My Son (2021): Crime/Drama/Mystery

After suspecting that his son has been kidnapped, a father does everything in his power to find him.

A parent’s worst fear depicted in a sorrowful, yet mysterious way. For starters, James McAvoy could not be a mediocre actor even if he tried his best. The guy is phenomenal! His acting is out of this world. Writer/director Christian Carion, who adapted his own homonymous film My Son (2017), applied the same technique he did back then: Everyone but McAvoy had received the script so his reactions to every stimulus of the story is genuine. On to that story, then…

The first act is about the missing boy, the parents’ tribulations, the mother’s new boyfriend, and their triangle. Somewhere there you get the odd questions from Inspector Roy that start complicating the issue further but the focus, rightfully, stays on the parents and the missing boy. Until then, the drama and the mystery are well-balanced and one can only feel for the both of them and hope for a happy ending. Imagine I hate happy endings and I most certainly wished for one.

The second act is taken over by mystery where McAvoy, like Liam Neeson without a plan, but hell-bent on finding his son, applies some basic investigating skills. The outcome of his actions is natural and believable as he has not previously displayed any similar skills whatsoever; just a dad willing to do anything to find his son. Eventually, it turns into a nail-biting thriller that in the end… confuses with the turn of events. There might not be a narrative twist, but there is an emotional one. Personally, I found myself wondering how the ending is befitting and even though I understood it to some degree, it evoked mixed feelings inside me. It seemed somewhat rushed and even though throughout act I and II bothered to explain what was going on – which you might find unnecessary – it abruptly ended giving away nothing. Again, I understand open endings, but I struggled, and still do, to find meaning in that one. But that is just me.

I hope you enjoy the thrill it has to offer and yet another stupendous performance from McAvoy. Quick note: I’ve praised Claire Foy in everything she has been in before, and her acting here is nothing but remarkable too. I just think that she deserved more screen time.

Stay safe!

Other People (2016): Comedy/Drama

An underachieving gay writer returns home after many years to support his terminally I’ll mom… and face the rest of the family.

The type of American cinema that knows what to cut out, when, and how to balance feelings. Succeeding in making a comedy/drama is as hard as making a comedy/horror. And Other People will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry. Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon make an excellent on-screen duet and writer/director Chris Kelly gives them the opportunity to shine and evoke all the intended emotions.

Tragicomedy describes all three acts with little things such as the milkshake order, which in its simplicity I found genuinely hilarious, or mum farting. The dialogues are authentic and the performances are immense. There is so much I could say to connect film theories on cinematic realism to the independent American cinema but I see no reason to do so. Therefore, I’ll keep this one shorter than usual and hope that you get the chance to watch it and laugh and cry and, respectively, recommend it to as many people as possible to share your experience. Because, as we tend to think, real-life events such as the ones unfolding in the film are situations experienced only by… other people.

Stay safe!

Upstate Story (2018): Drama

A peek at the week of a man who struggles to go through it.

Well-written story that deserves some budget to take off. Upstate Story is the case where the script is better than the film. Not because writer/director Shaun Rose doesn’t have the skills to pull it off, but strictly due to budgetary restraints that don’t allow him to develop it the way he envisioned it.

Upstate Story surfaces an enormous problem that many people fail to address and, consequently, deal with; the unfulfillment. The notion that we could have done so much more with our lives if were just given the chance. What makes it worse, is asking, to the point of begging, for this chance from people who have been given that chance and didn’t deserve it to begin with. And then time goes by and that chance seems further and further away, sucking, at first, our energy and then our lives like a black hole of despair. And while these nihilistic thoughts consume us like woodworms, during these darkest hours, Upstate Story‘s hidden positivity urges us to always hang onto whatever we consider a lighthouse in our lives, and be guided by it so we don’t crash on the rocks.

Ellis Martin is a real-life, relatable character that can be developed into a person that one day will find the purpose he so eagerly seeks and write a book called “Against All Odds” or “Finding the Strength”, but he can also become the person who grabs a gun and enters a mall. He represents a surprisingly huge portion of people out there who have unexplored skills that could make all the difference in the world. A person’s thoughts represent them and Ellis’ choice of words renders him the poster-child of the endless Freudian battle between id, ego, and superego.

Yes, few minutes from here and there could be shaved off in the cutting room and, yes, a lot more could have been done to make it visually more impressive, but that leads us back to the no-budget-indie-filmmaking issue. Just try to be in the hero’s shoes for an hour and, maybe, imagine that this minimalism expresses and represents countless people who struggle with a dead-end nine to survive job. If it were a small-budget film, it would have swept through the festivals and be an Oscar bait if Billy Bob Thornton was in it. Even so, it was selected as a semi-finalist at the Los Angeles Cinefest, and it’s a proud winner of the Feature Film Silver Award at CINEMAFEST 2018.

Stay safe!

Gaia (2021): Drama/Fantasy/Horror

Two forest rangers go deep into a jungle where nature is an ancient force to be reckoned with.

Visually stunning with a convoluted, yet powerful message. Great opening sequence that warns: If you were not born in this jungle… Do. Not. Enter. You would never guess! They did (face slap). Well, just think of it this way: if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have watched it, and I wouldn’t have reviewed it. So, does Gaia live up to its expectations?

