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On this page: MORTAL | MYTH | THE VIGIL

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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 5.Aug.20

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
dir Andre Ovredal
scr Andre Ovredal, Norman Lesperance, Geoff Bussetil
prd John Einar Hagen, Ben Pugh, Rory Aitken, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones
with Nat Wolff, Iben Akerlie, Per Frisch, Priyanka Bose, Per Egil Aske, Arthur Hakalahti Eilertsen, Ingrid Jorgensen, Mathilde Dokka Sveen, Torunn Lodemel Stokkeland, Kai Kolstad Rodseth, Slawomir Poplawski, Tiril Pharo
release Nor 28.Feb.20,
UK 7.Aug.20
20/Norway 1h44

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Drawing from Norse mythology, this fantasy adventure is so sombre that it begins to feel silly. Still, it's an original take on the usual superhero origin story about a young man who discovers that he has extraordinary powers. There's a strong swell of vivid emotion coming from the film's Scandinavian gloom, but some wry thematic resonance might have brought it to life with a more focussed kick.
Hiding in the Norwegian woods after causing a fire, American-born Eric (Wolff) can't figure out why he's causing such horrible things to happen. And when he's bullied, a local teen (Eilertsen) ends up inexplicably dead. Local detective Henrik (Frisch) hires sensitive psychologist Christine (Akerlie) to get Eric to talk, and she makes a connection, but US official Hathaway (Bose) wants to take him back to America. After another incident, Christine helps Eric escape, sure that he can control this if he can understand it. And crowds who witness his abilities begin to call him Thor.
Where this goes is intriguing, because it's clear that this film is trying to do something inventive with a tired premise. Filmmaker Ovredal plays each scene in a relentlessly over-serious way, including the action set-pieces, revelatory climax and provocative finale. Even the rare moments of offhanded personal drama are overly portentous. So the introduction of the dead teen's angry, grieving, gun-toting father (Aske) feels contrived, as if the snarling, strangely accented Hathaway isn't villain enough. At least both go to unexpected places.

The lack of wit or irony in the storytelling leaves the actors looking faintly ridiculous, as they're unable to explore the more resonant angles within their characters. Each person looks like they're ready to either burst out in tears or punch someone. Wolff always has a strong presence, and has a few nice moments with Akerlie's open-minded Christine, although both are carrying heavy emotional baggage even before this narrative starts. Meanwhile, Frisch's true believer and Bose's hard-nosed Yank add some textures.

The film's somewhat mopey pace is livened up by the outrageous set pieces, including a spectacularly shot but somewhat incoherent helicopter crash and a militarised clash on a picturesque bridge. Eric's at-one-with-nature powers offer some stunning visual flourishes as well as some rather cheesy ones, thankfully without the usual Hollywood bombast. And the conclusion is creative and powerful. If Ovredal had injected some of Trollhunter's real-life zing, this might have been a solid companion piece.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 3.Aug.20

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Brian DiLorenzo
prd Gia McKenna
with Justin Andrew Davis, Nicholas Tucci, Sadie Scott, Alex Beechko, Connor Dylan, Morgan Nichols, Matthew Kelly, Mary Tighe, Joanna Janetakis, Max MacKenzie, Joel Widman, Kevin Gonzalez
release US 24.Jul.20
19/US 1h29

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tucci, scott, dylan and davis
There's a witty idea at the centre of this low-budget drama, which uses the language of cinema itself to add refreshing twists to the audience's perception of what's happening on-screen. Writer-director Brian DiLorenzo is having some fun with the world of guerrilla filmmaking in the age of videotape while making some intriguing comments on free will, as well as what it takes to make a dream come true.
While trying to write a screenplay, 19-year-old loner Alex (Davis) has an accidental encounter with JP (Tucci), director of his favourite film Myth. JP and producer Nora (Beechko) are struggling with their next project, so JP offers Alex a role, shooting his life doc-style. So when Alex meets Ruby (Scott) at a party, JP films their blossoming romance. Then Ruby meets bad-boy Josh (Dylan), and he joins the movie too. Stung by feelings of jealousy and betrayal, Alex begins to suspect that something else going on. Does this film have a script after all?
JP speaks about his new film as an experiment in unpredictability, and yet he is clearly manipulating Alex and Ruby to get what he wants, reality TV style. And it takes awhile for Alex to realise that JP is controlling a lot more than he lets on. These suspicions come out in clever ways that continually twist what we are watching, especially in the grainy square-frame video images. DiLorenzo shoots all of this with a knowing awareness of the connections between the characters, spontaneous but preordained.

