Cert: N/A, VOD, out now
As if to celebrate the recent fifth anniversary of the marriage equality referendum, LGBT coming-of-age drama To The Stars lands on streaming platforms tomorrow. Although not overwhelmingly original, Martha Stephens' film from the debut screenplay by Shannon Bradley-Colleary is a very charming and enjoyable watch.
In the 1960s, the wide-open countryside of Oklahoma contrasts with the small community where everyone knows everything about everyone else. Iris (Kara Hayward) is a shy high-school student who is an outcast because she wets herself. Her father (Shea Whigham) is silently frustrated, her mother (Jordana Spiro) more vocally so and Iris hovers as innocuously as possible between them.
When a glamorous new student, Maggie (Liana Liberato), arrives in town, she and Iris strike up an unlikely friendship. Maggie is everything that Iris is not and knows how to manipulate her way in with the cool kids, taking Iris with her.
The lesbian romance is neither a major part of the film nor what you might expect, and none of it is explicit at all. Actually, if it wasn't flagged, you would barely notice it because the film focuses on broader soul-crushing.
The main characters are all female but the sense of oppressiveness, of thwarted hopes, dreams and happiness, is more general. Whether it be through laws, expectation or social pressure, everyone has a place they're supposed to fit into.
This world is also exclusively white. But that can lead to a frustration that can manifest in many different ways, from trying to keep other people crushed into the same pen, to violence.
Not just the open midwestern spaces contrast with the social claustrophobia; traditionally, films set in times of bobby socks and Doo-wop music are meant to represent simpler, happy times but this reminds you that they were miserable for anyone who didn't like the place assigned to them.
Some of it is a little unsubtly done, the odd cake is overegged, but overall, the film has a light touch and the characters are easy to care about.
Romance films en famille can be awkward but this is suitable for young teens and up and although it treads a familiar enough path, I enjoyed it a lot. ★★★ Aine O'Connor
Cert 15; on demand
Your Urban Dictionary word of the day is 'phrogging', a millennial hobby that involves sneaking into strangers' houses and dwelling under their noses without being caught.
This ghoulish thriller from director Adam Randall and writer Devon Graye sets out wanting you to believe that a supernatural chiller is in the offing, what with a prologue involving a boy being sucked into the air in a remote forest. We then settle into the home of local detective Greg (Jon Tenney), who is heading up the investigation into this disappearance and other similar cases. Tension runs through the household due to a recent infidelity by wife Jackie (an underused Helen Hunt, above) but a series of strange occurrences are also brewing an atmosphere of doubt and insecurity.
The reveal - two "phrogging teens" who may or may not have something to do with the recent disappearances - comes either too early or too late in this plotty film. It does keep you guessing, however, and despite the odd clunky twist and swivelling point of view, ticks along with admiral confidence. ★★★ Hilary A White
Cert Club; Curzon Home Cinema
Rural isolation, romantic betrayal, and some incredulous cosmic coincidence all meet on a rural mountain plateau in France. Alice (Laure Calamy) and Michel (Denis Ménochet) maintain a workmanlike marriage bereft of intimacy. Alice has been having an affair with reclusive local farmer Joseph (Damien Bonnard), who is recovering from bereavement.
Connected to these sorry souls, despite dwelling thousands of miles away, is Armand (Guy Roger N'drin), a young man who runs an online racket from the Ivory Coast that involves catfishing lovelorn westerners by masquerading as a beautiful young French girl (Juliet Doucet). The link will ultimately have something to do with the discovery back in that French community of an abandoned car belonging to a missing woman.
How much you get out of Dominik Moll's elegant drama will depend on your willingness to embrace its far-fetched set of interlocking elements that bring all these characters on a transcontinental collision course. As the pieces align in novelistic fashion - Moll and co-writer Gilles Marchand adapt Colin Niel's novel - it does teeter on the edge of ridiculousness. Countering this are compelling performances and Moll's steady, unadorned rhythms. ★★★★ Hilary A White
Just weeks after Ema, Pablo Larrain’s reggaeton carnival, I’m No Longer Here (Netflix) looks to mine a similar sense of street-dancing Latino verve. A hirsute teen with a passion for cumbia dancing has a run-in with the Mexican cartels and has to take refuge in the States. That, however, might be the start of his troubles. Fernando Frias directs.
Lin Shaye continues her quest to appear in every horror film ever made. The Final Wish (on demand), a particularly gruesome fright-fest from the people that brought us the Final Destination franchise, sees her playing a scary mother in thrall to some cursed artefact belonging to her late husband. Michael Welch is the son on the receiving end of the demonic carry-on.
If you’re worried you’ve grown too accustomed to confined spaces, French submarine thriller The Wolf’s Call (Sky Cinema/Now TV) should remedy that. The trailer is thick with pressurised arguments and red-lit sweat beads, suggesting writer-director Antonin Baudry has packed the tropes beloved of the genre.
Roger Doyle is the subject of a documentary portrait that follows the celebrated Malahide composer as he prepares to stage an ambitious electronic opera. The Curious Works of Roger Doyle (Volta.ie) succeeds in getting inside the head-space of one of the country’s most consistent but understated musical visionaries, a man often referred to as the Godfather of Irish electronica.
A strong recommendation accompanies Leave No Trace (Netflix). Debra Granik’s beguiling and superbly judged drama tells of an Iraq vet father (a reliably intense Ben Foster) and his daughter living off-grid and in seclusion in the forests of Oregon. They encounter an all-changing complication from which there is no way back. One of the finest indie releases of 2018.
After years of seeming to award everything except the very best film-making, the Academy redeemed itself this year by burying South Korean film Parasite (Curzon, on demand) in Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and International Feature Film). Bong Joon-ho’s tantalising comic noir was not only ingeniously plotted, it was a much-needed reminder to awards season that the West was never the sole preserve of excellent cinema.
Hilary A White
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