High-Rise – Film Review

High-Rise

What do I even say about High-Rise? Everything about this film is so distinct and unique it defies description or definition. It is a unique entity and so is hard to line up and compare against all other films. I’ll do my best for you.

In a slightly askew version of London in 1975 Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a modern concrete high-rise. Inside he meets all manner of unusual character brought to life by an impressive cast list you’re better off finding on IMDb than me typing out here. The tower has everything a resident might need from a swimming pool to a market and Laing soon realises it has its own social structure too. On the lower floors live the families and poorer residents while at the top reside the wealthier residents and local celebrities. In the penthouse Laing finds the building’s visionary architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons).

All is well, if a little surreal, for a short while but before long a riot/party/social uprising begins and all hell breaks loose. In a surreal manner naturally. By this point in the film I entered an almost dreamlike state in which I felt like I was watching the film through a haze. Could this have been down to it only being 3pm and my watching my third film of the day or was I being elevated to a higher plane through cinema? I’ll let you decide.

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The combination of screenwriter Amy Jump, here adapting J.G. Ballard’s novel, and director Ben Wheatley once again produce a unique beast. Not only is it different from all the other films at last year’s film festival but distinct from everything their collaboration has produced before. The tone veers wildly, and sublimely, from comedy to horror to drama. This is the film you expect Ayoade or Gilliam to make and yet the result is distinctly Wheatley.

And the set! The set is that of a gorgeously brutalist tower block with, presumably fake, cast concrete inside and out. Having recently toured the Southbank Centre as part of a celebration of brutalism I feel especially qualified to say the set design was top-notch; both bleak and beautiful as life in London so often is.

I have pages of notes with various thoughts and comments on the film but on reflection I can’t help but feel that sharing these would you might take away from the surprise and delight that High-Rise has in store for you. You will laugh, you will wince, you will marvel at the almost naked sight of Tom Hiddleston. If there’s one film you need to see to stay relevant at a cinephiles dinner party, this is it.

It’s like Snowpiercer but vertical. I loved it more than I understood it.

I will admit that the film did lose me at times but for sheer no hold barred inventiveness I can’t withhold a single star.

High-Rise is out in UK cinemas now and I dare you not to watch.

The Witch – Film Review

The Witch

It is the 17th century a god fearing Puritan family have left a plantation to set up their own farm on the edge of a wood in New England. Not long established in their new homestead and events take a turn for the macabre. In fact something happens early on that is so horrific I couldn’t help but fear for the safety of every member of the family of seven, and fear for what else my eyes might have to witness. Isolated on their farm the family find themselves struck by misfortune and mistrust soon spreads amongst them. As the family start to suspect one another a very real evil lurks in the woods.

What is nice (nice?) about The Witch is that it doesn’t waste time second guessing whether or not there really is a witch. It is clear to everyone early on that the boogeyman is real and isn’t one to hesitate. It is also refreshingly old-fashioned; with the setting being 400 years ago there are no mobile phones to lose signal, no found footage, and no shaky cam. More importantly there are no roads, no vehicles, and no escape.

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It is astonishing to think that this is Robert Eggers first film as either writer or director. It is a bold move to use authentic 17th century dialogue and the effect might be jarring at first but ultimately gives the film a good sense of the other and removes it from the safer world we live in. As for the direction; the film is morbidly beautiful to look at with a palette filled with greys and properly dark blacks. There are no brightly lit nights here just endless shadows filled with your worst nightmares. Eggers brings to mind the best work of Ben Wheatley and will hopefully have just as diverse a body of work over the coming years.

Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie lead the family as the two parents and play them brilliantly as a pair who love their children but love God and fear the devil all the more. Lucas Dawson and Ellie Grainger are delightfully cheeky and creepy as the two young twins while the real stars of the show are Anya Taylor-Joy and Harvey Scrimshaw as the older siblings. Scrimshaw tackles a more mature role than his age would suggest and Taylor-Joy carries us through the film before redefining the role of the final girl.

The Witch is a pure, gimmick-free piece of cinema. It is delightfully terrifying and filled with an air of unrelenting fear and genuine horror. Don’t expect any sudden jumps just a consistent feeling that all’s not well. Because it certainly isn’t.

The Witch is out now in the UK and is a must see.

Next to Her – Film Review

Next to Her

Chelli (Liron Ben-Shlush) and Gabby (Dana Ivgy) are sisters who live together in Israel. Chelli loves Gabby dearly and in the absence of their mother has taken it upon herself to look after her younger sister whilst still maintaining a day job. Like all siblings they love each other yet often fight and their close relationship has lead to an unacknowledged amount of co dependency. What makes their situation particularly tricky is that Gabby is intellectually disabled and Chelli is her sole carer.

