The Secret of Marrowbone

Year: 2018
Directed by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Cast: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Kyle Soller, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg

Written by Tom Sheffield

The Secret of Marrowbone was released in UK cinemas earlier this month and if I’m being honest, I haven’t really heard much about it anywhere. I went into the film only having seen the first trailer (some time ago I might add) and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sometimes I like to head to the cinema and watch a film I haven’t seen or read anything about because going in with no expectations can really make for some special surprises!

Set in 1969, the film focuses on four British children who flee to American with their mother, who then exile themselves from the rest of their town following the death of their Mother due to the fact they live in fear that someone is chasing them down – something that is explored throughout the film. Their self-exile is to ensure the authorities don’t split the family up as they wait for the eldest sibling, Jack (MacKay), to turn 21 and become a legal adult. Jack does his best to look after his 19-year-old sister, Jane (Goth), 18-year-old Billy (Heaton), and the youngest of the siblings, 5-year-old Sam (Stagg), but tensions rise between Billy and Jack as the exile begins to take its toll. The Marrowbone children make a friend not long after their arrival in America, local girl Allie (Taylor-Joy), but she doesn’t know much about the family or their situation and so is left to piece together their story through hearsay and trying to get Jack to open up to her. The families self-exile appears to be going swimmingly until a bullet pierces a window, which narrowly misses Jane, and she lets out an almighty scream for Jack and then… the film jumps forward to the following Summer.

This jump feels quite jarring at first until the film progresses and the events we seem to have skipped are slowly pieced together through shared dialogue between the siblings. The children all seem to have put that event out of their minds and we see them carry about their day-to-day lives living in their old, creeky house. Jack is the only one who leaves the premises, and he does so to sell homemade baked treats to a local store and get books for Sam, who is obviously homeschooled. We then learn through Sam that he thinks there’s a ‘ghost’ in the attic, and this is where the supernatural undertones become prevalent, with lots of weird occurrences around the house, and we learn the children have taken measures to keep the ghost at bay, with one tactic being to cover or hide every single mirror in the house. Delving any further into the story would spoil the incoming surprises, so I shall say no more!

George MacKay gives an exceptional performance as Jack. As the eldest child, his siblings rely on him for just about everything and you can really feel the weight of that responsibility on his shoulders. But it’s not until the third act that MacKay really blew me away for reasons I can’t delve into because it would be way too spoilery – but once you get to the final half hour of the film, you’ll see for yourselves what I mean. Anya Taylor-Joy also delivers another outstanding performance but that’s really no surprise after seeing her in The Witch, Split, and Thoroughbreds. She continues to be an exciting talent who we should all be keeping an eye on, and I’m excited to see her as Magik in New Mutants when it finally releases (if it stops getting pushed back!). The rest of the cast also deserve love and praise for their respective roles. especially Stagg who is a frequent scene-stealer from his older co-stars.

It’s clear to see what Sánchez was aiming for with The Secret of Marrowbone, luring the audience into thinking they know where the plot is going before he throws a game-changing twist into the mix, but in the end, it just comes off like the film fails to settle on a tone. Admittedly, it takes some mulling over afterwards to really appreciate the story, and I think I would really benefit from a second viewing knowing what awaits at the end- so I look forward to picking it up on Blu-ray when it’s released. Tone aside, I really loved what Sánchez did here, and whilst it’s nothing new in the world of horror/thriller/mystery films, it was still a surprise to watch the events unfold how they did.

Xavi Giménez’s stunning cinematography really captures the how isolated the family are and how claustrophobic the whole situation makes them feel. There are some stunning shots of the surrounding fields, cliffs and beaches, but it’s the scenes inside the house that were my favourite. The house is fairly large, as are the numerous rooms it holds, but a large number of scenes are close-ups of the characters, making the rooms feel small and formulating that underlying sense of claustrophobia that the Marrowbones must be feeling. It’s the little details that really make the largest impact in this film, and that’s even more reason for me to watch it again so I can try to pick up on things I might have missed.

The Secret of Marrowbone kept me guessing right until the very end, and I’m sat here a whole week later still thinking about it. The young cast have a wonderful chemistry which gives the story the heart and emotion Sánchez was clearly aiming for. I would definitely recommend seeking this film out when you can, but don’t set any expectations for it and just let the story unfold.

Tom’s Rating:

4

 

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Dark River

Year: 2018
Directed by: Clio Barnard
Cast: Ruth Wilson, Mark Stanley, Sean Bean, Dean Andrews

Written by Hunter Williams

Following this year’s Lean On Pete, ‘God’s Own Country‘ and ‘The Levelling‘, the withering farmlands are a dramatic staple of 2018’s arthouse cinema. Clio Bernard’s ‘Dark River’ is a standout among this particular niche.

