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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Brandon Cronenberg
prd Andrew Cividino, Karen Harnisch, Christina Piovesan, Noah Segal, Rob Cotterill
with Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann, Amanda Brugel, Jeff Ricketts, John Ralston, Caroline Boulton, Zijad Gracic, Adam Boncz, Dunja Sepcic
release US 27.Jan.23,
23/Canada Focus 1h57
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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Gleefully gruesome, this bonkers horror thriller touches on serious ideas that give it a wonderful sense of something much bigger. Although writer-director Brandon Cronenberg is more focussed on visually arresting imagery than mining the material for something unnervingly resonant. That said, there's a terrific sense of menace, and it's all so personal and internalised that it can't help but work its way under the skin. As it were.
On an elite holiday in La Tolqa, blocked author James (Skarsgard) and his wife Em (Coleman) are out for the day with fellow guests Gabi and Alban (Goth and Lespert) when an accident reminds them why tourists aren't supposed to leave the resort's property. Soon they're caught up in a nightmarish local system as Detective Thresh (Kretschmann) calmly forces them into an increasingly surreal legal process. At Gabi's invitation, James is then drawn into an underworld of tourists who have a very dark reason why they visit this place every year before the rainy season.
Cronenberg's ambitious, full-on approach will appeal to both horror fans and moviegoers who like boldly provocative stories that are laced with political commentary. The film ultimately shies away from truly commenting on the irony of wealthy tourists in poverty-stricken countries, just as it oddly cuts away from Skarsgard's naked body (something the camera never does with women). Instead, Cronenberg leans heavily into both deliberately provocative sexual imagery as well as properly icky grisliness, which is created with startling intensity that gets our stomach's churning in the intended ways.
Each of the performances is fully committed, with Skarsgard diving especially deeply into James' tortured emotional odyssey. Indeed, in later scenes he's a shattered wreck of a man just trying to hang on to a bit of sanity while everything goes fully insane around him. His chemistry with the amusingly expressive Goth is fun to watch, even when her performance charges over the top. And the supporting cast provides a range of colours and tones that keep things marvellously off-balance.
As the script abandons its deeper ideas, the narrative begins to feel a bit disappointing. The plot starts to meander from about the halfway point, turning into a series of indulgently nutty set-pieces that never quite connect with each other. But each has a wildly overwrought tone all its own, pushing the story until it becomes an outrageous nightmare. Watching this unfold, we never care very much how things are going to end. But it's enjoyably nasty while it lasts.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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