Wednesday 23 August 2017

New Films Round-up #10 - Reviews of We Go On (USA 2016), Voice From the Stone (USA/Italy 2017), Brackenmore (Ireland 2016), Media Studies (UK 2017), The Triangle (USA 2016) and 68 Kill (USA 2017)

We Go On (USA 2017: Dir Jesse Holland, Andy Mitton)  Holland and Mitton previously wrote and directed the rather odd, atmospheric 'missing townsfolk' film YellowBrickRoad and the 'Listen' segment of the 2013 anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear. They're back with this very likeable, if a little uneven supernatural movie with comic flourishes.

Miles Grissom (very well played by Clark Freeman) is a young guy, obsessed with thoughts of his own mortality after losing his father at a young age, who is desperate for first hand proof that there is life after death. He offers $30,000 via a newspaper advert for anyone who can convince him conclusively that there are such things as ghosts. Aided by his mum Charlotte (a sensitive performance from the still vivacious Annette O'Toole, whose luminous presence in the movie served to remind me how little she's been seen on the big screen in her career) the two sift through the responses, meeting up with a man of science, who proves to be a fake, and a medium who seems like the real thing.

Miles then meets Nelson, who works for the local airport, and shows him something that provides the irrefutable proof that he needs, but at a price. He is now haunted by a figure, stuck between worlds, whose only chance of release is for Miles to perform an act of murder.

We Go On is that rare thing, a film which manages to elicit laughs, raise chills and occasionally a lump in the throat. Miles is a complex character whose neuroses would repel viewers in less talented hands than Freeman's, and his touching relationship with his mother (this is pretty much a two hander movie) gives an emotional depth I was quite unprepared for. In some ways the film touches on some similar themes to this year's A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery, but whereas that film was a (failed) meditation on love, loss and time, this is probably nearer to a low budget Poltergeist (1982) in exploring the worlds beyond and the human interaction with them. Very enjoyable and distinctly bittersweet, I look forward to seeing more work from Holland and Mitton.

Voice From the Stone (USA/Italy 2017: Dir Eric D. Howell) Baby-faced Emilia Clarke is Verena, a nurse in 1950s Italy, with a successful track record of staying with families and healing young people, in Eric D. Howell's distinctly autumnal supernatural drama, which takes more than a few stylistic notes from Nick Murphy's 2011 movie The Awakening.

Verena moves in with a family whose young son Jakob has remained both mute and uncommunicative following the death of his mother Malvina from an unknown illness. The boy's father, Klaus, is both in mourning for his wife and frustrated at attempts by previous nurses to draw Jakob out of himself. Verena spends a lot of time drifting around the Tuscan mansion where the family live, but her attempts to get him to speak are slow going. In fact this is all rather slow, perhaps reminiscent of a winter costume TV drama, where all the money seems to have been spent on the clothes and location rather than the script.

Into this admittedly beautifully shot but rather tepid drama a romance builds between Verena and Klaus, and before you know it things have all gone a bit Henry - not M.R.- James, and any supernatural elements are supplanted by heaving bosoms and furrowed brows. The final scenes suggest that some form of transference might have happened, but it's all rather bland and inconsequential by this point. The movie is an adaptation of a 1996 novel by Italian author Silvio Raffo called La voce della Pietra, which judging by the story is probably heavily indebted to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. Pretty but empty.

Brackenmore (Ireland 2016: Dir Chris Kemble, J.P. Davidson) Surviving a car crash back in Southern Ireland which kills both her parents, little Kate grows up and moves to London, with no memory of the event. When an uncle dies, leaving her a house, she moves back to her home village of Brackenmore to sort things out. But strange things happen while she's there, and Kate begins to feel that the village is harbouring a secret. Do the strange symbols she sees indicate something sinister, or is she just distraught at the failed relationship she's left behind in London? And can she really trust new guy on the scene Tom, who seems to good to be true?

Of course he is, and if you're ever seen Kill List or A Wicker Man you probably know the answer to the other questions as well. Brackenmore is a very slow paced, but enigmatic and beautifully shot film about small communities and how they deal with outsiders. Its central 'weird' premise is decidedly undercooked, however, which means the film is all build up and no last reel delivery, or at least a climax to justify the ponderous pace of the first hour.

Sophie Hopkins, an accomplished actor, seems rather uncertain in the role of adult Katy, and DJ McGrath as Tom fares little better. It's a pity, as with more convincing leads and a better script this may have gripped. But it's lovely to look at, and doesn't outstay its welcome at just over an hour - it just doesn't offer anything new or inventive.

