Traditionally a horror film maker, Jim Mickle takes on Joe R. Lansdale’s Texas set crime noir Cold In July in a sweaty, gore-soaked, testosterone-fuelled thriller. Mickle assembles a vintage cast including Sam Shepard (Black Hawk Down) and Don Johnson (Miami Vice, Nash Bridges) along with Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under) in a straight-to-video b-movie exploitation film, that is part True Detective and No Country for Old Men, but without the charm or philosophy.

Set in 1989 we are treated to some retrograde nostalgia where men were (still just about) men, VHS’s ruled the technology roost and synth-filled hair metal ruled the airwaves. While to some that sounds like hell, these factors are used smartly to tell a story and re-create a world that’s not so far away, as the “home movie” become an important plot point and the John Carpenter-esque soundtrack creates a welcome, creepy mood.

The film has some intriguing narrative pieces, initially with home invasion, mistaken identity, normal-guy-turned-local hero tropes, which turn on their head after the first act when Richard (Hall) saves Ben (Shepard)’s life after he has been terrorising his family for believing that Richard killed his son in self-defence. Unfortunately for those who like definable plots though, this more or less renders the first act of the film largely pointless, as the corrupt police chief who put Ben in danger in the first place is entirely forgotten about.

And so the “plot” plods on forgetting details along the way until it reaches it’s inevitable, silly, corner-written-in shoot-out climax. There are plenty of questionable morals in the film, sometimes for the best – the film briefly questions masculinity and the role of men taking danger and risk in a post-war/baby boomer generation world – but also for the worst, as it largely forgets these more interesting ideas for the sake of mindless, heroic action.

While that sort of macho-action thriller has a place, it is frustrating to watch a film that looks like it may do a decent job of questioning those questionable ultra-masculine themes only to succumb to them. Hall as the lead, Richard, doesn’t quite convey enough sympathy (or anything really) to make Richard a particularly engaging character, not helped by how similar his character looks to Josh Brolin’s Llewelyn Moss in the aforementioned Coen Brothers’ pic.

Meanwhile Johnson is fairly ridiculous as the over-reaching detective Jim Bob, but Shepard does a decent job with the troubled father, even if we sort of forget he is an ex-convict after his initially terrifying turn as De Niro from Cape Fear. While the film has some brilliantly tense moments, it fails to really engage, or backup its ideas into anything tangible. By the time of the credits roll, we feel short changed with how much of the spotty narrative has been forgotten about, rather than left intentionally vague.

Adam Turner-Heffer

There is something brilliantly magnetic and potent about seeing photographic stills on the cinema screen. For those brief few moments, time seems to stand still as we take in the details of the scene – almost, perhaps, more powerful than examining a photograph in real life. The new documentary Finding Vivian Maier is an excellent testament to the alluring power of the still image. Directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel hone their lens in on the elusive Vivian Maier, a New York nanny in the 60’s and 70’s who left a hidden world of photographs behind, only to be unearthed recently.

Co-director Maloof was the lucky recipient of those photographs. An avid antique lot goer, he chanced upon an unidentified trunk of negatives and duly purchased them, only to find that this lot was not so ordinary. Meticulously scouring through the negatives, he discovered images of great beauty; monochrome street photography that captured life in all its variety. The photographer had an acute eye for composition, a sense of playfulness and an ability to capture their subjects vivacity.  The images feel at once timeless and completely alive. Ladies of leisure are juxtaposed against homeless cripples stranded on the pavements, children battling against their mothers.

But what about the person behind the camera? Maloof discovers someone clearly set apart from the art world, a woman who renounced attention and fame for the freedom that anonymity offers. Vivian Maier worked as a nanny for a number of different well-to-do families around New York and Chicago. Through a series of talking heads we learn about the mothers of those families and their now grown up offspring. They tell a story of an intensely private, eccentric person who would take her camera almost everywhere. That she took jaw dropping photos is a huge surprise to them. While not really the focus of the film, it is quite incredible how people can be so close to someone and not really know them at all.

