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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 10.Nov.19

The Dark Red  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Dark Red
dir Dan Bush
scr Dan Bush, Conal Byrne
prd Joshua Wilcox, Dan Bush, Conal Byrne
with April Billingsley, Kelsey Scott, Conal Byrne, Rhoda Griffis, John Curran, Jill Jane Clements, Bernard Setaro Clark, Philip Dido, Kevin Stillwell, Pat Young, Celementine June Singstack, James Boone Singstack
release US Oct.18 aff,
UK 18.Nov.19
18/US 1h41


scott and billingsley
Dreamy and intriguing, this moody drama is beautifully put together, with an earthy approach that finds key points of identification for the audience. Director-cowriter Dan Bush is an assured filmmaker who carefully builds the story using darkly dramatic flashbacks before flipping everything on its head. Where this goes is entertainingly disorienting, continually twisting the tale until it becomes a quietly outrageous rampage.
Waking up in a mental ward, Sybil (Billingsley) is being treated by Doctor Jackie (Scott). Sybil claims that her unborn child was stolen from her womb by a secret society that wanted its rare blood type. She also says she can hear people's thoughts because she also has this special blood, and knows her baby is alive. But Jackie writes this off as an unhinged fantasy sparked because she went off her meds. She also has proof that Sybil's memories are delusions. But does Sybil have a sixth sense about what's going on here?
The film's first hour relays the backstory, as Sybil recounts how she was adopted by social worker Katherine (Clements) and then, after Katherine's mysterious death, had a romance with benefactor David (Byrne), resulting in her pregnancy. Eventually she travels to a country house to meet his parents (Griffis and Curran), and things take Get Out-style turn. The evocative flashbacks are intercut with her sessions with Jackie, quietly building suspense while tantalising the audience with hints of an elaborate conspiracy that's leading to a revenge nightmare.

Billingsley is terrific in a demanding role that includes a lot of gritty interaction as well as full-on physicality. Sybil is a tough-minded woman who has always been told that she's mentally ill, so she doesn't expect to get help from anyone. And she's strong enough to take the action that's needed. The supporting cast members around her play more enigmatic characters who are vivid and eerily believable: some are helpful, others dismissive and a few are downright villainous.

As things continue to expand and shift, Bush cleverly takes the audience on an intense journey, presenting various bits of evidence that make us doubt Sybil's version of events, while also keeping us wondering. It's a sharp, skilful approach that pushes us off balance and, like Sybil, unable to distinguish reality from delusion. Although we have a very strong inkling that Sybil knows more than anyone wants to admit. So the final 30 minutes comes as a cathartic rush.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Aug.19 ff

Here Comes Hell  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Here Comes Hell
dir Jack McHenry
prd Olivia Loveridge
scr Jack McHenry, Alice Sidgwick
with Jess Webber, Margaret Clunie, Timothy Renouf, Tom Bailey, Charlie Robb, Jasper Britton, Robert Llewellyn, Maureen Bennett, Alfred Bradley, Nicholas Le Prevost
release US Jun.19 siff,
UK 11.Nov.19
19/UK 1h20


renouf and webber
Opening with a witty disclaimer, this British comedy plays like a jaunty vintage romp, shot in black and white in academy ratio. It's a clever pastiche, packed with amusing touches that undercut what feels like a freak-out campfire ghost story. Director Jack McHenry handles the comedy and horror with skill, creating an engagingly memorable spoof that's funny and sometimes even properly terrifying.
The son of an oil tycoon, George (Bailey) is heading to Westwood Manor on a train when a stranger (Llewellyn) tells him that the vast country house has a tortured, haunted history. Then at the station, George runs into the mysterious Christine (Clunie), sister of the crumbling manor's owner Victor (Robb). Meanwhile, his old pal Freddie (Renouf), a carefree tennis pro, is on his way to Westwood by car to introduce Elizabeth (Webber). But Victor has some rather unhinged paranormal entertainment planned in the games room after dinner.
While the tone of the film suggests ever-increasing trouble, there are constant little gags along the way, such as the fecund pause when the working class Elizabeth tells the posh hosts that she doesn't drink. Meanwhile, the house's dark secret revolves around occultist magician and painter Ichabod (Le Prevost), who was seeking a gateway to the "other side". Cue a seance, of course, hosted by a bonkers medium (Bennett). Indeed, much of this movie is laugh-out-loud hilarious, as it pokes fun at classic genre films, creepy superstitions and class conflicts.