When a social worker discovers that Gabby is left alone at home during the day, often banging her head against the floor, Chelli is forced to share her burden and take Gabby to a day centre. It is at the point that her sister is no longer totally dependant on her that Chelli finds herself lost and without the purpose she once had. Without the feeling of someone else depending on her completely Chelli no longer feels as loved and so seeks out romantic love instead.

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With her unique living circumstances finding love is not easy for Chelli but new co-worker Zohar (Yaakov Daniel Zada) shows some promise. As she and Zohar become closer and his relationship with Gabby also develops Chelli finds herself struggling to keep the two people she loves the most happy as their needs often conflict with one another. The entirety of the film is a series of struggles as people with imperfect lives strive to make them work and tear each other down in the process.

Not only taking the lead but also having written the script Ben-Shlush gives a soulful and honest performance as Chelli; an imperfect woman trying to make the most of a devastating situation. Ivgy gives a wholly convincing turn as the handicapped younger sister and Zada is fantastically hard to read as the too good to be true Zohar.

Next to Her is at times almost painful to watch as the ordeals of the characters start to take a toll on those watching. The film is ultimately rewarding as you are left to question your own judgements of the characters and ask yourself how you might cope in similar circumstances. Coming out of the screening I found myself breathing a sigh of relief and a little too shaken to take in the next film on the schedule. After an experience like Next to Her you will want to take a stroll in the fresh air and let yourself escape from the film. A tough but worthy watch.

Next to Her is on limited release in the UK now.

Spotlight – Film Review

Spotlight 1

It is 2001 and a new editor at The Boston Globe asks its special investigations team, Spotlight, to look into claims that a Catholic priest had abused children and been protected by the Archbishop. What starts as a column hidden in the middle of the paper develops into months of painstaking investigating as the four members of Spotlight uncover a conspiracy larger than anyone feared and one which the entire city, including themselves, had turned a blind eye to.

Despite the fact that the film is over two hours of mostly talking about a particularly grim subject Spotlight manages to be a gripping and non exploitative watch. The two hours are filled with gruelling persistence as the journalists scour through records, crossmatch printed databases, and follow up leads. Surprisingly, and to my huge relief, no time is spent lingering on the either the young victims or their persecutors apart from. At no point did I have to look away from the screen to shield my eyes from the exploitative recreation of an all too real person’s suffering and no flashbacks were in sight. Spotlight‘s writer/director Tom McCarthy instead decides that the film should celebrate the hard work of the investigation and in doing so condemn the horrors that it uncovered.

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Spotlight is a no frills affair; the camera is unobtrusive and the film is lit in a bright uncinematic way. The film eschews any bells and whistles confident in the fact that the story itself is engrossing enough and the machinations of the plot inherently interesting enough to sustain your interest. Carrying the story are an excellent ensemble cast giving a variety of performances ranging from the superbly understated Liev Schreiber to Mark Ruffalo who fidgets his way through the film and gives the mostly noticeably actorly performance; hence securing himself some awards. While Ruffalo is far from being bad it is the less showy, and less applauded, roles in the film that reinforce its essential authenticity and authority.

Spotlight is not particularly fun but it not a film you need to avoid either. There is little light relief in a film about large-scale child abuse but I do not hesitate to recommend the film. While the territory is unpleasant the film does its best not to exploit the subject or those involved and instead creates a suspenseful and very watchable procedural drama in which journalists do their jobs well. Spotlight is not out to punish the viewers but spreads its important message in a palatable way but without sugar coating or shying away.

Spotlight is a devastating story meticulously told. This is a film that needs to be seen.

Room – Film Review

Room

For seven years Joy (Brie Larson) has been held captive in just one room and for the past five years she has been kept company by her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has grown up without knowledge of the world outside. Their lives consist of trying to stay fit and healthy within their universe of the small room and watching the flat people on the magic television. At night Jack hides in the wardrobe when their captor pays Joy a visit and on Sundays they are brought treats including essential clothing and tinned fruit.

Room is absolutely heartbreaking. That’s all you really need to know. Repeatedly throughout the film something would happen and I would find myself welling up again and again. Joy and Jack are so brilliantly realised by Larson and Tremblay that everything that happens to them, either good or bad, hit me right in the sleep deprived, emotional part of me. Tremblay gives a surprisingly authentic performance for someone so young and Larson is just so raw you can’t help but feel every emotional beat for yourself.

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Emma Donaghue has skillfully adapted her own novel and as director Lenny Abrahamson has sensitively brought it to life. For the most part I was just sitting there crying but when Abrahamson needed to inject tension and jeopardy my heart was beating loudly in my throat. It’s not often I am this emotionally invested in the characters onscreen; so many films at the festival are entertaining but pass by without my head and heart getting involved. Room is not that kind of film. Room drags you through all the emotions and leaves you feeling deeply affected and emotionally drained.

Go see and be sure to take a few boxes of tissues. Expect lots of awards buzz for Larson at the very least*.


Room is in cinemas now.

*Written back in October before she won every award going