Director: Branden Kramer
Starring: Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, Kaili Vernoff
The climactic ten minutes of Branden Kramer’s feature debut are so uncompromisingly traumatic that you’ll be tossing your iPhone in the nearest bin as you leave the theatre. You don’t watch Ratter, nor experience it: you survive it.
Beautifully carried by Ashley Benson of Pretty Little Liars fame, Kramer’s expansion of his 2012 short film follows Emma; a strikingly beautiful, instantly likable young woman who has moved from Wisconsin to the Big Apple for her studies. Although savvy and switched-on, Emma is unaware that she has become the fixation of an online stalker who taps into her devices and takes control via a Remote Administration Tool (RAT).
This seemingly ever-expanding criminal sphere can do far more damaging things than commit fraud. They are able to listen in to your conversations, know your whereabouts and extract personal data like photos, videos and documents with a few simply clicks. Through a phone, laptop, tablet or desktop, ‘Ratters’ gain a window into your life without ever needing to leave home.
The creative storytelling presented by Kramer makes Ratter an entirely insular filmmaking model. Captured completely via the miscellaneous devices Emma operates, we as the spectator are the voyeurs; leering and lurking undetected across her apartment, during her schooling, whilst she sleeps. Wherever technology is present, we are too. It is a desperately worrying reflection of privacy invasion. Unlike many alternative footage pictures, Kramer fails to ever break from the format, ensuring the continuity remains firmly intact. His vivid, polarising direction speaks volumes of his craft, and for a first attempt to showcase this much artistic license is highly commendable.
Weighted with a lingering, methodical pace, Kramer cranks up the tension with immeasurable malice. As time passes and the oddities of her surroundings begin to take effect, we slowly watch the psychological undoings of Emma as she goes from a vibrant, witty student with a thirst for life, to a breathless, anxiety-smothered wreck. This calculated character development only makes the scenarios feel more harrowing and heartbreaking, and Emma’s world feels even further isolated by the few surrounding and supporting who are consistently trying to rationalise events.
As much as it is an experiment in unshakable terror, Ratter serves as a valuable and important piece too. Kramer’s brilliant dialogue for his leading lady poses poignant questions about cyber crime and the devastating impact it has on a victim’s life, but much like an unjust act, he refuses to offer firm answers. “Why me?” Emma may ponder, but why anyone seems like an appropriate response, or perhaps from the voyeur’s perspective “Because I can?”.
Kramer’s film is never scarier than when the stalker is merely playing games with Emma: getting in her head, forcing her to assess her own sanity. One-off booming door-knocks at in the middle of the night, mysterious parcels arriving, hacking friends’ email and messenger accounts to send false content. Ratter meditates in the menace, often feeling like a gruelling endurance test. This is only furthered by the foreboding tonal pallets, absence of primary soundtrack, and unreliable imagery – jittering and glitching as it buffers.
Throughout Kramer hits us with some sneaky red herrings, each becoming slightly more brazen as the criminal chances a step further. Dread surges through the spectator when the shadows of feet become visible from under the front door, or when Emma returns after a boozy night on the tiles. As previously mentioned, we exit the film after one of the year’s most arresting and gut-punching sequences. So bruising and breathless are these moments that elevated heart-rate and sweaty palms will most certainly occur.
Benson’s experience in roles surrounded by mystery aid her brilliantly here. She is Ratter; appearing in every frame and being entirely convincing across the break-neck 80min runtime. Her emotive and cognitive transitions across each act are truly remarkable, and one sincerely hopes the film gets picked up for distribution in this country so more audiences can see her dynamic work.
Kramer’s debut is an outstanding achievement: an progressive visual nightmare which unearths the hidden horrors we neglect or fail to detect. Ensuring that Emma is imprisoned whether home or away, Ratter’s relentless intensity makes this unforgettable viewing.
Cold War ★★★★★
Released: 31st August 2018
Directed By: Pawel Pawlikowski
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
Reviewed By: Rhys Handley
Whatever happened to the classic movie romances? There’s romantic movies out there still, sure, but those sweeping, smouldering passions that positively crackled on the screen – say, Casablanca, Brief Encounter or My Fair Lady – seem cast away to a bygone era of monochrome celluloid and swelling orchestras.
In the form of Cold War – the latest from director Pawel Pawlikowski – the classic movie romance returns. But it’s different – weather-beaten and embittered by the intervening years. A lovingly-realised tribute to his parents, Polish-born, British-raised Pawlikowski has crafted here something inherently, misty-eyedly classic, yet starkly, bleakly modern – the romance of Hollywood colliding with the harsh realism of cold war-era Eastern Europe.
Spanning about a decade of European history from the late 40s to near the dawn of the 60s, Cold War is beset with a ubiquitous sense of unease and paranoia from the start. Sudden cuts to black signal jarring leaps forward in time, while scenes of terror and trepidation are consumed in a cacophony of ambient sound.
But wrapped in this blanket of wartime discomfort is a fiery, enduring romance for the ages, with a star pairing of immense calibre and appeal. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are the kind of match whose power is indefinable and impossible to manufacture – two excellent performers egging each other on to bolder and more surprising feats of actorly craft.
What starts in a tremendous, uncomfortable imbalance of power – Kot’s Wiktor is the stern, demanding conductor of a travelling folk music troupe and Zula (Kulig) is his precious, prodigious protege – quickly tilts into a fiercely equalised tug-of-war. Diametrically opposed, yet intrinsically bound, Wiktor and Zula lose and find each other in numerous wrenching, tragic episodes across the ensuing years – their connection gradually deepening, but their differences quietly festering, as they challenge and explore each other.
