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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Sep.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
dir Jaco Bouwer
scr Tertius Kapp
prd Jaco Bouwer, Jorrie van der Walt, Tertius Kapp
with Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk, Anthony Oseyemi, David Casper Smith, Conway October, Enrico Sam
release US/UK 24.Sep.21
21/South Africa 1h36

Is it streaming?

van dyk and rockman
Artfully photographed in lush locations, this surreal South African thriller gets under the skin even before anything actually happens. Director Jaco Bouwer, writer Tertius Kapp and cinematographer Jorrie van der Walt have fun terrorising the audience with mystery and menace. The disorienting visuals add a supernatural freak-out angle to the Wicker Man-style nuttiness, plus some vivid resonance in the idea of a planet fighting back against destructive humanity.
On a routine trip into the wilderness, forestry rangers Gabi and Winston (Rockman and Oseyemi) make unexpected contact with Barend and Stefan (Nel and van Dyk), father-son survivalists who attack them silently and invisibly. They're separated as darkness falls. Winston encounters something not-quite-human in the inky blackness, while Gabi stumbles into a cabin, where Barend and Stefan kindly offer to help with her injuries. But Gabi begins to realise that they're up to something, perhaps involving the fact that the largest organism on earth is living right under this forest, ready to rise and spread.
The film's design is packed with vivid details, from the omnipresent spores and mushrooms to the inventively crafted infected people lurking in the shadows, as well as several trippy dream sequences. Clad in tattered shorts and dried mud, Barend and Stefan are dangerously knowledgeable about these woods, wielding natural weapons and setting grisly traps. As Barend explains his strange actions, including various wild survival tricks, the story deepens into something provocative and unexpected. And Gabi's sensual visions add another layer of intrigue.

Performances remain matter-of-fact and grounded even as things become increasingly unhinged. Rockman gets stuck with a few scream-queen moments, whimpering the face of various inexplicable encounters, but Gabi is smart enough to take all of this on board. Nel is also superb as the knowing, focussed Barent, who offers explanations that deepen the mystery rather than resolving it. Van Dyk has a strong presence as the beautiful Stefan, understandably smitten with Gabi. And Oseyemi gets some crazy moments all his own.

The filmmakers are unafraid to indulge in some rather corny elements, such as a red-glowing thicket, religious iconography or fireside sexiness. And there are sharply pointed twists in the tale as well. With just four characters and a fairly simple plot, this probably could have been made as a short; it's the premise that holds the attention. Along with repeated confrontations, the running time is packed out with atmospheric sequences that are beautiful and darkly disturbing, leading to a few nicely tense jolts and a big comment about the danger humanity presents to the planet.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Sep.21

The Influencer  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Influencer
dir-scr-prd Meghan Weinstein
with Kasia Szarek, Shantell Yasmine Abeydeera, Thea Cantos, Ian Jones, Victoria D Wells, Janeva Zentz, Mark Valeriano, Briana Erica, Dylan Wayne Lawrence, Brandon Don Heath, Desanka Ilic, Jerry Gregorio
release US 17.Sep.21
21/US 1h20

Is it streaming?

valeriano and szarek
Initially broad and silly, this social media comedy plays pointedly with the vacuous nature of the job, while filmmaker Meghan Weinstein has fun putting snarky characters into colourful situations. It's briskly paced and increasingly manic, with rather a lot of shouting with shallow emotions running very high. Then the narrative shifts into an unhinged thriller, and while the tone remains resolutely cheesy, larger themes come into the mix.
Abbie (Szarek) is an Instagram star living the high life in Hollywood, creating wacky commentary about fashion trends. And the newest member of her team of unpaid interns is razor-sharp fan Trendygirl99 (Cantos). Abbie is reluctant to sign a contract with mega-corporation Nutrocon, because it will mean too much work, but she negotiates a huge payout. Then four masked activists hack into her accounts and invade her home, intending to take down Nutrocon and its unjust, sexist policies. Soon her biggest fan Justin (Valeriano) and best pal Skylar (Erica) turn up to complicate things.
Cleverly evoking the lure of money, free stuff and the power to influence millions of followers, the film plays with tantalising images and the insanity of bubble-headed models who have armies of fans who worship every filtered photo and over-performed video. The hackers have their own issues between them, with tetchy relationships and differing opinions about how to follow their nefarious plan, which only vaguely makes any sense. But the plot has some strong moments that drive home the idea that followers don't actually know their influencers.

