THE INNOCENTS (Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Finland/France/UK 2021) ***** Top 10
Directed by Eskil Vogt
The child’s world can be filled with wonder, astonishment and curiosity. But this is not the world that writer/director Eskil Vogt is interested in, in this original, excellent and scariest horror film this year that has already won awards the world over including the Danish equivalent of the Academy Award for Best non-English film. Ida’s world is filled with complete horror, confusion and absence of adult guidance. Ida must navigate her strange world to survive as well as to save the life of her autistic sister Anna’s.
During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults are not looking. In this original and gripping supernatural thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn.
The story is told from 4-year old Ida’s (Rakel Lenora Flottum) point of view. When the film opens, the audience sees a wide-eyed child learning to make sense of the world around her. Ida is first seen sitting at the back of her family car where she pinches hard the leg of her sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) who feels no pain. Anna is autistic and cannot speak. In one disturbing scene following, Ida sees broken glass and places remnants of the glass in the shoes of both Anna. Mysteriously, blood flows from the cuts endured from both Anna and her newly found friend and neighbour, Aisha (Mina Yasmin). It is a nasty scene where she learns the meaning of danger through curiosity. It is the hurt that Ida has caused to both that pushes her to try to save the two girls from impending evil later in the film. Director Vogt’s images are stark and scary and he ensures that there is much thought that goes between his images. Vogt keeps his audience on their toes, always thinking, while surprising if not shocking them at the same time.
At one of Ida’s most desperate moments, she turns to her mother to ask advice as to what needs to be done when someone is bad. Her mother’s advice is to tell an adult, something that Ida cannot do. But going on, the mother says that the person must act as an adult to solve the problem. This is the point where Ida grows up, and takes it upon herself to save her sister.
The villain of the piece is a 14-year old, minority immigrant, Ben (Sam Ashraf). One might accuse director Vogt of being racist by making the villain a minority descent. But Ben’s minority status can be argued to be necessary in the story. He is bullied by the white kids in the neighbourhood and the white kids get their comeuppance when Ben releases his full fury upon them. This is when the other three kids realize that this boy is evil and that they must stop him.
The adults in the story appear to be in their own world, not understanding what the children are going through. This fact makes the film even more harrowing. There is little blood and gore in this horror feature except for the part of a stabbing. The psychological horror and the horror of anticipation are all more effective than their graphic equivalent.
THE INNOCENTS opens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. If there is one film you have to see after recovering the Pandemic, this is the one!
OPERATION MINCEMEAT (UK/USA 2021) ***1/2
Directed by John Madden
OPERATION MINCEMEAT is a World War II war thriller based on true events involving a real operation also called Operation Mincemeat. The filmmakers do their utmost best to stress the importance of the operation and the great effect it had on the outcome of WWII as well as the enormity of the operation in order to create urgency in the story. This is not the first film based on the true story. The story formed the basis for the 1956 British film by Ronald Neame THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS starring Clifton Webb and Gloria Grahame. Director John Madden (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and the EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL films) has a go in this Netflix film now starring Colin Firth and Kelly Macdonald.
Operation Mincemeat was a successful British deception operation of the Second World War to disguise the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. Two members of British intelligence obtained the body of Glyndwr Michael, a tramp who died from eating rat poison, dressed him as an officer of the Royal Marines and placed personal items on him identifying him as the fictitious Captain (Acting Major) William Martin. Correspondence between two British generals which suggested that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia, with Sicily as merely the target of a feint, was also placed on the body. The operation was planned in 1943, the setting of the film, by Ewen Montagu and Charles Cholmondeley. Colin Firth plays Montagu.
The film begins praising itself that it has a very good story as the voiceover informs that every good story contains that which is seen and that which is hidden, the latter being true in the times of war. Instead of true battles and blood, the audience sees, as in this film of war, a tale of deception, seduction and bad faith in which truth ironically, is protected by a body of lies. A similar story can be found in THE 39 STEPS, a book that is read by Montagu at bedtime to his son.
The story is enlivened by a romance between Montagu and Jean Leslie (Macdonald) though the romance is not entirely convincing. The love Montagu has for his wife Iris (Hattie Moharan), who is sent away for safety is the more convincing one.
It is the capture of the urgency of the operation that makes the movie. The atmosphere is created in a number of ways from the voiceover, always heard throughout the film and the constant rushing around of the characters, the often sound of the clicking of the keys of a typewriter and the film’s dialogue. Firth does a marvellous and credible job as Montagu, showing his character not only as brilliant but one with human flaws.
