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

New Life
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
New Life
dir-scr John Rosman
prd T Justin Ross, Mike Marchlewski
with Sonya Walger, Hayley Erin, Tony Amendola, Jeb Berrier, Ayanna Berkshire, Nick George, Blaine Palmer, Betty Moyer, Lisa Cross, Kevin-Michael Moore, LA Johnson, Tim Blough
release UK Aug.23 frf
23/US 1h25


Is it streaming?

Intriguing and enigmatic, this increasingly nasty medical thriller creates a tense situation long before plot details begin to fill in the picture. Central themes connect to the process of starting over, while the plot becomes more intensely horrific in an eerily real-world sort of way. With slick, visual style, writer-director John Rosman skilfully keeps everything grounded, which makes the bonkers craziness and excellent makeup work that much more effective.
On the run in Oregon and heading north, Jess (Erin) is being pursued by tenacious government agent Elsa (Walger), who is secretly grappling with a recent ALS diagnosis. Elsa's boss Raymond (Amendola) insistently reminds her not to let Jess cross the border. Meanwhile, Jess casually hitches rides and gets help from strangers like farmer Frank (Palmer) and bar owner Molly (Berkshire). And as she tenaciously tracks Jess, Elsa knows something important that Jess doesn't. This gives her a strong sense of urgency. And both of them face some seriously grisly encounters along the road.
Horror fans will love the way this narrative develops in shiver-inducing ways, with several moments of fierce yuckiness as the nature of the problem becomes clear. Parallels fill Jess and Elsa's journeys, hinting that they are connected in ways they can't see. And flashbacks offer glimpses of an earlier life, as Jess recalls her happy relationship with nice-guy Ian (George), and an odd skin rash they think they picked up from a stray dog. But something much more nefarious is going on, and Jess has no idea why people are after her.

Performances have a nicely offhanded tone to them, allowing the characters to emerge with some depth even before we have a clue who these people are. Erin's Jess is an open-hearted, curious woman who connects easily to people she meets along the road. Erin effortlessly builds chemistry with her costars. Meanwhile, Walger plays the complicated Elsa with increasing physical symptoms, growing frustrated that her body won't cooperate with her, and also because her boss isn't telling her the truth.

There are big ideas about rebirth floating throughout this film. "Freedom of reinvention helped create this country," says Frank. Later, an ALS patient (Cross) tells Elsa that she will mourn her old life even as she discovers profound new strength. For both Jess and Elsa, personal issues add bristling energy to this story, while creepy corporate-political power tries to keep what's actually happening in the shadows. The climactic showdown is properly tense and emotionally wrenching, with a resonance that catches us by surprise.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 22.Aug.23

War Pony  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
War Pony
dir Gina Gammell, Riley Keough
scr Franklin Sioux Bob, Bill Reddy, Riley Keough, Gina Gammell
prd Willi White, Bert Hamelinck, Ryan Zacarias, Sacha Ben Harroche, Riley Keough, Gina Gammell
with Jojo Bapteise Whiting, LaDainian Crazy Thunder, Jesse Schmockel, Wilma Colhof, Iona Red Bear, Franklin Sioux Bob, Stanley Good Voice Elk, Ashley Shelton, Sprague Hollander, Anjeliq Aurora, Woodrow Lone Elk, Ta-Yamni Long Black Cat
release UK 9.Jun.23,
US 28.Jul.23
22/US 1h55


Is it streaming?

Bapteise Whiting
Telling the stories of two Native American young men, this earthy comedy-drama was shot on location at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. First-time directors Gina Gammell and Riley Keough give the film a strikingly involving documentary-style tone, spoken in local dialect that's fresh and tricky. Enjoyably meandering, like the characters themselves, this is a stunning depiction of life in this place, with its mix of cultures.
Working odd jobs at age 23, Bill (Bapteise Whiting) expects a reward for returning a standard poodle to its owner, but ends up needing to sell the dog, because he has sons with two young women (Schomockel and Aurora) who are angry at him. A chance comes when he helps turkey farmer Tim (Hollander) get out of some trouble. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Matho (Crazy Thunder) drives a hard bargain as he sells his dad's drugs, but when he's caught he needs to find a new place to live. And he hopes magic can solve his problems.
Watching Matho and his friends laugh about meths is chilling, using language and attitudes soaked from older siblings and parents. So these young buddies strongly echo the antics of Bill's older ones. Everyone's buying, selling or stealing to earn cash, so there are growing undercurrents of suspense, especially in Matho's plotline. Life here feels fragile and slippery, as if fate is conspiring to prevent anyone from moving forward meaningfully. But the sense of community is tight.

