Movie review: Last Night in Soho

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Movie review: Last Night in Soho

It’s been a far cry since Edgar Wright launched his zombie comedy flick, Shaun of the Dead onto the big screen, and showered his audience with his fast-paced satirical style peppered with popular music.

In his latest outing, Last Night in Soho showcases his usual flamboyant style through his shooting on Steadicam and  editing technique. This time around he has a mixture of modern day and 1960s London  as his playground with the twist of murder mystery told across time transportation

Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) has dreams to become a successful fashion designer, so uproots from her quaint Cornish town to the big city and takes up studies at the London College of Fashion.

Her ambitions soon feel quashed however as she struggles to fit in with the in-crowd, and despite showing promise, loses faith and moves off campus to find herself. In doing so, she takes up residence at a small flat which holds a mysterious past and somehow opens up a portal into the past through her dreams. It is here she sees through the eyes of a confident blonde woman, Sandie (Anya TaylorJoy) who is the polar opposite to Ellie and an instant inspiration for her. It doesn’t take long for the swinging sixties lifestyle to consume Ellie, but beneath the surface something sinister is at play and uncovers a dark past that may well threaten her life.

The prognosis:

You can pretty much guarantee with an Edgar Wright flick that it will ooze style, and here it doesn’t fail. We have the catchy pop sizzlers along with the flamboyant, shoot from the hip cinematography to pull you into the story, which is ably supported by a strong cast that also includes Matt Smith, Dame Diana Rigg, and Terence Stamp among its fold.

Where Last Night in Soho falls short is through the narrative itself which despite the drama on show fails to grip and is a little weak and predictable. A shame as it struggles to hit the standard of Wright’s previous movies.

– Saul Muerte

Movie review: Titane (2021)

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Since Julia Ducournau’s debut feature Raw was released back in 2016 and marked my favourite movie of the year, I’ve been keen to see what she would produce next. Titane has been critically lauded and Ducournau has picked up the Palme d’Or for her thought provoking and confrontational body horror film.

So while this has resonated with a certain audience tailored to a more highbrow concept, how does this relate to the general public?

It’s a film that buries itself deeply into the trauma of its narrative. From this the true horror of human conditioning is on screen and Ducournau never shies away from the impact that this has on not just the central character but also for those that associate with her.

Our lead protagonist Alexia, (played by Agathe Rousselle) has survived a horrific car accident as a child and was fitted with a titanium plate as part of her recovery. The physical surgery scar is often on display as a constant reminder of the burden that this episode has had on Alexia. The result of which leads her on an internal struggle that leads her towards a level of hypersexuality that often eventuate in violent ends. Agatha’s sexual awakening is one born out of depression, anxiety, and oppression that is heavily drawn through a feeling of shame about her own identity and the feelings that she is experiencing that cannot be contained. Instead these emotions spill outward and are often enacted on those she is having a sexual experience with.

After essentially going on a killing spree to mask this oversensualised feelings, she finds salvage in her own automobile, to come full circle with the instrument of her torment and is encapsulated through gratification. This however has its own ramifications as Alexia fall pregnant and appears to be secrete motor oil from her vagina and her bodily transformations suggests that she has fallen pregnant as a result of her automobile encounter. This forces Alexia to go into hiding by masking her own feminity.

The masculisation of her character is an act out of desperation. With no connection to society, Alexia becomes a lonely island who seeks refuge in the only place that will accept her new form, as Adrien, a boy who disappeared 10 years ago. Adrien’s father Vincent (Vincent Lindon) a man healing from his own trauma from losing his son, is only too willing to accept the mirage that has entered back into his fold, and a male dominated world of firefighting. As is often the way it is the broken who can heal one another. Trauma, however can never be masked and no matter how hard you try to mask it, if left untreated the effects will find a way of coming to the surface.

The prognosis:

Director Julia Ducournau has gone on record stating that this film is not a horror movie. And while this may be true in terms of what we consider the horror genre to contain, Titane carries some horrific elements of brandishing the scars that trauma can have.

The journey that Alexia takes is a brutal one that not only sheds light on what trauma can do to a person, but more importantly the extremes that a woman must endure in order to be accepted, in this case to the detriment of her own femininity. A theme that Julia Ducournau explores well and places Titane as one of my contenders for film of the year.

– Saul Muerte

Review: Firebite S1 Ep1

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Straight off the bat, when I heard about this new series that was launching on AMC+, I was pulled in by its premise, such is the hook dangled before me.

