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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 20.Oct.19

Dark Encounter  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Dark Encounter
dir-scr Carl Strathie
prd Charlette Kilby, Alan Latham, Carl Strathie
with Laura Fraser, Mel Raido, Alice Lowe, Nicholas Pinnock, Sid Phoenix, Spike White, Grant Masters, Vincent Regan, Sean Knopp, Kate Coogan, Bridget Doherty, Charlotte Kilby
release UK 21.Oct.19
19/UK 1h37


lowe and white
Both a gritty family drama and an outrageous home-invasion thriller, this British film set in rural America pulls the audience in with its offbeat approach to sci-fi horror. The characters are vividly played by a gifted ensemble, and filmmaker Carl Strathie reveals the narrative with skill, using snaky long-takes and superbly atmospheric settings to maximum effect. The film often feels gimmicky, especially when it's trying to push the emotions, but it's still involving.
In Pennsylvania in 1983, Olivia and Ray (Fraser and Raido) are still struggling to cope a year after their young daughter went missing. And their dysfunctional extended family isn't helping much. When Ray sees strange lights in the sky, he heads out with teen son Noah (White) and brothers-in-law Morgan, Billy and Kenneth (Regan, Phoenix and Masters) to check it out. But something unexplained happens in the woods, as as the night continues, various family members vanish inexplicably. As the bizarre events escalate around the town, Sheriff Reese (Pinnock) steps in to find some answers.
The film's opening sequence reveals how major cracks in this family are a huge problem long before these events begin to spiral in freaky, inexplicable directions. When Morgan goes missing, Kenneth senses that something evil is nearby, while colourful lights surround the house, sparking electric and magnetic mayhem. Much of this feels like fairly standard movie craziness, but Strathie makes inventive use of his low budget, including some whizzy visual effects and an enjoyably too-big musical score. Even better is how the narrative is packed with provocative psychological touches.

Once the chaos begins, there isn't much the actors can do with their petrified characters, so it helps that each of them is able to establish a few personality traits beforehand. Fraser and Lowe are terrific as sisters drawing on their experiences together to face whatever it is that's happening now. The men of course face the threat with stoicism, but the final act offers much more complex angles on their characters, including some darkly unnerving moments.

Strathie builds the intensity to a midnight light show that takes place about halfway into the film, at which point things shift into a much more internalised, almost contemplative odyssey. This sends the characters (and the audience) on a freewheeling journey through time and space that has remarkably strong emotional resonance. Much of this plays out skilfully in show-motion without the need for dialog, as the story heads to its deeply wrenching conclusion. And refreshingly, not all questions are answered.

cert 12 themes, language,violence 17.Aug.19

Rare Beasts  
Review by Rich Cline | 2/5  
Rare Beasts
dir-scr Billie Piper
prd Vaughan Sivell
with Billie Piper, Leo Bill, Kerry Fox, David Thewlis, Toby Woolf, Lily James, Jonjo O'Neill, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Montserrat Lombard, Emily Taaffe, Mariah Gale, Trevor White
release UK 21.May.21
19/UK 1h27

london film fest

fox and piper
Actress Billie Piper turns writer and director for this British drama, which has fun with the usual romantic-comedy tropes as it spins a complex story. Although ultimately it collapses under the weight of its ambitious approach. Still, it's skilfully shot, and the cast is particularly strong in an intriguing range of playful twists on stereotypes. The film also carries a solid message about female empowerment, even if it's delivered awkwardly.
When Mandy (Piper) dates her work colleague Pete (Bill), their sarcastic banter echoes the usual beats of a cute rom-com, except that it all goes wrong. Mandy lives with her chain-smoking mum Marion (Fox) and rather too-lively 7-year-old Larch (Woolf). Her dad Vic (Thewlis) is around too, although Marion has left him. On a second date, Pete and Larch hit it off in a rather tantrum-like way, and Pete invites Mandy to attend a wedding with his hyper-religious family. But there's so much swirling in Mandy's head that she's liable to explode at any moment.
The narrative layers in quite a few other issues, including Marion's terminal illness and Larch's facial twitch, leading to a bizarrely surreal final act. All of this is lushly shot in colourful close-up with whizzy camerawork and witty editing. Dialog often seems to ricochet off in random directions, which ends up making the story feel increasingly inexplicable. There's clearly a lot going on here, but this densely stylistic filmmaking works better in a short. At feature length, the audience literally loses the plot.

