LFF Day 5 – Happy End | Thoroughbreds | Funny Cow | Gemini

Happy End

Michael Haneke is anything but a boring director and as Happy End opens with the live streaming of an overdose it feels like we are in for a controversial treat. Sadly in reality the film’s most controversial aspect is its almost gleeful avoidance of plot or dramatic events. In fact the real meat of the story is skipped over with the audience left watching characters refer obliquely to events without us actually seeing them.

With Funny Games Haneke tortured the audience by making them complicit in the suffering of the characters. With Happy End Haneke instead tortures the audience by boring them with tedious inaction and irrelevant diversions. No film of the festival has been such a slog or required so much energy to just stay awake.

The BFI’s synopsis claims this film to be “formidably intelligent” and a “slyly satirical gem”. Clearly the film was too smart or too sly for me as I truly did not enjoy it, and not in an exciting or scandalous way; I was just bored senseless.

With a cast including Isabelle Huppert and Toby Jones Happy End is a waste of good talent and everybody’s time.

Happy End screens at the festival on 9th and 13th October and is released in UK cinemas on 1st December.

Thoroughbreds

From a disappointing master to an encouraging newcomer. Thoroughbreds is the debut feature of Cory Finley and stars the always impressive Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy as a pair of privileged young women who start off as reluctant study buddies and, without ever really becoming friends, start to flirt with murderous ideas.

The two leads handle their unsympathetic roles with confident assurance and are accompanied briefly by the late great Anton Yelchin as a local drug dealer out of his depth with two women who have everything to lose but the privilege not to ever risk losing it. Despite there being no likeable characters the film absolutely sucks you in and has you rooting for the baddies.

Finley directs with a witty eye and his script and imagery are accompanied by a perfectly off kilter percussion-heavy score. The result is a dark and deeply satisfying little gem.

Thoroughbreds screens at the festival on 9th, 10th, and 11th October and is in UK cinemas on 9th March 2018.

Funny Cow

Funny Cow is a curious beast. The first feature written by actor Tony Pitts, the film follows an aspiring comedian (Maxine Peake) from her childhood, through an abusive marriage, to success as a stand-up. I was expecting a familiar rags to riches period drama following the rise of her career but Funny Cow is nothing so simple as that.

It is hard to explain what Funny Cow actually is without just showing you the entire film. It is not a comedy; let’s make that clear for a start. This film is a bleak drama with occasional light relief and then when the laughs really start coming they are marred with period-appropriate inappropriate jokes and then a deeply depressing trip to the toilet. Even when we see Peake’s comedian as a success in scenes peppered throughout the film she isn’t being funny, instead she delivers a dark monologue to camera.

Without any marketing material out yet I can’t tell whether Funny Cow meets expectations or not but I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel so deflated by the end. Maxine Peake is incredible in the lead role and I hope she gets more chances to showcase her skills. It is refreshing that Funny Cow does fall into the formulaic mould of Billy Elliot or numerous other British films but at the same time I wish it had found its own coherent shape.

Funny Cow screens at the festival on 9th and 15th October.

Gemini

I am unfamiliar with the work of writer-director Aaron Katz but having seen and enjoyed Gemini I have a sudden urge to devour his back catalogue.

Lola Kirke is the personal assistant to Zoë Kravitz’s movie star but after a night of partying Kirke finds herself turning from assistant to amateur detective when tragedy strikes and blood is spilled. The resulting film is a joyfully authentic modern noir set in modern-day Hollywood and filled with self involved murder suspects.

Aaron Katz has produced a film that looks stunning, is deftly plotted, and has enough self-awareness to be incredibly amusing throughout. The film has a lot to say about the town in which it is set, and the perils of celebrity, but it never stops being fun and never strays from its noir influences.

One of those films that I struggle to explain the joys of so please just go and see it for yourself.

Gemini screens at the festival on 9th and 11th October.

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.

The Witch 2

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.