Review: Stuffed

James Bartlett arranges the skin of Erin Derham’s documentary  about the surprising world of taxidermy and the passionate artists across the world who see life where others only see death.

For many people, the word “taxidermy” brings to mind crumbling mansions or old men’s clubs filled with unnaturally-posed animals stuffed and mounted after boastful hunting trips to exotic climes.  But that’s all changed now. 

Right now, the interest in taxidermy – both as an art form and as something to actually learn yourself – is bristling with young people, many of them female.  Lots of today’s practitioners tend to be tattooed or wear fab vintage clothes, and their Instagram accounts colorfully illustrate the trend towards creating animals in naturalistic poses, and especially advocating a deep commitment to animal conservation and education.

At the head of this very different kind of rat pack is Allis Markham, a taxidermist with her own studio in downtown Los Angeles, a bevy of celebrity clients, and a special love for birds. She’s the first person we meet – and perhaps most erudite and glamorous breakout star – of the documentary Stuffed, a film that is likely to challenge the old assumption that taxidermy is unpleasant and outdated.

The documentary meanders across the world talking to different practitioners. 

There’s veteran mentor Tim Bovard, the only full-time museum taxidermist in the USA, and the amusing Dutch duo Sinke and Van Tongren, who excel at unusual installations like a clutch of birds that you’d never see together in real life – but look beautiful.

The baby-faced Meng wears a cowboy hat and works on a jaguar, snarling in mid-leap, while the softly-spoken South African de Villiers is in awe of the amazing wildlife he sees in his own safari-esque backyard. 

There’s also time for offshoots like “rogue taxidermy” (i.e. combining animals for startling visual effect, or giving them human attributes like clothes or instruments. Some forms even use the bones, not the skins). 

The world of scalpels, shaping foam, wires and skins isn’t all about animals either.  The documentary also points out that taxidermy takes in other areas: trees, flowers, rugged landscapes, birds, insects, lizards and more. They look just as real and are just as painstakingly-created and posed as the big (or small) beasts that are usually the focus of any display.

Even at a brisk 85 minutes, Stuffed does lack an element or two; there aren’t many transitions between the interviews, so it often seems more like a series of vignettes rather than anything structured.

Also, though we see footage from the World Taxidermy Championships, there’s no sense that these taxidermists are preparing for that big event or, say, rushing to complete a complex commission.  

Nevertheless, the group seem like a fun bunch you’d like to hang out with. They share a genuine friendship and respect, and are certainly making taxidermy seem less of a mysterious world.

Amusing and undeniably interesting, Stuffed will make you think (and look) again when you’re next in the local museum.

Stuffed is releases in US cinemas 16th October. Irish release TBC.

Stuffed – Official Website

 

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Review: Abominable

DIR: Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman • WRI: Jill Culton • DOP: Robert Edward Crawford • ED: Susan Fitzer • DES: Max Boas • PRO: Suzanne Buirgy, Peilin Chou, Dave Polsky • MUS: Rupert Gregson-Williams • CAST: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor

The past year of animation has seen the beloved genre soar to new heights. Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse reinvented the comic book genre in a way that die-hard fans had been dreaming of for decades. Dragon Ball: Super Broly reminded those who unfairly ignore the genre that its presence is stronger than ever. Toy Story 4, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and The Lego Movie2: The Second Part were worthy successors to their magical previous films. Love it or loathe it there is no denying that the technical achievements in The Lion King remake were some of the finest ever seen on screen.

There arguably hasn’t been a better time to be a kid obsessed with film. One of the weirder things to emerge from the current animation renaissance is that in the past 12 months there have been not one, not two but three animated features about a human befriending a large mythical creature. Towards the end of last year Channing Tatum and Zendaya, as Mechee no less, starred in Smallfoot as Yetis who befriend a little boy that gave James Corden an excuse to be childish. Fast forward to April of this year to the release of Missing Link. A film that saw hunter Hugh Jackman becomes best friends with a Sasquatch voiced by Zach Galifianakis. A film that if you were one of the hoards of people that skipped it you need to make amends for that now! Surely that was a simple coincidence, nothing more. Yet, somehow another film has entered the fold with an almost identical concept to the other two. 

