HEREDITARY

Four Star Rating

“…a truly bizarre conclusion which will act as the perfect barometer with which to measure exactly what a film’s audience will have made of the preceding two hours or so.” – Wayward Wolf.

Hereditary is deemed to be this generation’s The Exorcist, and considering just how universally acclaimed William Friedkin’s seminal 1973 horror classic still is, that’s quite a billing.

But can Ari Aster’s occultic fable live up to this considerable hype?

With the death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette), observes some rather bizarre goings on within her family. What should have been a time of simple mourning proves to be anything but. Far from being laid to rest, Annie’s mother’s death is the catalyst for much upheaval within the family unit. Something, somehow is messing with the minds of Annie’s nearest and dearest. But what, why, and to what ends?

Annie’s peculiar introverted daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) – she upon whose ‘look’ a million Chucky-esque dolls could be confidently manufactured and sold – had been the apple of her late Grandmother’s eye; taken under her wing in fact. And it is Charlie who seems most affected by her passing. This most unnerving of children is afforded a relatively short amount of screen time, yet her impact upon Aster’s film is both powerful and enduring.

To delve deep into the narrative of Aster’s horror is to give far too much away, for this is a film not pieced together by way of a sequence of complicated plot twists and devices, but rather a film built upon one effective premise. A simple unnerving tale. A mysterious metaphorical encroaching fog of doom and helplessness which will, given time, engulf everyone in its path, to some degree or other.

The casting is excellent. Alex Wolff continues his impressive run of form, once again playing a quirky character with his portrayal of Charlie’s stoner brother, Peter. Gabriel Byrne portrays the family’s traditional patriarch and backbone, Steve, with predictable assurance, whilst Toni Collette’s performance as Annie brings back memories of both Sissy Spacek in Carrie, and more pertinently Shelley Duvall’s increasingly hysterical turn as Wendy, in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic, The Shining.

Littered with genuinely disturbing imagery and highly memorable set pieces, Hereditary conjures up the sort of bleak atmosphere fostered so effectively in Robert Eggers’ solid 2015 offering, The Witch. Indeed, the theme of unseen occultic malevolence forms, to some extent at least, the central core of both of these films.

Resisting the temptation for cheap shocks and the needlessly overly-dramatic, Aster’s film instead benefits greatly from taking an altogether more low-key approach – the consummate slow-burner – in which the sense of fear and enmity increases exponentially in both pace and intensity, leading to a truly bizarre conclusion which will act as the perfect barometer with which to measure exactly what a film’s audience will have made of the preceding two hours or so. The sense of serenity that befalls Aster’s film in its final chapter is somewhat unanticipated, and as truly peculiar as it is haunting.

One thing is overwhelmingly apparent though. This is a film that makes a damn good job of genuinely disturbing its audience throughout. And it’s a safe bet that it will continue to do so for quite some time beyond that.

Hereditary is a film that will make you think, think again, and then rethink as it lingers like a bad dream in your mind. Furthermore, it will burrow itself effortlessly beneath your skin, heightening your senses, and feeding your primal fears in the process.

A sort of slow drip-feed of unease dispensed emphatically, deep into your very core.

A modern horror classic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE HAPPY PRINCE

Four Star Rating

“Everett’s stupendous performance as Wilde is both arresting and heartfelt…” – Wayward Wolf.

Oscar Wilde cuts something of a forlorn tragic figure in Rupert Everett’s excellent biopic, The Happy Prince.

Personal treatment that Wilde deems to have been hugely unjust has built up much resentment in the heart of this once so carefree flamboyant wordsmith.

Consequently exiled to the shores of France and then further afield, he lives out his final years begging for handouts and favours from those he knows and loves. Those, that is, that haven’t turned their back on the now disgraced writer.

Everett’s film focuses upon a man whose incarceration and subsequent humiliation on charges of sodomy and gross indecency – following his lewd bordering on nefarious behaviour (in the eyes of the law) – have left him near destitute; a far cry from the opulent lifestyle that once he had led.

The Happy Prince is built loosely around Wilde reciting his fairy tale of the same name to both his own biological sons – during happier married times – and latterly on his death bed to the rag tag ‘family’ of young urchins that he had befriended.

Wilde – under his newly acquired guise of Melmoth – has a kind of morbidly humorous fascination with both the hopelessness of the predicament in which he now finds himself, and with the plethora of men that continue to fawn over him.

A period piece The Happy Prince may essentially be, but there’s a strongly contemporary feel to the film’s at times bewitching cinematography, switching neatly and expertly by way of multiple rapid cross fades between Wilde’s past and present in an effort to build a picture of – and emphasise the massive disparity between – ‘now’ and then.