Warwick Thornton, who has done some amazing work on feature films such as Samson and Delilah, and Sweet Country providing one of the most prominent and prestigious writer / director to amplify an Indigenous voice with great effect. In his latest screen outing, Thornton ventures into a short series centred on a more horror element to his material to direct an anti-invasion message through vampire fantasy infused with a twist on Aborignal folklore. 

Not only is this a fresh take on the tried and tested formula of those creatures of the night, but one that is heralded in strength through its Indigenous perspectives. 

Purely judging by the first episode alone (Pest Control), there’s a lot of ground to cover in order to present the audience with the legend or backstory, plus introduce us to the key players that will form the narrative. There is time and dedication thrown into these key areas too, proving that Thronton not only knows his craft, has a passionate voice, but also will allow time to deepen the characters and add weight to their integrity.

Our central figures so far look to two Indigenous hunters through a  father and daughter team charged with protecting the local community from a colony of vampires in the heart of the South Australian desert. It is when an Aborginal man is kidnapped by suspected vampires that the team are forced into action. The father, Tyson (Rob Collins – Cleverman, Extraction) comes in with a carefree approach to life, set in fulfilling his duty, potentially at the cost of his family. Whereas the daughter, Shanika (Shantae Barnes-Cowan) is a hard-working, focused teenager, who just wants to focus on her studies and not be dragged into her fathers crazed schemes. The relationship between these two is integral to our interest as a viewer, and I’m glad to say that it pays off as they slightly off balanced connection, in which they are continuously torn apart and pulled back again to one another through loyalty and their own beliefs and passions highlights the generational divide between them and the need to keep up with the traditions as laid down before them, whist also been constantly pulled through Australia’s dark past to deal with the pain and hurt that has been set in its place.

Whilst this could easily be a dark and foreboding tale, Thornton along with his writing partner, Brendan Fletcher are able to sizzle the dialogue with a nice blend of humour and drama. An idea that plays well with the family dynamic on screen.

Whilst it has a slow burn start, there is enough to Firebite’s first episode to draw you in and want to know where it may take you next.

Firebite is currently streaming on AMC+

Retrospective: Undead (2003)

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Before the Spierig Brothers would take on what would be their second feature film as their writer, director, producer team with Daybreakers starring Ethan Hawke, and possibly their best movie to date. 

Before they would even attempt to expand the Saw franchise with Jigsaw and then to breathe further life into the Hammer Films productions with Winchester, they would craft their first feature, Undead; a schlocky, low budget, zombie / alien invasion feast set in remote Australia.
The movie has just been released by Umbrella Entertainment as a Blu-ray/Dvd edition for their Beyond Genres collection. Check out the extras at the foot of this article.

The movie itself is not exactly brain fodder, but I remember from its initial release back in 2003 that it was a lot of fun to watch and packed with that unusual blend of Aussie humour that always seems to lift the storyline. There are some iconic moments too, namely from Mungo Mckay’s character Marion, a doomsday prepper who has encountered a paranormal encounter before and has been subjected to being an outcast ever since. His performance channels somewhere between Ash Campbell for sheer resilience and his namesake, James Wayne, with a cowboy like approach to survival and armed with a triple shotgun among his many resources.

Interestingly though, Marion isn’t the hero of the movie, as our lead protagonist falls to meek Rene (Felicity Mason) who has been a downtrodden character most of her life and just wants to get the hell out of Kansas. When push comes to shove though, she soon shows her metal and comes out fighting.

To look at this movie and scorn the performances though which I have seen some people comment on is to miss the style that The Spierig Brothers were going for. Clearly, they wanted to experiment with some visual effects, something that the extras in this release shines a light on. Undead would be their showpiece and a playing field for them to experiment with what they could do through a feature narrative. The problem as always is budget, which there wasn’t a lot of. So knowing this, the filmmakers went with a ramped up melodramatic, pulp style 50’s invasion feel. One that, knowing this beforehand, takes the pressure of applying a highbrow response to and simply letting it flow and enjoying the ride.

The film is packed with a lot of set play, from zombies attacking, survival instincts, seedy characters, bullheaded police officers, aliens, infection and nods to the era that formed the base of these kind of movies, one that comes to mind are some of the earlier scenes in Village of the Damned. There are also elements of Night of the Living Dead at play here, all of which goes to show that The Spierig Brothers are lovers of their craft and with Undead shows a great introduction to the celluloid mainstream with a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. So while it may not be original or groundbreaking, Undead still offers enough to entertain and essential viewing for film lovers who are interested in following the journey of a couple of creatives in the rise.

