Director: Scott Cooper Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton, Robert Duvall, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Harry Lawtey, Simon McBurney, Timothy Spall Certificate: 15 Run Time: 128 mins
The Pale Blue Eye is the latest by director Scott Cooper, who has proven reliable in a variety of genres, crafting rich, thoughtful films mostly shared by a theme of revenge. The film is an adaptation of the 2003 novel of the same name which sees a young Edgar Allen Poe as a cadet.
Cooper reunites with his Out of the Furnace and Hostiles lead Christian Bale, who plays Augustus Landor. Landor is a retired detective who likes his drink and is asked to investigate the murder of a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. The cadet has been hanged and his heart cut out, not too dissimilar from Poe’s The Telltale Heart. During Landor’s investigation, he befriends Poe (Harry Melling), who proves a dab hand at solving puzzles and mysteries. Several more grisly murders suggest the work of a serial killer.
The Pale Blue Eye has some fine moments but it could have been so much more. At least for the film’s first hour, the mystery is reasonably interesting, although never gripping. Visually, it’s rich in atmosphere, evoking a chilling feeling from the snowy and frostbitten landscapes captured. Despite a handful of somewhat energetic set-pieces, the second half loses its way. A final act twist reframes the preceding events in a new light, although the execution lacks pathos.
Unfortunately, this is Cooper’s weakest film. The mystery is not particularly involving and the film feels sluggish at times. Even on a second watch, armed with the knowledge of the final twist, the film is just not that interesting. This is especially surprising as Cooper’s most recent (and underrated) film, Antlers, proved he could flourish in the horror genre. With The Pale Blue Eye naturally containing horror elements from its subject matter, there’s no real flair or bite to any of the brutal murders or discoveries the characters make in their investigations.
Still, Bale makes for a reliable lead, injecting much-needed intensity but his character isn’t given all that much development and his accent wanders occasionally too. Melling is terrific as Poe, offering oodles of range and charisma, and this film hopefully proves to be the career propulsion he deserves.
Cooper has assembled a buffet of thespian British actors playing Americans, such as Toby Jones, Timothy Spall and Simon McBurney who are all up to the challenge. Robert Duvall also features briefly and commands the screen in his two scenes. Surprisingly, Gillian Anderson plays a rather important role and is terrible with a high-pitched accent with a mouselike demeanour.
Cooper reunites with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, who shot Out of the Furnace, Black Mass and Hostiles. Although not quite as clinical as some of his other work, the film is shot beautifully and Takayanagi takes advantage of the cold, desolate setting and relishes the use of shadows. The score by Howard Shore is serviceable but could have been so much more.
Ultimately, The Pale Blue Eye isn’t the slam dunk it should have been, considering the host of talent involved. It needed more energy and a rethink as to how the story could have been gripping. Despite its numerous flaws, this is still a handsome film with some strong visuals and performances.
Director: Rian Johnson Starring: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista Certificate: 12A Run Time: 139 mins
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story is a murder mystery sequel to 2019’s Knives Out and once again stars Daniel Craig as southern-fried detective Benoit Blanc. Knives Out attracted a very positive reception, performing well at the box office and Netflix quickly paid close to $500 million for the rights to churn out two standalone sequels. This is the first of them and sees Craig reunite with Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson. I wasn’t as hot on Knives Out as others and found its second half frustrating and its final twist obvious.
Craig’s detective is the only common denominator between the two films, with Johnson assembling a totally fresh ensemble cast so you don’t need to have seen Knives Out to enjoy Glass Onion. The mystery is set on a lavish, private Greek island this time around, home to tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). He has invited Blanc, alongside with some of his friends to take part in a murder mystery-themed weekend. This expectedly takes a dark turn to reality and Blanc gets to utilise his sleuthing skills. Johnson sets the film in the height of the coronavirus pandemic and Bron bears many uncomfortable similarities to Elon Musk.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story showcases both Rian Johnson’s best and worst qualities as a director. There’s a lot of fun to be had and Johnson takes some risks, although some aspects of the storytelling are rather clumsy. On a first watch, the first hour seems rather insignificant but Johnson re-contextualises its events in the second half. Its tone is rather boisterous and I didn’t particularly resonate with any of the contemporary quips. Generally, there’s an empty and vapid quality to Glass Onion, despite being lushly shot by Johnson-regular Steve Yedlin.