From a filmmaking point of view, you get Dutch angles, 180 degree reverse angles, drone long shots, tracking shots… everything! While we are at it, Jorrie van der Walt’s photography is truly admirable. This will be probably the first time you watch a film with the aspect ratio changing four times throughout it to cover from the forest’s vastness to the heroes’ most claustrophobic feelings and deepest fears. Leon Visser edits the film with mastery, maintaining the continuity, battling confusion, and effectively building up the suspense. His work’s peak though is the hallucinatory montage sequences that create micro-narratives within the macro-narrative and makes us feel even more lost in a reality that has nothing to do with ours. Costume designer Mariechen Vosloo deserves also a round of applause as everything Barend, Stefan, and Gabi (later on), wear is handmade! Kudos to their amazing effort. Finally, Pierre-Henri Wicomb’s original music, the art department, the sound department, the visual department, the make-up department, and all cast crew deserve a tremendous recognition as, without their hard work, this film, like any other film, wouldn’t have been made.

Writer Tertius Kapp and director Jaco Bower have created a world in the heart of ours with plenty of visuals and strong opinions. Somewhere in between, Bower felt like constantly teasing us with Stefan and Gabi’s sexual tension and, for better or for worse, he left us hanging. Maybe, one of the reasons is the focus on the message. I am not going to go into it as you need to pay attention to Barend’s couple of monologues on civilisation. They are powerful as they are intriguing. Utterances like these, written in lockdown, leave quite a bitter taste because they carry dark and painful truths that came to the surface while feeling like living, as many people experienced it, in isolation. As per IMDb, the lockdown was announced a week into the shooting so most of the crew parted ways in different time, to different places. The film’s message expresses that loss we all felt – some more than others – and the aforementioned truths sting us, and the society we live in. There is a poignant accusation in the Biblical references and the way we have been functioning as humans individually but also collectively. There is a great resemblance to In the Earth (2021): https://kaygazpro.com/2021/06/18/in-the-earth-2021-horror-sci-fi-thriller/ and there is a lot to compare and contrast. I found Gaia‘s ending psychologically brutal, but depressingly befitting.

How this pandemic has affected our lives and consequently filmmaking has already started showing, but I have a feeling that its full force has yet to strike and therefore it’s still patiently building up. As much I adore dark, horror films, deep down, it aches when you know how many people have unfathomably suffered (especially) the last couple of years. The news on a daily basis broadcast from drama to horror and the child inside me wishes these genres belonged only to the cinema. I hope you are keeping well wherever you are, whatever you do.

Stay safe!

Pig (2021): Drama/Thriller

A truffle hunter who lives alone in the woods returns after many years to the city that once gave him a reputation after his pig gets kidnapped.

Pig is the kind of film that when you know nothing about it you get a surprising cinematic experience. Well, you get that with most Nicolas Cage films anyway, but the narrative looks like Pig was written for Cage, and that’s it. Therefore: unexpected narrative + Cage = double the surprise!

I’m just going to give you a one-line summary and keep it short in avoidance of spoiling the crucial parts. The once best and hard as nails chef in Portland, who also had an extraordinary reputation in underground restaurant fights (???) and once disappeared into the woods resurfaces himself, raising hell when his pig gets kidnapped. I mean… WTF?! How does one green-light such a concept? How does one even conceive it to begin with? It sounds to me like writer/director Michael Sarnoski, a David Lynch fan, liked John Wick (2014), smoked a couple, and then put it together. Remember, everything is happening because someone stole his pig. How does Lynch come into play? The two Cage monologues. The first one sounds completely irrelevant – or is it? As if Rob listened to a different story and recited something from a different movie. Check Amir’s reaction that reflects the audience’s. Which brings us to the second one… the second one is all about Chef Derek’s (David Knell) close-up reaction as the story evolves. His reaction is priceless. To me, that is Lynch through and through and Sarnoski brilliantly encapsulates it.

There is so much I could say about this film, but I won’t. I’ve already said enough and it will just ruin the experience. The principal photography lasted 20 days and all cast and crew should work like a Swiss watch as the budget was tiny. And after they actually did, about an hour was taken out in the cutting room for Neon thought it was too long.

Definitely worth the watch! Will you find meaning, eventually? Only if you put your phones down, turn the lights off, and understand why Rob’s journey takes place. A journey explicated though his stories and attitude towards people and circumstances. But also… what the pig means to him and why. I hope you enjoy it!

Stay safe!

In the Earth (2021): Horror/Sci-fi/Thriller

While a pandemic has swept across the world, a scientist and a park ranger venture out into the woods to find a fellow scientist who may have had a significant breakthrough.

Brutal, psychedelic, relatable, but overly intricate horror that defies Hollywood’s conventions. From the very beginning to the first plot point one gets the feeling that the editing choices – the jump cuts – are eager to move the story forward. Move it towards where, is a good question. In the meantime, Martin’s secrets and, somehow, obvious dishonesty seem to be preparing the ground for something that will play a role when the twist reveals itself.

Scenes like the “stitching” and the “ritual” turn the sci-fi from torture horror into something more… folklore! As the psychological drama keeps blending with the gore, the suspense intensifies and one can only wonder how can this possibly have a happy ending. Before you find out what kind of ending the film is gonna have, the experimental chase sequence reveals more information and, in an intricate way, the combination of utterances and actions up to that point start making sense. Due to the film’s nature, it is difficult to go into it further without spoiling for you, so this is where I am going to stop.

