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last update 24.Aug.11
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The Devil’s Rock
dir Paul Campion
prd Leanne Saunders
scr Paul Finch, Paul Campion, Brett Ihaka
with Craig Hall, Matthew Sunderland, Gina Varela, Karlos Drinkwater, Luke Hawker, Jessica Grace Smith, Nick Dunbar, Jonathan King, Hadyn Green, Geraldine Brophy
hall release UK 8.Jul.11
11/New Zealand 1h23
the devil's rock Tense and extremely grisly, this wartime horror film never lets up for a minute through its brisk running time. And as the plot twists and turns, it pulls us into a seriously deranged story that horror fans will enjoy for its sheer originality.

On the night before D-Day in June 1944, Kiwi soldiers Ben and Joe (Hall and Drinkwater) land on the German-occupied Channel Islands on a mission to distract Hitler's forces from the Allied attack in Normandy. At a gun turret they're assigned to destroy, they hear freaky noises coming from inside. So they take a look, stumbling into a grisly Nazi project to use occult powers to win the war. And the sadistic Col Meyer (Sunderland) is only barely keeping things under control.

Moody and involving, director Campion nicely captures the apprehension that's so strongly felt by movie's four characters as the story shifts from a taut military thriller into a variation on the torture porn genre. Then when Col Meyer calmly notes that "it is hungry", we realise we're in for an even nastier ride. And thanks to the effects experts at Weta, the gruesome carnage is both realistic and revolting.

Hall is terrific in the central role, and we identify with him as he plunges deeper into this nightmare. Even though the film is fairly simplistic, focussed closely on grossing out the audience, Hall makes Ben a tough and resourceful protagonist who is deeply unsettled by what he discovers in the depths of this underground hideout. Meanwhile, Sunderland is much more interesting than the Nazi villain he initially appears to be. And to say that Varela's role is unnerving is an understatement.

As the increasingly desperate events progress, the filmmakers cleverly stir in some emotional subtext and just enough mystery to keep us intrigued. The freak-out premise is seriously yucky, and the extreme gore is almost gleeful in its hideousness. Yes, there's a strong element of gonzo nuttiness in here, which the filmmakers camp up to just the right level while keeping everything dark and sinister. And in the end it's so enjoyably over the top that we can't help but have fun even as we're completely repulsed.

18 themes, language, strong violence
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Kill List
dir Ben Wheatley
scr Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
prd Claire Jones, Andrew Starke
with Neil Maskell, MyAnna Buring, Michael Smiley, Emma Fryer, Harry Simpson, Struan Rodger, Ben Crompton, Gemma Lise Thornton, Robin Hill, Gareth Tunley, Mark Kempner, Damien Thomas
smiley and maskell release US Mar.11 sxsw,
UK 2.Sep.11
11/UK 1h35

kill list British filmmaker Wheatley follows up his terrific debut Down Terrace with another genre-bending film that continually catches us off guard. This time we're watching a freak-out horror movie wrapped in a thoughtful exploration of the tides of relationships. Among other freak-outs.

Jay and Shel (Maskell and Buring) have a mercurial marriage, with full-tilt arguments followed by moments of tender closeness. Perhaps this has to do with their military backgrounds, but their young son Sam (Simpson) doesn't really understand. And neither does Jay's army pal Gal (Smiley), who visits for a tense dinner party with his girlfriend Fiona (Fryer). Then Jay and Gal embark on a business trip as a hitman duo, and as they progress through their kill list, they begin to fall into the clutches of what looks like a sinister pagan cult.

Wheatley directs and writes (with Jump) in such a way that we can see clues continually dropped into our path, drawing us along and into the story. The mystery is compelling and intriguing, even as it becomes increasingly horrific and hideously violent. We are genuinely intrigued by where this story is going, because each turn of the tale is deeply unsettling.

And the real reason that we're so involved, of course, is the depth of the characters, and the script constantly reveals new things about them. These are dark, insinuating people who have extremely complicated interaction as friends, spouses and lovers. Nothing that happens between them is remotely predictable, and the scenes are packed with both intense emotions and hilarious black comedy that's played in raw, naturalistic ways by the whole cast.

Some viewers might be annoyed by the vague ellipses in the plot, which seems to leave so many questions unanswered. Why does Jay have such a hot temper that he can't resist killing people in the most sudden, violent way? Why do most of his victims say "thank you"? And how did we end up at that outrageous ending? Clear answers to these questions are all here, but Wheatley leaves them sprinkled around for us to find. Not many filmmakers credit their audiences with this much intelligence, so when one does it's pretty exhilarating.

