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Posts Tagged ‘2022’

When it comes to film CVs, there’s homogenous, and then there’s eclectic, and then there’s George Miller. To be fair, Miller isn’t the only one to have skipped his way through multiple genres in the course of a long career – you could argue that (amongst others) Neil Jordan, Steven Soderbergh and even Steven Spielberg have all covered a lot of ground, as well – but the relatively small number of films he’s made in over forty years, and the acclaim many of them have received, does make it particularly noticeable in his case. He practically invented a new subgenre in Mad Max 2, moved gracefully on to glossy fantasy with Witches of Eastwick, wrote and produced the pitch-perfect pig fantasy Babe, and then – after a brief interlude involving dancing penguins – blasted back with the most recent Mad Max film at the age of 70. A further spin-off to the road warrior series is apparently in the works, but Miller has warmed up for this with another entirely different kind of film.

This one is entitled Three Thousand Years of Longing, and a somewhat curious beast it is too. The protagonist-narrator (Tilda Swinton) presents it as a kind of fable or fairy tale, which is entirely appropriate as the film is largely about why people tell stories and the power inherent in them. Swinton plays Alithea Binnie (her name means ‘truth’, which is probably not a coincidence), a present-day academic – she calls herself a narratologist, but this sounds to me like the kind of discipline scriptwriters invent when they’re worried audiences won’t understand what an anthropologist or ethnographer actually does. Basically, she studies folk tales and other literature. As the film opens she is on her way to Istanbul to address a conference.

All goes well, apart from Alithea having some rather bizarre hallucinations of outlandish and otherworldly individuals haunting her steps – she is clearly well-liked and respected, despite being someone who has always been solitary and slightly detached from everyone around her. A colleague insists on buying her a gift from the Grand Bazaar before she departs, and she settles on a slightly curious glass bottle, somewhat discoloured by fire at some point in its history.

As you would, she decides to give the bottle a bit of a scrub with her electric toothbrush, and – you are probably ahead of me at this point – the top flies off and billowing mystical vapour fills the room. Yes, it’s one of those bottles with a genuine genie inside it, although as we are in 2022 and respect other cultures now, the movie tends to stick to the word djinn instead. The djinn (Idris Elba) offers Alithea the usual three wishes to fulfil her heart’s desire, subject to certain reasonable rules (no wishing for infinite wishes, no raising the dead, no abolition of suffering, etc), at the end of which he will be able to vanish off to the realm of the djinni. However, there are a couple of problems to be overcome first – as a scholar in her particular field, Alithea knows full well that the entire corpus of wish-granting literature easily fits into the genre labelled ‘Cautionary Tales’, which is hardly an incentive to start wishing for anything. There’s also the problem that she’s very satisfied with her current mode of existence, and isn’t at all sure what her heart’s desire actually is…

This is not one of those films which you get a sense of an iron narrative structure about while watching, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable or engaging. Once the djinn is out of his bottle, the two of them settle down in her hotel room to discuss their situation, which develops into the djinn recounting the peculiar tale of his long existence and the various interludes which have punctuated his time in the bottle. A series of quite lavish Orientalist fantasies unfold, incorporating characters such as Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Suleiman the Magnificent, and so on. There is doomed love and palace intrigue and a striking number of really extremely voluptuous women who are notably under-dressed. It put me very much in mind of certain elements of Terry Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen movie, and also some parts of his Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus too, although Miller doesn’t have quite the same unique visual style. Eventually the film goes into a different gear, telling the story of what happens when Alithea takes the djinn back home to London with her.

This film is really a buffet of things to enjoy; it looks fabulous, and the two leads are both on top form – then again, Tilda Swinton is seldom less than magisterially watchable. Perhaps it is working opposite her which inspires Idris Elba to give one of the best performances I can recall him ever producing – blessed as he is with a very distinctive presence, so often Elba seems to be actively trying to be generic. The most memorable thing about Idris Elba’s film career, in some ways, is just how forgettable he often is. For whatever reason, that doesn’t happen here, and Elba’s work has both depth and subtlety. If he really wants to leave an impression as an actor, he should spend more time doing films like this and less time being chased by lions.

What it’s actually about is a little more obscure. George Miller is of the post-Lucas school of thought in the sense that he is very much influenced by the writings of Joseph Campbell, particularly with respect to the latter’s theory of the monomyth – the idea that there is one fundamental ur-story from which all the others are derived. You can sense the director’s very real fascination with the power of storytelling and roots of mythology throughout the film; you get the impression there’s a first-rate documentary waiting to be made here. But as an actual piece of fiction dealing with this topic, it’s not really clear what point he’s trying to make – or even if there is one.

Instead, the film concludes with a reasonably affecting (if slightly rose-tinted) tale of romance and loss. If it’s ultimately a bit unexpected, that’s because it always seems difficult to predict what’s going to happen next in this film. It’s a very likeable, deeply humane film, made with obvious intelligence, wit and sensitivity – but’s notably short on any real sense of conventional narrative structure. The incidental pleasures on offer will more than likely be sufficient reward for many viewers, however.

