LFF 2018: The Hate U Give

Year: 2018
Directed by: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, KJ Apa, Algee Smith
Screening at LFF: 20th & 21st
UK release: 22nd October

Written by Sarah Buddery

If Spike Lees’ BlacKkKlansman was the powerful, resonating and necessary film for adults in 2018, then The Hate U Give is the same in terms of potency but packaged in a way that is accessible to young adults and teens. Beyond that, however, this film has messages and relevancy across the board, and alongside the aforementioned Spike Lee joint, you’d be hard-pushed to find two films more relevant to our times.

Amandla Stenberg (who fans will recognise as Rue from The Hunger Games) absolutely astounds, and a lot is placed on her young shoulders in this film. We spend almost the entirety of the film’s runtime with her, and the nuances in the way she shows the development of her character are mesmerising. She portrays the duality of a girl torn between her “white” school and friends, and her “black” neighbourhood, family, and peers expertly. From the offset, there is the sense of a character caught between worlds, not really feeling sure of what one she belongs in, and this theme of identity is beautifully played throughout. Anchored by Stenberg’s performances, this idea of belonging and identity is something which resonates beyond race, and ensures this film is accessible to a wider audience, particularly it’s teen target audience.

The film takes a little while to settle into its groove, and indeed initially plays out like any other teen movie. Whilst the “slang” and very obvious steer towards a teen audience grated initially, in hindsight it was completely necessary, the earth-shattering events Stenberg’s Starr witnesses are a jarring gut punch into her teen normalcy, and the tone of the film from here on out, is very different.

The Hate U Give is a film which feels consistently, and perhaps horrifyingly relevant, it’s quiet broiling tension and anger eventually exploding in a way that is simultaneously cathartic and a call to action. This is a film which demands a response, and one which perhaps more than anything, encourages young people to use their voice. Throughout, it emphasises that it is having the courage to speak out that is seen to be greater than any act of violence, and the voice is the most powerful weapon you could have.

The final act is absolutely stunning with Stenberg’s performance being at its absolute peak, with emotion and talent beyond her years. It’s an act which is simple, defiant, earned, and incredibly powerful, and it is here that the film truly shines.

The initially uneven tone of the film perhaps lets this down slightly, but this is a film with something to say and it is important that audiences give it the time to listen to it.

SARAH’S RATING:

4

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The Shape of Water

Year: 2018
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones

Written by Sarah Buddery

It is hard to believe that over 11 years have passed since arguably Guillermo del Toro’s finest work, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’. Considered by many as his magnum opus, his films have been varying in quality since, although never not magnificent to look at. Supposedly the only film the visionary director has been 100% happy with, ‘The Shape of Water’ is possibly the only other del Toro film to rival the masterpiece status of ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, and that is not something which should be said lightly.

Back in familiar territory of dark, gothic fairy tales, ‘The Shape of Water’ is an absolute masterstroke, full of fantasy, wonder, gorgeous visuals, and a subtle nod in the direction of influential old Hollywood movies. This does put it into the category of films the Academy will unquestionably fawn over, but it is impossible not to fall in love with this film. ‘Pan’s’ was beautiful and twisted tragedy, whereas ‘The Shape of Water’ is beautiful and twisted romance, and it is completely stunning.

Eliza Esposito (Sally Hawkins) plays a mute woman, obsessed with routine, she works nights at a government facility. Whilst she has strong friendships with her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), her disability prevents her from forging meaningful connections with the people she comes into contact with. That is until she happens across an amphibious creature which is being held at the facility she works at for testing. Somehow able to develop an unexplainable bond to this creature, they connect through basic communication and a mutual understanding.

To spoil much more of the story than mentioned above would be a crime, and this is one of those films which is good to go into as blind as possible; although its festival buzz may be hard to silence! The relationship between Eliza and the creature goes to wonderful and incredibly unexpected places, and despite being fantastical in nature, it never feels anything less than completely and utterly genuine. To watch this relationship develop is simply mesmerising, and Sally Hawkins gives a performance which is breathtaking. To be able to communicate so passionately and with the range that she does, without words, is a monumental achievement, and if you were yet to make your mind up about Best Actress Oscar prospects, it might just be worth putting some money on Hawkins right now.

The supporting cast, particularly Octavia Spencer and Michael Shannon, are also perfectly matched to their characters. Spencer provides some welcome light relief, and fresh from her acclaimed supporting role in ‘Hidden Figures’, she continues to be a dependable and consistently watchable actress. Whilst normally the best thing about any film he is in, Michael Shannon does play second fiddle to Hawkins’ incredible lead performance, but he excels at playing the genuinely menacing and detestable villain. He’s not quite up there with the abhorrent Captain Vidal from ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ – few people are – but he is on fine form and gives an incredibly memorable performance.

Whilst on the whole it is a thing of beauty, it equally never shies away from some truly horrifying moments, and there’s a couple of genuinely shocking, gory scenes, just in case you’d forgotten you were watching a del Toro film! Initially this may not seem in keeping with the rest of the film, but it works so perfectly, and gives it an edge which helps it to truly stand out.

Put simply, ‘The Shape of Water’ is utterly magical in every sense of the word, and “more” than what you could wish for in all conceivable ways. It is more than a love story, more than a fantasy, more than a story, and more than a film; it is a transcendental masterpiece, and one which words can hardly do justice. With incredible performances, absolutely stunning visuals (special nod to the underwater scenes which are totally breathtaking), masterful direction, and a unique and memorable story, ‘The Shape of Water’ deserves to be looked back on with the same fondness and reverence that ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is. A modern masterpiece, and a truly spectacular film.

Sarah’s Rating: 10/10

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