Alistair Harkness reviews the latest film releases.
Directed by: Ursula Meier
Starring: Kacey Mottet Klein, Léa SeYdoux, Martin Compston, Gillian Anderson
* * *
LIKE a lot of contemporary world cinema, the influence of the Dardenne brothers hangs heavy over this Franco-Swiss tale of a resourceful 12-year-old boy (Kacey Mottet Klein) trying to eke out a living for himself and his older sister (Léa Seydoux) by exploiting the goodwill (and the negligence) of the wealthy tourists using the ski slopes near his own decidedly modest tower block abode.
Indeed, much like the Dardennes, writer/director Ursula Meier draws out wonderfully naturalistic performances from her young stars, with Mottet Klein particularly good as the young roustabout Simon who develops a profitable sideline in thievery by stealing ski equipment and punting it on via the resort’s benevolent cook, played with much charm by Martin Compston. Adding a little more star appeal is Gillian Anderson – here clearly following the lead of Kristin Scott Thomas by seeking out better roles in European productions – playing one of the tourists. The bond young Simon strikes up with her character hints at the maternal love he clearly craves, nicely setting up an understated third-act plot twist that gives the film an additional, well-judged emotional punch.
Paranormal Activity 4 (15)
Directed by: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton, Matt Shively, Brady Allen, Stephen Dunham
THE fourth Paranormal Activity film in as many years isn’t terrible, just tedious. Like the others, it’s another demonic possession movie, linked by the presence of Katie Featherstone, the nightmare-plagued student from the first film. This time out, her arrival in a new neighbourhood, with her creepy kid in tow, immediately starts to have a deleterious effect on the psychic wellbeing of a new family.
Particularly affected is the video-savvy eldest daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton), who smells a rat when Katie’s kid is spuriously dumped on their doorstep and things start going bump in the night almost immediately.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (who were tapped to direct the previous instalment after the controversy surrounding the veracity of their excellent documentary Catfish brought them a lot of notoriety), the film perseveres with the found-footage device without bringing anything particularly effective or new to the table.
That’s too bad, because while no-one is gullible enough to believe they’re being presented with genuine footage in these types of films, judiciously juxtaposing the banality of static, surveillance-mimicking camera shots with sudden shocks has been an effective way of reinvigorating old horror tropes. But as Paranormal Activity 4 demonstrates, simply stripping away layers of cinematic artifice is no longer enough.
Directed by: Conor McMahon
Starring: Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Gemma Leah-Devereux, Eoghan McQuinn
WHEN it comes to killer clowns on the big and small screen, Tim Curry’s performance as the murderous Pennywise in the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s It deserves credit for turning a generation of kids into confirmed coulrophobes. Sadly, Ross Noble’s titular turn as a vengeful mirthmaker in Stitches is unlikely to have a similar effect.
Making his film debut, the Geordie stand-up delivers his lines in appropriately grim fashion, but this low-budget Irish comedy/horror from writer/director Conor McMahon is neither funny nor scary, just amateurish in a bad student film way.
Starting off as a sort of rubbish, clown-themed take on Bad Santa, the film quickly kills off Noble’s crotchety, child-hating Stitches as a children’s birthday party goes horribly wrong. Flash forward six years and, thanks to the supernatural powers of a cabal of killer clowns, he comes back to life to take his revenge on the traumatised kids whose initial indifference to his act caused his death.
With much of the film focused on the now teenaged targets indulging in typical slasher movie behaviour – albeit with a decidedly naff sub-Skins comedy spin – Stitches can’t hold things together long enough to make the floppy-footed one’s return even remotely worthwhile.
Room 237 (15)
Directed by: Rodney Ascher
* * * *
HAVING once written a university essay arguing that Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining was an attempt to transform Stephen King’s trashy source novel into a coherent political treatise on the late 20th century white American male’s subconscious desire to return to the more rigidly defined social structures of the pre-Crash 1920s, I have some sympathy for the clutching-at-straws fans unearthed by director Rodney Ascher for this entertainingly loopy documentary exploring The Shining’s enigmatic appeal. Assembling a gaggle of true fanatics to expound on what it is about Kubrick’s film that has trapped them in its world, Room 237 throws up some marvellously out-there theories, ranging from its status as a metaphor for the genocide of Native Americans (plausible) as well as a comment on the Holocaust (doubtful) to the more bizarre conspiracy theory that it’s really Kubrick coming clean about faking the moon landings.
As outrageous as some of these theories are, though, they’re fuelled by Kubrick’s own near-mythic obsessive nature, though in the end what the film really does is pay tribute to the power of cinema to entice and enthral. If nothing else, it will make you see the film in a whole new light.
Directed by: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Starring: Nadezhda Markina, AndreY Smirnov, Elena Lyadova, Aleksey Rozin
* * * *
WITH Elena, Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev (The Return) delivers a slow-burning but engrossing drama that takes an intriguingly dark view of the sanctity of family in order to explore the ways in which bad seeds have a habit of flourishing in any environment.
Nadejda Markina delivers a rich, complex, near silent performance as the eponymous Elena, a former nurse now married to a wealthy businessman named Vladimir (Andrei Smirnov). Having met while she nursed him back to health, their marriage may function in much the same way, but it seems to work for them, affording each of them a better life than they would have had individually. The problems arise from their respective families. Elena has no relationship with Vladimir’s daughter, whom she’s convinced judges her negatively because of her class status. Vladimir in turn views Elena’s family – her son and, especially, her grandson – as leeches, the sort of people who would bleed him dry given half a chance.
Where the film dares to differ from the majority of European cinema here is in its willingness to explore what might happen if the latter scenario were true. Consequently, what follows is a gripping moral parable about ways in which families can fall apart.