While the photos interspersed throughout the documentary are indeed striking, Maier is no less of an interesting subject. That she became a nanny makes complete sense; an occupation where you are observing, perhaps even intruding, on other people’s lives while retaining a distance, an occupation that allowed discretion and encouraged the freedom to go outside, which Maier clearly thrived on. For much of the film, Maier comes across as fairly harmless, an extroverted introvert finding the world through her camera lens. However, the documentary takes a darker turn when there are hints of Maier’s darker, more sadistic side. What we are left is an impression of a distinctly complex character, who doesn’t conform to any easy characterisation.

There are a few minor flaws in the film; the restless, sub- Glass score is overbearing and typical of some of the brasher, less refined US documentaries. Maloof has also come in for criticism in some parts, his eager, nerdy presence on screen irking some viewers who feel he detracts from the focus on Maier. Personally, I found Maloof’s story made the film richer as a whole as it mirrored the audiences excitement at the discovery. There is also a danger of the film becoming a little too dry and worthy, painting Maier as an important artist. One question does arise from the documentary: what would Vivian herself, who was so keen to hide herself away, make of a film that exposed her to the whole world? And does it matter?

I’m glad to have seen the film and come to know both Maier and her photographs, even if we will never know the full story. There is a perhaps an enjoyable romance in a great artist never revealing their gifts, but in this case, romance can go to hell.

Polish born, Paris/London based director Paweł Pawlikowski’s (My Summer of Love, Last Resort) new film Ida is the first of his to be shot and set in his native Poland. This seems a crucial decision, for Ida is a film about looking into the past, be it the characters, director or an entire nation. Set in 1962 and filmed in monochromatic, “Academy” ratio (traditionally used for silent movies) we find Poland on the precipice: the haunting ghosts of World War II still linger over the perpetually foggy countryside, a place that no doubt looks the same as it did in the middle ages, with the modernism of Jazz music and technological advances heralded by the Soviets just around the corner.

We join Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young, sheltered, novitiate nun in her convent, who is ordered by her mother superior to visit her one surviving relative before she takes her vows. Said relative is her aunt Wanda (Agata Kulesza) who is Anna’s complete opposite; a steely willed, loose talking, heavy drinking former judge of Stalin’s regime, who coolly delivers the news that they are in fact a Jewish family, the rest of which perished during the war and that Anna’s real name is Ida Bernstein. Consequently, Anna/Ida wishes to find out what happened to her family while attempting to retain her Catholic upbringing and while Wanda offers to help, questions “What if you go and find there is no God?”

The film’s narrative is driven by the past, discovering what happened to these people, both real and imagined, in post war Poland as they go hurtling into the future. What’s fairly astonishing about Ida is how it manages to do with this without any particular rhetoric and avoids nostalgia or sentimentalism. Here, the war has thrown these varying peoples and the previous order they knew, be they Jewish or Catholic, into the air and those who have been left behind are scrambling around for answers as they move into a brave new world. This is perhaps the modernist bent a film set 50 years prior provides, but it is refreshing nonetheless to find a film with so much socio-political dressings be entirely human and relatable.

None of Ida would really be so affecting if it wasn’t for the chemistry of it’s terrific cast. Both Trzebuchowska (her debut) and Kulesza are excellent as the central leads. The former brings all the initial restraint and naivety of a girl on the cusp of adulthood, who slowly realises the currency of her religious sisterhood and her beauty coaxed by her world-weary aunt into burgeoning modernity. Wanda’s own deeply traumatised scars begin to show, over time, her maternal opposition with Ida driving much of the narrative. Meanwhile the hitch-hiking jazz musician Lis (Dawid Ogrodnik) sparkles while on screen with Ida; their youthful exuberance daring to break the form of the film, introducing her to Jazz which both contextualises and affects due to the film’s mostly diegetic soundtrack. Between him and Wanda, they show Ida an alternative to her current being, often just through a series of exchanged glances.

While the film has many dark notes, highlighted by it’s use of shade and focus, in what seems like every single beautifully composed frame the cinematographers Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski throw at us, there is a lot of light in Ida‘s script too. Co-written by Pawlikowski and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, it allows for much humour and cynicism in a film about holocaust survivors. While there are plenty of emotional moments, especially in the uncovering of barely dug graves, Ida still manages to keep a playful tone where necessary, especially through Kulesza’s firey “Red” Wanda. Therefore, it really is not surprising to learn that Ida has already won the highest accolades at both the Toronto and London Film Festivals. A film this perfectly balanced does not come around very often.

