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8 reviews in total 
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Absentia (2011)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Effectively creepy, 9 August 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a bit of an oddly-paced one, which seems to have foxed some viewers. It mostly broods along as a character-based story about loss and grief but just occasionally goes mental.

There are a few problems. As has been pointed out, when Katie Parker's character attempts to "explain" what's going on the result is laughable. I took it that that was intended, since she actually doesn't know what's going on and her reliability's questionable right the way through, but if it's supposed to be "the big reveal" then it does suck.

There are a few generic visual things that we've seen before, but I honestly think that's OK. We see little of the antagonist but still, maybe, a bit too much.

By far the biggest gaffe is the final scene, lasting only a few seconds, which manages to dispel most of the delicious ambiguity that had been so carefully built up and open up a couple of unsatisfying plot holes. Just before I was almost shouting at the screen "It's over, end the film now, don't blow it"... but they did.

Yet I don't remember the last time I was so creeped-out by the atmosphere of a movie, and if you don't know much about it going in it's not at all easy to guess how it's going to go play out. As others have said, the drone-based soundtrack is very effective. Without that final scene I would be giving it 8/10. As it is, this is a folklore-inflected campfire story with grown-up human feelings at its heart.

Inside (2007)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A game of two halves, 26 July 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

OK, so I admit I was suckered by the hype and some of the reviews here: I was expecting an intelligent film that was going to push my boundaries. That's not what I got but I had fun with it anyway.

The first half is a taut Hitchcockian thriller. It's very effective, partly just because the reputation of the film tells you that at some point things are going to kick off, and when they do it's going to get nasty.

The second half is a joyous splatter movie. Essentially, Beatrice Dalle is Yul Brynner in Westworld, the implacable and incomprehensible force of destruction that just keeps on coming, and the interest is largely held by wondering how many ways she can find to kill people with scissors. Some truly ludicrous things follow that had me laughing as loud as I did at the anvil scene in "Drag Me To Hell".

Yes, folks, this is a silly film, and that's absolutely fine. There's nothing in the second half that's remotely plausible, no meaningful characterisation whatsoever, nothing to think about afterwards, but there is, I assure you, plenty of fun to be had.

To be fair, both Dalle and Paradis give sterling physical performances and Bustillo & Maury's direction is ruthlessly efficient. The gore is well-done but probably not as strong as you imagine; in fact the camera turns away at several crucial moments. Still, I wouldn't recommend watching it while pregnant.

Livid (2011)
1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Fun old-school Gothic ghost story, 26 July 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Livid is a Gothic horror in absolutely classic mould, and all the clichés are present and correct: spooky house, boss-eyed dolls, cobwebs, taxidermy, ballet, old woman with long fingernails and so on. If you don't fancy cheese, move along. But it's effective: although it sometimes falls back on jump-scares it does maintain a genuinely creepy atmosphere throughout its runtime. The Argento comparisons some have made here aren't too far off the money.

There are problems here, as other reviewers have pointed out. Not everything makes sense, and in some cases (e.g. the team of ballet-assassins) it's pretty much inexcusable. Unlike most reviewers here, though, I liked the last 10 minutes. Your mileage may vary.

I was disappointed by Inside; my expectations where just for a tense, enjoyable genre film and that's what you get. It won't change your life but it's a fun ride.

Ex Drummer (2007)
4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Adolescent but with flashes of greatness, 24 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I was really disappointed by this film. The opening 10 minutes are really impressive, and had me expecting something intelligent, angry and well-crafted. Dries is great amoral protagonist, Jan is genuinely likable and Dorpe becomes a truly tragic figure. The dialogue is mostly quite economical and the cinematography is fabulous throughout.

Having Koen walk around on his ceiling is a great idea but some of the other devices are just visual gags. The "transgressive" stuff is a real mixture. There are parts that a heartbreakingly sad and awful, but a lot of it is just puerile jokes about genitals.

In fact Ex Drummer is much more of a straightforward comedy than I was expecting. And the humour is mostly about (a) inappropriate use of language (gosh!), (b) a young man being attracted to an overweight, older woman (eww!), (c) outsize or unpleasant genitals (woah!). It's like Driller Killer meets The Inbetweeners. The meeting is not a success.

There's a fairly explicit threesome sex scene that's only there to titillate, as far as I can see, since like Driller Killer's lesbian shower scene it adds pretty much nothing to plot or characterisation. It did, though, add to a general whiff of misogyny that I felt was hanging around the film even after you looked past the deliberate attempts to offend.

The story is a bit of a mess. Without wishing to post spoiler, let's just say that it sets up a lot of tensions and possibilities that it doesn't bother to explore and ends up going for a set-piece ending that doesn't really make any dramatic sense. That's OK if you're finding the penis jokes delightful and/or edgy, but if not then it's a bit frustrating.

There are some great scenes of punk bands playing punk music. There are a few really bracing moments and some quite crazy ideas. The performances were compelling (I was watching with subtitles). You get a real sense of the locations. As I've mentioned above, there are other good things here too.

