Tuesday 13 September 2022

NEW WAVE OF THE BRITISH FANTASTIC FILM 2021 #12: Reviews of Afraid of the Dark (UK 2021), You Might Get Lost (UK 2021), The Unkind (UK 2021), Something Weird, Something Strange (UK 2021), Monsters of War (UK 2021) and Little Monster (UK 2021)

It's been quite a while since I uploaded my last round up of 2021 Fantastic Films, so time to play catch up:

Afraid of the Dark (UK 2021: Dir Jonathon Green, Myles Keyland) The enjoyment of Green and Keyland's quirky and creepy little debut is considerably enhanced by the fact that hardly any of the cast and crew are old enough to have left school/university yet!

Hannah Fox (an extraordinary performance from Amy Lally) is a schoolgirl leading a dismal life in a sleepy village. Aimless and bored in a way that only teenagers can achieve, and misunderstood by her mother and her siblings, her unhappy existence is shaken up when she discovers 'something' in a box while walking in the woods.

She finds it difficult to convince the police, who consider her a time waster, but she realises, after finding a card with the words 'you've made a big mistake', that someone has witnessed her discovering the 'something' which is possibly related to the disappearance of another boy while out on a family picnic in the same area.

When her family decide to spend a few days away, Hannah is left on her own in the house, and her feelings of insecurity increase, compounded when her friend Olivia (Boo Miller) attempts to take her own life, a response to years of bullying by others in the village. Hannah realises that everything she's taken for granted about living in a quiet location has been a lie.

To be fair, Afraid of the Dark's narrative doesn't always hold together and the conclusion is slightly disappointing. But there's so much to like about the film that those flaws are balanced out. There's a real sense of teenage angst here, of parents and children politely warring with each other (although Hannah's potty mouth rather tests the idea of the 'little girl who should be seen and not heard'). Equally importantly there's a real sense of dislocation; Hannah's internal angst, a counterpoint to the external fury of Olivia, is ably supported by some fine close up photography from Tim Marsh and an ominous soundtrack by Keyland and Aaron Cilia. If I'd known the ages of those involved before watching I'd have been tempted to write this off as an end of year project, but it's so much more.

You Might Get Lost (UK 2021: Dir James Eaves) Filmed in a rather drab Southampton (where the director is based), this low budget timey wimey movie features Corinne Wicks as Arlene; she's wife, mother, drunk and office flirt with sleazy colleague Steve, and her life is going seriously off the rails. One evening she leaves some post work drinks to belatedly pick up her son William (Harrison Trent) from school in the car; the inevitable happens and Arlene is involved in a side on crash which spares her but kills William.

Separated from her husband, Arlene rents a room on her own and ponders her life decisions and, wracked with grief, her future. But bizarrely help is at hand in the guise of a shadowy organisation called the Endeavour Institute. For a price they can offer Arlene the option of moving forward or backward in time; fairly obviously she's interested in the latter option and a chance to reset events, get her son back and repair her marriage. But although the procedure is successful Arlene finds that it's more difficult to escape from past events than she thought.

As usual with this type of film there are lots of "what if...?" ideas which only work if you don't think too deeply about them. I suspect that the script may have been edited down because some things are just left hanging (for example, Arlene pays for her treatment by placing money on the horses when she goes back in time, on the basis that she would already have known the result, but as she's shown no interest in the sport up to then, is this advice given to her by the clinic?).

Wicks is adequate as Arlene, but I had hoped her rather dispassionate portrayal would have unravelled a little more as the movie progressed; considering the quandary she finds herself in and her subsequent actions, I would have expected a more on the edge performance. The rest of the performances are in service to Wicks, the character around whom the film revolves (Colin Baker cameos as Arlene's abusive dad). There are some neat little ideas about time and memory, but despite its narrative You Might Get Lost doesn't really take off either as a sci fi movie or a moral tale.

The Unkind (UK 2021: Dir Luca Gabriele Rossetti) The Unkind doesn't really act like a UK fantastic film. Directed by an Italian - his first feature, adapted from his own story - it's more like one of those ploddy running-around-in-the-forest-chased-by-a-demonic-presence movies of the 1990s; hell it even looks like one. 

After an 1898 prologue, in which a snaggle toothed witch/demon slays the Domintrescu family, asleep in their Italian mansion (with the exception of dad who wrestles the creature to the ground, nails it in place and then burns it), we flash forward to the same country in 2008, and a group of New York students on a holiday trip. Their destination? Why the very same mansion featured in the prologue; seems that it's in the family of one of their number, Chris (Andrea Fornale, an Italian actor who, like most of the rest of the cast is dubbed; on this occasion by Corey T. Stewart). The group also includes Goth lite Ashley (Arianna Monguzzi, voiced by Taylor Skeens) who's a bit psychic on top of all the other indicators of the outsider; she wears black lipstick, draws, has a bad tattoo and is on medication. Oh and "I'm bisexual so it hasn't been easy", she admits.

Discoveries are made of an old book and, after a good deal of wandering round, the site where the witch/demon was staked and torched. Jodie (Claudia Perrotta) one of the discoverers, cuts her hand, which has the effect of awakening the demon whose murderous impulses come to the fore once again, threatening the lives of the whole group.

Some really bad dubbing makes The Unkind (and what is that title all about?) rather stilted, hampered by a sluggish script and lacklustre performances. As well as ripping off scenes from various movies, including Ju-On:The Grudge, Ghost Story and The Woman in Black, Rossetti chucks in laughing ghostly children, a toybox, old photos found in cupboards, radios that turn on by themselves, limbless window dummies, a menacing woman in black (told you) without any sense of logic. The Unkind is truly excruciating; if you don't believe me, you can watch it here

Something Weird, Something Strange (UK 2021: Dir Geoff Woodbridge) Woodbridge, who attracted some interest with his 2018 drama Some Girls Wander, returns with a movie that on the surface is only borderline BFF. Comprising a number of monologues, written by Woodbridge and performed by a young cast, it's the themes of the stories that have secured its inclusion.