Inspired by Rose Tremain’s novel ‘Trespass’, Ruth Wilson’s Alice returns to her home village for the first time in 15 years after the death of her father, Richard (Sean Bean). The slow and enrapturing photography introduces the vast and unruled lands, underscored by the pounding footsteps of a nearby stampede. Alice wanders the once familiar home, looking hesitantly into darkly lit rooms that spark haunting memories of her father. Bernard’s patience will never let up, allowing the creeping darkness of the woods nearby to infect whatever future the farm may have had.

Ruth Wilson (Alice), once paired with co-star Mark Stanley (Joe), reacquaint themselves with the convincing power of a brother-sister bond that hasn’t been shared for 15 years. They are both excellent performances, using words for spare parts that focus more on the traditional emotional truth often found in the eyes and staging of actors (props to Bernard for distinct direction). Wilson in particular marks ‘Dark River’ as a major work within her filmography, matching the enveloping grief of Laura Dern in Fox’s ‘The Tale’ from earlier this year.

As their rural life is threatened by a housing agent upon Alice’s return, the past begins to overlap their future. Joe is unable to properly hold up the farm in grief of his father, but Alice insists on moving forward. Their conflict boils until not even the farmlands are able to quantify their history. The final third is the kind of bold move that will make it or break it for certain audiences. In this particular case, Bernard takes the typical Sundance fare of underlings returning home in light of a guardians death and transforming it into a disturbing resolution against abuse.

‘Lean On Pete’, ‘God’s Own Country’ and ‘The Levelling’ may be good in their own right, but Bernard is out for blood just as much as her main character Alice is. Which is why the final moments of ‘Dark River’ are as dark as the film suggests. Wilson and Stanley struggle to make eye contact, but their body language says it all: their commitment to each other is not bound by their history or land, so what does the length of the river matter if it’s already dark.

Hunter’s Rating:

4

Hereditary

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Year: 2018
Directed by: Ari Aster
StarringToni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne

WRITTEN BY RHYS BOWEN JONES

A24, the production company that can seemingly do no wrong lately, are back with another unique horror that has gripped the world. Following successful releases like ‘The VVitch’ and ‘It Comes At Night’, ‘Hereditary’ arrives with hype and then some. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival back in January and has since received near universal acclaim, with its marketing proudly and consistently quoting reviews saying ‘Hereditary’ is the new ‘The Exorcist’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’ Whether Aster’s film has the staying power of those two films remains to be seen, but ‘Hereditary’ is one hell of a film.

Annie Graham (Collette), a miniaturist artist who recreates moments from her own life in dollhouse form, suffers the loss of her mother, Ellen, and the film follows her and her family picking up the pieces left by Ellen’s departure. What follows is far darker than expected for Annie and co, as the legacy left by her mother appears to have left a strange curse on the family.

I can’t say more than that criminally short summary will let me. ‘Hereditary’, first and foremost, deserves to be seen as blind as possible. Thankfully, the trailers give nothing away about what you’re going to experience, but you should go in with only the barest knowledge of the plot. What unfolds is an experience like no other that still revolves around my brain days later.

‘Hereditary’ is the sort of film that relies on its actors. Owing to its fairly extreme concept, it requires total commitment at playing the film out as it was intended, letting debut director Ari Aster’s vision appear on screen as intended. Thankfully, Toni Collette and her co-stars are entirely up to the challenge, and more. The performances in ‘Hereditary’ are some of the best of the year, particularly from show-stealer Toni Collette.

Annie Graham feels real. Suffering the death of her mother, and the subsequent monologue at the funeral, you begin to see and feel the pain of her loss. But, it’s not the conventional loss you might expect. As they return to the house, Annie asks her husband “should I be more upset?” It’s a subtle line, but it’s filled with nuance because of their difficult relationship that Annie delves into as she attends a bereavement support group. They had a tumultuous relationship for years, one that linked directly to Annie’s children, Peter and 13-year-old Charlie (played excellently by Milly Shapiro), but she was still her mother. In one stellar monologue at one of the support group meetings – a monologue that you should pay attention to as it holds many keys to the film’s ending – Annie outlines their past conflicts and confrontations that build into who Annie becomes as the film progresses.

