Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Shooting the Mafia

Sarah Cullen takes a look at Kim Longinotto’s powerful documentary which strips back the glamorous image of the Sicilian Mafia, showing the harsh reality of life, death and business at the hands of those who wield it.

After being bowled over last year by Sicilian Ghost Story, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s haunting fictional rendering of the real-life mafia kidnapping and murder of Giuseppe di Matteo, the son of a mafia informant, my interest was piqued when I heard about the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival’s showing of Shooting the Mafia. Kim Longinotto’s documentary examines the work of photographer Letizia Battaglia who has spent decades capturing the crimes of the Sicilian mafia. Guiseppe’s unimaginable ordeal is not mentioned, which says far more about the bloody history of the notorious crime syndicate than it does about the documentary: as demonstrated by Battaglia’s haunting photography, there have been countless Giuseppes since she began recording their violence since the 1970s.

The first female photographer to be employed by an Italian newspaper as well as the first Italian photojournalist to document the mafia’s violence, Battaglia’s life and work are both explored throughout. At the age of only sixteen she entered into a constricting marriage to escape from her controlling father. After her divorce she took up photojournalism. Using her camera she took over 600,000 photos recording the death and destruction wrought across Sicily by mob violence. Shooting the mafia, in Battaglia’s case, frequently meant recording the aftermath of their actions: inert bodies in their own blood, funerals, the destruction of vehicles. Inevitably, her life is part of the wider fabric of Sicily: she became a target of threats from the mafia and relates her own grief at the deaths of other resistors against the regime. Through it all the photographs she never took, she observes, are the ones that haunt her the most.

Longinotto’s ambitions to push at the boundaries of the documentary form are highlighted early on: as she highlighted in the Q&A afterwards, alongside photography and other archived recordings, Battaglia’s life is illustrated with footage from early Italian cinema. Drawing comparison between the men who attempted to prevent Battaglia’s creative freedom as a young woman and the mafia which circumscribed the freedoms of Sicily, Longinotto draws a line between the importance of personal creativity and the self-determination of an entire community. In its many uses of multimedia, Shooting the Mafia explores the possibilities of art as a tool for challenging violence.

Coming out of Shooting the Mafia, I felt like I had more questions than answers. In a certain sense, it’s difficult to know for sure what the focus of Longinotto’s chronicle is: Battaglia’s life, her photography, or the struggles of Sicily. But then again, this may be appropriate considering the multiple meanings of focus in a filmed recording of a rumination on the possibilities of photography. Like Battaglia’s own photography, which approaches its subject matter in an oblique manner, Shooting the Mafia approaches Battaglia in an oblique manner, through her romantic relationships, her photography, and her political career. One suspects there is much that Battaglia is keeping from the viewer: moreover, one suspects that is the intention of an individual who approaches the world from behind the camera.


Shooting the Mafia screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).


Review: Booksmart

DIR: Olivia Wilde • WRI Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Katie Silberman • DOP: Jason McCormick • ED: Jamie Gross • PRO: Chelsea Barnard, David Distenfeld, Jessica Elbaum, Megan Ellison Katie Silberman • DES: Katie Byron • MUS: Dan Nakamura • CAST: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis

What can one hope for from a female coming-of-age comedy 2019? I for one went into Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart hoping that it would be this year’s Blockers (which was, in turn, the previous year’s Bad Neighbours 2). And reader, it did not disappoint.

Following the fortunes of two model students on their final day of high school, Amy (Kaitlyn Deever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have avoided parties and general tomfoolery in favour of study and intellectual rigour throughout their school careers to ensure success later in life. This backfires when they discover that the rest of their graduating class has also been accepted to Harvard and Yale. Looking to make up for lost time, the two girls set off on an odyssey of graduation parties. Yes, it is in many ways the female version of Superbad. And while in one way it’s sad that we have had to wait over a decade for such a film to appear, it’s perhaps also a very good thing that no one attempted a female version of Superbad ten years ago.

While it’s undeniably satisfying to see new films flipping the script on the assumptions Hollywood has made about American high school since the ’80s, the film does occasionally overplay its hand. Almost every character turns out to be something they’re not, which at times can be exhausting, particularly for characters that had barely any screen time in the first place. However, this isn’t to take away from the impressive supporting cast and the good intentions behind it all: it’s nice to see a diverse array of high school characters wherein everyone is treated as an individual, and long may the dismantling of the Hollywood hierarchy continue.

And for many reasons, Booksmart feels worth the wait, bringing together as it does two fantastic leads who have deserved more screen time for quite a while now: Kaitlyn Deever managed to be a kick-ass kid in television’s adult-focused Justified while Beanie Feldstein was the infinitely likeable best friend in Lady Bird (and should have been the focus of the movie, in this reviewer’s humble opinion). Together they bring a wonderful combined energy to the film, with lots of the comedy coming from their offbeat exchanges. Despite seeing each other daily, they take plenty of time to send each other constant encouragement, which is as sweet as it is bizarre. As a spiritual sequel to Blockers it also follows in that film’s progressive steps: Amy is out and, aside from her Christian parents (Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte) who are stepping over themselves to demonstrate their acceptance of their daughter, her sexuality doesn’t raise any eyebrows.  And indeed, if Molly fails to understand the nuances of her best friend’s sexuality at times, it’s her own misunderstanding of female sexuality that is the butt of the joke. “I have a secret for you.” she tells Amy: “I once tried to masturbate with an electric toothbrush, but I got a horrible UTI.”

Hopefully we will see more directing from Wilde and her all-female writing team, as they have succeeded in creating a laugh-out-loud comedy which explores the nuances of female friendship and permits its characters to make mistakes. Booksmart graduates with top marks (but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way).

Sarah Cullen

102 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Booksmart is released 27th May 2019

Booksmart – Official Website





Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 35 – Drop Kick a Puppy


Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm address the nation and share their latest jibber jabber on some new films that people have made for you to see, including dream-chasing and drug-taking in Wild Rose,  spotting Dublin streets in Greta, and high-school yarns in 8th Grade and Book Smart.

Sarah takes a look at three Netflix films with women drinking in Wine Country, a lack of murders in Who Would you Take to a Desert Island, and alive ghosts in Suzzanna: Buried Alive.

Richard takes his seat at the High Table and discusses the endless shoot-outs of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, nonsense in the cinema at Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, and the pointlessness of Vox Lux.

And finally there’s the glass cliff of Avengers: Endgame (were they tears Richard?)


Film Ireland Podcasts






Land Without God screened on 28th February 2019 as part of theDublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).


Review: Us

DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele PRO: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Nicholas Monsour• DES: Ruth De Jong  MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

I’m still a bit miffed that Jordan Peele didn’t run with my super-cool idea for his film. Picture this: the movie opens with the title card for Us, except it’s obscured by some sort of spooky fog. Then, as the fog clears, the title card comes into sharper focus and – what’s that? Two dots have appeared! It’s not Us as we imagined, but instead U.S.! The United States! On the big screen! Who’d have imagined?! Aaaand, fade to black, the end. But Peele had his own ideas, just not quite as nuanced as my own, and I can respect that. And since Us turned out to be well paced, tense, and genuinely scary, I have to hand it to him: he did not need my help this time.

In Peele’s new horror, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) is haunted by a trauma that has remained with her for over thirty years: as a young girl, she was briefly separated from her parents while at a beach-front carnival and only vaguely remembers what she endured while exploring an abandoned hall of mirrors. Returning to the same beach three decades later with her family in toe, Adelaide fears that whatever she has been trying to avoid all that time is about to catch up with her. It appears that her fears are not unfounded when four enigmatic figures, all dressed in red, appear outside their holiday home one night. When they break in and come face-to-face with the Wilson family, the Wilson family discover their doubles staring back.

While Us might not be quite as good as Peele’s breakout debut Get Out, it’s certainly the most immediately scary of the two (whereas the Sunken Place in Get Out had me feeling sick to my stomach, the cat-and-mouse games throughout Us had me watching through my fingers), and surely that is one reasonable metric by which to measure your horror. Starting off evocative of other terrifying home invasion narratives such as The Strangers and The Invitation, Peele’s second film, like Get Out, reveals its machinations originate in a landscape located somewhere between the realms of science fiction and fantasy. Not unlike the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, this enables Peele to explore the implications of the surface of society in comparison to what remains unseen.

Lupita Nyong’o is fantastic as both versions of Adelaide: both the socially awkward loner and over-protective mother protagonist, and the terrifying crack-voiced double who appears to be spearheading the doppelgänger attack. Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband, Gabe, a likeable if somewhat bumbling boat enthusiast. What with his square glasses, beard and comic relief, he comes across as something of a Peele-a-like. If I were to fault the casting in any way it would be a criminal under-use of the incredibly funny Tim Heidecker as the father of a fellow vacationing family and frenemy of Gabe (that’s right, I’m taking no prisoners here).

While Us couldn’t really be said to be a sequel to Get Out it does still tackle many of the same ideas, particularly in relation to the commodification of the (both African and non-African) American body. I am already anticipating plenty of discussion regarding the significance of the doppelgängers’ red costumes, for starters. Beyond the immediate nail-biting horror there is plenty to mull over, and indeed it feels like a movie that will reward repeat viewings. All I can say for now is that, after one viewing, Us feels like a puzzle that disconcertingly doesn’t seem to quite fit together: maybe you’re not looking at it the right way up, maybe there’s a piece missing, or maybe you’ve just realised your double is hiding under the table and is really putting you off. Whatever the reason, Us remains disturbingly oblique and is probably all the better for it.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Us is released 22nd March 2019




Review: Under the Silver Lake

DIR/WRI: David Robert Mitchell PRO: Chris Bender, Michael De Luca, Adele Romanski, Jake Weiner • DOP: Mike Gioulakis  ED: Julio Perez IV • DES: Michael Perry  MUS: Disasterpeace • CAST: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace


Is it impressive that Under the Silver Lake manages to be a lot stranger than the trailer implies (and the trailer is quite odd in and of itself). I don’t know if  that’s impressive, but I feel it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes trailers these days don’t give away the whole movie, which is something to admire. If this seems like faint praise, it sort of is. Because while an attempt to make something Pynchon-esque yet more accessible for the screen is in and of itself far from unwelcome, director David Robert Mitchell’s over-indulgent run-time and some undercooked storylines mean it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.  