There’s some fun performances – Daniel Craig is great again as Benoit Blanc and of the rest of the cast, Janelle Monáe and Dave Bautista are the other highlights. Monáe’s given quite a meaty role and Bautista’s men’s rights YouTuber plays to the actor’s physical strengths. There’s a fun cameo too from Ethan Hawke, which I had hoped would amount to more.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Story isn’t as much fun as its predecessor, which I also found to be overrated. That said, it’s a diverting enough escape this Christmas and I admire Johnson’s ambition to attempt to further deconstruct the murder mystery genre, even if the finished product isn’t particularly accomplished.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu Starring: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Griselda Siciliani Certificate: 15 Run Time: 160 mins
Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is an epic Mexican black comedy drama from director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu. This is his first film since taking the Best Director Oscar for The Revenant. The film follows journalist Silverio Gama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) as he faces an existential crisis, with scenes not appearing to follow logical cohesion.
Bardo is a rare misstep for Inarritu – a mostly bloated and self-indulgent 160 minute slog. That said, it’s not entirely without merit. The first twenty minutes are thought-provoking, especially an early sequence where a baby decides he doesn’t want to be born and wants to head back into his mother’s womb as he declares the world is a mess. Silverio also envisions a reenactment of the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec, which Iñárritu deftly brings to life.
Beyond the first twenty minutes, the film is packed with symbolism. A scene with Silverio conversing with his father is interesting as Silverio’s body is shrunken to that of a child but maintains his adult face.
Iñárritu interrogates the notion of national identity as Silverio often travels between Mexico and the United States but doesn’t feel as if either is his true home. An exchange between Silverio and a border security officer is particularly fiery, as is a sequence of historic atrocities in the middle of a Mexican square.
Daniel Gimenez Cacho gives a committed and personal performance and the film is lushly shot by Darius Khondji, a departure from cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. The score by Bryce Dessner and Iñárritu also has some bright spots.
Although an explanation is provided in the final twenty minutes regarding the disjointed storytelling and the film coalesces to a profound ending. Although, it’s too little too late. Bardo certainly deals with some inspired material and has some great moments but Iñárritu needed to be reigned in with the runtime and storytelling for this to better work on the screen.
Director: Luca Guadagnino Starring: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Mark Rylance Certificate: 18 Run Time: 130 mins
Bones And All is the latest by director Luca Guadagnino, a romantic drama infused with cannibal horror. Guadagnino has experienced a solid career thus far – I really enjoyed A Bigger Splash. Call Me By Your Name brought him awards attention, a sunsoaked homosexual coming-of-age drama that propelled Timothée Chalamet into the limelight. Although the film received mixed reviews, Guadagnino showed real ambition with Suspiria, which for my money bettered Dario Argento’s original. Guadagnino reunites with A Bigger Splash and Suspiria writer, David Kajganich, who adapts Camille DeAngelis’ 2015 novel.
Opening in 1980s Virginia, the film is told from the perspective of Maren Yearly (Taylor Russell), a teenager with a cannibalistic impulse. Her father (André Holland) doesn’t let her out of the house at night and when she sneaks out to attend a sleepover with some school friends, we quickly learn why. He soon abandons her and she is left to fend for herself with her dark secret.
She quickly learns she is not the only person to have cannibalistic tendencies in the American midwest, meeting others who can ‘smell’ her along the way, including the creepy Sully (Mark Rylance). Guadagnino doesn’t explicitly say they are vampires but they may as well be. She crosses paths with Lee (Timothée Chalamet), another cannibal who she falls in love with and they begin a nomadic life together out on the road.
Bones And All is an admirable and original piece from Guadagnino, tonally resembling a cross between Bonnie and Clyde, Badlands and Nomadland. There’s some solid performances and the horror sequences make for expectedly uncomfortable viewing. There isn’t a great deal in terms of a narrative and like the duo of Russell and Chalamet, there are scenes that evoke a feeling of aimlessness. This is as well as the film’s pacing feeling rather languorous at times.
Taylor Russell carries the film well, playing a character younger than her age in reality with conviction. Chalamet, on the other hand, is rather one-note – he can perform this type of role in his sleep. Of the rest of the cast, Rylance is the standout as a particularly grotesque and unpredictable loner and he does a brilliant job of not alluding to the nature of his character’s convictions. Andre Holland gives a muted performance as Maren’s father and like Call Me By Your Name, Michael Stuhlbarg has a monologue to deliver that is particularly chilling.
