Released: 6th April 2018
Directors: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman
Starring: Andy Nyman, Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther, Daniel Hill, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Nicholas Burns, Jill Halfpenny, Emily Carding, Derren Brown
Reviewed by Ren Zelen
It’s a while since we’ve seen a cinematic anthology of horror tales, but Ghost Stories revives that tradition with a trio of supernatural stories in the style of English portmanteau movies of the 1960s and the Ealing classic Dead of Night.
The film’s writer-directors Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson have adapted Ghost Stories from their successful stage show. (Nyman is an actor, writer and magician who has devised productions for Derren Brown; Jeremy Dyson is actor, writer and co-creator of The League of Gentlemen). Their film offers a tribute to an array of old-school horror tropes.
In the encompassing story, Nyman plays Professor Philip Goodman, an atheist, rationalist lecturer and TV celebrity who exposes paranormal hoaxes and frauds. Goodman’s mistrust of the ‘spiritual’ derives from an unhappy childhood with a fanatically religious father – uncompromising, strict, and unforgiving of any unorthodox behaviour from Philip and his older sister.
Philip himself grew up hero-worshipping a 1970s TV personality, Charles Cameron, who was likewise a debunker of the ‘paranormal’, but who disappeared at the height of his fame and was assumed to be dead.
Philip is astonished when, out of the blue, he receives a communication from his supposedly dead hero, which informs him that his disappearance was simply the result of a personal crisis. They arrange a meeting in the dilapidated caravan in which the man now lives.
Rather than congratulating Philip on continuing his work, Cameron insists that he reopen the file on three of his cases that would not submit to rational explanation. Philip grudgingly agrees to investigate and uncover the prosaic truth.
In the first case, Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a sour night-watchman with a tragic family history, is plagued by terrifying visions while guarding a deserted and semi-derelict building once used as an asylum.
Philip arranges to interview him in a gloomy and deserted pub. Tony is prickly, defensive and often on the verge of hostility. He sees Philip as a presumptuous academic who wants to dredge up distressing aspects of the past for a sensationalist TV show.
In the second story, Simon Rifkind (an impressive turn from the talented young Alex Lawther) is a jittery young student with a dysfunctional home-life. Whilst illegally driving home one night on a foggy, woodland road, he is involved in a surreal, nightmarish hit-and-run accident.
Since then he seems to be living in self-inflicted imprisonment in a state of near-nervous breakdown, in a house full of unsettling phenomena. When asked in, Philip gets a glimpse of the back of Simon’s parents, standing stiffly inert at the kitchen sink, in front of a uselessly running tap. When upstairs in the boy’s bedroom, someone raps loudly on the door, Simon answers, yet adamantly maintains they are alone in the house.
The third story concerns a wealthy ex-banker called Mike Priddle (Martin Freeman), whose ultra-modern house on his country estate is bedevilled by a poltergeist, just as his heavily pregnant wife enters the final stage of a difficult labour and traumatically gives birth.
Freeman’s Mike is a stereotypical rich, city-boy snob, whose casual anti-Semitism leads Philip to flashback to his schooldays, reviving the memory of a harrowing event which he has tried hard to forget.
Philip himself begins to fear that perhaps all these ‘ghost’ stories have a collective significance pertaining to him personally. Writers Nyman and Dyson imbue the whole with cumulative clues that eventually reveal the protagonists as unreliable narrators. The final explanatory mind-bending trip is somewhat absurd – a familiar narrative trick – but still manages to be unsettling.
Shot mostly in Yorkshire, Ghost Stories offers a form of modern Gothic – taking place in derelict warehouse basements, grimy, nicotine-stained pubs and grim, deserted winter caravan parks. Everything seems overcast, dilapidated, vacant and off-kilter, making the shocks all the more startling.
Nyman and Dyson adapted Ghost Stories for the screen and apparently added subplots and layers, but made little effort to be innovative (there is not a single proper female speaking role in the film – the ‘female’ is almost entirely a source of terror), so the film would appear to be more of a tribute to film and TV shows of past times, rather than intending to break new ground.
Old-school frights and jump scares may have been more startling as cleverly-managed stage illusions in a live-theatre setting, but on the big screen they tend to lose much of their shock value. Nevertheless, the denouement offers a decent twist.
Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2017 All rights reserved.
Released: 21st September 2018 (UK)
Directed By: Gaspar Noé
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull and Giselle Palmer
Reviewed By: Dion Wyn
Birth and death are extraordinary experiences. Life is a fleeting pleasure.