Andrew Garfield’s Sam is an aimless young slacker living in L.A. whose money is just about to run out. He spends much of his time in Rear Window fashion, spying on his female neighbours in his condo and engaging in conspiracy theories. After encountering a mysterious new women, Sarah (Riley Keogh), at the swimming pool, Sam falls for her and spends the evening with her, only to discover the next morning that she and her roommates have all left in the night. Wondering whether her disappearance has anything to do with the recent sudden death of a local billionaire or a prophetic zine, Sam starts following clues which lead him into the underworld (occasionally literally) of Hollywood.

While not without some enjoyable sleuthing for both the protagonist and audience, Sam’s character is perhaps a microcosm of the film’s problems as a whole. We never really get a strong sense of what exactly Sam believes beyond the fact that he, um, thinks that pop culture has secret messages embedded in it that are meant for rich people. Yeah. This admittedly could be a good starting point for a character (or indeed a movie), but requires a lot more fleshing out to become something interesting. As it is, the central mystery of the film feels similarly like a bare-bones outline of a finished work, with a whole load of unnecessary red herrings thrown in (to take my example above, I feel I was being rather charitable in comparing the film to Rear Window. Quite frankly, Sam’s just a Peeping Tom). Where Mitchell’s film is more successful in evoking its competing themes of anxiety and nostalgia for twentieth-century popular culture is in its visuals and soundtrack: aesthetically impressive and gorgeously edited, Under the Silver Lake certainly feels appropriately neo-noirish as Sam wanders around in a fugue of Los Angeles-tinged uncertainty.

It’s also disappointing to see how Under the Silver Lake under-uses its cast beyond Garfield. Garfield himself is hugely likeable (arguably more than the character should be) and capable as a protagonist who could easily have been unforgettable as an author or audience surrogate and as such is hugely pivotal in maintaining engagement in the film. However, beyond Garfield the impressive supporting cast are almost all reduced to glorified cameos, with Topher Grace, Jimmi Simpson and Laura-Leigh Clare appearing in only in a small number of scenes. Particularly glaring is Zosia Mamet’s Troy, seemingly Sam’s friend with benefits who, despite featuring heavily in the first half of the film, is not seen again.

While Under the Silver Lake may be well-intentioned in its attempt to explore the dark underbelly of the American movie business, it’s hard not to feel disappointed that it attributes so little agency to the victims of the Hollywood Machine. The gone girl supposedly at the centre of the tale is not so much a character in her own right but an excuse for the protagonist to indulge in his nostalgia, something we’ve seen far too often. To the film’s credit there are some wonderfully zany moments which should pique interests throughout (and in particular a short-lived horror villain which will probably give me nightmares). On the other hand, it’s hard to know whether the film’s scattergun approach works overall (I refuse to believe that R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency?” is anyone’s dance number). Perhaps the most surprising part of this Hollywood puzzler is just how conventional it is.


Sarah Cullen

139 minutes
16 (see IFCO for details)
Under the Silver Lake is released 15th March 2019



Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 33 – Sandblasted and Dehydrated


Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm are back in your ear to deliver their take on the Oscars. Plus amongst their reviews, Sarah implores you not to see Dragged Across Concrete, Richard ponders the point of Cold Pursuit, starring Liam Neeson as an avenging Mr Plough and there’s love for If Beale Street Could Talk and a look at… a look at… a look at Happy Death Day 2U. Outside of the cinema, there’s a bit of Netflix chats and on the Irish cinema front Richard finds himself liking Cellar Door.


Film Ireland Podcasts



Review: Happy Death Day 2U

DIR/WRI: Christopher Landon • PRO: Jason Blum • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Ben Baudhuin • DES: Bill Boes • MUS: Bear McCreary • CAST: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Phi Vu, Suraj Sharma

Wizzard truly missed a trick in 1973 when they didn’t write a song about how they wish it could be birthday everyday. What with the recent spate of Groundhog Day-inspired birthday media (well, specifically this and the Netflix series Russian Doll), Roy Wood et al. would, forty six years after the song’s release, now be rolling in dough. Live and learn.

Having survived the events of Happy Death Day (2017) in which Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) had to relive the day of her death time and time again in order to unmask and defeat her killer, Tree realises that she has unfinished business when she is thrown right back into that same time loop. However, in Happy Death Day 2U she also has to contend with interdimensional travel and a really lousy Dean. Tree finds herself in an alternative universe where she has a slightly different life: the old gang are here, including her new boyfriend Carter (Israel Broussard) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), but her relationships with them all are not quite the same. With help from a group of science students, Tree must both avoid murder at the hands of a new killer and figure out a way home. Yes, director Christopher Landon has really given himself a lot to contend with here, particularly considering how other horror franchises take about four instalments before their characters even venture out into space. It can be a little lopsided at times, with the whodunnit aspect getting short-changed in favour of the science fiction arc. However, in light of how much is thrown at the wall in Happy Death Day 2U, a surprising amount sticks.

There’s also plenty that doesn’t quite land of course: early on it appears that this sequel might be focused on a new, somewhat unexpected protagonist – specifically Ryan (Phi Vu), Carter’s Asian roommate who was a bit part in the original 2017 instalment – but very quickly things are reshuffled to ensure it’s all about Tree once again. While it’s far from being the worst of possible outcomes, (particularly because Tree is a compelling character) it would have been interesting to see a slasher flick about someone other than a white girl, particularly considering the way it’s teased here. Then again, perhaps the HDD franchise is one that will have the longevity to expand on its representation (early box office numbers aren’t entirely promising but if these films have taught me one thing, it’s that anything is possible. Also that baby masks are scary). Happy Death Day 2U also can’t figure out how to get its characters out of a dilemma without having a bunch of nerds hilariously explain science to a clueless blonde girl. And finally, there is a somewhat questionable montage regarding Tree figuring out ways to commit suicide in order to re-spawn the following morning. While everyone involved is aware that these deaths aren’t permanent, perhaps making light of suicide is not the best of looks.

It’s likely that your enjoyment of the second instalment will depend on what you made of the first one. If you liked that, this will probably keep you well entertained. If you didn’t enjoy the first, it’s unlikely this is going to change your mind. What’s particularly satisfying is seeing how successfully Tree has become a heroine worth championing, thanks in large part to Rothe’s excellent performance, which carefully balances the comic and pathos required. While somewhat muddled and too busy at times, Happy Death Day 2U should be given its due for being a clever sequel and more or less as fun – and perhaps more surprising, having as much of an emotional arc – as the original.

Sarah Cullen

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Happy Death Day 2U  is released 15th February 2019



Review: Creed II

DIR: Steven Caple Jr.• WRI: • Juel Taylor • PRO: William Chartoff, Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King Templeton, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler• DOP: Kramer Morgenthau• ED: Dana E. Glauberman, Saira Haider, Paul Harb • DES: Franco-Giacomo Carbone • MUS: Ludwig Göransson • CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Dolph Lundgren

As a viewer, approaching Creed II with any knowledge of the original Creed is almost unfair. Ryan Coogler’s supreme direction, Maryse Alberti’s superb cinematography and Michael B. Jordan’s powerhouse performance mean that the first Rocky spin-off is a nail-biting rollercoaster of emotion that will have you punching the air as often as Adonis “Donnie” Creed punches a big muscly dude. By rights, Creed II shouldn’t be able to reach the dizzying heights of the first one. And so when it doesn’t, that’s okay. We can’t all be champion of the world.

Indeed, approached independently of Creed, Stephen Caple Jr.’s film makes a good fist of the genre and would rank well among the Rocky franchise. Building upon Creed, it reintroduces more familiar faces from the Rocky universe: Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Adonis’ father, Apollo Creed (in Rocky IV), returns to the American boxing scene after thirty years, with a challenge for Adonis. After Rocky defeated Drago (also in Rocky IV) he found himself ostracised by Russian society. However Drago believes he has now found a way to win favour once again in the shape of his son, heavyweight fighter, Victor (Florian Munteanu).

Now that Adonis has conquered America, it’s only fitting that he take on the wider world; unfortunately the depiction of Eastern Europe feels uncomfortably one-dimensional here, with Russian-American relations almost adorably naive. There are no hackers in sight, but instead it feels as if Russia is still licking its wounds in the aftermath of the Cold War.In fact, any cultural commentary feels wholly undercooked, perhaps because Caple Jr. is uninterested in engaging in such commentary. He instead relies heavily on using familiar faces to create a story about patrimony. As demonstrated in the summary, Creed II is all about fathers and fatherhood, which maybe makes it unsurprising (but no less hilarious) that Stallone tried unsuccessfully to have Apollo return as a ghost to comfort Adonis in a low moment. One wonders whether there was also a “To Punch or Not to Punch” soliloquy that just didn’t make the final cut.

As a story about fathers and sons, Creed II largely works, although it shows the genre limitations when considering how to follow its themes though to their logical conclusions. Much of the film is concerned with choices relating to fatherhood and responsibility: when should a man stop thinking about his own personal victories, and concentrate on his children? While the film may say some interesting things on the subject, it stops short of actually deciding anything. Or to put it another way: in order to follow through on its themes, Creed II would probably have to stop being about boxing. Which, to be fair, is unlikely to happen in a boxing movie.