  • Saul Muerte

Undead is released on Blu Ray and DVD by Umbrella Entertainment.

Details of the extras are listed as follows:

  • Original Soundtrack CD
  • Audio Commentary with Directors Peter and Michael Spierig and Cinematographer Andy Strahorn
  • On the set of the Undead
  • Attack of the Undead – Short Film
  • The Making of Undead
  • Homemade Dolly Video
  • Undead Camera and Make-up Tests
  • Stills Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

Movie review: Death Valley (2021)

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When two mercenaries head out for one last gig with the promise that it will set them up for life, they soon find out that it may cost them their lives

Death Valley is about as formulaic a movie as they come but it is slightly elevated due to the time and dedication to its lead characters, in spite of how two dimensional that come across, they’re still entertaining with their odd couple buddy routine

There’s Mr. Serious, play things by the book and the soldier who comes up with the plans, James Beckett (Jeremy Nibaber), plus he’s a family man 

And there’s the joker, cowboy who is struggling to reach maturity and always resorts to wise cracks, Marshall (Ethan Mitchell). Thankfully he’s a crack shot sniper who delivers when things come to the crunch.

Their latest mission sees the duo answering the call from a female scientist who holds secret information which if it falls into the wrong hands will spell certain doom for mankind.

Naturally when they reach the remote laboratory bunker, they discover that all is not what it seems and several things are stalking them in the underground warren.

The creatures hold a pretty cool design and provide enough fear to instill a sense of dread and the desire to complete their mission and find freedom. This is amped even moreso wit the threat of a militia who will stop at nothing to bring the science experiments to an end.

The prognosis:

Death Valley may be prone to predictability and could easily fall foul as a result, but what is presented is mildly entertaining and ticks along at a descent pace.

Just don’t be surprised by the cheap choice ending and the dialogue which can be ropey at times.

  • Saul Muerte

Death Valley is currently streaming on ShudderANZ.

Movie review: The Advent Calendar

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Who doesn’t love a bit of festive horror?

And there’s plenty to like about this French horror thriller from director Patrick Ridremont.

Eugenie Derouand stars as Eva, a paraplegic who receives a mysterious box in the guise of the titular advent calendar from her friend Sophie (Honorine Magnier). As expected with ominous gifts with offers of treats that stretch from confectionary to real life rewards, there will be repercussions.  The question though is whether the benefits outweigh these hindrances? How much is one willing to salvage for a better chance at life? For Eva, this temptation proves too great, but how far is she willing to go?

There are three rules to follow.

Eat all the chocolate… Or die.

Do every task given… Or die.

And don’t dump the advent calendar… Or…you guessed it. You die.

The premise is pretty straight up and the performances are solid across the board, allowing the viewer to step into the narrative easily. We’re even presented with a nicely stylised creature who lurks from within the box and comes out when rules are broken or when sacrifices need to be made. This helps ramp up the tension suitably, hooking you further into the drama. And sure enough when things go sour, it does so that stays firmly in believability. A tough thing to do when you’re playing in the realms of fantasy.

The prognosis:

A solid feature with some nice moments that entertains despite some predictable moments.

It helps that the performances from the leads are strong to fuel the the loss of control as the drama unfolds.

  • Saul Muerte

The Advent Calendar is currently streaming on ShudderANZ

Movie review: The Strings

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On paper, this movie reads like the perfect recipe for a haunted house drama. We follow musician, Catherine (Teagan Johnston), who is looking to tap into musical musings as she delves into a creative spell to produce her latest album. In order to do so, she retreats to a secluded cottage in the middle of nowhere. While there the audience is promised that Catherine is going to be attacked by a mysterious dark presence. What we are presented with however are long drawn out sequences where Catherine tinkers with the ivories.

Some have argued that part of the film’s beauty is through the cinematography and the slow burn descent of Catherine’s journey into her creativity and the threat that isolation has on her soul. Equally though, one could debate that this journey ironically renders the journey, soulless.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the film is presented in such a way when you look at the type of artist that Teagan Johnston is. Johnston’s music is typically filled with a raw energy that is deliberately haunting in places, and this stripped down approach is evident also throughout the film which is essentially a showpiece for Johnston’s work and an insight into her creativity.

