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By midlandsmovies, Dec 5 2019 05:20PM



Rachel


Directed by David L Knight


2019


“This won’t bring her back”.


Rachel is a new film from Midlands filmmaker David L Knight and throws us straight in to a world of drugs, violence and former wrongdoings.


Opening with a dishevelled man in a hoodie playing with a lighter, the voice of a female tells him that his pain must be “unbearable”, before we are shown her standing nearby in an angelic white dress.


However, the junkie quickly turns his aching addiction into an abduction as he drags a well-dressed woman off the street and into the alley. But here, we are shocked as a hard cut to black then takes us to a warehouse with the man now tied to chair in a brutal opening twist.


With tape over his mouth gagging his cries for help, the ghostly woman reappears laughing before two strangers arrive. “Rachel” builds up its world quickly and efficiently and with just a few lines of dialogue the short sets up a number of intriguing mysteries that help push the narrative along.


Owing to the setting and situation, the filmmaker also delivers a locally-infused Reservoir Dogs aesthetic with the tied victim attempting to speak, but also suspecting the worst. He’s definitely stuck in the middle with them!


“There’ll be plenty of time for noise later”, says one of the captors as they toy with their victim and the short builds up some good tension as we are thrown into this dark standoff.


As per the three-act structure, at about two-thirds of the way in the film finally reveals that one of the tormentors has lost his daughter and is seeking some rough justice. But although our victim claims to have no knowledge of the man’s 17 year-old, a photo thrust under his nose proves otherwise.


The presence of a person as a metaphor for a haunted past is a little over-used in films but Knight uses the apparition sparingly enough, especially as she is often glimpsed over the captor’s shoulder – haunting both the dad and his bloodied victim.


As we draw to the film’s conclusion, the verbal torture ends and physical torture begins in a brief flash of violence straight out of Taken. Rachel slowly builds a sense of concern AND revulsion for both of the main characters as we are shown the two sides of a moral quandary.


However, as the mysteries unravel so do the captors and the short ends on a cliffhanger of horror. A cautionary and mostly successful tale of drug abuse and revenge, and despite a cliché here or there, Rachel ends up a satisfyingly tense 9 minutes of drama where past mistakes haunt the present.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2019 05:59PM



Review - Midsommar


Midsommar is the second feature film from up and coming horror maven Ari Aster. Midsommar revolves around Dani (Florence Pugh) a young women traumatised by a family tragedy that turns her difficult student life upside down.


Dani invites herself on a trip to Sweden to take part in the Midsommar celebrations alongside her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his budding student friends. The pleasant trip turns from a pleasant, healing experience and into a dark, dread-soaked visceral ordeal.


This film had lots to live up to considering the honorary success of Hereditary in 2017. And Ari has not disappointed.


Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor both are fantastic in their roles backed by an equally noble ensemble. The characters all had their parts to play in this movie, all of them bringing heaps of value to the plot, and all of the people involved created a light but dark spectacle. The costumes of the Midsommar goers are beautiful, and everything from the synchronicity of movements, to these characters micro expressions provided a thoroughly immersive experience that hits hard.


The plot really does have some dark themes to it, exploring tragedy and grief to the heart-breaking descent of a relationship. Midsommar has it all. The camera work is beyond belief, each frame could be a photograph if rendered correctly, and A24 really did give Aster the budget and support he needed to create one of my favourite movies of 2019.


Don’t get me wrong this isn’t for the faint hearted, the effects in Midsommar are gnarly, realistic and justifiable, but also horrific. The common debate among critics of this movie is, is it a cult movie? Or a breakup movie? Well, you decide.


But this film truly did give me a strong sense of wellness, I somehow fell under the spell of the psychedelic potency of this piece and loved all the themes it is predicated upon.


But if I had to summarise this to you. Watch it. See it, and join the festivities.


★★★★ ½


Ben Warrington

Twitter @ben_warro



By midlandsmovies, Nov 26 2019 09:20PM



Midlands Review - Do You See It Too?



