Sunday, 25 March 2018


Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah
Writers: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer
Director: Steven Soderbergh

After relocating to a new city in order to escape the attentions of creepy stalker David (Leonard), Sawyer Valentini (Foy) is in the process of rebuilding her life when she begins to see David in various places again. Finding a place to get help, a counselling session there turns nightmarish as Sawyer finds herself committed to the mental institution. Worse still, it appears that David is now part of the organisation's healthcare staff. Or is he?

Previously, the title "Unsane" only reminded of the dreadful US version of Dario's Argento terrific thriller Tenebre but thankfully I have something else on which to hang my memories now other than a hacked about version of a classic giallo. Also, a fair bit has been made of the fact that Steven Soderbergh shot this movie on an iPhone but that's a rather gimmicky angle that frankly this movie doesn't need.

In actual fact the lower-fi approach works well and the tight, almost selfie-style close ups work to create an off-beam, claustrophobic atmosphere that serves the opening act well. As the plot progresses and Sawyer's psychological state shifts the filming style does become more conventional but that doesn't stop the odd interlude in which the side effects of medication blur and shake the very frame itself, adding to the disorienting feel.

That's not to say there aren't issues with Unsane. There is a point at which the whole thing seems to be three different movies fighting for space and a thoroughly intriguing first half gives way to a more conventional second where several familiar horror tropes come into play and set the stage for a climax which doesn't break any new ground, right down to the behaviour of the local law enforcement, who are - shock! - slow to catch on in order for the suspense to be cranked up.

Despite the slightly disappointing slide into predictable stalk (literally) and slash territory what makes Unsane an unexpected treat is the performance of Claire Foy. Her performance is superb and it's nigh-on impossible to take your eyes off her whenever she's on screen. Sawyer is a tough, no-nonsense woman who doesn't really care what people think of what because her focus is on surviving no matter what and Foy's work here shifts the movie up to an entirely different level.

The script is careful not to portray its central character as a victim and it's refreshing to see that at no point does our lead descend into helpless horror heroine whimpering, in fact my over-riding feeling for most of the film was that if it came down to a straight fight between Sawyer and stalker then Mr Stalker would be getting his arse kicked in the most non-negotiable way possible.

Elsewhere there's good support from Pharoah as a patient who isn't averse to a spot of wheeling and dealing on the side, Amy Irving is entertaining in a smaller role as Sawyer's mum and Joshua Leonard hits all the clammy chill buttons as the quietly unnerving David. But at the end of the day it's Foy's show and you should watch Unsane just to see how brilliant she is. Without her this would be a watchable, efficient suspense thriller. With her, it's definitely something else.

Wednesday, 21 March 2018


Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Writers: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Director: Roar Uthaug

So here it is, the brilliantly-named Roar Uthaug's reboot of the Lara Croft tale in which our heroine isn't even raiding said tombs when the proceedings kick off. She's a stroppy bike courier who refuses to believe that her missing explorer dad (West) is dead and has no designs on inheriting the family fortune even though Kristin Scott-Thomas turns up to tell Lara that she really ought to cash in.

Of course, it's when Lara decides that maybe she should accept Lord Richard Croft is indeed a goner that she's drawn into a plot on the other side of the world which will see her hone her arrow shooting, wall climbing, puzzle solving, chasm jumping skills as she goes up against bad guy Matthias Vogel (Goggins) who is intent on discovering the remains of an ancient Japanese witch whose power may be strong enough to - you guessed - bring about the end the world as we know it.

If the above sounds a bit hokey, well, it is. The second half of the film, in particular, has echoes of a certain hat-wearing archaeologist/adventurer's first outing and unfortunately Tomb Raider does suffer somewhat from a series of increasingly sub-Raiders sequences. Rope down a long drop? Check. Traps? Check. Faces melting? Well, no. Actually, sort of.

It also doesn't help that the tomb is set up as a virtually impenetrable structure where sudden, icky, terrifying death is lurking around every corner and yet Lara and co manage to reach their goal with much less fuss than I expected. Of course, a couple of disposable henchmen get caught in traps but that's more through blundering carelessness than fiendish construction.

And yet, it is still kind of enjoyable. An early bike chase through London is a real highlight. Excitingly shot and edited, it's a shame that the rest of the action's a touch plodding and predictable compared to this opening gambit. And it's difficult to find fault with Alicia Vikander who throws herself into the role and gives us a character that isn't immediately likeable but is nonetheless strong, interesting and impressively athletic. As she charges around the exotic landscapes you may feel out of breath.

West chews the scenery with gusto and his aristo pathfinder is good value in his limited screen time. Unfortunately, it's the bad guy who gets short shrift here and poor old Walton Goggins is saddled with a criminally underwritten role. To be fair, Goggins gives it a decent shot because. let's face it, he's a fine actor but the script doesn't present Vogel as a genuine threat save for a climactic face-off against Lara as they duke it out in time-honoured 12A certificate fashion.

