Film Review: Falling

Read Time:2 Minute, 20 Second

★★★☆☆

The multi-hyphenate Viggo Mortensen can now add director to his list of creative endeavors with Falling, an austere familial drama which he also wrote, scored, co-produced and stars in.

Mortensen plays John Peterson, a pilot whose stable life in California with husband Eric (Terry Chen) and young daughter threatens to be upended when his combative – and increasingly befuddled – father Willis (Lance Henriksen) arrives from his ramshackle family farm back east, looking to relocate to sunnier climates.

Mortensen flits back and forth throughout the film from John’s bumpy childhood to present day. The director’s work in fine arts is apparent here, as the flashbacks often have a painterly quality to them. Falling is an intimate affair, the present-day action looking like it could have almost been adapted from two-hander stage play. Mortensen shows restraint behind the camera, also putting in a performance of quiet dignity, yet it’s Henriksen who is absolutely the domineering force in the film.

A hugely prolific actor who has been relegated to appearing in an endless list of cheap genre films since his earlier glory days as a James Cameron regular, Henriksen is an inspired choice for Willis – his craggy, etched-in features chiming perfectly with a man who has been unbearable for decades. Willis has zero filter and jumps at any opportunity to be antagonistic and cruel, much to the sadness of his eternally patient son.

The character’s incessant foul-mouthed, bigoted attitude might have been intolerable to endure with a lesser performer – and there are points in the film which feel like a trial for the audience – but Hendrickson lets the occasion flashes of humanity to bubble up amongst the unpleasantness, whether it be merely a flash of forgetfulness or a fleeting ponder of regret. The actor does wonders in finding those small moments amongst the malice.

But Willis is so demonstrably belligerent that it makes us wonder why his children haven’t severed all ties years ago. Save for one telling piece of dialogue in the film’s flashback prologue, we never get to see what has skewed Willis’ view of the world and turned him into a career curmudgeon, although his actions in the past certainly impact upon his unhappy wife and reserved young son, who is indifferent to his father’s macho pastimes. That ambiguity is undoubtedly Mortensen’s decision, but it does make some of the latter-day behavior a slog to sit through.

What we are ultimately left with is a well-made, consummately-performed drama – Laura Linney shines in a small role as John’s equally exasperated younger sister – which unfortunately falls a little short of the intended emotional catharsis Mortensen is reaching for.

Adam Lowes | @adlow76

Film Review: County Lines

Read Time:2 Minute, 28 Second

★★★★☆

Based on the ‘county lines’ crisis whereby gangs use children to smuggle drugs from large cities to smaller towns, writer-director Henry Blake’s feature debut is a harsh, bleak and moving slice of social realism.

Based on Blake’s short of the same name, County Lines follows the travails of 14-year-old Tyler (a phenomenal Conrad Khan), drawn in and exploited by the serpent-like Simon (Harris Dickinson) into becoming a drug mule, ferrying product from London to an unnamed seaside town on the south coast. As he is gradually seduced, the problems Tyler faces at home and at his Pupil Referral Unit are exacerbated.

Blake’s choice to open the film on PRU mentor Bex (Carlyss Peer) explaining to Tyler that he is the ‘acceptable loss’ in the gang’s business model is an interesting one, setting up a tragic inevitability to the subsequent ‘six months ago’ flashback that forms most of the film’s first half. As we look on at Tyler’s passive face, defiantly staring at his phone, we’re made to wait to find out whether or not Bex’s words are falling on deaf ears.

Cinematographer Sverre Sørdal frequently keeps his camera locked down, surveilling characters in wide shots and dividing interiors into uncomfortably severed spaces obscured in shadow and grubby, mean surfaces. Meanwhile, James Pickering’s score and the film’s sound design work to create a sparse, largely diegetic soundscape; sheets of silence shattered by eruptions of violence.

At the film’s halfway point, we replay the first scene, this time as the camera fixes on Bex, humanising the disembodied institutional voice just at the point in the narrative when the consequences of Tyler’s path are about to become extremely embodied indeed.

Aside from the obvious narrative and dramatic impact of the replayed scene, the way that Blake taking a device as routine and dull as shot-reverse-shot and transforms it into riveting reveals something crucial about his filmmaking in the that way he captures and crafts the tragic in the banal.

Indeed, part of the tragedy of County Lines is in the way the film feels like a case study of mundane poverty, that this story is being repeated across London and in every major city in the country. The pain is not in its uniqueness, but in its crushing and avoidable familiarity.

Performances across the board are top drawer. Khan finds Tyler’s delicacy and vulnerability somewhere among his downward glances, tearful scowls and frantic, shocking moments of violence. But it’s perhaps his mother, Toni (a devastating Ashley Madekwe) who is the real heart of the film – marginalised in some respects as the narrative focuses itself on Tyler – struggling to keep her family together while battling with the demons of her own past. That sense of the past, too, is understated but important, evoking both intergenerational community and the endemic social problems that define so much of the cultural fabric of urban and suburban life.

Christopher Machell

Film Review: Possessor

Read Time:2 Minute, 25 Second

★★★★☆

His first film since his debut Antiviral back in 2012, writer and director Brandon Cronenberg brings us a delirious, disorienting psycho-science fiction. An uneasy and messy union of genre and arthouse, Possessor disturbs, thrills and eludes us in equal measure.

Opening on a brief, razor-sharp montage of needles, wounds and bodily penetration, we’re jolted into relatively stable reality, as we watch Holly (Gabrielle Graham) – the woman whom we just witnessed stabbing her own head with a needle – make her way to a swanky party. Time and space are out of joint – a flowing tap runs backwards and in staccato – are we witnessing reality or a buggy simulation?

Things certainly feel pretty real when she violently stabs to death one of the other party goers, before being gunned down by the police. The answer, evidently, is somewhere in between: Holly was real – a hapless host hijacked by Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), manipulating her like an avatar in a virtual reality game. We learn that Tasya works for a shady assassination company, apparently specialising in corporate hits for rival companies.

The premise will be familiar both to genre fans and mainstream audiences. The Matrix, Inception and to a lesser extent, the Blade Runner films have obvious narrative similarities, but the legendary R.W. Fassbinder’s brief dalliance with sci fi – World on a Wire – is a far closer approximation of the aesthetic and overall tone of Possessor. Josef Rusnak’s largely-forgotten The Thirteenth Floor has some thematic crossover, too, but it’s Brandon’s dad’s eXistenZ that is surely the most important – and potent – ingredient in Cronenburg Jr.’s cinematic broth. There’s a touch, too, of Persona in there – this film’s title surely being a play on Ingmar Bergman’s film.

