Deadpool 2

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Deadpool was a surprise box office hit back in 2016, eclipsing expectations and proving that with the right script Ryan Reynolds could carry a superhero blockbuster on his shoulders. Two years on and a franchise is being built, with Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz and Julian Dennison seemingly attached for the foreseeable future.

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Deadpool 2 takes much of what’s good about its predecessor and tries to apply it to a new story, introducing a host of additional characters for its titular character to tease and taunt. The goal of the movie is to build on the first film and develop Wade Wilson, and in fairness to David Leitch it delivers on both its comedy and its action. The jokes don’t always hit and the inciting incident is disappointing because it makes the events of Deadpool feel trivial, but the humour and pacing make up for the script’s shortcomings.

The biggest issue I had with the film was the way that the story was handled, because although Cable is an interesting character and Wade is given an extra level of depth, the meat of the narrative is derivative. Certain critics have made this point already by likening the film to Terminator 2, and I can see the inspiration there, but I think there’s an even more striking comparison to be made with 2012’s Looper.

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Looper is a film which is largely based around time travel and world-building, so of course there are differences in how the story is told, but in that film a man goes back in time in order to kill a child who has become a villain in the future. The hero then makes it his business to protect the child in the present day, only to sacrifice himself in the end… and that’s exactly what happens in Deadpool 2. The two films come to their conclusions in different ways, but there are distinct similarities in the circumstances which drive their respective plots.

This issue doesn’t ruin Deadpool 2 by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I suggesting that the writers directly copied the story, but the fact that the plot has been done before limited my enjoyment.

Once I’d made the initial connection between Looper and Deadpool 2 I began to find more parallels with television shows/films that I like, and from this point onwards I was desensitised to what the movie was doing well. For example, one of the funniest moments in the film takes place almost immediately after a fight sequence, with Wade having to stay inside in order to regenerate the lower half of his body. This is a genuinely entertaining sequence which the audience loved, and I can accept the fact that the writers decided to build on the baby hand joke from the first film, but the gag has been done before by American Dad in the twelfth episode of its seventh season, You Debt Your Life.

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With these points aside, I should say that I did enjoy Deadpool 2 and I’m looking forward to the inevitable third film in the franchise, particularly if a greater focus is placed on secondary characters. I wasn’t blown away by any aspect of this movie and I don’t think that it’s better than its predecessor, but the X-Force sequence was awesome and Domino and Cable were good additions to the team.

Nevertheless, I feel that many of the pop culture references that this movie made will become less relevant over time, and it was unfortunate that characters like Negasonic Teenage Warhead were pushed aside in order to make room for newcomers.

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To summarise, Deadpool 2 is a fun movie which will satisfy viewers with a passion for the first film. However, from a nitpicky perspective there’s a lot to be frustrated by, most notably the fact that the plot feels imitative and forced.

7/10

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Game Night

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Game Night is an American black comedy film which stars Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, and Kyle Chandler. It revolves around a group of competitive friends who meet up weekly to play parlour/board games, with issues arising when an interactive mystery night transitions from role-play to real life.

The first and most important thing to note when it comes to Game Night is that it’s actually funny. It isn’t a comedy with inconsistent laughs and an unnecessarily wacky plot; it’s a genuinely entertaining film with likeable characters whose behaviour, whilst eccentric, is well-explained.

The premise is immediately appealing and the plot takes a number of unexpected turns, although you will have to suspend your disbelief throughout. The personalities of the lead characters are established before the story kicks in which adds a layer of believability, but the narrative is just as zany as the trailer suggests.

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The stars of the show are Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, who each elevate the material through their playful and committed performances, but the supporting cast assist the two leads admirably. Jesse Plemons and Lamorne Morris are particularly amusing, (the former giving off a wonderfully unsettling vibe and the latter doing a rather impressive Denzel Washington impression), and their enthusiasm significantly adds to the experience.

To Game Night’s credit all of the performances are well-measured and almost all of the jokes work, but if I have one criticism of the film it would be that the humour is less effective in the final act. This isn’t to say that the ending is bad or that the climax spoils the film – it doesn’t – but the funniest scenes are the kidnapping scene and Annie’s (McAdams) attempt at retrieving a bullet from her husband’s arm, both of which take place prior to the third act.

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To summarise, Game Night is a joyous and refreshingly witty comedy which stands above the humourless drivel which commonly pollutes the cinema. The jokes hit their marks and the performances are fantastic, making for an experience which gives you everything you’re looking for going in.

