Edge of Extinction

I’ve always had an obsession with films set post apocalypse. They’re stories that process our anxieties, and we have a lot to be worried about these days. Edge of Extinction fits into our concerns about the decline of morality. What would you do to survive if the rules of civilisation were swept away? Years after the nuclear devastation of World War Three, people survive by scavenging on the remains of the old world, and preying on other survivors. When traumatised loner Luke Hobson, The Boy, crosses paths with Georgie Smibert, The Girl, he is dragged from his isolated existence, forced to confront dangerous enemies, and find his morality in a broken world. It’s a kill or be killed existence, where threats of raping and pillaging and murdering are ever present, and if some black clad psychopaths get hold of you, getting eaten. The premise is compelling, cannibalism is the ultimate taboo, and writer director Andrew Gilbert asks some interesting questions. The problem is he only partly answers them, in a screenplay that’s probably fifty pages too long. (Spoiler alert) He could’ve excised the rape and torture subplot, it’s misogynistic and gratuitous, concentrated on the horrors of cannibalism, without losing anything from the story. Take a look at the brilliantly terse The Day (2011). Written by Luke Passmore, and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where a small group battles to survive an attack from a group of cannibals. It deals with the same issues but has a more concise execution, and is better for it. Trimming back the plot for Edge of Extinction might’ve also helped reign in some performances that are allowed to run away with themselves. It’s an early effort from a writer director that obviously has talent. I just wish he’d been brutal enough to lop off a couple of the plots limbs? Overall I’d say it’s not all good, but neither is it all bad.

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

The Dark and the Wicked is the kind of film that makes you turn on all of the light before you go to bed. It makes you want to fill the shadows, and flinch at every creaking sound your house makes. Bryan Bertino, the man behind the underrated Strangers (2008), does a sterling job directing his own very taut screenplay. Siblings return to the family farm to see their dying father. The bleak surroundings and a mother struggling to cope, are just the start of their problems. The tension builds from the opening scene. That feeling of dread hangs onto you like an anchor, a weight tied to your ankle pulling you to the bottom of a lake. In many ways this film reminded me of Robert Eggers’s debut feature The Witch (2015). Both use the same gut wrenching soundscape that reaches inside, and send a shiver down your spine. The Dark and the Wicked is creepy and threatening and revels in the kind of jump scares Val Lewton would be proud of. Watch this with the lights off, and someone of a nervous disposition, for the most satisfying experience.

Red Dot (2021)

A young couple, Nanna Blondell and Anastasios Soulis, head for the wilds of Sweden hoping to rekindle the romance in their troubled relationship. As they lay together under the flickering green of the northern lights, Blondell’s Nadja reveals she’s pregnant. This happy news has hardly escaped her lips when a red dot, the laser sight from a rifle, appears on the side of the tent. When a shot is fired they’re sent fleeing into the wilderness, and a desperate fight for their lives. Alain Darborg does a great job directing a tight script from first time writer Per Dickson. He keeps the action flowing and the turns twisting. Heaping one revelation on another until the bitter end. You know that taste you get when you chew a pill? It’s that kind of bitter. With an aftertaste. No one escapes this film unscathed.

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

This plays out in the same universe as the brilliantly unrelenting Train to Busan (2016). Anyone infected with a mysterious virus dies, comes back to life, and then charges teeth first at the living. If the original film chronicled the spread of the virus across South Korea, this picks over the bones of a country abandoned to the hordes of bloodthirsty undead. We follow a small crew, living as refugees in Hong Kong, as they are given the chance to make some fast cash. All they have to do is go back to South Korea and retrieve a truckload of money. Once in-country they quickly find the truck, but their good fortune doesn’t last. While being chased by a horde of zombies they’re attacked by a small army of hardened survivors, capturing the truck because they think it’s full of food. Separated from the truck, and more importantly the satellite phone essential to arranging a pickup, our hero is saved by a couple of young girls, badass sisters, junior destroyers, who’ve been surviving, thriving, in this crazy new world. If the first act is inspired by Escape from New York (1981), the second is like having the last three Mad Max (1981-2015) films in one place. It’s a fun ride with a nice look. The players sometimes feel histrionic, but I think that’s an idiosyncrasy to Korean cinema. If zombie films are your thing, it’ll fit nicely into an evening’s entertainment.