Adam Turner-Heffer


‘Not with a bang but a whimper’.

The words of Dolly Parton, or perhaps TS Eliot, I can’t remember which, come to mind when we watch Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen performance. A Most Wanted Man is by no means a bad film, in fact there is much to recommend it, yet Hoffman’s career is littered with so many jewels that you can’t help but compare. He was a great actor who saw a great screenplay lurking in the corner of a crowded room and went about seducing it until it was his. Hoffman had the ability to morph from weak and pathetic characters to ones full of an almost sociopathic confidence, domineering and charismatic.  He was willing to debase himself in order to portray the uglier side of life, all the while humanising characters that often might repulse you.

A Most Wanted Man follows hot on the heels of the last big John Le Carre adaptation, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. While that film delved into the murky waters of the Cold War era, this adaptation is a contemporary post 9/11 spy thriller. A young Chechen immigrant named Issa (Grigoriy Dobrygin) arrives in Hamburg and seeks help from a local human rights lawyer, Annabel (Rachel McAdams) to avoid the authorities. The secretive German intelligence unit, led by Gunther (Hoffman) gets wind of Issa’s arrival and suspect he is trying to broker a deal with bank owner Brue (Willem Dafoe) in order to fund a terrorist group. In order to ascertain Issa’s intentions, Gunther’s band of spies must keep the elusive subject under constant surveillance.

The film is a slow-burner, steadily pulling the audience in. In fact, there is not one single shot fired in the film. Anton Corbijn, who directed the Ian Curtis biopic Control and the George Clooney vehicle The American, keeps his camera at a distance. There are some cute shots betraying Corbijn’s previous career as a photographer; an angular tower block lit only by a single light where a moody spy awaits. The edting by Claire Simpson is snappy and concise, and the film moves at a fair pace. The performances are all pretty solid; Hoffman is fine but unstretched by the grumpy, jaded Gunther, while Dafoe and McAdams are fairly convincing.

One thing that took me by surprise, though, was that Hoffman, Dafoe and McAdams are all actually German. Yes, they spoke a weird, broken language of Germanican. Who would have known! Seriously though, there is a question of why we still need to see these weird hybrids on screen. Sure, Hoffman and co. bring in the commercial clout, but as a piece of serious, ‘authentic’ film making, it looks and sounds ridiculous. It would have been nice to have seen the film performed in German, but then we would have to use subtitles, and who the fuck reads anything now anyway? While we are the on the subject of authenticity, the film also fell down in a few plot holes that for a John Le Carre adaptation felt strangely simplistic.

To reiterate, A Most Wanted Man is not a bad film, just a slightly disappointing one, and an unremarkable end to a remarkable career. The film ticks all the requisite boxes for a spy thriller: there is a hefty amount of atmosphere and suspense, and the audience is never left bored, yet there is something missing. For a director who has made his name for visuals rather than anything else, the film is oddly bland. There is no edge to the colour schemes. The story is intriguing rather than punchy, and you get the feeling that Le Carre has written better work. Finally, while the characters were solid and served the plot sufficiently, there was not enough invention or nuance to make them more than just cut out cliches.

For fans of the contemporary remake of House of Cards, breed fans of Kevin Spacey. Those who already knew of Spacey’s talent, the TV show has only cemented their opinions on his skill. Those mostly unaware of him now praise him endlessly. Still, somewhere in the middle of each audience are those who don’t know of his work outside of film and television. The man is a theatre buff, drawing crowds from behind the curtain (running the Old Vic theatre) to bringing them in their masses to see him on stage. NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage shows us the most recent fruits of Spacey’s stage labour, with his and Sam Mendes’ production and tour of Richard III.

The documentary explores the genesis of the show, largely the brain-child of Spacey and Mendes as they reteamed after American Beauty. The idea of camaraderie becomes the main focus of the documentary and so if you are looking for an investigative spotlight on drama productions, you may not find what you’re looking for with NOW. There is a lot to take from how each actor takes on their respective characters in Richard III, and set and lighting is intermittently discussed. However, what you take from the film by the end is a reflection on work, colleagues and friendship.

