Midsommar – Film Review

American director Ari Aster has followed up quickly to his debut feature Hereditary, a cultural and monetary success, making a profit of almost eight times its budget.  The film performed particularly well in the UK, generating around seven million, after being marketed as the scariest movie since The Exorcist (1973).  Of course, like the seventies classic, Hereditary’s scares were not its greatest attribute, yet the film was cruel, despairing and different to most mainstream horrors.  The film played to big, multiplex audiences and was somehow successful with them, so Aster got bankrolled to try it again.  With Midsommar, the world and Boris Johnson riddled Britain may not connect as tightly.

The film stars Florence Pugh as Dani, who begins the film worrying about her troubled sister whilst worrying about her boyfriend dumping her.  That boyfriend is Christian (Jack Reynor), a grad student struggling to find a thesis subject.  He is planning a trip with his friends to Sweden, to visit fellow student Pelle’s (Vilhelm Blomgren) isolate home community during a summer festival that only happens every ninety years, but Christian has not told Dani about the trip.  Due to a traumatic event early on in the film, Christian is forced to bring Dani along and they head to Halsingland, Sweden.  The trip is part academic, with one of Christian’s friends Josh (William Jackson Harper) doing his own Ph.D. on the commune.  It is soon apparent the strange activities of the community, and Dani begins to relive her trauma, whilst the others study the celebration.

midsommar 2

The film opens bleakly, and before the trip to Europe, which is an interesting choice and it says something about what Aster was striving for.  It is common for a genre filmmaker to throw you right into the action, disregard what comes before, and after, to show the thrills of the main event without any baggage.  Aster decides to structure his films slightly different, by having relationship drama first, then a long moody build-up, then the main event, then catastrophic end.  His formula can be criticised because it feels almost like he has a deep set up, just to have an exclamation point resolution: sorrow, intrigue, flowers, MIDSOMMAR!   Aster has described Midsommar as a break – up movie, rather than a cult chiller, and perhaps the director could be running away from his own genre with this statement.  Aster does not have to be so pretentious in his estimations of his own work, sure there’s an impending break – up in there, but that’s not the film.  The film really isn’t anything, it’s a lot of good ideas expertly presented, that paints an intriguing surface.

It would be unfair to say that there is nothing beneath that surface, and in the time the film will be judged on its ideas of death and community, instead of break-ups and trauma.  The relationship between Dani and Christian is clearly flawed, and they are obviously a poor fit together, with the film being unambiguous in this.  Christian is impossibly absent of any actual care for Dani and his abrasiveness has made him a Twitter meme, which is surely not what Aster was aiming for if he wanted the pulling the apart of the two characters to be taken seriously.  That is the strength of the film, and why it is ultimately worthy amongst summer 2019’s abysmal cinema.  Midsommar throws away any attachments to message or plot about two-thirds of the way through, and honestly this was a breath of fresh air.  If you take the film as a total visual experience, which is a culmination of a collection of emotion transgressed through humour, stunning imagery, and shocking sights, you will be satisfied.  There is a sense of the levity to Midsommar and it has funny shots, and lines.  It would be wrong to label this film as a comedy, and it’s there to let the audience know that Aster’s aware it’s a bit bonkers too.  At least I hope he does.  The scariest part of the movie is when Christian effectively steals Josh’s thesis subject, and it’s a shame Aster didn’t explore it more.  And what do the cult believe?  That humans and nature are one presumably, life is a cycle of reliving through the environment around you.  Some subtly finally occurs in the climax, bizarrely and contradictory to what is happening in the frame, where questions are being asked on how far Dani has been enchanted by the cult, and how much control she has of her actions.  One thing that is picked at by Aster is the idea that Dani’s situation, and to a lesser extent Christian’s, is dictated by events out of their control that is epitomised by the peculiar routines and traditions of the community.

midosmmar 3

The performances in Midsommar line up with the direction.  Pugh is given the most to do, and apart from some over-zealous screaming she is convincing and brings strong ecstatic energy during a dancing competition scene, which is the highlight of the film.  She manages to be uplifting and curious, amongst the community that is instantly seen to be dangerous, remained worried whilst also being courteous, where the American boys are mocking.  Reynor is playing a one-sided character and only gets to do something different when his back is against the wall towards the end of the film.  Will Poulter is the non-academic snide member of the group, there for the comedy and to push Christian further into egotism.  The rest of the characters are fairly shallow, which ultimately isn’t a total flaw because of Asters show don’t tell eyes.  It’s hard to understand whether he is actually ‘telling’ something or only ‘showing’, however the film has a good balance between giving the actors space to breath and letting them get lost in the impressive cinematography.  And Aster uses the Swedish characters as pawns to hold the shot composition together, as much as they are there to frighten.

