The Endless

Rating: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: Brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a cryptic video from the ‘UFO death cult’ they escaped from 10 years ago. Intrigue entices the pair back to the community of Camp Arcadia and ensares them in a darker mystery.

The Endless deserves to be a classic lauded with wide recognition rather than the cult film it will likely become. I had not heard about The Endless until the film’s trailer swayed me to attend a Q&A screening. Directors Benson and Moorhead, who play The Endless’ protagonists, expressed surprise at the audience’s size after earlier films had only drawn crowds of 2 or more. Yet The Endless is a flawless thriller whose cosmic horror burrows into the viewer’s nerves and never relinquishes control.

H.P.Lovecraft’s tales, as John Carpenter touched upon in Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, can fumble as a twist ending negates the horror of man versus the unknown. The Endless’ Lovecraftian roots show in a quotation from the writer, yet the film succeeds where Lovecraft failed. The Endless’ success comes from its relatable story of family and brotherhood, nostalgia and rebellion. The horror of The Endless while gripping and manifest is the supporting context for the tale. Who or what is around Camp Arcadia is drawn out through layers of sub-plots hiding secrets, red-herrings and teasers which open The Endless up to review and reinterpretation. Curiously director Aaron Moorhead said at the BFI Q&A that the film only had ‘two or three real mysteries’. Despite my prodding about the conclusion both directors upheld the film’s tantalising ambiguity.  The presence shrouding the cult is made potent by the film’s budgetary constraints. Any major Hollywood production would tape everything together with CGI. In The Endless however circling crows, crude charcoal etchings and antiquated tapes denote something odder and more menacing than a green screen lurking around.  Interestingly the recordings and images found in The Endless are more than clues, denoting the cat and mouse game between ‘it’ and the brothers as one watches and one searches for the other.

The plot, written by Justin Benson, scares initially and lingers long after its end through mystery, projection and minimal gore. The Endless becomes even creepier through Camp Arcadia’s inhabitants, whose oddness jars with their unbridled pleasantness. The plot’s progression, alongside Benson and Moorhead’s performance, creates a believable dynamic of siblings at loggerheads. The brilliant cast consists of crew members except for Callie Hernandez and Emily Montague who are established actors. The cast’s performance, combined with Benson’s deadpan comedy, exacerbates The Endless’ terror as reprieve turns to horror once again.

The Endless is showing in the U.K at certain cinemas and is available to rent on Itunes and YouTube. Though this is a film which rewards the finding of a screening at the cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Rating: 1 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: 3 years after Jurassic World the dinosaurs remaining at the abandoned resort face extinction once more as the island’s volcano is poised to erupt.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s mistake is to choose seriousness over levity in a world where dinosaurs live and exist as tourist attractions. It is a decision which immediately falls hollow as the plot gives way to a lazy rehashing of box office tropes and predictable twists and even throws in much of Jurassic World’s story. Fallen Kingdom’s attempt at maturity is to ask whether dinosaurs, the creatures which have heartily chomped on humans in Jurassic films past, should be preserved for the benefit of future human generations. It is a dilemma quickly answered by Jeff Goldblum’s response of ‘No’. Yet the film ignores the idiocy of its proposed dilemma and struggles on with no purpose for what feels like a very long run-time.

The film is an old fossil, a rather dull affair to behold that has been seen countless times before. The story is a Frankenstein’s monster of 3 arcs hewn together consisting of animal preservation, romance between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and Jurassic World’s threat of weaponised dinosaurs. The animal preservation narrative dissolves quickly, and the film’s depiction of this movement as an anti-corporate millennial upsurge is very twee. Pratt and Howard were decent in Jurassic World but without the children of Jurassic World, the pair lack the chemistry to carry the minutes between dinosaurs. Nor do Pratt or Howard seem enthused to return for Fallen Kingdomwith boredom and fatigue lining their faces as they pretend to see another  dinosaur upon the green screen.