Nonetheless, Creed II is an enjoyable movie about this sport, which perhaps is all we should demand. The action is tense and visceral. Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson bring great chemistry to their relationship. Despite the veto on the Apollo-ghost scene, one can sense Stallone’s creative control with Rocky getting all the best lines, and admittedly delivering them pretty well. The film never quite finds a consistent tone but it never stops being entertaining either.


Sarah Cullen

129 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Creed II is released 30th November 2018





Review: Halloween


DIR: David Gordon Green • WRI: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley • DOP: Michael Simmonds • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Richard A. Wright • PRO: Malek Akkad, Laura Altmann, Bill Block, Jason Blum • MUS: Cody Carpenter, John Carpenter, Daniel A. Davies • CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak


What has happened to our fresh-faced franchises that filled us with hope? Has Father Time turned us all into cynics? I don’t know to be quite frank, but I couldn’t think of any other way of segueing into my observation that David Gordon Green’s Halloween is only the second time that we have recently encountered an L. S. who has become embittered, misanthropic and estranged from their community in a remote hermitage (although this time it’s not off the west coast of Ireland) decades after the last time we saw them. Laurie Strode/Luke Skywalker – coincidence? Yeah, probably.

It’s forty years since the infamous Haddonfield murder spree in which Michael Myers murdered Laurie Strode’s friends and forced her to fight for her life. Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle have returned to reprise their roles, with James Jude Courtney performing Myers’ stunts. Still under lock and key, Myers is soon to be transferred to a new, more secure, institution. He has refused to utter a word in four decades, much to the curiosity of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), successor to the now deceased Dr. Loomis, and the frustration of the investigative journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) that have come to interview him. Unable to gain any insight, the journalists turn instead to Laurie who is almost as tight-lipped about the events. Recognising the significance of the upcoming date and his transfer, Laurie attempts to impress the seriousness of the situation onto her family – her estranged daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Alyson (Andi Matichak).

The new instalment is at its most interesting when examining the trauma that Laurie has battled with throughout her adult life. The echoes of the ongoing #MeToo movement can be seen as Curtis plays her elusive “final girl” as a battle-hardened survivor who has had to sacrifice relationships in order to maintain her grip on the world around her.

Returning to the franchise that spawned the slasher genre, it would perhaps be difficult to avoid meta commentary, and Green chooses to address the wider mythos of the franchise head on. Laurie and Myers’ siblingship, which was a revelation at the end of Halloween 2 and was felt to be a misstep by Carpenter himself – who has returned as creative adviser – has been retconned (something which the movie rushes to make clear). The film also seems to be rejecting the notion that Myers’ actions can ever be understood: lampooning the current obsession in popular culture for true crime, the two investigative journalists prove more interested in provoking Myers and Laurie than documenting them.

While there is lots to admire in the latest instalment, certain aspects also feel a little undercooked. Thanks to a lot of shifting in focus, the film takes a long time to find its feet. The central premise is compelling and makes for a suspense-filled romp, with the inevitable final showdown between Laurie and Michael both chilling and thrilling. Both the directorial team and the protagonist make great use of Laurie’s survivalist retreat, employing metallic shutters to slowly close down extraneous rooms, reducing the space between hero and villain as it draws towards the film’s inevitable conclusion. Yet one almost wishes that this compartmentalising could have started sooner, quite simply because other aspects of the movie feel somewhat tacked-on and insubstantial. Several set-pieces appear to be there as call-backs to the original film, and in particular Allyson’s high-school storyline could be removed wholesale while retaining the same plot. There’s certainly an argument to be had that Halloween is paying homage to what has come before it with these elements, but one also can’t help wondering if they couldn’t just be a bit more ambitious or creative while doing so.

Overall Halloween is certainly worth a watch for horror fans. In particular the excellent en media res suburban scenes of trick-or-treaters blithely skipping past Michael Myers as he goes murdering from house to house are a great call-back to the original movie and still highly evocative. There is plenty of tension and terror to be found: from the get-go, the opening credits are a stark reminder of just how spine-chilling Carpenter’s score is even four decades on, and Michael Myers unrelenting pace and cold-blooded killing still disturbs. So give yourself a treat this Halloween, and go see this bag of tricks.

Sarah Cullen

106 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Halloween is released 19th October 2018




Review: The Nun


DIR: Corin Hardy • WRI: Gary Dauberman • DOP: Maxime Alexandre • ED: Michel Aller,Ken Blackwell • MUS: Abel Korzeniowski • DES: Jennifer Spence • PRO: Peter Safran, James Wan • CAST: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet


Considering The Nun’s director, Corin Hardy, was last in the director’s chair for the taut and entertaining (if somewhat formulaic) Irish eco-horror The Hallow, it’s a pity to see how out-of-touch he is with Irish affairs. Unless this tepid tale of Vatican power ends up doing well at the box office. In which case, I just don’t know what to think.


Comprised mainly of uninspired jump scares and things that initially appear to be jump scares but aren’t (and then there’s a jump scare anyway), there is nothing to recommend in this latest instalment of the Conjuring franchise. Other than perhaps trying to figure out whether the film’s protagonist, Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga (Final Girls), is in any way related to franchise regular, demonologist Lorraine Warren, played by her own real-life sister, Vera Farmiga.


An origin story for that same franchise, The Nun sends us back to the 1950s, following Sister Irene and Father Burke (Demián Bichir), a member of some sort of Vatican priest detective force, who have been dispatched to the Romanian countryside in order to investigate the case of a nun’s suicide in a remote monastery. They are joined by the travelling Frenchman (Jonas Bloquet), who made the gruesome discovery. The nuns prove to be strangely elusive but eventually the intrepid investigators uncover the order’s secret, which involves demons and portals and possession.


The Nun is more concerned with delivering run-of-the-mill shocks than any attempt at storytelling, as the film’s supposed mystery is solved within the opening minutes, leaving the audience watching the clock as they wait for the characters to catch up with them. Character development is undercooked and uninspired, with even the most rudimentary storylines fizzling out when their usefulness to the plot has run their course. The evil ghost demon nuns are also all super-strong Jason Vorhees-types, which isn’t exactly a problem, so much as the film only occasionally comes across as a ghost story.


The Nun certainly seems like the kind of movie that should offer its audience some laughs, if nothing else. Unfortunately, it’s all so routine and repetitive that it soon loses even that appeal. Or, to put it another way: with regards to fun, there’s NUN to be found here.



Sarah Cullen
96 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Nun is released 7th September 2018


Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: Black 47

Sarah Cullen saddles up for Lance Daly’s drama set in Ireland during the Great Famine.

Sometimes it pays to go into movies blind. Well, or as blind as you can to a film which you know is going to be about that big important event that has shaped your country’s history for the last hundred and fifty years. I’ll admit it, friends: I was expecting something appropriately Lenten. Something dreary, something slow-moving and self-important. Something, in other words, that was good for me. But good for me in that Catholic way. You know. Boring.

Boy, was I ever happy to be wrong. Not only is Lance Daly’s newest feature a rollicking western with fantastic action and excellent performances, it also demonstrates how a film’s subject matter can add much-needed pathos and nuance to a genre. Colour me impressed.

Black 47 follows Feeney (James Frecheville), an Irish ranger who has returned home to Connemara after fleeing his post in the British army. Upon arrival, he discovers that his family has been evicted and his mother and brother have died in the famine. Seeking out answers (and a spot of revenge), he takes it upon himself to find those responsible for his family’s destruction. Meanwhile, word of Feeney’s desertion has reached the British battalion in Dublin and Feeney’s former comrade, Hannah (Hugo Weaving), is recruited to hunt him down.

Of course, that is not to say the Ireland depicted here isn’t bleak in the extreme, which is just as it should be. With a fantastically evocative soundtrack and populated by skeletal extras, the Conemara depicted is one straight out of the collective Irish memory. The harsh landscapes of empty and dilapidated cottages doesn’t feel that distant, however. One cannot look at them without being reminded of the growing number of homeless families up and down the country. Indeed, Black 47 focuses much of its ire on the local landlords who exploited the poor classes for personal gain. With recent news surfacing of Dublin landlords employing heavies to break down doors to illegally evict tenants, such scenes have an added urgency to them.

Black 47 should also be praised for its fantastic stunt choreography. While many of the fight scenes take place in close quarters which best enables Feeney to square up against multiple adversaries (and also demonstrates his strategic cunning), larger shoot-outs demonstrate impressive directorial ability. Taking place in the courtyards of lavish Irish manors, such scenes bring another element to a novel take on the western.

While in its basic construction, Black 47 is not much different from other recent revenge films in the Taken franchise and its numerous imitations, its pathos comes from its wider examination of society. Black 47 recognises that Feeney’s operation cannot right all wrongs, nor that all the wrong-doing can be scapegoated to a single individual, or even a single group. Feeney’s mother dies not at the hands of one person, but because she chose not to “take the soup.” Her death is the fault of not only British but also of numerous Irish collaborators who chose to act on their own selfish impulses. Feeney can attempt to re-enact revenge on individuals, but he is powerless to affect larger social or political changes.

The drama is supported by an impressive cast: Frecheville’s Feeney is stoic but never uncaring. His carefully controlled rage is released when the situation calls for it, and Frecheville ensures that Feeney is an eternal presence. Hugo Weaving comes across anachronistically, but rather appropriately, as an Aussie who’s sick of being a subject of the Crown. Freddie Fox is eminently punchable as the British emissary who views the famine as a result of Irish laziness.

If the film has one failing it’s in its portrayal (or indeed, lack thereof) of Irish women. While Sarah Greene holds her own as Feeney’s resilient sister, Ellie, there are very few other women to speak of. Two of the film’s main male characters also use the metaphors of comely British maidens versus bedraggled Irish ones to compare the state of the two countries. One wonders whether an otherwise resourceful film needed to resort to such clichéd stereotypes.