Midsommar has already made a million in the UK, showing some steam, but it may still prove to be a flop.  The film will struggle to utilise the word of mouth power that Hereditary got, considering the film has zero attempts to pander to a wide audience.  Aster has this weird higher standard to which critics hold him to, possibly due to his quick success or the way his films are marketed as cultural events, and the remarkability of his movie’s technical achievements are forgotten.  Without him, there would be no salvage in the mainstream from franchise, conglomerate studio shite, and so he deserves a little appreciation.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.  Two and a half hours flew by, and it’s enjoyable whether you have the stomach for it or not.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Suspiria – Film Review

The 1977 original Suspiria is hailed as a horror classic.  I think it’s outdated, disengaging and dull, however I was very keen to see the new reimagining of the story, for three reasons.  The first being because it’s directed by Luca Guadagnino, who due to his last film Call Me by Your Name, is now one of my favourite people working.  The second reason being Dakota Johnson, who is stunning in everything she pops up in, and deserves more credit on screen.  And the third reason being that the film has been marketed incredibly well, and since the first trailer I’ve been excited for its release.  The film on a basic level is about Susie Bannion (Johnson), an American who travels to Berlin to audition for an esteemed contemporary dance troop.  She gets in, because it’s clear that she’s a bit of a prodigy, and quickly she becomes the centre of the school, a school that is run by witches.   

57907700-0b21-4aa6-80a8-970ad8106053

Where to even begin with this?  Actor, comedian and now podcaster (Films to be Buried With) Brett Goldstein tweeted after seeing the film that he found it strange that reviewers were giving it three stars.  He said that by the films design you could only give it a one, or a five, you either were amazed or repulsed.  As much as I like Brett, he’s wrong, the film is very meh, but I’m not sure it would even reach three stars for me.  Let’s start positively though, well to an extent anyway.  The film is very long, about 2 and a half hours, so it could probably lose a few scenes, but what I will say is that I was never bored.  Similar to the original, there’s a sense that something horrid is around the corner and it’s edging towards it.  It’s a slow advance, yet the story is intriguing enough to keep your attention.  What the film lacks however, is direction.  I’m still not sure what Guadagnino is trying to say with it all, and the only real (and thin) takeaway is that those responsible for the Holocaust should feel guilt, and those who weren’t shouldn’t?  This underlying theme isn’t fed badly into the film, and I disagree with the critics who say that it is, but it wasn’t effective.  Perhaps this was because the choices from the main character were so obtuse, and misdirecting.  Dakota Johnson plays her well, being both soft and intimidating in her face, and tough to decipher, which I liked, yet ultimately her character became pointless whilst being the main point of the film.  I’m aware that doesn’t make much sense, but this review may end up a bigger question mark than the movie.  And not an interesting question mark, more like watching my cat torture a mouse in front of me then him waiting to be applauded when the mouse is finally dead. 

Stylistically, the film is pretty dry.  Guadagnino has ditched the painted, florid beauty of Call Me by Your Name for a washed out, grim palette of greys and browns.  The original was all about striking imagery, and pop colours, whereas the new one is about the sadness of blandness.  There is some exceptions – the dance scenes were lovely to look at, and the highlight of the film, the gore and violence were beautifully putrid, and in the second to final act Guadagnino dives head first into some devilish imagery, which was entertaining.  That climatic satanic scene was actually really funny, and when I watch this film again in the comfort of my home, I won’t be afraid to laugh more at some of the ridiculous things that happen.  A strange stylistic choice was to cast Tilda Swinton in ‘at least’ two roles, one being an old German bloke in coats of make-up.  It’s obvious from the start that it’s a young actor in the role, but I had no idea that it was Swinton until my friend told me after the film, and it’s another ‘???’ moment.  I mean obviously Swinton is fucking great in the film, and the character was quite sympathetic to follow round, but Swinton playing the role added nothing, and meant nothing.  Her other character’s (Madame Blanc) relationship with Susie was a solid part of the film, so having her as the other part was unneeded.   

tumblr_p9sx589ZB31va6ermo1_540

The friend I went to see the film with said that he’s starting to like the film more, now he’s thought about it and read a bit on it.  I have no desire to think about it, because I don’t think the film is profound in any way, however I do want to watch it again, as it may be one of those where it takes repeat viewings to appreciate it.  And I do hope that I grow to enjoy it more, because the intentions of the filmmakers seem admirable.  It was just a bit empty, and lacking something.  Maybe if Thom Yorke had made a better soundtrack (other than one song) the spaces in between the film would have been better.  His efforts were totally disappointing, and so was the film.   

