Film reviews: Breaking Dawn: Part 1 | Snowtown | Oslo, August 31st | Sleeping Beauty | The Future

Our film critics take a look at some of the best and worst of this week’s new releases...

Breaking Dawn: Part 1 (12A) ***

Directed by: Bill Condon

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Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

DESPITE its vamps-versus-werewolves action, the previous instalment of Twilight – the world’s favourite playground love triangle – felt like a stalling exercise, evading the issue of who was going to get off with whom. Though Taylor Lautner’s Jacob stages a late counter-attack by going shirtless within 15 seconds, this resolves that issue decisively, with Bella and Edward (Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson) mumbling through their vows at a wedding ceremony so floridly romantic some viewers may wish they’d hired Melancholia’s Udo Kier to plan it instead. Thereafter, it’s all about the newlyweds prepping for their first time: as lovers, then – shock, horror – as parents-to-be.

That appalled fascination with sex remains a sticking point, cuing a final, surprisingly intense eruption of gyno-horror. Yet in director Bill Condon’s skilled hands, this instalment proves more intimate, confining its action to kids in rooms wrestling with the consequences of their own crushes. Such unashamed emotionality – oft-dismissed as “girly stuff” – is actually what distinguishes the Twilights in a market otherwise cluttered with noisy boys’ toys. Minor quibbles aside – the werewolves are stubbornly wooden, and why would a vampire honeymoon in sunny Rio? – these remain the most empathetic event movies in the business. MIKE MCCAHILL

Snowtown (18) ****

Directed by: Justin Kurzel

Starring: Daniel Henshall, Lucas Pittaway, Louise Harris

BASED on the true story of Australia’s most notorious serial killer, Justin Kurzel’s debut film Snowtown offers a bleak, brutal exploration of the way morality can be skewed and innocence corrupted by neglect, hardship … and the presence of a charismatic psychopath. Told from the naïve perspective of 16-year-old Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway), the film begins with Jamie and his younger brothers being abused by a neighbour. When his mother’s new boyfriend, John Bunting (Daniel Henshall), gets wind of it, he charges in like a white knight, driving said creep out of the neighbourhood and inveigling his way into their lives as a surrogate father figure. He also becomes de facto leader of the local poverty-stricken community, whose homophobic prejudices find expression in his bullish talk about keeping the streets safe from paedophiles. Just how far he’s prepared to go to achieve the latter is the sickening reality the film gradually unveils, with Jamie increasingly and tragically implicated. Here Kurzel implements remarkable restraint, never indulging in the bloodlust favoured by genre film-makers. His style is forensic, similar in some respects to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The effect is uncomfortable, but unforgettable.

Oslo, August 31st (15) ****

Directed by: Joachim Trier

Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Malin Crepin

WITH Oslo, August 31st, Norwegian director Joachim Trier delivers a sedate, mature follow-up to his brash, energetic debut Reprise. Where that film was fuelled by the youthful optimism of two twentysomething protagonists determined to make it as writers, this has a more melancholic, soul-searching feel, a consequence of revolving around a once-promising writer coming to terms with the fact that he has squandered his opportunities through drug abuse, hard-living and generally being an arsehole. This is Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie), a heroin addict in rehab whose progress in the programme has earned him a day out in the real world. Reconnecting with his old life, he finds past acquaintances greeting him with a mixture of pity and resentment as he tries to reconcile his former hedonistic ways with the muted reality of sobriety he will have to embrace if he’s to re-enter society. Lie is very good here at giving us a sense of a man who on the one hand may be full of remorse, but on the other is also seething with the kind of unearned, self-pitying resentment that failed artists can sometimes have. This helps Trier to negotiate and subvert cinematic clichés about creative types and give a clear-eyed and moving portrait of someone lost in the modern world.

Sleeping Beauty (18) **

Directed by: Julia Leigh

Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake

HAVING already submitted herself to the lowbrow fetishistic voyeurism of Sucker Punch earlier this year, Emily Browning disrobes for a more highbrow form of fetishistic voyeurism in Sleeping Beauty. The results, however, are similarly tedious, with novelist-turned-director Julia Leigh mistaking slow, artful shots of pervy rich old men exerting their power over beautiful women for compelling cinema. Browning plays Lucy, a student working multiple jobs to pay for her studies. Because this is a movie, one of her jobs is as a high-end escort, ensuring that the film immediately falls into the trap of perpetuating what Chris Rock used to mock as “the stripper myth”. Nevertheless, Leigh persists, mainly so she can send her heroine into a bizarre world full of wealthy elderly patrons who like to host dinner parties staffed by kinkily dressed silver-service waitresses. Employed as one such servant, Lucy thinks she’s hit the big time, but when she’s subsequently hired to enter a drugged slumber while these clients have their penetration-free way with her, she becomes obsessed with finding out what is being done to her and by whom. It’s all rather ridiculous, and the film’s serious tone shouldn’t be mistaken for profundity.

The Future (12a) **

Directed by: Miranda July

Starring: Miranda July, Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky

PUTTING the irk in quirk, artist turned film-maker Miranda July’s latest comes with all the trimmings we’ve come to expect from winsome American indie directors trying to make sense of their sensitive lives. But while The Future is excessively kooky, it’s not cookie-cutter; nobody but July could have made a film so defiantly insufferable. It stars July and Hamish Linklater as an LA-based hipster couple. Both in their mid-thirties, they’ve reached that age where post-college slacker malaise has gone from being an actively rebellious lifestyle choice to the disappointing reality of daily existence.

This realisation starts to intensify when they impulsively decide to adopt an injured cat from a nearby animal rescue shelter. Unable to take it home for 30 days (it needs to recuperate), the implications of their impending responsibilities start to gnaw away at them, so much so that they each decide to take drastic action in a last-ditch effort to find some purpose and meaning to their lives. That July has the cat supply observations on all of this via a creepy voice-over is the sort of hackle-raising detail that makes it even tougher to care. ALISTAIR HARKNESS