The new characters introduced to Fallen Kingdom are evident character types who exist as stepping stones for the story. At least Fallen Kingdom’s return to the threat of military grade dinosaurs spawns a decent turn by Toby Jones as a miniature Trump replete with fake tan, bleached teeth and dubious hair. Jones alone is not enough to save a film which feels remarkably redundant despite being the immediate sequel to a promising soft reboot. Fallen Kingdom’s twists sport the worst of Hollywood’s absent logic, concluding with a ludicrous ending created only to propagate further sequels. All this could be largely forgiven, but in Fallen Kingdom’s fixatation on more ‘human’ and serious themes, it strangles the fun out of the dinosaurs which are the series’ fulcrum.

Following this dismal sequel, Jurassic World should shuffle off into extinction.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Synopsis: Solo charts the life of Star Wars’ favourite smuggler Han Solo before he became the rogue viewers fell in love with during A New Hope. 

Never has a better spin-off been found in a galaxy far far away. Solo is a swashbuckling adventure of daring-do and oddball characters who bring liveliness and levity to a franchise which can fixate too much on good versus evil. Hopping between the dives of the galaxy and other dangerous corners Solo is a great film to let yourself switch off and simply enjoy, despite Disney’s interference.

Suffering from a tortured development process and a last minute change of director leading to effectively a remade film,  the odds have not favoured Solo. The film’s real misfortune is to follow behind the polemical Star Wars: The Last Jedi and bear the brunt of fan backlash to Disney’s guidance of the franchise. Tragically for a film fated to receive poor opinion among fans, Solo is by accident the most innovative Star Wars instalment since Disney bought the mantel from George Lucas. The Marvel-Disney formula is a false arc constructing a story filled with danger whose consequences will change the axis of the universe . The reality is that each ending changes nothing and none of the heroes ever suffer a price.

More so than in either the original or prequel trilogy, Star Wars under Disney has developed the same hollow self-aggrandising displayed by the Marvel franchise. In stark contrast Solo’s protagonist is at the mercy of larger events while his actions are of little consequence to the galaxy beyond. Ultimately Solo is a great heist film set in the Star Wars’ universe, and it would have even better if Disney had let it be just that. Sadly Disney’s compulsion to weave Solo into Star Wars lore and sound out a possible sequel jars with everything else. Disney threads Easter eggs both obvious and obscure into the Marvel and Star Wars films to generate fan speculation about immediate and future films. In Solo Disney reaches a new level of glibness with its scavenger hunt, placing throwaway comments about The Clone Wars T.V show and letting the camera linger over props from prior Star Wars films. Worst of all is a central part of Solo’s story stemming from a  contextual comment in A New Hope. Instead of using Han Solo as a springboard for something new, Disney loops events from the original trilogy with a fixated neatness to answer questions few fans probably asked about. To someone who has been a Star Wars fan since childhood, Disney’s visible attempts in Solo to generate further speculation, interest and hopefully money out of the franchise grates against Solo’s otherwise decent story.

Since reviewing Doctor Strange I have had the pleasure of reviewing a few of Disney’s offspring in both the Marvel and Star Wars universes. My opinion on Disney’s works is that they are often problematic stories propped by excellent casts. Although Solo’s plot problems are not significant, they are helped by a very robust cast. Woody Harrelson as Thomas Beckett, Han Solo’s reluctant mentor, is a safe pair of hands and Paul Bettany is convincingly villainous as the crime lord Dryden Vos. Plus Bettany really rocks Dryden Vos’ black cape. Emilia Clarke was surprisingly good as Han Solo’s conflicted love interest Qi’ra. Given Clarke’s fame stemming from only her Game of Thrones role and her past involvement in box office flops, I was somewhat worried as to her performance. The fears were unfounded while Alden Ehrenreich is very good in depicting his own version of Han Solo. Gone is the gritty sardonic demeanour of Ford’s character, replaced by a naivete alongside some good comedic timing and quips.