Directed by Liam Banks


2019


Superfreak Media


"Do You See iI Too?" is the latest short story from Liam Banks and Superfreak Media which tells of a rainy night in what appears to be suburban England. A couple (Chloe Crump and Jay Podmore) are agonisingly traumatised by something lurking in the shadows of their home and we follow them as they attempt to alleviate their terror through the night.


Firstly, there are countless positives to this piece that with such a low budget must be highly commended. The colour palette is beautiful, and the usage of light is a real way to build the tension in this piece.


Ambiguous lighting like this really does press on your anxiety as the viewer and that’s what the film attempts to project onto its audience.


The sound design also was a very nice feature, not perfect mind as there are small questions of synchronicity with what we hear but its used in a very effective way to pace the film, as well as set the mysterious mood. The two lead characters were flawless when expressing fear and anxiety, and following their journey throughout this piece really connected us with them.


There was some really great shots as well which really made me feel uncomfortable at times and the pacing of this film being so peculiar was another clever technique.


The plot itself isn’t clear what it wants to portray at times but you can clearly see there are some references to other, more popular theatrical releases. However, this doesn’t cause an issue as the implementation of many horror techniques was present and I really could feel the energy behind the camera.


Overall, the short is a perfectly well implemented horror flick. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the jump scares in particular but I wouldn’t hold that against the makers as I know they had a minor budget.


So with some beautiful shots, sound design and visuals, backed up by two very good performances, Do You See It Too is a short but tense, nerve shredding ride.


Ben Warrington

@ben_warro

By midlandsmovies, Nov 9 2019 08:14AM



Review - The Dead Don't Die (2019) Dir. Jim Jarmusch


This American horror “comedy” film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and follows a small town's police force combating a freak zombie invasion.


Bill Murray plays Chief Cliff Robertson with Adam Driver as his partner Officer Ronald "Ronnie" Peterson and with the sun not setting and the rising of the dead owing to fracking, they tackle an invasion of zombies in their town.


Like zombie-auteur George A. Romero, Jarmusch attempts to insert some social commentary – zombies are obsessed with hipster coffees and search for wi-fi on mobile phones – but these themes come across heavy-handed and half-hearted.


The admittedly great cast can do nothing with a lack of dramatic tension and hollow story and although I am a self-confessed zombie-film sceptic, I’d be surprised if many audiences enjoy this achingly slow-paced slog. It has the same lack of narrative as his vampire flick Only Lovers Left live (our review). It’s disappointing really as the trailer hints at a more fun film and it needed a shot of Coens-style lightness of touch and witty dialogue.


And sadly it all comes back to that shuffling pace which isn’t helped by Jarmusch strangely inserting a range of meta moments. This includes the characters themselves referring to the film’s theme song and script, as well as Adam Driver owning a Star Wars keyring.


Slower and less coordinated than a zombie’s walk, The Dead Don’t Die aims to be a modern take on the zombie genre and maybe fans will get something out of Jarmusch’s eclectic style. However, for me, the film disappoints and drags its rotting carcass to a mind-numbing and pretentious end.


★★ ½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Oct 31 2019 01:00PM



Midlands Review - The Despondent


Directed by Nisaro Karim


2019


Five Pence Productions


The Despondent is the latest film from Five Pence Productions, the prolific Birmingham-based company who brought us Jed, The Chase, Peaky Blinders: A New Era and more. Primarily known for crime tales, this film is something of an ambitious departure for them as it sees them take on the horror genre.


Jazzmin Letitia stars as Keira, a troubled young woman who lives at home with her mother Jenny, played by Lisa Blissitt. At night she's tormented by visions of an evil demon in her room, one that seems bent on harming her, one that it seems there can be no escape from.


Horror has a rich history of externalising our internal demons, and that's pretty much what's happening here. Keira is depressed and the demon is her depression, pushing her towards suicide. It's all taking place in her head, the battleground where many of us (myself included) struggle and fight daily. It's a good analogy, but rather on-the-nose here.


The film is far from subtle, making it absolutely clear what's going on from Keira's conversation with her mum about her self-harm and medication. It would have perhaps been more interesting to see the two dance around the subject, never raising it head on but dealing entirely in subtext, so that when the tragic ending comes it hits harder. Having Keira stay in her pyjamas over the course of the two days is a very good touch, though, as that's absolutely consistent with some people who suffer from depression.


