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

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Andrew Legge
prd Alan Maher, John Wallace
scr Andrew Legge, Angeli Macfarlane
with Stefanie Martini, Emma Appleton, Rory Fleck Byrne, Aaron Monaghan, Hugh O'Conor, Ayvianna Snow, Philip Condron, Shaun Boylan
release US Feb.23 sbiff,
UK 7.Apr.23
22/Ireland 1h10

fright fest

Is it streaming?

appleton and martini
Reminiscent of debuts by Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky, this fiercely inventive sci-fi thriller uses terrific storytelling to make the very most of a limited budget. With his first feature, filmmaker Andrew Legge ambitiously takes on momentous historical events through the eye of a movie camera. Skilfully shot in black and white by Oona Menges, the film looks terrific. And characters spring to life in an unusually evocative way.
Made in 1941 and lost for 80 years, this is a document about British sisters Martha (Martini) and Thomasina (Appleton), who spend their childhood tinkering with technology. And their invention Lola can receive radio and TV signals from the future. Initially fascinated by 1970s music, speficically David Bowie, they soon realise that they can use Lola to take on the Nazis. Working with intelligence officer Sebastian (Byrne) and his boss Sir Cobcroft (Monaghan), they achieve remarkable success. But are they altering the future? And even scarier, what if the Germans get their hands on Lola?
Assembled kaleidoscopically from grainy footage, the narrative unfolds with a sure hand, cleverly using editing, imagery, music and sound to pull the audience right into the heart of the story. The evolving relationship between Martha and Thomasina has intriguing edges, playing with ideas of gender and history. And the budding romance Martha sparks with Sebastian has its own quirks. While the story is increasingly intense in its serious ideas and major implications, there are constant flurries of razor-sharp humour and earthy interaction that keep things grounded and honest.

Performances are offhanded and engaging, as the actors create characters who are colourful and passionate, fully aware of the difficult situation they're in and also able to enjoy life as it comes. Even though they're rarely on-screen together, because one is ostensibly behind the camera, Martini and Appleton have terrific chemistry as smart, confident sisters who are like opposite sides of a coin. Byrne adds a superb energy all his own into the mix, as do the fine performers in smaller roles along the way.

While it's not quite a time-travel movie, it still deals with some of the same brain-bending ideas, especially as simply knowing what's going to happen changes the way people behave, and thus reroutes the paths ahead. This allows Legge and cowriter Macfarlane to let their imaginations run wild with possible histories and potential anomalies. But everything that happens feeds into the involving story of these siblings whose genius changes the world. Whether they make it better or worse is the salient question.

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

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

dir-scr Carter Smith
prd Helio Campos, Noah Lang, Ross O'Connor, Carter Smith
with Cooper Koch, Jose Colon, Jena Malone, Mark Patton, Michael Shawn Curtis, Hannah Perry, Roe Pacheco, Jonathan Spence
release UK 28.Apr.23
22/US 1h36

bfi flare fest

Is it streaming?

colon and koch
Unusually unsettling, this offbeat horror thriller offers visceral jolts that cleverly play on deeper ideas. Writer-director Carter Smith takes a stripped-back filmmaking approach that's gritty and loose, honing in on quirky character details while playing provocatively with tropes from both horror and gay cinema. So even if the story and characters are somewhat lacking when it comes to internal logic, the film creates a superbly queasy sense of unease.
On a night out, Dom (Colon) is visibly upset that best friend Ben (Koch) is moving to Los Angeles to launch a pornstar career. To send him off with a nest egg, Dom sets up a drug delivery. But the plan changes when short-tempered Alice (Malone) takes over, forcing Dom and Ben to swallow small parcels before crossing the Canadian border. Things go further awry when they encounter a hotheaded redneck thug (Curtis). Then Alice accompanies them to an isolated cabin in the woods to meet her creepy boss Rich (Patton) and finish the job.
Smith gleefully inverts queer fantasies at every step, as each character refuses to be boxed in. While Dom is straight, he also deeply loves Ben, who is secretly smitten with him. Both men get naked, but not in a sexual way. And Rich's leery eye comes with an unexpectedly moving kick. Intriguingly, Dom and Ben's journey has a remarkable emotionality that transcends the violent narrative. And Alice and Rich are particularly complex people who certainly don't see themselves as the villains of the piece, even as they get up to some very nasty business.