Interestingly, while opening the film, Daly noted that at the film’s Berlin premier, several English critics appeared less than happy with the British portrayal in Black 47. An unwillingness to acknowledge Britain’s not-too-distant colonialism aside, such a response is somewhat surprising: without giving too much away, the film’s conclusion extends an invitation to redemption for one of its main English representatives. The choice may not be easy or simple, but then what about Brexit – uh, I mean history – is?

Black 47 screened on Wednesday, 21st February 2018 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).




Irish Short Film Review: Lily

Sarah Cullen takes a look at Lily, Graham Cantwell’s short film about a girl with a secret, who is faced with the greatest challenge of her young life. 

“I’m not homophobic. I have lots of gay friends,” scoffs a character in Graham Cantwell’s Filmbase-produced short film Lily. Indeed, it is claims such as this that seem to ring out, almost like a refrain, across our so-called tolerant society: a society in which bigoted actions are often cloaked in liberal speech. The character who speaks these words is here is a secondary school teacher (Lynette Callaghan), something that shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, in our post-referendum society, many Irish schools are still unwilling or unable to address the requirements of its gay, lesbian and transgender students. Lily deftly illustrates this failure, taking as its focus the lack of adequate LGBT information provided in a sexual education class. It’s just too early for Ireland as a nation to start patting itself on the back in relation to LGBT rights: if we continue to fail some of our most vulnerable members of society – children – how can we claim to be inclusive?

This is what the eponymous protagonist discovers when she attempts to come out in school. After confiding in her friend, Violet (Leah McNamara), about her sexuality, Lily (Clara Harte) becomes the target of bullying from fellow students. As a result, she suffers a violent encounter in which a group of girls corner her in the bathroom and leave her with some serious injuries. Lily discovers that her parents are of little help and turns instead to her close friend Simon (Dean Quinn). Simon is already known around the school for being out and “in-your-face,” and brings Lily to meet Oonagh (Amy-Joyce Hastings), a young woman who takes Lily under her wing. Oonagh advises Lily to adopt a new persona, and to tough it out: things get better after school, we learn.

Director and writer Cantwell should be lauded for his light touch which addresses so many current issues regarding LGBT experiences in Irish society. It’s important to recognise that marriage equality is not the be-all and end-all for many gay and lesbian individuals in Ireland, and indeed this is alluded to in Lily’s portrayal of Oonagh’s decision to choose her own path. To this end, director of photography Eimear Ennis Graham successfully illustrates the confining nature of its school in comparison with the wider potential of Dublin city. The film also examines Simon’s performativity as a young gay man in a heteronormative environment, highlighting how such personas can be used as a defence against the hostility of straight society.

The film’s denouement, in which Lily confronts her bullies, is similarly commendable in the way it handles the complexities of its issues. The film does hint at better days to come, and while Lily should of course be celebrated for her bravery (and Harte gives an admirably spirited performance), a sense of pathos and loss remains: that no LGBT child should be forced to endure their school days, and their survival should not be dependent upon the thickness of their skin. Lily’s recent success testifies to its resonances with audiences around Ireland and abroad: it was both nominated for an IFTA and won the 2017 Iris Prize Youth Award. I’d argue that Lily should be added to the school curriculum: although I suspect it may hit too close to home for those who would like to ignore the continuing failures of the Irish education system. After all, how could they be homophobic? They probably have gay friends…



Lily has screened at over 50 international festivals worldwide, including the prestigious Savannah Film Festival and the Rhode Island International Film Festival. It won the Youth Award at the Iris Prize Festival, the Blue Riband event on the LGBT festival circuit, known as the LGBT Oscars. It was nominated for Best Irish Short at the 2017 Irish Film and Television Academy Awards, was nominated for an Irish Writers’ Guild Award and won the Best Irish Short Award at the two biggest festivals in Ireland, The Galway Film Fleadh and the Audi Dublin International Film Festival, qualifying for Academy Award consideration in the process. At the Santa Fe Film Festival Lily was awarded the Best International Short Film award and Director Graham Cantwell was honoured with the Courage in Cinema Award. The film also won awards at the Underground Cinema Film Festival in Dublin and in San Diego, North Carolina, Barcelona and Durban in South Africa. Lead actress Clara Harte was voted Best Female Actor at the Pune International Queer Film Festival in India and at the Underground Cinema Awards, where Amy-Joyce Hastings also won the Best Supporting Actress award.


Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 31 – A Giant Pile of Falsehoods

In this end of year peachy pod, Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm reflect on 2017 and pick out their top movies, plus their worst moments – including Richard’s newly diagnosed persicaphobia.

There’s also a round up of some recent films, including It Tolls for Thee, Battle of the Sexes – featuring Sarah’s tennis rant, The Death of Stalin, Thor: Ragnarok, The Disaster Artist, Call Me By Your Name, The Last Jedi – and all its sex scenes.

Happy new year…

Film Ireland Podcasts



Review: Better Watch Out

DIR: Chris Peckover  WRI: Zack Kahn PRO: Sidonie Abbene, Paul Jensen, Brett Thornquest  DOP: Carl Robertson • ED:Julie-Anne De Ruvo • MUS: Brian Cachia • DES: Richard Hobbs • CAST: Patrick Warburton, Virginia Madsen, Dacre Montgomery

Better Watch Out begins with a little girl creating a snowman, only to have it knocked over by a bigger boy. I guess she wasn’t paying enough attention. Next time she’d better watch out.

Things are looking decidedly festive: in snowy suburbia, seventeen-year-old Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is babysitting for the Lerners, friends of the family, for the final time before she moves to the city. She’s left in charge of twelve-year-old Luke (Levi Miller), whose parents (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen) are off to a Christmas party. Luke is embarrassingly misguided in his understanding of his relationship with Ashley: we first see him reading through skin magazines, looking up tactics on how to impress women. Even his best friend, Garrett (Ed Oxenbould), thinks it’s a lost cause, something which clearly irritates Luke. Still, Luke is not going to pass on what he believes is his final shot to impress his babysitter.

In an attempt to lower her guard, Luke suggests that the two of them watch a horror movie. Ashley, however, is decidedly distracted, fielding calls from her ex-boyfriend Ricky (Aleks Mikic) who is less than happy about her impending move. Luke’s seduction attempts – which include trying to impress her by drinking his parents’ champagne  – are put on hold when Ashley starts receiving strange calls followed by signs of someone lurking in the backyard. Things get worse when Ashley’s car tyres are slashed and a brick is hurled through one of the windows. Written on the brick are the words “U Leave and U Die.”

Better Watch Out is an excellent genre film, using both the potentials and limitations of the home invasion narrative to create something rather innovative. There is considerable menace throughout, a lot of which comes from the threat of violence rather than its execution. Part When A Stranger Calls, part Funny Games, the links between Better Watch Out and Home Alone are clearly signposted, with Luke employing some of the same tactics as Kevin MacAllister to deter home invaders. However, director Chris Peckover heightens the links, using a similar visual style in which small details hint at much larger possibilities. It, furthermore, allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. In the opening scene, for example, the camera lingers just long enough to catch a glimpse of a black car following Ashley down the road.

The cast is uniformly impressive with DeJonge, Oxenbould and Mikic all bringing nuance to their roles. Warburton and Madsen’s interactions add a lot of important detail to the story. Stranger Things 2’s Dacre Montgomery, meanwhile, solidifies his current incarnation of douche-bag, playing Ashley’s new boyfriend, Jeremy. Miller, meanwhile, gives a stand-out performance, demonstrating his considerable range as a Kevin McAlliser for the new generation.

While it’s reasonable to call Better Watch Out it a black comedy, as there certainly are funny moments, following the debacle in which Get Out was nominated for a Golden Globe in the comedy category, it feels as if one should err on the side of caution: most of the comedy is there in order to be undercut by the horror, something which the film succeeds at admirably. In Better Watch Out, Peckover has succeeded in creating a truly chilling horror which, I hope, will generate plenty of talk this Christmas. Who’d have thought 2017 would be the year that the Out movies would kick ass?

Sarah Cullen

16 (See IFCO for details)

89 minutes
Better Watch Out is released 8th December 2017




Irish Film Review: Jaha’s Promise

DIR: Patrick FarrellyKate O’Callaghan

Jaha Dukureh is one of the millions of women from Gambia who underwent female genital mutilation as a child: in Dukureh’s home village of Gambisara, girls undergo the procedure when they are just a week old. FGM was talked about so little, that it wasn’t until Dukureh attempted sexual intercourse that she realised the extent of her injuries. At just 26 years old, Dukureh’s campaign to ban FGM in Gambia was successful, with the government outlawing the practice in 2015. In Jaha’s Promise, Irish directors Patrick Farrelly and Kate O’Callaghan follow Dukureh from her campaign in the United States – where she now resides – with a petition, all the way to Gambia where her human rights work brought her home to Gambisara to interview her family and the women of her village, including the midwife who removed her labia and clitoris as a baby.

Dukureh’s voice guides us through the majority of the documentary, telling us the story of how her life in both Gambia and the United States has been influenced by patriarchal demands. Dukureh was unusual in getting an education, as girls in her village are married off as early as possible. Men, meanwhile, often have multiple wives. Dukureh’s first arranged marriage – at age fifteen she was shipped off to America to marry a much older man – she argues was “like rape.” Dukureh had many cultural assumptions to deal with when addressing the issue of FGM, something that has been mirrored in her own life: running away from her husband and residing with relatives, she made a new agreement with her father: she would, instead, marry another man, one with whom she had mutual respect. Now living a much happier life with her second husband and their three children, she has brought the same model of cultural negotiation to her human rights activism.

