Review: Brightburn

DIR: David Yarovesky • WRI: Brian Gunn, Mark Gunn • DOP: Michael Dallatorre • ED: Andrew S. Eisen, Peter Gvozdas • PRO: James Gunn, Kenneth Huang • DES: Patrick M. Sullivan Jr. • MUS:Tim Williams • CAST: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Matt Jones

What if Superman came down to Earth but was evil is one of the most ingenious ideas for a film in recent memory. In fact, it’s such a great premise that even when the James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) produced Brightburn doesn’t maximise on it fully, it remains an impressive piece of work as both a horror and superhero flick.

In all but name, the figure at the centre of the movie is Superman. Brightburn opens with married couple Kyle (David Denman) and Tori (Elizabeth Banks) about to have sex. Books scattered across their house reveal they are having trouble conceiving. Suddenly, a meteorite falls from the sky, landing outside their window in the title town in Kansas. Approaching it further, the two discover a small spaceship housing a human-looking alien baby boy. Naming him Brandon, they decide to raise him as their own – telling people, including their new son, he was adopted.

We then cut forward about 12 years later. Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) is now an awkward teenager. He’s not mature enough to process his feelings for a girl in his class and is struggling with a nagging feeling that he is different. At night, meanwhile, the teen finds himself caught in trances – ones which lure him to an ominous red glowing object locked in his family’s barn. Soon after these occurrences, Brandon discovers he has super-human strength. Coupled with his already blossoming teen resentment, the realisation his parents lied to him about his origins leads him on the path to evil.

The film is a game of two halves. The first is strong. Director David Yarovesky effectively mimics the idyllic looking Americana heartland of Zach Snyder’s first and best Superman adaptation Man of Steel. The script by James Gunn’s cousins Brian and Mark Gunn during this portion is well-observed, capturing the awkwardness of adolescence. It also manages to mask exposition within natural sounding conversations between Kyle, Tori and Brandon, pushing the plot forward while giving viewers a chance to enjoy the central family at their happiest.

It’s down to this section that when things start getting creepy, it is very exciting and tense because we like the characters. The great score by Timothy Williams – blending classic superhero-like orchestral music with darker synth sounds – grows more menacing. The sound mixing – emphasising at key moments scraping metal and strange alien whispers – heightens in intensity.

What’s also particularly great about the first half is how it links Brandon’s experiences of puberty with his superpowers. After all, every person’s body changes as they become a teenager. During this time, plenty think they are truly different and misunderstood. Plus, if Superman discovered as a bullied teen with various complexes that he was capable of flinging a lawnmower over 100 yards or could shoot lasers out of his eyes, it would probably warp his mind.

For instance, Kyle and Tori find a bunch of lad mags hidden under Brandon’s bed. Joking about it, they flick through them and are shocked to come across medical photos of bodies cut open – as if their child was studying human anatomy. Believing it to be a weird teen thing, Kyle decides to give his alien kid ‘the talk’, resulting in an awkward pitch-black father and son scene for the ages.

That said, as the film heads into its second half, a significant plot-point reveals Brandon is actually being manipulated into embracing his darker side. As such, much of the movie’s emphasis on the difficulties of adolescence falls by the wayside. From that point on, Brightburn essentially downgrades into a slasher flick – complete with supporting characters making dumb decisions – but with young Superman instead of Michael Myers.

This section is still good. Dunn as the lead is effectively creepy delivering villainous threats – which he can totally deliver on – but in an unbroken, unconfident 12-year-old voice. Yarovesky and the Gunn’s keep Brandon’s powers vague so that when the kills do come, they surprise. During these stylish stalking sequences, the director uses red as a motif – Brandon’s eyes which change colour when he’s angry, car lights on a dark road or most impressively the point of view of a character who’s had one eye punctured with glass – the blood effecting her vision.

At the same time, you are still emotionally invested in Kyle and Tori. As the bodies pile up, a schism occurs between them. Tori defends her son, tragically believing him incapable of the murders. However, Kyle grows more and more terrified of his child, with Denman giving a great anxiety-drenched performance.

Brightburn will probably draw comparisons to other darker superhero flicks like Chronicle or Split. However, the movie it most reminded me of was The Belko Experiment, another film which James Gunn helped gestate but did not make. Like that horror, Brightburn takes a cool premise and executes it in a blackly fun but nihilistic manner. That said, you can tell why Gunn didn’t direct both himself. The two – while solid – don’t fully capitalise on their premises, ones which after being established can only lead to one end.

