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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 21.Aug.22

All Is Vanity  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
All Is Vanity
dir-scr-prd Marcos Mereles
with Sid Phoenix, James Aroussi, Isabelle Bonfrer, Christopher Sherwood, Rosie Steel, David Sayers, Sam Halpenny, Jonathan Harden
release UK 14.Oct.22
21/UK 1h12

London film fest

Is it streaming?

bonfrer, aroussi and phoenix
There's an ambitious sensibility to this offbeat British film, which attempts to be both mysterious and comical but never quite manages either. Instead, it's a low-key meta-thriller that playfully swirls around what it means to create art. As things begin to turn surreal, writer-director Marcos Mereles maintains a tight control over the material, but never quite locates a point of view through which the audience can get inside it.
A haughty photographer (Phoenix) and his young intern (Aroussi) set up for three days' work in a sunlit warehouse. When their model (Bonfrer) and her makeup artist (Steel) arrive, they shoot until the light fades, then bunk down for the night. But the intern finds a gun in the model's bag, and in the morning the makeup artist is missing. It turns out that this is a film within the film, and now the director (Sherwood) must piece together what's left of the production and write a new ending that makes some sort of sense.
With this wildly surreal narrative, Mereles is poking fun at the fact that strained arthouse movies indulge in just as many cliches as the big blockbusters do. So this film's opening act is intriguingly arch, awash in awkward hesitation, passive-aggressive behaviour and some pointed confrontations. Then things loosen up considerably, as the characters (who are billed by job titles rather than names) begin to speak directly to-camera while leading the audience into a live-performed flashback involving a film critic (Sayers). But by then, it's pretty impossible to keep up with what seems to be one big inside joke.

Because of the set-up, performances from Phoenix, Aroussi and Bonfrer need to be cleverly layered. So they create characters who are arch and insinuating, and also more than a little affected and posturing. Then as they are revealed to be playing actors, they knowingly stir in confusion, frustration and confidence. Meanwhile, Sherwood injects some superb bravado into his role as a perplexed guy who steps in as a temporary director and is desperate to avoid what seems to be a sure-fire disaster.

Essentially, this feels like the work of a film student, taking on the industry itself with a fresh eye even as he struggles to convey deeper meaning to the audience. The oddly clinical approach features a stagey single set, formal camerawork and over-constructed dialog. And there's a real sense that Mereles is trying to create some sort of absurdist commentary. With more emotional depth of character, and a slightly more connective narrative, this could have been an even stronger feature debut.

cert 15 themes, language 6.Jul.22

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Addison Heimann
prd Bay Dariz, John Humber
with Zach Villa, Devon Graye, Madeline Zima, Yumarie Morales, Chris Doubek, Marlene Forte, Ian Inigo, Paget Brewster, Adam Busch, Michael Cassidy, Peter Mensah, Debra Wilson
release US 29.Jul.22
22/US 1h37

Is it streaming?

villa and graye
Opening with a caption noting that it's "based on a real breakdown", this psychological horror immediately gets under the skin. Writer-director Addison Heimann creates a superbly subjective perspective, using inventive camerawork, editing and effects to explore the central character's thoughts. It's a terrific approach to internalised terror, which continually grounds mind-based delusions in earthy authenticity. This adds emotional angles that make the movie both gripping and bleakly moving.
After enduring violence and mental illness as a child, Will (Villa) has finally found a happy life as a successful potter with his sensitive boyfriend Luke (Graye). Then his bipolar mother (Forte) calls him after 18 years in institutions, issuing paranoid warnings. This triggers long-buried feelings, so Will takes Luke for a weekend away to share things about his past. But he avoids opening up, instead beginning to see terrifying wolves around him. Unable to work and increasingly frightened, Will turns to his father (Doubek) for support. He also revisits his oddly abandoned childhood home.
A first alarm bell rings as the bouncy, positive Will talks his colleague Sasha (Morales) down from a panic attack. Clearly he has developed tools to deal with his own issues, but simply avoiding them is no longer working. Watching Will spiral into these hallucinations is unnerving, augmented by the full range of scary movie tricks from freaky noises to sudden jolts, plus some genuinely horrific imagery. There are also seriously nasty physical repercussions.

With a superb sense of both emotions and physicality, Villa and Graye have sparky chemistry that's realistically warm, funny and sexy. This makes it especially wrenching to watch Will push Luke away at the moment he needs him most. Doubek takes a strikingly offhanded approach as Will's father, which helps reveal why Will is so reluctant to face the truth. And the underlying issues are never simplistic, offering meaty scenes for each actor to play, including vividly pointed one-scene roles as friends and medical personnel.

Of course, Will's real problem is that he's unable to face up to what's going on inside him, and he won't let anyone properly help him. The narrative kind of meanders along the way, touching on medical options from therapy to drug treatments, while Will continues to explore things in his own way, which of course only feeds his uncertainty and paranoia. So the more intriguing question here is whether Will can learn to live with his monsters, or if they'll consume him. For all his jokey talk about getting naked, that might be just what he needs.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 26.Jun.22 slf

No Way Out  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
No Way Out
dir Azi Rahman
scr-prd Keith Kjarval
with Joey Bicicchi, Maia Mitchell, Katelyn Pippy, Guy Burnet, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Jeff Adler, Duke Davis Roberts, Ashley Nicole Williams, Luke Brandon Field, Guershon Moreno, Kiersten Dolbec, Andy Cohen
release US 12.Aug.22
22/US 1h29

Is it streaming?

mitchell and bicicchi
Opening with a harrowing image, this film layers in a sense of intrigue even as it dives into a blossoming romance. It isn't until about halfway in that director Azi Rahman and writer Keith Kjarval reveal their true noir intentions, which become rather shockingly harsh as the story heads off in a very grisly directions. And amid its various twists and turns, the film becomes almost staggeringly nihilistic.
In Los Angeles, photographer Nicky (Bicicchi) is confronted by Tessa (Mitchell) on the beach when she catches him snapping her picture. Their conversation turns to flirtatious banter as they begin hanging out around the city buzzed on drugs, drink and mutual attraction. As he falls for her, Nicky is a bit nervous about Tessa's wild inclinations, including a world of sex-fuelled underground clubs. Then she runs into a someone who triggers a horrific memory that makes her want to get out of town immediately. Instead, she asks Nick to do something unthinkable to help her.
For a film set in Los Angeles, Peter Mosiman's cinematography looks unusually moody, adding a hint of gloom during freewheeling outings on brightly sunshiny days. Even when they meet, these two strikingly attractive people compare their tiny scars. These juxtapositions are nicely played to add human textures to the grittier undercurrents, but they evaporate suddenly when things become much more overtly nasty. Rahman shows skill in both the lighter and edgier sequences, but loses the audience in the gaps between them.

Mitchell and Bicicchi have an easy likability, which makes both their fling and the darker ordeal involving. Bicicchi's hapless Nicky is the audience's route into this story, a guy who lets his principles go as he falls for a girl he doesn't really know. Mitchell's Tessa is so emotionally manipulative that we begin to doubt every word she's said, just another killer blonde. This does offer both actors some pointed nuances to play with, but the final act becomes somewhat superficial and one-note.

The plot's major tonal shift is deliberately jarring, designed to put the audience more firmly into Nicky's shoes as he's pushed further into a nightmare. But this is a very big leap, and it's never developed enough to follow him over the top. The script never convinces us that the soulful, artful Nicky could become this kind of vicious avenging angel, even with the heady mix of love and drugs. At its core, this is a wrenchingly sad story, but it's so grim that it leaves us cold.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality 8.Aug.22

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