Category Archives: Thriller

LFF: Ingrid Goes West

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

With mobile phones, apps and celebrity culture reaching peak popularity, along with its growing number of dissenters, a film like Ingrid Goes West was inevitable. Matt Spicer’s film is a satirical comedy riffing on these themes, that’s neither satirical nor comedic enough to make a dent in our digitised world, but remains a fleetingly entertaining character study/nosedive that plays to the strengths of its main star, Aubrey Plaza.

Plaza’s film career has had a rough time so far, but here she excels, playing a moody and psychotic millennial who becomes obsessed with a famous photographer (Elizabeth Olsen) and her Instagram. In some early images of the film, she’s glued to her phone screen, only leaving it briefly to take some medication. Thankfully Ingrid Goes West doesn’t dwell on this one-note joke (‘Aren’t millennials so fixated on social media?’) for too long, as Ingrid ventures to California to stalk, manipulate, and eventually befriend Olsen’s celebrity.  

For a time, this works, and her exploits in this second act are at its most hilarious when it vies for cringe (rather than a series of batman references that form an inexplicable running joke). Billy Magnussen as Olsen’s gurning brother is a riot; Olsen’s husband, played by Wyatt Russell, is less so, regurgitating the themes Matt Spicer wants to convey. If his wife talks in emoji, he talks in exposition.

Scathing satire falls to the wayside as the narrative takes over, which is when Ingrid Goes West turns into Ingrid Goes Pear-Shaped. The film forgets to have fun with its premise, but is also overconfident in how much empathy it can brew up with Ingrid at the helm. This is a (140-or-less) character study that fails to live up to the potential of its premise – even if the premise itself is inherently watchable.

-Gus Edgar

Vogue

LFF: Gemini

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

Lola Kirke ventures into neo-noir with Gemini, an underpowered and half-baked thriller that leaves you with nothing to do if you’ve already figured out its (signposted) reveals.

She plays personal assistant to Zoë Kravitz’s celebrity, Heather, and their relationship is fleshed out during the first portion of the film. These early segments flirt dangerously with the idea of being about something (God, anything), but its undercooked thematic breadcrumb on celebrity worship is consigned to first draft fodder.

The two spend the night karaoking after Heather shies away from an acting opportunity. It’s pleasant enough but there’s an inescapable feeling that the movie is passing time – crude stabs at humour (Gemini is annoyingly overconfident in how funny it is) and stilted dialogue do nothing to dispel this feeling, hindering the good work made by a stylish opening shot and Gemini’s moody jazz-electro score.

When the plot really finally gets to work – with a murder mystery that Lola Kirke’s character is made the prime suspect of – the editing decides to take a tea break. This is bland filmmaking with blindingly obvious missed opportunities for visual flair, offensive in how unbearably underwhelming, rather than bad, the whole thing is.

If you’ve figured out the twist – stating there is one isn’t exactly a spoiler considering its genre – then Gemini is a laborious watch. Kirke bounces between ill-defined characters and battles through sloppy cop-out plot devices (Example: a hotel key card that’s somehow mistakenly left for her), trying to make up for the mess with an endearingly bumbling performance.

Gemini peters out, unable to elucidate a point or elicit a reaction. If the exasperated closing scene has been lamented as a sour note to end on by other critics, I reckon that it’s just keeping in line with the rest of the film.

-Gus Edgar

Nocturama

Nocturama opens up with a lengthy sequence in which various teens and 20-somethings board trains, walk into buildings and up metro stairs into the daylight of Paris. Visual exchanges are made; worried glances between each person that signify solidarity, if not confidence. But not a single word is spoken. It’s an enthralling opening that rivals There Will Be Blood as an exercise in conveying information with silence. The camera pins to each character, surveilling their every move. The sensation created isn’t so much the silent, urgent stalking of Seconds, but we are able to share the characters’ concerns of being followed. One would be forgiven for thinking that this functions as a homage to the haydays of French silent cinema, if it weren’t for the distinctly modern approach to editing intervals, and Nocturama’s startlingly timely premise.