The problem is that this kind of film, with its high art concepts, struggles under the weight of its premise and there’s a difference between a slow burn and the smouldering ashes of a near dormant fire. It simply doesn’t connect with its audience and pushes them away rather than draws you in.

The Prognosis:

Possibly one for followers of Teagan Johnston’s music and creative expression.
For me though, it’s a massive misfire and one of the hardest movies that I’ve sat through this year.

Too slow and with nothing really to say other than to wallow in melancholy.

  • Saul Muerte

The Strings is currently screening on Shudder.

Movie review – Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

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Having recently delved back into the hive with Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil imaginings, a total of six films to date either in the director’s chair or serving as an Executive Producer, I began to wonder if the Milla Jovovich’s Alice character had potentially killed the film screen franchise. Don’t get me wrong, when the original feature was released back in 2002, I was hooked by both her and the film’s appeal. Time however has not been kind and the feature suffers a little with age, pushing it into watchable terrain, rather than a don’t miss out classic. It doesn’t help that the five films that would follow (which at first leant weight to the premise) has been dampened by the twists and turns, and creative license taken in order to keep the franchise alive. In their progress to elevate the franchise, the creative team had inadvertently… infected it… ahem…

So, rather than put a band aid over it, and march on regardless, the only choice left was to give it the dreaded reboot. But will this be for good or ill?

Without Anderson at the creative helm, the Director’s chair is left vacant for someone to breathe new life into the survival action horror that coined the term. In many ways the successor, Johannes Roberts was the perfect choice having an uncanny knack of tapping into the nostalgic vein, especially with The Strangers: Prey At Night. At least when it comes to invoking the music and creating some wicked soundtracks along the way. Here is no exception as Roberts presents a film that satisfies that old feeling that was conjured up for those who lived the original experiences. Roberts is also a master at creating atmosphere, again witnessed in his 47 Meters Down film series.

The soundtrack from the game that Resident Evil is based upon hums nicely in the background to help scintillate those senses. Combined with the characters and the setting of Raccoon City that made the game such a household hit. These characters from their kernel structure is a welcome sight with Special Tactics And Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S) playable characters Chris Redfield (Robbie Amell) and Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen); double agent Albert Wesker (Tom Hopper); rookie Leon Kennedy (Avon Jogia); Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario), who serves as our main protagonist returning to Raccoon City to face olde demons and getting more than she bargained for; and a host of other cameos along the way including a sneaky one at the end so make sure you stick around for that. 

The Prognosis:

While it was cool to have these moments of yesteryear created on the big screen, with a notable stand out scene from rampaging zombies inside a darkened Spencer Mansion, lit up by gunfire… a nice touch. The problem though and behind the rose-tinted glasses is another case of style over substance. The characters are present, but there’s not enough development beneath the surface as they tick off their action sequences before moving onto the next one. And while there is the odd atmospheric moment, it doesn’t go much beyond the chords of Moonlight Sonata. 

It’s strangely odd that despite six installments, this reboot had to retread old ground to find its feet again, and in doing so becomes a bit of a misbeat. It entertains enough but falls short of making a significant mark. 

  • Saul Muerte

Retrospective: Possession (1981)

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Possession marks one of those unsung movies from the early 80s that oozed its way along the grapevine, causing the occasional ripple among viewers and critics alike across the years. Recently the film celebrated 40 years since its release and is now considered a cult classic among some. Ashamedly, it is a movie that passed me by and I only recently caught the film in time for its anniversary. In a way, it’s not too surprising that I missed out on its initial release as it was criminally shafted into the video nasties group that so many were subject to at the time and perhaps the reason why it has become something of a forgotten gem.

Recently to commemorate this feature, Umbrella Entertainment released a Blu-ray/Dvd edition as part of their Beyond Genres collection and it’s jam-packed with over 4 hours of extra footage which I’ll list at the foot of this article.

So, why does it deserve such recognition?

Possession is a visionary film, where every scene is a spectacle and eviscerates the human soul and exposes every ounce of humanity at its most controlling. All the characters strive for power and control and with every movement, vibrating, convulsing, and straining to reach resolution but bound to repeat the cycle of events all over again. This raw energy stems from Director Andrzej Zulawski who would draw from personal experience to write the screenplay, and the anger and vitriol is part of what we see evicted onto the screen. 

