Wednesday 12 October 2016

New Films Round Up #1 - Reviews of 47 Meters Down aka Into the Deep (UK 2016), The Windmill Massacre aka The Windmill (Netherlands 2016), The Neighbour (US 2016), She Who Must Burn (Canada 2016), Night of Something Strange (US 2016) and Accidental Exorcist (US 2016)

47 Meters Down aka Into the Deep (UK 2016: Dir Johannes Roberts) Johannes Roberts' follow up to the supernatural shenanigans of 2015's The Other Side of the Door returns him to the more small scale terrors of his earlier films, albeit directed with assurance and confidence that presumably his last bigger budget offering has given him.

Sharks are big at the moment, which is good as there are some damn big sharks in 47 Meters Down. Lisa and Kate are two sisters on holiday on the Mexican coast. Kate has just been dumped with her boyfriend, but her more outgoing sister recommends that they party with the local boys to get over it. The guys they hook up with operate a shark viewing gig for tourists. they invite Lisa and Kate, who bluff that they're experienced scuba divers, to get into a cage which is lowered into the ocean. Yes, you guessed it, the winch malfunctions and the cage plummets to the sea bed, 47 metres below the surface. With oxygen running out, the girls must work out how to stay alive and get to the surface without being eaten or succumbing to the bends.

This is a far more realistic take on women vs. sharks than Jaume Collet-Serra's glossy but nevertheless enjoyable The Shallows which came out earlier this year.  Like that film it's a fairly simple setup, but there's a growing air of desperation and claustrophobia which makes 47 Meters Down particularly nail-biting. Roberts is really good at capturing the girls' growing panic, and the shark effects, though minimal, are very effective. At the end of the movie there's a credit for Underwater Studios, Basildon, where all of the underwater scenes were shot - well, you could have fooled me.

The Windmill Massacre (aka The Windmill (Netherlands 2016: Dir Nick Jongerius) Wow, here's a film that triggered some nostalgic memories for this reviewer. The Windmill Massacre is a bizarre homage to late 80s/early 90s supernatural slashers. And while it's one thing to now watch those often naive movies with affection, does anyone really have any business making a film like this in 2016? Of course they do. Unsurprisingly The Windmill Massacre is set in Holland (I'm waiting for a film called 'The Oast House' set in Kent, featuring a crazed brewer) and its set up is as corny as the films that inspired it - a coachload of individuals are taken out of Amsterdam on a tour of the polders, but end up at an abandoned windmill when the tour bus breaks down. The Windmill is of course the location for Miller Hendrick, a legendary figure recruited by Satan back in the 17th century to stand guard at the gates of hell for the admittance of sinners. And the coach party are all...yep, you guessed it.

The fun stuff here is the background of the coach travellers, who all have something to hide, which is disclosed as the movie progresses - and the old school makeup effects and kills, which are both inventive and icky. This is all rather good stuff, and the cast, led by Charlotte Beaumont (who was amazing in TV's Broadchurch back in 2013), Noah Taylor and Patrick Baladi (still best known as Neil Godwin in The Office) keep very straight faces. It all looks like it was great - if rather damp - fun to make, and there's an end of movie twist in keeping with the films which inspired it. Recommended.

The Neighbour (US 2016: Dir Marcus Dunstan) Director Dunstan's previous films, The Collector (2009) and its sequel The Collection (2012) were both examples of stipped down, ruthless film making; not doing anything new but doing the whole cat and mouse serial killer thing very efficiently. The Neighbour could almost be a third in the series, so well does it maintain the tone of his earlier movies. Its 'stars' are shady up-to-no-good couple John (played by heavy lidded Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe, brilliant in 2014's Starry Eyes), who are boosting stolen cars and running drugs to build up enough cash to leave town and escape to an idyllic life in Mexico. Their neighbour, Troy, comes snooping around, suspicious about all the vehicular activity, and when John completes his last deal he returns home to find Rosie gone and his suspicions turning to Troy, whose home is also a house of secrets.

Nobody is particularly nice in this watchable catch 'em and chase 'em thriller. Running at a brisk 80 minutes there's not much fat on the bones. The small town USA feel is well captured, although I could have done without some of the tricksy faux 8mm film footage which rather unnecessarily bookends the movie. The actors all do fine jobs, although John and Rosie are the only characters who get a bit of back story, but this is essentially a pretty good lesson in extended tension, the gore held to a minimum, and with a closing shot that leaves the audience remembering Troy's comment about he and John being 'middle men.'

She Who Must Burn (Canada 2016: Dir Larry Kent) There’s a storm coming, literally and metaphorically in veteran director Larry Kent’s grim and rather heavy handed tale of religious extremism in Canada’s Bible belt.

