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last update 26.Dec.17
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dir Joe Lynch
scr Matias Caruso
prd Mehrdad Elie, Sean Sorensen, Lawrence Mattis, Matt Smith, Parisa Caviani
with Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts, Mark Stewart Frost, Lucy Chappell, Claire Dellamar, Andre Eriksen, Nikola Kent, Bojan Peric
weaving and yeun release US 10.Nov.17
17/US 1h26
Mayhem Fast-paced, with a lively sense of humour, this action thriller plays on the nightmare of corporate culture as it spins a raucous tale of a zombie-like infection. The pitch black comedy is clever, but the film revels in the nastiness as it descends into full-on carnage. And while the idea is clever and the tone amusing, the way it plays out is just too cliched.

When an alien virus hits earth, it causes people to abandon moral instincts. So when officials finally find a cure, legal issues arise. Having won a landmark case, star lawyer Derek (Yeun) is shocked when he's set up to take the fall for a company error. At just this moment, the virus hits the firm and the building is quarantined for eight hours to neutralise the virus. As mayhem erupts among the infected, Derek finds himself teaming up with a stranger (Weaving) who also has a grudge against the execs on the top floor.

It's a hilarious idea to take an already stress-heightened firm and crank the intensity level up exponentially as everyone loses the ability to control their emotions. Angry outburst erupt everywhere, leading to verbal and physical violence. Director Lynch rather revels in the brutality, dwelling on the most gruesome attacks while smirking as if killing someone who annoys you is a joke. Oddly, although they talk about other impulses (sex being the main one), the desire to cause bodily harm clearly trumps everything. Which is perhaps a rather warped view of humanity.

The actors gleefully dive into these exaggerated characters. Yeun manages to remain likeable even when he turns seriously brutal. But then everyone does, unleashing sweary rants and bodily harm at every turn. Weaving is little more than a cackling nutcase, but has some moments of lucidity along the way. As the bosses, Brand, Chikezie, Fox and Roberts are essentially the requisite slimy villains who realise that they will finally have to pay for the vile ways they've been treating everyone.

These kinds of angles add some nice thematic undercurrents along the way. But the script essentially abandons all logic, heading instead into a fantasy about indulging in the most vicious instincts imaginable. And the gyrations of the narrative seem designed merely to stretch a thin idea to feature length. All of which means that attempts to raise some emotion are rather vacuous. And the clever angles on corporate shark culture are lost in the shuffle.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
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dir Len Collin
scr Christian O'Reilly
prd Edwina Forkin
with Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Robert Doherty, Patrick Becker, Valerie Egan, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Emer Macken, Michael Hayes, Jennifer Cox, Karen Murphy, Eileen Gibbons
kelly and coppinger release US Mar.17 rany,
UK 29.Dec.17
16/Ireland 1h27
Sanctuary This is the kind of affecting comedy-drama that can actually change attitudes, as it confronts society's built-in prejudice against people who were born a little different. Director Len Collin and writer Christian O'Reilly capture a sense of fearless authenticity in both the characters and situations, and the cast is simply terrific. And the bigger point of the project makes it unmissable.

It's Christmas time, and Sophie (Kelly) just wants some privacy. So as Larry (Coppinger) leaves home in the morning, he's secretly planning a hotel room getaway for her. But there's a problem: Sophie as severe epilepsy, and Larry has Downs. And in Ireland pre-2017, people with mental disabilities were prohibited from having sex, even high-functioning adults like Sophie and Larry. Today's cinema outing is the perfect cover, and while they're at the hotel, their equally independently minded friends have their own adventures, causing even more trouble for their carer Tom (Doherty).

With a lively, almost documentary-style energy, the film captures details of the characters' personalities with lots of sparky comedy. These are likeable people who are relentlessly underestimated by everyone they meet and as a result unprepared for things they encounter in daily life. Each person has a specific sense of humour, knowingly provoking their friends and the people around them, flirting with each other and getting up to all kinds of mischief. And their dialog reveals deep-seated feelings and yearnings to live life on their own terms.

The actors are from the Blue Teapot Theatre Company, and underplay their characters perfectly for the screen. They are so authentic that we sometimes feel like voyeurs, and their conversations are funny, warm and sometimes darkly intense. This complexity makes their interaction unexpected and utterly charming, especially the sweetly prickly chemistry between Coppinger and Kelly. Both actors bring a terrific nervous charm, combined with back-stories that add surprising textures. And as they consider the possibilities of having a proper life together, their story becomes universal.

This is the most important aspect of the film, as it cleverly captures how these people, just like everyone else, long to have a normal life with jobs, relationships and the tiny joys most people take for granted. The film cleverly combines the comedy of manners with elements of drama, romance and more madcap antics without ever tipping over the top. It's a charming movie that engages us on a variety of levels while offering a refreshing depiction of people who are rarely seen so honestly on the screen.

