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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Feb.24

Gassed Up  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Gassed Up
dir George Amponsah
scr Archie Maddocks, Taz Skylar
prd Edward Caffrey, Stefan D'Bart, Rupert Preston, Hester Ruoff, Bart Ruspoli
with Stephen Odubola, Taz Skylar, Craige Middleburg, Steve Toussaint, Jelena Gavrilovic, Mae Muller, Mohammed Mansaray, Tobias Jowett, Tomi May, Rawdat Quadri, Ben Shafik, Tim Chipping
release UK 9.Feb.24
23/UK 1h42

london film fest

Is it streaming?

skylar, odubola, mansaray and jowett
Colour-drenched camerawork and a pulsing use of music lift this British crime thriller above the usual bleak depictions. And fresh-faced young stars add both energy and thoughtful layers. Then just as it gets properly involving, a standard plot kicks in: desperate people who are forced to do one more nasty job. As this becomes the focus, the film loses interest. But these are actors and filmmakers to watch.
In London, the charismatic Ash (Odubola) is trying to take care of his 14-year-old sister (Quadri) and raise cash to send their mum to rehab. He and his pals (Middleburg, Mansaray and Jowett) are working with Dubz (Skylar) to supply stolen phones to his cousin, Albanian crime boss Shaz (Gavrilovic). Meanwhile, Ash has a crush on Kelly (Muller), is trying to enjoy his young life and stay out of trouble. But of course, the criminal underworld keeps pulling him in deeper. And when a job goes horribly wrong, everything he's working for is in jeopardy.
In the first half, the emphasis is on Ash's internalised hopes, echoed in fantasy glimpses into how he wants his life to look, as well as some intense dreams. It's impressive to watch him quietly doing his best to take care of his mother and sister. He may be breaking the law, but he avoids violence. Then as he is pushed into a corner, the story's nuances dissolve into the background, allowing the violent caper plot to take over. This feels so familiar that it's difficult to stay connected, even if we care what happens to Ash.

Odubola has terrific screen presence, making it easy to see why everyone rotates around Ash. He's a good guy we can root for, even as things take a series of grim turns. Camaraderie with his friends is lively, as is his flirtation with the underused Muller's Kelly. Skylar ripples with edgy energy as the leader of this boyish gang, while Middleburg takes things further as a hothead who can't control himself. There's also an intriguing role for Toussaint as a mechanic who could be a father figure to Ash, if he'd let him.

These kinds of interactions add layers to the story that are far more engaging and gripping than the rather standard surge of violence that envelops the movie's final act. It feels like a genuinely solid script was fed through a screenwriting course that insisted it needed a climactic action sequence just because that's the done thing. But the film's wonderful use of London locations, terrific musical beats and solid character drama are more than enough.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 17.Jan.24

Out of Darkness  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Out of Darkness
dir Andrew Cumming
scr Ruth Greenberg; prd Oliver Kassman
with Safia Oakley-Green, Kit Young, Chuku Modu, Iola Evans, Arno Luning, Luna Mwezi, Rosebud Melarkey, Tyrell Mhlanga
release US 9.Feb.24,
UK 23.Feb.24
22/UK BFI 1h27

london film fest

Is it streaming?

modu and young
While this prehistoric adventure is sharply well shot in the Scottish highlands, it's impossible to escape the fact that the cast looks red carpet ready with their glamorous grooming and immaculately tailored fur couture sportswear. Rather than try to establish a believable Stone Age on-screen, director Andrew Cumming uses every movie trick imaginable to create an oppressively creepy atmosphere, although he never attempts to build any actual suspense.
Some 45,000 years ago, a family group is looking to start a new life, travelling across plains toward the mountains. But there's some sort of fiercely vicious creature living here. Leader Adem (Modu) worries about his curious teen son Heron (Mwezi), pregnant wife Ave (Evans) and extra-fertile stray woman Beyah (Oakley-Green), but rejects advice from the seasoned Odal (Luning). Then this unseen threat snatches one of them, and they encounter even more nastiness when they pursue it into the woods. Feeling cursed, the group can't decide whether to hunt down or appease this beast.
Inventing a language for the subtitled dialog, the filmmakers include clever details. For example, these people have a prehistoric home movie, albeit a very short one. But it's livelier than the vague tales old Odal spins around the campfire. Meanwhile, instead of building tension, Cumming plays up the yuckiness, which the characters react to as if they're 21st century time travellers, complete with references to "demons". There are also continuous cheap jolts, sudden surges the percussive score and the usual jump scares.