Collette has gone to great lengths to understand both Annie and Annie’s mother to create a performance that, if everything goes to plan, will surely earn her an Oscar nomination in January. At the dinner scene (yes, the dinner scene), the emotions of the previous hour or so on film come to ahead in a stunning confrontation between Annie and Peter, that honestly borders on the blackest edges of comedy. Annie’s frustrations all come to the fore and she struggles to get her words out, calling Peter a “little shit” and telling him to stop having “that face on your face.” In a lesser film, this scene would have dropped like a stone, but the film does a masterful job of establishing its characters, so this scene has a raw, emotional power not seen in horror films for years. Collette, for lack of a better term, nails this performance. She takes Annie by the scruff of her neck and makes her her own. It’s a performance that is going to be connected with Collette for the rest of her career, a role that no one else could have played.

Here’s a fact that I still can’t believe – ‘Hereditary’ is Ari Aster’s debut feature. Aster has been making short films since 2011, but the 30-year-old made the leap to filmmaking as a writer-director with ‘Hereditary’, and it’s entirely evident that this is Aster’s vision from beginning to end. The film has a level of confidence about it that I haven’t seen in 20-year directorial veterans. Consistently using tracking shots of his characters as they move around the Graham house, frequently losing track of them around corners owing to the slow speed of each tracking shot, you turn every corner genuinely not sure what you’re going to see. ‘Hereditary’ has shocks and surprises abound, and Aster appears to know exactly what each moment needs. Slow tracking shots, jarring cuts to horrifying images, following the eyeline of a character to offscreen horrors. Aster guides the gaze of his audience to exactly what he needs them to see, but maybe not what the audience wants to see.

‘Hereditary’ has countless scenes of genuinely unspeakable horror. Two spring to mind, but I could mention five or six here. The first is the film’s pivotal scene, the scene that truly launches the film from Act One into Act Two with a frightening, disturbing and upsetting sequence. We know what’s happened, we know how it happened, but Aster withholds showing the immediate aftermath by following a character as they come to terms with what happened, and the camera remains locked on their face or body for the entirety of this scene. Then, when the moment happens, we have one of those aforementioned jarring cuts, accompanied by equally horrifying sounds but horrifying for a whole host of different reasons, as the aftermath is finally revealed. I haven’t seen an audience react so viscerally to a moment for years. There were gasps, screams, elongated “no”’s, and loud “fuck off”’s. I couldn’t speak, I was near enough paralysed to my seat, both needing to look away but unable to take my eyes off the screen, and as I’m reliably informed by my friend, I started to curl up into a ball, a ball that tightened and tightened as the film reached its climax.

The second scene is far harder to describe. I’m sure everyone who has seen ‘Hereditary ‘knows which scene I’m referring to even without saying which it is. This scene is spine-tinglingly scary, causing that ball I was in to become entirely spherical as I seized up in paralysis. What helps it is that this is a scare I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever experienced before. It’s not an immediate scare, there are no sound cues and no cuts; the camera stays locked on a scene and watches it unfold, and the horror reveals itself at your own pace. Some of my audience saw it immediately, others didn’t see it at all, while I saw it after an easy 15+ seconds of it being on screen. I’m wholly serious when I say I’ve never experienced a moment like this in any film before now. It’s a scene that uses every element of filmmaking at once and trusts its audience to engage with the images presented to them. It’s nothing short of masterful and utterly genius.

‘Hereditary’ is an experience. It’s an experience I haven’t had at the cinema for years, feeling a need to run away from the film and never look back while also being stuck to my seat, unable to move due to absolute, unabated fear. It’s a film that is going to divide people massively – walking out of the cinema, some hated it, some were unsure of it, and some loved it. I don’t think the pre-film comparisons to ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ did it any favours. You shouldn’t go into the film with these expectations, nor should you go into it expecting a conventional horror film. It’s a family tragedy story under the umbrella of a horror film. The tragedy only adds to the horror as the film escalates to its finale, and believe me, it escalates. The ending is going to cause discussion for years to come, with revelations coming out about the film on a near-daily basis. I and some of the Jumpcut team were up until stupid o’clock in the morning discussing aspects of the film that only heightened the experience and made me love it even more.

‘Hereditary’ requires your patience and your commitment to let the story unfold at the pace it does. Stick with it. The end result is immensely satisfying, terrifying, and completely brilliant.

RHYS’ RATING:

4.5

Anon

Year: 2018
Directed by: Andrew Nicol
Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger, Mark O’Brien

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2018 British science fiction thriller is directed and written by Andrew Niccol and stars Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger and Mark O’Brien.

In the not too distant future, biosyn implants allow humans to be connected to an endles visual stream of information nown as the ‘Mind’s Eye’. What people see is recorded and stored in a grid called ‘The Ether’. Privacy and secrecy no longer exist.