The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is powerful in places, the first time the duo have worked with Guadagnino. There are three or four scenes where their score is particularly chilling, straight out of their David Fincher back catalogue. At other times, the score is surprisingly dream-like and light, uncharacteristic of their typical sound. As well as the score, the sound design also leaves quite the impression, the effects when characters are eating being particularly uncomfortable.
The film is well shot by Arseni Khachaturan, Guadagnino diverting from his usual cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. Unlike Guadagnino’s other films where Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is clinical, Bones And All has a grungy aesthetically, often murky and a dark colour palette.
Bones And All may not be Guadagnino’s best work, but it represents an ambitious fusion of genres and makes for an often thought-provoking and uncomfortable experience. There’s conviction in the majority of the performances and it’s an atmospheric and technically alluring slice of blood-soaked Americana. I’d have liked to have seen more meat to its bones though.
The comic-book genre propelled back into full swing in 2021 after a brief lull in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. 2022 continued that trend, bringing us six new films. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.
Marvel closed off its Phase Four with three MCU entries. This included the long-awaited Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the latter film having to reinvent its titular superhero after the sad and sudden death of its star Chadwick Boseman.
In the Sony slate, Morbius released, following last year’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
It looked like it would be a bumper year for DC with The Batman, Batgirl, Shazam: Fury of the Gods and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom due for release. The Batman released without issue but the latter two films have been moved to next year, with Black Adam brought forward. Then, Batgirl shockingly faced the unexpected and unfortunate of its production closing, after DC were reportedly not happy with the quality of the film and wanted to save future costs. As you’d expect, this attracted a significant amount of controversy.
There’s a varying degree of quality in this list but for the most part, it was a strong year for the genre, although not up to the standard of 2021. Let’s get started!
The only out-and-out failure of the year, Sony still hasn’t figured out what it’s doing with its Spider-Man supervillain cinematic universe. On paper, the film really works as this is the kind of role Jared Leto excels in and director Daniel Espinosa has proved his hand at horror with the sci-film film, Life. Alas, this was not meant to be and the result is a film with a 1990’s aesthetic and script, that packs no surprises up its sleeve and has surprisingly poor visual effects.
The script is dull and lifeless and Leto is unable to inject his personality to lighten things up. Of the rest of the cast, Matt Smith is poor as the villain and the always reliable Jared Harris is given nothing to work with. There is a bewildering cameo from Michael Keaton as Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming, in a vein attempt to bridge the Sony and Marvel Cinematic Universe’s together.
It may be damning with faint praise, but Morbius is an upgrade over Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which had no redeeming features to it. Still, Sony need to do better and I hope Kraven The Hunter will be the film to break the poor streak. With the excellent J. C. Chandor in the director’s chair, behind A Most Violent Year and Triple Frontier, I’m hopeful.
There is now a significant increase in quality…
5) Black Adam
Hotly anticipated after many years of development, Dwayne Johnson’s anti-hero finally hit the big screen this year. Black Adam is a mixed bag and is generally pretty mindless and disposable, albeit reasonably entertaining. Despite a two hour run time, the film never takes the time to breathe and focus on developing its character, instead choosing to prioritise action sequence after action sequence. By the end of the a climactic battle towards the end of the film’s second act, it’s pretty derivative superhero fare but the third act somewhat reframes the first two acts in a more interesting light.
Jungle Cruise‘s Jaume Collet-Serra’s direction is rather anonymous but the hallmarks of a more adult-oriented film are evident. Prior to the film’s release, the studio were required to make cuts to achieve a 12A / PG-13 rating – arguably, a 15 / R rating is just what the film needs to elevate it.
Black Adam isn’t the DCEU’s crowning achievement and it’s a shame it rarely strays from superhero convention. At least it takes a handful of narrative risks in its third act that make it worthwhile and whilst there are inklings of a more genre-progressive film, the framing of the titular character as an anti-hero is an inspired creative choice. Still, Black Adam functions in setting the foundations of the character with Johnson is clearly game in the role and the film is entertaining, even if you’ll forget it shortly after the credits start to roll.
