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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.Aug.21

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Prano Bailey-Bond
prd Helen Jones
scr Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher
with Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin, Sophia La Porta, Adrian Schiller, Clare Holman, Andrew Havill, Felicity Montagu, Danny Lee Wynter, Clare Perkins, Guillaume Delaunay
release US 11.Jun.21,
UK 20.Aug.21
21/UK Film4 1h24

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Set in the late 1980s, this horror thriller is infused with political issues of the era that are equally fresh today. It's strikingly directed by Prano Bailey-Bond in genre period style, taking a dreamy dive into the mind of the central character, who is played with thoughtful intensity by Niamh Algar. Knowingly subverting the genre, this unusually witty, challenging freak-out also has an appropriately emotional gore-filled payoff.
British film censor Enid (Algar) is tired of arguing against her male colleagues about sadistic violence in videos. And a producer (Smiley) is pushing her to pass his grisly movies uncut. She's also trying to solve her sister's disappearance, even after her parents (Holman and Havill) have moved on. But her investigation blurs with her work, as the media links a string of murders to video nasties. Then she sees a horror actress (La Porta) who might be her sister. Seeking her, Enid ends up starring in the next film by a notorious director (Schiller).
The script cleverly juxtaposes the theory that movie violence causes society's ills with news reports of Thatcher dismantling Britain's education and care systems. This contextualises the hyper-gruesome films Enid must watch, revealing which violence is truly disturbing. Meanwhile, there's an "amnesiac killer" out there who can't remember who he's murdered, which of course also messes with Enid's mindset. So when the violence gets closer, Enid can't see lines between movies, reality and memories.

Algar's subtle performance involves the audience in her thoughts and feelings, flinching away from hideous depictions of rape on video while being stunned by a death right in front of her. Enid's tenacity is so complex that we can't help but lean into her, worrying about the people who circle around her with various shades of menace, from callous dismissal and sexism to vicious intentionality. And we also worry about her increasingly unhinged mental health. Of the fine supporting cast, Smiley has the most outrageous sequence.

Bailey-Bond's approach is bold and provocative, as she skilfully layers scenes with both resonant emotions and broader themes that feel even stronger today than they did 30 years before anyone said, "Me too." As the story progresses, the script grapples with the nature of the horror genre, especially in the relationship between directors and actors. And by playing on the impact movies have on viewers who identify with what happens on screen, Bailey-Bond finds some powerful things to say about society at large, all while giving us a proper scare.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 27.Jul.21

First Date  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
First Date
dir-scr Manuel Crosby, Darren Knapp
prd Manuel Crosby, Charles Horak, Darren Knapp, Brandon Kraus, Lucky McKee
with Tyson Brown, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Josh Fesler, Nicole Berry, Samuel Ademola, Ryan Quinn Adams, Angela Barber, Dave Reimer, Scott Noble, Leah Finity, Brandon Kraus
release US 2.Jul.21,
UK Jul.21 slf
21/US 1h43

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brown and duclos
High energy levels and a couple of engaging characters help to hold interest even as this action comedy becomes too messy for its own good. Set over one hyper-eventful night, the ramshackle scenes are packed with people who are over-the-top nuts, but many of them have sharply funny things to say. Perhaps if there was a point to the insanity, this goofy movie might have become a cult hit.
In small-town California, Mike (Brown) is encouraged by chucklehead pal Brett (Fesler) to ask out his crush Kelsey (Duclos). So now Mike needs to buy a car, and the only option is a 1965 Chrysler. But seller Dennis (Noble) is beyond shifty, and Mike makes a few discoveries that draw attention from two local cops (Berry and Ademola) and a group of hapless thieves led by the Captain (Janzen). Plus Dennis' trigger-happy wife (Finity). Then when he's late to pick up Kelsey, Mike becomes worried she'll go out with muscly cool-guy Chet (Kraus) instead.
With a sprawling cast, filmmakers Crosby and Knapp weave in several rather random subplots, all feeding into the increasingly farcical mayhem surrounding Mike's new car and a large stash of drugs. Everything about the movie feels like if was developed around various in-jokes, but at least the steady stream of throwaway gags are amusing, with several witty references and a few laugh-out-loud zingers. The undisciplined direction keeps everything very loose, which is of course both enjoyable and frustrating.

The best thing about the film is the chemistry between the shy Mike and the tough Kelsey, played with offhanded charm by Brown and Duclos. Their interaction has a natural quality that makes up for the heightened craziness of the swarm of idiots around them, and the way they connect is genuinely involving. Each scene-stealing costar brings a bag of tricks along to beef up their role, throwing in wacky references, offbeat quirks and lots of yelling and shooting.

This is clearly a project made by a couple of buddies who have watched a lot of laddish action comedies and thought they could make one themselves. While the fights and chases are scruffy and hard to follow, Crosby and Knapp show talent as both writers and directors. So let's hope that if they decide to make another movie, they'll include a bit of depth and subtext that will make it stick in the mind longer than it takes for the final credits to roll.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 28.Jul.21 slf

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir-scr Ninja Thyberg
prd Erik Hemmendorff, Eliza Jones, Markus Walta
with Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade, Jason Toler, Mark Spiegler, Alice Grey, John Strong, Ryan McLane, Axel Braun
release US Jan.21 sff,
UK Jul.21 slf, Swe 3.Sep.21
21/Sweden 1h49

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There's a bold point at the centre of this Swedish drama set in the Los Angeles porn industry: that even women who are intentional about becoming adult movie stars are still being exploited and often abused by men. Filmmaker Ninja Thyberg says this through virtually each scene in the compelling but repetitive story. It's finely acted and shot with a riveting point of view. But it never feels personal.
Arriving in America, young Swedish actress Bella (Kappel) is determined to become a top pornstar. She bonds with nice-guy Bear (Cock) and housemate Joy (Reustle) but struggles to spark her career with agent Mike (Toler). Clearly she needs a super-agent like Mark (Spiegler), who manages the classy Ava (Claire). So Bella agrees to appear in more extreme productions. And after that begins to feel like too much, she'll need to take an even bigger leap. But by pushing herself to the limit and burning bridges, will she obliterate any illusions she may still have?
Thyberg uses a remarkably full-on production style that maintains Bella's perspective. Nudity and sex are portrayed as matter-of-fact, just part of the job. More difficult to stomach are scenes involving sadism and abuse. And worst of all is the insidious sexism as Bella is surrounded by leery, sleazy men who see her as nothing more than a body they can use. It's telling that her safest, most positive experience on-set is in the hands of a female director, even though that particular project involves intense bondage.

Kappel skilfully layers Bella's intelligence into each scene, carefully concealing it behind the rampant flirtation she must deploy to get noticed. She never flinches at the appalling fantasy costumes or requests to get naked, making it clear that she's doing this for a reason. So when her mask finally cracks, it's heartbreaking. Other characters run hot or cold, sometimes wavering between the two, leading to some outrageous conflicts that are augmented by potentially awkward couplings on-camera.

While the important central message will be obvious to most people long before they watch this film, Thyberg finds new ways to force us to confront this enormous industry, especially as Bella's encounters repeat in a bold variety of chilling scenarios. Yet while the film's approach has a firsthand experiential feel to it, the emotions remain controlled and inscrutable, eerily out of reach. So in the end this a bleak look at a young woman who sacrifices her soul for, well, nothing.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 28.Jul.21 slf

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