Film review- The Hunt (2020)

Starring Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Amy Madigan

Directed by Craig Zobel

Certificate 15

By @RogerCrow

I knew nothing of the controversial history* of The Hunt, another jet black comedy horror from the Blumhouse stable.(*The film was shelved for a bit because of a real mass shooting, and then Covid meant its big screen performance was cut short).

Unlike The Invisible Man, one of the best thrillers of the year, this is lighter in tone, but also features a powerhouse turn from its female lead. I also knew nothing of Betty Gilpin, despite watching an episode of Glow, the wrestling series that helped make her name.

The opening gives us a little foreshadowing via a series of text messages, before we cut to a private jet and an atrocity that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

We eventually cut to a field where a series of potential protagonists race to a container. So far, so Hunger Games. Or if you’re a fan of vintage thrillers, The Most Dangerous Game, which provided the template for countless similar thrillers). But what’s inside the box? Well, that would be telling. Safe to say for the first few minutes, the people we think are going to carry the movie… don’t.

Then a dazed Crystal (Gilpin) wanders into a convenience store, and things really kick off. I’ll not reveal too much, except to say that Betty Gilpin gives the sort of star-making turn that demands repeat viewing, a lot like Jodie Comer’s Villanelle in Killing Eve.

I had to watch one scene in a bunker repeatedly for her truly wonderful facial expressions. It’s one of those PTSD-style turns that rises far above the familiar Katniss-esque trappings. There is a glorious political subtext to the movie which is essentially the privileged vs the working class.

While cineastes and academics might analyse it for years to come, on a Saturday night during one of the worst weeks of the last 10 years, for this movie lover it’s the perfect slice of escapism.

It’s good to see Amy Madigan from cult 1980s rock and roll fantasy Streets of Fire, and a few other familiar faces amid the supporting cast. While the third act may be pure Kill Bill, that’s not bad thing. It’s far from perfect, but the 90-minute running time is spot on.

For those who had to wade through hours of occasionally thrilling, but mostly depressing misery in The Hunger Games saga, this is a great antidote.

At the risk of a possible spoiler, I’ve no idea whether Crystal will return for a sequel, but I’m guessing Ms Gilpin has already been fast tracked for another Hollywood thriller as a kick-ass heroine, hopefully with as much wit and intelligence as this full-blooded slice of escapism.


Film review- Endless (2020)

Endless (2020)
Starring Alexandra Shipp, Nicholas Hamilton, DeRon Horton
Directed by Scott Speer
Certificate 12A

By @RogerCrow

The only certain things in life are death and taxes. Well, I’ll add another one to that list: films about death.
Not the maudlin type, but those films where the deceased hero gets a chance to right wrongs, and do something good after their demise. You ’Always’ get these scripts knocking around Hollywood, and as ’Ghost’ is beloved by millions, thirty years after that blockbuster left millions blubbing into their popcorn, there’s little wonder producers are keen to revisit those themes. I ’truly, madly, deeply’ believe that.

Bike chained melody

This one centres on besotted high school graduates Riley (Alexandra Shipp) and Chris (Nicholas Hamilton). She’s a cool artist, he’s a fresh faced biker who looks like he’s just stepped off the set of a modelling shoot. Which is fine. Gritty authenticity takes a back seat in this good looking tear-splattered fantasy romance.

Oh. My love. My darling. I’ve hungered for a Ghost remake. Not really.

They are separated by a (brilliantly executed) tragic car accident. Riley blames herself for her boyfriend’s death, while Chris is stranded in limbo.
Miraculously, the two find a way to connect. And no, it doesn’t involve a potter’s wheel or Unchained Melody.

It’s well put together, the cast are fine, the songs are okay, and the a-ha/Take On Me-style comic book close peps things up a bit. It’s no classic, but if you’re a teenager who loves getting lost in romantic dramas with a supernatural theme, then this should tick a lot of boxes.

If you’ve never seen Ghost, you might like it. And contrary to what the title suggests, it’s just the right length.


Film review – The Sunlit Night

Starring Jenny Slate, Alex Sharp, Zach Galifianakis and Gillian Anderson
Directed by David Wnend

I’d never heard of Rebecca Dinerstein’s acclaimed novel on which this is based, but it definitely has the feel of a novel-movie conversion.
The usual fish-out-of-water themes are there, but at times it feels like a series of memories from an art student’s gap year. Which is not a criticism at all. There are times when I think it’s one of the best films of the year, and others when I think it’s too quirky for its own good.