Everett’s stupendous performance as Wilde is both arresting and heartfelt, whilst there are meaningful contributions from Colin Firth as Wilde’s good friend Reggie, and from Colin Morgan and Edwin Thomas as Bosie and Robbie, respectively, the two mainstays in Wilde’s love life who continue to compete fiercely for his attentions, and between whom there is absolutely no love lost.

As for Emily Watson’s portrayal of Constance, as solid as it is, one can’t help but think that it remains a little peripheral to the film’s narrative at times. Perhaps Everett could have made a little more of the clearly strained relationship that had existed between the two, and the impact that this had had upon their children?

It seems that Wilde was indeed harshly dealt with, and laws or no laws, would have had rightful justification to feel aggrieved at his treatment at the hands of the rather puritanical overreaching government of the time.

That said, Everett’s film seems intent to paint Wilde not as some sort of saintly martyr, but as a charming but deeply flawed man with a propensity for making poor life decisions. A man who had flown too close to the sun, and who perhaps had been more than a little guilty of using and abusing those that knew and loved him so much for his own personal gain.

The Happy Prince, whilst at times cheeky and playful in its outlook, never strays too far from its melancholic roots in its elegantly crafted, poignant regaling of the final days of the late great Oscar Wilde.

 

 

 

 

 

LEAVE NO TRACE

Four Star Rating

“Leave No Trace is a highly impressive, refreshingly understated coming-of-age tale” – Wayward Wolf.

A father and daughter enjoy a grass roots subsistence existence, living off the land in some Oregon woodland. This land, however, is part of a huge public park, and the setting up of a home in such a location is expressly forbidden by law.

Regardless, they mean no bother or harm, and refuse to impose their chosen lifestyle upon anyone else. Not only is their camp thoroughly well camouflaged, but the father is at pains to ensure that by way of frequent ‘drills’, the pair are able to scamper off at a moment’s notice, into the undergrowth, out of sight of the prying eyes of park rangers and the like.

Such an existence has worked well for many years, but a chance sighting of the girl one day – by a passing member of the public – swiftly leads to the pair being evicted from their woodland dwellings, and forced to live back in society once again.

For the young girl and her father who know little else but the outdoor life, such a transition is always going to prove to be problematic.

Debra Granik’s film skilfully builds an intricate picture of the unusual bond between PTSD suffering ex-military man, Will (Ben Foster – he of Hell or High Water fame), and his mature-beyond-her-years teenage daughter, Tom (a superbly impressive performance from Thomasin McKenzie), shining the light on their increasingly strained relationship, as Will’s inability to cope with the ‘real world’ begins to seriously conflict with his daughter’s ever growing need to discover herself and integrate more into ‘normal’ society.

Leave No Trace is a highly impressive, refreshingly understated coming-of-age tale, told with neither fuss nor melodramatics, and in whose characters one can truly believe and emotionally invest. A story of courage in adversity, of emotional family bonds, and of learning to let go of the ones we love.

Simple, moving and thoroughly well realised.

 

 

 

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

Three and a half Star Rating

Solo: A Star Wars Story is, all faults-aside, arguably the best Star Wars-related film since The Return of the Jedi.” – Wayward Wolf.

Even given Hollywood’s current tiresome obsession with playing the identity politics and female empowerment cards, (something that continues unabated in Solo: A Star Wars Story), this latest instalment of Disney’s increasingly bloated Star Wars franchise, has to go down as something of a hit.

Ron Howard takes the Director’s chair on this occasion, regaling to us the backstory of just how it was that Han Solo came to be such a loveable rogue, and iconic film character of the 1980’s.

First and foremost, a bold statement:

Solo: A Star Wars Story is, all faults-aside, arguably the best Star Wars-related film since The Return of the Jedi.

But before you strike me down with your light sabre and throw me into the Great Pit of Carkoon, I insist that you hear me out.

The loose ends were all tied up in 1983 with Return of the Jedi‘s feel-good conclusion, waving goodbye in the process to the concept of Star Wars as we knew it, and for what we presumed would be the final time. One of the great cinematic trilogies – unquestionably – was at an end.

Though taking something of a lengthy sabbatical, the whole notion of Star Wars, it turns out, was very much not at an end, and has since spawned any number of additional chapters. But I’d say it’s fairly inarguable that the franchise has continued to find itself in something of a rut, weighed down by the huge expectation of its own making that has been almost entirely impossible to fulfil.

Interminable musings regarding ‘the dark side’, ‘the force’ and the nigh on impossible quest to reach Jedi status, has become enormously tiresome and produced a whole raft of inferior sequels that lack both originality and any sort of impact; each almost duty bound to adopt both painfully predictable story lines and tried and trusted character sets, something that has, to a large extent, mired the Star Wars franchise in a sort of cosmic quicksand of its own making.

With the release of every new (yet painfully old) film, the franchise’s faithful, bordering on obsessed fan base is provided with its bi-yearly fix of Star Wars-related morphine to keep them ticking over until the next time, or until such point as they can finally admit to themselves that Star Wars ‘just ain’t what it used to be.’