It’s a heady mixture of genre and arthouse, and pays dividends. The cold-war greys and brutalist surfaces of the interior locations are at constant odds with their fleshy occupants, while Cronenburg’s near-ubiquitous use of shots in close up with long lenses flatten out cavernous space and elicit a subcutaneous sense of paranoia and surveillance.

There is a pleasingly analogue feel to the gadgets and technology that mercifully avoids the off-the-shelf 1980s-ness of so many of Possessor’s contemporaries, aiming instead for sterile grubbiness and alienation. Underneath its sliding textures and evocative themes, this is a film about the fundamental instability of modern identity, brilliantly and often uncomfortably evoked.

It’s hardly an original concept – either in narrative or theme – a criticism borne out in the numerous, explicit sources from which Possessor derives many of its principles. Still, it’s hard to fault the execution and it is certainly easy to see future film historians reading this film through the lens of its historical moment. Indeed, if earlier this year, horror found its voice for the moment in Host, Possessor is undoubtedly its answer in science fiction.

Christopher Machell @MachellFilm

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue review

Read Time:3 Minute, 3 Second

★★★★★

Steve McQueen’s extraordinary five-part series, Small Axe, set in the heart of London’s West Indian community from the 1960s to the 1980s, continues on BBC One with Red, White and Blue, co-scripted with Courttia Newland and starring John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Based on a true story it follows the fortunes of a black British man, Leroy Logan (Boyega) who decides to change career and become a police officer.

Red, White and Blue explores institutional racism and the alienation of black youth in Thatcher’s Britain, as well as celebrating the triumph of hope and the importance of family. It opens with Leroy, an innocent-faced schoolboy, anxiously awaiting the arrival of his father (Steve Toussaint). Ken arrives late and, to his horror, finds his son being questioned by the police under the bitterly resented SUS law, which allows them to stop and search anyone they deem suspicious, and to target black and ethnic minority communities. Ken’s reaction is entirely understandable, but the experience marks Leroy in a different way.

Years later, Leroy has a successful career as a research scientist. After his father is brutally beaten up by racist police officers, he decides to sign up with the metropolitan police in the hope of making a difference; believing that he can change the organisation from the inside. Ironically, Leroy’s successful enrolment in Hendon’s training academy is determined more by a sudden “drive for coloured recruits” than his skills as a scientist. His decision is bitterly resented by Ken but encouraged by his auntie, who works in police liaison and believes Leroy would be a “benefit to the community”.

Hit on all sides, Leroy finds himself sorely tested by the bigotry of his fellow recruits while members of the local black community label him a “traitor. He proves to be a brilliant student – fit, conscientious and highly motivated. Although recognised as “best all-round recruit”, the persistent racism begins to take its toll. His superiors and fellow trainees repeatedly undermine Leroy and, on graduation, he is relegated to street duties. Their xenophobia is brilliantly encapsulated in a fast-paced scene where Leroy confronts and chases a violent criminal through a printing factory and his fellow officers fail to respond to his urgent requests for backup.

Much of Shabier Kirchner’s footage is shot through car windows, giving a palpable sense of being watched. The period is beautifully evoked through music, Sinéad Kidao’s costume design, Hannah Spice’s detailed domestic interiors and verbal references – there’s a wonderful moment when Leroy tells a cousin, “I want to join the force.” His incredulous response is: “What? You’re going to join the Jedi?” A clever signifier of the time as well as a nod to Boyega’s acting career. Red, White and Blue captures a moment in history, before the onslaught of knife crime and gang shootings, but there are already signs of disaffection in the local black communities.

Toussaint and Boyega are particularly impressive and their father-son dynamic is utterly believable. Toussant conveys all the intensity of a proud, embittered father, desperate for his day in court and betrayed by the system, whiles Boyega exudes the optimism and quiet confidence of a man determined to succeed against all odds. McQueen and Newland’s assured script grips from the start and keeps us deeply involved in the characters’ fates. Not to be missed.

Red, White and Blue, the third of the five Small Axe films created by Steve McQueen for BBC One, airs at 9pm on Sunday 29 November.

Lucy Popescu | @lucyjpop

Film Review: Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula

Read Time:2 Minute, 17 Second

★★★☆☆

Train to Busan was something of a miniature miracle: a distinctly Korean zombie film at a time when audiences had been chomped-out for years. Director Yeon Sang-ho’s Peninsula is a solid follow up to his original, with just about enough shambling momentum to distract from a fairly uninspired plot.

Part of what made Train to Busan such a trip was that its premise – zombies on a train! – was not only brilliant, but that it had never really been attempted before on film. The execution of that premise was just as brilliant in its idiosyncrasy – funny, violent and in the end surprisingly moving.

Peninsula more or less hits the same marks, though without the pinpoint accuracy of its predecessor. Its premise – a team of refugee survivors return to the Korean peninsula in search of abandoned loot – is far less original but just as narratively efficient and feels sufficiently genre-y, like a chunky STV knock off of The Dirty Dozen. Credit is due, too, to making this sequel feel distinct from the first film. As the title suggests, it’s really more of a spin off set in the same world as Train to Busan, but as a result avoids aping its predecessor, instead expanding on its world and themes.

There’s something very Romero-esque, too, about a zombie franchise that reinvents itself with every new iteration; the director of Night of the Living Dead, excelled at making his Dawn, Day, Land, Diary, and Survival of the Deads all distinct from one another. Peninsula is entirely in keeping with that tradition.

Where it falls down – as Romero’s later sequels did – is in its confusion over what it’s actually trying to say. The admirable distinctness from its forbear is dampened somewhat in that that many of its new ideas are recycled from other zombie narratives – fans of The Walking Dead series, Romero’s Land of the Dead and the brilliant (and superior) Blood Quantum will recognise many of the tropes that Peninsula falls back on, especially in the privileging of human baddies over the shambling undead.

Nevertheless, there’s little denying the visceral thrills of the gladiatorial death match between hapless prisoners and captured zombies – set in an old mall, natch – that comprises the film’s best set piece. And while the core characters are fairly rote, Jung-seok’s (Gang Dong-won) redemption arc works well enough to foster empathy with the core crew of survivors.