Thor: Love and Thunder has attracted some very sniffy reviews and while it’s far from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best, it’s perfectly watchable and there’s enough going on in it for it to be worthwhile. Some have commented it is a redux of Thor: Ragnarok and I would disagree – arguably the reason why the reviews have been lukewarm is because Waititi once again subverts expectations, but with some mis-steps. In many ways, Thor: Love and Thunder feels more akin to Thor and Thor: The Dark World in exploring the relationship between the titular character and Foster. Returning director Taika Waititi injects a fair amount of heart and clearly revels in digging deeper into their romantic banter.
Chris Hemsworth once again proves his game as the God and successfully balances both the comedic and tragic elements Thor is exposed to. It’s a welcome return for Portman, too, and the pair share a healthy chemistry. Christian Bale is excellent as the villain, Gorr but he’s woefully underused. Waititi’s decision to bathe the character and his surroundings in black-and-white is inspired, affording the vampiric character a Nosferatu quality.
Outside of Gorr, the film is visually a mixed bag. Some of the visual effects are surprisingly ropey for a film costing $250 million and Marvel has attracted controversy over the treatment of its VFX artists, specifically with this film. Despite its flaws and ramshackle construction, Thor: Love and Thunder gets enough right to make it worthwhile.
The sequel to Scott Derrickson’s excellent Doctor Strange saw the director replaced by horror maestro Sam Raimi following creative differences early into the project. The result is a well-directed and generally entertaining sequel that takes ambitious risks in its narrative with its characters. From a directorial standpoint, Raimi mostly succeeds with putting his signature stamp on the material such as the exploration of the themes of possession, witchcraft and apparitions. There are a handful of jump scares too, which is novel for a Marvel entry, although they are relatively tame for a mature audience. The film is often visually arresting and the cinematography by John Mathieson is interesting. Like his work on Logan, Mathieson prefers to hold onto a shot than resort to quick cuts and the camera movement is often disorienting and kaleidoscopic.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ most significant downfall is its ramshackle construction. It is all over the place narratively and not everything sticks. For every bold choice, there is a regressive counterpart and the film isn’t paced particularly well. It comes in at a reasonable 126 minute run time but there is a lot of narrative to get through and some scenes race through character beats whilst others are tiresome.
The film is ultimately a bit of a hodgepodge of a sequel, but an often entertaining ride and Raimi is able to put his personal stamp on the material to a degree. I wish Raimi was allowed even more free rein and leaned harder into the horror angle, as that feels like a natural tone for the material. There will always be a part of me that wonders what Scott Derrickson had in mind, as he also wanted to head down the horror route. Had he been able to deliver the film that he envisaged, it could have been very special.
Deciding between the final two was particularly difficult, but the runner-up is…
2) The Batman
The Batman is a new rendition of the Caped Crusader by War For The Planet Of The Apes director Matt Reeves, positioned outside of the DCEU canon, and sees a younger Dark Knight (Robert Pattinson) in his second year of crimefighting and Reeves hones in on his detective skills. It is an interesting, if flawed, depiction of the Caped Crusader. Reeves’ take on the character is certainly admirable. It very much owes a debt to the Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder aesthetic in that it is a darker and grungier interpretation. Experiencing Batman as a detective figure is refreshing. The notion of Batman providing narration is also innovative, yet uneven in that it’s not sustained throughout the film. The extended run time of 176 minutes isn’t to the film’s detriment. It’s always promising to see a director allow a film breathe when it warrants it rather than resorting to quick cuts.
Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman is expectedly excellent, although his Bruce Wayne needs some work. This is more a choice of the script rather than any wrongdoing by Pattinson as Bruce Wayne doesn’t receive a particularly meaningful arc so he isn’t granted the opportunity. Other highlights of the cast include Colin Farrell, who is almost unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot in his early Penguin days, and Jeffrey Wright is effortless as James Gordon.
Paul Dano’s Riddler is an interesting villain and poses a genuine threat to Batman throughout much of the film but his character arc is severely let down towards the end of the film to the point where he doesn’t pose a threat and his performance borders on being laughable.
The score by Michael Giacchino is really excellent and he establishes very memorable themes for the characters, although the score doesn’t always fit in with the scenes they are inserted in. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is beautiful, hot on the footsteps of his similarly excellent work on Dune.
The Batman is a strong interpretation from Reeves and I’m looking forward to see where future instalments could go, although I have some reservations with the teases. However, it’s not quite the masterpiece that some have proclaimed it to be and Reeves is just not as competent a director as Nolan or even Snyder.