Performances are visceral and often wrenching. The characters all wear their hearts on their sleeves, even as their interaction is awash in bravado. It's a clever approach to the usual depiction of British reserve; these people are full-on yet give little away to each other. Piper and Bill have engagingly prickly chemistry, although their relationship seems clearly doomed from the start. Fox and Thewlis provide some lovely gravitas in their weighty roles, even as they remain rather sidelined.

The film's more absurd moments are perhaps too obvious for their own good. A sequence in which Mandy's life becomes a theatre production is a bit of a muddle, and another scene with a chorus of women feels forced, although Piper at least undermines that by taking a bold swipe at feminist correctness. Yes, there are great ideas at work in this film, a vivid visual sensibility and a strong sense of characters. As she gains more control over the narrative, Piper has a bright filmmaking future.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, drugs 5.Oct.19 lff

The Third
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Third
dir-scr Matt McClelland
prd Matthew Lynn, Matt McClelland, Bishal Dutta, Noelle DiMarco
with Sean McBride, Corey Page, Ryland Shelton, Anthony Nanni, Fatimah Taliah, Daniel Hagen, Toni Romano, Mariana Marroquin, Marcus Lanterno, Nathaniel Peer-Paduano, Leopold Peer-Paduano, JD Scalzo
release US 24.Oct.19,
UK 28.Oct.19
19/US Dekkoo 1h39

shelton, page and mcbride
Released both as a six-part series and a feature film, this is a bright, sunny comedy-drama has a hint of mystery about it. With a somewhat cheesy tone, it's nicely shot and edited in an unflashy way that centres on the characters, depicting things in a refreshingly matter-of-fact way. So even if the sexuality feels rather tepid, the premise is intriguing, and the drama is involving.
In Palm Springs, 29-year-old Jason (McBride) starts a relationship with Carl and David (Page and Shelton), a couple that thinks a third might revive their stale five-year marriage. As they get serious, Jason moves in and they throw a pool party to come out as a "triad" to their friends. Of course, when the honeymoon period passes, the usual relationship issues emerge, with some surprise revelations and an added dose of jealous suspicion. So they consult with someone (Marroquin) who has experience, and she asks whether they're equilateral or isosceles.
Much of the plot centres on Jason's insecurity about joining an established couple, worried that he might cause them to break up. Conversations are both funny and serious, as these guys grapple with their feelings. But there are continual flickers forward that some sort of dark trouble is coming. There are also flashbacks to Carl and David meeting, and also to their first date with Jason. Carl and David acknowledge that they were always an awkward fit. And as they confront their current situation, they need to decide if it's worth the extra effort.

At the centre of the story, McBride is charming and boyish, adding a realistic nervousness underneath his happiness. Page's shady Aussie and Shelton's teddy bear are a little less defined, but play their shifting relationship with realistic touches. Of the side characters, Taliah is the standout as Jason's cynical ex-housemate Katelyn. Nanni adds some edge as the queeny twink Aaron, who hates that Jason seems to have rescued this relationship, because he wants David for himself.

There are themes layered into the story, including how the gay community becomes an extended family because so many have been rejected by their parents. This leads into the idea that gay men need to create relationships outside the usual frameworks. And since this is based on his personal experience, creator Lynn essentially says from the start that this three-way relationship is doomed. So where it goes feels melodramatic and unfinished (it ends on a season cliffhanger), but very real.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 17.Oct.19

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