Performances from this cast of non-professional actors are bracingly naturalistic. With his dry humour and easy charisma, Bapteise Whiting is hugely likeable, even as very few people on-screen seem to like Bill. He doesn't take much interest in anything, including the Lakota language, but he cares about his sons. And Crazy Horse makes Matho strongly sympathetic, a smart and funny kid who seems destined to run an empire. He's also aware when he pushes macho posturing too far.

Infused with deadpan charm, the film is intense and grim, with astounding attention to detail in David Gallego's cinematography. The mix of Christianity with traditional beliefs is pointed, adding a kick to Halloween festivities at Tim's house, the only white home on-screen. Relationships between siblings, parents and children are fascinating, played out with sharp nuance and minimalistic dialog. And an enormous bison strolling around town reminds everyone whose land this is.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.Sep.23

What You Wish For  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
What You Wish For
dir-scr Nicholas Tomnay
prd Nicholas Tomnay, Francesca Silvestri, Kevin Chinoy
with Nick Stahl, Tamsin Topolski, Juan Carlos Messier, Randy Vasquez, Penelope Mitchell, Brian Groh, Ariel Sierra, Felipe Solano, David Tominaga, Norma Nivia, Megumi Hasebe, Greg Winter
release UK Aug.23 frf
23/US 1h41


Is it streaming?

stahl and topolski
Beautifully filmed in a lush corner of Colombia, this thriller starts out loose and relaxed before writer-director Nicholas Tomnay begins turning the screws. This starts with a skilfully orchestrated moment of silent horror, which spirals quietly into something that's shiver-inducing, set against the contrast between the haves and the have-nots. Moral questions swirl throughout this film, so the narrative becomes startlingly involving as the events twist and turn.
Arriving with only one small bag in a tropical airport, Ryan (Stahl) settles into an isolated luxury home with his old friend Jack (Groh), a fellow chef who has an exclusive gig here. Hiding from loan sharks after building up a gambling debt, Ryan seizes an opportunity to assume Jack's identity working for Imogene (Topolski) and her partner Maurice (Messier). And he realises he's in way over his head when he learns what he will be preparing for a super-rich group of diners. Without a choice, Ryan heads out with Maurice hunting for illicit meat.
Cleverly juxtaposing this outrageously gorgeous house with the sleep mountain village nearby, the script takes its time establishing the setting and the friendly rivalry between Ryan and Jack, especially when they meet a blonde traveller (Mitchell). From here, the shift into something bleakly grisly is smooth and unnerving, underpinned by a hint of black humour. Indeed, the fates seem to be conspiring against Ryan, as if he deserves all of this. And the evening of the dinner party plays out with a series of outrageously tasty surprises.

With a nuanced, thoughtful performance, Stahl is excellent as a man whose life hasn't gone as he expected it to, so he opportunistically takes a big risk to start over again. Then also easy to identify with him as he squirms his way through this unthinkable predicament. The surrounding roles are less defined, but are played with a nice sense that they have wider stories off-screen. Topolski and Messier are particularly strong as insinuating characters who always seem to be one step ahead.

Because Ryan isn't remotely innocent, his situation has additional layers of Hitchcockian interest, allowing the film to play with slippery moral slopes and just how far he'll be able to go. Piling deception upon deception, the plot develops with riveting implications, remaining perilously on the edge. As things escalate, the final sequence becomes increasingly messy, creating and tying up various loose ends. And while the conclusion has a witty kick, it still manages to leave a deliciously bitter aftertaste.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Aug.23

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