Thursday 15 November 2018

Supermarket Sweep #3 - Reviews of The Sleeping Room (UK 2014), The Cured (Ireland 2017), There Are Monsters (Canada 2013), Angelica (USA 2015), The Heretics (Canada 2017) and The Night Eats the World (France 2018)

Here we go again, with another round up of cheap but hopefully not particularly cheerful DVDs culled (well purchased) from supermarkets across the length of the UK.

The Sleeping Room (UK 2014: Dir John Shackleton) This is Shackleton's only feature - he's a man more used to doing shorts and TV items. And there's something of both in this elegant but slightly overambitious supernatural drama that does quite a lot in its hour and a bit running time - arguably too much.

Blue (Leila Mimmack) a young prostitute from a broken home, living in Brighton, is sent to a new client, Bill, a young man from London in charge of doing up a rundown old house. Bill and Blue form an attachment, and between them uncover a secret room in the house, which was used back in the early days of cinema as a makeshift studio, in which an evil director, Fiskin, made snuff movies. But Fiskin's spirit is restless and he's looking to come back from the dead, with designs on Blue, who may have a stronger connection to him than she first thinks.

The Sleeping Room is big on atmosphere but low on budget and plot cohesion. Someone must have been doing their homework to know that Brighton was a kind of mini Hollywood in the early days of film and the sense of place is well established. But unfortunately it's all a bit silly and while the performances are earnest they're also rather dull. It's the kind of film that's almost embarrassed to have horror elements, so it ups the characterisation by way of apology. On the plus side it is very English in tone and Shackleton's heart is in the right place.

The Cured (Ireland 2017: Dir David Freyne) Also known - slightly obscurely - as The Third Wave (although the director made a short film called The First Wave back in 2014 on the same subject, which might explain it), this Irish made and funded film, shot on the mean streets of Dublin, is a rather occluded 'infected' movie, using an animal based epidemic as a backdrop for a serious drama about outsiders, acceptance, military control and public opinion.

The title refers to a cure that has been found for an infection which has been contained in the mainland but which decimated Ireland. Following the development of the antidote 75% of the infected have recovered after its administration, but 25% remain resistant and have been incarcerated. The 75% are rehabilitated back into society but not without the hatred and mistrust of the uninfected population, who cannot forgive them for the crimes they committed while in their infected state. The Cured follows the story of two men, Senan and Conor, as they attempt rehabilitation.

It's pretty obvious that the 'Maze' virus at the centre of this film (perhaps named after the Irish prison that housed paramilitary prisoners during The Troubles?) and the division between the formerly infected and the remainder of the country are metaphors for the Catholic/Protestant divide, although it could equally apply to the plight of immigrants anywhere. There's very little infected action until the last fifteen minutes or so, so don't come to this one with beer and popcorn in hand. But do stay if you want to see a well acted drama where a quiet civil war of sorts still rages on the streets, and a country struggles to come to terms with its past and navigate its future. An assured film without any easy answers, there is some fine acting on display from Sam Keeley (Senan), Tom Vaughan-Lawlor (Conor) and Ellen Page, playing Abbie, Senan's sister-in-law, a woman who houses him in defiance of her local community. Strong stuff but a very good film.

There Are Monsters (Canada 2013: Dir Jay Dahl) Back in 2008 director Dahl directed a short film, There Are Monsters, of which this is the full length version. But unlike many short films stretched to a feature (his first), it's all the better for it. In fact it's a great and rather overlooked film, made more effective for its slender budget and downplayed performances.

Drawing on elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Crazies, we follow a group of film students who travel across country to interview staff of a college. As they make their journey they discover an absence of people, and those who they do encounter seem a bit 'off,' keeping their backs turned to the group or offering crazy grins (as in a particularly weird encounter with a store worker).Various possible reasons are offered for this, including a hadron-collider experiment and/or the release of a gas which results in odd behaviour among the infected.

To be honest the reason is less important that the effects of what we see, and There Are Monsters sets up a very chilling mood, including one or two extremely startling scenes which I wasn't expecting, plus a very odd 'what's in the lunchbox? moment. The small town filmed-entirely-on-location feel of the movie adds to the menace, and the gradual awareness of some of the townsfolk that all is not well is surprisingly effective; "It's like he was a photocopy of what he was," says one character. The shaky first person camera isn't always welcome, and the movie seems to drift in and out of a found footage style. This is worth seeing though, which is a bit of a rarity for movies discovered on supermarket shelves, and I'll been keenly looking out for Dahl's latest, Halloween Party, currently in post-production.