Abominable tells the story of a young girl called Yi (Chloe Bennet), who, like any other animated character, is coming to terms with her father’s death. Yi pushes her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin) away as she spends next to no time at home, choosing to take on any job she can in an attempt to have enough money to embark on an adventure. As fate would have it Yi doesn’t need money to go an adventure as a mythical creature stumbles into her life. Aided by her mischievous cousin Peng (Albert Tsai) and the school’s popular kid Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor), the trio embark on an adventure to bring Everest back to his home, which, yes, is obviously Mount Everest for those wondering.

Abominable ticks all the boxes in the “How to Make a DreamWorks Movie Manual”. The relationship between Yi and Everest is identical to Hiccups and Toothless from How To Train Your Dragon. Everest’s mission to return home is straight from 2015’s Home. Peng is, at first glance, an irritable little sidekick in the same vein as Donkey, Bob or any of the characters from Trolls. Eddie Izzard’s villain is an evil businessman who wants to capture Everest for financial gain. Hell, even the films ‘save the environment’ message was already done in Bee Movie. It’s a shame that the plot of the film is so formulaic considering that Abominable is the first film from DreamWorks new sub-studio Pearl. Despite Abominable being the same animated adventure you’ve seen a million times before there’s a charm to be found that makes this a worthwhile trip to the cinema for younger and older audiences. 

Despite the generic feel of the movie, the characters elevate the material further than it should really go. Chloe Bennet gives an impressive lead performance as Yi. Bennet allows her character to be swept away by the fantasy elements of the story instead of making her character deny what’s going on around her. Yi is intelligent, funny and relatable, a perfect role model for any young kids watching. Jin’s storyline of going from a kid obsessed with social-status to mini warrior is one of the film’s funnier plots. One sequence involving Yi is a wonderful homage to First Blood.

Peng is slightly annoying as the younger sidekick, yet he never has enough to do or say to derail the story. Eddie Izzard and Sarah Paulson make a terrific double act as the villainous Burnish and his assistant Dr. Zara. Izzard and Paulson bounce off each other with ease, their running joke involving a whooping snake leaves an impression. While Everest isn’t as fleshed out as Toothless, an over-reliance on burping and farting is grating, the young Yeti is able to gain a relationship with the audience with his big blue eyes.

Everest is basically a younger Chewbacca, sure the older version is easier to spend time with, but we still want what’s best for the kid. Everest also has magic powers that could end the film inside the opening ten minutes, as this is a kid’s film fighting to hit the ninety-minute mark this option is not once discussed.

As it is written and directed by Jill Culton it’s clear that she wanted to put as much care as possible into the film. The Chinese setting of the film must be applauded, children of every background should be allowed to have their world represented on screen. Unlike Big Hero 6, which presented an American/Japanese hybrid city, Abominable is not afraid to delve into Asian culture. The animation of the locations is gorgeous, whether it’s the city lights or the fields of green, the Asian landscape is portrayed in a way that western filmmakers tend to get wrong. Culton put a female lead into her film without ever thinking that she must comment on it. It’s amazing that we finally live in a world where female lead characters don’t have to justify that they are as good as male leads.

Yi is an interesting character from start to finish, her love of violin leads to heart-warming moments. Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score is up there with his work on Hacksaw Ridge and Wonder Woman; it’s a shame that in a key emotional scene the film plays Coldplay instead of a Williams’ piece. With a story that we’ve seen time and time again, it’s a testament to the talents of Jill Culton and her crew that Abominable is a film brimming with positivity. 

