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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 5.Mar.23

Alice, Darling
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Alice, Darling
dir Mary Nighy
scr Alanna Francis
prd Katie Bird Nolan, Christina Piovesan, Noah Segal, Lindsay Tapscott, Sam Tipper-Hale
with Anna Kendrick, Wunmi Mosaku, Kaniehtiio Horn, Charlie Carrick, Mark Winnick, Daniel Stolfi, Carolyn Fe, Gordon Harper, Viviana Zarrillo, Ethan Mitchell, James M Jenkinson, Farah Merani
release US/UK 20.Jan.23
22/Canada Lionsgate 1h30


Is it streaming?

mosaku, kendrick and horn
Zeroing in on internal thoughts and feelings rather than outward plotting or melodrama, this film finds its intensity in the emotions it sparks for the viewer. Director Mary Nighy takes a remarkably visceral approach, telling the story from within the perspective of a woman who is in a harshly controlling relationship. It's dark and provocative, and powerfully moving in the complex way it tackles a tough subject.
In Toronto, Alice (Kendrick) is coupled up with the handsome artist Simon (Carrick). But she is struggling to hide her fear over the way he criticises and psychologically goads her. Noticing that something is off, her best friend Sophie (Mosaku) invites her for a week at her lake house for the birthday of their struggling artist pal Tess (Horn). But Alice lies to Simon about where she's going, then dodges endless calls and text messages from him until Tess steals her phone. This gives her a chance to find herself again. Until Simon turns up.
Cleverly, the script and direction resist taking the expected route through this material, revealing the nature of Alice and Simon's relationship gradually and with unusual nuance. This builds an almost unbearable sense of emotional suspense, mainly because the imagery is so vividly internalised. As a result we experience Alice's conflicting thoughts about her relationship and her own identity, and we see Simon through her eyes, for better and worse. Most intriguing is how she believes that her relationship is normal, perhaps hinting at a backstory we never see.

Kendrick is superb in a difficult role, grounding Alice's personality in moments of levity and camaraderie. Then when she's alone her inner demons take over, reflected in her flickering eyes and cowering physicality. It's a hugely engaging performance, and we can't help but root for her to stand up for herself. Mosaku and Horn also find surprising textures in their beefy roles, friends who speak the truth even when it hurts. And Carrick makes Simon remarkably nasty without ever tipping over into a full-on monster.

There's a sense that this is a movie on a mission. But then its story is enormously important, and it refreshingly unfolds without the usual preachy cliches. Nighy's direction is particularly strong, remaining tightly focussed on Alice's interior journey, never flinching from her hidden pain and ultimately celebrating her yearning to break free from this insidious figurative prison and determine her own path. It's the kind of movie that will save lives.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 17.Jan.23

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Craig Boreham
prd Craig Boreham, Ben Ferris, Dean Francis, Ulysses Oliver
with Josh Lavery, Daniel Gabriel, Anni Finsterer, Ian Roberts, Ally Morgan, Vincent Andriano, Mark Paguio, Damien Killeen, Edward O'Leary, Corey London, Mathew Waters, Hendrix Lee Taylor
release Aus Jun.22 siff,
UK/US 6.Mar.23
22/Australia 1h35

iris prize fest

Is it streaming?

lavery and gabriel
Following a rural drifter on the streets of Sydney, this film quickly evokes Midnight Cowboy. And writer-director Craig Boreham extends this connection with an unusually honest depiction of sexuality in a subculture that's traditionally depicted with a heavy dose of cautionary sermonising. So even if the screenplay uses a fairly standard story structure, the film is fresh enough to hold the interest, especially with its fearless young cast.
Heading to the big city, Casey (Lavery) hooks up with Tib (Gabriel) on his first day. Mutually attracted, they begin hanging out and doing odd jobs together. But Casey struggles with guilt about the painful situation that caused him to run away from his small hometown. While he finds support and a close friendship with Tib, they both begin to wonder if there's a romance developing between them. Although Casey isn't so sure he likes seeing Tib meeting up with so many strangers. And Tib thinks Casey needs to face the truth about his past.
Earthy and realistic, the film is steamy and sexy without indulging in movie cliches. The characters are unusually relaxed about their bodies, often lounging around naked while lustily winding each other up. They also become sympathetic as they share their inner secrets with each other, including difficult family situations and worries about the past and future. Through all of this, Boreham's direction observes them in the way they see each other: beautiful and full of life, but also enigmatic.

