IN THE EARTH (2021)

April 29, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Have you ever wondered why they warned concert attendees to stay away from the brown acid at Woodstock? I can only speculate, but I assume the poor souls who consumed the taboo drug experienced hallucinations not dissimilar to watching this latest from writer-director Ben Wheatley. Filmmaker Wheatley previously delivered such interesting and diverse fare as the intriguing horror film KILL LIST (2011), the confusing and bizarre HIGH-RISE (2015), and my personal favorite of his, the quite funny and action-packed FREE FIRE (2016).

Martin Lowery (Joel Fry, YESTERDAY, 2019) is sent to track down a doctor whose research may provide desperately needed help in fighting a virus that has wreaked havoc on the human race. Martin himself has been in isolation for four months prior to this mission. He teams up with Alma (Ellora Torchia, MIDSOMMAR, 2019), a Park Ranger who works out of a Lodge that has been closed for a year due to the pandemic. She will act as his guide on the 2 day hike through the dense forest to find the doctor.

As you would expect, the hike doesn’t go smoothly, and things turn very weird and dangerous when Martin and Alma cross paths with Zach (Reece Shearsmith, HIGH-RISE, 2015). He’s the ex-husband of Dr. Wendle, the one Martin and Alma are in search of. However, Zach is off the grid and off his (proverbial) rocker. He converses with the forest, which might possibly be his most normal action.

Dr. Olivia Wendle (Hayley Squires, I, DANIEL BLAKE) is finally located, and though she and Martin know each other, she seems quite intent on finishing her research in the forest. Back at the Lodge, Alma had filled Martin in on a local folk tale … the Spirit of the Woods, named Parnag. Most just call it, “the thing in the woods.” Are we to believe nature is evil, or is nature just fighting back against humans?

Written by Wheatley last year, the film shows the effects of a pandemic on some people and how trying to solve things through science may fall short. Paranoia, distrust, dread, and isolation from others are all at play here – and quite in line with our current state. A supernatural element hovers, but the psychedelic images keep us disoriented, and seem to exist for the sole purpose of visual effects. The strobes are so strong they could trigger responses from sensitive viewers, and if they don’t, the gore likely will. Cinematographer Nick Gillespie and composer Clint Mansell are standouts here, and though Wheatley is to be commended for his quick work, the film didn’t really click for me. Perhaps the two best comparisons are THE HAPPENING (2008) and the far superior ANNIHILATION (2018).

In theaters April 30, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


FREE FIRE (2017)

April 19, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Searching back through more than a decade of film reviews, I can confirm that the phrase “slapstick shootout” has not previously been part of my movie lexicon … which is a relief since it could never be more accurately placed than in description of this latest from the husband and wife filmmaking team of director Ben Wheatley and writer Amy Jump (prior works include High-Rise, Kill List and a few others). The zingers are plentiful – both in bullets and dialogue. It’s unlikely you’ve ever laughed as much during such a violent/gory/graphic assault on the senses (especially auditory).

Set in 1978 Boston, which allows for added humor via music, attire, hairstyles and vehicles, the basic premise is a meet-up for the deal between an IRA faction and a gun-dealer, with the brokers and “muscle” of each side along for the ride. When cases of AR70’s are presented instead of the ordered M16’s, the deal gets a bit shaky until cooler heads prevail. That is until one of the gun-runners recognizes an IRA guy as the one who disrespected his 17 year old cousin the night before. It’s at this point that the film cranks to a frenzy that would make the Mayhem commercial guy proud. It’s the visual definition of a cluster.

A stand-off and shootout occurs (with side deals and betrayals) over the next hour and yet the early comical dialogue somehow becomes next level great despite bullets whizzing through a terrific setting in an abandoned umbrella warehouse. Unlike in some movies, these bullets inflict pain (and the subsequent cries and wails). The characters continue to banter and threaten one another, all while dragging their lead-induced injuries across the dusty floor between various forms of protective shields strewn about the warehouse.