Abominable is fun for all the family. While there is little in terms of originality to be found, it doesn’t matter when the film is this charming. Considering the last two big animated features were the dreary Playmobil Movie and the shambles that was Ugly Dolls, it’s a relief to see that Abominable is fit to be viewed alongside some of the genre’s biggest hits of the year. Just please, let’s give the mythical creature friendship a break until at least 2022. Wait, what? Onward is out next year?

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

97′ 13″
G (see IFCO for details)

Abominable is released 11th October 2019

Abominable – Official Website

 

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Another Look at ‘Gemini Man’

Paul Farren takes aim at Gemini Man.

Will Smith takes on Will Smith in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man, from a script that has been bouncing around in development hell since 1997.  Smith plays Brogan, a well-meaning, conscience-addled hit man, who has been knocking off people in the name of freedom for many years and has a total of seventy-two hits under his belt.

Now on the cusp of retiring and just finishing off number seventy two, he finds his life in danger and the possibility that some of those hits may not have been what they were supposed to be. Most notably his final one, who turns out to be a molecular biologist rather than the evil terrorist he was supposed to be. 

Soon he is on the run with a junior spy and an old friend who fills in comedy relief and international pilot/chauffeur duties. Bottom line, he is being stalked by a younger, stronger clone version of himself at the behest of a subversive, rabid defender of liberty, played by Clive Owens. Owens has not only approved the existence of this clone, it calls him daddy. Then it gets sillier. This is not the first time Lee has delved into the world of high-end blockbuster, he had his way with the Hulk many years ago; that particular film still causes a schism for me when I wonder if it’s good bad or bad good. 

What fascinates here is how appalling the script is. It is filled with plot holes and fuzzy logic a three-year-old would get angry about. The globe-hopping has no other particular point to it other than to find nice locations to put behind the set pieces. A bit like the location jumping one sees in Tekken or Mortal Kombat. If it were a Jackie Chan comedy you might forgive it but other than Benedict Wong’s attempts at humour this maintains a serious tone bordering on the portentous.  

Ang Lee’s ardour for the high frame rate 3D presentation has not gone away despite the failure of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Gemini Man was shot at 120 frames per second for high definition 3D screenings. I can’t say too much about that, as the screening I witnessed came with some technical glitches – not the fault of the format.  Elsewhere the film is filled with a highly mixed bag of VFX , Will junior being the obvious source. This effect works best at night or low-light moments, but uncanny valley syndrome is never too far away. One particular scene in daylight with the two Wills is a classic demonstration of the syndrome.

All of these foibles would be a lot easier to forgive if they weren’t trying to hold together a dated, hackneyed script whose sell by date is long past.

Paul Farren

 

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Review: Gemini Man

 

DIR: Ang Lee • WRI: David Benioff, Billy Ray, Darren Lemke • DOP: Dion Beebe • ED: Tim Squyres • DES: Lucio Seixas • PRO: Jerry Bruckheimer, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Don Granger • MUS: Lorne Balfe • CAST: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen

Kids these days. Not only are they spending all their money on skinny lattes while simultaneously hoarding their wealth, they’re also ruining the action-hero genre. That is, at least, according to Ang Lee’s latest film, in which middle-aged men are the characters with agency who not only save the world but also threaten it with danger. Millennials just seem to get in the way of everything with their constant neediness.

Gemini Man follows Henry Brogan, the older Will Smith, an elite assassin who is about retire, when he himself becomes the target of a failed assassination attempt. Escaping to Europe with fellow agent Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), he discovers that he has been cloned to create an improved version of himself – ingeniously named Junior, just in case we were confused. When the two Smiths first come face-to-face it’s hard not to think about the cop from Bright trying to swat away the Fresh Prince: the film is at its best when engaging in ridiculous, over-the-top action set pieces, but even those are few and far between. If nothing else, it’s rather fascinating that the aspect of the younger Smith with which the CGI has the most problem representing is his upper lip, inviting us to question the directorial choice to draw attention to it by having him licking ice cream while watching a simulated army training montage. Yes, that is a thing that happens.