Despite his film’s flaws, Yeon’s sense of energy, fun and peril are enough to see us through. Peninsula may be a little stale around the edges, but there’s still a great deal of bloody, bone-crunching pleasure to be had at its centre.

Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm

Martin Scorsese’s top five films

Read Time:4 Minute, 8 Second

Martin Scorsese is one of the biggest names in Hollywood. The American film director has been working in the industry since he turned 20 in 1962. In that time, he’s married five wives (and divorced four), received 17 major awards after being nominated for 76, and worked both in front of and behind the camera.

At 78 years old, Scorsese is the most-nominated living person for the Academy Award for Best Director. Having been put forward for the award nine times, he’s second in the all-time list, behind only William Wyler who received an astonishing 12 nominations.

He’s also one of just a few people who have received top categories awards for film, music, and television, thanks to his Academy Award, Grammy Award, and three Primetime Emmy Awards. It’s no surprise then, these have been picked up from many of his best pieces of work, including these five.

Casino (1995)

Casino hit movie theatres in 1995, telling a story of greed, power, and money. It follows Sam Rothstein, or as he’s more commonly known, Sam the Ace. Sam is a Jewish American from Chicago who gets asked to move to Las Vegas by a Mafia syndicate to run one of their casinos.

Casino is based on the true story depicted in the Nicholas Pileggi book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Its cast includes several big names like Robert De Niro, James Woods, Sharon Stone, and Kevin Pollak. They helped to make the film a commercial success, grossing $116.1 million at the box office from an initial budget of around $40 million.

Casino is available on a number of streaming platforms, including Amazon Prime Video and can be bought from iTunes and the Google Play Store. If you’d like to learn more to decide if you’ll like it, you can find a more in-depth Casino movie review here.

Goodfellas (1990)

Perhaps one of Scorsese’s most famous movies, Goodfellas is another gritty crime film that follows the mob. Working alongside Nicholas Pileggi and Robert De Niro again, as well as Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci, Scorsese adapted the script during rehearsals. He found that the actors could make the lines more gripping by allowing them to ad-lib and would write down the lines he liked, adapting the script accordingly.

Like Casino, the book is based on a Pileggi book, this time titled Wiseguy. Originally, Goodfellas was intended to share the same name, but it was later changed by Scorsese. Goodfellas follows the story of Henry Hill, a member of the mob, as he rises through the ranks of the Mafia and eventually falls from grace.

From a budget of $25 million, Goodfellas was a commercial success, generating more than $46 million at the box office. It also won Best Film at the British Academy Film Awards, as well as Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director. In addition to these, Goodfellas received 25 other awards, and has been included in the United States Library of Congress due to it being considered “culturally significant”.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street is another gritty movie taken from a book that’s based on real-world events. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead, the film shows the rise and fall of a stockbroker named Jordan Belfort.

DiCaprio stars alongside Jonah Hill and Margot Robbie, depicting the deception and shady tactics used by Stratton Oakmont, the investment brokerage run by Belfort.

As well as being a huge commercial success, making $392 million from a $100 million budget, The Wolf of Wall Street set a Guinness World Record for the most swearing in a movie, using one particular profanity 569 times throughout, equating to an average of 2.81 times per minute.

Gangs of New York (2002)

Gangs of New York was the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese worked together, forming a relationship that remains today.

The film is another crime film based on true events, using Herbert Asbury’s 1927 book that shares the same name as its foundation. It depicts the battle between two rival gangs of mid 19th century New York. The film was praised for the “electrifying” performance of Daniel Day-Lewis and the great production design.

Taxi Driver (1976)

Scorsese’s success isn’t limited to the 1990s and 21st century, the 1976 psychological thriller Taxi Driver is one of his best pieces of work.

Starring Robert De Niro, Albert Brooks, Jodie Foster, Cybil Shepherd, and several other big names, they tell the story of a New York cab driver called Travis Bickle. This loner plots to kill a presidential candidate and a pimp while he struggles to find a purpose in life.

While one of his plots fails, the other turns out to be an accidental success, winning him the praise of the public.

Click here to read more about Taxi Driver.

Small Axe: Lovers Rock review

Read Time:3 Minute, 18 Second

★★★★☆

Lovers Rock is loud, proud and joyous. It’s an invigorating, pound-the-walls-and-floorboards ode to its titular style of reggae. At just sixty-eight minutes, the second instalment of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe five-parter may seem more episodic in length, but as the series’ name suggests, great things can come in small packages.

Moving forward in time from Mangrove, it’s the 1980s and Ladbroke Road is the place to be for the house party of the year. Martha is not going to miss this, shimmying down a drainpipe to escape her strict parents for the night. She’s played by Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, who is a delight to watch in what is remarkably her first (terrific) acting credit. As slender as Lovers Rock may be, McQueen uses his voice as a means to champion young talent to tremendous effect once more.

Decks and speakers are moved in, the couch goes out to the garden – covered in plastic for spillages – and food prep is well underway in the kitchen. You can smell the food, almost taste it. The crockpots bubble away and the chefs burst into song – an acapella version of Janet Kay’s Silly Games – as the energy, the excitement of the celebrations to come bounce along to music already playing in the living room-turned-dancefloor.

But as the speakers were picked up out of the van blurred figures sat on an electrical box looking on with intent and will later return to harass a young woman. Lovers Rock, and its venue, is by and large a haven of unadulterated good times for one night only, but McQueen doesn’t let us forget that outside this euphoric bubble there is the menace, prejudice and hardships of daily life for West London’s black community. Samson (Kadeem Ramsay, who has a lot of fun with his role), is resident DJ for the night and seems to thumb his nose at the police by using a siren as his transition between songs later on as the party really kicks into gear.

When a patrol cruises past, the spectre of troubles elsewhere peeks in through the front door, if only for a moment. McQueen teams up with director of photography Shabier Kirchner once more here, and as night falls the amber glow of wall lights adds another dimension to the warmth of his direction. Men take women by the hand, joining them on the dancefloor and it’s here that hands may move a little further south. Whether through lack of confidence or something more sinister some look on from the periphery, but for the most part it’s all fun and games and Kung Fu Fighting.

Another rendition of Silly Games allows for one of the most jaw-dropping vocal displays in any film you’ll see this year – perhaps ever – and an ensemble moment of pure, transcendent joy that occurs as if we were in the room at that very moment. There’s always a rotten apple or two, and not everyone who comes to the party will have the time of their lives, but Martha stands up for what’s right. And so, importantly, does Franklyn (Micheal Ward) – proving his worth to a young lady who has very much caught his eye.