Following this group of ragtags for the entirety of the film, Nocturama’s first segment focuses on the execution of a plan that reveals itself to us along its runtime, occasionally utilising flashbacks to display both their preparation and their character traits. Though, perhaps intentionally, and certainly appropriately, their traits coalesce until it’s difficult to separate one from another.

The film’s second, longer segment concerns itself with the aftermath of what they set out to accomplish. The characters huddle together in a department store closed for the night, trapped among excess. They are left to roam the store and indulge in the splendour of what it has to offer, unshackled from the unease of the day before. They are no longer the enigmatic figures of Nocturama’s first half – they are themselves again. They race go-karts, snatch wedding rings, and there’s a wonderful and baffling mimed rendition of Shirley Bassey’s My Way. Tellingly, this re-enactment goes on a little too long; our protagonists are surrounded with decadence – a store-sized world of near-limitless opportunities – yet it’s hard to shake off the feeling that they’re simply passing the time. And perhaps it’s just that – boredom – that dictates the narrative of this clique.

There are many other possibilities that director Bertrand Bonello suggests as rationality for what the characters accomplish, but he never leads his audience towards a single, definitive direction. Bonello understands the intelligence of his audience, leaving us to infer reason and motivation from the strands he leaves behind.

When the music is not being dubbed, it’s being blasted in full volume across the entirety of the department store. It seems as if all of Paris is able to listen in, not that the characters mind. The choice of music is knowingly provocative: ‘Whip My Hair’ is boomed out as haunting footage of the millennials’ actions during the day are broadcast on the stores’ plasma screens. The characters hardly seem to notice the juxtaposition. Why should they? Most of these characters are proud of their feat – to them, it’s not a horrifying act of pseudo-rebellion, but a glorious stunt that they can bask in to the tunes of Willow Smith.

This doesn’t apply to all of them. A girl named Sabrina voices her guilt. The source of it is obscured – she was observed by a policeman, and may simply feel remorse at potentially being caught. A boy, David, doesn’t fulfill his role in the plan. He is seen leaving the department store for a smoke, wandering the streets of Paris for a while. His actions here almost taunt services to find him. It’s not made clear – nothing is in Nocturama – but it’s as if he wants to be caught.

We learn their names gradually as the first half of the film develops – not that their names truly matter. These characters are templates, faceless beings stripped of identity much like the mannequins that Botello frames them against. They serve as passengers of a non-specified ideology, the film’s politics more concerned with species than race, in spite of its subject matter. As David wanders around Paris, he questions a woman his age about the events of the day. ‘It was bound to happen, right?’ she answers. Nocturama is a perplexing film, but it is also an understanding one – Botello acknowledges the complex mind of youth, and all of its contradictory, unexplainable facets. These minds belong to a world that they seek to destroy. These minds, too, are unfocused, the hypnotic determination of the day giving way to a growing lack of restraint as the night wears on. Mika, they youngest of the group, confesses his love to Sabrina. Much like Cairo Station, this is not the film for that, and Nocturama knows it. This exchange functions as a pointed remark of the characters’ insistence on distracting themselves from the horrors that they have committed, and that wait in store for them. And as the group gradually lose any self-control, the sense of the inescapable kicks in.

While Botello’s use of displaying time – the camera switching between each character in a not-exactly-linear fashion – strips the film of some of its urgency, it does fuel a potent inevitability that rears its ugly head in its final few moments. This is slick film-making, an exercise in control. The characters themselves may not possess much in the latter half of the film, but the camera is patient, waiting until the right moment to converge its repeated timelines, and the right moment to sprawl them out again.

Nocturama offers insight towards its cast of young friends on a mission. The trick is that it does so without the need for exposition or background knowledge. It is a current film with a current concept – the flashbacks it does occasionally refer to aren’t entirely necessary and are often contradictory to the film’s intent, marking the low-point in its narrative. These characters don’t need names or faces or dialogue. They may not even need reason. Nocturama is an angry film, but it condemns the notions of this set of youth without dehumanising them. Their awkward dancing, penchant for pop and teenage squabbles do well to offset the distinct lack of humanity on display in the film’s first half. Any association with mannequins isn’t intended to mechanise them, but to simply reveal that they are not unique or special, and neither is the ideology they share. Nocturama’s protagonists aren’t robots, or revolutionaries – they’re infant radicals.