Kot is excellent – persistently stoic and impenetrable, allowing Wiktor fleeting moments of vulnerability amid a life of uncertainty and continual escape – but Kulig is truly spellbinding.
Sporting a face that at different times recalls a number of modern leading ladies – Jennifer Lawrence, Léa Seydoux, Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain among them – Kulig has the look of a vintage romantic lead. As Wiktor’s junior, she plays Zula at once childlike and wet-eyed, but with enigma and irascibility that begins as a knowing wink and slowly unspools across the piece into a furious disarray of volatile, intrinsic feeling.
Written with celebrated Polish playwright Janusz Glowacki, Pawlikowski’s script crackles with immortal barbs and one-liners that bring Zula and Wiktor palpably to life. Populated with humbly touching confessions, withering put-downs and deep wisdom, it is a humane, full text lifted from the page and made tangible by two players at the height of their powers.
Pawlikowski, whose cinematic career started with 2000’s desolate, lo-fi immigration drama Last Resort, emerges here as a confident, self-assured directorial hand. As his earlier efforts indicated a shift in identity and approach with each new film, Cold War serves to confirm his more clearly-defined voice, first cultivated in 2013’s stellar Ida – the director’s first effort in his native Polish language.
In sharp, dreamlike black and white, Pawlikowski generates an Old Hollywood fairytale aura with slow, steady cranes and serene long takes, often harshly punctuated with tight, claustrophobic close-ups and uncomfortable edits. Working in monochrome, his cinematographer Łukasz Żal plays deep blacks and soft whites against each other, playing with the struggle between east and west that permeates so much of the film – this is also realised in the prevalence of traditional Polish mountain folk music that slowly gives way on one side to burly Stalinist anthems and on the other to the booze-drenched excitement of free jazz and burgeoning rock and roll.
The interplay of diametric opposites – as much between Zula and Wiktor as the titular struggle between western liberalism and eastern communism – bisects Cold War. It creates a piece of cinema at war with itself, but deftly brought together by a director with inherent trust in his colleagues. Blissfully romantic, but inherently downbeat, it is a film with vision and passion at its heart – a sweeping, classical romance keeping one foot in our sad, real world.
Hotel Artemis ★★★
Released: 20th July 2018
Directed By: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella
Reviewed By: Van Connor
Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.
On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.
On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.
On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.
Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.
Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★
Released: 25th July 2018
Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett
Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths
‘What the hell is he doing!? I find it best not to look.’
Rebecca Ferguson. You’re certainly not alone in questioning the thought process of a man seemingly gunning to be ‘The Greatest Stuntman’. Another one Mr Cruise? I imagine his reply is Never Enough. Never. Never.
22 years and six instalments in. Facing stiff competition from Bond, Bourne and a plethora of comicbook darlings along the way. This particular Tom has continued to be a marvel, risking life and limb to give us the adrenaline-pumping thrills we crave, admirably relying on old-school practicality instead of the obligatory CGI bombast we modern cinemagoers have grown accustomed to.
Previous instalment ‘Rogue Nation’ boasted an elegant operatic set-piece in Vienna, with returning (a first for the series) director Christopher McQuarrie masterfully pulling the strings in the background. Well imagine ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ as a grandiose death-defying symphony, that could easily leave you breathless in the front row, never mind the upper tiers of this cinematic arena.
Whilst consistent in its entertainment value. It could be argued these films haven’t dug deep enough into the psyche of IMF’s main man. McQuarrie is quick to remedy this right from the outset as a pulsating plutonium power struggle ensues, with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) still reeling from his encounters with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the latter a mere pawn now in the eyes of a terrorist organisation called the Apostles.
Trust in Ethan’s methods diminishing with the addition of CIA superior Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) who compares him to a scalpel, she introduces a ‘hammer’ to the situation in the form of August Walker (Henry Cavill), who is tasked with assisting Hunt and his usual suspects Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) in preventing further global atrocities. Interrogation? Not for this Man Of Steel.
Intertwining plot threads left dangling by its predecessors to layer its absorbing narrative, with Michelle Monaghan’s love interest Julia a notable inclusion. McQuarrie truly allows the audience to become emotionally attached to these characters this time around beyond the wisecracks and gadgetry, which only serves to fuel the tension and raise the stakes of its balletic action choreography. Playing a lead protagonist who can easily be perceived to be indestructible up to now. The moral angst that engulfs Cruise’s Hunt is refreshing, as his unwavering loyalty to his fellow field agents is deemed a weakness in achieving their intended objective.
Only for this aspect to be amplified by the compelling complexity of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust who returns with her own agenda, remaining appreciative of Hunt’s relentless nature to complete a mission by any means necessary, with one particular Paris stand-off utterly engrossing. Whilst Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane continues to favour chilling prose, it’s a joy to finally see Henry Cavill utilised in a blockbuster effectively as August Walker, a bruising no-nonsense adversary whose reloading arms prove a worthy match for Hunt.
Yet for all its superior characterisation. Mission Impossible would amount to little without its enthralling stunts, with the film gleefully looking to out-do the previous set-piece throughout its running time, only to succeed in jaw-dropping style. From heart-stopping halo jumps at 25,000 feet to a heady helicopter chase that made me audibly gasp at its sheer audacity, McQuarrie’s dizzying camerawork and respectful capture of its sleek locations as we witness Cruise’s crazy antics close-up, is as pure as popcorn cinema gets.
‘Fallout? With this franchise? I suspect that thought will self-destruct in five seconds once you clap eyes on this outing. An astonishing genre offering in its own right, in a series that continues to evolve in exhilarating fashion.
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