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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Aug.23

The Artifice Girl  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Artifice Girl
dir-scr Franklin Ritch
prd Aaron B Koontz, Ashleigh Snead
with Tatum Matthews, Sinda Nichols, David Girard, Franklin Ritch, Lance Henriksen, Alyssa Moody, Lucy Noelle, Rashaud Sessions, Ivana Barnes, Thomas Hamby
release UK Mar.23 gff,
US 27.Apr.23
23/US 1h33

Bucheon fantastic film fest

Is it streaming?

nichols, ritch, matthews and girard
Grappling with enormous ideas, this drama explores the nature of humanity through a story about a digitally created young girl who takes on a life of her own. Sharply written and directed by actor Franklin Ritch, the film essentially consists of three very talky conversations. This leaves it feeling a bit static, and also limits the development of the characters. But as a pointed piece of theatre, it's riveting.
Computer whiz Gareth (Ritch) is cagey when he's interrogated by federal officers Deena and Amos (Nichols and Girard), who are investigating paedophilia rings. Eventually he admits that he created an artificial 9-year-old named Cherry (Matthews) to catch offenders. And they propose a partnership. Over the following years, Gareth, Deena and Amos evolve the increasingly politicised and commercialised project along with Cherry's capabilities to think on her own and, more importantly, have feelings and opinions. Then later in life, an elderly Gareth (now Hendriksen) asks a now physically mobile Cherry what she really wants to do.
Even with its three contained scenes, the film has complex visual imagery and a continually shifting tone. The conversations spiral out in jagged directions to grapple with the morality of artificial intelligence, while also stirring in some barbed dramatic tension between the characters. A survivor of abuse himself, Gareth admits he has trust issues. But so do Deena and Amos, and Cherry too. The power shifts between these four figures along the way, always pointing at the bigger ideas they are trying to define for themselves.

Each is hiding secrets from each other, which adds intriguing pressure to their interaction. Ritch is terrific as the young Gareth, clearly traumatised by his past but channeling it in a positive direction. His intelligence is snaky and forceful. And Henriksen carries this on with additional pathos as an old man. Facing him, both Nichols and Gerard ripple with doubts and opinions, especially when Cherry begins to create art. And Matthews is simply magic in as Cherry, engaging and constantly shifting, driving the whole film's sense of what it means to be human.

Cleverly, the film opens with a conversation with Siri in which Deena asks a question about knowing right from wrong. And in discussing artificial intelligence, ideas about feelings, consent and autonomy circle meaningfully. Woven into this is a moving exploration of the impact of child abuse and children's rights. Cherry may look like a 9-year-old, but she has aged decades now. Is she still a child? Is she capable of having her own life?

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.Jul.23 bifan

Polite Society  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Polite Society
dir-scr Nida Manzoor
prd Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Olivier Kaempfer, John Pocock
with Priya Kansara, Ritu Arya, Nimra Bucha, Akshay Khanna, Shobu Kapoor, Jeff Mirza, Seraphina Beh, Ella Bruccoleri, Shona Babayemi, Jenny Funnell, Tia Dutt, Eunice Huthart
release UK/US 28.Apr.23
23/UK Focus 1h44


Is it streaming?

kansara and arya
Packed with sparky characters, this superbly written and directed British comedy takes on the Pakistani subculture with a wildly inventive story that combines nuttiness with an underlying emotionality. Fast-paced and hilariously sharp, the story is hugely engaging, as filmmaker Nida Manzoor pulls the audience right into the middle of an outrageous mix of action and comedy, while also making smart commentary on ethnicity, family and ambition.
In London, teen Ria (Kansara) is planning to be a stuntwoman, which makes her the butt of jokes at school and with her parents (Kapoor and Mirza). But her sister Lena (Arya) helps her train. Then Lena is lined up to marry hot doctor Salim (Khanna), son of wealthy family friend Raheela (Bucha). Horrified, Ria decides to fight to get her back, enlisting her best friends (Beh and Bruccoleri) to stage a series of mini-capers to sabotage the wedding. But things take a turn, and the situation gets desperate as the momentous big day approaches.
Infused with youthful energy, the story charges full-speed as the increasingly desperate Ria comes up with one crazy plan after another. Clashes with the school bully (Babayemi) or between the sisters are staged as full-on action movie set-pieces, smartly choreographed to add details that deepen the characters and create remarkably complex relationships. Best of all are the everyday scenarios that play out as life or death battles. And the plot takes some wildly ingenious turns along the way.

