Monday 23 October 2017

Cinema: Dublin-based gothic horror works on many levels

The Canal Cert: 16

All in the mind: Rupert Evans as David and Hannah Hoekstra as Alice in Ivan Kavanagh's thriller 'The Canal'
All in the mind: Rupert Evans as David and Hannah Hoekstra as Alice in Ivan Kavanagh's thriller 'The Canal'
Big Game
Girlhood
Rosewater

Hilary A White, Padraic McKiernan and Aine O’Connor

Ivan Kavanagh's Dublinish-based gothic horror opens with a young couple, beautiful, happy and expecting a baby, crowning off their joy by finding their ideal home. Right at the outset the husband, David (Rupert Evans) thinks he senses something unusual in the house, but it's a suspicion he bats away.

Five years later, the couple have done up the old house and have a little son (an excellent Calum Heath). The wife, Alice, (Hannah Hoekstra), has a great career and works long hours while David plods away as a film archivist. From a batch of old films he discovers the story of a 1902 murder, and with some shock realises that the murder took place in the house David and Alice now own. He learns that the man was apparently driven mad by the idea of his wife being unfaithful. Which, as it happens, is the very issue David is grappling with in his own life.

Catching his wife in flagrante with her lover, David stumbles away, retching into the most disgusting public toilet ever. When Alice goes missing, the police are reluctant to believe that he is not responsible and David finds it difficult to get support for his theory that there is a dark, supernatural force at work. His is a small world with only his son, devoted co-worker (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) and au pair (Kelly Byrne) to add balance to an increasingly unbalanced mind.

As a supernatural thriller The Canal works on many levels. Initially low key, it ramps up towards the end, going more horror than thriller for the finale.

AO'C

Now showing

Editor's pick: Big Game

Cert: 12A

Action films are inherently ridiculous, requiring extremes of endeavour, ingenuity and luck that would never pan out in real life. Big Game plays on this, tongue firmly planted in cheek, to provide 90 minutes - yes, really, just 90 minutes - of good and largely ridiculous fun.

Deep in northern Finland Oskari (Onni Tommila) is turning thirteen. As a rite of passage he must spend the night alone in the forest hunting. His prey reflects the man he will be. Not only does Oskari have big snow shoes to fill because his father (Jorma Tommila) is the tribe's best hunter, but he can barely hold a bow much less use it. Meanwhile, up in the sky, US President Moore (Samuel L Jackson) is on his way to a summit in Helsinki. His ratings are low, expectations of him are as low as they are for Oskari in the forest below. When Air Force One comes under attack from an immaculately-manicured, comic book-style baddie (Mehmet Kurtulus) Prez Moore is forced into the escape pod, whilst baddie-on-board, a disgruntled CIA agent (Ray Stevenson) makes sure all of the protection detail are killed and tracking devices disabled. Lame duck president then finds himself in a Finnish forest with only a lame duck hunter boy for protection while Jim Broadbent, Felicity Huffman and Victor Garber amongst others are back in the US trying to save him the traditional way. In his second outing, director Jalmari Helender knows exactly what kind of film he is making and although he doesn't quite hit the mark every time, the film provides what it sets out to, delivering sub-plot free, popcorn munching, often funny, silly action and Finland looks fabulous.

AO'C

Now showing

Spooks: The Greater Good

Cert: 15A

It would be nice to profess a long association with the UK spy series Spooks but that is not possible here. In truth, I've never witnessed a solitary minute of it and knew nothing of this big-screen capstone until notice of the press screening was verbally transmitted to me. Such is the jogging pace and expository dialogue of Bharat Nalluri's film that I now feel an expert on all ten seasons of the MI5 drama. Pitched somewhere between the thrills of Bond and the boardroom games of le Carre, Spooks does a rather fine job of making these shady institutions seem corrupt and slightly incompetent, yet ever necessary at the same time.