No matter the director, the screenwriter or indeed any significant advancements in technology, nothing ever really seems to change. There’s been a real sense of Groundhog day when it comes to all things Star Wars.

Until now, that is…

Don’t get me wrong, Solo: A Star Wars Story does not exactly redefine the whole concept of Science Fiction. Far from it. And it too owes much to what has preceded it.

But there definitely is something that feels a little fresher, less predictable and laborious about Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. This is a film that puts aside the Star-Wars-by-numbers narrative guide, setting this film free – to some extent at least – from the shackles of Star Wars expectation.

Han Solo, Lando Calrissian and the big Wookie himself, Chewbacca, aside, Solo: A Star Wars Story resists the temptation to shoehorn in pointless cameo appearances of the established Star Wars characters of yore, though we are treated to the usual smattering of bizarre weird and wonderful life forms congregated, as ever, in seedy drinking and gambling dens.

Bar the understandable intrigue as to how Han Solo initially hooked up with his furry friend, Chewbacca, Solo: A Star Wars Story, thankfully has the feel of a film that’s not actually dependent upon the over-riding Star Wars narrative.

This is an effective, simple tale of smugglers, scheming rogues and villains, enhanced through some fun performances from the likes of Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany and in particular Alden Ehrenreich, whose lead performance is loaded with a convincing blend of both cheek and charm, something that Harrison Ford himself would no doubt be proud of.

Solo: A Star Wars Story may be but a small piece of the ever expanding intergalactic Star Wars jigsaw, but unlike so many pieces before it, this one more than ably stands alone.

A thoroughly entertaining high energy romp, and something for which Ron Howard should be roundly applauded.

 

 

 

 

SICARIO 2: DAY OF THE SOLDADO

Three and a half Star Rating

“Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is that rarest of beasts, a sequel that stands ably on its own two feet” – Wayward Wolf.

A series of suicide bombings in various U.S cities is growing evidence that the Mexican drug cartels have expanded their operations beyond just Class A. Their focus is now fixed upon trafficking Islamic terrorists across the U.S / Mexican border. In a risky attempt to stem this flow, the U.S government launches a sequence of covert false flag activities on Mexican soil designed to both distract and induce cartel infighting. This particular game plan will culminate with the kidnapping of the daughter of the head of one of the cartels.

The margin for error, however, is perilously thin, and sure enough it’s not long before all best laid plans turn sour. With the task complete, the U.S Government, fearing the unthinkable possibility of culpability, quickly decides that it is left with no other choice than to backtrack and ‘clean up’ all traces of its involvement.

Be they Government operatives, civilians or cartel members, regardless of their allegiances, this will not be good news for any number of the pawns involved in this particular messy game.

Call me naive, but I was actually quite surprised to see that Sicario had spawned a sequel. As excellent as it undoubtedly was, it just didn’t seem like that kind of film.

Of course, the world of big budget mainstream movie-making won’t hesitate to hang its hat off anything if sufficient moolah is waved seductively in front of its fat green-eyed face. That’s a given, Business is business after all.

Certainly any fears that an inferior second instalment would serve only to tarnish the memory of Denis Villeneuve’s gripping original, are thankfully quickly allayed.

Based once again upon a Taylor Sheridan screenplay, Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado is that rarest of beasts, a sequel that stands ably on its own two feet, confidently doing more than enough in just over two hours to be considered a worthy successor to a much respected original.

And you can pretty much count all such films on one hand.

The performances are nicely understated across the board. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin revive their roles as Alejandro and Matt Graver, respectively. Isabella Moner puts in a nice turn as the sassy young abductee, Isabel Reyes, whilst Matthew Modine, in a rare big-screen appearance, portrays the U.S Secretary of Defence.

Perhaps it’s just me but try as I might to identify the man by way of something a little more current, I perpetually resign myself to that fact I will forever envisage Modine, perched on the end of a bed, Birdy-style.

Stefano Sollima’s matter-of-fact direction is visually striking, graphically brutal, and mercifully devoid of unnecessary clichés and sensationalism.

And a tip of the hat too, to the late great Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose low growling glissando sonic motif – used to such stunning effect in Sicario and seemingly ubiquitous within any number of dark Hollywood thrillers since – lives on through the sequel’s composer of choice, Hildur Guðnadóttir, once again underpinning the action with its pervading tone of menace.

As for any credence behind the notion that ‘two is enough’ – this is well and truly put to bed by way of the film’s conclusion, which, whilst being a bit of a bolted-on clunky after thought, undoubtedly leaves the door open to the prospect of a part three of this gritty franchise in which no one ever seem to come up smelling of roses.

Sequel-phobic though I may well generally be, a third instalment – whilst clearly tempting fate – in this instance I’d be so bold to suggest, is actually probably no bad thing.