Normally I would concentrate on the major characters, but most everyone involved in the deal-gone-bad has at least a couple of memorable lines and moments. The gun-runners are led by Sharlto Copley as Vernon, a cocky, mouthy South African whose dialect sounds an awful like New Zealander Murray in the classic TV gem “Flight of the Conchords”. In a movie that seems impossible to steal, Copley comes the closest and his Vernon would make a perfect Halloween costume and annoying party guest. His cohorts are Marion (Babou Cesay), Gordan (Noah Taylor, Max 2002) and Harry (Jack Reynor, Sing Street, 2016). The IRA group is led by uptight Chris (Cillian Murphy), Stevo (a hilarious Sam Riley, Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Frank (Michael Smiley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). The two deal brokers are the ultra-debonair Ord (Armie Hammer) and the lone female Justine (Brie Larson). It’s a terrific cast having a ridiculously good time with a creative and rollicking script.

Know going in that the film is a very hard R-rating for violence, drug use (in the middle of the shootout), and a bounty of flowing F-words. It’s neither for the faint of heart nor those who take their standoffs too seriously. Director Wheatley employs a vast array of unusual camera angles to ensure the action never looks boring, and his use of secondary and tertiary sound (especially with dialogue) is expert and dizzying at times. Don’t expect too many layers or sub-plots. It’s simply a shoot ‘em up romp capitalizing on black comedy to the nth degree. John Denver might not have approved of the use of his song, and just remember, “We can’t all be nice girls”.

CAUTION: this is the RED BAND trailer and is NSFW or Kids:

 

 


HIGH-RISE (2016)

May 12, 2016

Dallas International Film Festival 2016

high rise Greetings again from the darkness. When a novel has been deemed “unfilmable” for forty years, perhaps the designation should be honored, rather than accepted as a challenge. That said, there is probably a cult-like movie lurking somewhere in and around director Ben Wheatley’s (Kill List, 2011) personal spin on the 1975 novel from J.G. Ballard (who also penned “Crash” and “Empire of the Sun”).

Amy Jump adapted the screenplay from Ballard’s novel, and in the blink of an eye, the tone shifts from a microcosm of a decaying society and class warfare to all-out anarchy and hedonism. What’s fascinating is that the talented cast nearly rescues the film from the misguided script. Tom Hiddleston stars as Dr. Laing, a physiologist who moves into the futuristic (for the 1970’s) monolith, seemingly naïve to the wicked ways of this insular community. Sienna Miller plays Charlotte, a fellow middle-class resident, who not only crushes on Laing, but also seems to know where the skeletons are buried. On the Terrace level, the always entertaining Jeremy Irons plays Royal, the building’s architect and overseer … a kind of great and powerful Oz. An unrecognizable Luke Evans (out of his usual pretty boy mode) is stellar as the aptly named Wilder, a documentary filmmaker who adds a dose of skepticism towards the building – in contrast to Laing’s innocent approach.

Beginning at the macabre ending, the film then flashes back to “3 months earlier” as Laing first moves into the building. This device is the only semblance of time provided throughout. We witness how quickly Laing takes to the sport of social climbing, buddying up to Royal, and joining in with the communal decadence.

Power outages, orgies, class warfare and enough cigarettes to qualify as a non-smoking PSA, the film seems intent on ensuring viewers remain disoriented as to the reasons for mass chaos. The building itself could be considered a character, and certainly the use of mirrors and a kaleidoscope makes a statement … even while we hear multiple versions of Abba’s “SOS”. Black comedies typically make the best cult movies, and though this one is filled with aberrant and deviant behavior, it’s somehow not quite twisted enough … or at least not properly twisted for viewer fun. Beyond that, it comes across as an expression of filmmaker anger rather than the commentary on British infrastructure that Ballard intended.

**NOTE: I’m sure the similarities of the movie poster to that of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is no coincidence, although that’s a pretty ambitious stretch for High-Rise.

watch the trailer: