Director: Mitch Jenkins
Writer: Alan Moore
Cast: Tom Burke, Siobhan Hewlett, Christopher Fairbank, Darrell D’Silva, Alan Moore
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 100mins
What’s the story: Hitman Fletcher Dennis (Burke) arrives in Northampton on a mission to retrieve a priceless Rosicrucian Maltese Cross and kill the man who assaulted the daughter of a London gangster (Fairbank). But in Northampton, things never run smoothly.
What’s the verdict: Back in 2014, Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins released Show Pieces, a portmanteau of three short films set in both Northampton and a mythic underworld. Darrell D’Silva, who plays Dennis’ mark here, had a significant role in one of those shorts, but this feature length follow-up is more Burke’s movie. Although Siobhan Hewlett, who played a jaded auto-eroticism fixated thrill seeker in Show Pieces, here has her character tweaked and promoted to female lead, forced to help Dennis with his assignment.
Mitch Jenkins again directs from Alan Moore’s script, but the lasting impression is that Moore’s ideas work better within the short film format. On a modest budget, this becomes a series of hit-and-miss conversations between Burke’s idiosyncratic button man and various oddball characters (including Moore himself, playing one half of a Morecambe and Wise style comedy act). Moore’s love of music hall, old British comics, classic film noir and leftist politics are all present, and anything he and Mitch Jenkins collaborate on is worth the watch. Ironically however, despite Moore increasingly turning his back on comics, this would work better as panels on the page.
But, this writer, as a former Northamptonshire resident himself, did appreciate the location filming, and references to Nene College and nearby town Rushden. Could have used a few more characters speaking with Moore’s distinctive Northants accent though.
Director: Rob Schroeder
Writer: Conor Stechschulte (based on his graphic novel)
Cast: Vincent Kartheiser, Bob Stephenson, Chelsea Lopez
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 103mins
What’s the story: After his car breaks down, Glenn (Kartheiser) seeks refuge in the house of odd married couple Art (Stephenson) and Cyndi (Lopez). When Art makes a bizarre proposal, it changes Glenn’s life, and the lives of many others.
What’s the verdict: Now Christopher Nolan’s guys n’ guns n’ time malarkey has bottomed out with the terminal Tenet, he may be pondering where next? Chris could do a lot worse than looking to Rob Schroeder’s Ultrasound for inspiration. To reveal too much about this mind twister’s plot would be to spoil the many surprises in store (and may wind up being wrong anyway).
Safe to say, Schroeder is a director to watch. His adaptation of Conor Stechschulte’s graphic novel Generous Bosom shines with wit, invention and intelligence (Stechschulte also wrote the script). This has Westworld-level concepts of free will vs. predestination and moral duty vs. ethical expediency. Technology melts reality in Cronenbergian fashion, while the film demonstrates the visual playfulness of David Lynch. “Did I just see that right” shots abound, particularly around the family-way condition of female characters.
You will have questions. You will be required to engage ears, eyes and brain. If you do, Ultrasound is a mesmerising experience.
Director: Peter Daskaloff
Writers: Peter Daskaloff, Matthew Toronto
Cast: Ashylnn Yennie, Louis Mandylor
Cert: 18 (TBC)
Running time: 87mins
What’s the story: After surgery for appendicitis, Sharyn (Yennie) awakens to discover herself in a secret medical facility, overseen by the mysterious Dr. Hellenbach (Mandylor).
What’s the verdict: The Human Centipede star Ashlynn Yennie discovers a new flaw in the American health care system in Peter Daskaloff’s amiable chiller. Providing little help is Louis Mandylor’s Dr. Hellenbach, stubbornly vague on why Sharyn has arrived at the private medical facility and why she cannot leave. She quickly learns from other patients that radical medical procedures are routine, no-one is exempt, and an experimental serum keeps inmates fresh and ready for another trip to the operating theatre.
Daskaloff and co-writer Toronto provide enough variation on escape/recapture scenarios to stop this outstaying its welcome. Clues behind the mystery of Sharyn’s incarceration are thrown out, although most audiences will guess the answer before the final reveal. Yennie is an effective lead, and Mandylor is allowed to play against recent B-movie action type as the quietly intimidating doctor.
The FX climax’s ambition exceeds its budget, but Antidote should not leave undemanding horror fans feeling sick.
Director: Frida Kempff
Writer: Emma Broström (screenplay), Johan Theorin (novel)
Cast: Cecilia Milocco
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 78mins
What’s the story: After recovering from a nervous breakdown, Molly (Milocco) moves to a small apartment. She soon hears noises and becomes convinced someone in her building is in danger.
What’s the verdict: Repulsion meets Rear Window in this sensitive and sad Swedish psychological chiller. Frida Kempff’s direction and Cecilia Milocco’s tremulous performance mesh perfectly in a tale of bereavement, trauma and possible ghostly goings-on. Milocco’s Molly is recently recovered from a year-long breakdown following a tragic accident. Relocated from a convalescence home to a flat in a large apartment block, she soon begins hearing banging from the ceiling. The tenant above claims it is not him, but the noise continues, followed by a disembodied woman’s voice pleading for help. But, has Molly fully recovered from her trauma? Forgetting to wear shoes when leaving the building suggests she is still processing the experience. Her increasing level of hysteria as doubts are cast on her claims alienate those around her.
Cleverly isolating the lead character from her surroundings, director Kempff shoots Milocco shallow focus or reflected in mirrors. Assisting here is the diminutive actor’s stature, which places her below eye level of her co-stars. Briskly told and centred on Milocco’s excellent performance, this keeps you guessing throughout and ends with a climax as satisfying as it is emotional.