It follows painter Frances (Jenny Slate) as she leaves her New York life in search of inspiration in the Norwegian Arctic circle.
In a remote village, among the locals, she meets a fellow New Yorker (Alex Sharp), who has come in search of a proper Viking funeral, only to find the Chief (Zach Galifianakis) is nothing but a re-enactor from Cincinnati.

Under a sun that never quite sets, and the high standards of an unforgiving mentor, Frances must navigate between ambition and desire in order to find a way forward.
From its opening shots in New York City, it starts out as a familiar Big Apple indie drama like Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha, and then heads off to Norway, where it feels like Ben Stiller’s remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Yes, I know that was partly shot in Iceland but the vibe is the same. (Frustrated American finds enlightenment thanks to salt-of-the-Earth Nordic locals).

And wow, what a great character Norway is with its stunning vistas.
Zach Galifianakis and Gillian Anderson lend star power to the feature, while David Paymer chews the scenery as Frances’s sweary illustrator dad.
It’s funny, sweet, occasionally touching, unusual and often quite beautiful. Structurally it’s not as solid as the barn as the centre of the tale, but it’s just as colourful, vibrant and enigmatic.

You’ll either love it or be annoyed by elements of it, but for this former art student who never got that gap year in Norway, it’s a sun-kissed tonic at a very dark time. It never outstays its welcome, and like Monty Python’s parrot, it’s not long after the credits roll that I’m also pining for the fjords.
Oh, and it also has a great collection of songs, including a cracking closing track which I need to add to my collection ASAP.


Film review – Rose: A Love Story

Film review
Rose: A Love Story

Starring Matt Stokoe, Sophie Rundle, Olive Gray
Directed by Jennifer Sheridan

Knowing little about this bleak drama, I sit through the usual production credits, soak up the wintry visuals of a hunter locking up his cabin and scouring the woods and fully expect I’m in Canada or the frozen woods of America. What I don’t expect is the two key leads are Brits.
So while it may have the look and feel of sublime American thriller Wind River, suddenly it feels a lot closer to home.

Given the latest lockdown, there’s little wonder siege thrillers will touch a chord with many. Films such as A Quiet Place, in which a small family fight for survival against mostly unseen forces, feel all the more relevant these days, even if the creatures in the dark are pure Hollywood, that threat feels very real. The same is true here.
The plot: gripped by a violent, terrifying illness, Rose lives in seclusion with her husband, but the arrival of a stranger shatters the fragile refuge they have built.

Sophie Rundle, who some will know from Peaky Blinders, is terrific as the eponymous protagonist; writer/co-star Matt Stokoe is also excellent, selling the premise, while adding that necessary degree of gravitas. It’s a promising feature from director Jennifer Sheridan which sustains the interest throughout.

As the movie unfolds and that third character upsets the status quo, it’s hard not to feel for the troubled spouses. Yes, it leads to a dramatic conclusion, but while the themes may be decades old, there’s a freshness to the execution. It looks great, the cast are superb and there’s a naturalism to the drama. As three-hander dramas go, it’s one of the best of the year, and on the strength of this cast and crew should go on to bigger, possibly better things, though this is about as good as you can get given the modest budget. Highly recommended.

Cast 8
Script 8
Direction 8
Editing 8

Film review- Little Nothings (1992)

Little Nothings (1992)
Directed by Cedric Klapisch
Certificate 12

Starring Fabrice Luchini, Daniel Berlioux and Marc Berman

@Roger Crow

As the title suggests, this seems to be a big film about nothings. Lots of little nothings.
Imagine a Gallic version of Are You Being Served?, except instead of Mr Humphries descending the stairs in an outrageous outfit, we witness a load of eclectic characters going about their business, working, shopping, being bored, flirting and winding up the senior management.

It’s set in a typical French department store: Les Grandes Galeries.
Mr Lepetit has just been appointed General Manager of the company, but we also focus on young workers Roger and Claire… and many other characters.
Things tick over, it’s colourful enough and feels like one of Robert Altman’s ensemble pieces like Short Cuts. Though made in 1992, which seems like yesterday, it does feel quite dated. But then again as tech has come on in leaps and bounds over the past 28 years, little wonder.