The story is quite slim and would benefit from having a little more to it, making the film a bit longer. It would have been good to have had more of a sense of Keira's struggles in the daytime sequences, and how they relate to her night terrors, so that we can relate to her more as a character. The scene with her mother establishes their rocky relationship in one quick punch, but at only 6 minutes long there's plenty of scope to let the relationship breathe a little more and help us understand Keira more intimately. As it is, she comes across more as moody than depressed.


This isn't to say that it's a bad performance; Letitia shines in the hallucinatory sequences where she's beset by the demon, coming across as believably vulnerable and disoriented. The standout performance by far though is the demon; it's not clear from the credits who played the part (perhaps split between Imran Uddin and Zohair Raza?), but it's a great piece of creepy body-performance, with stilted and almost contortionist-style movements. I definitely wouldn't want to wake to find him in my bedroom!


The film shines best in these disorienting sequences. The hand-held, shaky camerawork does a great job of confusing and distressing the viewer, and the unnatural framing and lighting work together to create unsettling scenes. There's a misconception that its easy to do horror on a low budget; it has to be planned and carried out carefully to make the most of what you have. Keeping the shots tight and moving fast keeps the audience uncomfortable and on their toes in the nightmare sequences, worrying that anything could happen. The film makes great use of noise in these sequences too, arguably the most important part of any horror film.


Ultimately, The Despondents falls just short of its ambition but it's still a great first step into horror. Nisaro Karim clearly has an instinct for how to unsettle the audience, it's just the slimness of the story itself that holds the film back. Definitely worth a watch, and here's hoping there's more horror to come from Karim and Five Pence!


Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend


By midlandsmovies, Oct 18 2019 11:53AM



The Devils Familiar


Directed by Kieran 'Ran' Edwards


2019


From Severed Head Entertainment comes The Devil Familiar, a new horror film within the found footage sub genre. Shot on location around Worcestershire, West Midlands, the film follows two filmmakers who want to explore a conspiracy theory that a wild beast has been mauling people in the woods and not the woman who has been convicted of the crimes.


The film starts in a Police C.I.D. meeting room, with a senior officer briefing others about a camcorder that has been found locally in a bad condition. However the tape inside has miraculously been salvaged which he is about to play them. And he warns them that in his 30 years of active duty he hasn't seen anything this brutal and shocking.


Whilst it is evidently clear from the first minute that this film has been made on practically no budget it doesn't deter the director from chilling his audience early doors.


As the discovered tape starts rolling we are quickly introduced to two university students, Elliott (Uriel Davies) and Jake (Kieran Edwards) who are in their final year of studying film and video production. They have been tasked with a final film for their degree which they have chosen to be a documentary about the 2006 Ribbesford Woods Murders, a case in which a man was brutally killed and others mysteriously vanish.


A woman, Sally Edwards, was charged and later convicted of murder - a conviction she denies whilst serving her sentence in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Elliott and Jake believe this account to not be true and embark on trying to find fresh evidence for their film. What happened in 2006? Is the local legend of a wild beast to blame or was Sally Edwards a stone cold killer?


In similar fashion to probably the most famous found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project, the film follows the formula of having our protagonists interviewing experts of the case, people who knew the victim and suspect and listening to the rantings of the locals. I have seen some efforts of the found-footage sub genre to be stodgy and uninteresting however to keep these interviews and the first half of the film fresh and alert, Edwards employs the use of switching between colour and black & white in shots, a subtle but necessary element in keeping the audience engaged.


After a secure visit with the convicted Sally Edwards goes haywire, this spurs the two students to double their efforts. They persuade Logan (David Clarke) a zoologist, and Rex (Ross Mooney) the brother of one of the victims to join them in travelling through Ribbesford Woods, to finally see if there is a mythical creature once and for all.


Shot on location throughout Worcestershire, the film enjoys being able to shoot at length in places like Kidderminster Hospital and West Midlands Safari Park. A welcome sight for such a low budget feature as it gives the viewer a real belief in the world that director Kieran Edwards has created.