8/10

Dark River

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Dark River is a psychological drama film set in the Yorkshire countryside. Ruth Wilson stars as the lead character, Alice, a woman who returns home to her family’s farm following the death of her abusive father (Sean Bean).

Director Clio Barnard explained during a Q&A that there was a conscious effort to make Alice’s abuse clear from the outset, wishing to ensure that her past didn’t feel like a reveal or a plot device. Barnard was successful on this front, with Alice’s psychological trauma acting as a facet of her character but never feeling like a driving force for the story. Her past is certainly important – after all, it’s a major factor in the decisions that she makes in the movie – but her trauma is always in the background and has its place as an explanation for why she is unable to communicate properly with her brother (Joe, played by Mark Stanley).

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The story is well-handled throughout the film and I thoroughly respect the choices that Barnard made during production; particularly the decision to omit dialogue-heavy scenes involving Sean Bean. One of the main themes that this film tackles is guilt, with the lead characters constantly battling the emotion as well as one another, so it makes sense to let that linger in the air rather than allowing an outrage-inducing scene to subtract from the movie’s power.

Alice feels guilty about her part in what happened to her and she struggles to overcome her past; she wonders why she didn’t stand up to her father and couldn’t make him stop, and she regrets that she didn’t visit him before his death. Joe, on the other hand, is hurt by the fact that his sister left him alone on the farm and is equally angry with himself for letting her down. It’s obvious that he feels a lot of shame about what happened to his sister even though his guilt is misplaced, and his inability to articulate his emotions leaves him in a constant state of remorse.

None of this information is forced on the audience through exposition or conversation, with Barnard instead choosing to respect the viewer’s intelligence and allowing the immaculate performances of Wilson and Stanley to tell the story for her.

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In summary, there’s a lot to appreciate when it comes to Dark River, especially given the difficulties that Barnard had to be overcome during its production such as the fact that the actors and crew had to learn how to manage animals on a farm. The care that her direction displays makes the experience markedly better, with fantastic performances and insightful writing bringing a sense of gravitas to the subject matter. It’s certainly a contained and somewhat limited film, but it’s also a thoughtful take on abuse and the obligations that we have to our loved ones.

7.5/10

The 15:17 to Paris

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The 15:17 to Paris is a disappointingly bland film with very little to offer any section of its audience.

As a snapshot of a significant event in our recent history it could’ve been a worthwhile and memorable piece of cinema, but rather than doubling down on the train journey and the immediate moments before it – for both the film’s heroes and its villain – this movie meanders at a snail’s pace through a mire of melodrama and uneventfulness. Fortunately, this approach does lead to moments in which the characters seem admirably grounded, but inane scenes in which characters talk about ‘a greater purpose’ destroy any lingering semblance of credibility.

I will concede that this criticism will be less pressing for audience members of a particular disposition – after all, people often subscribe to concepts like ‘fate’ in order to inject meaning into the otherwise trivial – but to me it felt as though Clint Eastwood was trying to fetishize religion and the military by portraying characters as deeper than they needed to be. I would also suggest that senselessly shoehorning religious dialogue into one of the movie’s most important scenes was ridiculous, acting as an articulation of Eastwood’s belief system rather than a necessary device for the story.

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However, the real issue I have with The 15:17 to Paris is that it fails to entertain. The fact that Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone play themselves gives the movie some authenticity, and their real-life heroics make up for their wooden acting, but seeing them do random things from childhood to the attack is incredibly banal. This is a film which depicts ordinary people living ordinary lives; this isn’t always a problem – Noah Baumbach has made a comfortable living off making those kinds of movies – but on this occasion it simply doesn’t work.

Personally, I think a more worthwhile approach would’ve been to develop the terrorist as well as the protagonists – although I admit that this would have been difficult if information on his activities leading up to the attack was limited – or alternatively to focus intensely on the good guys in order to make it feel as though we were experiencing the attack with them. In fairness to Eastwood he tried to go with the latter approach, but intention isn’t always reflected in the outcome and that’s very true when it comes to this film.

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It seems to me that in order to make 15:17 a character-driven movie the dynamic between the three lead characters had to be front and centre. Again, Eastwood clearly knew this and an effort was made to make the audience care from the start; the problem is that this effort was put in the wrong places. During the first act we got to know three children playing underdeveloped characters, rather plainly, and they were shown to be friends; then, after a rather abrupt transition, we saw their real-life counterparts as they lived separate lives. They talked over Skype, watched football together and went backpacking, but during these sequences they weren’t particularly friendly and if anything it felt as though they were growing apart.