For most of its run-time Gemini Man is far from thrilling and appears stuck in nostalgia for a bygone time when manly men manfully transversed the globe in luxury jets saving the world. Henry’s ex-colleagues are all men of a certain age who appear to still be the ones saving the world despite (or perhaps due to) their opulent lifestyles (although this reviewer is happy to admit she is always delighted to see Benedict Wong doing well for himself). The film also sets the low bar of expecting kudos for not having Henry engage in sexual relations with Danny. Gotta start somewhere, I suppose. 

Where Gemini Man gets particularly squeaky is in its politics regarding the younger generation. The problem with Junior, despite being a born-and-bred assassin, is that his father figure (Clive Owen) coddled him as a child. He is, as a result, simultaneously a cold-blooded killer and also a spoilt brat with no direction. There probably should be some interesting commentary to be found about incels hidden beneath it all, except for the fact that we’re watching it from the point of view of heroic boomers who just happen to know what’s best for the poor little disturbed millennial boy. While we get the ages of both Smiths, Winstead’s Danny is that eternal age of women in Hollywood action: approximately thirty (probably?) but with little-to-no character development so it doesn’t really matter.

The whole project would likely be a lot more enjoyable if it wasn’t for the woeful script in which characters never say anything that the audience hasn’t already anticipated. If nothing else, for those watching it in 3D there are some enjoyable scenes in which the depth-of-field is carefully used to enhance the action. For the rest of us, unless you’re an Ang Lee completist, it’s far from necessary. 

Sarah Cullen

116′ 53″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Gemini Man is released 11th October 2019

Gemini Man – Official Website

 

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Review: The Day Shall Come

DIR: Chris Morris • WRI: Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong • DOP: Marcel Zyskind • ED: Billy Sneddon • DES: Lucio Seixas • PRO: Iain Canning, Anne Carey, Christopher Morris, Emile Sherman • MUS: Christopher Morris, Sebastian Rochford, Jonathan Whitehead • CAST: Anna Kendrick, Danielle Brooks, Denis O’Hare

Chris Morris’ second feature The Day Shall Come continues in a similar vein to Four Lions. It features a hodgepodge of eccentrics that would take on the world-order in the name of Allah. In this case our potential jihadists are quite harmless. Led by the person with mental illness and well meaning Moses Al Shabazz, they have a non-violent jihad policy, preferring notional bow and arrows and dinosaurs to guns, when the day shall come. 

Moses and his impoverished little band eke out a frugal existence on the margins of society in Florida. Unfortunately, the FBI are looking for a patsy after a failed attempt to get a case against a stoned ‘terrorist’ they had already baited in order to target a spring break extravaganza with a large bomb. In one of the film’s funniest moments, we learn that the potential terrorist has a religious inspired phobia for the number five and is unwilling to press all the numbers required to detonate the device.  Moses’ eccentricities turn out to be even harder to manipulate than expected and it is only when he is facing eviction does he become a possible successful target for the FBI’s machinations.

There is no doubting Morris’ talent as a comedy writer and satirist, nor his huge influence on so many talents for good and bad. Brass Eye is still one of British television’s great achievements.  When someone mentions cake to me Brass Eye is the first thing that comes to mind, not actual cake. Unfortunately, Morris latest film is not one of his great achievements. Playing with an uneasy mix of drama and farce it feels at times like an overly complex South Park episode but lacking the topicality South Park has as part of its armoury.  There is no doubting the righteousness of his agenda and it is never less than amusing, but unfortunately as satire it all feels rather toothless. The farcical elements outweigh the drama that is required for it to have an impact and in the final denouement it goes where a Chris Morris venture would be expected to go but without any resonance.  We understand the implication of the film’s point of view but its manipulations along the way to get us there feel too contrived to have real emotional weight.  