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

This is a tricky one, because you definitely get your money’s worth.  What I would say is that the film is hard, and gruesome, so general audiences might want to stay away, because nothing of substance comes from that unpleasantness.

Hereditary – Film Review

Boy was I excited to see this one.  Horror films are the greatest genre when done right, and this film has been praised almost across the board from critics.  The trailer was incredibly enticing, and I entered the cinema anxiously, worrying about how much the film would scare me.  How disappointed was I?

Toni Collette stars as Annie, a miniatures artist, whose mother has just passed away.  Her husband and two children (one a young teenager, one an old teenager) are dealing with the death in their own ways, however in their mourning something more sinister appears to be going on.

This is a classic case of great form not equating to a great film.  On a technical level this film is outstanding, with perfect cinematography, tight writing, and high class performances.  However the film struggles to find a hook or a point of interest by the time it’s done.  And this was properly disappointing because I got about two thirds of the way through and was thinking: this is good, but this is it isn’t it – nothing more is coming.  There was no ‘grab you by the throat’ plot point, and ultimately the film lacked meaning.

Focusing on the positives though, it is an expertly crafted couple of hours.  The film is beautifully shot, with Wes Anderson esque framing, and low key natural lighting.  It parallels stylistically between Annie’s miniature models and reality well, and the opening shot (an example of this) is sublime.  The acting is top draw – Collette is brutally engaging as a very emotive and often deranged mother.  There is a moment where she lists all the crazy things that have happened in her family, and is so captivating because of her delivery.  Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff are brilliant as the children; Wolff in particular is starting to impress me with his range of teenage sadness (Patriots Day).  I was also a fan of the quieter father role, played by Gabriel Byrne as he effectively becomes the only hero of the film.  These actors in the drama are what the film gets right, over the horror stuff.

giphy (5)

However not that all of the horror stuff doesn’t work.  In fact a lot of it is unnerving, and spooky.  One scene involving a séance was the only real scene that got me on edge, but overall the film made me uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout.  It was a little lacklustre at times that’s all, and even though the themes of the film work, (mental health issues passed down through a family like a curse), they could have been delivered with more vigour.  And they could have unpicked more things that they set up, because without spoiling anything, I got the feeling there is a much more interesting road this film could have gone down.  If you’re into slow burn horror movies, you’ll enjoy this, but you might not love it like some critics do.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Ghost Stories – Film Review

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film has a pretty big release.  A British horror, with a writer from Yorkshire, and produced by a company based in Sheffield.  It gives a different look to UK cinema on a mainstream scale, which is a good thing (probably).  The film stars Andy Nyman (who also writes and directs alongside Jeremy Dyson) as supernatural debunker Professor Phillip Goodman, who encounters three paranormal cases that may be unexplainable.  He goes through these ‘incidents’ and begins to unpick the people at the centre of them, however something is lurking on his own mind.

The way this is film is presented gives it a fluid, and loose feel.  At first it appears as a mockumentary, then it turns into a straight narrative, then soon it’s unclear who’s telling the story at all.  This worked because the film never got stuck into any of these zones, and it kept the film out of reality, which makes the supernatural elements more authentic.  These spooky events were spooky, thanks to the characters apart of them, and the way that they were shown.  Each case came with an interesting performance , the first being Paul Whitehouse as a sad working class man, then Alex Lawther as the misfit teenager, and finally Martin Freeman as the snobby high-flyer.  They all brought their own intrigue to the table, and were played superbly by the actors.  The ‘incidents’ themselves were bog-standard for a horror – some kind of attack in the dark that could possibly be put down as a mental break.  These scenes have their scary moments, but ultimately weren’t really terrifying.  They relied on quite a few jump scares, which are only annoying if that’s the only thing going on, and thankfully this film had a lot more going on.  It was the mystery of the situation, and the person, that made the cases engaging.