The Devils Familiar will draw obvious comparisons to the previously mentioned The Blair Witch Project, one being the similarities between plot and characters and the second the way sound is used to evoke terror. Whilst at times the film does appear to be a little too familiar, it definitely feels like more of a love letter than a lazy remake.


Ultimately I think this would of worked better as a short, at a run time of 56 minutes the film becomes a victim of its own aspirations as there was not enough original content embedded in the film to justify its length. However for a zero budget feature this will certainly entertain avid fans of the found footage sub-genre, as you can clearly see the passion from the filmmakers spread across every shot.


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGUyer


By midlandsmovies, Oct 16 2019 12:00PM

The Invitation (2016) Dir. Karyn Kusama


Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, in case it drives you mad like it did me) plays Wil in this new thriller-drama set around a strange reunion dinner party in the Hollywood Hills.


We open with Wil and his girlfriend Kira driving to the home of Wil's ex-wife Eden and her husband David along with a host of friends for a long overdue catch up.


The hosts are a married couple who disappeared for two years at a grief support group abroad but have returned to reunite with their friends. Wil and Eden still have unresolved issues over the accidental death of their son, but this is put aside to enjoy the evening with a familiar group of friends - some old and a few new, including Sadie and Pruit, whom they met at the support retreat.


Despite the warm welcome, Wil relives his past angst throughout the house, remembering his ex-wife's attempted suicide whilst finding more pills and wondering why doors are locked. The film creates an immense atmosphere of dread and awkwardness, none more so when the happy couple share a video of a terminally ill woman passing away during their stay at the retreat.


The uncomfortableness continues as they play a game of "dare" which results in Pruitt (a fantastic turn by John Carroll Lynch of Zodiac fame) admiting to a past crime he's now forgiven himself for.


Despite their shock, Pruitt expresses regret and explains how the support group helped him deal with his pain whilst Wil's paranoia continues to increase. The film captures an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia as the guests are huddled together in rooms but whether this is out of choice or not is the question the movie poses.


Increasing irrational accusations from Wil about his hosts' intentions are excused as a result of his emotional fragility over the death of his son and the film keeps the audience guessing as to why the guests are here - something sinister, or is it to deal with unresolved issues from their pasts.


The film probes themes of mistrust, grief and loss and its achievement lies in not letting the viewer - as a guest themselves - get too comfortable within the house. A trail of circumstantial evidence - a bottle of pills, an unattended laptop, glasses of wine - are merely breadcrumbs to the film's subsequent thrilling reveal.


The final act turns the screws up for the viewer as secrets are exposed and a sudden twist of events leads to darkly tragic conclusions. Although the film is almost entirely filmed within the anxious environment of this lavish gathering, a final shot implicates the wider ramifications of the proceedings.


Sinister and slow-building, The Invitation is one of those films that rarely get made these days - a mid-budget thriller with a great premise and well-executed. It also reminded me of the thrills of the "unknown threat", covered in indie sci-fi flick Coherence (2013) which was similarly set around a middle-class American dinner party.


Director Karyn Kusama has got nearly everything right with the film, getting great performances out of a good mixed cast, as well as filling her dark shots with trepidation, terror and a fair amount of fear. One tiny flaw were the character motivations - at times I was shaking my head in disbelief about their choices - but this was a one-off and towards the end I inwardly cheered as a guest got what they deserved.


Expertly crafted by Kusama, The Invitation creates anxiety through a superb central performance by Logan Marshall-Green, and is an alarming achievement where nothing is what it seems. Filled with fear and a few frightful revelations, this is one party I recommend you RSVP to on its release.


9/10


Michael Sales


The Invitation arrives on BluRay on 4th November 2019


Special Features

Commentary with Director Karyn Kusama and Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

The Making of The Invitation

Going Back Home - an interview with Director Karyn Kusama

There is Nothing to be Afraid of - an interview with Producer Nick Spicer

Tonight's the Night - an interview with Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Playing Sadie - an interview with Actor Lindsay Burdge

English Subtitles for the Hard of Hearing

By midlandsmovies, Oct 3 2019 01:42PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


Now deep into the second half of the year, there's more films being released in cinemas, on video-on-demand and home format than we can keep up with but we have three new reviews of some of the latest releases out there. In this review catch-up post we take a look at SKIN, MA & CHILD'S PLAY.