For me, though, the film as a whole failed to live up to its promise. Don't get me wrong, I got a kick out of it, but from some of the reviews here I was expecting little short of a masterpiece. Maybe I was expecting too much. If you sit down to it with a few beers and mates for some laughs, some gross-out and some disorganised stuff to think about I imagine it'll be fine. This might be a case of the hype spoiling the movie for me, although I genuinely think there's a more serious film here struggling to get out.

Hard Candy (2005)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
OK mainstream thriller that won't change your life, 19 February 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First thing to say is that I watched this late at night, expecting to break the movie at a suitable point and finish it the next day; in the event I ended up watching the whole thing because the pace is pretty relentless and I was completely drawn in. It's an attempt to do that taut, psychological two-people-trapped-in-a-box thing and it's definitely not boring. I was pleased to find that, despite its reputation, this isn't a "torture movie".

But I had a lot of problems with it. The characters are two-dimensional and their motives are largely unexplored -- an apparently regular guy spends most of the film being terrified of an emotionless psychopath. I don't suppose the writer had spent much time around 14-year-olds recently: Ellen Page does a decent job with the role but she's basically playing a Bond villain.

The film seems ready to end at around the 60-minute mark but then just inexplicably carries on. Most of the things that happen are much too contrived to be believable, physically and otherwise, and that hurts the film's ability to keep the tension up. The "twist" at the end makes a nonsense of some of what Page's character has said and done up to that point.

This is a film that promises to be about something -- paedophilia, perhaps, vigilante justice, internet relationships, the importance of reputation or the collision of adulthood with adolescence -- but doesn't deliver any food for thought. The ending ties everything up neatly, leaving us with a clear idea of who's the hero and who's the villain.

A fun date movie, very watchable while it's on but ultimately rather hollow.

Copenhagen (2002) (TV)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Interesting but flawed, 16 October 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm reviewing the TV adaptation here; other reviewers have pointed out that it differs from the play, and I can't comment on that.

The structure of the play, which revisits an event multiple times without ever giving a "final" version, is clever and involving. The setting is stagey but convincing enough and at the play's heart is a fascinating and very serious moral dilemma.

The dialogue, however, is toe-curlingly pretentious. We're treated to several conversations in which characters helpfully explain to each other things they already know. Worse, we get interminable voiceovers setting out everything for the audience in minute detail, even during scenes that seem to be intended to build dramatic tension.

Portentious references to "uncertainty" and "complementarity" abound, but tell us little about either the science or the characters. The only moment when you're at risk of being exposed to any physics is a rather juvenile explanation of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Unfortunately this seems to completely miss the point it's trying to illustrate, perhaps because Frayn or the director is worried about scaring the audience or perhaps because one or both of them failed to understand it.

There are things to like here, mostly about the large-scale structure and the subject-matter, both of which are genuinely interesting. All three actors do a decent job with what they have to work with, too. That was enough to get me to the end, but only just.

Sauna (2008)
7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Curate's egg, 26 July 2011

I had quite high expectations of this movie and was a bit disappointed. It's an unusual, intelligent and creepy ghost story, but it has an ambition to do something more distinctive that I didn't feel was followed through completely.

The performances and screenplay are fine. The film is nicely shot, with some lovely moments but also some lapses into generic horror-movie gestures. The sauna itself is a fine addition to the history of scary buildings in movies -- it looks as if it doesn't belong in the landscape at all, and the minute you see it you know something's wrong. The cheesy orchestral score lets the film down a bit, though.

Not all of the things that happen along the way are explained; some of them just seem to be put there for the sake of being scary. The ending is impressive but it left me wondering whether all the pieces leading up to it really fitted together.

I suppose two different films seem to be fighting over the same 90 minutes: an art-house movie that uses elements of fairy tale to explore existential questions about sin and redemption and a haunted-house movie that works by jump-scares, toothless villagers and gushing blood. The two never really came together for me, but I can't say I didn't enjoy the ride.

4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
A brooding study of infidelity, 26 July 2011

Saw this last night and was blown away by it. For me it played as an intense psychological study of infidelity and addiction. The performances are taught and understated, as is the direction, with attention often focused on minute details.

I've seen negative reviews of this film from two different perspectives. One is the art-house maven who feels the scenes of sexual violence are gratuitous and in poor taste; Kevin Maher's comments in the Guardian are an example. Once these reviews have had an airing they tend to attract gorehounds, some of whom (going by online reviews) had been led to expect a genre movie and were disappointed. Hence you get a lot of complaints about slow pace, unresolved endings, lack of gore etc etc.

The movie does contain some quite disturbing scenes, but they serve to heighten the emotional drama that the film's really about rather than being an end in themselves. You've probably seen plenty of things more graphic than this without straying into the outer reaches of the horror genre. The sexualisation of the violence does make it more potentially upsetting, as does the psychological context Denis so delicately builds up.

As other reviewers have said, this isn't supposed to be a plot-driven action movie, but the storytelling is impeccable. The ambiguous ending is absolutely logical, and people who say it "doesn't end properly" astonish me. The ending makes perfect sense in light of everything that's gone before.

The back-story about the pharmaceutical company etc is pretty cheesy, but it helps to have some kind of nod towards an explanation for what's happened to the lead characters, and that's really all it is.

I think this one is going to stay with me a long time and I'd definitely re-watch it.