Ever since Kill List (2011), writer/editor/director Ben Wheatley has been one of my favourite filmmakers of his generation. Kill List was his first and massively successful effort to switch from a realistically gritty thriller to a cult horror that defies reason. In the Earth is not far off, but its experimental, hallucinatory and psychedelic nature, at times, gives a whole new different vibe. The film’s photography (Nick Gillespie) and 80s music score (Clint Mansell) become assets to a convoluted, and head-scratching narrative that ultimately confuses, but I’ll dare say that it does not disappoint. I’ve heard a truck load of awfully negative comments and I believe that this is the result of false expectations. Small things that influenced me a tad negatively are sequences that involve the aforementioned secrecy and dishonesty that didn’t really lead anywhere therefore, it was just misleading for no apparent reason. Other than that, Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Hayley Squires, and Reece Sharesmith have a great chemistry between them and deliver amazingly convincing performances.

What you’ll make of it, depends on your understanding of the narrative. Pay close attention to what is said in all three acts. Our current pandemic is obviously the film’s source of inspiration, but its development is a Ben Wheatley original film with twists and rich visuals.

Stay safe!

Time out of Mind (2014): Drama

A homeless man is going from shelter to shelter, trying to find a way to approach his estranged daughter.

In a depressing and honest way, it reveals an America that most people turn their blind eye to. One can easily extrapolate and claim that it reveals a world most people turn the blind eye to. Writer/Director Oren Moverman, the man behind The Messenger (2009), Rampart (2011), and The Dinner (2017) does an extensive research on homelessness in New York and brings to our attention an issue that we walk past daily no matter where we live. Richard Gere, a man who is in real life an advocate for the homeless, fully understands Moverman’s vision and commits 100% to the character, delivering a totally different than usual performance. Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski frames him through reflections, amongst bystanders, and from a distance (also careful when to go close), and shows without telling how George positions himself within society. Respectively, editor Alex Hall leaves those protracted zoom-in and zoom-out shots uncut, making the audience “look” for a significant amount of time what the bystanders don’t – parallelism with ourselves that have probably done the same in real life. Excellent example of mise-en-scène and how it creates meaning.

The off-screen space though also speaks volumes. Very interestingly, most of the times, you are listening to dialogues that come from an unspecified location. With a decent surround one can tell if it’s from behind, left, or right but it is of no importance. What matters is that it is happening, George listens to it as we do, but as he pays no attention to who says what, it stays out of the frame. A personal interpretation is that all this diegetic sound is pointing at how loud and verbose the big city is and how little it matters to someone who doesn’t know if or where is going to find his next meal and bed.

I highly recommend this film, but a warning needs to be issued. The film feels like one act. Something that someone should have probably notice in postproduction and shave off about half an hour. Time out of Mind feels endless as, unfortunately, nothing is happening. Ben Vereen and Jena Malone support him to their best abilities but their role is limited. Once again, unfortunately, what at first seems to be an extensive character development, stagnates the story development, and can lose the audience’s attention with its inactivity.

Stay safe!

Until the Edge of the World (2019): Drama

Not understanding why her father lies unconscious in a hospital, a little girl’s vivid imagination places him on a journey to the moon.

Daniel Bertram’s writing (but also directing), Serhii Reznik’s and Billy Ray Schlag’s ambient music, Alicia Valencia Pollex’s acting, and Knut Adass’ dark cinematography promise, right off the bat, a tear-jerker; a drama that cannot end up well.

The restricted narrative though adds a mystery to it. The audience knows as much as Flo does, or as much as she understands, if you may. It approaches the tragedy from everyone’s perspective; Flo’s, the mother’s, but also the father’s and the restricted narrative affects them too, as no one knows each other’s thoughts or true feelings. In the case of Flo and her mother, they are even unable to understand each other. Interestingly, only the audience is able to experience the father’s inner world, turning us to omniscient viewers.

It definitely follows an unconventional way to tell the story but don’t cast any stones, yet. How do you experience tragedy? And how would you prepare a little kid for it? At the end of the day, is anyone really ever prepared? From an artistic point of view, scenes such as: the non-boiling milk, the rain during a starry night, the reflections, the mixture of colours turning into clouds, and the animated painting, spark our imagination, significantly reducing the situation’s cynical or orthological approach. For example, I’ve never thought of the moon, the Earth’s satellite, in such a poetic or existential way.

I very much recommend it to whoever is looking for a non-traditional / unconventional storytelling. Until the Edge of the World is quite depressing though and may not suit people who struggle in these difficult times.

Stay safe!

Kajillionaire (2020): Crime / Drama

Petty crime runs in the family so, when an attractive outsider joins them, everything goes.

Can something be funny and depressing at the same time? I was about to say other than Kajillionaire which is funny and depressing at the same time but it is not really funny. Or, is it? I am not entirely convinced how or if it was meant to be funny but I didn’t get it. In a way, and don’t quote me on that, it felt like it was borderline mocking mental illness. And whatever that was, the whole family had it!

