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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 8.Sep.19

Cargo  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Cargo
dir-scr Kareem J Mortimer
prd Alexander Younis, Trevite Willis, Kristie Lutz, Nicole Sylvester
with Warren Brown, Gessica Geneus, Omar J Dorsey, Persia White, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Jamie Donnelly, Sky Nicole Grey, W Craig Pinder, Brian Degligence, Liam Burrows, Dion Johnson, Moya Thompson
release US 31.May.19
17/Bahamas 1h52


brown and geneus
There's an earthy realism to this sobering drama from the Bahamas, which opens with the chilling visual image of refugees on a tropical beach. The film is quietly observational, as filmmaker Kareem Mortimer avoids big melodrama to take a more introspective approach. The slow pace and darkly disturbing narrative are sometimes a bit taxing, but the complex, messy characters remain deeply compelling.
Fisherman Kevin (Brown) is struggling to pay his bills. His angry wife Berneice (White) refuses to help, teen son Ronald (Burrows) is behind on school fees, and his mother (Donnelly) is suffering from dementia. It certainly doesn't help that he has a gambling problem. And he's also falling for Celianne (Geneus), a single mother who yearns to join her family in Miami. As Kevin's financial issues become insurmountable, someone offers considerable cash to transport Haitian refugees to the US coast. This is very dangerous, but he's not in a position to pass on the job.
Everything is so low-key that the film feels longer than its already extended running time, but there's a rumbling intensity under the surface that's gripping. It helps that the Mortimer creates a distinct look and feel, never trying to mimic an American thriller or issue-based arthouse dramas. There are elements of both here, but the tone remains grounded. It's also beautifully shot by Ian Bloom, including a terrific sense of the settings and some evocative underwater photography.

Performances are rough around the edges, adding realism to the situations. Although this sometimes leaves plot-driven action moments feeling a bit wobbly. Brown is a compelling central character, likeable as he leans into Kevin's flaws. As events close in around him, his offhanded optimism is infectious, even when things begin to get scary. All of his relationships are complex, packed with prickly details that are finely underplayed by the supporting cast, notably White and Geneus.

It's rare to see a film that avoids moralising as it explores how the only way to survive is to veer outside the lines. There may be a foreboding sense that Kevin's transgressions will come back to haunt him, but his desperation is easy to understand, as is his hope against hope that one last trip will get him out of trouble. So after a series of sharp, shocking moments, the question becomes whether he has already lost his soul. And whether an even more horrific tragedy awaits a group of people at the end of their rope.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 2.Sep.19


Monos  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
Monos
dir Alejandro Landes
scr Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos
prd Fernando Epstein, Alejandro Landes, Cristina Landes, Santiago A Zapata
with Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Deibi Rueda, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillon, Julian Giraldo, Paul Cubides, Sneider Castro, Wilson Salazar, Jorge Roman, Valeria Solomonoff
release Col 15.Aug.19,
US 13.Sep.19, UK 25.Oct.19
19/Colombia 1h43

SUNDANCE FILM FEST
BERLIN FILM FEST
london film fest


Castrillon, Quintero, Castro, Buenaventura, Nicholson, Rueda, Cubides and Arias
Dramatically filmed in an epic landscape with a Lord of the Flies sensibility, this wildly inventive Colombian thriller has an earthy, honest tone and a plot that's unpredictable and often unnerving. With its almost allegorical style, the film is a bracing depiction of both animalistic humanity and lost youth, echoing war-zones around the world. This adds a proper kick of both intrigue and resonance.
In an isolated mountain region, the Monos (monkeys) are eight heavily armed teens in a paramilitary organisation. Their job is to guard a prisoner, the foreign doctor Sarah (Nicholson). After the diminutive Mensajero (Salazar) visits to whip them into shape, squad leader Wolf (Giraldo) decides to marry Lady (Quintero), who insists that he practices kissing with Rambo (Buenaventura). But some ill-thought wedding revelry leaves their milk cow Shakira dead, rattling the team and causing trouble with the distant commanders. Fleeing into the jungle, they decide to take matters into their own hands.
There's a striking contrast between the mountain and jungle halves of the film, both visually and in the group dynamic. The film is skilfully shot documentary-style, capturing these kids' elemental social structure, with roughhousing parties to mark birthdays and harsh punishments for rule-breaking. There are also magic mushrooms, misplaced lust and a sudden military attack to contend with, plus the stern high command in this terrorist or criminal group. Meanwhile, both the doctor and various kids make escape attempts.