Detective Sal Frieland (Owen) is soon brought in to investigate a string of murders where the killer seems to be living within the Ether itself; leaving no visual clues, footprints or streams against their victims – he is seeking a ghost within the system. Sal comes across an informant known only as Anon (Seyfried) who he suspects is linked to these crimes – but why? It’s clear the security of people’s minds has been compromised, and Sal needs to find the Anon before it’s too late…

An “original film” which at least comes across as original in context, but really it’s just a blend of other big-budget sci-fi thrillers before it like ‘Minority Report’ and even ‘The Matrix’. Yet it’s painful to watch with a un-engaging story, a less than engaging cast, and a pace that makes a snail look quick in comparison.

It’s a world where people “see” streams of information depending what they look at. They can see adverts ping up around shops and sidewalks, they can see information about everyone they pass including age, job, place of residence, criminal records. It’s not a million miles from what technology can find on people today, except here it’s a constant stream where your privacy and secrets are recorded and stored in a “cloud”.

It’s like Apple becomes Skynet.

And yet to compensate a basic formula for a crime-thriller where you don’t know who or what is behind an obvious major conspiracy or rebellion against the system, you need a good cast. We sadly don’t have that either.

While Amanda Seyfried does a mediocre job as our ‘Anon’ living in the void as a ghost, never really becoming anything other than a 2D hacker with a grudge, it’s left to Clive Owen as the sharp suited detective of this cyber world. A detective who juggles heavy drinking, a failed marriage and a traumatic past to do what he does best – solve crimes. But Owen just lacks any gravitas as Sal, either due to the material he’s working with or the fact he isn’t just that great an actor in a film that requires complex character studies. We get none of that here.

With Owen out to solve a crime as basic as this, it takes so long for the cogs to turn and almost an hour for things to just warm up. Cue lots of sub-par visual effects, over-used P.O.V shots (‘Hardcore Henry’ this isn’t!) and lots of talk. Too much of a relatively good thing soon loses the impact it initially set out. Exposition upon exposition makes it complicated to follow and adds so much more to things when it didn’t need to.

Maybe there’s a reason this is a Netflix ‘original film’, because in the mainstream swing of things, it’s not original. It’s been done before, and it’s been done better. This is just a basic offering with a premise that looks and sounds exciting in trailers, but comes over slow, amateur and boring in execution.

 

Chris’s Rating: 

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Silverstone, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

Written by Jessica Peña

It’s not often enough a film will come around that will leave you in awe, laughing, cringing, and downright terrified. Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ will find you in these states and will claw at your psyche well after its ending credits. It carries very dark comedic tones and chilling subjects. The film examines the absence of any virtue and becomes one of the most unsettling and gratifying cinematic experiences of the year.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon who lives a comfortable and pristine suburban life with his wife (Nicole Kidman), son (Sunny Suljic), and teenage daughter (Raffey Cassidy). It becomes known that he’s struggled with an alcohol problem in the past, leading to the death of a man on his operating table. Here’s where things get a little interesting. Held with a guilt, Stephen meets Martin (Barry Keoghan), the deceased patient’s 16 year old son. Martin begins to spend time with Stephen over the course of a few months. They get to know each other a little through meeting each other’s families, dinner visits, and ‘too close for comfort’ conversations. Martin tries endlessly to have Stephen in his life. There comes a point where Martin begins to cross the line on what he says to Stephen, making his family uncomfortable, and so Stephen ends all forms of communication with Martin. The youngest child, Bob, suddenly loses all feeling and mobility in his legs, causing Stephen and his wife to rush him to the hospital.

With no scientific or realistic explanation, the family is stumped. Martin shows up and asks Stephen for ten minutes of his time. Reluctantly, Stephen agrees. This is where Martin abruptly continues his ominous front. He tells Stephen to choose which of his loved ones to kill. If no decision is made within a timely manner, they will die one by one. First, they will lose function of their legs. Then, they will lose their appetite. Finally, they will begin to bleed from the eyes before their eventual death. Martin delivers this line so simply and so poised that we begin to wonder if he is the Devil incarnate. Martin’s vendetta becomes clear and Stephen’s world gets turned upside down. This is where ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ shoots its cold hearted madness through our soul.