At the beginning of the film a title tells us it is inspired by “One hundred true stories”, if some of these stories had been relayed to us in some way rather than alluded to, the film might have had a stronger impact instead of being just a cold, clever farce that tells us the FBI are bad guys.

Paul Farren

87′ 37″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Day Shall Come is released 11th October 2019

The Day Shall Come – Official Website


 

 

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Review: The Kitchen

 

DIR: Andrea Berloff • WRI: Andrea Berloff • DOP: Maryse Alberti • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • DES: Shane Valentino • PRO: Michael De Luca, Marcus Viscidi • MUS: Bryce Dessner • CAST: Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, Domhnall Gleeson

(Contains minimal spoilers)

Adapted from a DC Comic of the same name, The Kitchen tells the story of three women in 1970s New York who take over the Irish Mafia while their husbands are in prison. Before the husbands are locked up, we see Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) helping her kids do homework, Claire (Elisabeth Moss) getting punched by her husband, and Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) being yelled at for buying the wrong beer. When they start to run out of money, they have to earn the respect of the neighbourhood in a system that only views women as wives and mothers. With all the elements of a gangster flick, The Kitchen is about creating a space for yourself in a man’s world.

A film you think will be about strong women running the Irish Mafia is undermined by one character’s need to be rescued. When Claire’s abusive husband is sentenced to prison, she smiles knowing she won’t be attacked for at least two years. With no employable skills “besides getting hit” Claire starts volunteering at a soup kitchen where she gets attacked and ends up in hospital. A short time later, she is sexually assaulted while taking out the bins, only to be saved by a new love interest, Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson).

After this, Claire exacts revenge on her attacker and gains confidence in herself. It’s hard to know whether she has finally found her voice or has adapted to what her new boyfriend expects from her. Writer/director Andrea Berloff leans on the damsel in distress trope, where Claire is saved from the evils of New York City by a man, and not by her female friends. I left the film asking myself if Moss’ character really needed to be broken down in order for her to be built back up again? 

Berloff’s work highlights undervalued members of society (Straight Outta Compton) and their fight for respect as they try to achieve their goals. The domesticated leads are tired of being treated as wives and mothers, and not as fully-fledged human beings with dreams and aspirations. The characters create an indispensable role for themselves in the Irish Mafia, giving them a purpose outside the home. 

McCarthy, Haddish and Moss deliver great performances in a forgettable film. A rough reworking of the gangster film, The Kitchen shines a light on the characters who usually only exist in the background. 

Aoife O’Ceallachain

102′ 30″
16 (see IFCO for details)

The Kitchen is released 20th September 2019

The Kitchen – Official Website

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Review: Ready or Not

DIR: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett • WRI: Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy • DOP: Brett Jutkiewicz • ED: Terel Gibson • DES: Andrew M. Stearn • PRO: Bradley J. Fischer, William Sherak, James Vanderbilt, Chad Villella, Tripp Vinson • MUS: Brian Tyler • CAST: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien

Weddings are supposed to be the happiest day of your life. The day when you get to become one with your life partner. Surrounded by your friends and family you make a promise to love and protect one another until the day you die. Words can’t comprehend how beautiful of a moment it is. There’s only one problem. Weddings don’t end with the newlyweds riding into the sunset. This is a wedding day after all. What occurs after the ceremony is the stuff of nightmares. People who have never spoken in their life are sitting beside each other while eating a meal which they have limited say in. The in-laws each want their family to be in the limelight. The groom must pray that his best man doesn’t deliver a speech that sends the couple on a honeymoon to the divorce office.  Your weird uncle Jim is busting moves that belong on no dancefloor in the world. Your wedding day no matter how much planning you do will feel like a wedding lifetime.

Ready or Not tells the story of wedding day unlike any other. Yes, all the awkwardness above still takes place. Yet, this wedding ends on a note that no wedding has ever ended on. A game of hide and seek where if you lose, you die. 

Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien) tie the knot in the garden of the groom’s family estate. The Le Domas family, who built quite the fortune in the boardgame business, don’t feel that a “lower-class” woman belongs in the family. Grace is similar in every way to the Le Domas family. Grace is funny, like best man/brother-in-law Daniel (Adam). She’s sympathetic, like her mother-in-law Becky (Andie MacDowell). She’s determined, like her father-in-law tony. She’s impulsive, to a much lesser degree than her new sister-in-law Emily.

The one thing that separates Grace from the Le Domas family is wealth. If she had an endless amount of money she would be as irrational as them. After all, the Le Domas family are so irrational they stick to their strict tradition of having whoever is entering the family play a game with them on their wedding night. When Grace draws the hide and seek card it quickly becomes clear that she would have been safer with a game of Monopoly. What follows is the blood thirstiest round of hide and seek you’ll ever witness. 

Every second of the game is glorious. This is a film that blends the horror elements of You’re Next with the comedy of Shaun of the Dead. Two films which belong in any horror fans top ten list. Ready or Not is destined to become a cult classic. Samara Weaving leads the screen with a performance that her uncle Hugo would be proud of. Weaving is charming, funny and electric in every scene that she’s in. Following up her scene-stealing performance in Three Billboards… and her ’80s feel performance in The Babysitter with acting that cements her as a star. Horror has been lacking in female stars for most of the decade. Samara Weaving joins Happy Death Day’s Jessica Roth in showing film fans that comedy-horror can be as thrilling as regular horror. The image of Weaving in her blood-drenched wedding dress is instantly iconic. In a way Grace is to wedding nights what Carrie is to Prom nights. 

Often in cat-and-mouse horror films, the villains are one-dimensional killing machines. Ready or Not excells thanks to its vibrant supporting cast. Every single member of the Le Domas family is ridiculous. Adam Brody as Daniel spends the entire film without a filter. Watching Brody call out his family members for the garbage they are is delightful; he’s the only member of the family who knows how awful they are.

Henry Czerny has a blast as a father who is in over his head. No spoilers to what the family’s motives are but it’s amazing to see how Czerny tries to justify their murderous behaviour. Melanie Scrofano is outstanding as the drug-fuelled Emilie. Scrofano’s character is the most unbelievably ludicrous, yet she makes it work by committing to her character’s wild range of emotions. In the space of ten seconds she can go from hysterical laughter to hysterical sobbing. Emilie’s husband Fitch, played by Kristian Bruun, deserves a mention for being a comic relief who never grows infuriating.

The star of the Le Domas family is the mother played by Andie MacDowell. MacDowell has struggled to land memorable roles following her insanely successful nineties. In Ready or Not she reminds the world how talented she is. MacDowell manipulating everyone around her would feel fake if the actress didn’t commit to the role. The Le Domas family is horror’s version of the Bluth family. They even have their own Lucille Bluth in the form of Aunt Helene played by Nicky Guadagni with just the right amount of bitterness. 

When looking at the previous work from directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, it’s a miracle that Ready or Not is as good as it is. The directing duo’s previously worked on segments from the underwhelming anthologies V/H/S and Southbound. The only feature they had made in full before Ready or Not was the atrocious Devil’s Due. Yet, with Ready or Not the duo commit to making the most of their brilliant premise. While no one is going to come out of this film thinking about the direction, Olpin and Gillett deserve praise for making a film that they can both be proud of.

