Devil on the loose, a Chinese serial killer and Indonesia's grim past
* Let Us Prey (18, 92mins), 2 stars
* West (No Cert, IFI, 102mins), 3 stars
* Black Coal Thin Ice (No Cert, IFI, 110mins), 4 stars
* The Look of Silence(No Cert, Light House, 103mins), 5 stars
Entourage (Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven); Mr Holmes (Ian McKellen); The Longest Ride (Scott Eastwood, Jack Huston); The Burning (Gael Garcia Bernal)
In the opening scene of Brian O'Malley's Let Us Prey, a dark figure appears on a storm-tossed rock and strides off towards the nearest town, bringing the bad weather with him.It's Liam Cunningham, and you sense he bears bad tidings. After a young pinhead in a speeding car runs him over, he arises unhurt and is arrested along with the driver.
At the police station, a young rookie called Rachel (Pollyanna McIntosh) has just started her shift when a bizarre crime spree fills the station's cells with violent offenders, much to the amusement of the nameless man in black.
No prizes for guessing who he is, nor for figuring out the kind of films Let Us Prey has been inspired by. This is a fond, indulgent tribute to 1970s and 1980s schlock horror, in particular the work of John Carpenter. And while Let Us Prey starts out relatively sombrely, the blood and over-acting flow like wine at a wedding towards the end. There are snatches of wit but it's not very good.
Full of bad clothes and snowy streets, Christian Schwochow's impeccably gloomy drama West painstakingly evokes Berlin in the late 1970s, and tells the story of a young woman trying to defect. Single mother Nelly (Jordis Triebel) is tired of the paranoia and hardship of life under communism, and heads west dreaming of a new and better life.
The reality, unfortunately, is very different, and after being subjected to a humiliating border strip search, she winds up in a slum transit camp where she's harried by Allied intelligence agents who think she might be a spy.
West is nicely shot and lit, though its geographical focus is understandably narrow in a city that has changed beyond recognition since. Jordis Treibel is tremendous as Nelly, a determined, wrong-headed, spirited and sensuous woman, but West loses its way midway through, ends too neatly and says too little.
More snow and misery in Diao Yinan's Black Coal, Thin Ice, an entertaining and visually stylish crime drama. When a dismembered body turns up in a coal skip in northern China in 1999, a police detective called Zhang (Liao Fan) traces the body to a nearby dry-cleaners. The corpse, it seems, was the husband of Wu Zhizhen (Gwei Lun Mei), a frosty femme fatale whose lovers have a nasty habit of dying.
Zhang is intrigued, and also smitten, but his enquiries are interrupted by a shoot-out in which he's seriously wounded. Five years later, Zhang has been demoted and is drinking like a fish when another body turns up, and draws him back towards the pretty girl, and the ugly truth.
Black Coal, Thin Ice is a noir thriller with a plot so tortuous it would not look out of place in a Howard Hawks picture. But Diao Yinan tells his story quite beautifully, using startling imagery and haunting sounds to enrich a slow but compelling film that only loses its grip at the very end.
American film-maker Joshua Oppenheimer has spent eight years investigating Indonesia's troubled past, and no one who saw his 2012 documentary The Act of Killing will easily forget it. Following the failed coup in Indonesia by the 30 September Movement in 1965, the generals embarked on an anti-communist purge in which up to a million people died in the space of a year. The 'communists' they targeted were anyone they didn't like, and in The Act of Killing Oppenheimer hit on the brilliant tactic of asking some of the perpetrators to re-enact their grisly crimes.
The Look of Silence is an analogous companion piece that dispenses with the dramatics and follows the brother of a victim as he politely but doggedly confronts his sibling's killers.
It's a film full of silences, embarrassing, pointed and poignant, and the massed ghosts of the disappeared emerge to fill the empty spaces.
Let Us Prey
(No Cert, IFI, 102mins)
Black Coal Thin Ice
(No Cert, IFI, 110mins)
The Look of Silence
(No Cert, Light House, 103mins)