An old gentleman, carrying a cross over his shoulder, appears once more after we’d earlier glimpsed him from a double-decker bus. We all have crosses to bear, and we know that they’re there to stay. But isn’t it good, every once in a while, to just put them aside and get down with your mates, if only for a night. The sun comes up and that means home time. Or maybe a Sunday morning service. It’s all over in the blink of an eye, but Lovers Rock is a party you won’t ever forget.

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63

Film Review: Patrick

Read Time:3 Minute, 9 Second

★★★★☆

There’s no rulebook or any one way for a person to react to the death of a family member. And with his first big screen endeavour, Patrick, Peaky Blinders director Tim Mielants has crafted as unusual an exploration of grief and loss as you are ever likely to see.

Set in a simple, rather shabby nudist resort in the middle of a rugged Belgian wilderness, you’d think that if you went down to the woods today, you’d be in for a big surprise. But one of the many ways  Mielants’ debut subverts our expectations is the casual insouciance with which it treats its scantily clad ensemble. It’s not like we haven’t seen it all before, right? Serenity abounds as we first meet our eponymous anti-hero (a stoical, socially awkward Kevin Janssens), bathing in a lake.

Pleasantries are exchanged as body parts of all shapes and sizes hang loose in the morning sunshine, but it’s a slight warning note on the score – not the full frontal – that creates a lurking, imperceptible uneasiness, suggesting all is not well in this unusual paradise. In his late 30s, Patrick still lives at home with his parents, helping them to run the campsite and tinkering in his workshop. While he’s happy enough to stroll around in just a loose shirt and jelly shoes for the duration, he isn’t a man comfortable in his own skin.

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that it’s the death of his father, Rudy (Josse De Pauw), that marks an irrevocable fork in the road. Will Patrick take on the mantle of managing the family business? Will he succumb to an offer to sell up by one of the site’s regular summer visitors, Herman (Pierre Bokma)? All of this is just a bit much for Patrick to deal with, especially given that one of his prized hammers has gone missing. He doesn’t need sympathy, pats on the back or even a casual shag (with Herman’s wife, Lilliane – Ariane Van Vliet), he just wants to find his hammer.

Defying any conventional euphemisms of what this tool might represent, frequent shots of the empty space it filled as part of a treasured set make it clear that Patrick’s search is to make himself whole once again – or in fact to find a new whole in the wake of his father’s death. His furrowed brow, inability to make eye contact and shuffling awkwardness mean that the real conflict of Mielants’ film is an internal, psychological one. The comical litany of clues as to who had stolen the hammer, where it has travelled and whether it can be retrieved are a side-show to – or rather a reflection of – the introspective journey Patrick takes to come to terms with the past, present and a worrying future.

For all the external ease with which the characters bare all, while Mielants has fun with the red herrings and ludicrousness of the hammer hunt, it is the hidden agendas, emotion, resentment and nastiness that cannot be seen that troubles him and his leading man. Internal vulnerability is far more profound than face value judgement. So often sexualised onscreen for little more than titillation, the nakedness of human forms here lays bare the essence of what really makes a human being tick.

Patrick is an oddball, but he is an honest, gentle soul, has integrity, and, above all, is true to himself. There is strength in not knowing, not conforming, not doing what people expect of you. And who says coming-of-age stories can’t be about a man pushing forty? It’s never too late to work out who you are.

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63

Film Review: Collective

Read Time:2 Minute, 38 Second

★★★★★

Romanian director Alexander Nanau turns his talents to the events after the fire that broke out at the Colectiv club in Bucharest in 2015. 64 people were ultimately killed in a tragedy that uncovered profound corruption throughout the Romanian state.

Collective is a brilliant documentary in its own right, but in this time of pandemic, scandal and democratic upheaval it is also the year’s most important. The fire – caused by overcrowding and inadequate fire safety measures – as an emblem of decades-long corruption inspired public rage so furious that it forced the Social Democratic Party-led government to resign soon after the fire.

It is pertinent to note here that at the time of writing, the UK has passed 50,000 known deaths from Covid-19, while accusations of Government cronyism to the tune billions of pounds are widespread. In this context and the broader horror show of 2020, it is astonishing that such a relatively small number of deaths could bring down a national government. But it speaks both to the endemic fraud that characterised Romanian public life and the unbridled public anguish that the tragedy unleashed.

The fire was in and of itself a terrible tragedy: 27 people were killed that night, while a further 180 were injured. But it was the aftermath, wherein a further 37 victims lost their lives through infections caused by inadequate care, where this tragedy became a true indictment both of government cronyism and the failure of the national media to hold it to account.

Amidst the country’s deafening media silence, investigative journalist Catalin Tolontan and his team at a sports paper singularly uncovered a hospitals scandal that began with heavily-diluted disinfectants and ended with hospital managers engaged in widespread fraud. The film’s revelations are jaw-dropping but its production is equally astonishing: Nanau picks up on the story as quickly as his subject Tolontan, charting the scandal from the start with fly-on-the-wall footage that uncovers the story with the immediacy of an event unfolding live before our eyes.

The banal office spaces and conference rooms are interspersed with the haunting images of Mariana Oprea, a survivor who modelled in a photography set commemorating the tragedy, while the continuing horrors of hospital negligence are represented by a visceral image of a worm-infested patient left to suffer untreated and uncared for.

At times of national tragedy such as the Colectiv fire, the current pandemic, the seemingly never-ending mass shootings in the US, or indeed the UK’s Grenfell Tower fire, there are always disingenuous voices calling for us not to ‘politicise’ such terrible events. Collective powerfully refutes such fatuous arguments, proving that these tragedies are rarely blameless, and that the venal greed and cowardice that cause them can only be countered with the fearless truth-telling embodied by journalists like Tolontan. As one of the few honest politicians, interim health minister Vlad Voiculescu tells us, the only way to regain trust is to stop lying.

Collective is available now on Amazon Video, Apple TV, Curzon Home Cinema and other digital platforms. collectivefilm.co.uk

Christopher Machell @MachellFilm

The true cost of movie-making

Read Time:4 Minute, 24 Second

Among many frequent questions, most film-related FAQs revolve around “how to make a movie” and “how expensive is it to make one?”. And yet, there’s no definite answer to either conundrum.

It’s like asking the average cost for making a meal, which depends on many factors, like who’s making the meal, where the meal is being made, what type of meal you’re making, etc. And so is the case with a movie.