The film had its world premiere at the 2021 British Film Festival in Australia, and was released in cinemas on 15 April 2022, grossing $6.3 million at the time of writing. Netflix purchased the rights to the film in North America and the film will be released on Netflix on May 11th, while having an early one week run in Toronto at the Paradise Cinema.
THE SADNESS (Taiwan 2021) ***
Directed by Rob Jabbaz
THE SADNESS (哭悲) is a 2021 Taiwanese horror film written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Rob Jabbaz in his feature film directorial debut. It is heavily inspired by the comic book series and stars Berant Zhu and Regina as a Taiwanese couple who attempt to reunite amidst a viral pandemic that turns people into homicidal maniacs.
THE SADNESS is basically a zombie movie from Taiwan, shot in and around Taipei with a Taiwanese spin given to the zombie genre. In THE SADNESS, the zombie invasion is tied in to the Pandemic that the world is currently still facing. A virus here called the Alvin virus has infected the population - around 15 to 20% when the film opens, according to the broadcast on TV. This means almost everyone is in danger and there is no easy escape. The zombies here are fast moving and can run as fast, if not faster than their human victims. The virus is passed on by blood which means a bite would have the virus transmitted. Here, when affected the victim would becomes a fierce predator, often a sexual and violent one, often raping human beings not to mention torturing them. This zombie film has the feel of Eli Roth’ SAW franchise where torture, horrid acts and gore abound. The film is not for the weak hearted, think zombie + saw + sexual rapes.
A couple, Jim (Berant Zhu) and Kat (Regina) wake up in the morning to discuss plans for the holidays. Jim reluctantly discloses that he is called in by a friend of a work of opportunity. While Kat showers, Jim watches the news on social media, regarding Doctor Wong research on the Alvin Virus, He warns that the whole nation needs to be in quarantine due to the danger of the virus mutation. The host of the podcast debunked his concern, due to the virus awareness being a coincidence in the time of election. Before leaving to take Kat to work on his motorbike, Jim notices an old lady on the roof, with her dress covered in blood, leaving him alarmed. Before dropping Kat at the station, the two notice on the streets when a police officer restraining a man, covered in blood and another woman, to which the plague is indeed real. The rest of the film has Jim and Kat separate battling zombies. Jim attempts to travel to Kat to take her to safety.
The tortures include four kids playing the game of ‘nutcracker’. The violence involved include a spike in a victim’s eye before she is raped; a hedge shears dismembering two fingers and others too ghastly to watch.
When Jim scours the city, a broadcast can be heard over the radio: “It is hard for me to believe what is going on.” Apparently, the broadcaster is not the only one who feels that way. But credibility is often thrown out the window in zombie movies, so the same should be done here. The film offers some explanation to the zombie apocalypse, but this should be taken with a grain of salt. The film also includes images of the virus as it mutates to stronger forms.
To enjoy THE SADNESS, one must be prepared to throw caution and reasoning to the wind, enjoy violent excesses of blood and gore in a film with little plot or story.
The film received a theatrical release in Taiwan on 22 January 2021. The film premiered internationally at the 74th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland on 12 August 2021 and will be available on the Shudder horror streaming service in May.
SENIOR YEAR (USA 2022) ***
Directed by Alex Hardcastle
SENIOR YEAR is Australia’s Rebel Wilson’s teen comedy since she has lost all that weight and now looks gorgeous.
The film’s protagonist is Stephanie, and when the film opens she is 14, just moved to the U.S. from Australia, still sporting her Aussie accent. Stephanie wants so hard to fit in and she has a really hard time though she finally figures out how and becomes the most popular girl with the mega hot boy friend Blaine. Stephanie still uses Aussie terms like ‘indicate’ as opposed to the American equivalent of ‘signal’ as in one scene when her days needs to signal left on the car. She dreams of becoming the prom queen during SENIOR YEAR and marrying the prom king to lead the life she dreams of. But….
Girls want to be Stephanie and guys want to be with her. She has it all until she falls off the top of the cheerleading pyramid and goes into a coma. The Bulldogettes cheerleading choreographed segment is the film’s best and most lively part and comes with the new hit song: “It’s so hot, I’m taking off all my clothes.” (The segment is similarly choreographed as the film’s climax.) Fast forward 20 years later and Stephanie (now played by Rebel Wilson) finally wakes up from her coma as a 37-year-old woman. She goes back to her high school and tries to assume her role as the star of her school. Most of all, she is still set on winning the crown as prom queen. The film turns really hilarious once Wilson takes over the character, proving her worth as a top notch comedienne.