Durukeh’s mission operates at ground level, as she educates women, men and children on the realities of FGM. A common belief which Durukeh is forced to debunk is that FGM is sunnah (“the way of the prophet”), something which many of Gambia’s influential imams claim. We see her returning to her home village where she interviews local women on their views on the procedure. There is, we learn, not necessarily a consensus. While some see FGM see it as a way of curbing female sexuality, others believe women are not able to physically give birth if they are not cut. Some, meanwhile, believe that their lack of basic healthcare makes FGM a necessity. It is fascinating to watch Dukureh as she challenges the norms and regulations of both Gambia and the United States, bringing about social and political change but doing so by shaping perspectives around her, rather than shattering them. At times it can be hard to believe that her polite and deferential manner can hold any sway, but Durukeh’s strategy demonstrates the strength of long-term campaigning and of laying a foundation for a new way of thinking.

Jaha’s Promise is admirable for the way in which it interrogates the issue of FGM, demonstrating the importance of listening to the experiences of the women most affected by it. Perhaps most interesting of all, is how crucial opening up and talking about it is. Many of the women interviewed talk about how little knowledge they had of FGM for so long: and yet, once it stopped being a taboo subject, there was sudden and drastic change. Both the Obama Administration and the Gambian government quickly came onboard once it was clear that there was appetite for safeguarding girls against mutilation. Durukeh is not naive, however, recognising that enforcement of these new laws is the next step in a long road towards eliminating the practice for good.

Unsurprisingly, Jaha’s Promise is at times distressing, particularly listening to the horrific descriptions of female genital mutilation from women who themselves endured the procedure as babies and young girls. However, Jaha’s Promise is such a crucial story that it cannot be ignored. Not only does it serve as a pertinent reminder of the sexual violence and coercion girls and women suffer world-wide, Durukeh’s grass-roots campaign will hopefully be seen as a model for future movements in combating human rights violations.


Sarah Cullen


80 minutes
Jaha’s Promise is released 1st December 2017

Jaha’s Promise – Official Website






Review of Irish Film @ IFI Documentary Festival: It Tolls For Thee



Sarah Cullen rings the bell for It Tolls For Thee, Andrew Gallimore’s film about Irishwoman Mary Elmes, an unsung heroine who saved hundreds of children from the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and from the concentration camps of World War II.  


While introducing It Tolls For Thee at the IFI’s 2017 Documentary Film Festival, Paddy Butler (the journalist who broke the news of Elmes’ story in The Irish Times in 2012) described Mary Elmes as “on a par with Oskar Schindler.” Yet while Schindler is a household name,  Elmes has been obscured from history for decades. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2013 that she was posthumously honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel for her work during World War II. Elmes’ story is unquestionably one that deserves to be told, and director Andrew Gallimore, along with journalists, historians, concentration camp survivors, Nazi hunters, and Elmes’ own children, admirably illustrate Elmes’ hidden story of bravery.


Narrated by Winona Ryder, It Tolls for Thee takes the long-abandoned Spanish concentration camp of Rivesaltes as its central focus. It was here – a refugee-turned-concentration camp – in which Elmes worked tirelessly throughout the Second World War to rescue Jewish children from the trains set to transport them to Auschwitz. Ronald and Mario Friend, two brothers still alive today thanks to Elmes’ bravery, also relate their experiences in the camp. This space takes on further resonances when we learn about the efforts of local authorities to destroy documents outlining Rivesaltes’ true function during the war: had such an attempt been successful, Elmes’ story – and the stories of those she rescued – might have been entirely erased.


Elmes, born in 1908, was a Cork native whose studies took her to Trinity College Dublin and on to the London School of Economics. While she excelled in her fields of French and Spanish, winning medals and scholarships, she chose to move away from academic pursuits at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, travelling to Almería to join the relief effort. During the Second World War Elmes devoted herself to the children interred in Rivesaltes, working tirelessly to feed and clothe them and risked her life multiple times by removing children from the camp, hiding them in remote villages in the Pyreneés. In 1943 she was jailed by the Gestapo, but simply returned to her aid work upon her release.


Despite the film purporting to be about Mary Elmes, it is in many ways the story of conflict and hardship in French and Spanish Catalonia in the early twentieth century: there is at least the same amount (if not more) time spent illustrating the violence and migration across the Pyrenées during the Spanish Civil War and World War II as there is regarding Elmes. It Tolls for Thee can hardly be faulted for this, however. Considering the cover-up conducted to hide the horrors of Rivesaltes, one can only marvel at the tremendous job Gallimore and his team have done in piecing together the all-but-forgotten history of one of Ireland’s bravest citizens. What we do learn about Elmes paints the picture of a personable and self-less individual, something which is reflected in the cinematography: we glimpse Elmes mainly in black and white photos documenting her time in Spanish orphanages and hospitals. However, in contrast to her surroundings colour has been added to Elmes’ image, giving the viewer a clear focus on her, and providing a humanising touch.


Indeed, It Tolls for Thee demonstrates just how much has been obscured in the chaos and espionage – not to mention the revisionism – of the wars that swept across Europe and left so much devastation in their wake. While it took Ronald and Mario Friend almost seventy years to discover that it was “Mrs. Elmes” who rescued them from Rivesaltes, there are undoubtedly many survivors who will never know who saved them. Ultimately, we learn, it is not even certain how many children Elmes saved, although the number is believed to be in the hundreds. What shines through in It Tolls for Thee is her unwavering commitment to the children in her care in the face of incredible adversity.

It Tolls for Thee screened as part of the IFI Documentary Festival 2017 (September 27th to October 1st) 



IFI Documentary Film Festival 2017: Sunniva O’Flynn & David O’Mahony


Linda Cullen: Co-Director of ‘The 34th’

In this podcast Sarah Cullen chats to Linda Cullen, co-director of The 34th (with Vanessa Gildea), which tells the story of the driven and dedicated people who formed Marriage Equality in Ireland, and developed it into a highly effective grassroots force with one clear goal in mind – the extension of Civil Marriage to same sex couples. Through revealing interviews and archive material, former board members and staff outline the strategising, fierce battles, sheer hard graft and personal cost of running such an all-consuming campaign.

From the KAL (Katherine Zappone & Ann Louise Gilligan) case to a YES vote on 22nd May 2015, this documentary spans a decade culminating in the 34th amendment to the Irish constitution, allowing same sex marriage.


Recorded by Tommy Cullen

The 34th screens at the Light House Cinema on Wednesday, 18th October at 6.30


Film Ireland Podcasts





Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 30 – Meat House



Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm return to aurally go where no pod has gone before bringing both chit and chat to the latest Film Ireland Podcast.

In this episode our dastardly duo bring you news and gossip and enter the world of TV to ponder Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale.

Under the cinematic microscope is The 34th, an Irish doc that tells the story of the people who formed Marriage Equality in Ireland, the hirsute War for the Planet of the Apes, Nolan’s Dunkirk, the capered Logan Lucky, the punch a white man inducing Detroit, the bravely bleak Wind River, the fingerbanging Kingsman: The Golden Circle and ermmmm mother!

Hear ye! Hear ye!




Film Ireland Podcasts



Book Review: Twenty First Century Horror Films

Sarah Cullen checks out Douglas Keesey’s examination of over 100 contemporary horror films. 

In the opening note of Twenty First Century Horror Films, author Douglas Keesey writes that “This book gives explanations of what these movies mean.” Such an assertion is a bold move for any film critic to make. And one which I am not sure the collection is wholly successful in achieving – after all, what does Keesey mean by this?

Covering over a hundred movies from the last twenty years and broken into three major sections, “Nightmares,” ”Nations,” and “Innovations,” Twenty First Century Horror Films spans a wide range, both from the United States and worldwide.  Keesey uses this format to explore an expansive collection of films, each examined thematically or with regards to their country of origin, with approximately a page and a half for each instalment.

Focusing mainly on story summary with a psychoanalytical bent, Keesey’s film-outlines tend to prioritise the actions of character over issues of style or production. Some of the subsections, particularly in “Nightmares”, are surprisingly short, with many of the subsections having only two films per subheading. Several, such as ‘Sharks,’ have only one (Open Water in this instance). There is also surprisingly little value judgement to be found, which is disappointing because some of the most interesting material to be found is in the compendium’s more analytical moments. Keesey’s examination of both the pros and cons of the 2013 Carrie remake, and the discussion of Cloverfield‘s problematic interrogation of 9/11, to take two examples, provide some interesting food for thought.

There is, however, no explanation given as to why certain films are chosen over others. While no collection of the twenty-first century could expect to be fully comprehensive, some explanation regarding the selection process would be helpful here, particularly due to the decision to include horror films from the late nineties, such as The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project.

Keesey also warns in the opening note that the “meaning” of a film is often tied up with its ending, and for this reason he advises readers to have either watched the film already or to be prepared for spoilers. While this advice works for the most part, there are a couple of times when prior knowledge of the films may in fact be required, as the plot summary does not provide quite enough information to be followed otherwise. In the description of Under the Skin, Keesey writes that many of the men Scarlett Johansson interacts with were in fact “regular Glaswegian guys unaware that their conversations with this woman were being filmed by hidden cameras.” Following this, he describes one man as being “mesmerised by the sight of her flesh” to the point that “he does not notice himself sinking into a sticky black substance” where he soon implodes: “his innards sucked out of his skin.” While the reader will no doubt discern that this is presumably not a “regular Glaswegian guy”, the text unfortunately does not make this entirely clear!

While Keesey’s collection is often a thought-provoking look at many of the most influential horror films of the past two decades, it’s hard to argue that he has achieved his goal of explaining what these movies mean. Certain sections of the book are stronger than others and in particular more critical assessment would be welcome. However, Twenty First Century Horror Films will be a useful tool for academics and horror enthusiasts alike, providing as it does some interesting alternative viewpoints to an established canon.