It’s difficult to define the film as engaging, though it does stimulate you with its fly-on-the-wall documentation of budding relationships. Most of the cast and crew of Richard III hadn’t worked with each other prior to the staging and so you see people getting to know one another, developing strong bonds. You can see either lots or a select few of incidences that you would have experienced yourself in life and this is always interesting. The Richard III production almost becomes a backdrop the actor profiles we see more and more of. Aadel Nodeh-Farahani’s photography wonderfully captures all of this – seemingly invisible to the crew as he films rehearsals and backstage antics. Then the interviews, that explain the ins and outs of it all (what the main demographic will be pining for), are expertly edited together by Will Znidaric.

At 97 minutes, it is a relatively condensed documentary, which is exactly what it needs to be. Spacey is a great actor, and Mendes a wonderful director, but there is a lot of gushing going on. Keeping it short and sweet is director Jeremy Whelehan’s best directorial objective; you can learn a fair bit about a stage production (especially with one so rare as to tour worldwide) and even more about actors and crew members building up relationships over the course of a staging/shoot.

rsz_boyhood-2014-movieWhen we think about Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s new film, it is interesting to note the maverick auteur Werner Herzog’s idea about the ‘ecstatic truth': the suggestion that film makers will never be able to truly capture life in all its authenticity, that fabrication and imagination is the key to unlocking life’s gilded mysteries. Linklater has proven to be keenly entranced by the idea of authenticity and documenting the passing of time over his career. Slacker, Dazed and Confused and the beloved Before Sunrise trilogy all took place over the space of 24 hours, polaroid pictures of scattered lives and fleeting moments. Boyhood is his most ambitious project yet, tracing one boys blossoming into adulthood over a 12 year period.

Everything that has been written and eulogised about the film essentially comes down to Ellar Coltrane, the young boy plucked as a 7 year old to star in an alternate vision of his own life. His ‘character’ Mason is a thoughtful child living with his precocious sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) and single Mom (Patricia Arquette) in suburbia, Linklater’s usual playground. His early years are defined by endless bike rides with friends, delinquent graffiti vandalism and video games. Linklater uses musical cues by Coldplay and other pop punk hits to define the cultural landscape of the early 00’s. We are introduced to his vagrant Dad (Ethan Hawke), arriving back from Alaska to bribe his offspring with daytrips out and presents.

The film then becomes defined by Mom’s choices; a series of hopeful marriages turned sour by alcohol and new schools for the kids to acclimatise to. We begin to see how the adult world is just as messy and confused as the children’s lives, and how a child’s life can be transformed on the parent’s whim. Mason becomes more introverted, his cherubic glow giving way to a sullen teenager. He begins to make contact with girls and finds a passion for photography, all the while trying to come to terms with his mother’s nomadic lifestyle. Dad flits in and out of the film, much like a customer of separation would, and starts his own family. Boyhood is not a film of great invention and drama, but one trying to illuminate the smaller moments.

The ambition shown by Linklater is quite astonishing. There was a recent Michael Winterbottom drama that similarly tried to evoke a stretch of time like this, but other than that Boyhood is something of an anomaly. In interviews the director has stated that they tried to film for a few weeks every year, creating a short film annually. He admits that there was an element of uncertainty running through the production, and if we are being objective, it shows. Casting a couple of young children to play out characters and watch them evolve shows a remarkable degree of trust. Does it work? In my opinion, not quite. As Coltrane ages, the initial charm he has as a kid subsides; his introversion comes to the fore, and he doesn’t have the requisite acting chops to deliver the more dramatic scenes. Neither does Linklater’s daughter Lorelei for that matter.

Yet there is a strange beauty in this flaw, the unpredictability of these human beings and what life will throw at them down the years. Linklater has obviously had to adapt his story and his characters as the two actors develop. Where the film falls down, and in quite a big way, is the broad strokes that Linklater uses to convey the story. In dealing with such an epic timeline, he resorts to numerous cliches and cut out characters. Professor Bill, for example, Mom’s first husband, changes from charismatic saviour to monstrous pig with no warning. There is a lack of character development and nuance here. Elsewhere Linklater hams up his themes a little; the religious right and the war in Iraq are both dealt with in crude slabs.