Once that was established, it just dragged. I think in an attempt to switch genre? Or, maybe, in an attempt for the audience to experience Old Dolio having a change of heart? Whatever the reason might be, Kajillionaire fails to find meaning but, ultimately, piles up all the eccentricity it can get. For a crime/drama – as per IMDb anyway – the plot is less believable than Independence Day (1996). Other than the family’s mental state, there is no chance on Earth a girl like Melanie leaves the plane with such people and go along with their plans. Yes, she seemed like having a dead-end job, no friends or girlfriend, but, personally, I don’t know anyone who would leave that plane with them. But then, nothing really makes sense in the film so, I think that trying to rationalise surrealistic characters and situations is the wrong approach. Which begs the question, what is the right one?

Writer/Director Miranda July is a magnificent indie filmmaker but I cannot (also) understand how she approached so many producers, among others Brad Pitt, and A-List actors such as Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachael Wood, and Gina Rodriguez and got them onboard. What was the selling point? For the actors, I guess, is to try something different that not too many people will watch and be as awkward as they want. For the producers? They know they will lose whatever penny they put in and they still do it. And the recognition is next to nothing.

Maybe it’s just me not getting it and you find it far better than I think it is. I didn’t know how to feel throughout the whole film even though all I wanted was for Old Dolio and Melanie to find the love they deserved. And that is, at least, the film’s payoff.

Stay safe!

1BR (2019): Drama / Horror/ Thriller

A young woman, new to Los Angeles, ends up renting a place in a block of flats where the neighbours are not what they seem.

Not knowing anyone from the cast or crew or anything about the film itself, I gave it a shot just for that. I love indies, especially when I know nothing about them and feels like I should have. 1BR was meant to be one of them…

What starts as too coincidental, convenient, and questionable, such as the single, good looking, and kind neighbour, is followed by an interesting first plot point and a second act that promises something extremely sinister. That promise will get your undivided attention… but will almost instantly let you down as it doesn’t live up to it. Here’s the tricky part, though. If you wanted, that promise to be kept, it means that, one way or another, you are into some torture porn or similar so, this film is not for you. If, on the other hand, you were glad that that promise was not kept, it means that even the idea of the concept appalls you so, this film is not for you either. So, who is this film for then? Maybe, you can find a third category.

From where I stand, no half measure ever brought any decent results hence, no one likes them. You either go for it or you don’t. Any reservations on the script will be enormously amplified on the screen. To put it plainly, 1BR is not daring. It teases you with something that, eventually, does not offer. Nicole Brydon Bloom’s acting is more than decent but David Marmor’s script and directing fall into the half measure category. Two, respectively, “full measure” films that didn’t hold back were: The Invitation (2015) – review to follow, and Martyrs (2008): https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/11/24/martyrs-2008-horror/. While it could have been The Invitation meets Martyrs, it isn’t. Too many variables should have been different for that to happen.

We can’t really have it both ways in life, and the same applies to films. What also applies to both is that we are free to choose but not free of the consequences.

Stay safe!

Welcome the Stranger (2018): Drama / Mystery

The unexpected arrival of a young man’s sister in his mansion will make both siblings express feelings they have been suppressing for years.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people mistakenly calling experimental films or films with nontraditional narrative “artistic” as if traditional, formulaic narrative, namely Hollywood’s, isn’t. Narrative is narrative regardless of what you think of it or call it. Either way, it can be both effective and ineffective. And what might be ineffective for you can be really effective for someone else. Objectivity finds no application in art.

Welcome the Stranger follows, definitely, a nontraditional narrative where nothing is directly explicated (spoon-fed) but rather subliminally implied. In such storytelling, the director, who most of the times also happens to be the writer, is meant to explain their vision to the actors/actresses who, in their turn, are meant to transgress that vision and be part of something that will be, ultimately, interpreted in numerous ways. For example, see what happens at 00:31:50. Is there an explanation given? Is there an explanation needed?

Producer/writer/director Justin Kelly has created a performance-driven mystery/drama where the drama is caused by an unknown or unimportant to the viewer source hence, the mystery and the lack of our understanding regarding their paranoid acting. Abbey Lee, Caleb Landry Jones, and (also producer) Riley Keough play their parts extremely well, giving justice to Kelly’s vision and offering uneasy entertainment for the audience.

Trivial over-dramatization, unnoticed importance, involuntary(?) incestuous attraction, reality’s disillusionment, and oneiric time/space convolution are nothing but a few elements that, combined, they pay tribute to David Lynch’s legacy in the 21st century, and synthesise a nano fragment of our minds’ filmic projection.

Stay safe!

P.S. Abbey Lee and Riley Keough appeared in Mad Max: Road Fury (2015), and Caleb Landry Jones and Abbey Lee appeared the same year in To the Night (2018).

The Cured (2017): Drama / Horror / Sci-Fi

The once-infected world by a disease that was turning people into zombies has now been cured, but those who had turned face now society’s discrimination and wrath for all the things they did.

Reinstatement, remorse, forgiveness, redemption, tolerance, stigmatisation, and family are the exceptional qualities that separate The Cured from the mainstream Hollywood post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak calamity.

I have to thank my mate Gary for reminding me of this one, commenting on #Alive (2020) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/12/12/alive-2020-action-drama-horror/. Acting as a social commentary and fragile post-postapocaliptic metaphor for the real world we currently live in, without getting into historical or sociological analyses, The Cured is indirectly associated with the Irish modern history but also the whole world’s rehabilitation system and the stigma one carries trying to reinstate.