After Black Panther electrified the superhero film genre, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning three, to say Wakanda Forever has its work cut out for it would be an understatement. Not least by the sudden death of its titular star, Chadwick Boseman, director Ryan Coogler had to effectively chuck out the original script and rewrite it to reframe the narrative on the character’s passing.
The result is a significant improvement over its predecessor and Coogler has delivered an intelligent, sombre and politically charged sequel. Coogler makes a strong choice to fully explore the characters and how they react to T’Challa’s death, very much mirroring how audiences have mourned Boseman in reality, recreating a scenario we all understand. In a refreshing change of pace for Marvel and a trait that has plagued many of its films, Coogler retains the sombre tone throughout and doesn’t resort to cheap and disposable quips.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Danai Gurira the highlights, as well as Tenoch Huerta’s fiersome yet empathetic villain, Namor. You can really empathise with his position and motivation and this makes him one of Marvel’s best villains.
The action sequences are much better this time around and the third act doesn’t succumb to the usual mindless CGI-fest many comic-book films descend into. The film is crisply shot by Autumn Durald Arkapaw and the score by Ludwig Göransson is once again excellent.
The extended 161 minute run time wasn’t an issue for me and the film kept me engaged throughout. This is much more of a slow-burn, which I appreciated, and Coogler deftly balances a grim tone with the idea of future hope and prosperity for the fictional nation of Wakanda.
Director: Ryan Coogler Starring: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Dominique Thorne, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Angela Bassett Certificate: 12A Run Time: 161 mins
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the long-awaited sequel to the superhero’s 2018 standalone outing and is once again directed by Ryan Coogler. Black Panther electrified the superhero film genre, earning seven Oscar nominations and winning three.
I had many problems with the film and found its narrative to be very unfocussed, crumbling in its third act under the weight of a big, mindless CGI battle. Coogler also failed to fully explore the interesting ideas of Afrofuturism, world aid and family that he poses.
This sequel is anything but conventional in its development, following the death of its titular star, Chadwick Boseman, who sadly succumbed to colon cancer in 2020. With Marvel choosing not to recast the character out of respect, this resulted in a rewrite of the film without the superhero. Wakanda Forever opens on the fictional nation mourning the loss of its leader, who dyed from an undisclosed illness. T’Challa’s technologically-minded sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is visibly struggling with his loss, with her mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) urging her to continue research on a ‘heart-shaped herb’ in order to create a new Black Panther that can defend Wakanda.
When a vibranium-detecting machine (vibranium being the material Wakanda is rich in and supposedly isn’t found anywhere else on the planet) detects a potential deposit underwater in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the CIA and Navy SEALS on-board a vessel are attacked by a group of blue-skinned creatures. They are led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), King of the underwater kingdom of Talokan which is also rich in vibranium. Following the attack, Namor confronts Ramonda and Shuri and delivers them an ultimatum – deliver him the scientist responsibile for the machine or he will lay siege to Wakanda.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a significant improvement over its predecessor and Coogler has delivered an intelligent, sombre and politically charged sequel. Coogler makes a strong choice to fully explore the characters and how they react to T’Challa’s death, very much mirroring how audiences have mourned Boseman in reality, recreating a scenario we all understand. In a refreshing change of pace for Marvel and a trait that has plagued many of its films, Coogler retains the sombre tone throughout and doesn’t resort to cheap and disposable quips.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Letitia Wright carries the film well, with Shuri experiencing a complicated emotional arc. There is always the risk of upgrading what is a side character to centre stage and it not work out. Angela Bassett is terrific as Queen Ramonda, a monarch trying her utmost to carry the country together who has to make some gut-wrenching decisions in the process. Danai Gurira’s fiersome Okoye receives some strong character development and Coogler explores her humanity behind the tight-lipped army general image her character maintains. Although Lupita Nyong’o is absent in the first half of the film, she injects energy in every scene she’s in once she turns up.
After making a strong impression in The Forever Purge, Tenoch Huerta makes for a brilliant villain as Namor, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. Namor is a ruler with a tumultous past who has successfully tried to protect his kingdom from the world from discovery. You can really empathise with his position and motivation. I found Namor a significantly more interesting villain than Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger in the original, who despite universal acclaim I had many issues with.