While Boyhood is not a perfect film, there are moments of poignance running through the film. Particularly Mason’s relationship to his errant Dad, and his attempts to instil some fatherly advice on camping trips. Many viewers will delight in observing the changing cultural landscape, as we see the leaden, clunky iMacs fall to the wayside as iPads and Facetime take over. There is a particularly nostalgic moment for our generation as Mason attends the arrival of the newest Harry Potter books; it hits a personal chord because my sister also attended one of the midnight openings. That’s the thing about this film: for Western audiences there will be something that everybody can identify with at one point or another, whether it being a first shitty job or drinking your first can of beer.

An ambitious yet flawed film, it still feels like an event and for large parts, quite an achievement on Linklater’s part.

If you ever need a change from the humdrum assembly line of Hollywood movies, it is always worth checking out the Academy Award Foreign Language film winners, nominees and submissions. Nearly every year there’s a gem or two to be found in the selection; in this case it’s the Australian submission (sadly not entered for competition), The Rocket. The feature debut from Kim Mordaunt is a sweet, uplifting and often shocking account of a family in Laos. Mordaunt brings his knowledge of the land (after directing documentary Bomb Harvest that looked at the remaining bombs from the US attack on Laos) along with a magic-realism tone and Spielbergian child character to create a truly enchanting film.

With a land destitute, lacking a particular age, Laos has a fascinating beauty. Due to its scarred land, it is also a place of solemnity. These are the two key aspects of Mordaunt’s film – a joyous depiction of splendour combined with heartbreak and toil. It begins with the birth of Ahlo and his still-born twin brother; the former being tagged “little balls” comically before the latter’s bereaved entrance. This juxtaposition continues throughout, making The Rocket an honest and therefore affecting film.

In a nutshell Ahlo’s twin genetics marks him as a figure of bad luck. In his young life he experiences this continually, yet he always strives to overcome it. When his family are moved out of their homes due to planned construction, the trek to a new life leads them to an unfit area of living. Ahlo then hears about a rocket-building competition that offers money to the winner. With his intellect and spirit he plans to win it, keeping his family safe and able to move them to a better property.

The simple storyline expands beyond its perimeters to explore notions of innocence, discrimination and the bonds we find in life. As a family film (with a 12A certificate), The Rocket is affirming and intelligent, worthy of comparison with some of the Capra and Disney greats. Not only does it keep your attention fixated on the determination of one boy, it reminds you of the scarcity in some people’s lives that can be overruled on the strengths of family and virtuousness.

Messages and morals aplenty, The Rocket is never preachy. It has a very clear set of values and an unquestionable elegance. The first 30 minutes are laced with stunning cinematography and a finely tuned score. As the film becomes more of a character study the visuals become less styled, thankfully reintroduced in the finale. It is a work of class, with Mordaunt making a terrific name for himself. He has the wit, humanity and wisdom to make the right sort of film, and The Rocket is already an excellent example of that.

rsz_2014-05-18_135943“It feels like we’re living in another world”, said one of my fellow Nisi Masa peers. This is Cannes, at the height of the film festival, and everything feels very strange. It might have been the time we were drinking in Le Petit Majestique, a watering hole for anybody too degenerate to get into the parties, as a man made up as the Toxic Avenger posed for photos with delighted revellers.

One thing that struck me in Cannes was the disproportionate amount of French people inhabiting the place. I couldn’t turn for a Jacques, a Celine, a Pierre, a Jean Paul or a Francois blocking my way. The festival was rife with fevered discussion, strangers gesticulating wildly across the Croisette. I engaged in numerous illuminating and deep conversations with the locals; what did I think of the promotion of female directors in the competitions? Was it a cynical attempt to quell last years controversy, or a valiant effort to right the wrongs of industry patriarchy? “Je suis Anglais”, I shrugged, “Je ne parle pas français”.

Cannes is at times ugly, vulgar and seedy, but it also has an irresistible charm and buzz to it that draws you in. Beneath all the fake, elitist glitz and glamour there are people working with great passion. Film makers who have toiled for years with their minds and bodies, struggling to externalise their worldview, and perhaps in turn make the viewer feel connected to its creator, and therefore the human race as a whole. Then we have the perverts, the writers and cinephiles, desperate to make sense of the world but scared of living, finding solace and escape in intimate tales from around the world.