Writer/director David Freyne has done a brilliant job behind the camera, and Sam Keeley gives the justice broken Senan deserves. Actor/producer Elliot Page has always been amazing in everything he’s been in and his acting is a force to be reckoned with.

The (North and South) Irish film school of horror is making huge steps over the last few years, rightfully earning its stripes in the industry. If you are not familiar with Sea Fever (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/04/19/sea-fever-2019-horror-sci-fi/ and A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019) https://kgpfilmreviews.com/2020/09/24/a-good-woman-is-hard-to-find-2019-crime-drama-thriller/ make sure you spend some time to get around them.

The film’s title would have worked equally well as The Cur(s)ed.

Stay safe!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012): Drama / Romance

A lonely freshman befriends two seniors and gets to experience life for what it really is.

The epitome of modern American indie cinema! Watching it again eight years later, I realised the film hasn’t aged a day. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller make an incredible acting trio and their chemistry lies in the details. Just pay attention to the simplistic beauty when a “baked” Charlie unintentionally tells Sam about his best friend or when Patrick dances on Charlie’s lap during The Rocky Horror Picture Show scene. Even though not saying or doing much, Paul Rudd is inspiring and great addition to the cast.

Author of the book, screenwriter, and director Stephen Chbosky shocks his audience with his character-driven achievement. Each sequence amalgamates with the next and all of them masterfully compose an introvert teenager’s stepping into a life he once only dreamed of. If you’ve watched it, did you even notice that they have no cell phones or that they are not talking about social media? Did you wonder what the date is? Since the first time I watched it, I have learned how to “read” films in a more concise manner. Pay attention to the editing, for example. How much does it give away throughout the film about the ending? In the end, how much do you get to see and how much is left to your imagination during the shockingly culminating scene?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower could have been an entirely different film in the hands of the late John Hughes but, as it stands, it is a must-watch and a reminder that some times, less is more. Its powerful narrative does not try impress anyone. It just captivates everyone.

Stay safe!

P.S. Charlie is an older freshman. I totally missed it the first time as I haven’t read the book but pay attention to the cake’s candles and liaise it later on to the conversation he is having with his brother.

P.P.S My beloved Ioanna, you know this one goes out to you 🙂

Goddess of Love (2015): Drama / Horror / Mystery

Having found out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, a drug addict and mentally unstable woman starts losing sense of reality.

I find it intriguing when people ask me about films I am not aware of and then I wonder, “why don’t I know it”? Well, I don’t want to brag too much but, most of the times, there is a good goddamn reason. Of course, then, I have found myself being oblivious to films I should have known hence, I watch more or less, many of the films people suggest I should “definitely” watch.

Goddess of Love is a pseudo neo-noir that I should not definitely watch. Playing around with words, I could have said that it’s a film that I should definitely not watch. But I’m not gonna put it that way. I just found it awkward, meaningless, and boring. Admittedly, I don’t know anyone from the cast or crew so, I can’t comment on their past work. What I do know though for sure is that if I had a girlfriend like Alexis Kendra, I wouldn’t cheat on her (even with Elizabeth Sandy).

In all fairness, I have never cheated and if haven’t done it so far, I will most definitely not do it in the future. The film touches on infidelity, abandonment, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and eroticism but doesn’t explore any of it, approaching seriously epidemically the human relationships, making every character unlikable, unrelatable, indifferent, pitiful, and I’ll dare to say hateable. Even Venus – not the cat, luv…

I know, there is a twist. But by that point, for the viewer, it is a bit too late. Just to finish on a positive note, Kendra and Sandy are playing their parts quite well.

A Ghost Story (2017): Drama / Fantasy / Romance

A white-sheeted, nostalgic ghost, permanently resides in its home and everything that, in the passage of time, becomes after that.

A friend of mine called me, laughing at IMDb’s reviews on this one. So, even though I don’t really look at reviews before I watch a film, I only read the titles. I’ve seen cases before where reviews are either 1 or 10 and nothing in between, and since the titles were entertaining, I decided to give it a shot.

Let me be clear from the beginning. A Ghost Story is not for everyone! What we are dealing with here is an interesting yet peculiar storytelling with protracted steady medium and long shots that initially make little sense. The narrative unfolds though and life, linearly or not, moves on with just a few edits. Be patient with these shots and think that your life does’t have cuts either. It would also help if you perceived the narration as omniscient – being everywhere simultaneously. During this journey, I couldn’t help but feel the ghost’s loneliness and entrapment. The ability to manoeuvre in time and the inability to do nothing about it. Imagine yourself seeing the world spinning, confined by your questionable existence. An existence that is unknown to everybody as much as it is to you. But still you wait for someone to finally acknowledge this questionable existence you have become. Admittedly, after the ghost’s free fall, the convolution becomes also questionable. But please remember what I said earlier about the non-linear.

Have you ever wondered what the origins of déjà vu are? Cinema is a form of expression. That’s why it’s art. The aforementioned protracted shots make sense somewhere halfway through the film while understanding the narrative and David Lowery’s subjective perception of time and space. Let the mise-en-scène inaudibly “speak” when the silence is deafening. You may be wondering where is she? Has she become a ghost too? Has she gone to a final destination? Is there a final destination? But then think of something that you can, potentially, answer. Who is waiting for you?

