An action film that manages to serve up carnage in new and interesting ways, The Raid lives up to all its hype, finds Alistair Harkness in his second report from the Glasgow Film Festival
AS THE Glasgow Film Festival moves into its final weekend, it sees the premiere of its first truly buzz-worthy film. The Raid (****) was among the earliest films to sell out this year. It’s been given a prime late-night slot as the closing film of GFF’s Frightfest strand that’s more befitting its likely cult status than its horror credentials, and it certainly justifies the hype. A relentlessly and inventively violent action film directed by Indonesia-based Welsh film-maker Gareth Evans, it does for knife fighting and martial arts action what Hard-Boiled did for gunplay, serving up a surprising number of new ways to deliver wall-to-wall carnage without boring the viewer.
Set in Jakarta, the streamlined plot revolves around a police assault on a high-rise slum that’s been taken over by a drug lord and transformed into both a factory for producing narcotics and a fortress-like residence for his numerous generals and underlings. Consequently, though heavily armed, this mostly rookie SWAT team soon find themselves under siege within the building’s labyrinthine environs as the dealers fight back and hunt them down. Dropping in just enough well-placed plot twists to keep us involved in the story, Evans promptly proceeds to unleash a dizzying and dazzling array of action set-pieces, mostly revolving around the ruthlessly proficient abilities of his star, Iko Uwais. Heads are cracked, bones are crunched, faces are sliced and jugulars are stabbed with an unparalleled frequency but – thanks to characters who define themselves through tightly choreographed but still raw and edgy action – such things never cease to be gleefully entertaining.
In musical terms, the in-your-face thrills of The Raid could probably be equated with the anti-authoritarian, confrontational stance of punk rock, numerous examples of which can be found in the The Other F Word (***). Playing as part of GFF’s Music and Film Festival, it delves into the somewhat nihilistic Southern Californian punk scene. The film’s intriguing hook, however, is to explore what happens to all that energy and attitude when its proponents get older and are suddenly forced to confront the responsibilities of fatherhood. Following a bunch of semi-famous ageing punk rock dads who now spend their evenings encouraging teenagers to “f*** authority” before going home to tuck their own kids in at night, the film mines this amusing contradiction for all it’s worth with scenes of heavily tattooed men melting in the presence of their daughters (most of them have daughters). That’s not enough to sustain an entire film, but mercifully director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins digs a little deeper and gets her interviewees – including Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea (he started out in the punk band Fear) – to open up about their own neglected childhoods.
Flea turns up again in Bob and the Monster (****), another LA-based redemptive music doc, this time set around the drug-fuelled alternative rock scene of the 1980s that gave rise to the likes of the Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction and Courtney Love. Its subject is Bob Forrest, a self-destructive wannabe singer who bought into the romanticised self-destructive myths of the music scene and blew his shot at the big time in a haze of heroin addiction. First time director Keirda Bahruth has access to a lot of good, scuzzy archival footage, but it’s when she gets onto Forrest’s subsequent rehabilitation as an addiction specialist who helped many of his rock star pals through their own battles that the film becomes genuinely compelling.
Helping people is also at the heart of Superheroes (***), a so-so documentary playing as part of the festival’s Kapow! comic-book strand. Exploring the increasing phenomenon of real superheroes in America, it starts off as an interesting look at a bunch of disturbed individuals who come across either as deluded pour souls or garishly costumed Travis Bickles-in-waiting. Alas, the film pulls away from all the nutters desperate to try out their dangerous-looking home-made weapons on actual criminals and ends up focusing on the few who dress up and help out at homeless shelters. That’s certainly a more noble use of their philanthropic instincts, but it feels welded on to a film that’s more interesting when exploring the darker side of the phenomenon.
There are more comic-themed shenanigans in Electric Man (*), a disappointingly feeble Scottish caper about a pair of comic shop workers who become embroiled in a convoluted quest to secure a copy of an ultra-rare and valuable first issue of the titular comic. Shot on a micro-budget in and around Edinburgh, it’s embarrassingly badly acted, flatly directed and boasts a script full of naff jokes and dated pop culture gags, making it more of an East Coast Fast Romance than a Scottish Clerks. It might have been made with love, but aside from the nifty opening credits sequence, I can’t imagine it will be of much interest to anyone other than the people who made it.
The Decoy Bride (**) isn’t much better. This twee, Scottish-set romcom starring David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald received its British premiere at the festival on Tuesday night ahead of its DVD release early next month. It’s certainly not hard to see why it is mostly bypassing cinemas. Tennant is surprisingly charmless as an author who falls for Macdonald just as he’s about to wed a Hollywood movie star (Alice Eve), and Macdonald, despite her best efforts as the unlucky-in-love island girl roped in to throw the press off the scent of the couple’s Hebridean wedding, is fighting a losing battle against some pretty corny dialogue and slack pacing.
Much better is Up There (***), the debut feature from award-winning British short-filmmaker Zam Salim. Shot in Glasgow, it’s a melancholic comedy about the bureaucracy of the afterlife revolving around dead man (Burn Gorman) stuck in limbo doing a dead-end job. The film’s central joke is that the same boring mundane problems we experience in life are repeated in death, and though this gag does wear a little thin, things are held together by an engaging central turn from Gorman and the sense that Salim has created a fully realised world. And it also shows there are at least some interesting films being made in Scotland.
• The Raid is screening at Glasgow Film Theatre on 25 February; The Other F Word, GFT today and CCA tomorrow; Bob and the Monster, CCA tomorrow and GFT on 26 February; Superheroes, GFT today; The Electric Man, CCA today; The Decoy Bride, run ended; Up There, GFT tomorrow