Stephen Porzio

@StephenPorzio 

90′ 12″
16 (see IFCO for details)
Brightburn is released 21st June 2019

Brightburn – Official Website

Share

Review: Little

DIR: Tina Gordon • WRI: Tina Gordon, Tracy Oliver • PRO: Kenya Barris, James Lopez, Will Packer • ED: David Moritz • DES: Keith Brian Burns • MUS: Germaine Franco • CAST: Justin Hartley, Regina Hall, Marsai Martin

Little pits its three gifted comedic actors against the conventions of mainstream Hollywood comedies. In the battle what’s left is a middling film with some intermittently very funny scenes. It does not reach the highs of say Girls Trip or Spy but ranks above dreck like Identity Thief or The Change-Up.

Rising star Issa Rae (HBO’s Insecure) plays April, the overworked assistant to Scary Movie’s Regina Hall’s Jordan, a ruthless highly-strung tech mogul. As a result of being bullied as a child, the boss has grown cruel, treating everyone at her office like trash. After Jordan berates the daughter of a street vendor who made her angry, the young girl places a spell on her. The boss wakes up the next morning in the body of her young self, played by Black-ish’s Marsai Martin.

Based on an idea by its 14-year-old lead and executive producer, Little works best as a star vehicle for Martin and Rae. The film really comes alive in its middle portion, putting April and young Jordan together for a string of misadventures – such as having to deal with a child protective service agent (the great Rachel Dratch). It’s always funny when children act like grown-ups and Martin manages to charm while nailing the ‘take no prisoners’ attitude of her adult self. Bounce that against the perpetually cheery Rae and it’s a winning combination.

However, like a lot of plot-driven comedy, somewhere along the way the jokes grow infrequent. This is because the movie starts hammering home its simple message – that adults should embrace their inner child more as kids are purer and more idealistic. Concluding with Jordan taking part in the same talent show that led her to be bullied in the past, performing one of the movie’s many dance routines, the viewer just wishes that time was seeded to more of Martin and Rae’s witty banter.

There’s also other issues like the completely redundant bookending narration by Regina Hall and the fact that even before the magical sub-plot is introduced, nothing in the movie feels rooted in any tangible reality. In regards the latter, if anyone acted like Hall’s Jordan in real life they would be arrested. While this is forgivable as Little is a fantastical comedy, it’s hard not to feel that if the movie made adult Jordan feel even slightly realistic and had her tech company offices resemble a real-life workplace, the viewer might relate more to Little’s characters by the time the shift into fantasy comes.

Lacking gross-out gags, the movie will appeal to all audiences – something uncommon in the landscape of modern Hollywood comedies. If you are looking for a light movie where talented comediens dress in the most fabulous clothes, Little is a fine way to spend about 100 minutes.

Stephen Porzio

108 minutes

12A (see IFCO for details)

Little is released 12th April 2019

Little – Official Website

Share

Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dark Lies the Island

Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.

Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.

Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.

Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.

At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.

Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.

Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.

While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.

 

Dark Lies the Island screened on Wednesday, 27th February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

Share

Review: Green Book

 

DIR: Peter Farrelly • WRI: Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly • PRO: Jim Burke, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, Charles B. Wessler • DOP: Sean Porter • ED: Patrick J. Don Vito • DES: Tim Galvin • MUS: Kris Bowers • CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Surprise winner at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival – beating the much hyped A Star is Born, If Beale Street Could Talk and Roma – was Green Book from Peter Farrelly, director of Dumb and Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. However, its victory is less shocking having seen the movie, which feels like an old-school throwback to the feel-good comedy-dramas the Oscars used to reward.

Based on a true story and set in 1962, Viggo Mortensen stars as Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga, a New York bouncer and famed ‘bullshit artist’. After his nightclub is closed for renovations, he lands a job as driver and security for famed black pianist Don Shirley (Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali). Together the two tour America’s deep south where Shirley faces repeated racist abuse. The title derives from the 20th century guidebook for black travellers to help them find motels and restaurants which would accept them.

Though featuring handsome period décor, Green Book is not the most formally ambitious film. Instead, it’s essentially a character piece, centring on the chalk and cheese relationship between Don and Tony. On this level, the comedy-drama soars. If you are going to cast someone to play the biggest American-Italian stereotype ever – although to be fair the real-life Lip did wind up being cast in The Sopranos and writing a cookbook called Shut Up and Eat! – get Viggo Mortenson. The Lord of the Rings actor went impressively method with the role putting on 50 pounds. It shows with the Danish-American feeling remarkably comfortable in his character’s skin, even getting an opportunity to flex his fluency in Italian.