Stay safe!

P.S. A few days after I watched it, it came to light that one of the producers was accused of raping one of the film’s young girls. Hollywood’s depravity spreads like pestilence!

Primer (2004): Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller

Four friends, in an attempt to be innovative, invent something beyond their wildest dreams.

I remember watching Primer coming out of the army. As much as I was into films, I couldn’t “read” them the way I do now and, of course, the physics behind it meant nothing to me then and, respectively, without asking much, I accept it now. Consequently, I cannot comment on it, but I can speak of the filmmaking itself.

The voice over indicates that what we are watching has already happened and, for some reason, their story is worth telling, even though the first act indicates the opposite. So far, it looks like a mockumentary on a bunch of guys who are working on something that even they don’t know what it is. Much less the viewer.

Half an hour into it, the first plot point comes in strong. Both the main characters but also the viewer are now aware that they have invented a time machine. Narrative-wise, I will not reveal anything else. What has already been established is that composer / actor / sound designer / editor / producer / writer / director Shane Carruth, since the opening sequence, has remained meticulous with his writing on both character and story development. By the way, I have never seen anyone taking on so many different roles. Anyway…

What would you do if you knew you could travel in time? What would your thoughts be? What would you be afraid of? What would your reservations be? How far back would you go? Would you acknowledge causality’s dangers? Carruth does an amazing job perplexing even further his low budget’s sci-fi narrative and, at the same time, he maintains the dialogue more realistic than any of could develop it.

I do not understand certain people’s choices. Why isn’t Carruth a household name? Why show so much talent and then let go? Just do another film ten years later and that’s it? I know he struggled but the guy managed to make Primer with… $7,000. This is the most impressive and tiniest nano-budget mind-bending feature ever existed.

Ultimately, I am convinced that the film itself is greater achievement than its invention.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020): Comedy / Horror / Thriller

Brutally savaged bodies pile up in a small mountain town during full moon and an alcoholic sheriff must solve the crimes, keep the town in order, and his estranged daughter safe.

Comedy/horror… How does one put the two opposites successfully together? I don’t know if there is a universal answer but, in this instance, it’s how actor/writer/director Jim Cummings puts them together. The comedic acting contrasts the dark and haunting photography and the soundtrack either adapts to the tone or interestingly causes antithesis. My round of applause though goes to the editing team not for the impressive flash forwards during the killings but for balancing Cummings’ vision on how to find humour in dramatic but also horrific situations.

I’ll deliberately keep this one shorter than usual. Turn the lights off and give it a go. Films such as The Wolf of Snow Hollow can be the escape we need against the depressing and abhorrent reality we currently live in even though we have to return to it eventually.

Last but definitely not least, rest in peace Robert Forster. You will always be remembered.

12 Hour Shift (2020): Comedy / Horror / Thriller

In a local hospital, a drug-addict nurse and her small organ trafficking business “partners” find themselves in dire straights when a transaction goes awry.

Should ever anything happen to you and you end up in the hospital, that is the nurse you need… NOT! And that applies to the rest of the staff, police, family, patients, villains, and every other caricature that decides to appear on screen and lower the IQ to the extreme. But don’t cast any stones yet…

Writer/director Brea Grant spent every penny she had in her pocket, and it wasn’t that many, very wisely. She knew exactly the kind of film she wanted to make and she did. 12 Hour Shift is (almost) as funny as it intended to be, maintaining the horror level to the point that it doesn’t overshadow the main genre – comedy. The editing is the first indicator of this, effectively controlling the pace and rhythm, and keeping the story’s development very tight. Angela Bettis, David Arquette (also the main producer), Chloe Farnworth (who you wouldn’t believe she’s British), Nikea Gamby-Turner, but also the rest of the cast, are meant to be funny and they most certainly are. Amazing chemistry between the actors that will make you, at times, laugh out loud.

Now… I will say that producer/cinematographer/composer Matt Glass knew what he was doing while composing the film’s score. I can see how the soundtrack could potentially come across as annoying, accompanying every sequence of the film but it is there to serve a purpose. And that is none other than to exaggerate on something that it is far-fetched already. The story’s level of implausibility is sky-high, the plotholes are lurking in every corner, and the acting is over the top… DELIBERATELY!

I really do recommend you to watch it. We live in abhorrent times where death is first news. 12 Hour Shift is a horror that will make you laugh, and certainly, for just less than an hour and a half, will make you forget about what’s happening out there. Grant’s intentions are noble and I for one admire her for making such a film.

Stay safe!

Open 24 Hours (2018): Horror

Having just been released from prison for setting her deranged boyfriend on fire, a young woman gets a night job at a petrol station, where her past catches up with her.

Promising opening shots that become too explanatory, too soon. The type of shots that fully increase the plot’s predictability. Keep watching and you’ll see that they also become repetitive too so, even if you spot a good one, chances are that you’ll watch it again (and again) minutes later and it will lose its authenticity. Do not be alarmed though because as you’ll keep watching, you’ll realise that the film is inundated with clichés that are the outcome of the aforementioned shots. Unfortunately, it all starts with the script which just borrowed parts from loving horrors of the 80s and 90s and stitched them, unnecessarily, together. I have the utmost respect for indie films as they do their absolute best for the tiny money they have managed to procure. And here, the film’s budget is not the issue.