Media Studies (UK 2017/2015: Dir Warren Dudley)  It's getting on for twenty years since The Blair Witch Project (1999) and I think we have to conclude that the 'found footage' film is now here to stay. The people in front of and behind the camera in Media Studies were toddlers when that movie came out, so, bless 'em, they'll not have known a time before shaky cams and pointless running and screaming in films.

Three young filmmakers, Raz, Raz's girlfriend Charlie and classmate Jess are given an end of term Media Studies project, to make a film and include lots of extras showing behind the scenes footage of how it was put together - a rather flimsy ruse to justify Raz filming everything. But hang on, haven't we seen these three before? Why yes, in Warren Dudley's last but one movie, 2015's The Cutting Room, which featured the trio as, you guessed it, three college students at work on an end of year Media Studies project...ah, it's the same film, repackaged with a more subtle title for the arthouse crowd. Come on, who'd fall for that bit of marketing? Oh.

Anyhow, our three chums decide to make a film about cyber-bullying. They focus on a girl who has gone missing in the locality following some on line persecution, interviewing family and friends but mainly bickering between themselves (quite convincingly, as it happens) about the process of making the doc. After another girl goes missing, the trail leads them to an abandoned barracks, where they uncover the secret behind the missing and, in so doing, must fight for their life.

I confess that I quite liked this. The three actors playing the students are sufficiently morose to convince (Charlie particularly, played by Lucy-Jane Quinlan, captures the sulky 'whatevs' mood perfectly), and in a nice have-your-cake-and-eat-it moment, there's a parody of TBW earlier on in the film, but then the director mines the same film for his final reel tension. And tense it is too, with a rather good end of movie reveal that I wasn't expecting. By no means a fantastic film, but competent and with a very personable cast.

The Triangle (USA 2016: Dir David Blair, Nathaniel Peterson, Adam Pitman, Andrew Rizzo and Adam Stilwell) Yep, it's more 'found footage' but this time served up as a proper documentary which is so well made, acted and edited that had you come in after the credits you could easily be fooled that this wasn't fiction.

Summoned via a postcard from a friend, a group of young (ish) filmmakers travel to the heart of Montana to seek out their mate who has joined a commune. But before you summon up thoughts of cults and films like Ti West's The Sacrament, this group of truth seekers seem to be a lot less loony tunes than the average. Quite what their credo is remains undefined for most of the film, but, as many critics have commented, the less you know about The Triangle the better.

The filmmakers are slowly introduced to and accepted by the commune, and find them to be independently minded old school hippies. Much of the film is devoted to the observance of their routines and rituals, which does make things rather slow going. Thankfully the characters are well defined and the film is shot very convincingly; after a while this viewer became rather envious of the lifestyle he was witnessing. But of course it can't end happily, although to comment more would be to give a way the big reveal.

Like most FF films this is really something out of nothing, but the film's directors use a kind of cinematic sleight of hand to persuade you that there's more bulk to The Triangle than actually exists. The good news is that the trick works - the bleak Montana mountainscapes are a great backdrop to the circle of yurts that is the commune's home, and it's that sense of oppressive arid environment encroaching on the idyllic lives of the communards that leaves the lasting impression. Not action packed then, but very good.

68 Kill (USA 2017: Dir Trent Haga) "A punk-rock after hours about femininity, masculinity and the theft of $68,000" is how this one's described in the publicity. Full of characters best described as Rob Zombie-lite, 68 Kill is playing at this year's FrightFest, and I can't help feeling that despite the smart script and sharp performances, this is going to disappoint the horror crowd.

Matthew Gray stars as Chip, as luckless and stuck as the fly caught in spilt honey under the credits at the start of the movie. His rather dominant and morally wayward girlfriend Liza (AnnaLynne McCord, as impressive as when I last saw her in Excision) shtups the landlord in lieu of rent and has her eye on the 68 large in his safe, aiming for a new start in life. Roping in Chip for a spot of housebreaking, things go wrong when Liza kills the landlord and seems to get off on it. The two escape with the money, and what follows is a road trip across the southern states with Chip falling into bad (and occasionally good) company. It's all pretty fast paced and frantic but sadly rather one note, and despite the fact that the key characters are all women it still doesn't really pass the Bechdel test, and everyone is so ludicrous and over the top that it's hard to see it from a feminist perspective.

This is Trent Haga's second film - his first, 2011's Chop trod a similar path of comedy and violence, which is I suppose what you would expect from someone who cut his teeth on Troma movies both in front of and behind the camera. But 68 Kill outstays its welcome very quickly, and is neither as sexy as the advertising suggests nor as gory.

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