Meanwhile, Mahershala Ali – whether he is playing a politician in House of Cards or a comic-book villain in Luke Cage – just exudes intelligence. He is perfect casting to play this incarnation of Shirley, a savant-like prodigy whose intellect and musical abilities alienate him from virtually everybody. Because of his wealth and education, he faces hostility from black people in a lower-social-strata. On top of this, he endures racism from the ordinary white person. The only people who seem to accept him are the rich people for whom he performs. But even then, the race element creeps in. He is not allowed to eat in the restaurants he plays, banned from using the same toilets as the guests. Ali’s performance is like a cocktail – a combination of self-confidence, quiet sadness and bubbling anger, the latter just building throughout the film.

Green Book is a film whose rough edges have been sanded off to appeal to a broader demographic. Unlike Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit set in the same decade, one doesn’t really get the sense of the fear a black person would feel being pulled over by a white cop – particularly in the Deep South. Instead, the movie is more focused on exposing the hypocrisy and pointlessness of the US’ Jim Crow laws.

As the movie flinches away from the horrors of life for black people of the era, it leans more into the potential for comedy in the odd-couple pairing of Don and Tony. While this could be cack-handed in lesser hands, Farrelly, along with co-writers Nick Vallelonga (Lip’s son) and Brian Hayes Currie, make the relationship emotionally engaging. The two begin as polar opposites, Shirley repulsed by Lip’s lack of manners, Lip irritated by Shirley’s condescending tone. However, as the movie continues, they grow closer with Don admiring Tony’s courage and Tony becoming awed with Don’s musical ability and increasingly repulsed with the way he is treated.

Occasionally, the bantering sways too broad – jokes about ‘Titsburgh’ and fried chicken could have been trimmed out – but for the most part the script is snappy. Some moments – like watching Mortensen fold-up an entire pizza and eat it like a giant calzone – are laugh out funny. And the emotional beats, such as Don helping Tony to write more elegantly to his wife (Linda Cardellini, proving once again she is quietly one of the Best Actresses around) tug on the heartstrings.

Everything about Green Book – despite the social issues of the time in which the drama is set – is designed to be an easy watch. And it is. It suffers from an overstretched third act. It annoyingly tries to add more tension and work in a scene which could be summed up as ‘not all white people’ involving a nice Caucasian cop. The latter is irritating given the fact that Tony as well as the white members in Don’s musical trio already serve to make that point. However, aside from this, Green Book’s greatest credit is it is 130 minutes long but feels like 90.

Stephen Porzio

129 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Green Book is released 1st February 2019

 

Share

Review: Vice

DIR/WRI: Adam McKay • PRO: Megan Ellison, Will Ferrell, Dede Gardner, Jason George, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, Kevin J. Messick, Brad Pitt • DOP: Greig Fraser • ED: Hank Corwin • DES: Patrice Vermette •  MUSIC: Nicholas Britell • CAST: Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Amy Adams

An earlier teaser for Dick Cheney biopic/satire Vice featured the tagline ‘Some vices are more dangerous than others.” Writer-director Adam McKay’s is that he prefers flashy gimmicks over telling a story that works dramatically. That’s truly dangerous in that it sinks his movie.

Jumping between timelines, the film charts the life of Dick Cheney (Christian Bale), from Yale drop-out and heavy drinker to becoming Vice President to George W Bush (Sam Rockwell), during 9/11 and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

After making a name directing Will Ferrell joints, McKay’s previous film, The Big Short employed stylistic flourishes and absurd comedy in moments to jazz up its depiction of what led to the Financial Crisis of 2007-2008. The joke was that one needed fourth-wall-breaking cameos from the likes of Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez to explain concepts like subprime mortgages and collateralized debt obligations because otherwise people would be confused or disinterested. It was fast, funny and ultimately made a salient point about how people today consume information.

Vice doubles down on these techniques without finding a reason to use them. There’s zinger-filled narration from Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Fargo), needless jumping backward and forward in time, endless stock footage inserts, shots created to look like stock-footage inserts, metatextual gags – all of which combined leave the film with no dramatic scene.