Fueling these emotions is an incredible leading cast in Isabelle Adjani in her dual role of Anna, a domestiecised and sexuallay repressed wife, and Helen, a teacher and picture of innocence and virtuosity. Sam Neill also stars as Mark, a spy with a mysterious connection with the political underbelly of Eastern Europe, and a man who is set in his time, expecting that his home life should remain in a certain state and not alter. Threatened by change and a loss of identity, Mark constantly is fighting to remain at the heart of all that surrounds him, tightening his grip, only to watch it slip further from his grasp. 

There are many levels that are at play here, which elevates the movie into highbrow territory, none more so than the depiction of a city under political unrest with the physical divide between Berlin’s East and West. The constant threat of destruction in a world hinged on uncertainty. There are a series of doppelgangers at play too with Adjani’s Anna/Helen characters and Neill’s two versions of Mark, where one version symbolises all that is wrong with humanity, and the other, all that seems right, a yin and yang of balance and imbalance. The viewer is placed at the epicentre of the carnage. As the characters fight for their ideological past, they rip apart their very surroundings destroying all that once was. The infamous scene in the underground passage where we bear witness to Adjani’s electrifying performance as Anna experiences a violent miscarriage, is one of the most brutal scenes that I’ve seen on screen. This scene alone is a dark and disturbing depiction of the core being ripped out due to the trauma and conflict that humanity subjects itself to. Infused with cutting edge creature effects that would fit perfectly in any Cronenberg feature, spearheaded by Italian special effects maestro Carlo Rambaldi (Alien, Deep Red).

By the films conclusion as the world seems to be setting itself right again, we’re left with a dubious outcome with Mark and Anna’s son Bob in the wake of turmoil, afraid of both his ‘parents’ and the sounds of war and destruction in the background, a sign that we are all doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over if we insist on our ridiculous pursuits of perfection; possessed by this ideal and obsessed with fulfilling our desires, unwilling to relinquish control.

For more thoughts and discussions on Possession check out the Surgeons of Horror podcast here:

  • Saul Muerte

Possession is released on Blu Ray and DVD by Umbrella Entertainment.

Details of the extras are listed as follows:

  • Audio commentary with Director Andrzej Żuławski
  • Audio commentary with Co-writer Frederic Tuten
  • The Other Side of the Wall: The Making of Possession
  • Interview with with Director Andrzej Żuławski
  • US Cut of Possession
  • Repossessed – Featurette on the US Cut of Possession
  • A Divided City – Location Featurette 
  • The Sounds of Possession – Interview with Composer Andrzej Żuławski
  • Our friend in the West – Interview with Producer Christian Ferry
  • Basha – Poster Analysis Featurette 
  • International Theatrical Trailer
  • US Theatrical Trailer

Retrospective: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (1981)

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Celebrating 40 years since it’s initial release comes this exploitation flick from Director William Asher, can now be considered something of a forgotten gem, with some marked commentary on homosexuality, the oedipus complex, and twisting our expectations of the slasher genre.

It’s a curious tale that plays to the extreme and borderline incestious protection of an estranged mother figure towards a nephew. It is this relationship that borders on the strains of inappropriate behaviour.

The story is focused on Billy (Jimmy McNichol), a basketballer with promise of a future career in the sport is held back by his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell) in order to contribute to maintaining the house; a guide for fuelling her sexual desires.

Things turn sour when Cheryl invites local repairman, Phil to fix their tv set, she ramps up her lustful needs by forcing herself upon him. When this is not  received in kind, Cheryl turns to rage, murdering Phil in cold blood. This is witnessed by Billy, so Cheryl tries to convince him that it was self defence as Phil was trying to tape her. 

The story doesn’t wash up however when it’s revealed that Phil is gay, leading chief detective, Joe Carlson to believe that their is a love triangle involved between Phil, Billy and the basketball coach, Tom. This throws Billy into suspicion as a possible suspect, which isn’t helped by Joe’s narrowmindedness.

In the reversal of damsel in distress horror tropes, Billy is on the receiving end of evil pursuit and his only ally at this stage appears to be his girlfriend Julia. This relationship itself puts Julia into the firing line from Cheryl’s jealousy and amps up the complexities of the interweaving narratives towards a bloodied and crazed conclusion.

There is a heck of a lot of social commentary on display here disguised as an exploitation horror flick, which is why the film probably deserves more attention and love that it received. Yes if alls into shlocky territory, but the entertainment and intellifence that is on display is well worth your time.

  • Saul Muerte

Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is currently screening on Shudder.