When a film is touted as a supposedly offensive comedy, I tend to go in sceptical, because for me titles touted as such tend to be neither. Such was the case with War on Everyone, and it’s fair to say, in that regard at least, my expectations were met. War on Everyone failed to elicit a single belly laugh from me, and neither did it leave me writing letters to my local MP demanding the BFI should be dismantled for funding such sick filth. No, instead, I was mostly bored for just over an hour and a half, and wishing I’d re-watched The Nice Guys for a third time instead.
Something we’re hoping to keep you up to date on here at Warped Perspective is news of the most exciting upcoming home entertainment releases – we’re talking DVDs and Blu-rays, predominantly, of the hot new genre films and the best in cult classics. There are so many great specialist labels out there now that sometimes it can be hard to keep track (and I can’t promise I’ll manage to cover everything, so give me a shout if I’ve left out anything great!).
As it’s the start of the year here are some of the highlights of January’s upcoming releases, in case any have slipped under your radar, as well as a couple of exciting recent announcements.
If there was one thing that didn’t suck horribly about 2016 it was the year’s selection of genre films. As ever, I’ve been immensely privileged to see a whole load of upcoming films as well as general releases, and so my favourites list is populated by a mix of films that were on general release and others that will be in UK cinemas and homes during 2017. I’ve broadly here stuck to films which are ‘genre’, with an emphasis on horror, but even so it was a struggle narrowing things down.
By Nia Edwards-Behi
Hong Kong martial arts films have always had an evident spiritual connection to the Western – similar narratives playing out in different settings and with different weapons: fists and feet instead of Colts and Winchesters. This connection is drawn to the surface to full effect in Benny Chan’s Call of Heroes, as a mis-matched group of local heroes stand-off to protect a town from the psychopathic son of a warlord. Horse-back hero shots, sunsets, and a Morricone-lite score are notable Western icons in this otherwise blisteringly-violent and not-so-subtly political film. Add a dash of Mifune and a hefty helping of Sammo Hung’s excellent action direction and Call of Heroes is a gift for genre-lovers.
1971 saw something of a cinematic seismic shift in Britain, with three films seeming to trouble the censors and moral guardians of Britain more than any others before. Arriving in quick succession were The Devils, A Clockwork Orange, and Straw Dogs, three films which seemed to pave the way for a landslide of taboo-breaking and controversy-baiting – hot on the heels of these three landmarks were the likes of The Exorcist and Emmanuelle. While The Devils somehow remains cut in this country, and A Clockwork Orange retains its infamous status despite being a widely-seen and praised film, it’s almost easy to forget that Straw Dogs was as controversial as it was when it first hit screens. Although it’s now a celebrated and canonical film, even remade by the Hollywood machine, on first release Straw Dogs almost brought the BBFC to its feet and proved one of the most controversial films in British cinema history.
Straw Dogs is Sam Peckinpah’s adaptation of Gordon Williams’ novel, The Siege of Trencher’s Farm. It stars Dustin Hoffman as mild-mannered American mathematician, David Sumner, who is spending research leave in Cornwall with his wife, Amy (Susan George), who hails from the area – escaping from the violent climate of America as well as getting away to work on his book. Once there, David very quickly finds himself at odds with the locals, in particular Charlie Venner (Del Henney), Amy’s former flame. As the blissful veneer of Amy and David’s relationship begins to crack, particularly after a violent assault on Amy, the tensions between David and the locals escalate. When David defends a local man accused of murder (David Warner), he must face off in a violent confrontation with Charlie and the other locals. Continue reading “"I did them all" – Straw Dogs at 45”
By Nia Edwards-Behi
The promotional bluster for I Am Alone makes some quite grand claims which had rather the opposite effect on me than what I presume was intended. Rather than make me think, ‘oh wow, this film must be great!’, the claims that the filmmakers “reinvented the [found footage] subgenre of horror” made me roll my eyes and settle in for the same old things I’d seen a hundred times before. This was in part also thanks to the synopsis: a reality TV presenter is lost in the woods when a viral outbreak turns the local population into, well, zombies, obviously, and when his footage is discovered the CDC think he might hold the key to finding a cure for the virus which is infecting people in their droves.
Now, in fairness, I was a little bit misguided. I Am Alone certainly does not reinvent anything, but it does have a couple of innovations which make it stand out. The dominant use of GoPro cameras and accessories for the main ‘found’ footage, along with CCTV and surveillance footage elsewhere, means that the look of the film is relatively different to the usual shaky cam. The film does concern a reality TV crew, and thankfully they are not paranormal investigators – their use of GoPros and similar equipment at least gives them an air of modern believability. Of course, GoPro footage can be just as nausea-inducing as regular shaky cam, so sadly that aspect of the film doesn’t solve any issues with that. It takes a while for the film to get entirely generic – the unfolding of the viral outbreak is quite nicely presented, if a bit convoluted, so the first portion of the film is just about watchable, but sadly it loses this grip on tension-building fairly sharpish. The ‘infected’ themselves are at least kept a bit interesting because they shuffle around like ‘walkers’ but they look and sound more like ‘runners’. There’s also no faffing around trying to ‘name’ them, which is quite refreshing, but the film probably could have done with a bit more knowingness of where it stands in relation to the genre as a whole – especially if it wants to make claims at reinventing it.