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

Amour Fou by Jessica Hausner

There is a great disparity in the world of Cannes and the films that are on show there. The films are often focused on impoverished people, struggling through their lives, beset by tragedy. The festival, meanwhile, is saturated with somewhat closeted, comfortable industry people in Raybans and critics wearing chinos, manicured within an inch of their lives. Is this their Hollywood blockbuster, their escapist cinema? Are the emotional outpourings their explosions, their car chases?

Queueing plays a huge part of the festival as well. In this age of ‘now’ the act of queueing feels quaint and refreshing. It feels so strange that in a matter of seconds one could be streaming a film on Netflix, yet in Cannes you are made to wait an hour, maybe more, to watch the film. I had a strange admiration for the soldiers around me, putting aside their frenzied lives, to act out the most noble service they could in the situation: standing still. What were they thinking about? The film? The others in the queue? Ruminating on their lives? There is too much time to reflect in queues, it’s unnerving.

The Nisi Masa workshop I participated in was invigorating and often inspiring, The other participants had a genuine passion for cinema and writing. What struck me most was, even though the majority spoke English as a second language, the intensity of feeling pierced through the broken syntax and phrasing. As a shamefully ignorant student of languages I was impressed with the dramatic use of words, at odds with the somewhat conservative way English speakers often write in.

Run by Phillipe Lacote

Run by Phillipe Lacote

As to the films, it was a mixed bunch. Darker Than Midnight, a queer coming of age tale set in Catania’s underbelly was disappointingly high pitched and hysterical. Girlhood, a Parisian set teen drama directed by Celine Sciamma of Water Lilies fame was sparky yet felt less distinctive than her previous work. Catch Me Daddy, a Brit thriller, started off brightly with shades of Lynne Ramsay’s hallucinatory visuals, yet devolved into another ‘gritty’ chase movie. Run was a solid, nomadic film set in the Ivory Coast, a bit like Forrest Gump if it had been directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Refugiado was a well directed, well acted Mexican film about a mother and son fleeing domestic violence, not always as grim as it sounds.

The two best features I saw were It Follows and Amour Fou. It Follows was an original, dreamy American horror that subverts the slasher genre. Amour Fou saw the return of Austrian Jessica Hausner after her success with Lourdes. Jokingly described as a ‘romantic comedy’, it is a loose biopic of the writer/poet Heinrich Von Kleist and his affair with Henrietta, a dying housewife. Incredibly dry and somewhat alienating to most viewers, I found it to be wryly amusing and in its own way quite touching. Special mention goes to the short film Thunderbirds by Lea Mysius. Set in rural France, the thin plot follows a vaguely incestuous brother and sister as they go hunting for birds. It had a strong, brutal visual style reminiscent of Bruno Dumont and a distinctive atmosphere to boot. Definitely one to look out for.

Until next time….

 

 

If we think about horror films as a medium to explore human fears at their most primitive, then you would think that there was an infinite space for filmmakers to plough through. For the most part, however, it feels like a genre devoid of invention or respect, an easy commercial outlet relying on a raft of cheap tricks. Occasionally you will see a film that seeks to subvert these tropes and try to bring some creativity to the genre, which David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows has.

The film is a subversion of horror films, not something completely new. A teenage girl named Jay (Maika Monroe) living in American suburbia has intimate relations with hunky Hugh (Jake Weary). Things start to go awry when we realise that Hugh has ulterior motives; he is being stalked by a shape shifting monster that will only relent if he passes on the curse through intercourse. Only when Jay has sex with another person will Hugh be safe, and so the chain goes on.

It is a simple but effective premise, familiar enough to slot it alongside other slasher films but with a touch of surrealism that marks it out. What makes It Follows terrifying is the execution of this set up, with the creature taking on a different form each time. It could be a grizzled mother, a demonic schoolkid or a hulking giant. As Hugh warns us, they are always walking towards their prey. The prey can never stand still, they always have to be wary of the figure in the distance.