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We watch misfortune strike this family and Stephen almost doesn’t know what to make of it all. Something that Lanthimos nods to is his recent film ‘The Lobster,’ where dialogue and normal human reaction is made to appear desolate. His characters are so very modern but there is a certain way of speech that will transport us deeper into the film, but will also bother us. In many instances, people would not react the way that these characters act. It throws a person off. Farrell and Kidman give exceptional performances that aren’t over the top, but succeed in helping such an eerie script. Beside Lanthimos’ excellent direction, Keoghan as Martin is what terrifies us the most. The young Dublin-born actor makes it seem so effortless in presenting this dead-eyed character. It’s not explained where Martin gains this supernatural power to bestow onto Stephen’s life. Another thing Lanthimos enjoys is presenting an automatic acceptance that this is just how things are. We do not question it and we do not argue. The notion of sacrificial trial, justice, and human nature is all challenged through Martin’s menacing proclamation. ‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ looks to rattle us and it does a fine job at it. The first shot we see is a close up of an open heart surgery to the sound of jarring classical opera music. Be careful in choosing to see a film so unconventional and Earth-altering.

The gratification comes to us through its visual nightmare-like world. From slow pans to long wide shots, the minimalist cinematography by Thimios Bakatakis captures the rarity of the film entirely. Lanthimos completely throws us into this very dark and ethereal atmosphere. It can’t be measured just how much discomfort this film will make you feel. The soundtrack itself thickens tension and raises heart rates. Even the melody of the Christmas tune, “Carol of the Bells,” becomes something haunting when we remember what we’re sitting through. Accordionist Janne Rattya lends her horrifying “De Profundis” to the film, which sets the tone of no hope for Stephen’s family. With its devastating Greek tragedy theme, all the components of sound and visuals will meet in the middle where it pains us the most.

Sincerely noted, this film won’t pan too nicely to a lot of people. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers that stop at nothing to wreak havoc, this may be for you. Dark comedy makes a bigger occurrence in the film than one would think. We find ourselves laughing at something (that was probably meant to be taken very seriously in context) and then immediately feeling uneasy again. It’s quite a refreshment, honestly. It makes the film so distinct, just how we like it. If you’re alright with welcoming bizarre behavior, insane metaphors, and uneasy scripts, be my guest. We need more films that aren’t afraid to terrify us in such a way. Yorgos Lanthimos continues to prove himself as an uncanny heavyweight among directors and this film, as strange as it was, serves to break barriers.

‘The Killing of A Sacred Deer’ does not know forgiveness. It squeezes your senses until you can longer withstand the agony. It surprises you with its antics and decisions. It is heart-wrenching and will not stray away from you. It is certainly a sinister experience that won’t leave your thoughts even days after its viewing. You find yourself leaving the theater puzzled, disgusted, stunned, and most of all, unsettled to the core. Lanthimos gives us one of the most unnerving and masterful pieces of art in recent cinematic times.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Murder on the Orient Express

Year: 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr.

Written by Jo Craig

A packed Friday night screening jostling with curiosity from a varied audience sees Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ as an impressive turnout for the classic enigma’s opening night, prompting a relentless interest we as a nation have in a good whodunit with an itch to solve the crime before the protagonist. Furrowed brows, swift chuckles and an envy for lavish conduct awaits on this expedition, but instead of partaking in the detective work more is to be gained from kicking off Jessica Fletcher’s slippers and settling for spectator as a sedative to preclude headache.

Previously made for the big screen in 1974 by Sidney Lumet and Albert Finney, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ joins Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective in the world on his most puzzling case, becoming the sole investigator of a murder on-board the long-distance passenger train while travelling on its isolating journey from Istanbul across Europe. Transporting an opulent array of passengers, it’s Poirot’s duty to catch the killer before arrival and keep his head above its surrounding secrecy.

Humour is not a common factor when it comes to productions in the crime genre of late, however Poirot’s resume equips us for a level of tongue-in-cheek quips that colour his meticulous problem solving and is a component that’s used to the advantage of Kenneth Branagh’s retelling. Performing on and off camera validates the skippers acting flair and stability with directing, not to mention his dazzling blue eyes that looked as if the universe existed within them against the niveous scenery. Comic timing contrived on both sides of the 65mm camera remained impeccably placed from the outset and operated as the features redeeming asset when the plot bottle necked but ultimately became a distant memory during the last quarter. Branagh’s emphasis on Poirot’s obsessive trait towards “unbearable” imperfections addressed an insecurity that stuck, despite being labelled unshakeable and supplied a quirk to the police work.

Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad kept the 1930’s current for modern day viewing and worked a vital freshness into the timeless mystery that was threatened with regenerated humdrum. Ridley’s Mary Debenham teases with a bubbly demeanour but is frequently deprived of independence, while Gad’s theatrical background sufficiently peddles his engagement as the shady MacQueen. Pfeiffer and Depp remain sturdy as the backbone to a polished cast while maintaining the progressive gravitas alongside Branagh, unlike Dame Judi Dench who became outclassed by her servant Olivia Coleman, whose fleeting but expressive role surpassed Dench’s few humorous lines. Performances from a dreary Cruz, and doctor on-board Leslie Odom Jr. are forgotten amongst larger personalities, adding extra baggage to an already crowded compartment that demanded extra scrutiny.