Ron Howard’s experience as a director shows throughout Solo. Howard’s approach in the film is economical, with every scene being a direct depiction of how the viewer should think and feel in that moment. Although the film is filled with the grandiose CGI scenes that are typical to blockbusters, Solo’s opening and later depiction of a planetary invasion truly drew me into the story. Another highlight was a standoff between Han Solo and company against some pirates which bristled with the tension of a Western gunfight. If Howard did re-direct Solo, he truly did rescue this film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Cargo

Rating: 3 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Cargo follows Andy (Martin Freeman), wife Kay (Susie Porter) and infant daughter Rosie surviving in the Australian outback after an unknown zombie epidemic has ravaged Australia and the world beyond.

Since 28 Days Later, the un-dead have become the overused staple of popular culture, shambling into video games, film and television. To Cargo’s credit, the film is a refreshing tonic for the tired genre through a minimal focus on the zombies themselves. Cargo’s world is a quiet apocalypse focusing on people instead of the disaster, bringing the viewer back home to the cornerstones of our lives obscured by everyday stability; of our need for love and family and our sacrifices for both these things.  The two central characters of Cargo, Andy and aborigine teenager Thoomi (Simone Landers) are driven by family in different directions, with one trying to secure their family’s future and the other recapturing their family’s past. Although Thoomi’s arc seems out of sync with protagonist Andy’s tale,  the pair blend well together as Cargo’s inclusion of Australian aborigines and subtle commentary on colonialism gives the film much of its charm.

Cargo’s marketing campaign divulges the film’s opening twist which leaves Andy widowed, infected and consequently tasked with finding a guardian for Rosie in this dark world. The revelation reduces Cargo’s first 30 minutes into contrived exposition  while Andy’s wife is a frustrating plot device. Cargo’s remarkable recovery stems from Martin Freeman as Andy and the convincingly strange characters populating Cargo’s Australian hinterland. From the crippled gas plant worker preparing his post apocalyptic empire to the local school teacher left scarred by a brain tumour, each character has a life omitted from the camera. The absence of detail makes these characters feel like the undefinable people we meet everyday. Yet in the absence of the everyday, the mystery these characters represent in Cargo also teases danger to Andy in a world where social norms are gone. Once cast together, Thoomi and Andy are an unlikely pairing who join together to survive but through each other accept the new world around them and what they must do to survive, leading to Cargo’s heart rendering conclusion.

What pervades the background of Cargo is its commentary on imperialism. The use by one character, called Vic, of Aboriginies as bait for zombies is reminiscent of the racism and land-grabbing of colonialism as he taunts them for taking his wells. By Cargo’s conclusion it is the Aborigines who now wait out the apocalypse, safe from the un-dead as though in the absence of modernity and technology, the land of Australia has reverted back to them.

Cargo is available now on Netflix.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Revenge

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Synopsis: A getaway trip with her boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) becomes something far darker for Jen (Matilda Lutz) when Richard’s friends arrive looking to hunt more than the local wildlife.

Centred around a woman pursued by cruel men amid a hostile land, Revenge’s premise, grind-house gore and sexualised protagonist plunges the film into the exploitation genre. Coralie Fargeat’s female perspective transcends Revenge into a relevant depiction of women’s sufferings at the hands of men. Protagonist Jen’s metamorphosis from sexual object to wrathful survivor moulds her into an imaginary action figure. Yet the increasing disbelief of Jen’s feats sadly makes the actions of the men feel ever more grounded.

Shortly after Revenge begins, as Jen gallops around the Mexican villa and has sex with Richard, a man in the cinema’s predominantly older audience shouted out ‘slut’. The man’s reaction highlights Revenge’s trick, to insipidly convey a woman on the screen as a sexual object, a thing to be followed lecherously by the camera around the story. Then Revenge unflinchingly presents, to Jen and audience alike, the consequences of the male gaze as she is reduced to a tool for pleasure, an object to be used, bribed and disposed. The price of the male gaze is that the viewer is forced to look away as perky flirtatiousness is replaced by horrible acts and a visceral cacophony of gore that deeply unsettles.