  • Paperback: 1 pages
  • Publisher: Kamera (23 Mar. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843449056
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843449058
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 19.7 cm

Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 29 – The Thinking Man’s Apocalypse


Our regular Film Ireland Podcast returns with resplendent hosts Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm bringing you fun and frolics from the film world. Yes there’s Star wars news, Yes there’s movie reviews. Want to hear about Baby Driver – take that. After the Storm – bleakly optimistic. Miss Sloane – make guns seem cool with the ladies. Wonder Woman – we all liked it. It Comes at Night – thinking man’s apocalypseMy Cousin Rachel – can we trust her? Alien Covenent – celebrating James Franco’s face on fire.


Pod on…



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Check out all our podcasts


Review: After the Storm

DIR/WRI: Hirokazu Koreeda • PRO: Tsugihiko Fujiwara, Takashi Ishihara, Kazumi Kawashiro, Kaoru Matsuzaki, Hijiri Taguchi, Tatsumi Yoda, Akihiko Yose • DOP: Yutaka Yamazaki • ED: Hirokazu Koreeda • MUS: Hanaregumi • CAST: Hiroshi Abe, Yôko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi


Things haven’t exactly panned out for Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe), a forty-something has-been author and part-time private detective. Not only has his father just died, his his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki), is after him for unpaid child support, and he barely ever gets a chance to see his son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa). Of course, Ryota is far from innocent in all of this: thanks to his compulsive gambling that has caused him to rack up considerable debts. Still, it’s easier to blame anyone but himself for his predicament: “Men are getting less manly,” Ryota bitterly laments to his colleagues.

In light of Japan’s graying population, director Hirokazu Koreeda’s After the Storm examines the implications of an extended adolescence on Japanese families. In many ways, Ryota has never grown up: in his attempts to care for his elderly mother, Yoshida (Kirin Kiki), it is clear that she is still the one doing most of the parenting; while his endeavours to reunite with his ex-wife and son are more like the juvenile actions of a child who can’t understand why his parents split up. The dynamics between the Shinoda family clearly haven’t changed in over four decades. Ryota and his sister Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi) still squabble for their mother’s attention, and Yoshida still shows off about her son’s achievements to neighbours, much to Ryota’s chagrin, who is reminded of his own inadequacies as an award-winning author whose success has long since evaporated.

Despite the familial conflicts, however, After the Storm remains optimistic, recognising that family life is at all times about compromise, requiring accommodation to new and changing conditions. Sitting down to this film feels like being welcomed into Yoshida’s apartment, the film’s focal point, due to the static, intimate cinematography which exacerbates the film’s architecture, drawing attention to the tight fit of Yoshida’s living quarters. However, this is not to say that the film ever feels claustrophobic. While Ryota may have regrets about the fact that neither he nor his father was never able to provide his mother with a more lavish dwelling, and indeed while Yoshida herself may have dreamed of a bigger home in which to house her whole family, the overriding sense from After the Storm is of a family that have weathered many storms and have always found a way.

The highlight of the film is unquestionably Kirin Kiki as Yoshida, whose perpetual good humor and caring nature means she has been the glue keeping her family together for decades. Every scene with Yoshida is an absolute gem, with Kiki’s performance bringing, as it does, immense warmth and charm to the film. It’s almost a pity that After the Storm is Ryota’s story rather than Yoshida’s, as she is, in many ways, the most intriguing character.

If After the Storm had a slight flaw it would be that the film lets Ryota off a little lightly considering he acts quite inappropriately towards his ex-wife. Meanwhile, her boyfriend is given an almost cartoon-villain quality to him, inevitably making Ryota look good in comparison. One can perhaps forgive this for being seen from Ryota’s point of view. Overall, After the Storm is a charming, engaging family drama which draws its audience in with its warm familiarity and gentle humour.

Sarah Cullen

117 minutes

After the Storm is released 2nd June 2017


Review: The Transfiguration


DIR/WRI: Michael O’Shea • PRO: Susan Leber • DOP: Sung Rae Cho • ED: Kathryn J. Schubert • DES: Danica Pantic • MUS: Margaret Chardiet • CAST: Eric Ruffin, Chloe Levine, Jelly Bean

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a teenager with a lot on his plate. He’s still coming to terms with his mother’s suicide while dealing with school, local gangs, and taking care of his older brother Lewis (Aaron Clifton Moten). When Sophie (Chloe Levine), an inquisitive and friendly girl, moves to his tenement to live with her abusive grandfather, he must also quickly learn to navigate the murky waters of dating, all the while acting as the sole breadwinner in his house.

He may also be a vampire.

Starting as Michael O’Shea’s The Transfiguration does, with Milo explicitly in an unusual altercation in a public bathroom stall with a grown man – rather than engaging in any kind of sexual act, he is instead drinking the blood of the man who is dead or dying – the film still elides any certainty, instead challenging the viewer to decide what is happening. Milo, we soon learn, strives to find the most “realistic” vampire he can, obsessively watching Hammer films and nature documentaries alike in an attempt to find evidence of vampires in real life. He also attacks and kills one stranger each month to assuage his cravings. Are we watching the life of an honest-to-God vampire, one who still has to take out the bins and pay the bills, or is Milo a deranged fantasist, roaming the streets in search of a fix?

Eric Ruffin’s performance is a key part in demonstrating this uncertainty, with his brilliant portrayal of Milo as an infinitely patient and placid individual one minute and suddenly violent and implacatable the next.  It’s one of the reasons why the film’s jump scares are so effective, as they often signify a change in Milo’s perspective rather than just a device to shock the audience.

Having another horror film with a black protagonist after the recent triumph of Get Out is very much welcome, and hints at further possibilities in the genre. Indeed, while Get Out was wildly successful for playing with already established tropes, The Transfiguration is more of an experimental beast. While Milo’s vampirism is disturbing, when seen in comparison to the violent acts perpetrated by the local gangs, it almost seems tame. In one of the film’s standout moments, the classic horror set-up – a typical trespassing frat bro looking to party – leads to a far more down-to-earth conclusion than would otherwise be expected.

There has been a recent run of successful horror movies from first-time directors, and O’Shea’s The Transfiguration is no exception.  Ingeniously blending conventions of realism with those of horror cinema, O’Shea has created a remarkable commentary on modern society: one in which horror itself is in many ways more desirable to that of reality. At its heart, The Transformation is the plight of a young man who has been made to feel a leech or, indeed, bloodsucker, on society throughout his whole life. It’s perhaps no surprise that he would grow to imagine himself in such monstrous terms.

Sarah Cullen

97 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Transfiguration is released 28th April 2017

The Transfiguration – Official Website



Review: Raw


DIR/WRI: Julia Ducournau  • PRO: Jean des Forêts • DOP: Ruben Impens • ED: Jean-Christophe Bouzy • DES: Laurie Colson • MUS: Jim Williams • CAST: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

The most bizarre (and squeam-inducing) moment in Raw is during one of the film’s many debauchery-filled party scenes when a young lady starts tongue-kissing (for want of a better word) the eye of a young man. The camera lingers, and I asked myself what the heck was going on. Thinking about it further, this moment perfectly encapsulates my experience of the movie. Just like the young gentleman, I too was having weird stuff done to my eyes, and I had little idea how I was supposed to feel about it.

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, Raw is a coming-of-age French-Belgian horror in which the meat is tender, even is the story is not. A strict vegetarian, Justine (Garance Marillier) feels like a fish out of water during her first week of veterinary school. The hazing, which each freshman class has to endure, includes being forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys: an act which causes her to question her own limits, specifically relating to her appetite. Finding it difficult to make friends outside of her roommate Adrian (Rabah Nait Oufella), Justine reaches out to her elder sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf), a sophomore who tries to teach her how to fit in with the university’s extreme party lifestyle. However, Justine’s ever-increasing craving for raw meat serves to alienate her further from the student body, and causes her to resort to desperate measures.

Trying to quantify Raw is in fact rather difficult, as it seems to be trying to be the everyman of the cannibal genre. Thankfully, Marillier’s performance brings significant relate-ability to a character that is at times too enigmatic for the film’s own good. Supposedly Justine is an exceptionally intelligent student, for example, but little of this gets across. Thankfully, however, there is more than enough over-the-top gore and general madness to keep one entertained. It’s somewhat unfortunate that Raw came out in the same year as The Neon Demon, a film with a similar if somewhat more extreme aesthetic, as Raw is visually impressive in its own right.

While much like the eye-licking, I’m not entirely sure what Raw was intending to convey – veterinarians are evil? Vegetarians are liars? College students are jerks? – but unlike the eye-licking, its lack of direction is far from a deal-breaker with this fun body-horror romp. Plus, when,in a film about consuming human flesh, the most painful-looking sequence comes from an attempted Brazilian, you know the film is doing something right.

Sarah Cullen

98 minutes
18 See IFCO for details

Raw is released 7th April 2017

Raw – Official Website




Review: Get Out


DIR/WRI: Jordan Peele  • PRO: Jason Blum, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele • DOP: Toby Oliver • ED: Gregory Plotkin • DES: Rusty Smith • MUS: Michael Abels • CAST: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford 

I believe it was Robert Bloch who said that comedy and horror are two sides of the same coin. Which is frustrating, because I was hoping I could be the source of such words of wisdom. Never mind. The point is, Jordan Peele is known for being really good at comedy, and now it turns out he’s really good at horror too.

Peele (from comedy duo Key and Peele fame), as writer and director, has created a masterpiece which has been a long time coming. A mainstream film in which the backwater rural folks aren’t yellow-toothed hillbillies, but are instead upper-class liberal elites. It’s the kind of film that couldn’t come from within the Hollywood machine (see: George Clooney’s Oscar acceptance speech), and, considering that it has been twenty-five years since Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, one of the paltry few horror movies with a black lead  which acts as a direct commentary on white suburbia, it’s long overdue.

Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya as photographer Chris Washington, an African American man visiting his white girlfriend Rose’s family in upstate New York. Nervous that the Armitages will treat him differently because of his race, and warned jokingly by his best friend Rod (Lil Rei Howery) about the dangers of staying with them (“White people love making people sex slaves and shit!”), Rose (Allison Williams) has to convince Chris that her parents might occasionally put their foot in it, but are well-meaning. Unsurprisingly, Chris’s unease is not unwarranted. The first sign that something it off is the Armitages’ home help, an African American couple who start behaving erratically at odd moments. The next day, during the family’s annual get-together, Chris encounters a black man whom he vaguely recognises among the white neighbours. However, this man seems to have no memory of Chris. Things spiral further out of control as Chris, discovering the sordid secrets behind the community’s relationship with its few black members, tries to get in contact with Rod and attempts to get out before it’s too late.

While Get Out may, like 2016’s The Witch, fail to satisfy some horror fans’ desire for immediate shocks (not me though, I was terrified), it deals with some disturbing ideas, which linger in the movie’s aftermath. In the moment, it’s often hard to know whether to scream or laugh, and many of the performances (particularly that of Marcus Henderson as the groundskeeper Walter) tread a fine line between horror and comedy. Indeed, one of the most disturbing aspects of the film is just how gosh-darn likable the Armitages are; despite the film’s clear set-up and the chilling Ed Gein-esque taxidermy decorating the abode, it’s hard not to find the family’s table manners charming. This is helped immensely by the performances of Katherine Keener’s mother, who won’t take no for an answer, and Bradley Whitford’s impeccable dad-humoured dad. Even their embarrassing use of faintly racist language can be dismissed as a slip of the tongue.

Despite Get Out’s obvious focus on horror, Peele cleverly demonstrates the subtleties of the romantic relationship between the leads. The dynamic between Chris and Rose is interesting in the way is demonstrates the different perception of blackness as a lived experience in comparison with that of a white ally, and both Kaluuya and Williams are instrumental in this portrayal. While the film’s chaos inevitably overshadows these ideas by the end, the set-up is in and of itself a fascinating examination of a subject matter that deserves more attention. Hopefully this won’t be Peele’s only foray into the world of horror. Get Out is an ingenious satire on the commodification of the African American body in white American culture, which intelligently demonstrates the failings of white so-called liberals who will talk smugly of how they voted for Obama, but who ignore the casual racism of everyday life in America.

Sarah Cullen

103 minutes

15A See IFCO for details

Get Out is released 17th March 2017
Get Out – Official Website



Interview: James Phelan, writer ‘Striking Out’


Sarah Cullen caught up with James Phelan, writer of the RTE drama Striking Out, which follows the tumultuous professional and personal life of Dublin-based solicitor, Tara Rafferty, and her fledgling legal firm.

Acorn TV is giving the Irish legal drama an exclusive U.S. premiere on its streaming service on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

I think one of the stars of Striking Out has got to be Dublin itself – the place looks fantastic! I wonder how important the location and setting was in the writing of the script?

Naturally enough, a huge amount of credit has to go to the director Lisa (James Larsson) and the DOP Frida (Wendel). I’m sure there’s an argument to be made for this being a case of an outside eye looking at the city afresh and while there’s an element of that, it was always envisaged that Dublin be the final character of the piece at script level too.

And I guess that’s what’s great about Dublin for drama. You can mould your vision for your drama around different and differing areas that are all legitimately and authentically Dublin. Even the juxtaposition of our beautiful historic districts bumping up against stunning new modern architecture really works well onscreen.

Overall, it was an upfront ambition to openly acknowledge that Dublin is an attractive city. I think I alluded to the connection between New York and Sex and the City in early style notes for the show. You want it to feel rooted and real as opposed to an affectation. But on a level deeper than optics, I did want to stock an attractive show about Dublin with attractive people without sacrificing depth. And without ever having to apologise for it. If Dublin gets a tourism boost out of how well the show looks, what a lovely upside.


There’s a lot of in-depth analysis of the Irish legal system going on in Striking Out. Did you feel the need to do any research for the court proceedings and the legal aspects of the storylines?

Oh yeah, I think you have to do due diligence and have the world sound and feel right. You don’t want to straitjacket the drama either by being overly zealous and overly exact but there is a balance to be struck. I have a slight grounding through studying law for a few years but really it’s the feel of the law in practice that has to feel right and real.

It’s not a show ‘about solicitors for solicitors’ but you want to evoke a recognisable world where the setting is a convincing crucible for drama. That said, adhering to the reality of the law would inherently kill so much drama if we had to truly acknowledge or account for every naturally occurring delay or adjournment that would crop up. So it’s definitely a balance between creating a case that would resonate with our main character Tara and then finding the entry point that cuts to the quick of drama. As in most screenwriting lessons – that entry point was generally as late as possible so Tara could be proactive, positive and effective.


Would it be fair to say that scriptwriting on Striking Out is a rather different affair to your historical comedy drama Wrecking the Rising? How did you manage to shift from one style to the other?

I’m definitely of the mind that any writer should have an adaptable style. The material is king and dictates so much. If a writer has a style that is so pronounced and particular and rigid –  I doubt it would always serve differing subject matters properly.

In my book, I think the language and style of writing is sculpted to extract the most and evoke the most from any premise. A period horror script should read so differently from say – a cyber thriller. Even from the same writer. Obvious, I know. But one style does not fit all. Or suit all.

Wrecking the Rising probably contained a couple of different styles in that it had fictional modern men alongside real historical figures. I guess the most delicate balance there was to embrace the fun and whimsy of a time-travelling plot while also striving to be weirdly respectful, insightful and even poignant.

One of my ambitions setting out with Wrecking was not to have the historical characters converse in ‘patina-encrusted speech mode’. I loved how in JFK every minor character Jim Garrison interviews feels real and in the moment. And almost preoccupied in that moment by something personal. Hence, I had Connolly obsessing about his missing hat. Rather than fretting about masterplans or recounting all the events that lead to the occupation of the GPO. They all knew why they were there. Why on earth would they be reiterating it endlessly?

I’m delighted with Wrecking. And delighted it felt so different from Striking Out. And hopefully the next couple of planned dramas and features will feel very different too.


There’s some serious acting talent going on in Striking Out. When you were writing did you have any of the actors like Amy Huberman or Neil Morrissey in mind?

Well Neil was a bit of a bolt from the blue. Just in terms of a casting coup. The character of Vincent was created during the period of development that the show went through. He was always erudite and charming with a slight self destructive streak. Neil was inspired casting. He embodies Vincent so well. It looks effortless like all great acting.

It was the opposite situation with Amy because it’s a case of going from an actor I hadn’t thought of for Vincent to pretty much the only actor I suggested for Tara. And it was merely a suggestion. From a lowly writer with no power to swing these things. But back in the very early days when the producers asked who I saw in the role – I just thought instinctively Amy would be a great fit for Tara. On our lengthy journey to the screen, the show is never truly in casting mode until things get more concrete as it nears production. So there’s a lovely symmetry in Amy ending up in the role. And excelling in the role.


Were there any scenes or characters you particularly enjoyed writing?

I spent the most time on Episode 1. It’s an ultra dramatic start that kicks off the show and it has a propulsion that plunges Tara and the viewers into an engrossing chain of events. I always liked that Tara and Ray found each other and bonded on this most traumatic dramatic day. Seeing that connection blossom and the actors bringing it to life was very satisfying.


Did you spend any time in collaboration with Striking Out’s other writers, Rob Heyland and Mike O’Leary?

I hope I had lot of the groundwork in place by the time the boys came onboard. I had plans in place for the four episode arc but between us we divided it up and fleshed it out.

I guess I saw my job as show creator as equipping the other writers with compelling cases and a vivid cast of characters to play with. And through which they could explore and expand our world.

For example, when I came up with the bigamy case for Episode Three and the organ donor angle that underpinned it, I knew a writer as experienced as Rob would knock it out of the park, which he proceeded to do.

Overall, I’m most proud that of all the intellectual and storytelling rigour applied to Striking Out that the world and cast of characters I created really stood solid. You can tell that something is working when characters you conjured out of thin air are being instantly discussed as very rounded relatable characters. That occurred with so many characters from Tara’s mum to Eric’s father and everyone in between.


And finally, without giving too much away, the finale of Striking Out certainly left scope for a second season. Do you think Tara and the gang might return to our screens?

Striking Out was definitely designed to be a renewable and returnable series. I think there is plenty of mileage in the tank for it because I think an audience want to see more of Tara’s journey. It was my plan if we were lucky enough to get a second series that we see Tara returning to the dating scene and depict her enjoying her life again. Which she surely was before she discovered Eric’s cheating. An audience hasn’t seen that aspect of her yet.  I think Amy and the rest of the cast can grow even further into these roles and entertain the nation for a while yet.


Premieres March 17 at



ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Unless


Sarah Cullen looks at Alan Gilsenan’s Canadian/Irish co-production Unless, which screened at the 2017 Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Reta Winters (Catherine Keener) lives a contented life as a translator and author in the suburbs of Canada, with her three daughters and loving husband Tom (Matt Craven). That is, until one day her eldest daughter Norah (Hannah Gross) drops out of university and is found living on the streets of Toronto. Refusing to talk, Norah spends much of her day sitting in front of a large discount retail outlet, sporting a cardboard sign with the word single word “Goodness” where those passing by can see. Reta and Tom initially try to convince Norah to return home with them, but once they realise this attempt is futile, they do their best to support Norah in her unusual choice.