Skin (2019) Dir. Guy Nattiv


Jamie Bell plays real-life ex-white supremacist Bryon "Pitbull" Widner in this new dark drama asking whether a racist can be reformed. At various white-power gatherings, Bell acts as father figure to new recruits but begins to doubt his own convictions when he meets Danielle Macdonald as Julie Price and becomes an actual surrogate dad to her two children. Based on an amazing true story, Bell’s Neo-Nazi is covered in tattoos, including significant ones to his face and so the drama is punctuated with gruesome flash-forwards of tattoo removal scenes as his past is literally burnt away. The film has dashes of Imperium and American History X as it tries to get under the surface of the ugly face of American fascism.


Starting with eerily prescient scenes from 2009, the film mellows slightly in the middle before Bell makes a desperate call to a man who is trying to help people leave behind their Neo-Nazi past. As Bell denounces his previous life, he erases his tribal ink along with it. Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’) delivers a warm turn as the empathetic wife, whilst Bell is great as the former skinhead. With a multifaceted performance, he looks for something (or someone) to blame but then takes control of his own life to make it better. With a timely subject matter, Skin delves into themes we’ve seen before but this almost unbelievably true life story gives hope to a better world by erasing, and learning from, one’s past mistakes. ★★★★



Ma (2019) Dir. Tate Taylor


Director Tate Taylor made 2011’s The Help which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before his adaptation of The Girl on the Train earnt more than $122 million worldwide but what he is doing with Ma is anyone’s guess. Billed as a psychological horror, the film neither provides any depth to the psychological part and little in the way of horror either. In fact, 45 minutes in and all we have is a group of terribly broad and clichéd teenagers partying at a house owned by “Ma” (Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington) who has lured the group to her basement as a place to consume alcohol under the relative ‘safety’ of her adult supervision. However, a humiliating incident from Ma’s past has built up a psychopathic resentment and her initial concern and protectiveness for the teens’ well-being slowly descends into ludicrous revenge sub-plots. Octavia Spencer, who was so excellent in Hidden Figures, does her best to hold the film’s under-developed aspects together but she cannot overcome the film’s rather large flaws. Unlike suggested in the trailer, the horror is sparse and the first terrible thing Ma does is at 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Given the credits rolled at 1 hour 32 minutes, it really is a missed opportunity for what looks, on paper, to be an interesting set-up. The sewing of a teen’s mouth shut hints upon the gore and nastiness a film like this really should have had more of, but Ma ends up being a pretty terrible and boring film with a solid idea spoiled by its sub-par execution. ★★



Child's Play (2019) Dir. Lars Klevberg


80s video-nasty Child’s Play gets a technological upgrade in this reboot about a killer doll on a murderous rampage. Unlike earlier films in the franchise, the conceit here is rather than a killer’s soul being magically transferred to a toy doll, the recently released “Buddi” is a misfiring high-tech toy that interacts with other products from the Kaslan Corporation who make it. After a suicidal employee at a Vietnamese toy factory decides to disable the safety protocols of one of the dolls on the assembly line, the corrupt product ends up in 13-year old Andy’s hands. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a shy youngster who lives with his single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and names his doll “Chucky" (oh-oh). Before long, the doll has murdered the family’s cat and decapitated his mum’s boyfriend after hearing Andy bad-mouth both of them. The film wisely takes broad aim at consumerist culture but the comedy-horror works well in the style of 80s fare like Gremlins as the characters never nod-and-wink to the audience. This makes the dark comedy all the more funny. From table saws, blood spurts and a horrifying scalping, the required gore is present and the film’s young child actors are pleasantly relatable. Some 80s clichés work themselves in too – the investigator, the adults who don’t believe their kids, a finale in a department store – and these help solidify the tone in which the film aims for. Mark Hamill does great with his Joker-infused tones as the voice of Chucky also. Much better than it has any right to be, Child’s Play digital modernisation respects the origins of that first film and whilst it won’t win any high-brow awards, for this sort of thing it’s surprisingly entertaining. ★★★



Michael Sales

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