-Gus Edgar

FilmSnap: Split

FILMSNAP: A film review that is 300 words or less.

M.Night Shyamalan’s latest may not be the return to form that many have suggested, but at least it’s a return to watchability. It focuses on Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), an introverted teen who, along with two other victims, are abducted and imprisoned in an underground facility. Their abductor? A man with 23 different names and 23 different, competing personalities, with the 24th personality, ‘The Beast’ waiting to be unleashed…

Split is a film that epitomises Shyamalan’s career so far, laying bare his greatest qualities and exposing his worst. He manages to conjure up more than enough entertainment – a pulpy brew of ridiculous conceits and committed performances – to make the whole viewing experience worthwhile. Yet, similar to many of the flops in his filmography, Split is hampered by shoddy dialogue and bland characterisation. Bettie Buckley’s Dr. Karen Fletcher, for instance, is a character wasted on exposition, a figure for McAvoy to act against while never amounting to anything more substantial. In truth, only McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy are given enough screentime to truly function as characters. McAvoy has terrific fun in his role – it’s no Oscar-worthy performance but he’s able to act each character out with enough believability that the narrative doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own preposterousness. Taylor-Joy, in the ‘final girl’ role similar to her part in The Witch, reacts to her situation with superb measure, an enigmatic presence whose past is revealed in a series of surprisingly dark flashbacks.

As a tension chamber, Split succeeds, through murky lighting, slow-panning camera movements and a refusal to acknowledge the ridiculousness of its own premise. More impressively, it manages to explore mature themes in a wholly unique, if clumsy manner. Sadly, the film’s penchant for unnatural dialogue and abandonment of any form of characterisation leaves me with split opinions.

-Gus Edgar

The Accountant

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Ignore the uninspired title – The Accountant is a film heavy on gun-toting action and comparatively light on office space mundanity. Our number-cracking hero, Christian Wolff, is played with straight-faced indifference by Ben Affleck – he’s a bulky genius of a man, on the spectrum to some degree (though it is never definitively disclosed to what extent), and throughout the film we observe the makings of his confused characterisation via various flashbacks. He was a troubled child, with a stern father that enforced rigorous and vigorous martial arts training on both him and his brother, tidily explaining away Wolff’s effective brawling and focus on fatherhood.

This ‘high-functioning’ accountant in question is tasked with investigating a company’s mis-managing of money, by the company itself.. uncovering their dodgy dealing…before it’s erased by the company…wait what? And J.K. Simmons gets involved as Ray King, a financial crimes director, I think, that attempts to track Wolff down…or does he? Then Anna Kendrick also appears as the company’s in-house accountant, and faux-love interest..or does she even have a particular point to the story? It’s all rather difficult to follow, or doesn’t make any sense, or both. Subplots seem shoehorned in and without purpose, buzzwords are thrown around in confusion, and the story never stops to explain anything that’s going on. The film’s jargon isn’t nearly as complex as in films such as this year’s The Big Short, but it’s also not as deftly handled either, and so manages to be a tediously baffling mixture of financing that’s too difficult to understand or too difficult to care about understanding, and unrealistic action set-pieces that are somehow just as dull.

The narrative is barmy on so many levels, buckling under the weight of its own ridiculousness. Wolff is a superhero of sorts, his form of autism fetishised rather than fleshed out – he’s super-intelligent, barely takes a punch in fights, and his shooting is pin-point accurate to a fault. His is a character that director Gavin O’Connor fails to root in reality, his attributes tritely displayed, window-writing and all. There’s barely any substance applied to Wolff’s autism, and so the best Affleck can do is stare vacantly and act expressionless – luckily that’s something he’s very good at. Thankfully, this film acknowledges its own slightness, and so doesn’t stray too far into overwrought sentimentality, instead opting for silly action sequences and a nonsensical narrative.