A long-winded introduction presenting the movie as a character piece rather than a wholesome thriller emerged as wasted time when arriving at the films core, presenting the crime’s foundation as a careless interjection into the narrative which ultimately caused a detachment from Poirot’s deliberating, abandoning all hope of solving the puzzle with him. This late addition of a critical layer to the plot, combined with a plethora of identities and jigsaw pieces caused major brain cramps when tasked to juggle them all at once, all the while trying to decipher Branagh’s often incomprehensible speech that muddled a decent French accent every time Hercule got excited. A retrospective scene delved into a fitting noir-scope which brought punch to the denouement and bound any loose ends, but stretched into a dragging conclusion that begged for the inspector’s no-nonsense psyche to halt its runaway manner.

Hair-raising scenery of snowy mountains and vertigo-summoning drops were efficient in contrast to a packed locomotive interior, with credible cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos (‘Thor’) and Rebecca Alleway’s (‘The Duchess’) convincing set decoration that brought the allure of the era and a rather majestic looking choo choo. Branagh’s clever trick in the director’s chair pinned our stellar actors to the background as much as the foreground, encouraging the viewers to look beyond the spotlight for evidence like the cunning detective.

As it stands, no vehicular journey is without shoogling as ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ plays to its strengths as a kitsch conundrum with Hollywood’s most glamorous, almost excusing its accelerated second act pace and a platter of redundant clues that lend no hand to budding crime aficionados who haven’t read or watched the original material. Viewers young and matured will certainly get a thrill from Branagh’s version as an alternative to family Cluedo night and ‘CSI’ re-runs, with the exception of Branagh’s quality act hiding behind a two-layered, preposterous moustache.

Jo’s Rating: 6.0 out of 10            

You Were Never Really Here

Year: TBC, but likely 2018
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola, Alex Manette

Written by Sarah Buddery

After a Best Actor nomination for ‘Walk the Line’ (2005), followed by being shamefully overlooked for his gorgeously tender performance in 2013’s ‘Her’, Joaquin Phoenix couldn’t exactly be put into the category of ‘underrated’, however nor is he considered as a bankable box office draw; which is a real shame. One of the most consistently watchable actors, Phoenix has a history for playing dark and troubled characters – his one in ‘You Were Never Really Here’ being no different – so some may consider him to be “one note”. However when he plays them this well, it isn’t exactly a bad thing!

The story is as vague in its actualisation as it is in the IMDb description, but essentially it follows ‘Joe’ played by Phoenix, an enforcer of undisclosed authority, who is sent to rescue an underage girl who has been kidnapped and used in the sex trade. Haunted by the visions of his childhood abuse, Joe is deeply troubled, teetering constantly on the brink of psychosis. Essentially a hitman thriller, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ manages to pack an awful lot of hits into its short runtime, as well as an uncomfortably in-depth exploration of the man perpetrating them.   

Owing a great deal to the 1976 masterpiece ‘Taxi Driver’, Joaquin Phoenix manages to channel the ghost of Travis Bickle, and to electrifying effect. Near enough the entire runtime is spent with his character, and whilst at times the story feels cold and distant, there is a great deal of pity for this character, despite his brutal nature. Similarly in the aforementioned ‘Taxi Driver’, we spent so much time with DeNiro’s iconic character, and that idea of being so closely aligned with a psychopath, makes for a totally thrilling experience. Whereas ‘Taxi Driver’ had the perfect amount of slow-burning tension, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ doesn’t wait long for the bursts of violence, and the brutality is orchestrated to perfection.

Early on there is a scene which is near silent and switches to the perspective of CCTV cameras within a house. We see Joe moving from room to room, dispatching various heavies, and for all its brutality, it is equally mesmerising to watch. The sound design of this film is absolutely stunning, perfectly utilising silence when needed and punctuating this with sudden and deafening bursts of noise and chaos. The music, from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is jarring, jangling, eerie, utterly nerve-shredding and completely amazing, suiting the tone of the film perfectly, and contributing to that constant sense of unease.

Whilst it is easy to connect, although not empathise, with the central character, the story does feel somewhat distant at times. Perhaps this is intentional and somehow represents that emotional disconnect the character feels from the atrocities he is committing, but it does make it a difficult watch in places.

