Now that the dust has settled on another awards season, we can spring forward to a new slate of exciting movies heading our way. This month is no exception, with some real gems in the mix. Let’s see what’s on offer…
FILM OF THE MONTH: GOODNIGHT MOMMY– 4 stars (out 4th March) – Credit: Vertigo Releasing
Horror can be a polarizing genre at the best of times but Goodnight Mommy restores your faith. Playing more as a psychological thriller in large parts, this Austrian effort (that was actually made in 2014) finally gets its UK release after numerous successful runs on the global festival circuit. Make no mistake though – this is also a horror in the traditional sense, with some really wince-worthy scenes towards the finale. Twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz play young brothers who question the identity of their mother when she returns home from facial reconstructive surgery. Acting out of character and bandaged up, the boys believe she might be an imposter. Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz do a remarkable job making a modern house in the middle of a picturesque countryside (during the height of summer) an altogether creepy and isolating proposition. The fact that most of the tension builds during daylight hours shows the power of its characterisation and premise. Unsettling, clever and very effective.
HAIL CAESAR! – 4 stars (out 4th March) – Credit: Universal
The Coen Brothers return for more off-beat humour in this hilarious effort. Rarely has the golden era of Hollywood been so accurately portrayed, with George Clooney perfectly cast as Baird Whitlock, a huge studio star who gets kidnapped and held to ransom. Enter the studio’s ‘fixer’ Eddie Mannix (a sensational Josh Brolin); a man responsible for handling every dark secret the studio is trying to hide. The attention to detail is staggering and pays perfect homage to the era. The tone always keeps things ticking over, even though the story loses momentum towards the end. But the cast and script are as sharp as ever with Channing Tatum delivering a sensational musical number along with a scene-stealing turn from Ralph Fiennes as director Laurence Laurentz. Throw in Alden Ehrenreich as Hollywood golden boy Hobie Doyle and you have one of the best ensembles of the year.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR – 3 stars (out 4th March) – Credit: 20th Century Fox
Prison Break favourite Sarah Wayne Callies and Clueless alumni Jeremy Sisto do a good job in this promising frightener about a family struggling to come to terms with the loss of their young son. When she learns of an ancient ritual that could conjure up a channel to her deceased child, Maria makes a journey to an abandoned temple to summon up some closure. But she breaks the one rule of the ritual and soon the spirit of her son grows malevolent in the real world. Director and co-scripter Johannes Roberts knows how to build tension but sadly the film relies on Hollywood tropes to deliver its shocks. Playing this more as a traditional ghost story with a ‘less is more’ scare factor would have done this movie the world of good. It’s refreshing to see India as the location for a big budget horror though, and the environment plays a large part to its success. It’s just a crying shame that the clichés of the genre return to haunt another Hollywood horror.
LONDON HAS FALLEN – 3 stars (out 3rd March) – Credit: Lionsgate
Gerard Butler returns as Mike Banning in this sequel to Olympus Has Fallen, the ridiculous but utterly enjoyable action blockbuster of 2013. After the British Prime Minister dies unexpectedly, the world’s leaders are summoned at short notice to London to pay their respects at his funeral. This is the perfect opportunity for a terrorist faction to incite war by taking out every single head of state, along with all of the most recognisable landmarks in the capital. Thankfully Banning and the President (Aaron Eckhart) are still alive and go on a two-man mission to save the free world. The action is brilliant and it’s great to see London as the vocal point of a big-budget movie but the effects feel like they’ve been done on Microsoft Paint. This is big, brash and bucket-loads of fun but cynics need not apply. Revel in its absurdity and you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more. Let’s hope Butler returns for more in this series – it might be silly but it’s a lot of fun too.
THE WITCH – 4 stars (out 11th March) – Credit: Universal
Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Thomasin, who along with her parents and younger siblings move to a desolate part of the New England countryside in 1630 to begin a new life. When their baby is mysteriously taken, the clan begin a nightmarish descent into madness as supernatural possession and witchcraft threaten to tear them all apart. Brit gems Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie do exceptionally well as her God-fearing parents but its Anya Taylor-Joy who hands in the most captivating turn. Writer/Director Robert Eggers has a glorious eye for atmospheric horror, using the environment to envelope you in uneasiness. The imagery is stunning as he drip feeds us slow-burn anxiety and terror just as the severity of the situation worsens. The Witch is a perfect example of how to inject genuine fright into your veins, with a classic nod to the best traditional chillers of the past.
HIGH-RISE – 2 stars (out 18th March) – Credit: Studiocanal
Brit Director Ben Wheatley returns for this shallow and tedious effort that tests your resolve. Make no mistake, this is a gorgeously conceptualised film with an astute 70s vibe that echoes true throughout. The cast are all solid too, especially Tom Hiddleston as Dr. Robert Laing, the newest tenant in a high-rise building where the residents are all masking secret intentions, motives and desires. Jeremy Irons provides a good supporting turn as the elusive creator of the high-rise who lives at its summit. Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy and Keeley Hawes also do well. So why did this end up so bad? It’s a 2 hour film about nothing… a disconnecting series of great visuals that don’t weld together to form any semblance of a decent story. By all means go for its artistic merit but be prepared for utter boredom and agitation.
ANOMALISA – 4 stars (out 11th March) – Credit: Curzon/Artificial Eye
Charlie Kaufman absolutely nails the concept of the mundane in this glorious ode to everyday life. Michael Stone (voiced by the brilliant David Thewlis) is a man trapped in his own normal existence. Whilst on a work trip, he meets various people at his hotel, including attendees to his seminar and an ex-flame who hasn’t had closure. Jennifer Jason Leigh provides the voice for one character and Tom Noonan does the rest in this affecting drama, with a sweet sprinkling of comedy. This was based on Kaufman’s own play, written under his pseudonym ‘Francis Fregoli’. Co-directed by Duke Johnson, this is a painstakingly beautiful animation that draws you in and connects on a very relatable level (anyone that’s ever stayed in a hotel can vouch for its authenticity right from the start). Its greatest achievement is its unwavering pursuit to accurately portray the exact details of our daily routines, thus giving forth a surprisingly heartfelt and sincere account of modern living. Touching, relevant and extremely astute, this is a revelatory film that proves that deep characterisation is at the core of any great story. A stunning experience.