The action sequences are much better this time around and the third act doesn’t succumb to the usual mindless CGI-fest many comic-book films descend into. Although the underwater Talokan army bear similarities to James Cameron’s Avatar, the character designs are striking and the contrast of the aqua attacks against the African landscape of Wakanda is visually arresting. On that note, Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s cinematography tops Rachel Morrison’s of the original film. Morrison resorted to an inordinate amount of quick cuts in the action sequences and it was often hard to make out what was going on. Arkapaw revels in the colour-rich world Coogler creates and knows when to hold onto a shot.
After winning an Oscar for his efforts on the original, Ludwig Göransson’s score is once again excellent. He interestingly rarely refers to his original themes in the first film, opting to craft new ones and it really works. He deftly fuses the African-rich instrumentation for the Wakandan themes with the more mysterious yet forebodic Mayan-inspired tracks.
Ultimately, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a successful sequel that improves upon the flawed original. With an elegiac quality sustained throughout, Coogler’s sequel balances both a grim tone with the idea of future hope and prosperity for the fictional nation. The extended 161 minute run time wasn’t an issue for me and the film kept me engaged throughout. This is much more of a slow-burn, which I appreciated, and the decision to introduce Namor and the Kingdom of Talokan is a wise one. It’s streets ahead of both Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Thor: Love and Thunder that Marvel released this year. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a satisfying and exciting end to Marvel’s Phase Four, although I’m not sure future sequels will be able to live up to this, especially as the spectre of Boseman’s death won’t hang over the production to the extent it has on this film.
Director: Damian Leone Starring: Lauren LaVera, Elliott Fullam, Sarah Voigt, Kailey Hyman, Casey Hartnett, David Howard Thornton Certificate: 18 Run Time: 138 mins
Terrifier 2 is the third feature length film to feature the blood-soaked, havoc-wreaking Art the Clown. Once again directed by Damian Leone, this sequel picks up immediately where 2016’s Terrifier finishes. The clown also features in Leone’s debut anthology film All Hallow’s Eve, which I found a mixed bag although not without some fascinating ideas. Terrifier was a properly grisly slasher with many memorable slayings, although the film was predominantly confined to two locations and received criticism for its lack of story.
Leone has clearly taken this feedback on board and Terrifier 2 is a slasher epic running 138 minutes. The film introduces a new protagonist, Sienna Shaw (Lauren LaVera), a teenager who is busy crafting a Halloween costume that was designed by her recently deceased father. She lives with her insurance adviser mother, Barbara (Sarah Voigt) and quirky brother, Jonathan (Elliott Fullam), who has a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When Sienna dreams of Art the Clown in her sleep and a fire ensues in her bedroom, she becomes convinced that the two are destined to cross paths and she tries to escape her fate and protect what she has left of her family.
Terrifier 2 has received a fair amount of media attention for its gory murders, with reports of some viewers vomiting and fainting. The first film had its fair share of gruesome killings, most infamously an extended sequence where a character is sawn in half.
Not only does Terrifier 2 lives up to its gory hype but Leone has also crafted a gleefully riveting and original horror epic. Leone has demonstrably grown as a filmmaker and although there are some holes in the narrative, the time taken to develop the characters is a welcome one and sets the stage for events to unfold.
I particularly appreciated the hallucinatory, dream-like elements, which afford a tangible scope to the story. The practical effects and make-up are brilliant and although it’s a bloody film, there is a sardonic edge to the kills. Terrifier 2 reaches creaky territory in its conclusion, where it starts to introduce some fantastical elements. While I got on board with it and appreciated the over-the-top execution, others understandably won’t.
The cast are uniformly excellent, with Lauren LaVera proving a commanding screen presence, injecting much-needed humanity with a ‘final girl’ quality. She is surely destined to receive inundations of role offers following her work here. David Howard Thornton is, once again, endlessly expressive as the demonic clown. He is particularly depraved this time around, covered in blood throughout most of the run time and isn’t satisfied with simply ending someone’s life – he then likes to go on to eat or play with body parts. Art the Clown is joined by The Little Pale Girl in this film, who he initially seems to hallucinate but becomes more and more real as the film progresses.
Of the rest of the cast, Elliot Fullam makes a strong impression as the misunderstood brother. Casey Hartnett is also brilliant as the charismatic Allie, one of Sienna’s best friends. Sarah Voigt is fine as the mother, although there are some scenes where she has to discipline her children where her delivery is hammy.
