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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Aug.23

The Dive  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Dive
dir Maximilian Erlenwein
scr Maximilian Erlenwein, Joachim Heden
prd Jonas Katzenstein, Maximilian Leo
with Sophie Lowe, Louisa Krause, David Scicluna
release UK/US 25.Aug.23
23/Germany 1h31


Is it streaming?

lowe and krause
Filmed on location in Malta, this tightly contained thriller plays out almost in real time as two sisters fight for survival. With engulfing underwater cinematography, director-cowriter Maximilian Erlenwein avoids distractions, resisting adding something menacing like a hungry shark. Instead, the narrative expands to evoke the history between these siblings, adding some melodramatic touches to a series of frantic life-saving efforts that continually take our breath away.
Reconnecting for their annual trip together, the jaded May (Krause) joins her perky sister Drew (Lowe) to explore a remote part of the Maltese coast. Just after discovering a cave, a landslide traps May under a rock 100 feet under the surface. Drew kicks into action, heading up for help, but she has fewer options than she expected, and on subsequent trips down to renew the oxygen supply, she suffers from decompression sickness. Meanwhile, May tries to remain calm on the ocean floor, remembering days out as a child with Drew and their father (Scicluna).
Perhaps in an effort to blur the line between present and past, these happy memories play out in an ominous swirl that implies some sort of menace, causing May to react emotionally. This is never quite made clear in either the writing or direction, but it does add an unusual tone to the entire movie, honing in on the awkward but still close connection between siblings who rarely see each other anymore. This also puts Drew's actions into an intriguingly sharp focus, as she does everything she can think of, and then some, to rescue May.

Emotions are pretty big, for good reason, and both Krause and Lowe play them with serious intent, revealing how their deep love for each other has become tinged by years of entirely different feelings. Krause vividly depicts May's imagination as it spins ahead, flickering into scenes that depict possible outcomes of this situation, while connecting it to their childhood together. And perhaps because there's some tension between them, Lowe's sparky desperation to find a solution is hugely compelling.

For such a tightly constructed film, it's unusual that the story goes internal rather than drumming up a random external threat. The contrast between claustrophobic underwater photography and sunny shoreline action is vivid. So even if there are quite a few sequences that chronicle uninteresting activities, seemingly to show attention to detail while padding out the running time, the driving through-line of this sibling relationship is what keeps the audience gripped, hoping against hope for a positive outcome. This also makes the mere idea of one of them dying far more terrifying than anything that we see on-screen.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Jul.23

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Babak Jalali
scr Carolina Cavalli, Babak Jalali
prd Rachael Fung, Marjaneh Moghimi, Sudnya Shroff, Chris Martin, George Rush, Laura Wagner
with Anaita Wali Zada, Jeremy Allen White, Gregg Turkington, Siddique Ahmed, Hilda Schmelling, Eddie Tang, Jennifer McKay, Avis See-tho, Taban Ibraz, Timur Nusratty, Divya Jakatdar, Fazil Seddiqui
release US 25.Aug.23,
UK 15.Sep.23
23/US 1h31


Is it streaming?

white and zada
Shot in an idiosyncratic style that highlights the individuality of the characters, this wry comedy explores the experiences of an immigrant who has a background that's unusually textured for a film character. The imagery is in black and white, Academy ratio and often statically locked on one person at a time. In this way, director Babak Jalali finds unexpected insight in a range of offbeat settings and interactions.
In the Bay Area suburb of Fremont, Donya (Zada) works in a family-run fortune cookie factory, and lives in an apartment block with other Afghan immigrants, including fellow insomniac Selim (Ahmed) and unconfident young mother Mina (Ibraz), whose husband Suleyman (Nusratty) sees Donya as a traitor for working as a US Army translator back in Kabul. While seeing a psychologist (Turkington) to help her sleep, Donya's friend Joanna (Schmelling) urges her to date. So she decides to meet a man in Bakersfield. On the way, she encounters a lonely mechanic (White) in a roadside garage.
Camerawork often isolates one character in the frame, simply watching as people look at each other, which emphasises how each is searching for clues about how to interact. Dialog is witty and philosophical, exploring big ideas that dig much deeper than the fortune cookie aphorisms. When her kind boss (Tang) promotes her to writing fortunes, Donya takes a bold stab at finding love by putting her phone number in a cookie, with wonderfully ironic results.