Master provocateur Gaspar Noé has been warping our fragile little minds for over 20 years. After the vast disappointment of Love 3D in 2015, he finally returned to Cannes this year. Where he won best picture at Director’s Fortnight; with his latest feature Climax. The win truly has reinvigorated interest and buzz of Noe’s work. The big question is does it actually live to the hype? Climax is set in the mid 1990’s, 20 French urban dancers join together for a three-day rehearsal in a closed-down boarding school located at the heart of a forest to share one last dance. They then make one last party around a large sangria bowl. Quickly, the atmosphere becomes charged and a strange madness will seize them the whole night. If it seems obvious to them that they have been drugged, they neither know by who nor why. And it’s soon impossible for them to resist to their neuroses and psychoses, numbed by the hypnotic and the increasing electric rhythm of the music. While some feel in paradise, most of them plunge into hell.
Climax grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Gaspar Noé’s fine form has returned with his sangria-soaked neon nightmare. Climax opens very subtly with interviews from the dance troop. We get a candid view into their lives and what drives their passion for dance. Noé shows the naivety of his cast before we enter the pressure cooker of the dance hall. Once the usual closing credits happen at the beginning, the true story starts to unfold. The opening dance sequence is electrifying and full of raw kinetic energy. You have succumbed to the euphoria of Noé, the camera becomes another dancer in the troop. We are witnessing the synchronicity and passion for the art of dance. You suffer from a slight come-down after the initial performance, but the depravity and relaxed inhibitions of the dancers start to flow out. There is no real script to Climax it is largely improvised, we delve into the sexual depravity of the dancers. These conversations are not for the faint of heart. You start to see where Noé is going with Climax or do we?
Once the LSD soaked sangria kicks in Noé begins his wizardry behind the lens. Distortion and blurriness are subtly put into frame. You can feel the sweat pouring through the walls. The music intensifies and the dance becomes a lot more aggressive. We have now entered the hellish nightmare we were expecting from the get go. It isn’t the drug trip we witnessed in Enter The Void either. Once the LSD has kicked in, you only see the reactions to their hallucinations. Gaspar Noé challenges you to think what is actually going on? The usual camera trickery now ensues, a classic Noé move. The journey warps your senses and you don’t always know what is going on. The crucial element in sustaining the tension is the killer soundtrack. It really is the beating heart of Climax (Vinyl has been pre-ordered all ready). After the explosion of this pressure cooker of a situation, the story goes no holds barred with scenarios of extreme violence, incest and self harm. Noé doesn’t create an in your face scenario in this instants, it is rather out of character for him.
Sofia Boutella has shed away the action star. Her raw and untameable energy is addictive. She flows so powerfully through Climax and you can feel her passion for dance. The casting of the dancers is a master stroke. They all bring a different element to the piece and the diversity of characters gives it great balance. Our inner darkest ideas and nightmares flow through Climax like a virus. You are tested from the get go and Climax is a true cinematic challenge. It is a true testament of youth and the ever flowing challenge of perfecting your artistry. Gaspar Noé’s Climax is electrifyingly abstract and a true champion of 2018.
The Little Stranger ★★★★
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to.
Released: 21st September 2018
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling, Will Poulter, Liv Hill
Reviewed By: Sinead Beverland
Adapted from the Booker prize nominated novel by Sarah Waters, the cinematic incarnation of The Little Stranger has much to live up to. At the helm is Room Director Lenny Abrahamson, with an impressive cast including Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson and Charlotte Rampling.
Set shortly after the second world war, Doctor Faraday (Gleeson) introduces us to the faded grandeur of Hundreds Hall, a place he envied feverishly as a child. Having belonged to the Ayres family for several generations, the house is now inhabited by just Mrs Ayres (Rampling) and her two adult children, Roderick (Will Poulter) and Caroline (Wilson). When Faraday is called to the house to visit the unwell young housemaid Betty, he recollects his childhood adulation of the place. Remembering the presence of a young girl, he is told that this was Mrs Ayres first daughter, Susan, who had died as a child. It seems the spectre of Susan (affectionately known as Suki) still lays heavily over the house, as housemaid Betty tells Faraday she fears something ‘isn’t right’. As he becomes more entwined with the family and their home, strange events begin to raise concerns and individually threaten members of the family.
From the very outset, the film breeds an unsettling feeling, the house is imposing with long shots conveying the sense that the characters are being observed. The audience follows Faraday in to this fading world of status and money, sensing his childhood desire and starched formality. The family are equally intriguing and unnerving. Roderick, badly injured during the war, is now an invalid struggling to cope and disturbed by the sense that something in the house does not want him there. Matriarch Mrs Ayres seems to be doing her best to keep the past alive and daughter Caroline (the best of the bunch as attested to by a fellow doctor) seems strong yet vulnerable. When Faraday begins an intriguing friendship with Caroline, their relationship evolves to hinge the entire ethereal story together. With fantastic performances all round, the characters all emerge fully formed, conveying depth without the need for swathes of expository back story.