Even though the characters are relatively closed off about their personal feelings, there's an openness to the performances that feels raw and revelatory. Lavery has an elemental quality that's strongly charismatic; Casey controls his feelings, but feels everything strongly. In the focal supporting role, Gabriel plays Tib with slightly more obvious emotions, but he's perhaps even more complex in the way he interacts with people. Most of the vivid side characters only appear in a few scenes, but there are strong moments for Finsterer and Roberts as very different clients.

Along the way, the script cleverly subverts any awkwardness by remaining so honest about sex, knowingly touching on resonant themes around attraction, promiscuity, companionship and jealousy. Through the highs and lows of this odyssey, Boreham takes Casey into very dark corners, from suicidal thoughts to a scene of extreme degradation, which he feels like he deserves. So Casey's journey here is a coming-of-age, learning to accept himself for who he is, and to understand that maybe he's worthy of love.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 5.Mar.23

The Way Out  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
The Way Out
dir-scr Barry Jay
prd Nick Theurer, Carl Rumbaugh, Artisha Mann Cooper
with Jonny Beauchamp, Mike Manning, Ashleigh Murray, Sherri Shepherd, Mitch Silpa, Nick Theurer, Alison Robertson, Trey Gerrald, Evan Todd, Damien Diaz, Rena Bobbs, Mack Kuhr
release US/UK 10.Feb.23
22/US 1h34

Is it streaming?

beauchamp and manning
Offbeat energy pulls the audience into this dramatic thriller, weaving strong themes into a personal drama about a guy whose life is changed by a mysterious stranger. Writer-director Barry Jay sets a sleepy pace while dodging the characters' sexuality, while the underlying intensity hints that it could veer into outright horror at any moment. Indeed, there's an ugly twist waiting to emerge along the way, shifting the film's trajectory.
Newly sober, Alex (Beauchamp) is delivering pizza and trying to put his life back together with the help of best friend Gracie (Murray) and 12-step sponsor Veronica (Shepherd). Then his abusive father is murdered, and Alex struggles to make sense of it. To pay the bills when he inherits his dad's house, he rents a room to fit personal trainer Shane (Manning), whose mysterious past and over-charming manner make Gracie dubious. But Shane challenges Alex to take control of his life, starting with a home-gym workout before some lessons about sex and making personal connections.
Shane continually provokes Alex to confront his inner demons, from his fear of intimacy to a need to stand up for himself. Basically, he's pushing Alex out of his comfort zone to find his inner strength. Then as the script begins to reveal its darker currents, there's some genuine suspense and a few properly nasty jolts. Intriguingly, the script uses complex morality to undermine audience reactions, although tonal shifts and melodramatic moments are rather jarring.

Performances are low-key and coolly understated, allowing deeper layers to emerge. Beauchamp is likeable as the scruffy nice-guy Alex, who likes how it feels when he seizes control of his life. It's easy to see why he's drawn to Shane, a hot guy who wants to help. Manning plays him with a superb blankness that hints at an agenda hidden beneath his kindness, including suggestions that he's actually a monster. The supporting cast is solid, creating realistic characters who have their own lives and opinions.

"All you do is dream," Shane says. "You never do anything." This strikes a nerve because he's the only person who speaks this honestly to Alex. Although when Alex tries this aggressive approach with others, it doesn't go well for him. Jay's writing and direction cleverly layers these ideas, but in the final act he gets a bit distracted by the demands of the genre, leaving holes in the plot and losing track of the more delicately involving character drama underneath. Still, the talented cast and crew make it worth a look.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 8.Feb.23

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