“The minor characters are the heroes in the film,” explains the director in one of the special features. And quelle suprise, he mentions Altman’s Nashville, which broke new ground for such ensemble pieces in the 1970s.
The fact that most of the crew, including the director and the storyboarder had cameos on the film, is no doubt compelling for fans, but after a while the movie seems to run out of steam.

As a fan of Gallic cinema, it’s always great to see a “new” offering from across the Channel, but while I admire the ambition of Little Nothings, sadly that title seems to sum it up a little too accurately.
However, if nothing else you’ll discover that there’s no such thing as just a normal hammer, and those little scenes do add to the overall impact – or lack of it.
Fun, bold, but not quite the classic it could have been.

Direction 8
Script 7
Cast 7
Score 7
Editing 8

Film review: The Deeper You Dig

Starring Toby Poser, Zelda Adams, John Adams

Directed by Toby Poser, John Adams

Certificate 18

Bogus tarot card reader Ivy and her teenage daughter Echo are an unconventional but loving mother/daughter team. However, when reclusive Kurt moves in down the road, and starts renovating a decrepit old house, a tragic accident results in Echo’s demise, causing three lives to collide in mysterious ways. Kurt believes he can hide his secret beneath the Earth – but Echo gets under his skin.

Going into this chiller thriller, I didn’t expect much, but it’s a low key, old fashioned yarn that works its magic early. Stark visuals and snowy landscapes, which look fabulous in hi-def, may be reminiscent of Fargo and A Simple Plan, but the cast’s lack of baggage helps sell the premise. It’s beautifully put together and the jump scares are dialled down, which works in its favour. Yes, there are some gruesome moments, but not at the expense of the often trippy story.

The cast acquit themselves well, and there’s rarely a dull moment, even when not much seems to be happening. Though there might be echoes of other films, it’s refreshing to see a movie that plays with the age-old horror genre tropes. If you’re tired of stalk and slash thrillers and torture porn passing itself off as horror, then this old school cracker is just the job for Halloween, or any winter’s night. Just make sure you do watch it at night, preferably with the lights off.

The special features are rather good, including an interview with the multi-talented Adams family responsible for putting most of the elements together and appearing on screen. The songs are also rather good; the sort of stuff you hear in a cool coffee shop.

Easily one of the most interesting genre offerings of recent years, and it deserves the cult status it’s no doubt already achieved. I can only imagine what the Adams family could do with a bigger budget, considering how accomplished this project is on a shoestring budget. Highly recommended.


Film review: Underwater (2020)

Starring Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel Jessica Henwick
Directed by William Eubank
Certificate 15

You’ll not find the RAFTU genre in any film book. Like TOAM (trapped on a mountain) movies, it’s my shorthand for a well worn genre that surfaces from time to time.
In this case ’running away from things underwater’.
Thirty plus years ago Hollywood was awash with them, from James Cameron’s hit and miss The Abyss, to cheaper offerings such as Deepstar Six and Leviathan. Recently the excellent Sea Fever proved that you don’t need to spend a fortune to make an excellent watery alien thriller, and at the other end of the spectrum is Underwater.

That sinking feeling of deja vu

Kristen Stewart, looking like a Pink tribute act, is Nora, the lean heroine who is a dab hand with engineering stuff, which is handy when all hell breaks loose in the first few minutes on her deep sea drilling rig.

As she regroups with her surviving crew members, they spend the rest of the film travelling from A to B in semi darkness or CG murk. There are echoes of Gravity, Life and assorted other thrillers as Nora tackles demons in the briny depths.

If you’ve never seen the aforementioned thrillers then you may be hooked, but while cast and crew do their best, the echoes of superior offerings like Alien haunt the corridors of the assorted bases. And the beasts themselves look like they were plucked from a book of generic deep sea creatures.

As a video game this probably would have worked a lot better, but as a film it’s almost crushed under the weight of predictability.
Thankfully in its defence the last 10 minutes is well worth a look for not opting for the most obvious solution. Just a shame the second act was so muddled.
If you want to enhance the experience a little, around the 83-minute mark, watch it again with ’Try’ by Pink instead of the usual soundtrack. It makes for a rather rewarding finale.

Cast 8
Script 5
Direction 7
Score 7
Effects 7

Film review – The Ringmaster (2018)

Starring Anne Bergfeld, Karin Michelsen and Damon Younger

Directed by Sorel Juul Petersen

This Danish/English language chiller is a film of two halves. The first is a compelling thriller reminiscent of classic 1970s offering And Soon the Darkness.