Szarek has plenty of attitude as the diva-like Abbie, who's more horrified that the hackers post unfiltered photos of her than that they have taken over her life and home. Her every reaction is petulant and larger than life, often hilariously so, including the dismissive way she toys with Valeriano's too-keen Justin. Meanwhile, Cantos and Erica sharply play smart fast-talkers who can put Abbie in her place. And as the activists, Abeydeera, Jones, Wells and Zentz each get a distinct characteristic to set them apart.

The bickering hackers offer clever angles on the bigger issues they claim to be fighting for. Their understanding of these things is as paper-thin as the influencers they are railing against. But Weinstein puts more emphasis on the madcap action as well as some gentle intrigue, such as the true identity of the activists' leader. It may be satisfying to see these nutty characters take down a cruel corporation, but the heist is too messy to engage with meaningfully. Still, a late emotional turn packs a kick.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 14.Sep.21

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir Aneil Karia
prd Julia Godzinskaya, Sophie Vickers
scr Rupert Jones, Rita Kalnejais
with Ben Whishaw, Jasmine Jobson, Ellie Haddington, Ian Gelder, Laurence Spellman, Ryan McKen, Muna Otaru, Bradley Taylor, Ranjit Singh Shubh, Chris Coghill, Clare Joseph, Bogdan Kominowski
release UK 28.May.21,
US 24.Sep.21
21/UK BBC 1h40


Is it streaming?

Set over a few days in London, this dark drama is relentlessly unsettling. With his feature debut, filmmaker Aniel Karia keeps the camera close on committed actor Ben Whishaw, playing a man who becomes increasingly unhinged. His descent isn't easy to watch, especially as it's so heightened and ugly, a hyperbolic parable about the stresses of modern life. But it's gripping, even if we're already worn out halfway in.
Airport security worker Joseph (Whishaw) feels uneasy about his job searching nervous passengers. And he's just as uncomfortable engaging in barbed banter with coworkers. Even outside his job, he finds everyday life pressures hard to cope with, and visiting his angry-gloomy parents (Haddington and Gelder) only winds him up further. So it's unsurprising that he eventually snaps, terrifying his colleagues before awkwardly visiting one of them, Lily (Jobson), in her flat. Further rattled by minor incidents, he embarks on a crime spree, starting with a bank robbery and moving on to disruption, vandalism and assault.
Karia and Whishaw make it clear that the pressure has been building up around Joseph for a very long time. So it's terrifying when cracks begin to show and he begins to act out in unpredictable, intensely manic ways. Through all of this, Stuart Bentley's camera is locked onto Joseph, often chasing him through the streets as he runs. The guerrilla-style handheld cinematography echoes Whishaw's alternatingly calm and frantic movements, which makes the film an unflinching, visceral depiction of mental collapse. Thankfully, there are moments of light and shade along the way.

Utterly riveting, Wishaw delivers an astonishingly full-on performance as a man whose gentle demeanour disguises the tightly wound chaos inside. His escalation into jittery madness is quick, and then it keeps getting nastier, rippling through his entire physicality. As an acting challenge, this is an eerie combination of loose-limbed abandon with razor-sharp focus, as Joseph is unable to stay still for even a second. And it builds inexorably as events progress, almost as if Joseph is trying to shed his skin.

This electric sense of nervous energy veers wildly through the narrative, reflecting Joseph's giddy highs and unnerving lows, plus some quiet emotionality. These are so extreme that it's difficult to connect with him, especially in his more outrageous moments. Even when he physically slows down, the internal churning continues, hinting that this is much more than just blowing off steam. Perhaps more earthy lightness in the script might have made it more engaging.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 22.Sep.21

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