That being said, ‘You Were Never Really Here’ is truly “edge of your seat” stuff, and whilst the comparisons with ‘Taxi Driver’ kind of write themselves, it is still amazing on its own merit. Joaquin Phoenix gives an electric, and possibly career-best performance as the troubled hitman, and only time will tell if this will be the year he receives a much-deserved nomination, or the year he is once again shamefully overlooked. Awards aside however, this is one of the most genuinely thrilling films in a long time, and one which packs a mean punch into a relatively short space. An explosive, and unmissable film.

Sarah’s Rating: 8.8 out of 10

Mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Written by Sasha Hornby

‘Mother!’ is the latest film written and directed by American auteur Darren Aronofsky, director of ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’, about a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home.  At least, this is what the official synopsis and trailers would like you to believe; the tagline ‘seeing is believing’ has rarely been more apt. 

‘Mother!’ is part metaphysical thriller, part psychological drama, sometimes black comedy and perhaps a little surreal mystery.  In all honesty, it defies description.  The film takes place entirely in one beautifully quaint, grand house.  Burned down at an unspecified point in history, Jennifer Lawrence’s character, ‘Mother’, has painstakingly restored the abode in which she resides with Javier Bardem’s character, ‘Him’, whilst he sits in his study suffering from chronic writer’s block.  When the ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) turn up univited, the paradise Mother is building begins to unwind.

Jennifer Lawrence as Mother is transcendent.  Undoubtedly a career-best performance, ‘Mother!’ is her film.  Rarely panning out beyond 12 inches from her face when she is the focus, and when she isn’t, giving only her viewpoint of the world around her, the camera is her.  Her sanity and reality is consistently brought into question, and so too is the viewer’s.  In one scene, she questions Him about the supposed stranger, “he has pictures of you in his luggage”.  Instead of attempting to explain this obvious non-coincidence, he simply retorts “what were you doing in their luggage?”. There is a lot to be said for instinct, and it is natural for a person to investigate when something feels wrong or out of place; such as a man turning up at your door claiming ‘they’ told him the house was a B&B.  Him is elusive in his non-answer, twisting the narrative, and manipulating Mother to feel she is in the wrong.

She personifies introversion and anxiety – unable to leave the house she has built and unwilling to accept visitors.  As hers are the eyes through which we see events unfold, her agitation and emotional strain begin to fuse with our own, making for an increasingly intense and claustrophobic experience.  This is only heightened by the bold lack of scoring, which becomes deafening, as mundane, everyday noises scream in the background.  When she meets the Woman, the Woman observes “you really love him, god help you.”  Her love for Him is toxic.  She does everything for Him, to protect Him, to provide for Him, to support Him, without question, whilst getting very little back in return.  She gives Him her all, free from expectation; the purest of love. 

Javier Bardem is perfect in the role of Him.  He is, of course, considerably older than Mother, though this is acknowledged.  He speaks calmly, with a cool smile, and calls Mother his goddess.  He loses his ‘cool’ once – when the mysterious glowing crystal he keeps in his study is smashed beyond repair by the Man and Woman.  It will only become clear in the final scenes why he is so creepily possessive over this trinket.  In the first half of the film, he is cold and distant, consumed by his lack of life, lack of inspiration.  After one passionate encounter with Mother, he is full of life and inspiration, yet still distant, consumed with completing his finest work.  He is not an obvious villain, but a man selfishly obsessed with his poetry, his legacy. 

The Man and Woman, as played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, are deliciously devilish.  He, a dying old man looking to meet his idol; her, a cynical woman who cannot resist prying into the lives of the protagonists.  The Woman has some of the keenest insights throughout.  When a tragedy is bestowed upon her, she talks of being a mother herself – “you give and you give and you give, its just never enough”.  ‘Its just never enough’ is a recurring theme throughout ‘Mother!’.

The Man and the Woman are not the only visitors.  As events unfold, more visitors arrive to worship Him; and more and more and more.  The worship is poisonous; they are infatuated with Him, and treat Him like a deity, and Him accepts this worship as though it validates his existence.  When Mother questions “who are they?”, he answers excitedly “they’ve come here to see me.”  His ego is ultimately more important than the safety and mental well-being of his ‘goddess’.  When that moment (believe me, you’ll know it when you see it) occurs, he is still willing to forgive his followers, rather than chastise them for their abhorrent, sickening, shocking behaviour. 

If you hadn’t already noticed, no one in ‘Mother!’ is named.  This only adds to the prophetic feeling, like ‘Mother!’ is an allegory for society, for religion, for pathologically abusive relationships, for the current political climate, for war, for everything that is wrong with the world.  All showcased in one house, in one woman’s nightmare. 

