely on tough-guy bravado, charging quickly from one grisly brawl to the next. Thankfully filmmaker Sam Kelly maintains the underlying sense of humanity within these men, and it expresses itself in unusual ways.
In 1989 Wellington, Danny (Ryan)is better known as Damage, a fearsome enforcer in the Savages gang. While revelling in testosterone-fuelled camaraderie with his cohort Moses (Tui) and the boys, Danny meets Flo (Crayford), who refuses to put up with his machismo. As he disciplines the ranks and inflicts pain on their rivals, Danny is deeply unsettled when he inadvertently kills someone. And now Moses has another enemy he wants eliminated, sparking a crisis of conscience for Danny. The problem is that these guys aren't exactly equipped to solve a problem by talking it through.
The film also flickers back to 1965 as young Danny (Presling) is one of a flock of kids with a vicious dad and battered mum, leading to early criminality and a abusive reform school. But it's there that he meets Moses (Pome'e), and they become firm friends. Then in 1972, the teen Danny and Moses (Matamua and Jackson) create their own makeshift family as the Savages. Although Danny remains conflicted because his brother Liam (Parker/Flynn) is in a rival gang. The dialog is brutal, as these burly men bark profanity back and forth, allowing their lives to be infused with violence.

Performances are so gritty and dark that many scenes have a terrifying documentary feel to them. Ryan, Matamua and Presling are excellent as Danny, bringing out layers of his personality as his sense of identity is powerfully challenged in each of the time periods. Other characters are less defined, although Tui, Jackson and especially Pome'e give Moses a sharp sense of self-assurance. And both Flynn and Parker find some unexpected textures as the equally hotheaded Liam.

As a depiction of the damage caused by toxic ideas of masculinity, the film is deeply involving, perhaps most intensely in Danny's teen years when he is forced into some momentous decisions. But the oppressively harsh atmosphere is somewhat draining, and there's never any doubt about the morality involved, making the movie feel like a kind of ramped-up after-school special on the dangers of joining a gang. At least it finds a glimmer of hope in the final act.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 28.Dec.20

A Stone in the Water  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
A Stone in the Water
dir-scr Daniel M Cohen
prd Kathryn F Galan, Howard Schor
with Bonnie Bedelia, Melissa Fumero, David Fumero, Mary Kilpatrick, Kim Leemans, Ryan Klontz, Kara Klontz, Mary Hildebrandt, Kip Pierson, Rudy Arias, Michael Coffman, David DaCosta
release US/UK 8.Jan.21
20/US 1h36

Is it streaming?

fumero and bedelia
This low-budget thriller has a hesitant, awkward rhythm that makes it difficult to engage with. Filmmaker Daniel Cohen captures the location beautifully, both beautiful exteriors and atmospheric interiors. The story is an enjoyably over-serious mash-up of Misery with a crime thriller and cabin-in-the-woods horror. And the cast members adeptly portray the characters' internal gyrations. So it's frustrating that the writing and directing never make the most of this.
It's been 35 years since personal trauma upended her life, and Martha (Bedelia) is still more than a little off-balance, living in rural Oregon with her adult son Tom (Ryan Klontz). Then they rescue car-accident victim Alex (Melissa Fumero) and nurse her back to health. Months later, Martha becomes convinced that Alex is pregnant with Tom's child, capturing her to protect the baby. Meanwhile, the baby's real father, Alex's violent boyfriend Frank (David Fumero), is on his way to retrieve a stash of cash and jewellery that he learns Alex has hidden in Martha's house.
The story unfolds with flashbacks that add back-stories for various characters, including how Martha (then Kara Knontz) violently dispatched her philandering husband (Pierson) 35 years earlier for having a fling with her best friend (Hildebrandt), who is still her neighbour (now Kilpatrick). We also see how Alex was relying on her best friend Violet (Leemans) to hide from the increasingly manic Frank. All of these strands are chopped together rather clumsily, never generating much momentum. And only a few random asides add brittle humour to ground scenes in reality.

After the long set-up, the film finds its groove in the simmering scenes between Bedelia and Fumero as two women in an offbeat power struggle. Both actresses nicely underplay their roles, which makes their interaction strongly engaging. But while Fumero creates an effectively tormented victim, Bedelia's mentally unhinged captor isn't defined enough to be sympathetic. And David Fumero's even more crazed villain never has much more than one note to play, especially after he emerges wearing an eyepatch.

There's a loose thematic kick in the way these characters are trying to avoid living in their tortured pasts and move forward, although their pasts have other ideas. Meanwhile, the somewhat camp dialog is delivered with such a straight face that it feels unintentionally comical, almost turning the movie into a guilty pleasure. But while scenes feel fairly tense, there isn't much actual suspense, mainly because it's so difficult to care what happens. At least the big finale is elaborately bonkers on several levels.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 5.Jan.21

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