Performances are superbly understated and packed with nuance, implying all kinds of underlying meanings. Tucci and Beechko are the most enigmatic, deliberately speaking in slippery terms that suggest what's really going on. And Davis is excellent as a young guy on a mind-bending odyssey, bringing in the audience as he tries to work out what's actually happening around him. The one thing he knows is that he likes Ruby, and Scott gives her an equally enticing edge, especially in her scenes with the lively, charismatic Dylan.

In other words, everyone and everything is skilfully designed to keep the audience guessing. The story develops through a series of revelations, as DiLorenzo cleverly lifts the curtain to gradually reveal the background narrative machinery. So everything that happens is both entertaining and surprisingly emotional. And while JP uses old videotape technology, the film also has a strong echo in the social media era, looking at the push and pull between an artist and his or her audience. It's also a ripping story with a properly engaging kick.

cert 15 themes, language 19.Jul.20

The Vigil
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
The Vigil
dir-scr Keith Thomas
prd Raphael Margules, JD Lifshitz, Adam Margules
with Dave Davis, Lynn Cohen, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Fred Melamed, Ronald Cohen, Nati Rabinowitz, Moshe Lobel, Efraim Miller, Lea Kalisch, Ethan Stone, Hunter Menken
release UK 31.Jul.20
19/US Blumhouse 1h29


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davis and cohen
There's a fascinating idea in this horror thriller, which is rooted in a specific Jewish tradition. So the film cleverly takes the audience into an unfamiliar subculture over one long, terrifying night. Writer-director Keith Thomas skilfully creates an atmosphere of gradually enveloping fear that's packed with powerful observations about regret, inadequacy and guilt. And these are the kinds of issues that resonate with uncomfortable power.
In Brooklyn, lonely young Yakov (Davis) is startled when his Hasidic friend Reb (Lustig) hires him to be a shomer, watching over a dead body through the night before the morticians arrive. The deceased was a Holocaust survivor, and his widow (Lynn Cohen) isn't so sure about Yakov. But she goes to bed, and he settles in downstairs, listening to music to try to stay awake. He also screws up the nerve to message Sarah (Goldman), then when the situation takes a turn, he calls his therapist (Melamed). But this night has only just begun.
There are intriguing wrinkles from the start, as Yakov is meeting with a progressive Jewish group before Reb contacts him, intending to bring him back to orthodoxy. The filmmaker uses such fiendish trickery that we're afraid to blink. Things begin moving almost imperceptibly, make noises, throw eerie shadows and generally freak us out right along with Yakov. There's a steady stream of these unpredictable touches, including a portentous dream, an ominously creased family photo and a cluttered room in the basement with a chilling video message from the deceased (Ronald Cohen).

Davis has an amazing face, underplaying Yakov as a guy who's both bored and deeply unnerved. "I'm losing my mind," he squeaks, thinking he's seeing and hearing things. There's a suggestion this isn't the first time he's experienced something like this, and the fear in his eyes is even more nerve-wracking than what happens in the shadows. His interaction with Cohen's widow is riveting. Hers is the only other fleshed-out role, conveying powerful feelings in everything she says, and reminding Yakov that he's being menaced by memories that aren't his.

The premise is relatively simple, but there's plenty of depth as one thing after another undermines Yakov's sense of reality. As a director, Thomas is happy to deploy cheap tricks as well, including sudden visual jolts and shrieking music, sometimes at the same time. As this night goes on, Yakov's odyssey gets scarier and scarier, with an added emotional undercurrent that's almost unbearable. It's a dark, claustrophobic movie that inventively gets under the viewer's skin.

cert 15 themes, violence 28.Jul.20

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