One of the several trailers claims “you will never forget where you were the first time you saw Mother!”  I definitely won’t.  Never, and I mean never, has a film had me so on the edge of my seat, mouth agape, eyes unblinking, in the final act.  It is a slow burn, that at it’s crescendo, will tear you apart.  ‘Mother!’ may be the best film I won’t ever revisit; a dizzying experience that I will recommend to all at least once. 

Sasha’s rating: 8 out of 10

 

Wind River

Year: 2017
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Julia Jones, Kelsey Chow

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

If you haven’t heard of Taylor Sheridan by now, I’m sure he is going to be a household name from 2017 and beyond. Following up two stellar films he wrote (‘Sicario’, ‘Hell or High Water’) with his directorial debut, ‘Wind River’, Sheridan is making a name for himself as one of the most exciting writer-directors in the business today.

According to Sheridan himself, ‘Wind River’ is the end of his “American frontier trilogy”, an anthology series documenting varying aspects of American life. Where ‘Sicario’ took on the military and immigration, ‘Hell or High Water’ took on crime and class culture, ‘Wind River’ takes aim at sexism and secluded societies around the country. Across all three films, Sheridan criticises aspects of life that have become part and parcel of American culture, while managing to tell a riveting story on top of it; and the final part, ‘Wind River’, is no exception.

‘Wind River’ is set in an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, a stunning, mountainous, snowy tundra of a place that is miles away from any sort of city. The people of Wind River are on their own, any problems that arise will have to be solved by themselves or not at all. Police are few and far between as the town’s police department is a 6-man operation that covers hundreds of miles of mountainous terrain. This is Cory Lambert’s (Renner) playground. He is a hunter, a man who roams the mountains and does odd jobs for the locals, hunting and killing the wild animals that are terrorising the town and their farm system. During one of his expeditions, Cory stumbles across a dead body in the snow, and suspecting murder, calls in young FBI Agent Jane Banner (Olsen) to investigate. What follows is a tense murder mystery that is sure to leave a lasting impression long after you’ve left the cinema.

What struck me during the film, and after the film had ended, was how assured a debut this was for Sheridan. It is as confident and as good a debut as I’ve seen since Steve McQueen’s ‘Hunger’ or Ryan Coogler’s ‘Fruitvale Station’. Everything in the film is done to such a high standard in front of and behind the camera that Sheridan was evidently in total control of his cast and crew, going as far as bringing out a career-best performance from Jeremy Renner. The cinematography gives the film a gorgeous, bright tone that does the area’s stunning scenery justice, the soundtrack complimenting the action on screen with both foreboding and uplifting moments, and the clever editing during certain scenes (there’s one sumptuous, intentionally surprising and jarring cut with an opening door that gives the upcoming scene an entirely different meaning) add to the film’s escalating tension.

As previously mentioned, Jeremy Renner is terrific in the role of mysterious recluse Cory. Living a life away from his ex-wife and son (who gets occasional visits), he has intentionally placed himself in an environment where he is effectively in charge of his own destiny. He has forged a small career out of his hunting and he thrives upon it, to the point where once the body is discovered, the FBI agent called in is effectively helping Cory solve the murder, rather than the way it was intended. Olsen is equally excellent as the underestimated agent, someone left on her own to solve a bigger crime than the FBI had anticipated, facing a constant stream of sexism and ageism from the locals and even the local police department. Olsen gets her moment in the spotlight in the final act as things begin to escalate out of control, and she brings out a fiery temperament that is sure to be a major reason for Banner to have climbed the ranks of the FBI.

Where I found the film stumbled slightly is in its climax. The story up to this point is so intriguing and well-thought out, the eventual reveal of how the events happened comes somewhat out of left field. In the best-written murder mysteries, an initially innocent moment or character is revealed as a major factor in the mystery; in ‘Wind River’, there is no earlier suggestion of “whodunnit”. As such, initially, the climax of the main murder lands with a hefty bump.

Since, however, the ending has improved in my mind. Sheridan doesn’t exaggerate the story for dramatic purposes; this is a story that happened, and this is how it ends. In real life, there is no dramatic final act twist. There may not be a wholly satisfying resolution to every last thread. People wish to put the dramatic events behind them, and people move on. I’ll be stunned if Sheridan doesn’t end up with an Oscar nomination for his script next year.

‘Wind River’ is a terrific film. There’s no other way of saying it; so much of this film is made to such a high standard that Sheridan has set himself an improbably high standard to exceed with his next film. If you can, avoid any trailers, go into ‘Wind River’ as blind as you can. You won’t regret it.

Rhys’ rating: 9.0 out of 10