Saint Maud (2019)

Let’s call this what it is, a startling piece of cinema from writer and director Rose Glass, a name so good it feels made up. Quips aside she is definitely someone I will be looking out for in the future. Morfydd Clark is Maud, a palliative care nurse with the piety of a saint, caring for the terminal ill Amanda, played unflinchingly by Jennifer Ehle. It’s a film of mood and presence and impending doom. Expertly building tension, stretching Maud’s fragile state of mind, until it vibrates like the thickest string of a bass guitar. To tell you more is to give away a truly creepy third act, that knows enough not to over strum that string, and let that note play. A great piece of British cinema that uses our dourness to dramatic effect. Gives me chills thinking about it.

Greenland (2020)

I looked at the pedigree of this film with quite optimism. Written by Chris Sparling, the talent behind the claustrophobic Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried (2010). Then you see it’s directed by the action talent Ric Roman Waugh, the guy who filled the screen with the action packed Angel Has Fallen (2019). You’d expect Greenland (2020) to distill this mix of grain and water into moonshine. Instead we get wheat flavoured pop. There’s no rocket fuel getting you drunk, only a steady stream of sugar water that wets your whistle, but doesn’t quench the thirst. That sounds bad. It’s not. It’s hits the beats in all the right places, but what it should be doing is playing off key sometime, enough to counter the beating drum we’re marching to. There are interesting moments in there, but they get lost in things like media exposition, a trope that should be excised from movie lexicon; and a fanciful third act that glosses over too much to be convincing.

Songbird

A film that piqued my interest by using an out of control variant of COVID as the backdrop. At its core it’s a love story, set in the totalitarian regime imposed by attempts to control the deadly virus. It doesn’t try to find a new way of looking at either the love story or the virus. Instead finding familiar foes in the corrupt, the psychotic megalomaniac, and the faceless military. Presuming the power of love, and the freedom of the individual, are the ideal and only outcomes for any such scenario.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Some might misplace the glory of this film in its casting. Zack Gottsagen, one of the lead actors, has Down Syndrome. The real glory of the film is the story. Zak runs away from his nursing home, desperate to fulfil his dream of becoming a wrestler. Along the way he joins forces with the troubled Tyler, Shia LaBeouf in full grubby grifter mode. As the pair follow the coast south, they encounter the kind of troubles that forge the bonds of brotherhood. Writing and directing duo, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, tease a kind of honest charm from the actors. In the process they make this “the sweetest darn film of the decade”.

American Mary (2012)

An early effort from twins sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, famous for last years Ferraraesque remake of Rabid (2019). Mary, a gifted surgical student, struggling to pay the bills, is pulled into the world of extreme body modification. One cash-in-hand job leads to the next, and heralds all kinds of physical and emotional damage. For a film that revels in the bloodier end of the film spectrum it’s surprisingly measured. It has its moments but in the end it feels like a film with too much story for a relatively mundane revenge plot. It’s busting with all kinds of really strange and interesting characters that make it feel episodic. These days it would probably work well as a limited series. The scalpel happy sibling to Dexter (2006–2021).

Uncle Frank (2020)

I knew nothing of this film going in, which is something of a rare treat for me. At it’s core Uncle Frank is a coming out story from writer and director Alan Ball, famous for American Beauty (1999) and True Blood (2008–2014). Haunted by trauma and huge piles of guilt, a gay man closeted to most of his family, in the early years of the nineteen-seventies, returns to his ultra conservative homestead after the sudden death of his father. It’s clever in that it frames the subject with a flush of optimism, encapsulated by the rebellious niece who looks up to her uncle Frank. If I were to say it’s charm comes with a vicious left right combination, you can clench your guts for the emotional battering you’re about to receive.