Awash in pastel colours and psychedelic tints, peppered with nods to David Hockney and Rene Magritte and connected by a pulsating score, Revenge’s aesthetic belongs in a graphic novel. The film’s opening location of a splendid home in the middle of a desert never feels real, permeating the plot with a sense of illusion. This detachment only mounts as the gore fills the screen, interlaced by magnified shots of red ants wading in decay and blood. The film inverts the fantasy of violence of exploitation films, lightly suggesting that later events may be Jen’s hallucination, her projected dream of wreaking violence upon her attackers.

The film is helped by a very small but excellent cast of actors who each play their role well. Revenge follows Jen but ample time is afforded to her boyfriend Richard and his two friends. The dynamic between these men, and the interminable ruthless of Richard leads the audience to question who are the worse men, those who harm women, or those who cover it up?

Revenge’s visceral displays will exceed most viewers tolerance for gore as Coralie Fargeat revels in Jen’s bloody transformation.  Jen’s continued survival, alongside the ultra-violence draws the audience out of the plot and can detract from Revenge’s message.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Beast

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Director: Michael Pearce

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle

Synopsis: Summertime in Jersey, a killer stalks the land, and Beast’s protagonist Moll (Jessie Buckley) flees from her sham birthday and a family which is suffocating her. A chance encounter in her flight causes a budding relationship between Moll and fellow outsider Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Moll’s connection with Pascal is more bad than good, exposing her to the cannibalism of a community frenzied by fear.

Twisting between fairytale and thriller, Beast is a nebulous story laced with layers of meaning. Glancing at the surface, Beast’s setting and tale of loving the monster conjures up Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher. Yet beyond the veneer Beast is about our latent evil and how forgiveness is a far better weapon of control than guilt. Encapsulated in one visceral act of self-harming, it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong with Moll. Moll’s problem is buried in the past, a sin wielded over Moll by her family to reduce her to the role of valet, nanny and carer. Sin, guilt and regret are nothing new in stories, but what marks Beast is how Moll’s sin has been weaponised through forgiveness. Instead of being reminded of what she has done, Moll is controlled by her mother’s guise of love, friendship and progress.

The name Beast alludes to the animalistic nature of man as family members and authority figures turn against Moll. The  theme is more pronounced among certain characters who symbolise different animals. Moll’s manipulative mother (Gerladine James) is akin to a spider while detective Cliff (Trystan Gravelle) is a bloodhound. The picturesque Jersey setting is also deceptive. The quaint connotations around the tourist spot come tax haven crumbles as Moll and Pascal are pilloried. The rich acquaintances of Moll’s family treat Moll with snickering disdain while the rest of the island condemn her and Pascal as murderers. In his choice of landscapes, the land of Jersey takes on a duality through director Michael Pearce’s vision. Verdant meadows and orchards shining at dawn give way to desolate and eerie fields and swamps. From characters to setting, Beast ensures that nothing is ever clear until the end. Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun’s eye for the land captures the distinctiveness of Britain, contrasting the synthesised depiction of how viewers abroad see the country. Despite all the suffering and trauma that Beast depicts, I could not help seeing the film as one beautifully twisted postcard of Jersey.

Replete with twists and dream sequences, Beast ensnares you in a maze of suspicion from which none are safe. The film is only undermined by a plot straining under its own complexity. Last minutes revelations and surprise twists create an impact laced with an aftertaste of dissatisfaction by upending the plot’s overall narrative of exclusion.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Isle of Dogs

Rating: 5 out 5 (Classic)

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Koyu Rankin, Scarlett Johannson, Yoko Ono.

Synopsis: In near future Japan, virulent strains of dog based diseases cause Magaski city to ostracise its canines to a junk-heap island. Determined to get his dog back, Atari Kobayshi ventures to the island and discovers a conspiracy against man’s best friend.

Youth is a fleeting thing that should be cherished before it slips entirely. I am still young but I do not forlornly look back at childhood as the halcyon days of simpler joys and times. The world was uncertain then and is uncertain now, but my view clashes with a generation still clinging to Disney films. Against this context Isle of Dogs is the typical Wes Anderson work, full of pantomime whimsy, yet quietly and unexpectedly, the film made me feel like a child again.