The terrific youthful cast depicts the odd collision of machismo and childlike emotion as these kids play soldier with real assault rifles. Standouts include Arias as a loser who rises to the leadership challenge with some unhinged ruthlessness. Buenaventura offers remarkable textures as the sensitive, androgynous Rambo. Giraldo is excellent as a young man weighed down by his responsibilities. And Rueda brings some earthy innocence to the young Smurf. Meanwhile, Nicholson gives the doctor a fierce sense of tenacity.

Where this goes is darkly unnerving, with strong echoes of Apocalypse Now. Landes is cleverly exploring the nature of power, as children create a sense of order in a world that has failed them. The sudden twists and turns of fate are often shockingly violent, and it's easy to understand why they want to control their own destiny in such a complex, messy situation. This is bold, vivid storytelling that continually catches the audience off guard with its often full-on depiction of humanity outside the rules.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 7.Sep.19


Phoenix   Føniks
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
phoenix
dir-scr Camilla Strom Henriksen
prd Gudny Hummelvoll
with Ylva Bjorkaas Thedin, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason, Casper Falck-Lovas, Kjersti Sandal, Renate Reinsve, Nils Vogt, Fredrik Stenberg Ditlev-Simonsen, Ingeborg Engo, Gard Tony Sonsthagen, Idun Daae Alstad, Peter Sjoquist
release Nor 12.Oct.18,
US Mar.19 cqsj,
UK 13.Sep.19
18/Norway 1h26

TORONTO FILM FEST


thedin and gudnason
There's plenty of gloomy Scandinavian angst in this Norwegian drama, which is finely well made but rather exhausting in its bleakness. Told through the eyes of a young teen girl, the film grabs hold emotionally to create driving tension in a story that has profoundly sad implications. So it's perhaps somewhat troubling that filmmaker Camilla Strom Henriksen offers her characters so little hope.
As her 14th birthday approaches, Jill (Thedin) is caring for her often drunken artist mother Astrid (Bonnevie) and her little brother Bo (Falck-Lovas). There are two promising things coming in the next few days: Astrid's friend Ellen (Sandal) has managed to get her a job interview that's a sure thing, and Jill and Bo's musician dad Nils (Gudnason) is coming for a weekend visit. Now Jill just needs to make sure her mother makes it to the interview. And that her father doesn't see how desperate her life is. Then things take a harrowing turn.
Henriksen's skilfully depicts Jill bearing the weight of what happens on her own fragile shoulders, refusing to share key information lest it spoil her birthday. Or her entire life. This adds a very, very dark spin as her family gives her a fabulous outfit for her big day, she meets her dad's new girlfriend (Reinsve) and she gets to attend one of her father's gigs. But these joys are outweighed horribly by the monsters creeping at the corner of her mind.

Newcomer Thedin is on-camera for virtually every moment, holding the camera's gaze with pure charisma. Her emotions are under the surface, and yet the audience feels every ripple. And the people around her are also working as hard as they can to hide how they feel about this situation. Bonnevie and Gudnason manage to remain engaging and even enticing as people who never wanted kids. Astrid and Nils love their children, but feel unsuited as parents.

Because this is seen through Jill's hopeful eyes, the film leaves most of the detail off-screen, instead shifting gently into her troubled fantasies, with visual effects that sometimes make this feel like a haunted house movie. These elements feel a little on-the-nose for a film that's so overtly about the oppressive weight of loneliness and insecurity. So as events continue to crumble around Jill, the question becomes whether she can possibly survive this. Perhaps the one positive aspect is that she seems strong enough to deal with pretty much anything.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 27.Aug.19


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