In some ways, there’s almost a delight to be had revelling in the stupidity of it all. There’s no denying its enjoyability, though most of it stems from laughing at the film rather than with it, and there’s a certain charm to the way Wolff’s character is performed by Affleck. Sadly, this doesn’t salvage The Accountant, a film too troubled with irrational decision making and irrelevant plotlines.

Crucially, and perhaps most damning of all, it’s a predictable fare, bereft of any of the thrills or shocks we would expect from its increasingly-Bourne-like premise. The Accountant is brash and clumsy – extending to its inability to hide a blatant Chekhov’s Gun, with just enough humour, at its own expense, to support a plot in desperate need of a reworking.

-Gus Edgar

Nocturnal Animals

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Susan Morrow’s (Amy Adams) thoughts towards Nocturnal Animals hits it right on the nose: “It’s violent and it’s sad”. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ in this context is a typescript of Morrow’s ex-husband’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) first effort at a novel, and bears more than a few similarities to the way in which the couple broke up to be merely coincidental…

Morrow herself is an art gallery owner, specialising in an oddball raunch that dominates the screen during the film’s opening credits. She’s stranded in a loveless marriage to a hunky husband (Armie Hammer) who’s more occupied with work (and other women) than anything regarding his wife. Cue the ex-husband’s typescript, sent to Morrow at a time when she’s in desperate want of connection. A way to contact her ex again – just what she needs, right? Not quite.

The novel within a film plunges headfirst into a highway scene with a ferocious intensity that rivals Sicario’s border crossing scene last year. It’s a jagged, welcome tonal shift, tinged with uncertainty over what’s going to happen. In fact, the whole narrative of Nocturnal Animals – both the film itself and its titular typescript – is unpredictable, and we can’t help but sympathise with the main character’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) hapless plight in this thrilling revenge story.

Back in the real world – shot with fusty gusto – Morrow is mulling over the story and recollecting haunted memories of her prior life with her ex-husband. There’s a sense of disconnect, of lack of relevance, but suddenly parallels between their romance and the typescript’s narrative become apparent, building to a devastating final scene that’s as electrifying as it is inevitable. The film is endlessly evolving, bludgeoning past brutal plot points and descending into irresistible, dirty delirium, heightened by Abel Korzeniowski’s sublimely tempestuous score. Yet director Tom Ford and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey give control to the chaos, with an assuredness applied to the kinetic camerawork, the brooding pans of musty citylife and desolate deserts. The danger and immorality on display really is tangible.

One source of danger comes in the form of Aaron Taylor Johnson’s terrifying and unhinged Ray Marcus, who torments Gyllenhaal and his fictional family. This is Johnson’ best performance of his career, committing to his character’s sleaziness and repugnancy, and preventing Ray from becoming caricaturish. Another brilliantly absurd character is the cop looking for him, played by Michael Shannon with straight-faced hilarity. He’s a character inflicted with lung cancer, who continues to smoke (“Well, yep, that’s how it works”), and nearly steals the show with his deadpan delivery and questionable morals. Other recognisable, or renowned actors, are relegated to the sidelines, however: Michael Sheen and Jena Malone each feature in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos, but at least their fleeting moments are highlights.

I’ve seen this film twice now, which I suppose is testament to how the film grips – and then sinks its claws into you. It’s menacing, and bold, and each scene is displayed with enough unwavering confidence and dedication by Ford (save for one Gyllenhaal outburst) that it all holds together. That this is only his sophomoric effort, after his acclaimed ‘A Single Man’, is truly astonishing. He may not just be a fashion designer, but he uses his considerable expertise in that field to capture beautiful imagery and symbolic costume design, and boy, it works.

Ford has birthed a film that’s dripping with grime but presented with gloss, creating an almost ugly beauty that’s visually fascinating. It’s a savage study of an intricate relationship, furnished with the bravado of a director that knows how to handle a script that’s jet-black in both themes and humour, and bolstered by a blistering score and vivid camerawork.