In keeping with his work on the original, Paul Wiley’s score is once again excellent. George Steuber’s cinematography is brilliant and he crafts some genuinely haunting images of Art the Clown. Many have labelled the film as on the indulgent side and while it could be cut down further to service the story, the long edits of each scene allow the striking visuals to shine.
Terrifier 2 is an excellent slasher that outdoes its predecessor in pretty much every single way, other than the gnarliest kill which I think still belongs to the first film. It’s superbly directed, the increased character development compliments the gore and Leone crafts some arresting images. If Leone proceeds with a Terrifier 3, which an ambitious mid-credits scene alludes to, he has his work cut out to create a sequel that can better this.
Director: Edward Berger Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Brühl Certificate: 15 Run Time: 147 mins
All Quiet On The Western Front is a German-language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 anti-war novel. Developed by Netflix and directed by Edward Berger, the film is set in the closing days of World War I. It primarily follows an impressionable young soldier called Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) who enlist in the Germany army alongside some of his school friends. At first, they have a romantic view of the war but this is very quickly shattered when they spend their first night in a trench on the Western Front. Berger intercuts Paul’s story with scenes of the armistice negotiations, led by Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl).
All Quiet On The Western Front is an interesting albeit flawed take on the opposition’s account of the First World War. Berger does an excellent job of conveying the loss of innocence of many naive and young German soldiers, and compares them with imagery of young animals. Technically and visually, the film is reasonably adept, although it’s nothing you’ve never seen before in a war film. Surprisingly, the sound is oddly unconvincing at times, for example when two characters converse over soup. James Friend’s cinematography is impressive at times, a long take of a truck at risk of crushing enemy soldiers is particularly harrowing, shot from underneath in a claustrophobic manner. Volker Bertelman’s memorable and affecting synth-based score is another bright spot, performing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Felix Kammerer gives a committed performance as the young Paul, who slowly transforms into a shell of his former self, but it’s Daniel Brühl who steals the show as the no-nonsense negotiator. The scenes between Brühl and the aggressive French General Ferdinand Foch are particularly tense (Thibault de Montalembert) and give the film a needed kick of energy.
Berger’s direction is rather heavy-handed though and he doesn’t particularly stray away from convention. The film’s also not quite as absorbing as it should be and with a 147 minute length, like the war it documents, its pacing has the tendency to trudge. At least, Berger nails the ending when it comes, which is dark and suitably harrowing.
All Quiet On The Western Front has an admirable concept – there aren’t a vast selection of First World War films authentically told from the German perspective. When it works, it soars but it’s a shame the execution is generally rather workmanlike as it could have been so much more.
Director: Zach Cregger Starring: Georgina Campbell, Bill Skarsgård, Justin Long, Matthew Patrick Davis, Richard Brake Certificate: 18 Run Time: 102 mins
Barbarian is the directorial debut of Zach Cregger, most famous for his acting career. This is a high-concept horror-thriller that packs plenty of satisfying surprises up its sleeve throughout its run time.
The film opens with Tessa Marshall (Georgina Campbell) parking up at an AirBnB rental home in the outskirts of Detroit the night before a job interview. The house looks like the only furnished property on the street, with the rest of the community visibly well past its heyday. Strangely, she discovers a young man named Keith Toshko (Bill Skarsgård) is also at the house, claiming that he too is renting the property.
Initially unnerved by Keith (who wouldn’t be after Skarsgård’s deranged portrayal of Pennywise in It?), Tess decides to try and find someplace else but he dissuades her from doing so, rightly criticising the state of local community. What impresses out of the gate is the fact Tess acts like a typical human, unlike in many other horror films where characters make baffling decisions to advance the story. She duly asks to see Keith’s documents and identification and considers every decision twice. To reveal anymore of the plot would be to spoil the film, but needless to say, Cregger leaves you constantly guessing the narrative’s trajectory. Horror veteran Justin Long rounds out the cast as AJ Gilbride, a sitcom actor accused of raping a co-star.
Barbarian is an excellent horror-thriller and a barnstorming debut from Cregger. This is a taut, claustrophobic and mostly satisfying piece that had me hooked throughout. It runs out of steam a little in its last ten minutes, where the ending is not quite as subversive as the rest of the film and Cregger feels the need to overexplain a little too much. However, this is forgivable considering how reserved the rest of the film is at showing its hand. Cregger balances the horror elements with pepperings of comedy, a notable highlight being Justin Long bringing a new meaning to measuring the square footage of a property. Barbarian is further elevated by its rich exploration of social commentary too, with plenty to say on the state of America, gender and race.