The terror of the film gradually reveals itself, impacting in set scenes that are truly disturbing and realistic. Director Abrahamson has a subtle touch (as seen in the Oscar Nominated Room) and these climactic scenes engulf you, whilst revealing the fate of certain characters. Abrahamson knows how to accentuate the fear for the audience and uses restraint to devastating effect. As the house leaks secrets and the memory of the deceased Susan comes to the forefront, the story is told with an intensity that uses strikingly rich music and extreme close ups to create a claustrophobic atmosphere. However, to reveal too much of the story here, would spoil the experience of discovering for yourself what is happening at Hundreds Hall.
The Little Stranger is a mature and nuanced film, layered in such a way that it address status and class alongside desire and emotion. The period setting is detailed and worn, bridging the gap between transitioning eras in Britain. This is no straightforward horror or ghost story and the film certainly feels to have done justice to its excellent source material. Rich in theme, characters and style, I would gladly take The Little Stranger home.
Released: 19th October 2018
Directed By: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Marcello Fonte
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Dogman is the anti-Paddington. Antithetical to the marmalade-loving bear’s enduring mantra – “if we are kind and polite, the world will be right” – dog groomer Marcello (Marcello Fonte) carves out a life in the dilapidated outskirts of Rome modestly tending to his estate’s canine residents and enjoying the respect of his neighbours.
But Marcello’s submissive, accommodating kindness is pushed closer and closer to its limit by the hulking Simone (a terrifying Edoardo Pesce, surely masked in near-mutant prosthetic), a brutish ex-boxer who stalks the estate terrorising the residents. Unable to say no to a friend, Marcello facilitates Simone’s egregious coke habit to little recompense.
When Simone’s scheme to rob a nearby jeweller’s implicates Marcello and he is apprehended by the police, the Dogman takes the fall himself and goes inside for a year for the sake of the bully who pretends to be his friend. When he comes out, something has changed.
Marcello, diminutive and always sporting a toothy grin, strikes an unimpressive, but likeable figure. He is perfectly happy with his lot as the film opens – a divorced father who takes pride in his work and loves trips to the beach with his daughter. While director Matteo Garrone makes a meal of the grim, filthy aesthetic of the film’s setting, he peppers in moments of levity and blissful tranquility to reinforce the humble satisfaction of Marcello’s daily life.
To see him repeatedly indulge the cruel, selfish whims of Simone quickly becomes a source of frustration, as the brute encourages vices in Marcello that seems entirely at odds with his persona. Marcello is swept away on break-ins and hedonistic strip club nights in jarring scenes more in keeping with Garrone’s work in the gangster canon such as 2008’s Gomorrah.
In these scenes, the toxicity fuelling Marcello reveals itself. Fonte delicately skews the kindly facade when Marcello enters Simone’s world. Behind his courteous smile is a sickening glimmer of delight – Marcello loves the thrill and decadence of life of crime. His latent desires mix with his better nature, to create something more insidious than Simone’s overt depravity.
Dogman stumbles in its closing chapter as Marcello is released from prison, returning to a community who despises him for violating their trust and chasing Simone’s false offers of brotherhood and fortune. Marcello reemerges not exactly changed, but more honest to himself about what he is. Garrone and his co-writers steer this portion of the story with a steady hand, but it is hard to shake comparisons to other established squares-gone-rogue like Walter White.
Marcello’s resolve and vengefulness is convincing thanks to Fonte, but its emergence is sudden and teeters dangerously close to cliche. His push and pull with Simone is rote, which makes its languid pace a little irritating – this has suddenly become a very different film, and it can’t carry the slower moments of contemplation as well as it could before Marcello was locked up.
An inevitable confrontation takes place, bursting with brutality and gore. But rather than a release of tension, it feels like a betrayal of the thoughtful, measured character piece Garrone set up. The violence overreaches for shock value where Garrone had before been satisfied with something more pensive and empathetic.
Luckily, he pulls back in the final moments of the film and dovetails elegantly by concluding what is essentially his thesis on ‘little guy’ psychology. He frames Marcello not as a good man pushed too far, but as someone whose better and worse natures are intrinsically tangled to create a monster very different to the bully who ultimately leads him to snap.
No matter how kind and polite the Dogman might try to be, he cannot deny the malice that festers in his heart – and Garrone artfully distills Marcello’s melancholic final moment of self-realisation in a resonant closing shot that gracefully irons out the kinks in this curious, inconsistent little film.
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