The movie industry is a huge machine and its box office has made a revenue record of $42.5 billion last year. However, this huge amount doesn’t apply to every movie; neither do they all are money makers. To tell the truth, many movies often end up being a flop. Thousands of movies are made each year, but only a few expensive ones become feature films.

On the other hand, if you’re curiously searching to know how to make a movie, you can start with a low budget too. Though, the average expense to produce a good movie is around $100 million ($65million for production and $35 million often requires for marketing and distribution). Still, there are some blockbuster movies, like Napoleon Dynamite, Paranormal Activity, and Super-Size Me, that cost below half a million.

 Big Movie Budgets

The mega movies you see now often have a mega-budget. James Cameron’s Avatar is a prime example of a mega movie with a massive budget of over $236 million. And so, this high cost paid off quite well for them as the movie grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. But there are many other movies too that were not really mega-budget. In fact, they were well below the average movie budget. For instance, The Return of the King made around a billion-dollar globally, while it cost just above $100 million. The same is the case for Shrek 2, which costs even less ($70 million) but made nearly $900 million globally.

Another example of a high-budget movie is the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The feature film holds the record of being the most expensive film with a massive budget of $378.5 million while grossing over a billion-dollar worldwide.

But not every high budget movie is a hit movie. There are tons of examples of expensive movies that couldn’t justify their expense. The Adventures of Pluto Nash is one of them. This film had a budget of nearly $100 million, but could only manage to generate $7 million in return. Another example of such a movie is How Do You Know. This film cost over $120 million, while its return was just over $50 million.

So, whether a movie is a hit or flop, it all comes to the question: “How to make a movie and why does it cost so much?”

Expensive magic potions in making a movie

While making a movie, you must break down the cost into the following categories:

  • Script: The script is a blueprint of the movie. Like any physical construction, if the template fails, the building will collapse sooner or later. The script is highly important in making a movie hit or flop. And so, it eats up around 5% of the budget.
  • Licensing and salaries: This includes the salaries of the director, the producer, the famous stars, and the whole crew.
  • Production costs: The production costs can take 25% of your total budget easily. This major chunk is behind the whole production and ongoing salaries of the team needed to produce the movie.
  • Special effects and music composing: Depending on the movie genre, special effects can take a huge chunk of the budget. Plus, music must be composed according to the scene and should be performed well.
  • Marketing: The most important part of how to make a movie as well as an expensive magic potion that it requires is its marketing. With all the huge investments of more than a hundred million dollars, you don’t want it to go unheard. Thus, either almost 35% of the budget goes to marketing, or an additional budget is assigned to market your new movie.

Expense relation with movie genre

By analyzing the data provided by IMDb and Statista, some genres cost more on average while others cost less. On average, the most expensive genre of movies is adventure films having a budget of around $76 million. Other costly genres consist of sci-fi, animation and fantasy movies, having an average budget of around $60 million. On the other hand, genres such as music-based, horror, and romantic have a very median budget of less than $10 million.

Wrapping up

Despite such a huge amount of investments and greater risk for losses, the movies are coming. There’s a reason though. One hit can make fortunes while a loss can be depressing too. Plus, the average price for buying a movie ticket in the US is shooting up to around $9.11. Still, we all line-up for it, enjoying the movie with popcorn and drinks. So if you know how to make a movie and know how to add all these expensive magic potions (probably by winning a multi-million lottery), you can make a good career too.

Film Review: Hillbilly Elegy

Read Time:2 Minute, 36 Second

★★☆☆☆

Amy Adams and Glenn Close lead the cast of this Ron Howard-directed biopic, based on J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir of the same name. Like most of Howard’s films, Hillbilly Elegy is perfectly watchable, unchallenging and largely forgettable awards fodder.

Unfortunately, it’s not much else, with very little insight into its characters, visual flair or creative storytelling. Not that Howard – modern Hollywood’s most successful journeyman director – usually brings much more than a reliable hand and solid output, but even by those standards Hillbilly Elegy falls somewhat short.

In telling the worthy story of J.D. Vance, a former serviceman and law school hopeful troubled by a challenging family life, Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay takes few risks and eschews emotional complexity for histrionics, sentimentality and a tidy, conventional structure that flattens out the messiness of Vance’s life, offering instead one goshdarnit moment of greetings card family wisdom after another. In an age where Parasite can win a Best Picture Oscar, the script is weirdly dated, periodically offering cloying tidbits like “Something was missing: maybe hope”, or “the road from here to there was rocky. No way around but through”.

Everything just feels so off the shelf; from the opening voiceover narration, to the flashbacks of Vance’s mother Bev’s (Amy Adams, sleepwalking through a role that demands little else) early life, to the Terrence Malick-lite shots designed to invoke nostalgia for some working-class rural Americana. The latter of which invariably falls into clichés of alcoholism, volatile personalities and decades-old frustrations. The leads do their best with pretty thin material and Gabriel Basso makes for a likeable if rather blank Vance.

Most of the heavy lifting, however, is done by the makeup department, doing its best to make Amy Adams look harried and plonking old-lady wig and glasses on Glenn Close’s grandmother, Mamaw. Meanwhile, although much of the cinematography looks nice, it suffers from a hyperactivity that often utilises multiple lenses and shots in a single scene that, coupled with choppy editing, is annoyingly distracting.

The narrative, naturally, is led by the events of Vance’s memoirs, and the tribulations of the three generations of his family are by turns harrowing and moving on paper. But Howard rarely brings these moments to life, dropping character developments and reveals with little subtlety, while each character is reduced to a type: J.D. is a Good Boy; Bev is a Troubled Mother; Mamaw is a Concerned Granny. We are know exactly how we are supposed to feel about each character, making for some pretty inert drama.

It’s not so much that Hillbilly Elegy is bad, per se, just flat. There is a moving, even affirming story here about working class lives and the intense inequality baked into American life. But instead of tapping into that dramatic potential by asking difficult emotional and systemic questions, Howard habitually reaches for the comfort of sentimentality and simplicity. The result is a film that is sufficiently inoffensive so as not to raise much ire, but neither moving nor intelligent enough to hold much interest.

Christopher Machell @MachellFilm

Small Axe: Mangrove review

Read Time:3 Minute, 12 Second

★★★★★

Taking a sledgehammer to institutionalised racism with the clarity of purpose and skill of a master craftsman, Steve McQueen is once again at the very top of his game, and indeed his profession, with Mangrove. Constituting just one instalment of the five-part Small Axe series, this film is a towering achievement.