Characters emerge with strong personalities, most notably Oakley-Green's rebellious Beyah, who never hesitates to do or say whatever comes to mind, She quickly becomes the movie's protagonist, the one smart enough to survive here. As Adem's brother Geirr, Young has terrific presence, a young man who doesn't want to be a leader and flinches from what needs to be done, unable to comprehend why Beyah isn't scared. His hesitant reactions are the heart of the film, and hold the audience's sympathies.

The shadowy stalker-like enemy is fearsome enough, lurking with menace in the mist and leading to a breathless shaky-cam reveal. Even if it's rather predictable, it's still enjoyably tense. But it feels like Raquel Welch's fur bikini in 1966's One Million Years BC is as authentic as anything on screen here. At least there's a vaguely nonsensical theme spoken early on: "The danger of bringing light is that you might find out what lives in the darkness".

cert 158 themes, language, violence 8.Feb.24

Silver Haze
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Silver Haze
dir-scr Sacha Polak
prd Marleen Slot
with Vicky Knight, Esme Creed-Miles, Charlotte Knight, Angela Bruce, Carrie Bunyan, Archie Brigden, Alfie Deegan, Brandon Bendell, Sarah-Jane Dent, Nicola Bland, TerriAnn Cousins, Billy Knight
release US Jun.23 tff,
UK 29.Mar.24
23/UK 1h42

london film fest

Is it streaming?

vicky and charlotte knight
Beautifully shot like an artful fly-on-the-wall doc and played with remarkable authenticity by a fresh cast, this film is watchable as an observant slice of life. Writer-director Sacha Polak captures the rhythms of British working class situations with plenty of energy, although the plot is so slim that this could have been an effective 20-minute short. There's also a problem with the naturalistic dialog, which is difficult to hear.
Franky (Vicky Knight) is a survivor, working as a nurse after recovering from severe burns in a pub fire that she blames on Jane (Dent). She lives with her mum Donna (Bunyan) and younger sister Leah (Charlotte Knight), and breaks up with her boyfriend (Deegan) out of boredom. Well, it's also because she is intrigued by former patient Florence (Creed-Miles), and as they start a relationship, Franky moves to the seaside to live with Florence, her guardian Alice (Bruce) and younger teen Jack (Brigden). But Florence's mercurial moods leave Franky wondering where home really is.
Meandering in circles, the narrative never finds either direction or momentum, as Franky's various relationships are continually rattled by harsh confrontations. Everyone in this film has a fiery temper, becoming instantly furious and lashing out at anyone nearby, often for good reason but sometimes inexplicably. So as everyone is simply trying to do their best and move forward with life, their own anger issues keep knocking them back. Yes, it's exhausting to watch all of this self-inflicted misery.

Knight has steely energy as Franky, an intelligent young woman who is so bitter that it's difficult to like her most of the time. Her gut-level responses are so unhelpful that it seems amazing that anyone sticks with her. And while Creed-Miles' Florence is initially much more relaxed and engaging, she also becomes unpredictably antagonistic as the film goes on. So does the younger Knight as Leah, who after assaulting her loutish boyfriend (Bendell) suddenly declares herself Muslim. Meanwhile, Bruce has the most likeable role as the understanding Alice, who is battling terminal cancer.

There are a lot of great ideas swirling around in here, but the script feels pushy in the way it shoves each character into so many harsh face-offs and personality shifts. And the relentlessly downbeat tone is not easy to take, largely because it feels heightened for dramatic effect. Still, the filmmaking is so kinetic that it's definitely worth a look. And it does end on a sudden moment of hopefulness that leaves us with a smile.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 11.Jan.24

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