The actors play all of this as if they're performing a plummy Noel Coward play, punching words at random throughout the arch dialog. The performers add amusing personality quirks, with Robb's jolly enthusiasm, Bailey's chippy insecurity, Renouf's over-confidence, Clunie's privileged sneer and Webber's tentative eagerness. Each has a specific over-the-top reaction as he or she is pushed to the brink by the increasingly craziness of this night. And along the way, there are a few strongly realistic moments too.

At about the halfway mark, everything cuts loose, as the mayhem expands in ever more riotous directions. McHenry deploys every tool he has, including elaborate camerawork, snappy editing, a soaring score, old-style effects and makeup, and some outrageous grisliness. It's not clear that there's any point to this, other than the general parody. So there isn't a way to engage with the film on a level beneath the surface. But it's so much fun that we don't mind at all. With the right marketing, this could be a cult classic.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 17.Aug.19 ff

Into the Mirror  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Into the Mirror
dir Lois Stevenson
scr Jamie Bacon, Charles Streeter
prd Jamie Bacon, Charles Streeter, Neylin Mutlu
with Jamie Bacon, Charles Streeter, Beatrice May, John Sackville, Carl Russell, Taylor Simner,Nicole Evans, Sophia La Porta, Talulah-Eve Brown, Jack Helsby, Ava Amande, Florence Cady
release US 21.Jun.19,
UK 22.Nov.19
18/UK 1h05

streeter and bacon
Dark and moody, this British indie drama creates a nice sense of atmosphere. Filmmaking inexperience and budget limitations are somewhat apparent in the slightly awkward editing rhythms, but the story is intriguing and evocative. With overtones of a thriller, director Lois Stevenson takes the audience on an odyssey with a young man who's trying to find himself and then come to grips with who he is.

After three months at a new job in London, Daniel (Bacon) has won over his new boss Harry (Sackville), who is perhaps even more annoying than his angry father (Russell). Pestered by both of them, his colleague Blu (May) invites him to a club called Lost & Found, where he meets the drag queen Jennifer (Streeter) and a sassy cast of colourful stage performers. And it becomes clear that Daniel is longing to join them. But he's worried about what his coworkers, and most importantly Harry, will make of that.
The film opens with a nostalgic home video of Daniel as a child (Simner) playing on a beach with his late mother (Evans), a memory that is provoked in tough phone conversations with his father. This echoes in how Daniel struggles with deeper issues that suggest problems with drugs and alcohol, or perhaps unresolved grief, in addition to his suppressed cross-dressing urges. This is revealed through strikingly visual imagery, shot with lush-hued lighting and a powerful sense of yearning.

The acting is solid, if slightly too big for a movie, which leaves it feeling a bit melodramatic. Bacon has a likeable charisma, and is easy to identify with even before it's clear what Daniel's personal demons are. He bristles against the attention from Sackville's leery boss, while he's drawn deeper into Blu's world. She's played by May as both friendly and aloof, generating a hint of mystery that goes with the film's swirly editing.

In many ways, this feels like a short that has been stretched into a brief feature with a number of beautifully shot montage sequences. Much of the story plays out without words, as Daniel strolls the streets, grapples with his memories and then finds his inner diva and faces the world in a fabulous wig and frock. Of course, this brings up other issues, which may or may not be in his mind. Director Stevenson isn't concerned with making it very clear what is actually happening, instead opting for an internal journey that's provocative and darkly involving.

cert 15 themes, language 8.Nov.19

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