DSC_0941

As the movie proceeds, it gets more unhinged, and soon the intensity of the horror becomes something different.  This was an excellent progress of the narrative, and Andy Nyman in the central role guides this.  He’s good as the cynical psychic denier, who slowly questions himself as the film goes on.  It’s something we’ve seen before, but the payoff in this film was so satisfying for me, and it’s where the proper terror comes.  There’s a moment right at the end, where the film actually scared me, and it’s a piece of true horror.  I loved this, and enjoyed the film a great deal.  It’s well done, to a point where the narrative is perfectly paced, with a mix of credibility and mysticism.  The directing is great, from two first timers, with some brilliant lighting effects, and nice use of open cinematography.  If you are a horror fan, you can’t go wrong here, but more than that the film seemed to involve so much more than the poltergeist events, with lots of poignant subtleties (definitely a good thing).

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

YES!  This film ties in well with Journeyman (review here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/04/04/journeyman-film-review/) because that too was a ‘Screen Yorkshire’ film that I described as possibly not the best cinema experience.  Ghost Stories is one hundred percent a top cinema experience, and a good representation for what you can do with a decent budget in the UK.

* also in the screening of this, I was sat next to three awful people who were talking and making noise all the way through it.  Almost to a point where the middle case was a slightly lacklustre because I was distracted.  This has made me want to see the film again, on my own.

A Quiet Place – Film Review

Some people may not be aware that John Krasinski has already directed two films, including a David Foster Wallace adaptation.  They weren’t successful, but with his third feature he seems to have found the right formula.  He stars alongside his wife Emily Blunt in this film, playing parents of three young children in a post apocalyptic world.  The rest of the human population has been pretty much wiped out by mysterious creatures that hunt down anything that makes a sound.  To survive the family has to stay absolutely silent in everything that they do: no talking, no quick movements, and certainly no loud toys.

This film is begging to be seen by an audience, and is a fantastic effort from John Krasinski.  He manages to demand silence from the audience, because the point of the movie: BEING QUIET is so well established.  Within the first few minutes you are aware of how the characters are forced to live, and the consequences if they fail in their routine.  This silence focuses your attention on the characters, and for 90 minutes you are in tune with the drama.  The building tension and fear of any sound means that the explosive parts of the movie have an incredible impact.  It is really exhilarating when the film picks up that pace, because you are on edge waiting for something to explode.  The quietness also brings your attention to the acting, where the lead pair are terrific.  Emily Blunt is the warm, loving mother who desperately loves her husband and Krasinski is the seemingly cold, protective father.  Krasinki’s character is one of the most interesting I’ve seen this year, because you can sense that the children fear him, but rely on him.  He’s tough, and just through Krasinki’s facial expressions you can see his utter determination to keep his family safe.

A-Quiet-Place-Buzz1

The child actors do a decent job.  Sometimes they are not totally convincing and Millicent Simmonds as only daughter Regan did have the tendency to be a bit annoying.  Though the films pacing and execution meant the film didn’t dwell on the common downfalls of child actors and characters.  Krasinski and his fellow writers (Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) effectively create a series of plot devices.  This often doesn’t work but in this film they felt necessary, and it was solid world building.  Everything happened for a reason, and every step was calculated, which made the film satisfying.  It’s a mysterious thriller slash horror with plenty of answers for its questions.  And it’s directed well.  The film is nice looking, and everything in the narrative appeared at the right time.  In the middle of the film there is a firework scene that, cliché coming, took my breath away.  Does the film get a little too schmaltzy towards the end? Yes but overall it is straight to the edge thriller, that works to be exciting, sentimental and at times quite scary, with moments of fun exploitation cinema.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Unsane – Film Review

Steven Soderbergh is back to making really cool films.  Last year’s Logan Lucky was enjoyable, and this year he’s made a film shot on an iPhone.  It stars Claire Foy as Sawyer Valentini, who accidently gets herself committed to a mental institution.  However does she belong to be there?

The ambiguity of my plot synopsis says a lot about this film, certainly the first half.  You only have to know the concept to be reeled in, and that it’s a 90 minute thriller.  The first half of the movie is ambiguous about Sawyer’s mindset, and the events happening around her.  After that it becomes more transparent, but no less gripping.  Soderbergh does a good job of switching the point of the story, with only a little bit of baggage in the middle.  His choice to shoot it on an iPhone really enhances the experience, because it gives another layer to a pretty by the book genre film.  The (almost) 16:9 ratio gives the film a enclosed, claustrophobic and documentary like feel.  There is space above the characters for things to lurk, or not lurk, creating a sense that the actors are small or trapped.  It also has a unique lighting style thanks to the iPhone, with all of the colours appearing starker, and more vivid.  There’s an orange hue over most of the film, which gives a nice haze to the main character.  It’s an engaging film to look at, and the narrative is greatly improved because of this interesting choice Soderbergh made.