I Am Alone’s filmmakers claim that in order to make their main “character’s journey feel raw and authentic” they “used different storytelling techniques and employed various shooting formats”. Now, what they might have wanted to have done is spent a bit more time on the story and the script to achieve that, not faff around with a mix of vlog-style reality TV, surveillance footage and documentary. It doesn’t make one tiny bit of difference what your shooting formats are if you haven’t actually bothered to fully realise your characters and your narrative in the first place. Gareth David-Lloyd is a good actor, and he manages to ground the somewhat less than convincing dialogue he’s given early in the film as he attempts to purposefully get lost in the Colorado wilderness for his TV show. But even he can’t save the dialogue at the film’s tail-end, when hamfisted attempts at pathos are injected into proceedings and he has to react to video messages sent to him from his wife – because naturally that’s what you’d do in the zombie apocalypse, not call, or at least try to Skype or Facetime given as your in-the-wilds husband still has battery and, apparently, signal to receive video.
Ultimately, this film falls prey to the same tedious mistakes that many other found footage films do. The ‘wrap around’ segment, of a CDC scientist and one of the other TV crew members watching back through the footage, is a mess, neatly summed up by the fact that they’re watching GoPro footage on a CRT television which is surrounded by other out of date tech. There are moments where the shots captured make no sense (and it seems like everyone has CCTV cameras installed, conveniently), and the fact that the film has music playing over it doesn’t help matters either.
In short, Colin did the whole slow-descent-into-zombie much better back in 2008, and 2013’s The Borderlands does a much better job of using CCTV, video diaries and helmet-cameras to scare the audience and tell a good story. I Am Alone ultimately feels like a very long intro sequence to a computer game, which is underscored by the film just abruptly ending just as things are kicking off in the ‘present day’ scenario. While I Am Alone is by no means the worst found footage film I’ve seen, it has very little to recommend it.
I Am Alone is currently screening at festivals.
Review by Nia Edwards-Behi
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to see A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night for some time. A film dubbed an Iranian-vampire-western, directed by a woman, seems quite tailor-made to my tastes. Shot in stark black and white, the film is set in the fictional Iranian town of Bad City, where its sparse population seems to consist of gangsters and the down-trodden. These inhabitants soon come to realise that there is a ghoul amongst them, and she wants company as much as she wants blood.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is something of an imperfect triumph. My immediate reaction was ‘liked it, didn’t love it’, but since seeing it the hankering to see it again has been very strong. Ultimately, I think the film falls down in terms of its pacing, and as a result it’s perhaps a bit over-long. Watching it in a festival setting, a little bit sleepy, probably didn’t help. The film is deliberately slow anyway, and that’s fine, but as a whole it has a tendency to drag. However, there is so much to be praised here, that even if my immediate response wasn’t ecstatic, I would instantly recommend the film.
As a debut feature, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night certainly shows courage. Shot in the States, yet set in Iran and made entirely in Farsi, it’s refreshing that film has received the level of support that it seems to have had. Ana Lily Amirpour’s direction and script are both slow and deliberate, and aside from pacing issues, that style hugely contributes to the languid tone of the film. It is gorgeous to look at, dominated by long shots and intimate close ups, Amirpour’s steady hand providing snapshots of life in Bad City while bringing us closer and closer to The Girl.
The film’s narrative is really quite simple, and overall the film seems much less concerned about story than it is about people and under-stated emotions. The performances are wonderful, with Sheila Vand truly captivating in the lead role. Around The Girl are characters in various shades of vulnerable – the down-trodden young man, exploited prostitute, pathetic macho gangster, aged over-bearing father – and The Girl impacts upon all of them. The Girl too is vulnerable, perhaps a little bit sad, but she holds a power that the others evidently do not. She is ruthlessly bored, stalking, threatening and killing people who variously do and do not deserve it. There is indication that the inhabitants of Bad City should know that there is a predator among them, evident from a huge ravine filled with bodies, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that they’re out to get her unless she becomes directly involved in their lives.
All this talk of sad, bored and lonely characters might under-sell the film, however, which is surprisingly funny at times. The Girl rides a skateboard stolen from a child, and a crucial meeting between The Girl and Arash (Arash Marandi), takes place while the young man is high as a kite and dressed in a rubbish Dracula costume. The humour is masterfully restrained, such as in a remarkably awkward long shot in which a cat (quite a central role, actually) inspires fits of cathartic giggles. There’s also a remarkable sweetness to the romance which blossoms between Arash and The Girl, both seemingly offering a way out of the badness of Bad City to each other. The soundtrack plays an important role in the film as whole, but particularly in regard to this central relationship. Comparisons to Jim Jarmusch are not misplaced, but are even more pronounced after his own excellent vampire romance, Only Lovers Left Alive. Music is very much at the core of the film, even down to the look of gangster Saeed (Dominic Rains) clearly being inspired by Ninja of South African rap duo Die Antwoord (further confirmed by Amirpour wearing a t-shirt bearing Ninja’s face to the Sitges screening).
While A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night might not be a complete success, there is so much talent evident within it. This is genre-bending, sensitive filmmaking, and it succeeds in being serious without ever taking itself too seriously. I am very excited to see where Amirpour goes next.