This is sad in a way because these are real people who are friends and are playing themselves, but it perhaps speaks to the fact that if you’re trying to make an emotionally affective movie you should probably cast professional actors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for experimentation, but in order for this film’s casting to work Eastwood had to pull performances out of the three lead actors. Eastwood was unable to do this, thus robbing the film of resonance and making it feel gimmicky when it should’ve been a vehicle for a story worth sharing.

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To summarise, The 15:17 to Paris is a movie which I was looking forward to prior to release and hoped would be well-measured. I believe that what Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Spencer Stone did on the 21st August 2015 was incredibly courageous and ultimately saved hundreds of lives, so I’m glad that their story was seen as extraordinary enough to be told. Unfortunately, I also believe that said story should’ve been handled with greater care and competency. 15:17 is dull, weirdly paced and lacking in proper direction, which is perhaps partly down to the fact that real life doesn’t adhere to conventional narrative structure.

3/10

Hostiles

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Hostiles is a violent western which stars Christian Bale as an army captain and Rosemund Pike as the woman he saves from Comanche Indians.

To start on a positive note, it’s worth saying that Hostiles has one of the best opening sequences I’ve seen in the last few years. Gritty, aggressive, and superbly acted, it will stick with you long after the credits roll.

However, everything else which occurs is utterly forgettable and regrettably haphazard. Hostiles lacks any kind of narrative cohesion and is void of a traditional three act structure, creating an experience which drags on relentlessly. There’s nothing to get invested in and the characters are seemingly incapable of having meaningful conversations unless said conversations are one-on-one, making interactions feel contrived and destroying any kind of emotional investment which the audience might feel for the characters.

The performances aren’t particularly bad, Christian Bale is fine and the majority of the cast do their jobs serviceably, but Rosemund Pike is guilty of some serious overacting and Rory Cochrane mumbles his way through his lines to such an extent that I didn’t understand a word he said.

I don’t want to be too harsh on this film because it does a lot of things well – the cinematography is good and the score works until the tension dissipates – but I defy anyone to enjoy it from start to finish. There’s nothing tying it together, the story doesn’t flow, and in truth I was praying for it to finish well before it finally limped to its conclusion.

4/10

My Favourite Films of 2017

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Previously I have written articles disclosing my favourite films of the year. I started this blog in 2014, so naturally there are lists on the site for 2014, 2015 and 2016. I enjoyed writing these pieces because they let me express my taste in film but they were also very time consuming – after all, I essentially re-review every film I mention – so I’ve decided to go for a change of tactics this time around.

Rather than comprehensively explaining why I loved 10-15 films from 2017 I have decided to post a list of the 86 films that I saw last year (by which I mean films which had a UK release in 2017 either in cinemas or via streaming services). In my view this inspires debate and ensures that I’m not repeating information that I’ve covered in reviews on this blog or on the two other sites that I write for.

If you want to read my thoughts on some of the best/worst films of last year then you can find them here – http://www.thenerdx.com/top-15-films-of-2017-part-1/, https://vampiresquid.co.uk/11-best-horror-films-of-2017/, https://vampiresquid.co.uk/7-biggest-horror-movie-let-downs-of-2017/ – but please be aware that the semantics of those lists account for why I ordered some films differently to how I’ve ordered them here.

This list is ordered by how much I enjoyed a film rather than which film is the best, although for the benefit of clarity I have added headers to say which films I think are bad, average, good and great. This is to ensure that my placing certain films towards the middle of the list doesn’t lead people to think that I didn’t enjoy them.

 

BAD

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86. DEATH NOTE

85. BRIGHT

84. HOME AGAIN

83. SLEEPLESS

82. DOWNSIZING

81. RINGS

80. THE DARK TOWER

79. AMERICAN ASSASSIN

78. JIGSAW

77. BAYWATCH

76. WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

75. FLATLINERS

74. THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

73. THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES

72. LITTLE EVIL

71. LIVE BY NIGHT

70. THE PARTY

69. THE HOUSE

68. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

67. INGRID GOES WEST

66. A CURE FOR WELLNESS

65. LOGAN LUCKY

64. KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

63. ALIEN: COVENANT

62. HAPPY END

 