Sicario

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Director Denis Villenueve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have received monumental critical success for 2013’s realistically nightmarish Prisoners and 2014’s menacingly impenetrable Enemy, and the team are beckoned back once more for Sicario, one of Villenueve’s more accessible films, but no less intense. The film kicks off straight at the deep end, and barely even surfaces as the end credits roll. It’s that kind of film – consistently gripping, politically weighty, tension wonderfully palpable.

With the haunting thrums of Johann Johannsson’s masterful score, Sicario lurches into life; Kate Macer an FBI agent played with scintillating vulnerability by Emily Blunt, leads a SWAT mission to infiltrate a house along the USA-Mexico border with links to a drug cartel. Not everything goes to plan, and the horrifying sight of a mass of rotting bodies is uncovered, provided as the lingering image that launches Sicario’s mature, if well-worn plot. Macer is recruited into a combative border control task force, supposedly attempting to diminish a drug cartel behind the film’s shocking opener. From there, she meets the charismatic, sandal-wearing operation leader Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and his shady, threatening partner Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro). The operatives  immediately encounter danger during an astonishing bridge crossing sequence, the brimming intensity producing one of the best scenes of the year.

If the film had kept up this ferocious potency, we’d be looking at a 5-star film. Unfortunately, Taylor Sheridan’s script suffers from a dramatic lull in its second act – the film picks up again during a night-time mineshaft raid, but by then, the damage is done, the tension hasn’t been maintained. A part of the problem is that the script’s subject matter is inherently tired, and so Sheridan’s attempt to deviate and provide a fresh take on the matter has sacrificed Sicario’s clearly confused focus point. The third-act switch from Blunt’s Kate Macer to Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro Gillick is brave but jarring; instead of a smooth transition, we are thrusted into his life with little prior development of his character, and so as an audience we aren’t invested in his travails, despite his actions being crucial to the plot’s overarching themes. There is also a noticeable emphasis placed on a Mexican police officer named Silvio (Maximiliano Hernandez) and his family, which serves as a well-intended microcosm for Mexico as a whole that’s lost in the story’s main narrative. It deserves it’s place in the film, but is integrated in a way that gives it the impression of seeming irrelevant.

Denis Villenueve’s direction competently masks Sicario’s wayward plot, however. His visual chemistry and nous for generating mood is made clear in his partnership with Roger Deakins, who brings the film’s central themes and tones to life: a haunting aerial shot of Mexico that establishes the residences’ terrifying beauty, a mesmerising sunset long-take that portrays the operatives as literally disappearing into the ground, and a powerful wide shot of a family at their kitchen table all help to muster up Sicario’s terrific energy and strikingly dark attitude.

Yet the film would still fall apart without its three central performances – Emily Blunt’s aforementioned vulnerability is nuanced and displays a sense of hopelessness that is omnipresent throughout the film’s running time. Josh Brolin is physically imposing and uses charismatic quirkiness to juxtapose his fraudulent motivations, and Benicio del Toro is satisfyingly cold and calculated, his strive for revenge a far cry from his sleepy, charming introduction.

Only a competent rather than excelling script hinders Sicario’s potency. It’s shot wonderfully, acted effectively and is directed in a way that portrays its mature themes without detracting from their sociopolitical heft. Villenueve has followed up his recent success with another scorcher of a film.

-Gus Edgar

Spectre

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In the opening scene of Spectre, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond soars to new heights (quite literally) with a terrific Dia de Muertos sequence. Sadly, the following 130 minutes of screentime can’t maintain the high standards set – and as the film progresses, the expectancy of another Bond classic dwindles indefinitely.

Bond’s 24th (non-linear) outing takes place in the wake of Skyfall, where Judi Dench’s recently deceased ‘M’ kickstarts Spectre’s messy plot into action.  He must kill the criminal Marco Sciarra, and attend his funeral in Rome. From there, the murky depths of a shadowy organisation called ‘Spectre’ are revealed, and at the centre of this establishment is the enigmatic figure of Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser.