Told from the point of view of Reta, Unless is based upon the final novel from Pulitzer-winner Carol Shields. Keener is extremely relatable as the moral and emotional core of the film. Opening as the film does with an up-close, unvarnished shot of Reta checking her breast for lumps (perhaps a nod towards Shields herself, who died of breast cancer shortly after she published her final novel), Unless considers the experiences of motherhood in middle age.  Helmed by Irish director Alan Gilsenan, Torontos’s snow-scape provides both an element of chilly foreboding and a crisp beauty to the proceedings.

Unless works best as a commentary on the modern view of women’s writing which is, in many ways, still relegated to a less worthy sphere in the world of literature. Benjamin Ayres and Brendan Coyle are wonderfully hateable as Reta’s clueless new editor Arthur Springer and an intrusive journalist respectively, both of whom ignore Reta’s actual literary output in favour of gossip and scandal from her private life. After all, “It’s your inner life that comes out in your writing,” Springer helpfully informs Reta after inviting himself to dinner at her house.

Norah’s story is at its most compelling when she remains the enigmatic, silent cipher at the periphery of her own story. Doing so, Norah resists the many readings of her actions that both her family and the wider community try to inscribe on her. Is this just a phase, part of a lifestyle choice? Is she rebelling? Incompetent? Protesting? Hiding? Norah’s silence enables her to avoid being tied down to a single explanation, much in the way her Goodness sign rejects any definitive readings.

Unfortunately, however, this requires Norah (and by extension, Hannah Gross) to be the silent cipher at the periphery of her own story. The film’s self-awareness at the troubling nature of yet another heroine whose story is told through the interpretation of other, often masculine, voices, does not quite make up for this issue either. Furthermore, the film’s ultimate explanation for Norah’s homelessness creates far more problems for the narrative than it solves, and undermines much of the goodwill that the film had garnered up to that point.  At the risk of giving too much away, the eleventh hour reveal of a (far more interesting) character, who is key to the movie’s action, puts into question what the focus of the movie should have been. Gilsenan’s profound words during the Q and A afterwards, that “Homelessness isn’t an existential state,” get muffled somewhat in the film. As it goes, the conclusion to Unless is too cut-and-dry to offer any lasting commentary regarding homeless issues.


Unless screened Wednesday, 22nd February 2017 at 8:50pm at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 




Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 27 – Human Balloon-Man Deflating

headphones kid

Sarah Cullen and Richard Drumm return to investigate the demise of Sherlock, take a look at ADIFF, and ponder some recent releases in your cinema – films in which things happen – including Silence, A Monster Calls, Moana, Underworld: Blood Wars, Assassins Creed, La La Land, Fences, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Split.

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Review: Passengers


DIR: Morten Tyldum  • WRI: Jon Spaihts • PRO: Stephen Hamel, Michael Maher, Ori Marmur, Neal H. Moritz • DOP: Rodrigo Prieto • ED: Maryann Brandon • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen

It’s a pity Passengers didn’t come out a couple of years ago when J-Law and C-Pratt were at the height of their fame; that way, when the world exploded we would all have been spared the misery that was 2016.

It’s also a pity, because that way we would have been spared the monstrosity that is Passengers.

Morten Tyldum’s creepy (for all the wrong reasons) Sci-Fi Romance takes place on the good ship Avalon, a passenger vessel transporting five thousand people on a 120-year journey to the distant planet Homestead II, on which they will set up a colony upon arrival. The passengers are put in cryogenic sleep for the duration of the journey, but a malfunction causes mechanical engineer Jim Preston (Pratt) to wake ninety years early. Unable to return to sleep and following a year of exploring the possibilities of life on-board the ship with only a robot bartender for company (Michael Sheen, delightful; probably the only good part of the movie) he decides to wake up another passenger called Aurora Lane (Lawrence).

And then, Jim pretends that this was a malfunction, and sets about to woo Aurora. But don’t worry, he feels really bad about it. When she discovers the truth and doesn’t want to sleep with him anymore, that is. Because I guess true love just looks a little different in space.
It’s hard to know what’s worse here; the jaw-dropping misogyny on show or the lazy, ridiculously convenient world building that is there purely to service the plot (Oh no wait – it’s definitely the misogyny. Like, without question. But the world building is pretty terrible too). The Avalon has been built to carry its passengers in hibernation for over a century, except for the last four months of the journey, when they will all be woken up to take classes (ironically enough) about rebuilding society. For that reason, the ship has been fit with cabins, rec rooms, gymnasiums, restaurants and canteens (not to mention stocking up with enough food, water, clothing, entertainment items and – by the looks it – a heck of a lot of alcohol) to house five thousand active people for over a hundred days. Michael O’Leary would be ashamed by the lack of economy shown by the space travel company. Why put all this extra unnecessary strain on the resources which could be used by the settlers once they arrive on-planet, I hear you ask? Why, so our star-crossed lovers can have an attractive-looking playground in which to play out their creepy, one-sided affair, of course.

One of the many frustrating elements of Passengers is the kernel of much better storytelling that gets ignored in favour of the romance plot. The various malfunctions onboard are shrugged off by all involved as once-offs. Apparently nothing has ever gone wrong on any other interplanetary voyage and that’s just that. There doesn’t seem to be any implication that the for-profit ogranisation running the mission might have more sinister motives. No one seems bothered that Homestead II might not be there when they arrive. Or, you know, what happened on Homestead I (if anything, I have no idea why it’s the second one). While there is some gentle satire of the customer service industry and commentary on the two-tiered system in America, it’s ignored after the first act when there’s canoodling to be done.

Indeed, after the reasonably interesting first half hour of Jim trying to make sense of his new life, which plays out as a mix of Castaway and Moon, any feelings of warmth are instantly sucked out of the movie by the disturbing decision by Jim to awaken Aurora, the implications of which are never fully realised. Instead, Aurora is warned about getting notions above her station as a woman: “I just hope you find someone and quit complaining,” a friend tells her in her goodbye message from Earth.” Lawrence Fishburne, in his brief appearance as a member of the otherwise unseen crew rationalises Jim’s actions, calling him a “drowning man.”

Needless to say, events transpire to allow Jim to emerge as the hero every blockbuster needs. Stuff starts exploding and, shockingly enough, a burly man is just what is needed to save the Avalon. You know what, Aurora? If you had just gone ahead and embraced that sweet, sweet Stockholm syndrome sooner, we probably wouldn’t have had this problem in the first place. Jeez.

Sarah Cullen

116 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Passengers is released 21st December 2016

Passengers – Official Website



Film Ireland Podcast: Episode 25 – Human Velcro



Sarah and Richard are back in podland with a brand new episode of film chit chat.

Among the exotic topics on offer are reviews of The Girl With All the Gifts, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, Train to Busan, Headshot, I Am Not A Serial Killer, Doctor Strange, and a nosedive into the world of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

All aboard!


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Review: Arrival


DIR: Denis Villeneuve • WRI:  Eric Heisserer • PRO: Dan Levine, Shawn Levy, David Linde, Karen Lunder, Aaron Ryder • DOP: Bradford Young • ED: Joe Walker • DES: Patrice Vermette • MUS: Jóhann Jóhannsson • CAST:Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Rule number one of big budget sci-fi releases: make sure Love trumps Science. Or if not Love, at least Linguistics. (And Love. Lots of Love.) Remember to scoff about Science as often as possible – this way when your semi-coherent plot dissolves into an incoherent puddle of emotional goo in the final act, you can remind your audience that they should have expected it all along.

Harsh? Yes. Fair? Maybe. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is certainly visually impressive and its first act packs a satisfying emotional punch. Beginning like an updated version of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Arrival starts with the news that twelve giant alien spacecrafts have appeared in seemingly random locations around the world. Their motives are unknown. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist who is still coming to terms with the trauma of losing her young daughter Hannah to an unspecified rare disease, is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to join the U.S. Military’s efforts to communicate with the aliens. Along with mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr Banks begins routinely meeting with the aliens in an attempt to decipher their unrecognisable language.

While the cinematography is spectacular, with the alien’s massive egg-shaped spacecrafts dominating every shot of the landscape, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s booming musical score accords almost perfectly with the onscreen action, there is something unsatisfying or undercooked about the film’s endeavour. Arrival never fully escapes from the bounds of its source material, Ted Chiang’s short story “Story of Your Life.” As the point of view character there, it was understandable there that we were focused on Dr Bank’s interiority. Here, however, Banks and Donnelly are part of a much wider operation but it never really translates properly: you can almost imagine that everyone is just twiddling their thumbs until one of them enters the room. Whitaker is particularly unfortunate here, given the unfortunate job of being the Questions Guy, only a step above Exposition Dude. There is also a sense of trepidation about Villeneuve’s representation of the U.S. military. Apart from a couple of rogue operators, the organisation as a whole appears to be little more than a science lab for Bank’s experiments, keeping things above board while other world powers crumble. Given recent events (or, you know, the last three hundred years or so) it seems like a bit of an oversight.

There are some innovative scenes regarding the aliens and their technology, which keep things interesting for much of the run-time. Although it would have been nice to have an explanation for some of the things, such as the disruption of gravity, their inclusion was not unwelcome. In regards to the aliens themselves, perhaps Villeneuve should have stuck to the maxim that “less is more,” as the reveal of the aliens’ physical forms isn’t particularly enlightening. Or alternatively, in a film concerned with exploring the boundaries of visual representations, maybe it would have been worthwhile to hit us with something more experimental.

Thankfully Amy Adams’ performs admirably as the heart and soul of the drama, and the film’s opening montage detailing her daughter’s initial happy years followed by her tragic demise is, in itself, a heartbreakingly beautiful tale of love and loss, expertly shot. Jeremy Renner tries but is hampered by an uninspired role as the inevitable love interest. When Arrival finally dissolves into that inevitable puddle of incomprehensible goo, it is at least nice to know that the people involved meant well.

Sarah Cullen

115 minutes

12A (See IFCO for details)

Arrival is released 4th November 2016

Arrival – Official Website