London Film Festival 2020 Reviews – African Apocalypse, Rose: A Love Story, Bad Tales, The Intruder, The Reason I Jump


Director: Rob Lemkin

Writers: Rob Lemkin, Femi Nylander, Matt McConaghy

Cast: Femi Nylander

Cert: 15 (TBC)

Running time: 88mins

Year: 2020

What’s the story: British-Nigerian poet and activist Femi Nylander compares the horrors described in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to the real-life atrocities conducted by French Captain Paul Voulet in 1898’s Niger, and how the scars of Voulet’s actions are still visible.

What’s the verdict: Rob Lemkin and Femi Nylander’s harrowing, sadly still relevant documentary addresses the lingering culpability of Western countries for their colonial pasts. Taking Heart of Darkness, that sober indictment of colonial brutality, as its starting point, African Apocalypse reveals how insightful Conrad was in his understanding of the European conquering mindset. And how fiction paled beside real-life horrors.

Through his research, Nylander discovers an account of Captain Paul Voulet, who waged a murderous campaign of terror against the people of Niger. Voulet has striking similarities with Conrad’s Kurtz (including someone being sent after him to halt his genocidal actions), but the filmmakers illustrate how barbarity was commonplace in subduing indigenous populations. Historical photographs reveal the mutilation meted out to men, women and children as punishment by foreign powers, unshakeable in their belief of superiority.

Though this history is over a century old, African Apocalypse depicts how the millions murdered haunt the present day. Grim stories are passed down from generation to generation as people recall family members killed. Colonialism in Niger is shown to be still active, but more insidious as foreign corporate interests value profit above lives.

Told with urgency and compassion, and by turns visually beautiful and distressing, this is a must-see documentary. With a Black Lives Matter coda that literally brings it all home.


Director: Jennifer Sheridan

Writer: Matt Stokoe

Cast: Matt Stokoe, Sophie Rundle, Olive Gray

Cert: 15 (TBC)

Running time: 87mins

Year: 2020

What’s the story: In a cabin located within a secluded English forest, Sam (Stokoe) cares for his wife Rose (Rundle), who suffers from a mysterious illness. Their secret solitude is broken by the arrival of a stranger (Gray).

What’s the verdict: Jennifer Sheridan’s feature debut is a rewarding tale of English horror. With a modest budget and star Stokoe’s tight script the director delivers a fresh spin on a well-worn legend.

To reveal which legend would spoil the fun in picking up on the clues the film lays out. Horror aficionados will likely guess what is going on before the big reveal. But, they’ll be compensated with the attention paid to Rose and Sam’s day-to-day concerns living off the grid while tending to her illness.

Real life couple Rundle and Stokoe bring authentic warmth and prickliness to the onscreen couple, and the film has fun with sly relationship symbolism (rabbit traps, leeches). As a mouthy runaway with her own secret, Gray is a likeable disruption.

A veteran of numerous well-received shorts, Sheridan directs with a good eye for engaging but unfussy visuals: the snowy forest is by turns serene and threatening, and the film’s mood can shift on a pool of darkness or splash of red light.


Directors: Fratelli D’Innocenzo (Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo)

Writers: Fratelli D’Innocenzo

Cast: Ermo Germano, Max Malatesta

Cert: 18 (TBC)

Running time: 97mins

Year: 2020

What’s the story: Over one summer in a tidy suburb outside Rome the behaviour of the bitter adults begins to influence their children.

What’s the verdict: The world doesn’t end in The D’Innocenzo Brothers’ Bad Tales, but you get the impression it will moments after the final credit disappears. A deliciously subversive satire, it plays like Fellini’s Amarcord as directed by Todd Solondz and will annoy as many as it enthrals.

Patience is required to enter the film’s deceptively sedate groove. But once nestled in there are treats aplenty for those who like their laughs with a hemlock aftertaste. Elio Germano and Max Malatesta are superb as resentful parents, living through their kids while not-so-quietly disliking them. Over a series of vignettes we get to know these two, who threateningly lust over a glamourous mum at one of their kid’s birthday parties, plus other residents of the white picket fenced community.

There will be bomb making, miserable holidays and breastmilk covered cookies. Plus fleeting glimpses of sublime beauty before the grotesquery resumes once more. All impressively shot and set to an unnerving sound design. Uncomfortable but memorable, it’s a good companion piece to Blue Velvet for a “suburban life is hell” double bill.


Director: Natalia Meta

Writer: Natalia Meta (script), C.E. Feiling (novel)

Cast: Erica Rivas, Daniel Hendler, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart

Cert: 15 (TBC)

Running time: 94mins

Year: 2020

What’s the story: After a traumatic incident while holidaying with her boyfriend Leopoldo (Hendler), Inés (Rivas) begins to experience reality slips.

What’s the verdict: Echoes of Berberian Sound Studio and Perfect Blue can be heard in Natalia Meta’s comic-gialloesque thriller. Wild Tales’ Rivas plays Inés, a singer and voiceover artist whose sanity takes a hit after a particularly rubbish holiday. With her life becoming more bizarre than the Japanese shocker she’s dubbing, the increasingly tremulous songstress must discover why her reality seems to be dissolving and who is responsible.

Films whose title appears far into the movie are usually less than brilliant (the recent One Night in Miami being an exception). The Intruder’s title surfaces twenty-three minutes in and, true to form, Natalia Meta’s movie is sometimes intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying.

A surreal study of one woman’s fear of commitment, a psycho-thriller, a nasty cheese dream? Meta throws out clues and ideas with abandon, but she fumbles blurring reality and fantasy where Berberian’s Peter Strickland and Perfect Blue’s Satoshi Kon triumphed.

Still worth viewing for its striking sequences and Rivas’ performance, which deserves a stronger film. Hendler as the overbearing boyfriend and Biscayart as a gaunt admirer are good support.


Director: Jerry Rothwell

Writer: Naoki Higashida (based on his book)

Sound Design: Nick Ryan

Cert: TBC

Running time: 82mins

Year: 2020

What’s the story: Experiences of five non-speaking autistic people from around the world are brought to the screen.

What’s the verdict: Based on autistic author Naoki Higashida’s 2007 bestseller The Reason I Jump, Jerry Rothwell’s documentary attempts to recreate the perspectives of five neurodivergent young adults. Immersive visuals and sound design, along with voiceover passages from Higashida’s book, convey their hyperawareness and sensory overload in remarkable fashion.

Care is also taken in acknowledging the struggles and fears of those with autism along with their families. Plus prejudices against those with the condition, from the eugenic arguments of the past to superstitions in places such as modern day Africa.

Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell, parent to an autistic child and co-translator of Higashida’s book, offers insight into caring for someone severely neurodivergent. Made with the co-operation of the British Autistic Society, this is a sensitive, eye-opening look at a condition widely known, but arguably still little understood.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
iTunes Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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