Foy is terrific, and is definitely the next big thing now her stint in The Crown is over.  One of things I love about the film is that her character isn’t actually the nicest human being ever.  She has a cold side, and Foy plays this well.  Sometimes her English accent is slightly present, but her performance is physical and boisterous enough for you to look past that.  Her relationship with fellow patient Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharoah) is believable despite Pharoah being occasionally a bit wooden.  Juno Temple is great as the outrageous Violet, and Joshua Leonard does his best as the creepy guy stereotype David.

uns_20171205._1.106.1.tif

I really am a sucker for a short, snappy and stylistic film that gets to the point of exactly what it’s trying to achieve.  It’s the sharpness of the narrative where there’s no pretention, similar to films like Free Fire or Green Room.  This movie does fall into genre clichés the more it goes on, and the plot is incredibly fragile but it is thoroughly entertaining.  Soderbergh is a great director, and his risk in shooting this in an inventive way is admirable, and I think it paid off.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Film Reviews: Happy Death Day & The Florida Project

These two films are vastly different to one another, but I’m putting them together because they highlight two sides of the film taste spectrum.  Hopefully these short reviews will give you an indicator whether they are the sort of films you’d like to see.

 

Happy Death Day

Jessica Rothe

This movie tells the tale of Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe)  – a classic sorority college girl who is caught in a loop of being murdered then waking up to relive the day again.  The concept of this film is not original, but certainly an interesting spin on Groundhog Day.  Going in, I was expecting a horror or slasher experience, however it ended up being more of a Mean Girls – esque college movie with a murder plot added on.  There was little to no scares and certainly no tension in the murder scenes.  The violence was pretty weak and take a few things out of this film and it probably could have passed for a 12A.  Despite this the murder moments weren’t totally boring thanks to some obvious humour and nods to comic cinema.  The plot moves quickly and overall the runtime went by fairly quickly, with maybe a few minutes in the middle feeling like excess material.  A lot of the film is cliché and obvious, though Rothe does well in the lead to keep you engaged.  The rest of the cast are fine, though not all that interesting.  There are mostly cheap thrills here and the ending left me sort of disappointed.  It felt as though they missed out on a chance to do something intriguing with the concept, and in the end they played it very safe.  Not a terrible 96 minutes, but definitely not something I’ll be rushing to see again.  It’s perhaps good for a date movie, or a group of friends?  If you’re expecting horror though or weird existential themes I wouldn’t bother.

Presentation (look of the movie – cinematography, mise-en-scene etc): 2/3

Performances (the acting): 1.5/3

Narrative (plot & story points): 1.5/3

Effect (Did this film impact me in any way?): 0/1

Final score: 5/10

 

The Florida Project

 the-florida-project-tfp_domestic_lp_20170823-01_10_55_16_still004_rgb

Set at a low rent motel in the shadows of Disney-Land, this film follows a troubled young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) as they live recklessly and struggle to get by.  Let me first start of by saying that American poverty fascinates me.  There is something so unsettling and sickly about it.  This film is unsettling in that way, but also has a lot of heart.  On the basic level it reminds me of last year’s American Honey, yet it is far more focused and far more connectable.  The film is gorgeously shot and meanders a long keeping track of a group of young kids just aimlessly having fun in and around the motel.  It spends time with the struggling parents, who are certainly not instantly likeable.  The film bounces around from moment to moment with no real rules about time or scenes.  Director Sean Baker stays on things when he wants to and this gives the film a natural feel.  At its foundations though it has a solid performance from Willem Dafoe, who plays the manager of the motel.  He figuratively and literally pulls the film together to keep it tangent and watchable.  There is no hero in the film, but he has heroic moments, and I think without him the film would drift away into the abstract.  Alongside him is a mesmerising, and often very funny, performance by Brooklynn Prince who is just 7.  She has more personality than your average adult and is the star of the film.  Her mother is a desperate character and you have to realise that there is little redemption for her, so Bria Vinaite does well in a tricky role.  Everything that happens in the film is totally believable, and every scene feels necessary.  It certainly has its moments of boredom like any independent drama and the ending will certainly leave a few people a bit confused.  The film touches on poverty, and capitalist abandonment, yet it is mostly a human film.  It has more love than tragedy and I would recommend this film to anyone who can stand looking at those in society that America has forgotten about.

Presentation: 3/3

Performances: 3/3

Narrative: 2/3

Effect: 1/1

Final score: 9/10

 

Are both films worth your ticket price? The Florida Project – 100%.  Happy Death Day – maybe if it’s a cheaper ticket.