Even after the main plot is tied up, Tomb Raider manages to botch the not entirely unexpected set up for a potential sequel. It's very oddly executed, clumsily cramming in a rushed, cross-cut mishmash of information and flashbacks which were never especially alluded to during the rest of the movie. I'm fine with late rug pulls but the rug has to be there in the first place, you can't just chuck it in front of the audience after an hour and three quarters then immediately yank it away with a theatrical "ha ha!".

Roar Uthaug can definitely turn out an excellent, character-driven action flick - see his previous Norway-set disaster flick The Wave for evidence of this. Here, the pressure of a helming a big studio movie may possibly have blunted his approach but there's still fun to be had from Tomb Raider. If there are further movies, however, they'll need to up the action ante and take more risks than this does.

Thursday, 8 March 2018


Starring: Lorraine De Selle, John Aldrich, Ugo Bologna
Writer: Franco E. Prosperi
Director: Franco E. Prosperi


When PCP somehow finds its way into the water system of a northern European city, the animals in the zoo get completely off their faces and escape, posing a lethal threat to all they encounter. It's up to zoologist Rupert "Rip" Berner (Aldrich) - luxurious of barnet and impeccably groomed of moustache - to save the day...

After co-directing the infamous series of "Mondo" documentaries, Franco E. Prosperi breaks out on his own here with this genuinely deranged tale of man's not-so-best friends running amok in a metropolis teeming with potential meals. His previous work featured genuine scenes of animal cruelty so maybe he thought it was time the animals got their own back. Does it redress the balance? Well, as it's fiction, not at all. Still, on with this very strange show.

Early on, a canoodling couple in a car helpfully leave the doors open and decide to let a whole load of rats chow down on them and from there the film steadily ups the ante in terms of the dangerous beasts on show, giving us a dog (who clearly doesn't like its owner's choice of LP), a cheetah, elephants, a tiger and ultimately a bloody great polar bear versus a bunch of humans who were never going to get the "most likely to survive in a crisis" award.

I suppose the "northern European city" referred to in the film's opening moments is never actually referred to by name because its residents are such idiots, choosing to drive into each other or somehow manage to send their cars airborne through shop windows instead of, well, you know, maybe steering around the animal that they can see a bit further down the road. For most of the movie it does feel like if these people hadn't been eaten by tigers or trampled by elephants they'd have probably touched some bare wires sticking out of a mains socket or just blundered off a cliff before too long.

There's virtually no character development either as the main players are dropped into the mayhem with very little build-up and so it's difficult to care about them much, save for Rip with his animal rapport and his, ahem, "animal magnetism". And despite his genuine affection for his furry pals at the zoo he's also a bit of a dick, exchanging laddy bantz with local cop Bologna at the expense of his girlfriend, journalist Laura Schwarz (De Selle, top-billed here but sidelined for a substantial portion of the running time).

Which brings me to the script. It's unwaveringly dreadful, full of dialogue exchanges that would never take place anywhere else other than in this movie. It's also overloaded with a smarmy sexism that renders the female characters in the movie - De Selle included - little more than damsels in distress who ultimately need rescuing by guys such as Rip. Laura doesn't even get to do much in the way of investigative journalism either, it being Rip who suggests she may have a contact at the water company who may give some insight as to what's going on.

The performances are generally perfunctory save for Aldrich who gets the lion's share (I know, I'm sorry) of the story and at least he seems to be enjoying himself. De Selle, who's actually pretty good in other sleazy Euro exploiters such as Cannibal Ferox and The House On The Edge Of The Park, looks a touch bored here. As well she should be considering her character is given so little depth beyond having a difficult relationship with her bratty daughter which finally comes into play courtesy of a late, taste-free twist. To be honest, the cheetah out-acts most of the cast and probably should have demanded a bigger role.

And yet it's not all awful. Yes, it's mostly awful but the sequences where the animals attack do work fairly well despite how clumsily they're put together. The scene where a cheetah chases a VW Beetle is memorably bonkers, not to mention an impressive technical achievement considering the paucity of the budget I'm assuming the film-makers had to work with here. The appearance of the polar bear is a showstopper too, it's just a shame the rest of that section of the movie doesn't go on to deliver a truly satisfying payoff.

If you're turning up for the gore there's plenty of offal getting cleavered and chucked about for starters and a couple of the munched victims are a bit on the grisly side but it never really goes genuinely full-on in terms of blood and guts and errs on the side of super close-ups of its slaughtered unfortunates so you end up looking at something which is bloody and vaguely unpleasant but generally undefined beyond that.

A crazy concoction of lunk-headed machismo, terrible writing, gossamer-thin characterisation and muddy visuals, Wild Beasts is sunk even further by its climax, which isn't really a climax at all. It just ends. There's no resolution other than the fact that eventually the drugs will wear off and everything will go back to normal. Even so, couldn't there have been one final, totally batshit battle between bloke and beast? Apparently not.

If you're of fan of genuinely trashy movies then Wild Beasts does possess at least some entertainment value, if only for its utterly barmy plot and the odd moment that must be seen to be believed. However, if your idea of human-animal interaction begins and ends with Doctor Doolittle then you should avoid it this like it's a herd of stampeding elephants. And if you're smart enough to even consider avoiding them then you obviously don't live in the aforementioned "northern European city".