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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 7.Apr.22

Much Ado  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Much Ado
dir-scr-prd Anna-Elizabeth Shakespeare, Hillary Shakespeare
with Emma Beth Jones, Jody Larcombe, Johnny Lucas, Luke Hunter, James McClelland, Peter Saracen, Toby Wynn-Davies, Jack Boal, Tani Toluwa, Harish Goutam, Nils Behling, Joseph Emms
release UK Apr.22 liff,
US Apr.22 cqff
22/UK 1h56


Is it streaming?

jones, larcombe and toluwa
The Shakespeare Sisters take on William Shakespeare's romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing, inventively setting the story in the present day while retaining the 16th century English dialect. The adaptation is very clever, with a terrific use of locations and character interaction, even if the archaic language puts a distance between the actors and the audience. And the filmmakers' knowing approach highlights the pungent themes in the story.
As university rugby teams descend on a country retreat centre, romantic complications are already afoot. Hero (Larcombe) has a crush on handsome nice-guy Claudio (Hunter), while Hero's cousin Beatrice (Jones) has sworn off love and delights in taunting her defiantly single ex Benedick (Lucas). Then their friend Pedro (McClelland) starts meddling, volunteering to help Claudio win Hero's hand while plotting to push Beatrice and Benedick back together, aided by Hero and her friend Ursula (Toluwa). Then Pedro's brother John (Boal) takes it one step further, scheming to soil Hero's virtuous name and scupper her wedding.
The bright young actors deliver the arch dialog in a superbly naturalistic, offhanded way, even as it makes everything feel artificial. The inventive setting and colourful costumes add visual variety, from a raucous pool party to conversations on a tennis court. And alongside Hero and Claudio's relentless naivete, there some very sexy moments. Although the filmmakers could have pushed this aspect much further into the present day, they adeptly shift between goofy slapstick, dark emotion and buoyant romance.

Each actor is wonderfully at ease with the densely intelligent dialog, throwing off barbed lines to reveal deeper truths beneath sunshiny surfaces. Larcombe has a superb innocence as Hero, and later finds fiery strength in emotional conflict with her father (the excellent Saracen). This makes Hero's journey more pointed than usual. Meanwhile, the engaging Lucas and Jones trade sharp-edged insults, gleefully resisting romance until they can't. The entire ensemble is solid, with stand-out support from Behling (as rapscallion Borachio) and Emms (as irrepressable minstrel Balthasar).

The play's themes resonate strongly, grappling with identity and gender roles. And the tangled plot threads create a gripping structure that deepens our ability to identify with each character. Perhaps a more aggressive updating of the play and its language might have made it feel less like a film in a foreign language we only barely speak. We've seen plenty of word-faithful versions of this play in a range of intriguing settings. But properly adapting this beefy and riotously entertaining material would make its ideas even more transgressively important today.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 1.Apr.22 liff

Night’s End  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Night's End
dir Jennifer Reeder
scr Brett Neveu
prd Neal Edelstein, Brett Neveu, David E Tolchinsky
with Geno Walker, Kate Arrington, Michael Shannon, Felonious Munk, Lawrence Grimm, Daniel Kyri, Theo Germaine, Morgan Reesh
release US/UK 1.Apr.22
22/US Shudder 1h21

Is it streaming?

Director Jennifer Reeder carefully sets up goosebump-inducing scares in this witty, genuinely unsettling horror movie. The contained story bristles with churning dread, and Reeder makes superb use of well-worn scary-movie cliches like stuttering video and things going bump in the night. Nothing flashier is required when the characters and settings are this strong. It's a film that drags the audience in emotionally while continually pulling the rug out.
Holed up in his new apartment, Ken (Walker) records videos offering tips for divorced dads while struggling to calm his increasingly jittery nerves. Then his friend Terry (Munk) spots something moving behind him on-screen, suggesting it might be a ghost. When Ken begins investigating this in his next series of videos, his viewership increases as things turn seriously freaky. His ex-wife (Arrington) and her husband (Shannon) are amused, while a celebrity paranormal investigator (Kyri) is intrigued. Then when ghost expert Colin (Grimm) gets involved, it becomes clear that he knows more than he's letting on.
Aside from painstakingly caring for his plants and rebuilding his apartment, Ken's offbeat hobbies include doing taxidermy, which immediately adds a creepy undertone to the film's gently comical vibe. Especially when these stuffed birds mysteriously move around. Or when the locked front door creaks open. Or dark shapes roam in the background. Yes, these may be well-worn tricks, but they're deployed cleverly, using Ken's perspective to ramp up an unusually emotional sense of fear. Then things get even crazier with the discovery that a girl died here tragically in 1915. But something even bigger is afoot.