18 themes, language, strong violence
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The Tree
dir-scr Julie Bertuccelli
prd Laetitia Gonzalez
with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Marton Csokas, Morgana Davies, Christian Byers, Tom Russell, Gabriel Gotting, Penne Hackforth-Jones, Aden Young, Gillian Jones, Zoe Boe, Bob MacKay, Ryan Potter
gainsbourg and byers
release Aus 30.Sep.10,
US 15.Jun.11, UK 5.Aug.11
10/Australia 1h40

the tree This introspective family drama feels rather overwhelmingly symbolic, probably due to the source novel (Judy Pascoe's Our Father Who Art in the Tree). But it's also involving and challenging as it touches on some big themes.

When her loving husband (Young) dies suddenly, Dawn (Gainsbourg) is left with four lively kids and a big house in rural Australia. The property is dominated by a gigantic fast-growing fig tree, and 8-year-old daughter Simone (Davies) is convinced her father is inside it. Certainly the events that follow suggest as much, especially after Dawn gets a job with local plumber George (Csokas) and their mutual attraction begins to blossom. Meanwhile, eldest son Tim (Byers) is looking for work so he can move to the city.

Essentially, the tree becomes the central story's character as it reacts to everything that happens. And as it keeps growing, its roots threaten to destroy the house. Metaphors don't get much less subtle than this, so it's fortunate that writer-director Bertuccelli concentrates on the characters' personal interaction. And the cast members bring out the delicate balance beautifully, with Gainsbourg and Csokas giving especially understated performances that only hint at their inner feelings.

At its core, this is a film about grief and recovery, and the story is packed with solid explorations of these issues. The tree offers sometimes painfully obvious commentary, while Simone's relationship to it is played out in an overdramatic way that's perhaps appropriate for her age. But as it goes, we are forced along with the characters to think about how we cope with loss, when it's acceptable to move on and whether home and history resides in places and objects or in our own memories and relationships.

Bertuccelli explores these issues in a way that's far more restrained than everything else in the story, which includes an invasion of frogs in the toilet, a lost bat in the kitchen, an enormous jellyfish and a cranky neighbour (Hackforth-Jones), all offering figurative commentary on everything that's happening. Even the relationship between Dawn and George is a bit schematic, as is the way the tree constantly creaks and moans. But underneath all of this noise, the film has some meaningful things to say.

12 themes, language, violence, some sexuality
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The Violent Kind
dir-scr The Butcher Brothers
prd Malek Akkad, Jeffrey Allard, Andy Gould, Michael Ferris Gibson, Jeremy Platt
with Cory Knauf, Taylor Cole, Bret Roberts, Christina Prousalis, Tiffany Shepis, Nick Tagas, Joe Egender, Joseph McKelheer, Samuel Child, Mackenzie Firgens, Ilea Matthews, Terry Wayne
knauf and roberts release US 10.May.11 dvd,
UK 22.Jul.11
10/US 1h27

the violent kind The fact that filmmakers Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores call themselves the Butcher Brothers tells you what to expect from this film. But as the plot twists and turns, we never have a clue where it's going. And the nutty freak-out is great fun for genre fans.

In a rough Oakland neighbourhood, The Crew is a feared motorcycle gang led by the hothead Q (Roberts). One weekend Q, his tough-sexy girlfriend Shade (Cole), her brother Cody (Knauf) and their friend Elroy (Tagas) head off for a weekend in a country cabin with the gang. But it takes a dark turn when Cody's slutty ex Michelle (Shepis) appears, soaked in blood. Things spiral out of control quickly when phones and cars are mysteriously disabled, and friends turn on each other as they struggle with what to do next.

The film is sharply well shot, quickly establishing the characters with a surprising complexity. Sure, these guys are misogynistic louts who would rather throw a punch than talk to each other, but there are moments when they drop their guard. And Knauf brings a remarkable sensitivity to Cody, a second-generation gang member who still isn't over Michelle, even as her now-grown-up little sister Megan (Prousalis) flirts shamelessly with him.

But everything turns hideously nasty before romantic melodrama can kick in, and the character detail makes what follows that much more horrific. There are plenty of grotesque twists and turns as the film progresses, including strange glimpses of knife-flicking dandies in the woods and a blood-soaked barn in which something rather grisly is happening. Even more bizarrely, it looks like the aurora borealis is tinkering with the electro-magnetic field.

The filmmakers assemble this for maximum impact, continually shocking us with sudden extreme violence while undercutting the mood with an offbeat song score and increasingly unhinged situations. Is this just a brutal gang fight? Is there a killer on the loose? Or is something supernatural going on? There are moments when the acting wobbles as cast members try to be overly camp or serious, but the central characters remain involving. And as it descends into a gonzo horror romp, it's entertainingly ghastly.

18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality
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