Admittedly, some of the jokes are funny on an Airplane parody level, satirising the conventions of biopics. Mid-way through the film, before being recruited to be Bush Jr’s VP, Cheney is shown in the woods with his family vowing to never return to politics. In another movie, the scene would be its closing moment and just as this realisation dawns, fake credits roll – before rewinding back to what really happened. Meanwhile, another laugh-inducing moment imagines Cheney as a Shakespearean anti-hero as he makes a key decision. He and his wife Lynne (Amy Adams wasted in what should have been a third winning collab with Bale) suddenly begin spouting lines from Richard III in a surreal sequence.

However, by overdoing his shtick, McKay constantly clips any sense of engagement in his characters by continually satirizing them. What is the point in making Bale go method and gain so much weight to authentically play Cheney, only to stymy his performance by filling every potentially engaging scene he has with a million cuts to everything from fish swimming to dices being thrown. It’s on a level with Peter Berg’s equally shoddily directed Mile 22.

One wonders whether McKay went so overboard because he realised his script – the first he wrote without a co-writer – is a mess. There’s the germ of a really interesting concept there – that Cheney replaced his vice for drinking with one for power, ignited by working for controversial former US Secretary of Defence and congressman Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carrell, the only actor given a chance to sink his teeth into his slimy character) during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Cheney and Rumsfeld have no political belief, all they thirst after is power for the sake of power. This is what led Cheney to expand the powers of the Presidency so they could launch a war against Iraq to seize their oil without the US Congress’ consent. It’s his drive which has led to the countless deaths both of US troops and citizens of the countries they invaded.

However, someone like Aaron Sorkin or Mark Boal or even satirists like Armando Iannucci, Sam Bain or McKay’s collaborator on HBO series Succession, Jesse Armstrong, could perhaps trace that through line clearly. They could depict it in a way which emphasises the tragedy and makes Cheney interesting and fascinating if not empathetic, so that audiences are invested. The problem with Vice is that McKay clearly hates Cheney and all he stands for – implementing tax cuts for the rich, downplaying global warming, giving corporations the freedom to act as they please. Bale’s Cheney is not a character but a humourless, villainous caricature with McKay too busy pointing out all the questionable things he did in his political life to make him in anyway feel like an actual person. It doesn’t help that in Vice’s final stretch the writer-director practically lists off events like a Wikipedia entry with the Valerie Plame scandal and Cheney’s accidental shooting of a man while hunting being brought up and then tossed aside in just one line.

This reviewer has a feeling the film my have been tampered with by the studio, after realising McKay’s original take was not working. That is the only way to excuse Jesse Plemons’ narration that is so distracting for the entire film as one has no idea who he is or why he has all this information about Cheney’s life. The moment one realises his connection to the politician, takes the cake in ridiculousness, coming across as hilariously wrongheaded.

Still, McKay deserves credit for trying. Vice feels angry, flirting with timeliness. It shows that Trump is not the only thing wrong with US politics and that it has been populated with power hungry vipers since the beginning. That said, the comedy-drama is still proof that just because one feels passionately about a subject, does not automatically make it satisfying.

 

Stephen Porzio

132 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Vice is released 25th January 2019

 

 

Share

Book Review: The Films of Lenny Abrahamson

Stephen Porzio checks out Barry Monaghan’s comprehensive study of the films of contemporary, highly critically-appraised Irish director Lenny Abrahamson.

Barry Monaghan’s new book The Films of Lenny Abrahamson is the definitive exploration of perhaps Ireland’s finest director.

Analysing the filmmaker’s career from early shorts Mendel and 3 Joes all the way to Oscar-nominee Room, the scholarly essay-style work explores how Abrahamson managed to transcend the barriers of Irish and art-house cinema, garnering worldwide acclaim and profits. It then wraps up with a transcript of a conversation between Monaghan and the director.

The book’s biggest strength is its argument for Abrahamson as a true auteur figure. While the filmmaker has fluctuated between countries and genre, telling wildly different stories, Monaghan keenly points out recurring elements in his work.

He posits that Abrahamson’s breakout success could be down to the fact that many of our nation’s dramas which preceded him were explicitly dealing with lrish-specific stories. This made them less accessible worldwide, lowering their chance of big box-office returns. Monaghan argues that Abrahamson is more successful because his exploration of contemporary Irish issues is kept often as subtext, making them fiercely relevant here but capable of being understood abroad.

Adam and Paul and Garage are both dramas about how, during the Celtic Tiger, certain pockets of Irish life were left behind. However, lacking overt references to the boom, the former could equally be perceived as a warped fairytale and the latter a sad portrait of rural loneliness that could resonate with anyone. Similarly, What Richard Did is a drama examining notions of privilege set in Dublin’s southside rooted in true events. Yet, in making only implicit references to its social backdrop, its story still works outside of said context.