Characters have a striking clarity, each with his or her own personality quirks, obsessions, interests and sense of humour. Zada cleverly plays observant Donya's deadpan conversational style, which is hugely engaging especially when she tries to cut through the bluster. Her scenes with Turkington are revelatory and often very funny. But then all of the people around Donya are fascinating, full of life and unique in the way they click with her. The scenes with White have wonderfully delicate layers.

There isn't much plot, and characters don't go through major personal arcs either. Instead, this is the kind of film that gets under the skin by seeking out a fresh mindset. This is a gorgeous exploration of how it feels to search for a sense of safety and belonging after being uprooted from home. Donya is comforted by the Afghans she sees each morning and night, but she's also aware that this new home needs to be explored more fully for her to feel truly alive.

cert 12 themes, language 9.Aug.23

Summoning the Spirit
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Summoning the Spirit
dir Jon Garcia
scr Zach Carter, Jon Garcia
prd Lacy Todd, Joe Jatcko, Michael Repsch
with Krystal Millie Valdes, Ernesto Reyes, Jesse Tayeh, Isabelle Muthiah, Sean Sisson, Robin Magdhalen, Jasmine Sinclair, Lacy Todd, Jimmy Garcia, Bruce Jennings, Alan Burrell, Lauren Lopez
release US 11.Aug.23
23/US 1h37

Is it streaming?

reyes and valdes
Mysticism runs through this thriller, as filmmakers Jon Garcia and Zach Carter take an offbeat approach to the bigfoot myth. With its thoughtful tone, the film focusses on interrelationships to make the story resonate, so events unfold more like a creepy drama than supernatural horror. But there's plenty of bonkers freakiness to ramp up the. So even if it never quite delivers on its promise, there's plenty to enjoy.
Leaving the city, writer Dean (Reyes) and his therapist wife Carla (Valdes) buy a house in a beautiful mountain location where they plan to start a family. Then as they face an emotional setback, they meet over-friendly neighbours Arlo (Tayeh) and Celeste (Muthiah), members of a local group of hippie-style true believers who worship the spirit of nature, a furry giant who lives the forest. They welcome Dean and Carla for a meal, but these cult members don't tolerate doubts among their members. And when one girl (Todd) goes missing, Dean starts asking questions.
A jarring prolog offers an early glimpse of sasquatch (Sisson in the standard hairy costume), who is shown as a serene creature silently watching humanity. Of course, its actions get increasingly pointed, and even violent, but always with an eerie psychological dimension. Conversations about mother nature explore the links between people and the earth, always with an ominous sense of impending peril. This accelerates as Arlo and Celeste insist that Carla has been chosen to for something special, and she's not allowed to opt out.

Valdes nicely underplays Carla, the central figure in the story, as she deals with her own trauma and the erratic behaviour of Reyes' rather overconfident Dean. Both reveal their own insecurities has they have contact with the spirit followers. These people are played with a broader brush as a faithful gang who intone about nature's purity while holding wacky dance-and-howl rituals. A few of these people register as individuals, although they're all almost comically earnest.

While much of this cult's spiritist mumbo jumbo is enjoyably ridiculous, there are some intriguingly provocative angles to the nuttiness on display. For example, perhaps it's true that sometimes we need to behave like animals to remind us of our connection to nature. But as the story continues, it becomes clear that the main goal is to offer traditional Wicker Man-esque cinematic nastiness, complete with some superbly grisly makeup effects. After the solid set-up, the story doesn't really go anywhere. But the original approach makes it worth a look.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Aug.23

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