While the concept is fertile, Mitchell’s overall vision of the film is also striking. Setting out to make an ‘arty horror film’ in his words, It Follows has an eerie, dreamlike quality, almost like Gus Van Sant had decided to swap his Bela Tarr boxset for a John Carpenter collection. Filmed around Detroit, the film has the feel of a ghost town, the teenage characters leading an almost idyllic existence where adults are almost entirely absent. If one was to read anything into the film, you might say that it explores the idea of innocence being corrupted. One fellow viewer described it as a potential miracle for sex education teachers.

Mitchell creates a beguiling mix of innocence and threat through soft, hypnagogic visuals and floaty tracking shots. The pacing of course ramps up a gear as the creature nears, but for the most part it is a languorous film. Music plays a huge part, and in Disasterpiece’s pretty and dangerous Italo Disco score we have a formidable contributor. The minimalist electronica is a throwback to the scores of the Italian giallo horrors of the 70’s, by directors like Dario Argento and Mario Bava.

The film was never meant to be about the actors or their dramas, but they all give solid performances mannered in the horror style. They have a naturalistic, candy floss quality to them, again reminiscent of the characters in Van Sant’s films. Yet  Mitchell invests enough in them to make the audience empathise with their plight; she is an innocent thrown into a situation she doesn’t deserve, and has the moral quandary of inflicting her curse on someone else or submitting to a grisly death.

I saw a few films at Cannes but none of them were as exciting or refreshing as It Follows. A horror film for people who don’t like horrors, It Follows subverts the genre enough to feel new while still retaining the core essential scares. It is an aesthetic delight and its simplicity works wonderfully. We may just have a cult film in the making.

Destin Cretton’s second feature length, Short Term 12, arrives on a wave of positive reviews and indie film award nods from last year, though it does not quite break into the mainstream. While still positive, reviews haven’t been quite as gushing this side of the Atlantic, however this is a film worth one’s time.

Short Term 12 follows a temporary “halfway house” for troubled teenagers who are fighting their personal daemons, just as much as the barely older staff who work there. Central to all this is Grace (Brie Larson) who is tough and steely with the varying issues the kids have, as much as she is compassionate and understanding when she needs to be. Underneath it all, she’s harbouring a dark past of her own which she suppresses through her work, but this equally gives her a crucial advantage in connecting with the home’s residents.

All of these complexities are made possible by a knock-out performance from Larson, who inhabits the fully realised skin of Grace; thanks in no small part to Cretton’s excellent, witty script and clever direction. There’s an authenticity not just to Cretton’s real life past experience working in one of these homes, but in understanding humans, whether they be labelled as “underprivileged” or “crazy” or even just “normal”. Importantly, Cretton never gives in to overt sentimentality, maintaining a compassionate and realistic tone keeping the potentially heavy subject matter light and natural. Whereas many films would attempt to beat the viewer over the head with the cruelty some humans display, here there remains humour and catharsis in amongst unflinchingly uncomfortable scenes.

Those scenes centre around the film’s excellent teenage cast, most notably newcomers Kaitlyn Dever as Jayden and Keith Stanfield as Marcus who manage to convey their deeply traumatic experiences in a truly mature, subtle manner, which keeps the film from overreaching. These are expertly performed, as Jayden and Marcus find their individual ways to communicate their trauma to Grace and her partner and co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.)

Gallagher is also great as the sensitive and loving Mason, who is supportive and understandably increasingly frustrated at Grace’s inability to express herself due to her suppression. However it is Larson who truly shines here, finding the perfect balance between a headstrong young woman who has such a horrific past. The chemistry between both her and Gallagher and especially Dever is palpable as Grace finds her outlet as a mother figure to Jayden.

My only real criticism of Short Term 12 is that a couple characters remain slightly underdeveloped. Nate (Rami Malek) for instance is an excellent fall guy which provides much humour from his “outsider” perspective, as someone who merely is looking to boost his CV. Yet he is also initially our focaliser, joining him on his first day at Short Term 12, only for him to be left by the way side without much progression. While this doesn’t matter too much, the story really belongs to Grace and Mason practising as parents for Jayden and Marcus respectively; it is fairly distracting.

That aside, Short Term 12 is a thoroughly enjoyable view of a troubled Los Angeles, America that would allow these kids get into this position in the first place. Thankfully, due to Cretton’s kind hand, there is still a lot of sun-drenched light in amongst the darkness.

by Adam Turner-Heffer

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