Composed of stop animation throughout, the painstaking efforts of Wes Anderson, 3 Mills Studios and the modeller team converts Isle of Dogs into a labour of love. From the handcrafted backdrops to the bulbous eyes of the central group of dogs, the city of Magaski and trash island are exquisitely detailed. Superseded by computer graphics, the use of stop animation in Isle of Dogs imbues the tale with a forlorn exoticism, of witnessing a land both enticing and long passed. The choice of stop animation to depict a near future Japan speaks to the country’s reputation today; a land both advanced and steeped in the past. Adorned by clunky framed T.Vs, tape machines and giant computers, the retro-future vision of Isle of Dogs springs from a 1950’s comic. Anderson’s works have always been tinged with a nostalgia and in Isle of Dogs Anderson’s gaze looks back at the post war futurism full of hope and despair.

Written by a combined team of Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura, the plot for Isle of Dogs is impeccable. The films stands alongside The Grand Budapest Hotel as the films I consider to be Wes Anderson’s masterpiecesFull of innocent and often unintentional humour, Isle of Dogs builds on one of Anderson’s tropes, the outsider, to create a tale of exclusion, oppression and acceptance. The speaking of English between the dogs and Japanese for nearly everyone else subtly connects the viewer with the film’s literal underdogs. Anderson’s language choices also act as a smokescreen distracting mainstream audiences from what is a foreign language film.

Yet the best part of Isle of Dogs is its sense of adventure, of the wonder the world  contains through the innocent eyes of young Atari (Koyu Rankin) and the dogs who join him.  I really cannot remember the last time a film made me smile throughout. A large part of Isle of Dogs’ excellence stems from the impressive cast Anderson amassed for the film. The cast’s clear enjoyment of their work resonates in their performance. Highlights from the stellar roster are Bryan Cranston as lead dog Chief and Jeff Goldblum as Duke, or should I say Jeff Goldblum in dog form.

This is a film not to be missed.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Western

Rating: 5 out of 5 (classic)

Director: Valeska Grisebach

Cast: Meinhard Neumann, Reinhardt Wetrek, Syuleyman Alilov Letifov

Synopsis: Sent to a remote corner of Bulgaria, a German construction team find themselves at odds with the locals. Grizzled former Légionnaire Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann) is the outsider of the team, integrating with the locals and placing himself between both sides.

Germany, the unaware King

Since Rome every European power has tried to scramble for the continent, but Germany is the anomaly, in defeat and disgrace its has become the victor. Marked as the Cold War default line and then moulded into the E.U’s protector and financier, Germany today is the King unaware of the crown it has unwillingly built. Returned to global status and granted an empire in all but name, Germany struggles to lead Europe to the future. Why Germany cannot move forward is because it cannot move on, its misdeeds litter the continent. From Anne Frank’s home in Amsterdam to the husk of the Warsaw ghetto, the spectre of the Nazi empire still lingers, if only by shallow breathes.

Looking into the past

Set in a country which was allied with Germany in World War Two, Western confronts the Nazi legacy contained in Bulgaria. The older villagers fondly remember the German soldiers who passed through to invade Greece. The promise of development espoused by the construction team harks to the Nazi’s quest of butchering Eastern Europe under the banner of ‘progress’. It is a past which the German building crew instinctively, and triumphantly, connect with. When the German flag is hoisted atop the construction camp and it unfurls across the idyllic mountainside, the builders become the arriving conquerors, achieving what could not be done 70 years ago. The German builders are bound by past stereotypes while the Bulgarian villagers are caught by the present prejudices in Western Europe held towards the Slavic countries. The name itself, Western, alludes to the clash between the two groups, between East and West as the image of both sides is both affirmed and changed.