Chosen as the BFI London Film Festival’s opener, Mangrove is an historical love letter to London’s West Indian community and a clarion call for the continued contemporary struggle against prejudice and injustice. For though the events depicted in Mangrove took place between 1968 and 1972, the ripples of discussion and dissent that began in a Notting Hill restaurant over fifty years ago are still being felt, and fought, in Britain and across the world today. The film’s title, taken from the name of a cosy eatery on All Saints Road, would later be attributed to the Mangrove 9, a group wrongly arrested and tried for ‘riot and affray’ during a demonstration against police brutality and persecution.

Owned and run by Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), the Mangrove is as warm and welcoming as the spicy Trinidadian food they dish up. “This is a respectable restaurant […] not a battleground,” says Frank, doggedly determined to create a cleaner image for his new venture after a former club is accused of illicit activity. But pre-conceptions about both man and business linger, at least in the eyes of local police constable Pulley (a sneering, slippery Sam Spruell), whose bigotry and personal vendetta against Frank lead to repeated, unjustified raids on the premises.

For locals that use it as a meeting point, the Mangrove is a haven, a vital part of a community under increasing menace and its plucky resilience and never-say-die attitude mirrors their own. McQueen’s affection for this place, this people and this milieu are immediately apparent. From its opening frames, a smoke-filled bar where men are gambling on dice, the film’s rich, tangible aesthetic, to the sounds of reggae and steel drums, is one that we want to reach out and touch, to immerse ourselves in. Shot on 35mm film by Shabier Kirchner – who worked on each of the Small Axe projects in various mediums – Mangrove’s granular visual texture is reinforced by Lisa Duncan’s excellent period costumes (turtlenecks and leather jackets-a-plenty) and Helen Scott’s stellar work on the production design.

Transported back to west London in the late 1960s by these elements, the racial slurs and graffiti are as poisonous to hear now as they were accurate for the time. The script, which McQueen co-wrote with Alastair Siddons, pulls no punches and lands its heaviest blows at the time of the trial. The baseless charges and trumped-up evidence against nine men and women from the community see them summoned before the Old Bailey. And it is here that McQueen, and most notably his cast, really excels.

You would be hard pressed to name many other directors currently working that garner such exceptional performances from his or her actors. Mangrove’s ensemble is uniformly impressive, but special mention must go to Letitia Wright, as leader of the British Black Panther Party Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Malachi Kirby as activist Darcus Howe, and Parkes in the lead role. Wright is a firecracker of conviction, passion and spirit whose tempered eloquence explodes on a number of occasions to devastating effect. Kirby, whose character’s outspoken criticism of the broken white establishment initially divides opinion among the group, delivers one of the finest, most stirring monologues in recent memory as the trial draws to a rousing close.

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63

Film Review: Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Read Time:2 Minute, 29 Second

★★★★☆

Starting in the 1970s, political activist Marion Stokes embarked on the largest, most important project of her life: to record every moment of news footage possible. At the time of her death in 2012, she had amassed over 70,000 hours of unedited footage across nine TV news channels.

Hers a Baudrillardian effort to discover some kind of truth among the mediated reality that we live in. It was both a utilitarian historical project that could empower us by dispassionately recording the duplicity and lies upon which the powerful depend, and an existential one in which our sense of reality is exposed as mediated and re-mediated endlessly.

Part of that latter aspect was captured in the incidental recording of programmes that were not news: talk shows, commercial adverts and fictional programmes. It is, of course, of immense archival value, but the effect of the sheer weight of such a vast store of media, layered upon itself like an enormous cake of pure information, is far more metaphysical than mere archival utility.

In his judicious use of her footage, director Matt Wolf skilfully elicits that effect without letting it overwhelm his film, which at its core is a human-level study of Stokes. Though she remains somewhat of an enigma, the portrait it paints is of an obsessive, driven and principled to the point of narcissism. Her first husband, Melvin Metelits, describes Stokes, she was ‘indescribably loyal to her own preferences and tendencies’, which seems a magnanimous way of saying that Stokes was the most important person in her own life.

More pointedly, Stokes’ son, Michael, with whom she was estranged for many years, suggests that eventually she ‘came to value what was coming through on her screens rather than the problematic, messy stuff that was happening in her real life’. Wolf finds a tension between the unpleasantness of her narcissism and obsessive hoarding, and the fact that both were essential for motivating her remarkable project. Her former secretary describes rooms stacked full of old newspapers – of which he claims she read about eleven every day. Later, her obsession with Apple computers seems remarkably prophetic in an age of iphone queues, and archival interviews with Stokes reveal her unique understanding of the imminent revolutionary power of the internet.

The most moving aspect of Recorder, however, is in her troubled relationship with her son, the nadir of which came when they were estranged. A reconciliation near the end of her life complicates our understanding of Michael’s feelings towards her. In a way, Michael is an audience surrogate, informing our own understanding of her; his – and the film’s – refusal to pin Stokes down as either a genius or crank (as if they are binary) speaks to her own project’s attempt to capture the totality of a thing and the noble futility in such an endeavour.

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project is available now via Dogwoof On Demand. watch.dogwoof.com

Christopher Machell | @MachellFilm

Film Review: Love Child

Read Time:2 Minute, 36 Second

★★★★☆

Danish director Eva Mulvad and co-director Lea Glob turn their attention to an Iranian family caught up in international bureaucracy as they flee from persecution and the threat of execution in Love Child. Never has the banality of the plight of refugees been laid out so plainly as in this heartbreaking, Kafkaesque documentary.

In 2012, Leila, Sahand and their young son Mani arrive in Turkey, on the run from Iranian authorities. In Iran, Leila was in a loveless marriage to a man who refused to even consummate their union. For three years, she remained a “girl”, in addition to being beaten daily. Her subsequent affair with Sahand ultimately produced the eponymous love child, Mani. Somehow, despite never having slept with her own husband, she convinced him the boy was his.

To complicate things further, Sahand had also been strong-armed into reporting for the secret service after he was picked up for his political activism in his youth. After the secret police began pressuring him to bring in Leila, with whom they knew he was associated, he knew they had to flee before their affair – a crime punishable by death in Iran – was discovered.