Director Alex Hardcastle is no stranger to comedy having worked with comic greats including Robin Williams and and Lily Tomlin. The comedy moves at a fast and furious pace, suited for the teen market audience the film hopes for. Certain terms like VMA are used, as the film expects that the audience knows that VMA stands for the Video Music Awards, something that teens deem very important. The film is assumed to be a bit biographical since Wilson herself moved to the U.S. from Australia. One assumes Wilson had a hard time adapting to American life as well. So, the film scores high points on credibility.
SENIOR YEAR might be that rare teen comedy starring a 40-year old actress in the main role. It succeeds at both its target teen audience while also catering to the adult audience delivering sufficient humour with a dash of lively musical numbers. The premise is not that original, but kind of fresh enough. The recent HOT DOCS 2022 featured a documentary from Scotland called MY OLD SCHOOL about the true story of a 35-year old imposter entering his old school pretending to be 16 in order to enter medical school by passing the entrance exam.
SENIOR YEAR is a Netflix original comedy. In these times where Netflix’s stock has plummeted due to a loss of subscribers, it is encouraging to see the streaming service still churn out both artistic international films as well as commercial ones like SENIOR YEAR. SENIOR YEAR might not be the best film of the year, but it should satisfy Netflix’s fan base of Ok films to watch and stream.
THE VILLAGE HOUSE (Gamak Ghar)(India 2019 ) *** 1/2
Directed by Achai Mishra
Continuing their commitment to releasing challenging new arthouse and independent films from India and Southeast Asia with the recent release of THE SHEPHERDESS AND THE SEVEN SONGS, Deaf Crocodile Films and Gratitude Films latest release is the debut film from Indian director Achal Mishra, THE VILLAGE HOUSE (GAMAK GHAR).
The Village House is the huge compound and building that a family gathers at, under an elderly matriarch for a ceremony. A big family gathering occurs usually once a year and the audience gets to witness one of these gatherings.
The question arises as to whether there is anything going on in this quiet nostalgic look as the family and relations gather in the village house. In terms of commercial action narrative films, there might appear that nothing is developing in terms of story or plot. But upon careful examination of the goings-on on screen there is much that can be observed by the keen eye of a moviegoer. The men play cards, gambling while the females are indulged in cooking and looking after the children. The children play in the backyard. Much can be observed about the Indian culture of how the villagers behave and how they interact. It is funny to see the men argue about winning or losing money. Director Mishra’ camera includes close-ups of the cooking, like the frying of potato fritters, deep frying in oil in a pan that looks like a Chinese wok. The sight of the boys climbing mango trees in order to pick ripe ones is something seldom seen. The colourful clothes hanging on the clothes line add to the colour of the scene, something that gay director Almodovar loves to do in his films. Almodovar’s latest film PARALLEL MOTHERS noticeable had red clothes on the clothesline.
The cinematography and sound both deserve mention. The beautiful mornings of the countryside are captured as in one scene with mist covering a field of green with white long willows seen on the side, The sound of birds chirping can also be heard. Many of the interior scenes are lit by natural light emitting from the windows of the house. Quite a few segments are accompanied by sombre music but those that are not are accompanied instead by natural sounds, like birds singing or the splattering of the raindrops, distinct sounds that can be heard in the countryside with no interruption from the sound of motor vehicles.
The film has the feel of other countryside epics from famous directors such as Edward Yang and Satyajit Ray as in this APU trilogy.
The lack of narrative in the film allows director Mishra not to be con strained by story or plot and to allows her to just film the beauty of the past.
Director Mishra has said that her film is a very personal film based on her childhood experiences, and it shows in her simple and beautiful film. The intimate details (frying potato fritters; chickens running around the courtyard) serve to preserve the memory of the ancestral home,” says Mishra. Understandably, the film, heavy on Indian content, has been very warmly received by audiences across India.
Like old houses, this village house ends up in direness of repair. The ending scenes shows the roof if the house being renovated, in order to preserve the old and the nostalgia that com with it.
THE VILLAGE HOUSE The film will is released on TVOD / SVOD on May 10, 2022.