It centres on Agnes Berger and her colleague Belinda Andersen, who are working the night shift at a petrol station. Their backstories are fleshed out, and we start to like the fractious relationship between the duo. Intercut are scenes of what’s to come, and it doesn’t bode well.

So after that compelling build up, when we root for the duo and we want things to work out well, it becomes just another torture porn thriller, with Damon Younger giving a compelling turn as the eponymous bad guy.

The heroines become the terrorised stars of a show streamed on the dark web. Held captive by a sadistic ringmaster and his colleagues, Agnes and Belinda’s survival instincts are pushed to the limit as they are forced to play a game of life and death as an unseen audience decide their fate.

Anne Bergfeld is a wonderful lead. Alluring, intelligent and as scream queens go, she’s up there with the best of them. Karin Michelsen is terrific as her fellow victim. For the most part it’s well crafted, tense and a gripping watch, but then it just turns into the worst parts of Hostel, the Saw sequels and all those awful films from a decade ago where film makers thought that watching people being tortured was good horror. It really isn’t. And the fact this is all a hook for a dark webisode is more dated than disco. One scene involving a piercing is so stomach-churning, you may want to go and make a cuppa.

I wish it weren’t so well shot and acted by some of the cast, because there’s half of a great film here. Just a shame 50 per cent is so morally reprehensible. A crying shame.

Cast 8

Art direction 8

Script 7

Editing 8

Cinematography 8

Part one: 8

Part two: 1

Film review – Videoman

Starring Stefan Sauk, Lena Nilsson, Carolin Stoltz

Director Kristian A Söderström

Certificate 18

On the surface, this looks like a generic stalk and slash thriller, a throwback to the era of Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and assorted Dario Argento movies like Tenebrae.

However, while it may wear its Italian horror influences on its sleeve, it’s also an occasionally touching study of two troubled, lonely souls attempting to find love.

The protagonist, Ennio, is obsessed with VHS videos. He has a basement full of rare tapes, and when a collector offers him a fortune for a rare tape he picked up, it’s a chance to wipe out his debts in one fell swoop.

Don’t judge a film by its cover

There’s one problem: the tape goes missing, and he spends the bulk of the movie looking for it. Intercut with his search is a seasoned alcoholic office worker with an estranged daughter. Naturally their paths collide, but he’s so outspoken and consumed by his hatred of social media that he pushes her away.

If, like me, you love movies, romcoms, surreal arthouse European films, and Italian horror flicks, then this is right up your street. It’s trippy, occasionally funny, mostly unusual, and you never know where it’s going next.

A Trojan horse of a movie in that it’s a romance concealed in the belly of a generic thriller. I’ve no idea whether it would translate as a remake, but who cares? It’s a compelling adult watch that should attract a massive cult following.


Film review – Alien Addiction

Starring Jimi Jackson, Thomas Sainsbury, JoJo Waaka
Directed by Shae Sterling
No certificate


Riko (Jimi Jackson) lives in a small New Zealand town in the middle of nowhere. Life was pretty normal until two aliens crash landed near his house. He welcomes the ETs and together they develop an intergalactic relationship of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, Peter Mackintosh (Thomas Sainsbury) has tracked the aliens and Riko, and plans to capture them and reveal them to the world.

I really wanted to like this stoner comedy, and there’s a lot going for it. A glorious score, some stunning locations, excellent camera work, and some cool looking aliens.
The trouble is the cast are just okay, the script is pretty average and nearly all of the gags fall flat.

There are some gross out jokes that probably sound like they were penned by a 10 year old, and a few sight gags that feel tired.
Because Peter Jackson and Taika Waititi have done such a stunning job of making their unique mark on the New Zealand film industry, a knockabout farce like this was always going to seem pretty inferior compared to offerings like Bad Taste or Eagle vs Shark.

Bad Taste… and not in a good way

It also falls way short of similar comedy Paul from a few years ago.
So while it has plenty of energy and the tech crew clearly know how to get the most from a limited budget, the script needed a lot more work. Not that it should have been over written, as irreverence and ad-libbing can be comedy gold, but it needed that little something extra.
Shae Sterling has a great movie in him, but sadly this isn’t it.

Score 8
Editing 8
Cinematography 8
Direction 7
Script 2