This also extends to his work outside Ireland. Frank serves as a demystification of the artistic process but doubles as a whacky comedy. Room is a film somewhat based on the infamous Fritzl case but told from the perspective of a child, making it also a coming-of-age story. By avoiding heavy references to true life, Abrahamson’s movies avoid polemical debate, instead favouring to immerse audiences in their characters’ worlds.

Monaghan also highlights how Abrahamson’s films all feature in someway or another a Beckettian exploration of the failures of language. They also each eschew traditional narratives, in favour of building characters – all of whom never fit generic archetypes.

The book is not geared for casual reading, feeling very academic. Thus, it is stuffed with references to other scholars. Occasionally, these can overwhelm the conversion about Abrahamson’s oeuvre. This is notable in the section on Frank. One wonders whether references to Jacques Lacan’s philosophy in discussing the Frank Sidebottom mask or harking back to the work of George Melies when exploring Domhnall Gleeson’s unreliable narrator are necessary. This is also heightened by the fact that the book excludes talk of Abrahamson’s notoriously hard to track down four-part series Prosperity (RTE please release that on DVD!), something fans of the director would rather be reading.

There is also a feeling it may have been too early to release a book about the filmmaker. This was written before the release of The Little Stranger, the director’s most interesting movie to date – an unsettling horror film which fits with all of Monaghan’s points about Abrahamson’s work but also failed to wield big profits. Meanwhile, with him set to adapt Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People for BBC, there is a sense Abrahamson has more fascinating work ahead of him.

Still, in terms of work to date, this is essential reading for die hard fans of Irish cinema, as well as those in a film theory course prepping an essay on any of Abrahamson’s movies.

Share

Review: Venom

DIR: Ruben Fleischer • WRI: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel • DOP: Matthew Libatique • ED: Jay Cassidy • DES: Karen Murphy • PRO: Avi Arad, Amy Pascal, Matt Tolmach • CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed

The titular creature in Venom is a lot like the film itself: it wants to have its liver and eat it too.

Tom Hardy stars as Tim Pool-esque journalist, Eddie Brock. His life is good. He hosts his own show and is engaged to high-profile lawyer, Anne (Michelle Williams, having thankfully more fun and stuff to do than the typical love interest). However, when told to shoot a puff piece on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the founder of the Life Foundation – rumoured to be testing illegally on humans and being represented in court by his fiancée – he instead makes a scene getting himself and Anne fired.

However, a few months later, Brock is approached by Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), a whistle-blower from Life who tells the journalist everything he accused Drake of is true. Breaking into the company’s property, he becomes infected with Venom – a malevolent alien goo which gives him super strength.

For the first forty minutes of the film, Venom is very entertaining. It takes its time establishing Brock as a lovable loser, someone who acts first and thinks later and can’t recognise how great things are until they slip away. It’s fun to see Hardy play a character who comes across like a drunker, more bumbling version of Mark Ruffalo’s Spotlight hero. Meanwhile, the relationships Brock has with the homeless woman on his street (PTA regular Melora Walters!) and the owner of grocery store he frequents often (Peggy Lu) are charming, feeling like the intimate small-scale world building one would see on Netflix’s Daredevil.

The pacing is strong during this section with the events leading Hardy to become infused with Venom ringing true. Meanwhile, the portion of the movie whereby Brock is sick but doesn’t realise he has an alien parasite in him are really strange and funny, feeling like the perversely entertaining creature flick Hardy and director Ruben Fleischer promised. He eats frozen chicken tenders and literal trash. Still not satisfied, he goes into the restaurant where his ex and her new boyfriend (Reid Scott) are dining and bites the heads off lobsters in a scene worthy of the price of admission.

However, whereas one wants the film to stay at this smaller, intimate level, with a budget of $100 million and pressure for this to be the first in Sony’s rival MCU, the movie succumbs to many of the problems with superhero flicks, most notably weightless CGI and a bland villain.

Fleischer just doesn’t have the directing chops to make two glops of black goo with teeth flicking at each other exciting or tangible in anyway – which unfortunately is much of the movie’s second half.

Also, Riz Ahmed in the stronger early portion of the movie comes across as a realistic, complex villain – who truly believes what he is doing is not only correct but has to be done. However, the plot mechanics to get him infected with other alien goo are very creaky. Meanwhile, once he does, viewers lose all interest in him as a character as he turns into a very generic baddie.