This infiltration of Spectre is clumsily written, where action sequences are nonsensical and character developments are ignored – but at least it’s engrossing. The film’s subplot, however – a heavy-handed pro-Snowden exploration of Andrew Scott’s villainous ‘C’ and his endorsement of world-surveillance – needlessly swamps Bond’s mission; the problem with it is that it’s just not all that interesting, and written less as part of the plot and more as a vehicle for director Sam Mendes’ views. With a subplot as weak as Spectre’s, the main story better be good – sadly, ‘engrossing’ doesn’t cut it.

It’s a strange concoction of Craig’s gritty new-era Bond and Moore’s cheesy Austin Powers-esque Bond, and rather than combining the two seamlessly, the script only produces a weird, tonally-jarring mood that serves to diminish Casino Royale’s attempts at a modern Bond with modern ideas. There’s a wonderfully-elaborate villain’s lair, a train fight involving Bautista’s beast of a henchman, Mr. Hinx, that hearkens back to Jaws (the figure, not the film), and the return of gadgets is a welcome sight. Unfortunately, each of these ideas are misused, a microcosm of Spectre’s extravagantly-clumsy plot: the villain’s lair is destroyed too easily, and inevitably, too soon, Mr. Hinx is poorly fleshed out and his actions contradict the motivations written for him, and the gadgets aren’t used in a clever way, but rather as a ‘MacGyver’ in order to end action sequences as they drag on. The action sequences themselves – aside from Spectre’s brilliant opener – are honestly as naff as they come. A car chase is lifeless and lacking in suspense, a mountainous plane ride is shot amateurishly and ends too soon, the aforementioned train fight is anticlimatic and opposes Waltz’s intentions, and a speedboat-helicopter chase has a disappointing resolution.

Much has been touted of Spectre’s empowering presentation of females, where Monica Bellucci has been advertised as the ‘oldest Bond-girl‘. Yet her appearance is more of a cameo, a 5-minutes irrelevance that gives way to Lea Seydoux’s barely-fleshed-out Madeleine Swann, a woman who rejects Bond’s advances and swiftly swoons for him; a rushed romance that epitomises the contrivances of Mendes’ hap-hazardous plot. Lea Seydoux is wasted potential, her character written so lazily and confusedly that she can’t muster the chemistry with Craig’s forever-average Bond for the relationship to bear any believability. The villain is equally wooden, his motives generic and disappointing. This is a step down from Skyfall’s Bardem, and is only salvaged by Waltz’s reliably menacing schtick.

 

For all the expectancy surrounding Craig’s potential final outing, its script does not deliver. From an untidy plot to stilted characterisation and development, this would be a sour note for Craig to end on. Some critics have stated that Spectre is in need of a rewrite – I couldn’t agree more.

– Gus Edgar

 

The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials

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And the award for most disappointing sequel of 2015 goes to Scorch Trials, the follow-up to 2014’s actually-quite-good Maze Runner. Helmed once again by Wes Ball, the film kicks off right where the last one left us – Thomas (played enthusiastically by Dylan O’Brien) and his group are ‘rescued’ and sent into a menacing facility where other young groups – each previously having their own maze – are waiting for them. Cue an expected escape from the building after Thomas unearths horrifying secrets about who their captors are, with the remainder of the film taking place in the sun-scorched open air, the gang encountering numerous obstacles that move the plot along, though not swiftly enough.

Right from the off, it’s made clear that the novel isn’t being adapted from, but rather being used as a source of inspiration. There are certain elements of James Dashner’s best-seller that remains untarnished, but most of the plot is replaced and restructured in order to either make the flick more palatable to a modern audience, or to avoid breaching the slim budgetary constraints. Though despite the film being limited by its budget, it comes across as a $20m flick rather than $60m, thanks to dodgy effects and the use of shaky-cam to obscure action.