The performances are uniformly excellent, with Campbell proving a domineering yet sympathetic lead – we want her to survive whatever it she is getting herself into. Campbell is surely destined for future greatness. Cregger plays on Skarsgard’s creepiness and we’re not sure whether he can be trusted or not and Long’s over-the-top horror shtick offers a biting and satirical edge.
There’s a great score by Anne Dubilich too, full of foreboding and portentous cues and the film is very well shot by Zach Kuperstein. Kuperstein’s camera peers around corners and corridors, keeping us in the dark shadows as much as Cregger withholds information to the last moment.
Barbarian joins the club in 2022 as another excellent horror film with films such as The Black Phone, X and Nope. It’s a terrific debut from Cregger and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Barbarian is one of a few films I can remember recently that has gripped me throughout and it will be interesting to pick up on the smaller details on subsequent rewatches.
Director: Martin McDonagh Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan Certificate: 15 Run Time: 114 mins
The Banshees of Inisherin is the latest by writer-director Martin McDonagh, whose three film track record is untarnished so far. Both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are melancholic masterpieces, up there with some of my favourites from the last decade and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is also a very fine piece and attracted awards attention.
Reuniting In Bruges stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, McDonagh’s latest is set on the fictional island of Inisherin, off the coast of Ireland in 1923, set during the Civil War. Farrell plays Pádraic Súilleabháin, who is quite content living with his sister Siobhan and his animals in a cosy house. Gleeson plays Colm Doherty, a more contemplative individual who finds peace in writing new music and poetry. Despite their obvious personality differences, we learn that the two of them have enjoyed an inseparable friendship over the years. When Pádraic goes to Colm’s house to invite him out to the pub, which we’re led to believe is an everyday occurrence, Colm ignores Pádraic’s knock. Pádraic, not thinking anything is wrong, heads to the pub and when Colm enters, he bluntly informs Pádraic he doesn’t like him and doesn’t wish to speak with him anymore and the narrative escalates from there.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another excellent McDonagh feature. The script is full of the director’s signature black, dry humour and the first half of the film is full of comedic moments. The film gets progressively grimmer and McDonagh deftly balances the initial laughs with the heavier subject matter and tone. There’s a lot of substance to the story, McDonagh being both critical and drawing parallels of the events on-screen with the Civil War, infused with a Shakespearean quality.
Both Farrell and Gleeson turn in excellent performances. 2022 has proven a hat-trick for Farrell with brilliant performances also in The Batman and Thirteen Lives. He’s saved the best for last though as Pádraic, described by the other islanders as nice but dull. The ruminative transformation he undertakes through the course of the film is brilliantly delivered. Gleeson’s character doesn’t have quite as much to say but he turns in another searing performance, expressing more through his body language and actions but he also gets some excellent lines.
It’s not just the central duo who make an impression. McDonagh constructs a memorable and unique community, with each character having their quirks. Kerry Condon is brilliant as Siobhan, showing compassion to others and acting as an intermediary between Pádraic and Colm, but she also has her own issues. Barry Keoghan plays the dim and tormented Billy, who just wants a companion to navigate life with and escape the clutches of his pig-headed policeman father (Gary Lydon). The landlord of the pub, Jonjo (Pat Shortt) is another highlight, acting as an intermediary between Pádraic and Colm. The unnamed priest (David Pearse) gets some cracking lines too and old woman plays a Shakespearean witch like character.
McDonagh’s regular composer Carter Burwell helms the score and it’s very fitting and memorable, resorting to a variation of themes that are developed as the film progresses. The film is gorgeously shot by Ben Davis, who beautifully captures the Irish landscape and vistas, as well as the pets and animals of the island and their innocence.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another knockout from McDonagh. Having seen the film twice, it gets better on a rewatch as you start to pick out the smaller minutatie and the foreboding signs of the narrative direction the film is heading in. It’s definitely McDonagh’s grimmest watch to date and the film leaves you stone-cold in its closing moments with characters that have lost their way. The film isn’t quite perfect though – it doesn’t seem to have quite as much substance as McDonagh’s first two films and the film’s pacing sags briefly just before it enters its final act. Still, The Banshees of Inisherinis one of the best films of the year and deservedly is likely to receive awards attention later in the year.