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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 4.May.22

Escape the Field  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
Escape the Field
dir Emerson Moore
scr Emerson Moore, Joshua Dobkin, Sean Wathen
prd Michael Philip, Jason Morin, Emerson Mooreg
with Jordan Claire Robbins, Shane West, Theo Rossi, Tahirah Sharif, Julian Feder, Elena Juatco, Jeff Kress, Dillon Jagersky, Emerson Moore, Shah Kahn, Ryan Stasyshyn, Scott Phillips
release US 6.May.22
22/US 1h29

Is it streaming?

sharif, juantco, west, feder, robbins and rossi
Seriously heightened right from the opening shot, this action horror freak-out is essentially an escape room game played out in a surreal outdoor space. Director Emerson Moore ramps up everything, including some absurd moments that feel vaguely ridiculous. And the script's cursory attempts to give the characters backstories are never more than the usual cliches. But as mindless entertainment masquerading as something tricky, it's a guilty pleasure.
When she wakes up in a clearing in a cornfield, doctor Sam (Robbins) finds a pistol and one bullet. She soon meets befuddled Tyler (Rossi), who only has a pack of matches. Next is tough guy Ryan (West) with a lantern, teen Ethan (Feder) with a compass, sparky Denise (Juantco) with a knife and a suspiciously empty-handed Cameron (Sharif). Eerie noises and creepy scarecrows freak them out, as does the seemingly endless field. There may also be some sort of creature stalking them. And the objects they possess seem to have unexpected purposes.
A standard pulsing action-movie score tries to build suspense when anything happens. And when not panic-stricken, the characters suddenly pour out their hearts to build up sympathy. It's an effective formula for simple thrills, combined with conversations about government testing, selective memory and other sinister things. Then as the creature begins dragging them off one-by-one, it's fun to watch them begin to work out clues that might help them escape.

On the other hand, it's impossible to care what happens to them, because the characters are so sketchily drawn. Each has moments of stupidity and insight, while sudden chaos and booby traps keep them on edge. Because they're clearly in danger, each is sympathetic in his or her own way. But aside from Sam's focal position in the plot, no one stands out personality-wise. West has the most memorable role, as Ryan is injected with some sort of feral drug and goes full Rambo to catch the creature.

"There's a solution to every puzzle," Sam says, as if that's somehow true. While this situation definitely pushes these people to the brink of their humanity, the filmmakers concentrate on cheaper thrills and a series of clues that deepen the mystery of this fantastical location. At its heart, this is yet another slasher movie in which the only suspense is who will be killed next and how. And while it's fun to watch them try to solve the riddle, it's a lot more fun to watch them lose patience with it.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.May.22

I, Challenger  
Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5  
I, Challenger
dir Paul Boyd
prd Eric Barrett
scr Paul Boyd, Kara Scobey Brown
with James Duval, Coy Stewart, Tina Majorino, MC Lyte, Margaret Cho, Daeg Faerch, Gerry Bednob, Dashiell Connery, Reid Shapiro, Austin Patrick, Naiia Ulrich, Jacob Astua
release US 11.Jan.22,
UK 22.Apr.22
22/US 1h38

Is it streaming?

majorino and duval
An existential odyssey about a stoner who has given up trying to get his life back on track, this movie is slow-paced and awkwardly structured, as if written in the same state of inebriation as the characters. But there's a certain gently loping charm, and the deeper exploration of complex issues adds some edge. This holds the attention even when the plot begins to feel rather corny and contrived.
Refusing to grow up, Sid (Duval) spends his days playing video games and both smoking and selling weed. Desperate for cash, he tries a variety of crazy schemes to get back on his feet, then becomes convinced that he can regain his mojo by livestreaming a 24-hour self-burial. He gets young gamer pal Logan (Stewart) to supervise the stunt, and indeed indeed it builds a large audience. Then a couple of random coincidences make his situation far more dangerous than expected. The question is whether the universe is looking out for Sid.
Sid lost his job to a robot and has been gaming and dealing ever since. Dulled by this lifestyle, he's not particularly bright. And when Logan finally meets him in person, he's shocked that Sid is closer to 50 than 20. Filmmaker Boyd creates strongly vivid visual touches, most notably in the wilder visions that flit through Sid's mind along the way. But he follows through with very few of the ideas that are raised, and lets several plot threads just fall by the wayside.