The issue is that writer/director Padraig Raynolds decided not to leave a trademark on his film. Other than the above mentioned copies and pastes, the composer shouldn’t have tried to copy Psycho‘s (1960) staccato and the Raynolds shouldn’t have used music throughout the whole film. The power of the diegetic sound is immense, especially in narration, and it should have been used a lot more. Unfortunately, Raynolds raised the implausibility levels sky-high.

Full disclosure: I found Vanessa Grasse, who I first noticed in Leatherface (2017), very attractive so I’m a bit biased. I believe she has a lot to learn about acting and with the right guidance she’ll do really great. I for one, look forward to seeing her in more projects and I hope her natural beauty doesn’t get in the way of her promising career.

To cut the long story short, the story is original but its development screams all the cliches Scream (1996) is on about. Only “virgin horror eyes” will fall for these jump-scares and not even them won’t bother asking (more than they can count), “how the f@!$ did that happen?!” On the flipside, me counting the innumerable gimmicks, momentarily, forgot all about real life’s miseries so what the hell…

Stay safe!

Alone (2020): Thriller

A woman who has suffered a personal tragedy decides to leave everything and everyone behind but a man with sinister intentions will turn her life into a living nightmare.

My stomach was tight and I could hear my heartbeat throughout all three acts and every chapter. If that film title referred to a drama, I would be depressed in advance just by speculating what it is about. In a thriller though, that I admittedly knew nothing about, I had no idea what to expect. It was tempting to cheat and read the logline but I didn’t.

The nonverbal opening sequence speaks volumes; when there’s nothing to say, say nothing. The sequence with the heroine trying to overtake the SUV is defining as it is the inciting incident that marks the way director John Hyams builds up suspense. From then on, it is like a heart attack waiting to happen. The moment Marc Menchaca knocks Jules Willcox’s window, you know that everything is gonna go tits up. I will not give you any spoilers but pay attention to the protracted shot at the pit stop, the close-up in the basement, and Menchaca’s monologue. These are but a few examples of sequences that indicate high quality level of pre-production, and meticulous execution during the production, and consequently, the post-production stage. Needless to say, excellent chemistry between Menchaca and Willcox.

Mattias Olsson, who wrote the original Swedish film Gone (2011), pens the script for the adaptation too, giving it the justice it deserves for the American audience. Well done to all cast and crew who seem to have worked under quite unfavourable weather conditions. My round of applause will go to the department of sound this time for their thorough work on the diegetic sounds. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears wide open for the last Oskar-level shot.

Alone is a spine-chilling thriller about loss and acceptance, and how catharsis can come as wolf in a sheep’s clothing. My challenge for you is to try and find what the villain wants… but also what the villain needs…

Stay safe!

A Good Woman is Hard to Find (2019): Crime / Drama / Thriller

Having recently lost her husband, a young mother is trying to protect her children from poverty and her little town’s underworld.

Goddamn poverty! Goddamn misery! Goddamn drugs! Regardless which triggers which and in what order, the defining opening shot somehow is immediately understood by the shots that follow it. Or is it?

Writer/director of Road Games (2015), Abner Pastoll, directs a gritty Irish thriller with a realistic plague, a surrealist villain, and a down to Earth heroine that has to put up with both while protecting her children. And what a heroine’s journey that is…

Pastoll creates a dark for the audience yet healthy for the actors environment to showcase their chemistry and shine in front of the camera. Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, and Andrew Simpson lead the way but the rest of the cast follows and supports them as they should to create this thrilling crime/drama. Much respect for the whole crew that managed to bring this low budget, indie film to life.

Now… I cannot not comment on the dildo… probably the weirdest use(s) I’ve seen outside comedy. One is, unintentionally funny. Or dramatically funny – is there such a thing? Stealing your kids’ batteries from their toys to put them in your vibrator because you are a recently widowed young mum with urges isn’t funny… just funnily portrayed. Come on, I mean, I am sure they knew the mixed reactions the scene would stimulate. On the other hand, stabbing someone’s eye with the same vibrator you satisfy yourself to save yourself from rape is nothing but ironic (but relieving nonetheless).

Despite your feelings towards it, at least, you’ll witness a security system that uses VHS, and you’ll learn what a metaphor is…

Stay safe!

The Deeper You Dig (2019): Drama / Horror

A terrible accident haunts the man who caused it and blurs the line between the living and the dead.

This is why I love indie films. No major studio busting the cast’s and crew’s balls… only the director’s creative decisions… narrative that doesn’t have to abide by conventional rules… You know what I mean? If not, watch The Deeper You Dig and you’ll find out.

The tight script, shot and edited in an experimental American style, will get your attention from the opening shot. The music and the sound department get credits aplenty for truly understanding the writers’ and directors’ vision and creating an eerie and at the same time awkward atmosphere. For that awkwardness though and the weird dissonance there are two more people responsible: the two leading actors, John Adams and Toby Poser, who guess what? They are also the writers, directors but also the producers, editors, and composers. To top it up, they are also husband and wife in real life, and the daughter in the film, Zelda Adams, is their actual daughter as well. A family affair indeed. You wouldn’t believe how their production company is called… Adams Family!

