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Film of the week: The Little Stranger

Cert: 15A; Now showing

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Charlotte Rampling, Domhnall Gleeson, and Ruth Wilson in The Little Stranger

Charlotte Rampling, Domhnall Gleeson, and Ruth Wilson in The Little Stranger

Blake Lively in A Simple Favour, tailored up for 'mummy noir'

Blake Lively in A Simple Favour, tailored up for 'mummy noir'

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Charlotte Rampling, Domhnall Gleeson, and Ruth Wilson in The Little Stranger

Stumbling on cracked ice one moment, coiled tight as a bed spring the next, the latest work from Lenny Abrahamson marks a stark change of colour scheme for the Dubliner. The Little Stranger, an adaptation of Sarah Waters's 2009 novel, is a world away from the Beckett absurdism of Adam & Paul or Room's existential layers.

But while the exterior finish may be new territory, Abrahamson's fascination with characters confined in settings that both nourish and deplete them continues.

Faultlessly mannered and emitting a disquiet just below the surface, Domhnall Gleeson is quite superb as Faraday, the doctor back in his childhood village after 30 years away. He's called out to Hundreds Hall, the crumbling mansion of the Ayres family. Back then, his mother worked here as a maid while he ran about the grounds. Now, he finds Mrs Ayres (the hooded eyes of Charlotte Rampling) and unmarried daughter Caroline (Ruth Wilson) and war-scarred son Roderick (Will Poulter) sharing the musty air and peeling wallpaper with some strange presence.

Hovering somewhere between Gothic spook story, post-war parable and psychological chiller, this is delectable, finely calibrated and excruciatingly slippery storytelling. Characters walk themselves into focus, rummage in unseen corners, and seem to exist in a dimension all their own, too warped for old-school wartime values, too dust-ridden for the modernity encroaching on their doorstep.

As ever, Abrahamson draws excellence from those around him, from that quartet of leads to cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland. What a magnificent body of work this Irish director is building.

★★★★★ Hilary A White

Mile 22

Cert: 16; Now showing

When diplomacy and military intervention fail, the stars and stripes has an ace up its sleeve in 'Overwatch', a covert team that "gets s**t done". Mark Wahlberg, Hollywood's most lucrative frown, is James Silva, their idiosyncratic leader and Mile 22's flexing, frowning, tough-talking alpha male.

Chemical weapons have gone missing, so Silva's team (including The Walking Dead's Lauren Cohan and John Malkovich's eye-in-the-sky supervisor) get to work. In Jakarta, an ex-special agent (Iko Uwais of The Raid fame) hands himself into the US embassy claiming to have intel on the missing haul. He will divulge all, only if granted safe passage to the US.

Silva and his team must get him to the airstrip while wearing a target on their backs.

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Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day marked Peter Berg as an action director of sophistication. Mile 22 (his fourth feature collaboration with Wahlberg) is less restrained and can behave like a throwback to Bruckheimer and Woo - joystick fight scenes, cheesy lines ("Ego is not your amigo"), and heroic swagger. When someone asks "what b**ch wrote this script?" you can almost hear writer Lea Carpenter's tongue in her cheek.

Because this is Berg, it is still smarter than your average action flick, and has a satisfying sting in the tail as it lines itself up to be a thinking-man's espionage franchise. Breakneck editing adds to moments of gut-aching tension. ★★★★ Hilary A White

The House with a Clock in its Walls

Cert: PG; Now showing

The stars of this film believe that it is a return to the way kids' films used to be; edgier, darker, a little scary. And indeed, with horror director Eli Roth in charge there is more, but not too much, spook in this adaptation of the 1973 novel.

Although perhaps unlikely to become a classic passed on from generation to generation, there is a lot to like in this enjoyable, fun adventure.

In 1955, following the death of his parents, 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with the Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) he has heard of but never met. It soon emerges that Jonathan is more than kooky, he is a warlock and his neighbour and friend Mrs Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) a non-practising witch. The house itself is alive, the pictures change, the furniture moves and there is a ticking sound. It soon emerges that the house has been changed into a doomsday clock by the previous owner, evil wizard Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), and Jonathan and Mrs Zimmerman are in fact on a mission to save humanity. A mission made more imperative when Lewis, trying to impress the school bully, raises Isaac Izard from the dead.

The real action doesn't get going until a little too far in, but it's still very entertaining.

A little scary for small children, it should work for age nine and above and parents will enjoy the old-school vibe, a kind of nostalgia for the likes of The Goonies and Gremlins. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

John Paul II in Ireland

Cert: 12A; Now on limited release

The full title of this documentary is John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace which encapsulates its premise. This is essentially that when, in Drogheda in 1979, the Pope said: "On my knees, I beg you, to turn away from the paths of violence..." he set in motion the process that would lead to the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The film is the work of experienced religious documentary makers - writer/director David Naglieri has made similar films, and the doc has footage and input from many different sources. Talking heads, including Dana and Ronan Mullen, do suggest a certain slant, however input from Seamus Mallon and historians Tim Pat Coogan and Diarmaid Ferriter gives it more depth.

And in fairness, Ferriter and others are given room to dispute that JPII's speech was the catalyst for the peace process.

As a historical piece it is certainly interesting, the fervour with which that Pope was greeted an interesting contrast to the last Papal visit and an insight into ways in which this country has changed since 1979.

★★ Aine O'Connor

A Simple Favour

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Blake Lively in A Simple Favour, tailored up for 'mummy noir'

Blake Lively in A Simple Favour, tailored up for 'mummy noir'

Blake Lively in A Simple Favour, tailored up for 'mummy noir'

 

Cert: 15A; Now showing

An air of Gallic decadence hangs in the air of this macabre outing for Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, a diabolique glamour squarely tailored for the "mummy noir" market that gave us your Gone Girls et al.

Blake Lively is Emily, a mysterious, dissolute PR exec who befriends Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), an apple pie-America vlogger, at the school gate. The unlikely friendship is cut short when Emily suddenly goes missing.

There's something hard to dismiss about this carnival of aliases, double crosses, murder and sex, whether it's Kendrick's reliably excellent turn as a thumbs-up soccer mom wading into lurid waters beyond her depth or Feig's well-timed dollops of silliness.

That said, the ending is a farce too far, as any poise and polish unravel. It's also a good half hour too long.

★★★ Hilary A White


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