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last update 20.Jun.18
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Beach House
dir Jason Saltiel
prd Matt Simon
scr Jason Saltiel, Matt Simon
with Willa Fitzgerald, Murray Bartlett, Orlagh Cassidy, Tom Hammond, Malin Barr, Dmitry Prokofyev
bartlett and fitzgerald
release US 22.Jun.18
18/US 1h27
Beach House There's a strong sense of intrigue from the very first scenes of this dramatic thriller. For what is clearly a small, independent production, filmmaker Jason Saltiel gives the film an unusually slick feel, with sharp cinematography, moody music and layered performances from an engaging cast that plays with the subtext in each scene. Still, it's ultimately more of a genre exercise than a grounded story.

It's summer on Long Island, and Emma (Fitzgerald) is hanging out with her parents Catherine and Henry (Cassidy and Hammond) on the beach. They're trying to talk Emma out of her plan to Berlin to spark her writing career. Then Catherine's art-school friend Paul (Bartlett) arrives. A charming photographer who has just broken up with his girlfriend (Barr), Paul immediately catches Emma's interest. Especially since his latest photos are an artful dramatisation of the violent death of Marat Sade (Barr), and Emma is starting to believe that the pics reveal a real murder.

There are all kinds of tensions swirling between these four characters. Henry sees Paul as a representation of a fantasy, what his life might be like without a wife and child. Catherine is reminded of her long-forgotten passion to become an artist. Paul is still living his youth, watching and flirting with everyone. Meanwhile, Emma pays careful attention, snooping around for more information, irresistibly drawn to this handsome stranger. The plot develops very slowly, centring on suspicions and suggestions, then twisting into some proper psychological terror in the final act.

Each actor stirs all kinds of implications into his or her character. Fitzgerald plays Emma as a deeply curious and wary young woman, digging into Paul's life, even as she suspects it might be dangerous to do this. Her reactions are nicely controlled, but betray her interest. As Paul, Bartlett offers a superbly nuanced turn as the almost too-handsome interloper, hinting subtly at the character's dark edges. Cassidy and Hammond are also fascinating, relaxed parents whose concerns seem misplaced, on the surface at least.

The film is strikingly well-shot by Andreas von Scheele to capture the natural beauty, sunshiny weather and the layers of intrigue between the characters. After a sharply involving opening act, the film's middle seems to drift in circles before finally turning nasty as promised at the end. The problem is that where the story goes doesn't feel as complex or as satisfying as the set-up was. And without any larger themes coming to fruition, it feels like a let-down. But it definitely marks Saltiel as a filmmaker to watch.

12 themes, language, violence
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The Endless
dir Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
scr Justin Benson
prd David Lawson, Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Thomas R Burke, Leal Naim
with Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson, Tate Ellington, Callie Hernandez, Lew Temple, James Jordan, Kira Powell, Peter Cilella, Emily Montague, Vinny Curran, Shane Brady, David Lawson
benson and moorhead release US 6.Apr.18,
UK 29.Jun.18
17/US 1h52

london fest
The Endless With striking visuals, this low-key thriller worms its way under the skin. The insinuating tone is witty and clever, with inexplicable things happening in most scenes, rendered with subtle effects that make us, like the characters, doubt what's real and what isn't. So the story plays out like a surreal Lynchian freakout.

Even a decade later, Justin (Benson) is still trying to deprogram his brother Aaron (Moorhead) after they escaped as teens from what they've always referred to as a UFO death cult. And now Aaron wants to return there to get closure, so Justin takes him back to the mountain retreat centre Camp Arcadia. Their old friends are all still there, looking eerily young after all these years. And as increasingly odd things start happening, the Aaron begins to be pulled back in. The question is whether they'll be able to leave again.

The script continually drops odd details into the dialog (have the cult members really been sterilised?), while the imagery features repeating circles and an accelerating stream of perplexing anomalies. The film opens with a note that the most powerful fear is of the unknown, and the cult's leader (Ellington) talks about his mission to understand the secrets of the universe. Does this have to do with some sort of creature at the bottom of the lake? What do the vintage video messages mean? Is time moving in specific loops for each person?

The acting is earthy and naturalistic, with a nice sense of humour running through most of the characters' interaction. Benson and Moorhead create a terrific sense of the bond between these brothers, one sceptical and the other desperate to believe. This makes it increasingly difficult for them to remain united in their purpose, although it becomes increasingly clear that they need each other. Side characters add to the intrigue, each with his or her own personality quirk, adding to and further muddying the central conundrum.

Relentlessly inventive, this is the kind of film that embraces ambiguity and mystery. The truth may be that Justin doesn't like this place because it lacks the definite answers he craves. As events continue, the actor-filmmakers show considerable ambition both in the cleverly integrated effects and a story that, through a mind-boggling series of events, explores the difficulties of escaping any kind of self-destructive routine. The ending is seriously intense, a very clever mightmare with a nice twist to it.