The direct to camera pieces range in quality (and delivery). A couple of the sci fi sections don't really work (particularly when the narrator is doing so from their bedroom) and several of the participants are overly actorly in their delivery.

Where Something Weird, Something Strange works best is a combination of intimate content and subdued performance. Standout contributions include: Christopher Sherwood narrating 'A Closed Door', a very strange story about hypnotic, possibly time travelling footage, once glimpsed never forgotten (with a slight nod to Videodrome); 'Waiting for the Girl' with Jonathan Brandt, in which an absinthe soaked aesthete reflects on the allure of a lost, possibly non existent woman (the green eyed girl - or is it just the drink talking?); and possibly best of all, the affecting 'The Guest', with Ting Fung telling a very personal ghost story.

There are other tales of sea monsters, cannibalism, serial killers, rituals and more ghosts, and like most anthology movies it doesn't all work, but it is surprisingly captivating. I could have done with fewer, longer stories, but that was Woodbridge's choice. you can check the film out here.

Monsters of War aka War of the Monsters (UK 2021: Dir Jack Peter Mundy) Another Mundy film, written by Scottt Jeffrey, and the usual bunch of cast members have been assembled (Chelsea Grimwood, Chrissie Wunna, Kate Sandison, Sofia Lacey, Aimee Marie Higham, Antonia Johnstone and Stephen Staley), together with a by now overfamiliar plot.

A massive earth movement, ostensibly an earthquake, turns out to be an eruption from underground which disgorges a load of previously thought extinct dinosaurs onto the land; the UK is on standby and May (Wunna) grabs her kids (Wunna's own - see my review of Dinosaur Hotel for more on that, a film which could have been shot back to back with this one) and heads for granny's place; she's diverted by a trio of monsters who force the family into a cave along with two potholers caught up in the chaos, who swiftly get theirs.

May and kids escape the cave and wind up at Jeffrey's/Munday's favourite youth hostel (an oft used location which at least is called a hostel in this one) run by Lyn (Sandison) and her hothead son Mark; there's a bunch of other survivors also holed up including Brenda, a doomy nun (Johnstone), a game goth (Lacey) and a snivelling wreck (Higham): and they're soon joined by a pair of soldiers, Mel and Ryan (Grimwood - who always gets to do at least one scene where she emotionally falls apart - and Staley). Then, as tends to be the way with these things, things slow way down for some domestic intrigue, health related drama and a missing child. Wunna pulls a series of exasperated long faces and says things like "it's ok to show people how you really feel", there's some more crying, and then the CGI dinosaurs turn up for the last reel, which sets itself up for a sequel which to date hasn't materialised.

As usual with this school of filmmaking, the 'action' scenes are far more interesting than the soapy dramatics. Wunna's kids get way too much to do in the film (and the little moppets are also called upon to have a go at American accents) and the whole thing feels pretty lazy. Obviously this, and the other 'Dinosaur' movies produced and directed by Mundy, Jeffrey et al are attempting to emulate the cheap and cheerful SyFy offerings and pick up a few quid via streaming and supermarket sales. In fifty years time these may attain the same status as Roger Corman's 1950s sci fi quickies, but I'm unlikely to be alive to find out.

You can watch Monsters of War here (well you could when I published this).

Little Monster (UK 2018/2021: Dir James Plumb) It's a bit of a cheat listing this film as a 2021 movie; Little Monster was filmed in 2017 and it had its premiere screening in 2018. A collector’s edition DVD was released in early 2019 and it was streamed on Amazon Prime later the same year. The film was uploaded on YouTube in 2021. which is where I come in.

In suburban Wales, distracted dad Gareth (Martyn Stallard) is too busy looking at his phone to notice a dishevelled man approaching the playground where his daughter Ana (Isobelle Plumb, the director's daughter) is having a good time. While the other parents move their kids out of the way, Ana is bitten by the interloper. In return Gareth kills the stranger. But later it's discovered that the attacker had died some time previously; Gareth is exonerated of any charge of murder, and Ana is discharged from hospital, much to the relief of Gareth and his wife Jen (Stacey Daly).

But back home things don't go so well. Ana is clearly still unwell, and the parents' attempts to elicit help from a resource strapped hospital come to nothing. Faced with the awful prospect of caring for their increasingly sick child, Gareth and Jen discover that Ana's infection means she can only survive by drinking blood; and after a while, with their own plasma donations making them both physically weak, they realise that the only option is to source fresh supplies from the Welsh streets.

Little Monster taps into elements of the suburban tensions of the films of Andrew Parkinson and also early Dominic Brunt, while the later scenes evoke the searches of the alien female in Jonathan Glazer's 2013 movie Under the Skin. "Killing him...it was easy" says a distraught Gareth, recalling how he despatched Ana's attacker; an insight that will explain his later actions. Later Jen will say, of her daughter who is now no longer her daughter, "I miss her": Little Monster revolves around the levels to which parents will rise/fall to protect their children, and the dangers of those parents taking opposing views of what is best. Sure the events of Little Monster take place with no seeming knowledge of the popular culture of the zombie, but that's made more believable by the world into which Ana's parents slip, faced with the impossible task of caring for a child for whom their assistance is never enough. Excellent work, and at times very affecting.

You can watch Little Monster here

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