In the demanding central role, Koch finds sympathy as a smart and almost absurdly beautiful young man who finds himself in a mind-boggling situation that will require a lot of quick thinking. His chemistry with Colon has some terrific textures to it, a lovely mix of affection and brotherhood that adds huge waves of feeling to everything that happens. Malone chomps happily on the scenery as the impatient, always-desperate Alice, while Patton develops his own specific style of menace as the predatory Rich.

It's difficult not to feel like the script would have benefitted from a couple of rewrites, simply to bolster the plot and eliminate a number of loose threads. Characters continually do things that don't quite make sense, while the setting itself raises questions that go unanswered. But Smith shows real skill at scene-setting, playing with expectations and pushing genre boundaries with this buggy premise. Indeed, the drugs that are being smuggled add a fantastical zing that could turn this into cult classic.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, nudity 17.Mar.23 flare

Summoning Sylvia  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Summoning Sylvia
dir-scr Wesley Taylor, Alex Wyse
prd Cody Lassen
with Travis Coles, Frankie Grande, Troy Iwata, Noah J Ricketts, Nicholas Logan, Michael Urie, Veanne Cox, Camden Garcia, Sean Grandillo, Nick Martinez, Daniel Barboza, Alex Wyse
release US 31.Mar.23
23/US 1h14

Is it streaming?

ricxketts, grande and iwata
Brightly ridiculous, this horror comedy plays up the outsized personalities of its characters. The actors have a great time hamming it up while keeping their characters believable. And filmmakers Wesley Taylor and Alex Wyse load the film with verbal and visual gags that are sharply hilarious, although there are more red herrings than actual frights. But what's most surprising is that the plot is laced with involving underlying themes.
When four camp pals rent a gothic house on a bachelor weekend for Larry (Coles), Reggie (Iwata) plans a full schedule of activities. Kevin (Ricketts) is wounded from a breakup, and Nico (Grande) has brought a book of spells, as the house is rumoured to be haunted by Sylvia (Cox), who was mysteriously killed in the house after murdering her son Phillip (Garcia). Then Larry's fiance Jamie (Urie) sends his straight meathead brother Harrison (Logan) to join them. And as he throws off the gay vibe, the freaky banging in the walls is growing louder.
Much of the film features boys shrieking or breaking into song, then turning every tiny thing into a massive melodrama. The mere idea of Sylvia sends them over the edge. "There are four magnificent queens in this house," Nico says with ominous glee, "and she's not done yet." All of this comedy chaos is inventively intercut with darkly unnerving scenes between Sylvia and Phillip in the same rooms many years ago, and of course what happened back them was connected to Phillip's sexuality. Along the way, several of the story's twists also add a superb layer of emotional resonance.

As things get increasingly frenzied, the actors somehow manage to balance the hysteria with deeper authenticity. In the central roles, Coles, Grande, Iwata and Ricketts are equally larger-than-life, and while all are loud and hilarious, each actor manages to find his own interesting angles. Together, their camaraderie is fabulous, extending to an eye-catching climactic drag performance. Alongside them in what begins as a thankless role, Logan eventually finds some spicy textures.

Even as things get increasingly outrageous, there are earthy issues swirling throughout the subtext in most scenes, touching meaningfully on issues of race and homophobia that run throughout society. So even if the madcap events spiral in mainly comical ways, the film raises some big questions that force the audience to think even as we're giggling. The movie may never generate a proper scare, but it's silly enough to be consistently entertaining. And the deeper stuff going on between the lines keeps us engaged.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 28.Mar.23

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