Simply put, the new plot that this sequel has is just not good enough. The directing is admirable, the acting fine – though a league below its predecessor – and the camerawork impressive for a YA adaptation. The plot, however, is deeply convoluted, fatuous, and irritatingly generic. In my Maze Runner review, I praised the film for its refreshing refusal to bow down to YA tropes. Sadly, Scorch Trials doesn’t follow suit, integrating a tepid love plot, uninspired zombies and somehow finding room for a celebratory house-party – yes, in the middle of a dusty, zombie-ravaged world. Revelations concerning the film’s characters and the series’ overarching plot arise every now and then amid the contrived chaos, but you hardly care – you’re just lost trying to find out whether each plot point the film undergoes has relevance or even makes sense in context of the film. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t.

 

– Gus Edgar

Partisan – LFF 2015

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Partisan presents itself as Australian Ariel Kleiman’s feature-film directorial debut, though you wouldn’t realise it from the maturity displayed on screen. The narrative, rather than flimsily structured as some critics have purported, is sinisterly brooding and intentionally thin, giving the film a normality that adds effective contrast to the otherwise shocking subject matter. The subject matter in question revolves around Alexander, a misbehaving child played in a menacingly placid way by  newcomer Jeremy Chabriel, and his unorthodox upbringing; trained to become a child assassin by his father, Gregori (Vincent Cassel), a deceivingly paternal figure with a strong partisan ideology.

The world is seen through Alexander’s eyes, and so many events are inevitably left to vague interpretation, a viewing experience that will frustrate those who prefer complete exposition. There is no background given to the story, or to the characters that are contained within the story. Even the location is ambiguous, the film taking place in an equivocal Eastern European nowhere-land (filmed in Georgia and Australia of all places), where the only prelude is an introduction to Gregori’s preparations, rather than the character itself. His motives are left unanswered, and we can only speculate and watch through Alexander’s eyes as he attempts to raise his growing collection of children to become savage tykes, It’s a brave, refreshing method of story-telling, and one that allows the viewer to develop their own inferences; motifs of inapposite fountains and protective earbuds lend clues to Partisan’s overarching themes, as do allusions to religious imagery of baptism and Gregori’s twisted views that bare similarity to Old Testament beliefs. If I’m sounding unsure, that’s because I am – a revisit to delve deeper into the film’s morals is a necessity.

On a more basic level, Partisan eases by with intrigue effectively maintained. The world-building is immediately captivating, and the story is developed at a pace that suppresses any temptation to reveal the film’s revelations too early. There’s an almost otherworldly, slightly mundane feel to the film that draws the viewer in – callous bombshells are juxtaposed almost immediately by stylistic karaoke – akin to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives – though made all the more unsettling due to the connotations of innocence that the children represent.

Sadly, this isn’t a theme explored enough in Partisan – the film is fairly distant in conveying any emotion felt towards the children. They’re raised and manipulated in a way that should seem sorrowful, but the film doesn’t probe deep enough into this topic, instead more interested in the face value of the events taking place. This disjointedness, or detachment from adversity is partly due to a script that is written in an occasionally stilted style. The film is understated in many respects, but its script is often wholly blunt and unnatural, where “show, don’t tell” is neglected. These moments are rare, but severely jarring, threatening to derail its intent of relaying information via the emotions of characters (close-ups of faces are used abundantly) and images of heavy symbolism.

Cassel executes Gregori with all the complexity he can muster, and manages to pose as a caring but unnerving figure incredibly well. He’s overshadowed, however, by Chabriel, who confidently plays Alexander as an enigmatic figure scarred by his upbringing. Without his coldly inquisitive, underplayed performance, the film would suffer greatly.

The film is bolstered by the talent of Oneohtrix Point Never’s emphatic, evocative score, connoting an epicosity and grandeur that does well to balance Partisan’s small-scale location. Though as far as small-scale films go, Kleiman thrives in presenting Partisan as having huge repercussions. The themes are ambiguous but not impenetrable, the pacing slow but never dull, and the final scene will linger on in an exceptionally powerful manner.

– Gus Edgar