Thus begins a maddening odyssey through the arcane and impenetrable bureaucracy of asylum-seeking. As the trio traverse this knotted terrain, every seemingly insurmountable hurdle overcome is invariably met with two more. Even though Leila and Sahand are clearly in the same predicament, the UN is treating their cases as distinct because of the political dimension to Sahand’s case. It doesn’t matter that a DNA test proves beyond doubt that Sahand is Mani’s father: he and Leila aren’t married, so as far as the paperwork is concerned, they don’t count as a family.

The human cost of this endless Mobius strip of pedantry is infuriating and heartbreaking. Soon after they arrive in Turkey, Mani – barely out of being a toddler at this point – throws an almighty tantrum accusing Sahand of uprooting them and bellowing that he is not his father. In any other context, this would be a normal, if trying, four-year old’s hissy fit. But here, watching the pain play across Sahand’s passive face, it is almost too much to bear.

The strain that it puts under Leila and Sahand’s relationship is palpable. There’s a horrible irony that as the months roll into years, Mani begins to accept Sahand as his dad while the tension between Leila and Sahand grows, made all the more intense in the knowledge that they are inextricably bound up in the same dire limbo. Yet, in striving for a semblance of normality, hope persists. Sahand’s surprising his family with a new bike; Mani’s visible growth punctuated by surprise birthday cards; spontaneous love poetry written to each other.

The ongoing plight of refugees is one of the great shames of the global community. Among the life and death situations, dramatic fleeing and family strife, Love Child is a vital document of the banal, web-like bureaucracies that catch countless people in their uncompassionate structures.

Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell

Film Review: About Endlessness

Read Time:2 Minute, 28 Second

★★★★☆

Only Roy Andersson would call a 78-minute film About Endlessness. It is of a piece with his droll Swedish wit, a universe drawn with fastidious precision and painted in a palette of greys, drab greens, beiges and browns.

Made up of a series of related but not necessarily connected vignettes, each filmed with a static camera, they resemble New Yorker cartoons scripted by Samuel Beckett. In a very real sense, About Endlessness isn’t so much a film as another chapter in one larger ongoing piece that makes up the body of Andersson’s work.

His previous outing, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, won the Golden Lion in 2014 which itself closed the trilogy of works begun with Songs From the Second Floor and You, the Living. About Endlessness feels like another compendium of the absurd, the melancholy and the bizarre.

There is no story as such. Two lovers are seen against a starry field. A man worries about greeting an old school friend who snubs him for something he did in the past (we don’t learn what). A girl in a party dress has her shoelaces tied by her father as it pours with rain. Some of the stories are extended beyond one sketch. A priest who has lost his faith dreams of crucifixion but has lost his faith in God. He goes to a psychiatrist who can’t help and anyway needs to catch the bus.

A waiter in a hotel serves an inattentive businessman a glass of wine but ends up pouring half of it over the tablecloth. A dentist is in a bad mood and has no time for a man who is afraid of needles. A young woman narrates with a series of bland observations – “I saw a man,” – that put together could perhaps be a poem. And then again, perhaps not.

Occasionally, there is a grander scale. There is a view of a city in ruins: is this the future or the past? Securely in the past, Hitler gets a walkon part at the moment of his final defeat and his army will march through the snow towards the prison camps where many of them will die. Each moment is a perfectly composed visual poem with humour, depth and obvious artificiality. Passers-by and extra move like mindless automatons and occasionally a flock of geese creek overhead, through the overcast sky.

In a world of fantastic cinematic universes of superheroes and Jedi knights, it’s bracing to enter the nordic chill of Andersson’s vision. Violence and grotesquerie abound, but there’s also tenderness. “Things are fantastic, don’t you think,” a man exclaims to an uncomprehending bar of drinkers as the snow falls outside in huge flakes. As far as About Endlessness is concerned, yes they are.

About Endlessness is available on Curzon Home Cinema from 6 November. curzonhomecinema.com

John Bleasdale | @drjonty

Blu-ray Review: Hoop Dreams

Read Time:3 Minute, 29 Second

★★★★★

Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert’s seminal 1994 Hoop Dreams – making its UK Blu-ray debut this week – charts the aspirations and tribulations, the jump shots and the rebounds of two black American teenagers shooting for their own version of the American dream.

William Gates and Arthur Agee Jr. are two high schoolers who show a great talent at basketball. They are spotted by a scout who recommends them for the basketball program at a predominantly white high school, St. Joseph’s. The school is a long commute and despite financial assistance being provided, it soon becomes clear that it is tacitly conditional on both athletic and academic achievement.

The stories intersect but are largely told separately. The documentarians don’t hide their presence, commenting or asking questions off camera. They also broaden their scope to include the home life of the kids and families which are doing their best despite adverse economic conditions, that is to say poverty. What emerges is a portrait of a society in which there is very little in the way of a safety net, where bad luck can have catastrophic consequences and racism is casual and unacknowledged. And remember: William and Arthur have the good fortune to have a talent few possess, and which offers them the possibility of escape.     

The dual narratives as they move through the school years invite comparison. William is quiet, diffident, hardworking, respectful and a superb player. He is the ‘deserving poor’ of Victorian times, and appropriately enough receives patronage from an executive at the Encyclopaedia Britannica. One year younger, Arthur is brash, goofy, uninterested in school and soon finds himself in trouble with St. Joseph’s for failing grades and unpaid tuition.

William’s father is almost entirely absent, though he has an older brother who himself has a history with basketball. Arthur’s father is intermittently present. In one scene, he visits Arthur on the outdoor basketball court and then goes to buy drugs on the corner in full view of the crew and his son.  The film soon deconstructs the narrative of the deserving versus the undeserving poor. William suffers a serious knee injury which puts his whole career in doubt while Arthur, expelled from St. Joseph’s for non-payment of fees, begins to excel on the public-school team. 

Hip hop is exploding, and black culture is beginning to assert a dominance over American culture even as the endemic racism of American society continues unchecked. The coaches yell at their charges about ‘you people’ and one college Arthur goes to visit has a bungalow to house the basketball scholars, six of the only eight students in the whole school. Michael Jordan posters paper the walls of the bedrooms and “Be Like Mike” will soon be immortalised in an advertising campaign for Gatorade but is already an explicit aspirational model for teenagers such as William and Arthur.

That aspiration, however, also sees their families betting their own financial security on the very slim chance that their sons will make it to the NBA. At one point, the lights and gas are turned off and we see the family using lamps as they go about their household tasks. Reality TV has yet to be invented and the intimacy and trust the documentarians achieve feels fresh and novel. Off camera, they paid for the light and gas to be turned back on, which breaches objectivity but is honourable in its humanity.