AVERAGE

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61. GOLDEN EXITS

60. ROUGH NIGHT

59. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

58. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

57. AMERICAN MADE

56. GEMINI

55. THE GREATEST SHOWMAN

54. IT COMES AT NIGHT

53. THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

52. BORG VS MCENROE

51. THE BEGUILED

50. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

49. 6 DAYS

48. BATTLE OF THE SEXES

47. TO THE BONE

46. PITCH PERFECT 3

 

GOOD

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45. A MONSTER CALLS

44. 1922

43. ATOMIC BLONDE

42. SPLIT

41. ICARUS

40. PATTI CAKE$

39. THOROUGHBREDS

38. JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE

37. GHOST IN THE SHELL

36. MOONLIGHT

35. BLADE RUNNER 2049

34. MUDBOUND

33. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

32. PRINCESS CYD

31. JOHN WICK 2

30. FENCES

29. GERALD’S GAME

28. DUNKIRK

27. THOR: RAGNAROK

26. THE DISASTER ARTIST

25. WIND RIVER

 

GREAT

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24. THE SHAPE OF WATER

23. PERSONAL SHOPPER

22. THE BOY DOWNSTAIRS

21. MOTHER!

20. STRONGER

19. HOUNDS OF LOVE

18. DETROIT

17. T2 TRAINSPOTTING

16. FREE FIRE

15. GOOD TIME

14. APOSTASY

13. THE CURED

12. THE FLORIDA PROJECT

11. THE BIG SICK

10. IT

9. WONDER WOMAN

8. GET OUT

7. A GHOST STORY

6. RAW

5. BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99

4. BABY DRIVER

3. LA LA LAND

2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

1. LOGAN

Horror Today: Are Our Expectations Too Low?

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The Horror genre is an established and beloved facet of film with a wide variety of sub-genres, each of which have garnered healthy fandoms. The Body Horror, Psychological Horror, Slasher and Torture Porn genres all boast classic films as part of their libraries – from mainstream hits like Halloween to less conventional movies like Audition and Funny Games – and each year a plethora of new additions hit our screens.

Shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story keep the genre relevant in the mainstream and provide a valuable (if somewhat diluted) gateway to more artistic and intellectually stimulating experiences in the world of cinema, but on the big screen the Horror genre is often misrepresented and abused by filmmakers, production companies and studios alike.

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Narratively cohesive and visually exciting films like The Babadook and Mother! are widely disregarded by audiences because they challenge viewers and don’t rely on cheap tricks to generate entertainment, and in an effort to cater towards the masses studios produce fast-paced, surprise-heavy films with little substance by the bucket load. In doing so they inform their audience’s choices and create a lower level of expectation, facilitating a system which favours profitability over quality and doesn’t require one to ensure the other.

Audiences are consistently short-changed by companies which would rather make an empty but financially-safe movie like The Gallows for $100,000 than something ambitious, and the idea that effective jump scares are essential to the genre is constantly reinforced to mainstream audiences by these kinds of films. Movies like Lights Out are heralded as ground-breaking by casual cinemagoers because they have appealing premises and are marginally more stimulating than the standard throwaway horror that you might find at your local Cineworld, regardless of the fact that the filmmaking is middling at best.

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As previously mentioned, the genre has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to variety; many of the classics come from one or two sub-genres – with movies like Scream, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street all most readily branded as Slashers – but others are great films regardless of how they are categorised such as Alien, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Horror is a study of themes – an exploration of human psychology and our penchant for fearing that which we do not understand – so by virtue of the fact that we know as little as we do it’s a diverse and rich field to study. Yet, within this field filmmakers and audiences alike play it safe, preparing and digesting the same mishmash of clichés on a daily basis whilst ignoring the fact that the taste has faded.

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This Halloween the only cinematic release to capitalise on one of the calendar’s most celebrated holidays was a tepid reboot/sequel of a franchise which should’ve died many movies ago. Jigsaw was a tired and inept attempt at breathing life into a series which at this point has about as much energy as the rotting corpse of its fictional anti-hero John Kramer, and the fact that audiences went to see it is both disappointing and encouraging in equal measure.

The good news is that Jigsaw’s commercial success demonstrates the fact that fans will still pay to see a horror film if a trailer peaks their interest. When there isn’t a recognisable name behind the film the situation is admittedly more complicated – the stars have to align and the need for careful marketing is more pronounced – but if you can find the balance between a pandering set of jump scares and a pretentious art film then there’s a lot of money to be made.