15 themes, language

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dir-scr Dallas Morgan
prd Dallas Morgan, Tahlia Morgan
with Boo Arnold, Tahlia Morgan, Rawn Erickson II, Jason J Lewis, Dante Basco, Kevin Sizemore, Stephanie Drapeau, Pia Inca, Tiffany Heath, Devin Sarno, Kathy Rose Center, Ron Fallica
arnold, morgan and erickson release US 10.Nov17
17/US 1h28
Sightings Solidly made on a budget, this B-movie thriller has characters strong enough to capture the interest of the audience. Writer-director Dallas Morgan maintains a serious tone eve as the plot becomes fairly ridiculous, very nearly tipping over into gonzo nuttiness. By maintaining a steady, sometimes very slow pace, he creates some proper suspense in the final act. Although the inability to show pretty much anything leaves it feeling rather flimsy.

When beekeeper Rickey (Erickson) reports seeing bigfoot in the woods outside his small East Texas town, just-retired small-town sheriff Tom (Arnold) doesn't believe him. Then he stumbles across two bodies on his ranch. Deputy Brian (Lewis) takes lead to investigate, but doesn't really have the stomach for this. Then the case draws a big-city detective (Sizemore) who sees a Native American connection, plus an expert (Drapeau) who believes this is something supernatural. Meanwhile, Tom's daughter Hannah (Morgan) sees this as a chance to launch her journalism career.

All of this seems to connect with Tom's true-believer wife, Rickey's sister Lillian (Heath in flashbacks), who vanished two years earlier. Tom believes that she left him, while Rickey believes she's been abducted. As the body count grows, it becomes clear something nefarious is going on, especially when Tom and Hannah are attacked by something enormous in the woods. Morgan's understated direction and writing build this mystery inexorably, with moments of emotional resonance along the way.

The actors are also understated. Arnold is the sensible voice of reason in a situation that's increasingly inexplicable. But he, Morgan and Erickson all get a chance to invest some emotion into their performances as they grapple with Lillian's involvement in this story. This background helps make the more plot-driven action engaging, and lets the entire cast add enjoyable wrinkles to their characters. No one ever tries to steal the show, but the sasquatch-hunting posse (Arnold, Erickson, Drapeau and Basco, as a local believer) is great fun.

The filmmaker's gentle approach to the narrative will feel slow for audiences raised on rapid-fire action, and the drama is never deep enough to properly engage the quality cinema crowd. There's also the problem that the effects budget is clearly microscopic. But somewhere in the middle, this is enjoyable for what it is: a silly story played dead straight. It's packed with subtle wit and a strong sense of possibility about where the plot might be headed. And frankly, we can never have too many movies about woolly vampire aliens.

12 themes, grisliness
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The Unseen
dir-scr-prd Gary Sinyor
with Jasmine Hyde, Richard Flood, Simon Cotton, Derek Horsham, Sushil Chudasama, Gina Gangar, Dana Haqjoo, Stephan Bessant, Ashley R Woods
hyde and flood release UK 15.Dec.17
17/UK Magnet 1h48
The Unseen With a plot that gyrates a little too much, this British thriller simply fails to be thrilling. Filmmaker Gary Sinyor manages to create a few nicely jolting moments, and a hint of suspense here and there. But there's simply too much running around in the story, which never lets anyone settle down long enough to build a proper sense of tension. It feels like it should be scary, but it isn't.

In Manchester, Gemma and Will (Hyde and Flood) are devastated when their young son dies in an accident. Due to the stress, Gemma's vision starts to blur during panic attacks, while Will is sure he can hear their son's voice in his bedroom. To get a sense of perspective, they decide to take a break at the Lake District cottage of helpful neighbour Paul (Cotton). But something's not quite right here, and Gemma and Will are going to need to snap out of their doldrums to figure out what's up.

The script layers in all kinds of details, and the imagery remains crisp and creepy, except of course during the blurry point-of-view sequences in which the audience sees through Emma's near-blind eyes. There's also a lot of playful intensity in the sound mix, which becomes increasingly important as things progress. In other words, Sinyor deploys all kinds of visual trickery to throw the audience off balance. But this makes us feel like we're being manipulated rather than told a solid story. More effectively, he also sensibly anchors the film on Hyde's performance.

The actress makes Gemma a strikingly engaging heroine, even if much of what she does makes little logical sense. She's a smart, capable woman who finds herself crippled by her grief and unsure whom to turn to, because nothing feels safe anymore. Flood's Will is sexy and likeable, but never quite generates the needed sparks. And Cotton's kindly stranger is fine as the rather obsessive nice guy, up until the script demands more of him.

The film is watchable, especially as the story begins to circle around itself. But Sinyor gets the characters going back and forth far too much, between the cottage and the main house, between the Lakes and Manchester, between the country and the village. All of this moving around not only diminishes the intensity but it also leaves gaping holes in the plot, which seems to get sillier the more detail is revealed. Basically, in this genre the script needs to be a lot tighter than this.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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