Instead of spending $100 million, one wishes Sony had given a promising filmmaker $10 million. That way they could make the weird creature movie Hardy is clearly interested in without having to homogenise and dull it in the way one must if they want to gross $300 million at the box-office. For example, look at Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade, another sci-fi about a Tom Hardy lookalike who becomes infused with a villainous inner voice driving him to kill. It cost $4 million, is set in the future and is not only a better Venom movie, it looks better.

Still, Venom is not the failure people predicted. It’s nowhere near the level of 2015’s Fantastic Four or even 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and the bits that were cringey in the trailer play much better in the film with context. For the most part, Venom is very watchable and in some sections goddamn delightful. Yet, these moments make one wish the movie was better as a whole.

Stephen Porzio

112 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Venom is released 3rd October 2018

 

 

Share

Irish Film Review: The Little Stranger

DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Lucinda Coxon • DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland • ED: Nathan Nugent • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Simon Elliott • PRO: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Ed Guiney • CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling

It’s always fascinating when filmmakers who made their name in drama try their hand at a genre movie. This is for two reasons. The output tends to skew from the standards of that genre and in those differences one can see clearly the motifs and themes the director is interested in exploring. Such is the case with Lenny Abrahamson’s new horror The Little Stranger.

Set in 1948 England, Domhnall Gleeson stars as Faraday, a doctor from humble beginnings who returns to the luxurious estate where his mother once worked as a maid. Adoring the building as a boy, he is shocked to see it falling into disrepair – damaged by the fall of the British Gentry post-WWII due to heavy taxation. 

Faraday is called to the estate by the owner Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) because a young maid (Liv Hill) is frightened of being left alone in the large, empty house. While there, he begins to treat Angela’s son Roddy (Will Poulter), a PTSD stricken war veteran whose wounds have healed poorly. In doing so, Faraday forms a close bond with Roddy’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson). However, spooky goings-on in the house begin to terrorise those living there.

Adapted from an acclaimed novel by Sarah Waters – whose Fingersmith became last year’s The Handmaiden – it sounds in plot like the stage is set for a classic gothic ghost story. However, while the trailers may be selling the movie as such, Abrahamson has other things on his mind.

The Little Stranger is a trojan horse of a film. It lures viewers in with one thing, but delivers something different, if substantially more interesting. While there are brief and well-executed moments of ghostly threat, this is foremost a psychological thriller about class and obsession.

It’s nearly forty minutes before anything supernatural happens. Instead, Abrahamson – working from Lucinda Coxon’s script – takes the time to establish Faraday’s childhood infatuation with the house. We see these gorgeously shot vivid flashbacks to his youth at the estate, juxtaposed with darker, gloomier shots of the withering estate. 

In this period of the film, we see the working-class Faraday trying to secure what he has always secretly wanted – these nobles’ approval. However, even when he does become a friend of the family – being invited to dinner parties and soirees – there is this palpable sense of an invisible divide between him and the Ayres. Their acquaintances constantly reference his position as family doctor or treat him as a butler. Abrahamson builds remarkable tension during these scenes, often emphasising the uncomfortableness of the situations through close-ups on Faraday as he struggles to maintain respectability out of anger.

The film could be divisive as any supernatural activity which does occur feels almost like background. The titular little stranger is more of a personification of all the external pressures the Ayres face in terms of keeping the house. What’s truly disturbing, however, is Faraday’s slowly growing obsession with the estate, at some points even going as far as to put the family in danger so that he can live there. Whether these two plot-lines align satisfyingly will be up to each individual’s own interpretation. However, Abrahamson does muster a moody menace throughout the entire film, jumping further into the darkness that often pervades his central characters in movies such as Frank, Garage or Room. 

Gleeson’s performance is incredible. Although playing a very stiff-upper lip character throughout, he imbues Faraday with a charm in the first part of the film – partly deriving from his wide eyes and slight smile when recounting his time in the house as a boy. As the movie continues, however, these qualities fall away. Viewers are left questioning themselves for their previous affection for Faraday as he becomes increasingly driven to protect the estate above all else.

In many ways, The Little Stranger serves as a companion piece to Phantom Thread – another psychological character study which wasn’t quite what was sold to audiences, has horror elements, is set nearly in the same time and place and has similar themes. One hopes The Little Stranger finds the audience that film did. 

Stephen Porzio

111 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Little Stranger is released 21st September 2018
Share