Kansara is bursting with charm and intent as a young woman who is absolutely sure that she will be a stuntwoman and her sister will be a great artist. This deep yearning makes her hugely sympathetic, especially as it combines with her compassion and a boundless imagination. Her chemistry with the lively ensemble of actors is terrific, with fascinating textures that bring each person to life. Bucha shines as the supervillain of the piece, Beh and Bruccoleri are terrific as Ria's cohorts, and Khanna's Salim is disturbingly perfect.

There's an unexpected edge to the narrative, which gets more than a little bonkers along the way, cleverly adding real tension while playing up the darkly comical undercurrents. The film is skilfully assembled at every level, with terrific camerawork, editing and sets. And in the climactic wedding sequence, the costumes, music and choreography are magnificent. It's all perhaps a bit too ridiculous to have much proper resonance, but it's such fabulous fun that we don't care at all.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 31.Jul.23

Talk to Me  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Talk to Me
dir Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou
scr Danny Philippou, Bill Hinzman
prd Kristina Ceyton, Samantha Jennings
with Sophie Wilde, Alexandra Jensen, Otis Dhanji, Miranda Otto, Joe Bird, Marcus Johnson, Zoe Terakes, Chris Alosio, Ari McCarthy, Alexandria Steffensen, Sunny Johnson, James Oliver
release Aus Oct.22 aff,
US/UK 28.Jul.23
22/Australia 1h34


Is it streaming?

wilde faces the hand
Without resorting to the usual cheap scares, directors Danny and Michael Philippou create an unusually nasty vibe for this Australian horror. Violence is sudden and vicious, and scenes play out in shadowy sets that create unease for the audience. There are just enough emotional undercurrents to make it feel like there's depth to the characters, but even this is adeptly deployed to freak us out in properly disturbing ways.
In Adelaide, teen Mia (Wilde) is grieving the loss of her mother, avoiding her silent dad (Johnson). Instead, she turns to her best friend Jade (Jensen), her bright little brother Riley (Bird) and their spiky protective mum Sue (Otto). Then at a party, Mia takes her turn with a ceramic hand rumoured to contain the embalmed hand of a psychic. Holding it and saying, "Talk to me," awakens a spirit that possesses her like a wild drug trip. But something else happens this time, and Mia begins seeing her mother's ghost (Steffensen) all the time.
While the film isn't actually very scary, it keeps the audience off-balance by putting characters in danger, often adding extreme violence for gross-out effect. These chills are steadily sprinkled throughout the film, from tiny glimpses of something vile to all-out grisliness. The film is slickly shot and edited, using Mia's perspective to put the audience right in the middle of the mayhem. This adds weight to the story, mainly because she begins to feel responsibility for what is happening.

Earlier scenes set up characters strongly, giving the actors plenty to work with, including raucous party-based comedy and more pointed drama. Things get rather simpler when the chaos begins, but Wilde is able to maintain Mia's underlying feelings even as she is put through the wringer, almost literally. Jensen also has a strongly emotive presence, as does Dhanji as Jade's boyfriend, complicated by the fact that he's also Mia's ex. And Otto steals her scenes with bristly bravado.

Leaning into the fantastical premise, the filmmakers don't bother with thematic depth. Instead, they skilfully evoke a strong sense of guilt around Mia's sometimes dodgy decisions, like driving on after encountering a dying kangaroo in the road or allowing Riley to grab the hand. Because the audience is complicit with her, this cranks up a nerve-jangling sense that just about anything could happen to make things even worse than they are. And it's a rare movie that keeps us watching when we really want to look away.

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

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