With terrific screen presence, Walker is superb as a guy who is already a mess before anything starts happening around him. And since he hasn't been sleeping through the night, the sleep-deprivation is further eroding his perception and reactions. It's easy to identify with him as he only shops online and speaks with others only in video chats, which of course limits what he knows about the world outside. The supporting cast interacts with him through his laptop screen, stirring in plenty of lively personality touches.

Past issues emerge that add textures, including the fact that Ken lost his family and job due to problems with drinking. And now he's turning to alcohol to calm down. So as experts surround him and blind him with explanations of ghostly rituals leading to several macabre twists, the film builds a terrific sense that pretty much anything might happen next. It also makes the most of the screen-based interaction, leading to a properly nasty climax.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 31.Mar.22

You Are Not My Mother  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
You Are Not My Mother
dir-scr Kate Dolan
prd Deirdre Levins
with Hazel Doupe, Carolyn Bracken, Ingrid Craigie, Paul Reid, Jordanne Jones, Katie White, Florence Adebambo, Jade Jordan, Aoife Spratt, Madi O'Carroll, Karl Rice, Martin O'Sullivan
release Ire 4.Mar.22,
US 25.Mar.22, UK 8.Apr.22
22/Ireland 1h33


Is it streaming?

doupe and bracken
Honing in on the perspective of an Irish teen with a difficult life, this dramatic horror builds a freaky atmosphere with a range of scary iconography, much of it cleverly subtle. Crafting an effective dreamlike tone, first-time writer-director Kate Dolan mixes churning eeriness with earthy humour and emotions that are only barely under the surface. She also elicits first-rate performances and a superbly effective sense of dread.
In Dublin, teen Char (Doupe) lives with her zoned-out mother Angela (Bracken) and injured grandmother Rita (Craigie). Then one day her mother simply vanishes. Her Uncle Aaron (Reid) pushes the police to find her. Then after a few days, Angela simply turns up in one of her more cheerful moods. But Char is unnerved by her mum's increasingly inexplicable behaviour, beginning to suspect that there might be some truth to the rumours about her mother and grandmother, questions that have haunted her dreams. And that might not actually be Mum banging around in the attic.
Unsettling imagery begins early, with a recurring woodland-ritual nightmare, followed by nearly subliminal touches like a Scream mask in Char's classroom or a missing-child poster on a tree. Dinner table conversations are realistically offhanded but slightly hesitant. The other girls in Char's class are bullies, although one (Jones) eventually softens to her. And it's also the week before Halloween. All of this is filmed skilfully to create a remarkably naturalistic unease that blossoms into something full-on terrifying.

Doupe is riveting as the observant, curious, frightened Char, especially in her interaction with the mesmerising Bracken. Their mother-daughter connection is sharply well-played to bring out deeper issues between them in moments of both joy and inexplicable nastiness. So Char's growing confusion has added texture that makes it both chilling and moving. Because the film is so tightly shot from Char's perspective, everyone around her is depicted as enigmatic, which allows the excellent actors to add a complex range of details that continually add to the bigger picture.

To a teen girl, families are the scariest thing on the planet. With fiercely inventive writing and direction, Dolan creates a tone that invites the audience to see these events through Char's eyes, so everything that happens feels like a signpost leading her to some horrifying discovery. Indeed, where the story goes is gut-wrenching on several levels, cleverly reflecting real-life thoughts and feelings without diminishing the gnawing menace. Then as the story heads into its evocative freak-out climax, it carries a stronger gut punch than we expect.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Apr.22

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