And it’s the film’s humanity which is at the core of its genius. It takes its subject seriously. It never sneers or judges. It sees the context and is wise enough not to hold itself aloof. The recent Netflix/ESPN documentary The Last Dance charted Michael Jordan’s rise and rise, but Hoop Dreams shows the other 99%: the dreams which come at enormous cost or which are shattered and stymied. And yet along the way, legends are made, joy is found and some amazing basketball is played.

Hoop Dreams is out now for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK. Order here: dogwoof.com/hoop-dreams

John Bleasdale | @drjonty

Film Review: Shirley

Read Time:3 Minute, 7 Second

★★★☆☆

From a script by Sarah Gubbin – who adapted a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell – whose story was based on the prolific horror author Shirley Jackson – Josephine Decker’s fourth feature is (to say the least) a multi-layered affair. Demanding patience and perseverance, we dig down through agoraphobia, heavy drinking and airs of intellectual superiority in search of the essence of the person behind the writer in question.

This is both the intrigue and the frustration of Shirley, a film that is simultaneously alluring and aloof. Not one to play to type or genre, Decker has crafted a delirious, off-kilter, wickedly dark biopic where, perhaps, lifting the lid, or rather peering tentatively into the mind, of the subject is not the principal objective. But rather this is a much broader examination of the creative process, of obsession, jealousy, paranoia – and the toll these all take on a high-functioning, but troubled psyche.

Set in late 1940s Vermont, Shirley also explores womanhood, motherhood and the significance of gender roles, upending the given thinking of the time that men wore the proverbial trousers. Earlier this year, Decker gave Criteron her ‘Top 10’ films list; were you to pour Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Harold and Maude by Hal Ashby, Godard’s Contempt, and Jules et Jim by Truffaut into a pot and stir them around for a while, you would come close to achieving the bubbling concoction she creates with her latest film.

Throw in a dash of Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and it is Shirley (another triumphant turn of blood, sweat and tears by Elisabeth Moss) and her husband Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) who welcome young newlyweds Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman) into their North Bennington home. Fred is to take up a position at the university where Stanley teaches and – having recently eloped with her now husband – Rose prepares for the birth of their child. The pregnancy intuited by an unexplained sixth sense at one of several devilishly awkward dinner table conversations, Shirley’s psychic navel-gazing keys in to mystery surrounding the enigmatic writer.

If local hearsay and twitching curtains suggest that the reclusive writer is a witch, why not play up to this image of sorcery? Confined to the house for much of the film, the claustrophobic pressure, the weight of “what are you writing next?” weighs heavily on Shirley, and us. Not there to make house and toe the gender line by any means, something far more sinister prevents Shirley leaving these four walls. Rose, who fulfils the ‘housewife’ role by cooking and cleaning, soon tires of these shackles, and becomes the go-between for Shirley and the outside world, seeking clues to the disappearance of a young woman from campus – the seeds of Shirley’s next novel.

Though initially petrified of her curt, abrasive manner, Rose’s growing appreciation, and affection, for Shirley’s acerbic wit and middle finger to the niceties of society engender a change in the young woman as well. Concerned more by lectures and affairs than their wives, the two husbands – Stuhlbarg’s early twinkling charm proving to be little more than a smoke screen, and Lerman rather a non-character – they underestimate these women at their peril. And though the slow, blurry-edged stupor of Shirley will not be to everyone’s tastes, it cannot be denied that it examines its subject, and a rather tired genre, with feverish, dreamlike fluidity rather than rigid biography. That, and Moss’ enthralling lead performance, are Shirley’s chief accomplishments.

The BFI London Film Festival 2020 takes place from 7-18 October. bfi.org.uk/london-film-festival

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63

Film Review: Relic

Read Time:2 Minute, 48 Second

★★★★☆

The slow rot of psychological decay is brought into the physical realm with creeping, insidious stealth by Natalia Erika James in her highly assured, thought-provoking feature debut, Relic. Re-framing more traditional genre choices for representing dementia, the Japanese-Australian filmmaker has crafted a chilling, mysterious horror to communicate the confusion and terror caused by diminishing intellectual acuity.

It is a bold, but effective strategy, and one that pays dividends by manifesting the disease’s effects on both the person suffering its debilitating symptoms, and on loved ones helpless to prevent its slow decline. Written in tandem with Christian White, James’ firm handle on the script and patient drip feed of clues is key to her film’s success. Peeling back the layers of the onion begins with an overflowing bath, Christmas lights pulsing on and off and a grey-haired woman – seen from behind – standing partially naked, shivering at the threshold of her living room. 

Questions abound, then, but it’s clear that all is not well from the outset. And under the leaden skies and incessant rain of a Victorian winter, Kay (Emily Mortimer) must make her way inland from Melbourne as her elderly mother has not been seen for several days. As distant as you can imagine from the great expanses of blue sky and sunshine of most depictions of Australia on film, the cold wind, mist and grey-green-blue colour pallet contributes to the growing air of unease. Using familiar haunted house horror staples without being drawn into clichéd jumps or bumps in the night, the sounds of creaky floorboards and clanking of old plumbing in the cavernous home heighten tension further. But it is a shadowy figure glimpsed upstairs and a hand drawing hair away from Kay’s face while she has nightmarish visions of a long-lost relative that draws us closer to the edge of our seats and hearts up towards mouths.

And when Edna (Robyn Nevin) does miraculously reappear without knowledge of where she has been, Kay and her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), are divided on what should happen next. Cinematographer Charlie Sarroff captures the fracturing of opinion and Edna’s gradual disintegration by split screens, blocked off by doorways and windows, and eye contact made at odd angles in mirrors. However, Sam’s compassionate desire to move in with her grandmother to care for her and Kay’s plans for a nursing home soon fall by the wayside as black mould, first seen on the stained-glass window of the front door, spreads throughout the house – and across Edna’s chest as her behaviour becomes ever more unstable and frightening. 

All is not as it seems, but are we witnessing the supernatural or something far closer to home? As the walls begin to move in, both literally and figuratively, the realisation of what the world of the film now represents builds to a thunderous, breathtaking crescendo. Oddly tender yet deeply disconcerting final images sow further seeds of doubt and concern under this family tree, but Relic is intelligent, articulate storytelling. It gets under your skin and stays there and represents a strong start in feature filmmaking for James, who has surely announced herself as a new voice in Australian cinema.

Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63