A hall of mirrors

Nothing and no one is clear in Western. The Germans’ promise of development is underpinned by profit and the villagers are friendly but hostile, forgiving yet vindictive. The villager leaders who Meinhard befriends straddle a line between farmer and gangster, men who comfortably attend meetings with a pistol and whose business veers into outright criminality. Surrounded by two ways of life and two peoples so alien to each other, the film’s borderland locale is a warping hall of a mirrors; a place where the viewer can never expect the next moment. Bloodshed constantly seems inevitable between the groups, yet Western surprises at each possible breaking point.Western’s constant is its ambiguity, to be a Western film far removed from America while sporting a plot that says much while little happens. What allows Western to maintain this balance are the cast of non-trained performers and in particular Meinhard Neumann. Neumann mesmerises, his slightest actions grip every scene and his silent intensity indicates a man who is not acting but relieving his own life. Being ordinary people, the rest of the cast grant Western’s pace the slow burn of a documentary unlike the dragging plot of many independent films.

Two faces of Colonialism

In the dichotomy between Vincent (Reinhardt Wetrek), the construction leader, and Meinhard lies the two faces of colonialism, the desire to either impose or integrate. Vincent may resent Meinhard’s seeming success in befriending the locals and learning their way of life, but in the end both know that the land can not and will not become their own. Although the traces of Germany’s past resonate through the wild borderland, the nation’s future as Europe’s vanguard is more obscured. It is in Vincent’s promise of infrastructure to the area that belies Germany’s role of moderniser among the E.U’s poorer states. It is a role which Germany, like the construction crew, is unsure how to perform in practice. The recipients of German toil accept it begrudgingly, dismissing it as another attempt to rebuild the Reich.

To be a man

The Western genre is about masculinity and masculinity to the Western is two things, sex and violence. The men forming the two sides of Western clamour for parts of the genre’s masculine image, the Germans eyeball the local women while the Bulgarians talk of toughness, soldering and killing. Only Meinhard the outsider has both, but far from the stoic cowboy figure Meinhard is vulnerable and volatile. He is a man envied by either side while in reality he has nothing. Meinhard, like any gunslinger, must move on, and that is the tragedy of Western’s subverted take on the genre. Meinhard will always be the outsider, no matter his efforts to fit in both at home and far away.

Western may look like a BBC Four film, something to be enjoyed by the middle class and the middle aged on a Saturday night, but it is worth far more appreciation than many Anglophone films out now.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer see below:

Thoroughbreds

Rating: 2 out of 5 (Poor)

Director: Cory Finley

Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks

Synopsis: Thoroughbreds is a tale of teenage angst set in the towering echelons of America’s wealthy, nestled in the upper-class affluence of Connecticut suburbs. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), reunited with childhood friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke) conspires to kill Lily’s stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks).

Thoroughbreds is a cautionary warning that pedigree only goes so far. The film’s respectable cast and advertising campaign have the trappings of potential but both are deceptive. Projected as a major presence in trailers, Anton Yelchin is a secondary character in Thoroughbreds. Having been drawn to Thoroughbreds by Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance in Split and Anton Yelchin, I was disappointed to find that the film ditched a major part of its proclaimed appearance. The film’s plot, like the exquisite mansion in which Lily resides, is barren beneath its deluxe decor. Billed as a psychological thriller, Thoroughbreds is a litany of conversations between Lily and Amanda whose dialogue can be as boring as overhearing strangers forced to talk to one another. At times Thoroughbreds feels like an emaciated independent film, with all the money being spent on the expensive clothes and settings in which nothing happens.

The fulcrum of Thoroughbreds is the friendship between Lily and Amanda. Their relationship is palpably feigned, hastily propped up by past references while in the present, Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke have no chemistry between each other. Both actresses give performances that are stilted, projecting a sense that both are uncomfortable playing spoilt teenagers. Cooke is so devout as the sociopath Amanda that her unemotional demeanour creates a character which is just lifeless, while Anya Taylor-Joy feels equally cold as Lily.