The film centres on a policeman, Mac, and his wife Angela, who until recently had worked as a counsellor at an abortion clinic. The facility has been closed as a result of the director being shot and killed by the leader of a small group of radical procreation fixated Christians, all strongly against the termination of unborn children. Angela continues to support local women who need advice, which means that she becomes the prime focus of the extremists. Their leader is the distinctly psychotic Jeremiah; and when Angela helps his wife to leave Jeremiah following a brutal rape and beating, with help of his brother Caleb and sister Rebecca, Jeremiah places increasing pressure on Angela to tell him where his wife has gone. Despite Mac’s intervention, the trio’s pursuit of Angela is relentless. Eventually their obsession tips over into violence and then murder, and as the threatened storm breaks overhead, it all goes a bit ‘Wicker Man.’

There’s no doubting the earnestness of Kent’s movie. He wants you to believe that under the religious fanaticism of this group is something much closer to madness, personified in the clearly nuts Jeremiah and sister Rebecca, who seems to have become unhinged following the stillborn birth she’s recently undergone (a very disturbing scene). However in doing so he’s in danger of turning the fanatics into cartoon figures, and with a very slim storyline, characterisation is everything in this film.

She Who Must Burn (and although I tend not to offer spoilers the title and the poster do the job for me, thank you very much) doesn’t slow burn as much as it should (watch Sean Durkin’s brilliant 2011 movie Martha Marcy May Marlene as tense example of a cult at work) and its villains are too villainous to really believe in them. It’s a tough watch but not a gripping one.

Night of Something Strange (USA/Canada 2016: Dir Jonathan Straiton) Comedy horror. Mostly it doesn’t work. You have to be in the right mood too. Well obviously I was because in a very knockabout (and very very) gross out way Jonathan Straiton’s STD virus/zombie movie works brilliantly. It opens as it means to go on with Cornelius, a mortuary worker who has sex with an infected corpse, contracting a Cabin Fever style flesh melting disease, going home, raping his wife and then eating her reproductive organs. Uh huh. The film then focuses on a group of young people out to have fun on their spring break, who run into a number of victims of the spreading disease, including of course Cornelius.

That’s all you need to know. The lead characters are interchangeably stereotypical and all equally annoying, so it’s fun (in a rather odd way) to see our squeaky clean cast suffer all sorts of zombie like indignities as they end up in a motel fighting off the infected – and each other. However it’s the supporting actors that get the big laughs: the endlessly hungry and randy Cornellius; the chain smoking store worker who’s only marginally more horrible in her zombie state than human form; and the motel owner who catches one of the cast having a pee behind a dumpster and warns him “If you shake it more than three times, you’re playing with it.” The word that came to my mind while watching this was ‘Troma’ but there’s far more excess in Night of Something Strange than in any of Mr Kaufman’s output. This is more like Peter Jackson’s early movies Bad Taste and Braindead, but it’s even grosser than those.

But unlike all those films Night of Something Strange boasts a very funny, sharp script and acting turns that are occasionally surprisingly nuanced. For a first movie this is something rather special. Not for everyone probably, but destined for cult status, and one of those rare things, a comedy horror movie I really want to see again. With this and the hold-on-to-your-lunch delights of this year’s The Greasy Strangler, is this going to be the latest genre craze? Oh hang on, there's more to come.

Accidental Exorcist (Us 2016: Dir Daniel Falicki) More gross out cinema here, more ooze - and a good title too. Now this is a strange one. I really couldn't decide if I loved it or loathed it, much like the early films of John Waters, which it resembles in its general oddness.

Richard Vanuck (Falicki playing the central role - I'd say this was a vanity project but that's the last word I'd use in the context of this movie) is a poverty row alcoholic and pill popper with a line in Charles Bukowski living. By day he's a writer but by night - which it always seems to be - he's an 'accidental exorcist,' a man with a unique gift of being able to suck a demon out of the possessed body very quickly but quite confusingly. To mask the seemingly simple (but agonisingly exhausting) process Vanuck concocts all manner of rituals which he maintains are essential to the exorcism process. And this is thankless work. He's puked on - a lot; and he's abused and beaten up, not least by the landlord to whom he owes a stack of rent with no hope of repayment, judging by the paltry salary he gets from his mysterious employer for all these assignments. The relentlessness of his existence is almost rendered real time - the movie runs for an hour and three quarters and many scenes are stretched to the point of tedium. The possessed souls for who he provides his service (post possession he often remarks kindly that they 'scrub up well') are as un-Hollywood as it gets, inhabited by bored demons who seem to exist mainly for the purposes of pissing him off.

The net result of the endless exorcisms is the increasing personal cost to Vanuck, who takes the demons into him, ultimately with catastrophic results. Daniel Falicki's performance as Vanuck is extraordinary. God knows what this is all about, but Falicki throws himself into it head first - he's like a one person performance piece, which you watch, jaw gradually dropping, while at the same time trying to understand the point of what you're witnessing.

Filmed in the less than glamorous locations of Grand Rapids and Wyoming, Michagan (but to be honest it could have been filmed anywhere, as it's nearly all interiors) Accidental Exorcist is a slog, a demanding watch, but with occasional flashes of brilliance and a sense of intelligence at work that shine through the overall weirdness on display. Completely and utterly bizarre.

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