The bad news is that the majority of people can’t tell the former from the latter, and ultimately they’ll pay to see anything as long as a marketing team makes the choice for them.

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The truth is that fans aren’t given an immense amount of choice. Brilliant horror films are being made around the world on a regular basis but they aren’t easily accessible to everyone and they certainly aren’t shown in every cinema across the United Kingdom. You can find them, of course, but in an age when people aren’t willing to interact socially unless their conversations are filtered through a barrage of apps, and can’t articulate their emotions without a meticulously chosen emoji, how can we expect them to make informed decisions on which films to watch? People do as they’re told – like it or not – and they’re told to watch whatever Blumhouse Productions wants them to watch.

Goodnight Mommy is a prime example of the type of movie from within the horror genre which should be made available to fans without the need for excessive research, but unless you happened to stumble across it at your local arthouse cinema it’s unlikely that it made a blip on your radar. Luckily Austria’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards is now available on Amazon Prime and is accessible to anyone with a subscription, but the fact remains that for every well-produced horror drama there’s a franchise-killer like Rings to tell audiences that they needn’t get their hopes up.

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Streaming services like the above-mentioned Amazon Prime make lesser-known movies available to the masses, and Netflix has recently added quality to the genre with two stellar Stephen King adaptations (Gerald’s Game and 1922 respectively), but these services can only suggest which films their viewers should watch. They have extensive libraries and an abundance of quantity over quality, so for every film like The Descent there’s an eyesore like Before I Wake to balance the scales, and the latter will likely gain just as much traction as the former.

This isn’t a criticism of people’s viewing habits or a recommendation for what they should choose to enjoy – I can appreciate a bad film just as much as the next person – it’s merely a reflection on the fact that as a society we’ve been conditioned to accept movies of a certain standard simply because they’re convenient to find and consume. We shouldn’t give our money to Twisted Pictures so that they can churn out another lacklustre film in the Saw franchise – that horse is dead and it’s about time that we stopped beating it – we should collectively put more of an emphasis on quality and demand that filmmakers earn the money that we give them.

All of these points boil down to one thing, which is that Horror is an underappreciated and misunderstood genre which is unfairly categorised as niche and tasteless because people don’t have easy access to the types of movies which validate being a fan. As fans we’re as much responsible for that as the filmmakers because we fund their projects and thank them by buying a ticket when they make something which is fundamentally deficient.

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Refer back to my earlier comment about The Walking Dead; it’s one of the most watched and talked about shows on television today, yet in my view it’s also one of the least compelling. The first six episodes were character driven, well-shot, and they had direction, so although the characters weren’t fully-realised there was a sense that it could become something special.

Frank Darabont started as showrunner and he cared about Robert Kirkman’s material; he got some of his talented friends on board from projects like The Mist and they helped to steer the ship in the right direction. However, by the time the second season rolled around creative differences between AMC and Darabont (director of films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile) meant that he was let go. Ever since then the show has been less of a drama and more of a soap opera, yet the popularity of the series remains intact because now people are invested and want to be part of the conversation.

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Horror is an exceptional genre of film and popular culture. It plays with human emotions more than any other genre, forcing people to participate and to use their imagination in order to  answer the question – ‘what would I do in this situation?’. It’s an engaging form of entertainment and a valuable tool for growth which encourages people to face their fears and conceptualise scenarios which they’d rather avoid. It provides an avenue to explore abstract concepts and themes which are relevant to our everyday lives, and it does so through a format which allows casual viewers to enjoy what’s happening on screen even if they don’t want to consider the implications. Of the films that I’ve already mentioned The Babadook considers mental illness, Rosemary’s Baby examines ambition and The Descent explores the impact of grief, and each one does so in a considered and symbolic manner.

It’s a genre which iconic filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and George Romero have each dedicated large portions of their lives to, and it’s one which needs to be disassociated from those films which sully its reputation in cinemas today. Horror is not a group of teens throwing popcorn from the back of the cinema or speakers turned up so high that you can’t help but jump out of your seat at the end of every sequence; it’s a study in aspects of human psychology which are too complex to consider through everyday experiences – an exploration of our vulnerabilities – and when it’s done right it can be the most emotionally effective variety of film.

Ingrid Goes West

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Ingrid Goes West” is a comedy-drama starring Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza.

It revolves around obsession and the dangers of social media, and at the festival it was billed as a comedy. However, to my surprise it was a rather difficult film to watch as the main character is damaged – verging on deranged – and her behaviour is rarely amusing. Her fixation with internet mogul Taylor Sloane (Olsen) is more unsettling than it is comical, and I didn’t laugh once.

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Ingrid is a mentally-ill woman who invades the life of a more successful person in order to live vicariously through her. This could be played for comedic effect with the right script, but it never feels as though that’s what director Matt Spicer wanted from the movie.

Instead, the bulk of “Ingrid Goes West conveys the message that behind the façade Taylor is just as empty and self-conscious as Ingrid. Again there’s a way to make this work, and the fact that the focus is on drama rather than comedy isn’t a criticism in itself, but the relationship between Ingrid and Taylor isn’t developed enough to engage the audience in their dynamic.

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If Spicer had worked harder to make Ingrid likeable then “Ingrid Goes West would’ve been monumentally better, particularly because the moral dilemma of the film required Ingrid to be at least minimally relatable. Unfortunately, the reality is that none of the characters in this movie are multidimensional, the story is predictable, and the concept of tone is essentially non-existent.

I respect the fact that Spicer wanted to tell a story about a woman who was so infatuated by the idea of celebrity that she lost her sense of self, and I understand that the narrative was designed to beat the audience over the head with the idea that social media can be perilous, but the execution was poor and the end product was monotonous.

5/10

The Shape of Water

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Guillermo Del Toro’s latest monster masterpiece, “The Shape of Water”, tells the story of a mute woman working on a secret military base who makes an emotional connection with an amphibious creature.

This is a suitably bizarre synopsis for a movie which tackles human problems such as love and individuality, and there’s nobody better equipped than Del Toro to tell such a curious tale.

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From the moment this film starts to the second that it ends Del Toro creates a visual feast, with creature design and make-up which is second to none. The world, whilst confined to just a few locations, feels lived-in and the characters are relatable despite their exaggerated natures.

At a Screen Talk after the film Del Toro explained that he wanted to create a love story in which a woman falling in love with a creature was ‘just a fact’, rather than the point of the narrative. He recalled that as a child he couldn’t understand why the creature from the Black Lagoon didn’t end up with the damsel, and he stated that films such as “Beauty and the Beast” are flawed because change shouldn’t be required to facilitate love.

‘Love, like water, has no shape’, he explained, and this is the essence of his latest monster movie.

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Overall, “The Shape of Water” is a life-affirming film which tackles familiar themes such as the ability of love to conquer all things, but it does so in a refreshingly abstract way. Del Toro uses fantasy to tackle human stories and by doing so he’s able to make unique movies – “The Shape of Water” is no exception and whilst it isn’t perfect it’s held together by a number of powerful performances, a wonderful message, and accomplished cinematography.

7.5/10

Apostasy

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via thr.com

Apostasy stars British actors Siobhan Finneran, Sacha Parkinson and Jessica Baglow as a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses struggling to cope with adversity whilst maintaining their religious lifestyle. It’s directed by ex-Witness Daniel Kokotajlo and competed in the First Features Competition at the 2017 BFI London Film Festival.

The first thing to say about this film is that whilst it challenges our common sense understanding of human behaviour it doesn’t pick a side. If a committed Jehovah’s Witness watched this film they would likely find its exploration of their organisation to be unfair and inaccurate, but to mainstream secular viewers the portrayal of the group may seem rather kind.

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via variety.com

This is intended in a sense as Kokotajlo didn’t try to make a film which denounced the Witnesses or their way of life. Rather, he wanted to articulate some of the problems that he has with their practices and explore scenarios which he’d considered whilst being part of the system.

In a Q&A after the screening, Kokotajlo explained that “Apostasy” considers the cognitive dissonance between the way that the Witnesses see the world and how an everyday person understands reality, forcing the audience to enter the protagonist’s perspective and attempt to comprehend why a family might ostracise their loved one in this life in order to save them in the next.

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via squarespace.com

Kokotajlo has had 15 years to think about this film since leaving the Witnesses and that time has provided him with a balanced perspective on the group and their practices. The movie which has been born from this period of reflection is nothing short of fantastic and every decision works, whether it be the close-up camerawork which is intended to detach the characters from their backgrounds, (just as they are detached from the physical world and only think about ‘the new system’), or the way in which many characters demonstrate the duplicity of a religion which is simultaneously well-meaning whilst also being antagonistic to outsiders.

Overall, “Apostasy is a thoughtful and surprisingly poignant film from an exciting director.

8/10