Kudos to all three of them, they’ve done a brilliant job in every department. I wouldn’t call it a horror but definitely an interesting thriller. I will admit that past the… deep supernatural information (no spoilers), the convolution got me to scratch my beard more than once and the ending is nothing like I expected. This merely means that it’s a good or a bad thing but that’s how the creators envisaged it, that’s how they executed it, and I take it as it comes. Extra kudos to the photography and editing. That means, the quirks with the foibles. I hope you do the same.

Stay safe!

Silence (2017): Short / Drama

Silence

The impending apocalypse finds a mother and her autistic daughter spending their last moments together.

Silence is one of these short films that you watch and the first question that comes to your mind is: “What is happening?”. Upon establishing that, the question that follows is: “Why is this happening?” The answer to that lies in the hands of the filmmakers and their effort to get the funding they need to turn it into a feature. Official selection at the Los Angeles Film Festival, so I keep my fingers crossed to be seen by the right people who can add a solid setup and confrontation. Something along the lines of Knowing (2009)?

While discontinuous editing has proved to be innovative and effective in the past – see Breathless (1960) – in Silence this is not the case. I believe though that the strong message, the impressive photography (observe the changes as the doom is nearing), and the great performances by both Louise Rhian Poole and Riann Mutlow will win the impressions and writer Rachael Howard, director Lee Burgess, and producer John Ninnis will come out of the festival with a signed deal that will answer the “why”. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16Gwlb2-gw0

Stay safe!

Mohamed (2001): Short / Drama

Mohamed

In an attempt to save his life, a man enters an apartment building only to realise that his problems will only get worse.

First critical success for the – back then – young student, and writer/director Sergi Rubió who, despite the film’s little flaws, manages to clearly convey his message. It could be an excellent third act about a young man who has struggled his whole life because… he just looks different than the majority of the people around him. About a man who has so much love to give and no one to give it to. Unfortunately, there is so much hatred to get and everyone to get it from. You can watch it here: https://www.reelhouse.org/tropicanofilms/mohamed/4743014

Because some look like you or sound like you or have the same religion as you, it doesn’t mean that everyone else will or has to. No one can claim this world. We might be part of it, but it’s not ours. All of us can equally be a scourge on this planet or a blessing. Choose the latter. Mohamed did.

Stay safe!

Krisha (2015): Drama

Krisha

Having seen her family in years, Krisha returns for Thanksgiving to a seemingly idyllic reunion that couldn’t be more fragile.

Krisha is perception through the legacy of the lens that Hitchcock left behind. Directing, editing, acting, music, and sound mixing split the screen in half and let you into Krisha’s internal world. You will omnisciently follow her into the house, “hack” her cerebral cortex and see and listen through her what lies beneath the surface. Feature debut for actor, writer, editor, and director Trey Edward Shults who successfully pitched his concept to Kickstarter and adapted his own homonymous short Krisha (2014). Ever since the wheels have been set in motion and It Comes at Night (2017) – https://atomic-temporary-153424946.wpcomstaging.com/2019/02/02/it-comes-at-night-2017-horror-mystery – and Waves (2019) (review to follow) have become exceptional additions to the American independent cinema.

In the first act, from the opening shot (be it past or future) the tone is set. The protracted shots and the sound mixing add extra depth to the already relatable story and characters. The second act’s gradual escalation will patiently prepare the ground for what’s coming, and that is none other than an Aronofsky-esque confrontation and act three’s denouement. Watch it and make up your own mind as to what eventually happened. You can’t choose your family, they say…

Fun fact: In both the short and feature version of Krisha, Shults gathered his family members (and a couple of actors) and shot the films in his mother’s house. Yes, most of the people you see on screen are actually related.

Stay safe!

Hush (2016): Horror / Thriller

Hush.jpg

Real-life couple writer/editor/director Mike Flanagan and writer/actress Kate Siegel, beautifully collaborate for a second time making “Hush”. An indie, low budget, home invasion, one location horror with a simple premise that cuts to the chase: A deaf woman needs to survive a masked intruder’s invasion.

“Hush” stands tall amongst giants of the genre such as “The Strangers”, “The Last House on the Left”, “When A Stranger Calls” and more. Flawed, yet effective, proves undoubtedly that jump scares and unnecessary screaming are not horror’s obligatory elements for success. With Flanagan’s enthralling perspective and Siegel’s and Gallagher Jr.’s extremely engaging performances, a well-paced, thrilling hour and twenty minutes will fly-by.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2rAkqYo

Wind River (2017): Crime / Drama / Mystery

Wind River.jpg

Underrated “Sons of Anarchy” actor Taylor Sheridan became the writer-director of “Wind River”, an American modern, indie masterpiece.

From the sheer will for survival to the against-all-odds rediscovery of the heroes’ inner, rigid strength, to the subject matter’s tragic truth, “Wind River” gives prominence to the animals’ humanity and the humans’ animality.

I salute all actors who poured their souls into their roles, and Taylor Sheridan who, receiving a lengthy 8′ standing ovation at the Cannes, he deservedly won the Un Certain Regard – Best Director.

You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2StsVQ0