Marshland (La isla minima): two out-of-favour Madrid detectives are sent out to the middle of nowhere to investigate the disappearance of two girls; they soon uncover a serial killer and potential police involvement. The main drama of the film comes from lots of complex and conflicting relationships; the detectives and the villagers, the villagers with each other, the detectives and their new boss, and even the mismatched investigators themselves with their ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ approaches. Aesthetically, and tonally, this is very similar to HBO’s True Detective (although they came out at the same time); the palette is dominated by earthy, natural, and rustic colors & locations, which help the odd top-down drone shots of ethereal landscapes really stand out. The film also holds an interesting Spanish angle too; being set at the start of the 80s in a ‘New Spain’, but calling back to the Franco dictatorship and exploring how large and looming the shadow of that time still is. Marshland is a very well made, excellently acted picture with a sufficiently eerie & suspenseful score: however, there’s nothing particularly fresh or exciting in the story itself… it’s just been tarted up and presented in a more unique setting than normal.
The Girl on the Train: follows a homo sapien with two X chromosomes on a track-based transport vehicle. Seriously though, blackout drunk alcoholic becomes involved in a missing person case that keeps throwing up more questions than answers. Blunt is outstanding. One of the best performances I’ve seen anyone give in a long time; complaints about her being too glamorous (duh, she is Emily Blunt!!) don’t wash with me, as she’s looked like a trainwreck for the majority of the film. The remaining cast – championed by an equally impressive Haley Bennett – are firing on all cylinders, it’s impossible to pick out a bad performance. Like the best narratives, the film is continually revealing new information that changes how we view the relationships between the main characters, and constantly shifting the focus and blame. It’s also refreshing to see a film centered on three completely different women; providing various view on motherhood, being a wife, and their strange three-way relationship, which are intelligently pleated through one another. I think the off-kilter, dark, and borderline horror tone (screechy strings, close-ups, titled cameras) will have alienated a lot of casual viewers. Critics and book snobs couldn’t beat this film down enough but as someone going in completely cold, it really impressed me: the only part I could imagine tightening up would be the lengthy introduction, but even then, it’s not too flabby. Although it was sold as “if you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this” I’d sooner watch this again. The Girl on the Train is a gripping, dark, Hitchcockian thriller where nothing is spelled out, and it’s constantly swaying and misdirecting you, through to the revelatory ending.
Hardcore Henry (Хардкор): when he is resurrected with no memory and new robotic limbs, Henry must save his kidnapped wife from a telekinetic psychopath who has plans to weaponise a robo-army. From the opening credits (graphic, but blackly comic violence) you can tell this isn’t your usual action film – most of the movie is shot from a ‘First Person’ perspective, from the point-of-view of ‘Henry’ using an intricate head-cam rig. The film is basically 90 minutes straight of Henry running / jumping / shooting / punching through a long line of obstacles; with some awesome freerunning & parkour (seemingly no wires – or brains!), and high intensity and very high quality stuntwork: the elements combine to create a truly unique and awe-inspiring action spectacle. There’s also a great anarchic/punk sensibility to the movie; anything goes, and there’s a lot of crazy & zany elements… it even using things like subtitles to make a few jokes with. The biggest problem is that when everything is up at 150% the whole time, you end up becoming a bit numb to it towards the end. Another downside of the FPS style is that the camera is very shaky and has a warped fish-eye lens which distorts a lot of the outer frame. Hardcore Henry is a film that is truly cutting edge, in that it couldn’t have even been made a couple of years ago – the only remotely close comparison you could draw would be a less offensive, but higher-octane version of the Crank films. It’s fun, impressive, and completely mental, but overall struggles to engage after a while. Best viewed after consuming a twelve pack of Red Bull.
NOTE: The entire film was spawned from this music video – if you fancy 90 mins of this, look no farther than Hardcore Henry.
The Wailing (aka 곡성, 哭聲, Gokseong): when a remote Korean village sees a spate of mysterious infections and violent murders all fingers point to an outsider from Japan that has recently moved to the area. This starts off as a darkly funny black comedy for the first 30 mins or so – that isn’t above fart jokes – but it slowly pivots 180-degrees into an intense, slow-burning, atmospheric supernatural mystery. The films doesn’t limit itself to one particular horror genre either; crossing possession (difficult to watch seizures) with slasher gore, demons, ghosts, and hints of zombies. One of the film’s climaxes involves a claustrophobic cutting together of three separate scenes involving two nauseating pagan rituals and a girl being exorcised; which reaches sustained levels of doom that are rarely seen. At around the 2 hour mark it does start to feel like a long film, however, the multi-layered ending that keeps folding in on itself is extremely satisfying, serving up a superbly tense and sustained showdown, with the kind skin crawling creepiness that Hollywood just can’t zero in on. There are also some very strong performances in the lead (a flawed bumbling cop), his daughter, and the entertaining shaman – who all shine in their roles. My only real fault of the film is that western – or even non-Korean – audiences will probably want to Google the film to the pick up on a lot of the significant cultural details that add to the film’s intricate plot – although it does still make plenty sense watching it cold. Very few films reach the sustained intensity of The Wailing; only the claustrophobia of Kill List, and the violent madness of something like Cold Fish come to mind. Chalk it up as another film which proves that Korea has one of the strongest film industries in the world.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople: when his foster-mum dies and he’s due to go to juvie, a troubled ‘hoodie’ kid and his grouchy new ‘uncle’ end up going AWOL in the New Zealand Bush. The film’s setup is absolute dynamite, but as the story unfolds it loses momentum & steam, and never matches the heady heights of the opening act. The big car-tank-and-helicopter chase at the end feels particularly lavish and a bit silly, for no obvious reason. The best thing about HFTW is the trio of great performances from the main cast: “Aunt” Bella (Wiata), “Uncle” Hec (Sam Neill), and Ricky ‘the kid’, give it their all and draw a lot of laughter. Everyone else on the other hand feels like they were parachuted in to their scenes and told to just improv-up a few bits of comedy gold at gunpoint (most apparent in the slacker/selfie/flake/horse-girl scene); and unfortunately almost all of the laugh-out-loud moments are given away in the trailer. The broody synth soundtrack feels like a big misstep too, as it doesn’t match the upbeat tone of the film. Hunt for the Wilderpeople comes hurtling of out the blocks towards a top mark; unfortunately it just can’t sustain the high-quality and focus into the final hour. That being said, it’s still undeniably a funny and somewhat uplifting ‘Antipodean-Comedy’ (mostly deadpan and accent-based jokes).
The Card Player (aka Il Cartaio): women in Rome are being kidnapped used as the prize in police Vs ‘serial killer’ online poker matches. For a film made in 2004 about ‘cutting edge technology’ it looks more like something from the early 1990s, especially going by the terminology used. The film boasts such a bizarre portrayal of cyber and counter-culture, with a Luddite’s view of technology, and fumbling awkward police IT techies (who are genuinely credited as “Anti Hackers” WTF R-Gent0!?). It also boasts the standard Euro-pudding bilingual issues: gaps between reactions, re-dubbed lines; back of head shots when people are talking… Every character is also over-worked to the point of becoming surreal: like a drunk Irishman who falls asleep singing Danny Boy (classic) and an inappropriate & unprofessionally touchy-feely flirty cop. It feels like Argento plays this far too broad, as the film awkwardly cuts from wacky things like a tapdancing coroner to a dead body with playing cards stuffed up their innards, and extremely detailed close-ups of rancid corpses. The Card Player offers up a few glimpses of classic Argento but overall, it’s a hammy, pedestrian, and tedious Giallo outing.