The film was written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy. Murphy is known for making content that is in your face. From Glee to American Horror Story, everything that Murphy has created has never been afraid to be exactly how he imagined. Ready or Not is at the higher end of insane ideas that Murphy has had, yet it never goes off the rails. Busick may have been there to stop Murphy from going too crazy with his ideas. While always out there, Ready or Not doesn’t jump the shark. Keep in mind that Ryan Murphy is the man who managed to put aliens, the pope and an evil therapist into a single episode of American Horror Story

Ready or Not puts the fun back into horror. Midsommar, The Witch and A Ghost Story have all recently terrorised audiences by taking them on a mental trip. It’s wonderful to see an ’80s-esque horror back on our screens. A key element of horror is to entertain your audience as much as you try to scare them. You’ll struggle to find a film as entertaining as Ready or Not this year. From Samara Weaving’s star-making performance to the brilliant final 10 minutes, this is pure insanity. You just need to ask yourself. Are you ready or not? 

Liam De Brún

@liamjoeireland

95′ 14″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Ready or Not is released 27th September 2019

Ready or Not – Official Website

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Review: Don’t Let Go

DIR/WRI: Jacob Estes • DOP: Sharone Meir • ED: Billy Fox, Scott D. Hanson• DES: Celine Diano • PRO: Jason Blum, David Oyelowo • MUS: Ethan Gold • CAST: Alfred Molina, David Oyelowo, Storm Reid, Byron Mann

From the people who brought you Get Out, comes Don’t Let Go, a time-travel murder mystery. Detective Jack Radcliffe (David Oyelowo) receives a disturbing call from his teenage niece, Ashley (Storm Reid). By the time he reaches her house, she has been murdered along with her parents, Jack’s brother Garret (Brian Tyree Henry) and his wife Susan (Shinelle Azoroh). In the following weeks, Jack starts getting phone calls from Ashley, four days before her death. They must work together to solve Ashley’s murder – before it can happen. Written and directed by Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek, Rings), this time-travel mystery gets lost along the way.  

Although the premise piqued my interest, the time-travel elements left much to be desired. The only hint of a sci-fi element is a flashing red light that appears when timelines crossover. The time-travel effect doesn’t work because the characters talk to each other in the same location, shot separately. What you would expect to be the attraction of the film, becomes its downfall, leaving the impression of a film made for much less than $5 million.

Blumhouse’s philosophy is to make low-budget films, usually 3-5 million dollars, give the director creative control and release them to audiences around the world. Notably, this is the second Blumhouse production this year with a majority black cast, after Thriller, directed by Dallas Jackson. It’s refreshing to see a script brought to life by black actors when there are no explicit racial references and could easily have been cast with white actors.

But there are frustrating holes in the script that are hard to ignore. For example, having two characters use their smartphones to actually call each other feels out of place in 2018 (when the story takes place). Calling someone is the last thing a teenager does with their phone. At one point in the film, Ashley sees a suspicious car in her driveway and tries to describe it to her uncle over the phone rather than taking photos. It’s a large oversight considering Jack uses Ashley’s camera roll to prove to her he’s in the future. 

Ultimately, the story is about how the bad choices we make influence our lives forever, and if we can save ourselves from the past. How Jack decides to be a father figure to his niece when his brother’s drug-dealing past comes back to haunt him. There’s a poignancy in the relationship between Jack and Ashley, and I wish they had more scenes together in the same timeline. 

Overall, Don’t Let Go is a middle-of-the-road movie. It’s a shame the plot didn’t live up to the premise, with the story co-written by Drew Daywalt – author of the successful picture book The Day the Crayons Quit. The greatest potential in the film comes from the original music by Ethan Gold that sounds like a mixture of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” (Shutter Island, Arrival) and Cliff Martinez’s ethereal “He Had a Good Time” from Drive (2011). 

The film’s mantra is ‘you save me, I save you’ with Detective Jack investigating the murders in the present and Ashley gathering clues in the past. The actors save each other with their stellar performances but are let down by the script. Maybe if Estes had dedicated more of the story to the supernatural elements as opposed to the detective narrative, the film would be worth a second watch.

Aoife O’Ceallachain

103′ 53″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Don’t Let Go is released 27th September 2019

Don’t Let Go– Official Website

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