Angelica (USA 2015: Dir Mitchell Lichtenstein) Here's a US movie - with interiors shot in New York and exteriors in London, and a largely UK cast - which plays like an old fashioned period British piece, the sort that Hammer studios used to do very well in the 1970s.

Constance (Jenna Malone) is a shop girl who catches the eye of scientist Dr Joseph Barton (Ed Stoppard); their subsequent marriage is a union of the sexes and classes. But their happy life together is thwarted after the birth of their first child, a daughter they name Angelica, whose arrival medically incapacitates Constance to such a degree that doctors warn the pair off any future children and indeed conjugal activity. Barton buries himself in work - which involves vivisection - and increased sexual frustration, whereas Constance externalises her own desires in the form of a ghostly male figure which she is convinced haunts the house. These thoughts are encouraged by her association with the medium Anne Montague (Janet McTeer), convincing Constance that the shadowy presence poses an increasing danger to both mother and daughter.

While Angelica's story exploits the 'hysterical woman' theme synonymous with the Victorians (are Constance's visions real or the product of post natal depression and denial of sex?), Mitchell Lichtenstein's belated return to the horror genre after his 2007 body horror movie Teeth - the film was actually made in 2014 but subsequently shelved - revisits his interest in stories of twisted feminism. There is an undercurrent of deranged eroticism throughout the movie which feels uniquely English - although the themes could equally find a home in a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel - and the visions of the 'phantom' are intriguingly rendered, comprising hundreds of the same viral creatures that the sick Constance has been shown under a microscope by her husband.

Many have criticised Angelica of being too slow and ponderous, but I liked it a lot for its attention to detail, credible acting, and rising dread.   

The Heretics (Canada 2017: Dir Chad Archibald) Gloria (Nina Kiri) and Joan (Jorja Cadence), who met at an abuse survivor support group, are lovers. Turns out that Gloria was the intended sacrificial offering by a group of cult members worshipping the demon Abaddon but who managed to escape their evil clutches.

After they part following a meeting, Gloria is abducted again by Thomas (Ry Barrett), a guy with scars on his face, which is strangely similar to some scarring on Joan's back. Gloria is chained up, and as the film progresses she undergoes a number of physical changes, including developing some welts on her shoulder blades. Could they be...wings?

Meanwhile Joan is understandably distraught at her gf's disappearance, but acts a little out of character when she guns down a local cop and Gloria's mother when they get in her way. Seems that Joan wants to get her hands on Gloria, but not for the reasons we may be thinking of.

The Heretics is one of those films where every ten minutes or so there's an obvious dream sequence which ends up with the central character waking up in bed with a gasp, requiring viewers to jump. Yes this happens a lot. It's a perfectly serviceable movie and Kiri as Gloria is game for a bit of gloop, but beyond the central three characters it's all a bit thin, if moodily photographed. A distinctly middle of the road horror film.

The Night Eats the World (France 2018: Dir Dominique Rocher) Poor Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie). He's gone to a party at his ex's flat to pick up the last of his things, when he falls asleep. Waking up he finds that the party guests - and most of Paris it seems - have been wiped out, and the only moving people on the streets are flesh hungry zombies keen to feast on whatever they can get.

Largely a prisoner within the apartment block he's been visiting, Sam carves out a new life that involves a lot of wandering around and some casual drumming, until Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani) turns up. Unfortunately Sam shoots her, thinking the girl is 'one of them,' but through some careful nursing he encourages her back to health to provide much needed companionship in his lonely life.

The Night Eats the World drags slower than the ruined leg of one of the city's broken zombies. For the most part this is a 'Robinson Crusoe' setup of one person eking out an existence, which of course brings to mind the source material, the 1954 novel 'I Am Legend' by Richard Matheson, and its many cinematic adaptations, of which Boris Sagal's 1971 movie The Omega Man is the most obvious comparator. Part of the problem here is that the zombie movie is so ubiquitous in modern culture, it's increasingly a massive leap of faith to believe that anyone in a 21st century movie could possibly not know about zombies, or, more importantly, how to kill them. Rocher's film effectively communicates the ennui of existence in a world where man is not alone but human communication is impossible - witness the ongoing 'gag' of a zombie, trapped in the apartment's lift system, who Sam periodically talks 'at' but not 'to'  - and the relief all round when Sarah turns up. I understand that the movie is a meditation on existence, I just don't need to watch it.

Both actors have done better than this material allows - in particular Farahani, who excelled in About Elly (2009) and Patterson (2016). This may have something to do with the fact that Rocher filmed in both French and English requiring the actors to speak in non native tongues (for the version I saw anyway). I'm afraid I just didn't buy this supposed new take on a familiar theme (well I did but you know what I mean) -  The Night Eats the World is for zombie completists only, although I am aware that it has its fans.

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