15 themes, language violence

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Golden Boy
dir Stoney Westmoreland
scr Mark Elias, Jonathan Browning
prd Steven Tylor O'Connor, Bree Irvin, Ted Stevenson, Jhon Doria
with Mark Elias, Lex Medlin, Logan Donovan, Paul Culos, Kimberly Westbrook, Armin Shimerman, Jeffrey Marsh, Alicia Davis Johnson, Thomas R Martin, Jhon Doria, Michael Filipowich, Kevin Will
elias and donovan release Jun.18 fosd
18/US 1h44

Golden Boy A twist on the usual story of young people lost in Los Angeles, this subtle, personal drama has the strong whiff of autobiography. Director Stoney Westmoreland maintains a nicely loose tone, with a central character whose journey is engaging and unpredictable. It's a superb mix of a light, offhanded approach with a darker, sometimes ominous storyline. Although it kind of loses the balance in the end.

Working in a corner shop barely pays enough for James (Elias) to get by, so when his boss sacks him he ends up on the street. A wealthy acquaintance CQ (Medlin) offers him a room until he gets himself back on his feet. He also smartens up James' act and helps him develop his artistic talent. This also introduces James to a whole new set of friends, including party host Natalie (Westbrook) and the lively Houston (Donovan), who introduces him to drug-fuelled clubbing. Much more promising is nice-guy photographer Josh (Culos).

There's an intriguing edge to CQ's kindness as well as his considerable investment in James' life. He seems altruistic, but his business is obviously dodgy, as James begins running deliveries for him and finds himself in some rather perilous positions. CQ has a history with Houston, and completely loses it when James invites him to the house. But James can't resist the partying, and the drugs are messing up a good thing.

Performances are relaxed and realistic, never over-egging the more extreme elements that flutter around within each scene. In the central role, Elias skilfully plays James' varying moods as he loses himself then regains his equilibrium. His chemistry with Culos is particularly nice, with sharp humour adding to their mutual attraction. By contrast, Medlin's CQ is perhaps too mercurial, either lovely or monstrous, while Donovan's Houston is little more than a loser who's going to drag as many people down with him as he can.

As the story continues, there's a nagging sense that all of this could take a terrible turn at any moment, which adds a hint of tension to every scene. And while at its centre the film is a voyage of discovery with an accompanying romance, there's also a somewhat moralistic undertone that constantly threatens to swell up and send everything off in a nasty direction. So after the warm opening act, the violent climactic sequence feels rather extreme, and more than a little pushy.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs
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dir-scr Eisha Marjara
prd Joe Balass
with Debargo Sanyal, Jamie Mayers, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Zena Darawalla, Gordon Warnecke, Amber Goldfarb, Peter Miller, Judy Virago, CT Thorne, Matti Keyes, Andreanne Tessier
cardinal, mayers and sanyal release Can 2.Mar.18,
US Mar.18 cff, UK Jun.18 liff
17/Canada 1h35


Venus Canadian filmmaker Eisha Marjara expertly blends comedy and drama to tell a breezy, pointed story. The offhanded approach focusses on relationships instead of the big issues that swirl throughout the film. It may sometimes feel a little flippant, but the matter-of-fact, truthful tone makes the film even more powerful than expected. And the actors are all excellent.

In Montreal, Sid (Sanyal) is unnerved that 14-year-old Ralph (Mayers) is following him around the city. Then the boy announces that he's his son from a high school fling Sid had with his mother Kirsten (Goldfarb). Meanwhile, Sid is starting his long-awaited transition to become a woman while also struggling with parents (Darawalla and Warnecke) who want him to settle down with a nice girl. Ralph thinks having a trans-dad is cool, but says nothing about her to his mother. And Sid's life gets more complicated when her closeted ex Daniel (Cardinal) comes back.

The title refers to how Sid feels like an alien from Venus, wearing a costume she can't take off. The script is earthy and real, finding humour in a range of awkward encounters while creating characters who are easy to identify with. By grounding the tone in the people, the more serious sides of the story become strongly engaging, deepening Sid's connections to his parents, Ralph and Daniel. This also means that moving emotions swell up at unexpected moments without ever feeling sentimental. And some of the harsher interaction has a layer of realism that adds a profound impact.

Sanyal is terrific as the tetchy Sid, whose lack of patience with this demanding teen is understandable. Sid is funny, fierce and often brutally honest, unapologetic about who she is. Her relationship with Ralph provides the film with a terrific through-story, pushing and redefining the characters. Mayers is a bundle of energy as Ralph, who loves having a lady-dad and grandparents who help him explore his Indian roots. And Darawalla and Wednecke are charming as people with strong opinions and genuine compassion.

As the story progresses, there are two shoes that need to drop: Ralph needs to tell his mother that Sid is in his life, while Daniel needs to get over his reluctance to introduce Sid to his family. Everything will have to come out in the open before these people can get on with their lives, and clearly this won't go smoothly. Refreshingly, the way these and other things resolve is never glib, as Marjara meaningfully tackles issues head-on.

12 themes, language

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