Director: Lee Thongkham
Writers: Piyaluk Tuntisrisakul, Lee Thongkham
Cast: Ploy Sornarin, Savika Chaiyadej
Cert: 18 (TBC)
Running time: 103mins
What’s the story: The young Joy (Sornarin) begins working as a maid for a wealthy family. Soon, she is plagued by ghostly visions of another maid who worked there many years before.
What’s the verdict: The Maid opens with a close-up shot of a toy monkey. Apt, as the film itself is something of a (dark) cheeky monkey. Bouncy, bloody, and if taken in the right spirit, bags of fun. Director Thongkham and writer Tuntisrisakul take a pick n’ mix approach to their ghost story, with The Uninvited, Annabelle, The Handmaiden, American Psycho and Edgar Allan Poe all woven into the film’s fabric.
Social commentary on Thai people in their own homeland being indentured to other nations may bubble beneath the surface. But, Thongkham primarily is about the style; visuals packing the kinetic verve of Sam Raimi and Park Chan-wook. The Maid is too overheated to be scary, but as Joy begins to solve the mystery of why a ghost roams the family’s house, it amps up the lunacy for a final act bloodbath as messy as it is funny. Sornarin’s bright performance fits the film’s slightly hysterical pitch, while Chaiyadej is a good, cool villain as the domineering lady of the house.
Director: Mickey Keating
Writer: Mickey Keating
Cast: Jocelin Donahue, Joe Swanberg
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 83mins
What’s the story: When her mother’s grave is vandalised, Marie (Donahue) must return to the island community of her childhood. But, she discovers in the worst ways there is no place like home.
What’s the verdict: In its bones, Mickey Keating’s sixth film has a love for classic horror pictures. Val Lewton’s RKO movies are felt in the fog that shrouds the graveyard where Marie’s mother is buried, and the storm that batters the island. Shifty locals being decidedly unhelpful in a town tavern invoke memories of An American Werewolf in London or The Wicker Man. The secret behind the mysterious goings-on is straight of a wilder Hammer film or Night of… well, that would be spoiling it.
Overall, Offseason is a movie of moments rather than a satisfying whole. The House of the Devil star Donahue commands the film as Marie, but is often left with little to do but roam the island until more of the plot is revealed. As a result this frequently resembles cut scenes from a horror console game, minus the interactive game play. Chapter headings seem to have been included to provide more structure.
Yet, Donahue’s performance, numerous striking visuals, and moments of horror reminiscent of The Fog, Dead & Buried and H.P. Lovecraft more than compensate for spells of down time. You’re Next star Joe Swanberg is another welcome addition, playing Marie’s testy boyfriend.
DAWN BREAKS BEHIND THE EYES
Director: Kevin Kopacka
Writers: Kevin Kopacka, Lili Villányi
Cast: Frederik von Lüttichau, Luisa Taraz
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 73mins
What’s the story: In 1970s Germany, Dieter (von Lüttichau) and Margot (Taraz) move into a large manor house Margot has inherited. But, is it enough to save their failing marriage? And do the couple need saving from the house?
What’s the verdict: Like Cattet and Forzani’s Amer or Anna Biller’s The Love Witch, Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes resembles a lost film from the 1970s. Visuals, music and performances all vibe to recreate a past style of filmmaking initially reminiscent of Mario Bava, before moving into Jean Rollin territory, winding up at José Ramón Larraz lunacy. Fear not if those names mean nothing to you, prior movie knowledge is not required to enjoy this stylish black comedy about marital discord and violent apparitions. Just approach with an open mind, and a love of things kinky and psychedelic.
Director Kopacka and co-writer Villányi execute a narrative twist midway through that could have derailed the whole enterprise. Instead, it inverts what we have seen, offering ironic commentary on the plot up to that point, and taking the film into more personal and phantasmagorical arenas. As a treatise on when wedlock hits deadlock this is better than Marriage Story. And a damn sight more fun.
Director: Michael Mongillo
Writers: Michael Mongillo, Matt Giannini
Cast: Jason Alan Smith, Clare Foley, Carlee Avers, Tony Todd
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 80mins
What’s the story: When residents of his neighbourhood begin acting strange, Mac (Smith) believes it is more than his paranoia. As do his wife Jane (Avers) and friend Kim (Foley). Mac’s suspicions are confirmed when he is attacked by his best friend, Bill (Todd).
What’s the verdict: This “Michael Mongillo conspiracy”, as the opening credits have it, is a likeable riff on the body snatchers plot. Candyman’s Tony Todd enjoys himself as a literally changed man, frighteningly overfriendly as he attempts to bring Mac into the fold. Jason Alan Smith is suitably twitchy in the lead, with Sinister’s Clare Foley good support as a wallflower family friend.
A presumably modest budget keeps this largely confined to Mac’s house, and Mongillo does not have the resources to feature the traditional body snatchers movie shot of the main characters being chased by an entire town. But, the changed waiting patiently on Mac’s lawn is chilling, as are other small moments; a hot neighbour’s sudden sexual come-on, a cantankerous git giving a thumbs up after being changed, and a PSA from a local news anchor on how change is a good thing.
Coronavirus parallels are suggested but not laboured, and the whole movie could be read as a metaphor for how miserable lockdown was. Despite times when it forgets to show, don’t tell, The Changed is a worthwhile addition to the “They’re coming!” subgenre of sci-fi horror.