No one who has ever confronted the police at a demonstration will ever look at them with respect again. You will never be able to shake the experience of their thuggish brutality. Inevitably blame for violence is laid at the the feet of protestors. As if the police are a neutral entity. They’re not. They assert the will of the state. The state, when it meets protestors on the street, does not represent the interests of the people.
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.
Philip Koch was inspired to create Tribes of Europa (2021-) by the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union in 2016. I see no evidence that the European Union is at risk from the United Kingdom’s decision. Equally it’s not hard to imagine a post-apocalyptic future in which fudal tribes fight over scares resources. In this world an unknown cataclysm has flung the world back into the dark ages. As is usual in these things some vestiges of the old world still exist. There are a few cars and some military trucks, the odd electric light, electronic key cards, recorded television programmes, high velocity weapons, forges able to manufacture razor sharp blades, and electricity enough to play trance music. Actually this apocalypse is less like the dark ages and more like the late seventies. That time before computers, mobile phones, or the internet. I suppose for some, life without social media is an apocalypse. The plot kicks off when the plane of a technologically capable tribe, the Atlantians, crashes near the village of the peaceful Origine tribe. Desperate to get control the Atlantian’s technology, an innocuous looking cube, the larger more aggressive Crows attack the Origine camp, killing or capturing most of the tribe. The Crows look like gothic cyberpunks, if the punks appropriated the look of some indigenous North American clan. Dressed in black, with topknots, and replicant eye makeup, they wouldn’t be out of place in the wastelands of Mad Max. From this encounter three siblings from the Origines tribe are forced to confront the terrors of this new world order. They’re innocents in a world of duplicitous aggression, destined to become idealists corrupted by necessity. Overall I like the idea but the execution feels over designed, and in many ways the plot’s too narrow. They tug at Europe’s troubled history, without really explaining the collapse of Europe, or the formation of the tribes. They’re complex cultures that would’ve taken centuries to define themselves in these specific terms. Not the fifty or so years since the collapse of information technology. Perhaps that’s why the six episodes leaves you wanting more, but it’s probably because the whole thing is two acts, and four episodes short. Hopefully series two will fill out the plot, and provide answers where there are now gaping holes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The latest offering from Queer as Folk (1999–2000) creator Russell T. Davies. This short run of five episodes is as joyous as it is bleak, chronicling the emergence of AIDS in early eighties London. Pretty boy Ritchie, exuberantly played by the Years and Years frontman Olly Alexander, heads to the bright lights to study law. His interest in the academic quickly wanes as he discovers a passion for drama. Young and free and ignorant of the future, Ritchie takes his cock on a tour. Throwing himself completely into the never ending fuck-fest. Sacrificing his sweaty arsed innocence to a suck-session of fit young things. Until his innocence is nothing more than a footnote and a joke. As the numbers pile up, Ritchie assembles a household of friends and ex-lovers, including the endlessly compassionate bestie Jill, played by the wonderful Lydia West. Mother hen to the household, she’s there for the parties, and the heartaches, and is at the vanguard when people start getting sick. To reveal anymore would spoil a powerful peek at the physical and emotional cost of HIV and AIDS on those it hit hardest. In the end it’s a story about shame, the turbocharged reason for everything. It drives people’s behaviour, and confronting it, dealing with it, getting past it, drives the drama. Worth seeing, and if you’re brave enough, binge it in one day. It’s definitely worth your time.
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.
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”.