While looking like exactly what it is - a more swollen, cash-happy feature-episode of a TV show - the good news is that Nalluri's film is super value for money. Kit Harington (Game Of Thrones) swaps swords and leathers for a Beretta and hoodie as Will Holloway. A high-profile terrorist suspect (Elyes Gabel) is sprung during transportation. Soon after, counter terrorism chief Harry Pierce (Peter Firth) goes on the run and it falls to Will to track down this former mentor whom the top dogs are claiming was an inside man. Best not to get too bogged down in plot at this stage as Spooks: The Greater Good keeps you guessing to its climax and even beyond. Harington's narrow range fits fine amid the twists and turns, his job here to sprint, aim and administer lots of tough-talk.

HAW

Now showing

Girlhood

Cert: 15A

French writer-director Celine Sciamma has made something of a mission of teenage girl coming-of-age movies. From the synchronised swimmers of Water Lillies via the confused young girl of Tomboy, she arrives now at Girlhood (Bande des Filles / Girl Gang), which although not flawless, is a remarkable piece of film-making.

From the beginning of Girlhood, Sciamma lays out the main point. A group of teenage girls are boisterous and confident as they play American football together, but as soon as they arrive back to their housing blocks they shrink and become silent and cowed. This is their home, these are their families, but it's very much a man's world.

In an attempt to break out of the oppressive dynamic in her African-French family and community, 15-year-old Marieme (Karidja Toure) joins a girl gang, changes her look and her attitude and attempts to redefine her life the only way she can. We can see what she cannot - that many of her choices are dead ends - but audience and protagonist can both see that very often she simply does not have decent options.

The first act is well constructed but too long, throwing the balance of the film off a bit. But Sciamma is excellent at creating atmosphere, sharply contrasting oppression with glorious escape. She also gets great performances from the cast of non-professional actors. Touré, who had never acted before is really excellent.

Essentially this is a work about gender politics. In order to survive these girls must submit to rules made by and for men. A whole new generation of an old story in an allegedly modern world. It's a strangely underused point of view, given that as long as half the world's population are oppressed, no other kind of equality can ever truly happen.

AO'C

Now showing

Rosewater

Cert: 15A

Not content with being one of the most trusted, admired and entertaining political commentators in the US - or the western world, for that matter - Jon Stewart has decided to drop hints as to a possible life after The Daily Show by stepping into film-making. Gutsy, politicised film-making, at that.

One of Stewart's guests on The Daily Show had been Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, whose 2011 book Then They Came For Me told of his grisly incarceration in Tehran after reporting for Newsweek on Iran's laughably rigged 2009 presidential election.

Violence flared up when a generation of camera-phone revolutionaries refused to take the re-election of Ahmadinejad lying down and spilled on to the streets in vast numbers. Initially sheepish, Bahari was spurred into filming on his handheld camcorder after gunfire broke out and protesters began to die.

The book is an account of Bahari's 118-day imprisonment and torture on suspicion of being a western spy. Their evidence? A spoof sketch on The Daily Show that clearly missed the regime's funny bone.

Stewart connected with a story that spoke both to the liberal in him (torture is bad, Iranians are real people too, etc) while putting a likeable central protagonist and family man through hell en route to a Hollywood-ish ending. Hard to think of a better opening for the whipsmart satirist to slip into the director's chair.

Worthiness aside, for the most part this is a good showing from Stewart (who writes as well as directing here) and star Gael Garcia Bernal (playing Bahari). The absurdity and brutality of Bahari's ordeal sit alongside each other in the screenplay, sometimes uncomfortably so. Danish actor Kim Bodnia engineers glimpses of humanity into his role as the hard-hitting tormentor.

At times, Rosewater spoonfeeds a little too much (tacky CGI hashtags hover to prove a point about social media's reach) but this is perhaps more a sign of Stewart's lack of faith in the gumption of his target audience (the American public), who he must understand intimately at this stage of his career.

HAW

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