Everyone in this story is loose and nutty, even as things turn serious. Duval's strong presence adds to his dopey likeability, even if Sid is way too hapless. He thinks this underground challenge is going to improve his luck, which it does, but his misplaced faith in this kid he barely knows of course creates some tension. Stewart is enjoyably goofy as the lively Logan, grounded by his mother, sharply played by MC Lyte. And Majorino also provides earthiness as Sid's cannabis-shop friend and potential love interest.

As a director, Boyd struggles to blend the stoner comedy riffs with some much darker story elements, including a couple of overwrought twists designed to push things in the direction of a thriller. This makes the final act feel over-constructed, combining grim nastiness with hints of an even bleaker back-story. But it's all rather half-hearted, because where the story goes is unsurprising. It's also more than a little ridiculous, which makes it endearing enough to keep a smile on our face.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 18.Apr.22

In From the Side
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
In From the Side
dir Matt Carter
prd Andrew Faure
scr Matt Carter, Adam Silver
with Alexander Lincoln, Alexander King, William Hearle, Alex Hammond, Pearse Egan, Christopher Sherwood, Chris Garner, Peter McPherson, Ivan Comisso, Mary Lincoln, Nigel Fairs, Carl Loughlin
release UK Mar.22 flare
22/UK 2h14

flare film fest

Is it streaming?

Skilfully directed by one-man movie studio Matt Carter, this gay-themed British rugby movie is packed with big drama, sparky comedy and powerfully emotional romance. The film may be a bit overlong and melodramatic, but it looks gorgeous and features a terrific cast of actors who bring the complex characters to bustling life. It also tackles deeper themes with remarkable nuance, which makes the movie both entertaining and surprisingly moving.
The star player for the London Stags B-team, Mark (Lincoln) is struggling in his distant relationship with boyfriend Richard (Hammond) when he meets A-team player Warren (King) in a cruisy nightclub. But Warren's boyfriend John (McPherson) is Mark's teammate. Conducting their affair in secret, Mark is also watching out for his often-inebriated best-pal teammate Henry (Hearle). Meanwhile, the entire team is having its own identity crisis, as the owners consider dissolving the B-squad. So as Mark and Warren get more serious about their romance, they are threatening to upend everything in their lives.
Carter also shot, edited and scored the film, and it all looks unusually slick for a micro-budget feature. Footage of night practice is beautiful, as are matches played in driving rain. As the lusty, risky relationship evolves, it includes a colourful date at a funfair and a spirited interlude in the snowy Alps, although these funny, important sequences do extend the running time. Each scene features terrific offhanded dialog followed by a dash of plotting, which makes the film feel a little soapy. But a New Year's party and the raucous after-match celebrations are wonderfully edgy.

The actors adeptly create layered characters. Lincoln is effortlessly sexy as the moody, conflicted Mark. But Lincoln reveals Mark's solid backbone in each situation, especially in contrast with Warren's shaky arrogance. King is particularly strong as a likeable man whose tough outer shell is his weakness. As the wounded partners, Hammond's role is more defined than McPherson's, but both add soulfulness. And with impeccable comic timing, Egan shines as the loveable team troublemaker.

Along with the usual themes about how tough guys can cry and that teamwork is more important than being the best, the film touches on some properly meaningful relationship issues. It may seem a bit preachy to call out a romance "born in deception", but the more lingering question is why people stay together when things aren't right. And because the central dramatic plot is so involving, a lovely message about rugby family values sneaks in there just before the final whistle.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 20.Mar.22

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