Neither actress are helped by the writing and camerawork. Director and writer Cory Finley attempts to turn Amanda into the comic relief, but the reoccurring Steve Jobs gag wears thin and other jokes mainly fall flat. The plot’s major flaw is that neither the camera nor the writing convey the stepfather Mark as a man deserving of murder. Mark is certainly arrogant as Finley’s direction shows, but he is by no means evil. Later on in the plot the acts fatherly towards Lily, telling her to get rid of the cigarettes so her mother does not find out. Consequently it is difficult to understand Lily’s and Amanda’s mission and see them as anything more than adolescent upstarts. A few twists emerge at the film’s conclusion, arriving with little forewarning as though they were a rushed attempt to make Thoroughbreds appear clever. Nor does Thoroughbreds make any commentary upon the American elite that populate the film.

Paul Sparks and Anton Yelchin are the best parts of the film, but sadly neither are present enough to improve a film that never quite fits. Finley does show promise in what is his directorial debut, but he does have a long way to go.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Ghost Stories

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Director: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman

Cast: Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Martin Freeman, Alex Lawther

Synopsis: Contacted by a childhood hero long thought dead, parapsychologist Professor Phillip Goodman is tasked with investigating three cases which upend Goodman’s life work of debunking the supernatural.

Horror films cleave into two types. The majority are a sequence of bumps and scares whose power recede when the lights return and credits roll. The rarer breed are the tales which unsettle, where the barrier between film and reality melts and the viewer is gnawed by the feeling that the monster is hunting them too. Ghost Stories is a potent hybrid of the two types. Despite watching the original play eight years ago, my past experience with Ghost Stories provided little protection. The stories unfolded to the same pattern but I again became the frightened teenager who realised, as the monster edged ever closer, that his stomach for ghost stories began and ended with M.R.James. A week after Ghost Stories I froze upon a darkened landing transfixed, just like Professor Goodman, that something was waiting for me in the pitch black.

From setting to scares, Ghost Stories is a loving homage to the adaptations of M.R.James’ tales from the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Filmed entirely in Yorkshire, Ghost Stories’  rugged moors and vacantly bleak coastline share the same English landscape which exude M.R.James’ tales. Professor Goodman’s journey through the empty countryside in his antiquated convertible mirrors the insipid other-worldliness of A Ghost Story for Christmas. Stronger nods to M.R.James pepper the plot; bed sheets form into a monster matching Oh Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad, and just like A Warning To The Curious, not even the observer is safe. Atop the streak of M.R.James pervading Ghost Stories are the ideas of Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman. The pair have taken the classic ghost story and infused it with modernity, creating something far more personal and psychological. The three stories in Ghost Stories are interlaced by the guilt of inaction, and the monsters themselves become a negative imprint of their unfortunate victims. Once Ghost Stories arrives at its hidden destination, Dyson’s and Nyman’s twist becomes a revolution, churning all that was grounded and true into a subjective jumble of questions that warrant watching the film again.

The best testament I can give to Dyson’s and Nyman’s debut as film directors is that the camera never feels present. Once Professor Goodman stops talking to the fourth wall the viewer could easily be his assistant, equally plunged into the strangeness and terror of the film. Unlike the stage version which used the whole set, the camera in Ghost Stories can be restrictive, pressing viewer to confront both witness and monster alike. The only visual drawback for Ghost Stories are the monsters themselves, who lose their effect once placed into plain sight.

Dyson and Nyman are matched by the excellence of Ghost Stories’ cast. Talking at a Q&A session for the film at Home Manchester, Dyson discussed the eight year journey from the play to the film. Dyson said that they needed an international star to receive financing and luckily Martin Freeman joined the film. Besides Freeman are Paul Whitehouse and Alex Lawther as the trio recollecting their stories to Professor Goodman, and they all excel in their roles. Whitehouse steals the limelight for playing a character radically different to his usual comedic personas. All three lend much needed comedy at times while Nyman is as good as ever as Professor Goodman. Goodman has transitioned from observer in the play to a far more human character. Goodman’s arc leads to a looping narrative which hopefully a second viewing will explain.

Thank you to Jeremy Dyson for attending the Q&A at Home Manchester and answering my question about what parts of him were in the film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.