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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 15.Oct.19

Judy & Punch  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Judy & Punch
dir-scr Mirrah Foulkes
prd Michele Bennett, Nash Edgerton, Danny Gabai
with Mia Wasikowska, Damon Herriman, Benedict Hardie, Lucy Velik, Gillian Jones, Daisy Axon, Tom Budge, Terry Norris, Brenda Palmer, Virginia Gay, Logan Nettleton, Charlie Nettleton
release US Jan.19 sff,
Aus Jun.19 sff, UK 15.Nov.19
18/Australia 1h45

london film fest

herriman and wasikowsko
There's an ambitious artistry behind this raucous Australian-made film set in jolly olde Englande. Taking on the tradition of those iconic battling puppets, filmmaker Mirrah Foulkes flips the legend on its head to make a colourful, blackly comical revenge thriller. The plot meanders all over the place, and the pacing is rather uneven, but it carries a fierce a kick of righteous anger about some big issues.
In the country village of Seaside (nowhere near the sea), puppeteer Punch (Herriman) is hoping to reignite his career after his hard drinking scuppered it. His wife Judy (Wasikowska) is raising their baby girl, and she actually creates and runs their marionette show as well. So when Punch falls off the wagon and does at least two deeply horrifying things as a result, Judy runs away. She recovers her equilibrium with a community of woodland women hiding from the village witch-hunts that new constable Derrick (Hardie) is powerless to stop. So Judy concocts a plan.
The film is merrily packed with the expected bawdy Punch & Judy tropes (the crocodile appears in a dream). And the script brings a modern sensibility to the chaotic period mayhem, amusingly highlighting the idea that an uneducated public can be a very dangerous thing. Especially when all they want is more punching and smashing. The female empowerment angle is less convincing, but at least it adds some deeper meaning to the gyrations of the plot. It also offers the characters another set of lessons to learn.

The acting is necessarily broad, although each performer is able to add moments of earthy emotion in even the most silly or violent moment. Wasikowska is a feisty heroine, more interesting when she's being herself than transforming into a seemingly supernatural superhero (never forget that this is based on a puppet show). Herriman has a much more difficult role as a monster with almost no redeeming features at all, and yet the actor gives him a few oddly warm moments along the way.

The plot trajectory is frustrating, because Foulkes keeps sending the film in directions that feel unnecessary or repetitive. So the mid-section drags badly. The feminist angle is pushy ("Tomorrow the witch might be you!"), complete with public executions based on flimsy evidence. More resonant is the idea of living with the fear of being different. And clever touches knowingly wrestle with this, including witty wordplay, amusing sight gags and plenty of superb puppetry.

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

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
dir Lorcan Finnegan
scr Lorcan Finnegan, Garret Shanley
prd Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell
with Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Eanna Hardwicke, Senan Jennings, Jonathan Aris, Shana Hart, Molly McCann, Danielle Ryan, Olga Wehrly, Jack Hudson, Mark Quigley
release US Sep.19 fff,
UK Oct.19 lff
19/Ireland 1h37

london film fest

eisenberg and poots
So overtly allegorical that there isn't much to discover, this enjoyably offbeat Irish thriller is compulsively watchable. Filmmaker Lorcan Finnegan creates such a distinctive look that the audience joins in, even if the story never manages a proper surprise. Still, it couldn't be much freakier, using everyday imagery to unhinged effect. And while it may not have much to say about the topic, at least it leaves us feeling queasy.
Schoolteacher Gemma (Poots) and her handyman boyfriend Tom (Eisenberg) have decided to find a place together. Estate agent Martin (Aris) takes them to visit Yonder, a new development where the homes are identical. But streets are deserted, and the house is featureless, with a room for a baby boy already set up. Then Gemma and Tom realise that they can't leave. A box appears outside with supplies that have no taste at all. And the next day, the box contains an infant boy with a message: raise him if you want to get out.
Martin is such a creepy character that it's difficult to imaging that anyone would follow him anywhere. But Poots and Eisenberg play Gemma and Tom as normal people who think strange people are funny, not scary. Where the story goes is increasingly freaky, as this infant grows up within weeks (as Jennings, then Hardwicke) and has the same nutty tics as Martin. Meanwhile, Gemma and Tom begin to cycle through the usual stages of suburban life, cut off from the world, losing track of each other, disillusioned by their choices, and so on.

These things are all smartly imagined and intriguingly well played-out on the screen, but they aren't particularly revelatory. There's also the issue that what this couple goes through feels rather generic rather than specific. Tom becomes obsessed with his work, as Gemma discovers her maternal instincts. Both feel trapped in their roles. The child rebels and questions his identity until tables are turned and the parents begin to question theirs.

Poots and Eisenberg play this beautifully, maintaining a naturalism even in this fake setting. Watching them waste away is shocking, as the strain of whatever this "game" is takes a massive toll on them. Even when they get the chance to peek behind the curtain, as it were, the answers aren't quite clear. But the filmmaking is skilful and visually impressive. So even if the ultimate message is somewhat bleak, it's not the kind of movie we're likely to forget soon.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 7.Oct.19 lff

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir-scr Babak Anvari
prd Babak Anvari, Christopher Kopp, Lucan Toh
with Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson, Zazie Beetz, Brad William Henke, Karl Glusman, Kerry Cahill, Terence Rosemore, Jim Klock, Ben Sanders, Alexander Biglane, Martin Bats Bradford, Lawrence Turner
release UK/US 18.Oct.19
19/UK Netflix 1h34

london film fest

johnson and hammer
Following on from his inventive Iranian horror Under the Shadow, filmmaker Babak Anvari breathes fresh life into an American-set scary movie. There's a energising, realistic scruffiness to this bonkers story of an everyman who discovers the hard way that there's nothing of depth in his life. This attention to darker themes marks this as much more than a gonzo freakout. But it's that too.
In New Orleans, barman Will (Hammer) is a likeable good-time boy who flirts shamelessly with Alicia (Beetz) even when her boyfriend Jeffrey (Glusman) is around, and even though he has girlfriend Carrie (Johnson) back home. But he steps in to help when die-hard regular Eric (Henke) is wounded in a nasty bar fight. Afterwards, he finds a lost phone that seems to spark a series of odd events, including a plague of bugs, visions of decapitations and hints about some sort of creepy ritual. And now Will and Carrie seem to be infected.
The question is whether Will is losing his mind due to his slippery connection with morality. There's also the fact that he drinks constantly to take the edge off. His visions are downright shocking, as is the subtle camera trickery taunting the audience. And Anvari's loose approach to characters and situations makes it so unlike any other horror movie that it's impossible to predict where it's heading next. But then this film is about much bigger things than bugs.

Hammer gives a marvellously full-bodied performance as Will, who is such a nice guy that no one has ever questioned him. And he has certainly never questioned himself until now. Taking life for granted is the American way, and he has certainly mastered that. The characters around him are all vividly well-played, authentic people whose stories aren't quite in this movie. This leaves a lot of questions hanging in the air, but the actors are skilled at hinting at their own odysseys without spelling them out for us.

Along with the offbeat approach to staging, which adds a truthful clumsiness to the action, the film features a lot of psychological nuttiness. Scenes echo each other to vivid effect, as events swirl around signifying an intriguing intent we may never fully understand. Which of course is another telling way to read this film: as a parable about how we seek deeper meaning in life. In other words, there may be arthouse depth to it, but that doesn't mean it's not downright terrifying.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 4.Oct.19 lff

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