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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Catherine Linstrum
prd Stella Nwimo
scr David-John Newman, Catherine Linstrum
with Emilia Jones, Sienna Guillory, George MacKay, Oliver Coopersmith, Noriko Sakura, Steven Waddington
release UK 9.Nov.20
19/UK BFI 1h32
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Dark and unnervingly intense from the opening shot, this slow-burn drama churns with emotion. Director-cowriter Catherine Linstrum ambitiously uses dreamlike elements and unusual settings to create intrigue while unpicking a dysfunctional family. Beautifully shot and performed, it's quiet and artful, although the narrative has a couple of grinding gear shifts along the way. Still, the underlying feelings have resonance that gets stronger as things gradually comes into focus.
In rural Wales, 14-year-old Emma (Jones) is horrified to witness her brother (Coopersmith) violently beating up their mother (Guillory). So the two women flee, holing up in an empty house near a disused nuclear power plant. While walking around the reservoir, Emma meets a local boy (MacKay) who impresses her with his daredevil antics. And she wants to join him on his next stunt, climbing to the top of the plant. But Emma and her mother need to decide what they're going to do, especially since Emma's brother might be on their trail.
Shot largely at night or in deep shadow, it's not always easy to see what's going on. Even daylight scenes seem consumed by gloom. And the dialog makes it seem like this parent and child have never shared much with each other before now. There are ghostly elements throughout this film that are perplexing, such as the Japanese woman (Sakura) who keeps appearing in unexpected places. References to Ukraine and Romania, plus the fact that only Emma has a name, add to the surreal atmosphere.
Jones and Guillory have nice chemistry as they heal from deep wounds. Each brings a thoughtfulness as their characters deal with distinct issues. Although Guillory remains somewhat sketchy, as does Coopersmith, who is relentlessly villainous for no clear reason. By contrast, MacKay brings badly needed energy as the likeably intrepid boy whose fearlessness fascinates Emma. He sparks her interest in life and offers a chance for her to express herself, although this touches on her inner fears.
It's not easy to work out the film's themes are as it circles around characters who feel so deliberately opaque. Emma blames their current predicament on her mother's desperate need for her violent son's love. But of course there's more to it. Each is on her own journey, and events are both exciting and rather terrifying. Flickers of Emma's angry brother add a sense of foreboding as well, hinting that a nasty plot point is going to erupt in the final act. And while a turn of events helps make sense of the dreamy tone, the intensity of the story's climax feels rather overwrought.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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