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We’re going to get a bit spoilery later on. I just thought I would mention that now, so you can brace yourself – or, even, if you prefer, stop reading and absent yourself now. That’s fine by me. (I’m trying to think of a non-spoilery review to recommend to you, but there’s 1500 or so of them on the site, so have a dig about for yourself.) With that out of the way, we can now turn our attention to very important other cinematic matters.

To wit: did Shia get sacked or did he walk? What went on between Liv and Jason? Is it anything to do with Liv and Harry getting together? Is that why Flo got so annoyed with Liv? Is Flo really so busy doing the Dune sequel she couldn’t do all the usual publicity on this one? And did Harry really spit on Chris during the press tour?

Yes, it’s the strange world of the gossip swirling around Olivia Wilde’s new movie Don’t Worry Darling, which I would anticipate has been causing Wilde a great deal of exasperation in recent weeks. I mean, everybody wants their new film to have a bit of buzz and interest around it when it’s released, of course, but I suspect they would rather this was on account of its script or acting or cinematography, not who was knocking off whom behind the scenes, or indeed whether or not the leading actors were spitting at each other during the junket.

For sensible and cultured people who have missed all this nonsense (well done, by the way) – the condensed version goes like this: Shia LaBeouf was supposed to be in the movie, but ultimately wasn’t, and there is some disagreement over whether he was sacked for being difficult to work with or decided to quit of his own accord, possibly because he didn’t get on with co-star Florence Pugh. Wilde herself apparently split up with her long-term partner Jason Sudeikis while making the movie, and promptly launched into a new entanglement with Harry Styles. This apparently annoyed Pugh, which led to some shouting (if you believe all the gossip, anyway), and Pugh limiting her participation in the publicity tour. Any slack in this department was of course taken up by Styles, who heroically drew the media’s attention by appearing to spit on Chris Pine at the premiere.

(What is it with Chris Pine and these weird publicity angles, anyway? I can’t help but remember the release of Outlaw King – another project in which he co-starred with Pugh – which was dominated by what I can only describe as Winkygate.)

Anyway, we have wallowed in this scuttlebutt for long enough, so let’s drag our attention away and think about the actual film itself for a bit. Pugh plays Alice, the wife of Jack (Styles), an engineer working on something called the Victory Project, a hush-hush top-secret undertaking run by the enigmatic-but-charismatic Frank (Pine). The Project dominates the local town and gives all the men there employment; the wives have no idea what they do all day, but are certain of their own role – which is to cook, clean, nurture, and generally do everything possible to support the menfolk, looking fabulous all the time as they do so.

Needless to say, this domestic idyll does not endure: one of the other wives begins acting extremely strangely, and Alice begins to have what seem to be hallucinations, resulting in her breaking the main rule of the Project – that none of the wives ever go near its base of operations. Is Frank really the benevolent visionary he presents himself as, or is some dark secret lurking beneath the placid veneer of Victory?

Well, duh, of course there’s a dark secret lurking beneath the placid veneer of Victory, and one of the problems with Don’t Worry Darling is that this is blatantly obvious from the very beginning of the film. (Spoiler incoming; very soon indeed now.) I went to a midweek matinee of this movie and about twenty minutes in one of the people sitting a couple of seats away from me leaned over to her companion and audibly whispered ‘This is a complete Stepford Wives rip-off’, which was notable basically because I was having virtually the same thought myself.

Now, before we go any further I should say there do seem to me to be various commendable things about Don’t Worry Darling – the cinematography is beautiful, the same goes for the production design, and there are very impressive performances from Pugh and Wilde. Even Chris Pine is not too bad. There is also something very interesting and original going on with the sound design and the soundtrack. It may be that if you are not already familiar with that movie which I have thoughtfully not hyperlinked the title of, you may find Don’t Worry Darling to be a surprising and effective horror-SF-thriller movie.

But for me it did just feel very much like an uncredited rip-off or remake, and a not particularly adroit one. The thing about Bryan Forbes’ film is way in which there is a genuine sense of a mystery unfolding around the characters, and an accompanying slow rise in tension as they get closer to the truth and find themselves in more and more peril. Here, however, there’s just a succession of weird things happening and Pugh gradually getting more and more unravelled. It just gets more exasperating as it goes on. (You may note that I have not made any reference so far to Harry Styles’ accent, or possibly accents – well, it turns out that there is an in-movie reason why his vocal delivery possibly tours many different regions of the world, so I am inclined to give him a pass on that. It’s still not a great performance, but the film honestly does have bigger problems.)

In the end the film just turns out to be riffing on a rather familiar theme of misogyny and male possessiveness – which is not in and of itself necessarily wrong, but there have been so many films built around this kind of idea that it’s almost become a cliche. It doesn’t explore or upturn the notion as neatly as a film like Last Night in Soho did, coming across instead as heavy-handed and earnest.

Normally I will turn up to anything with Florence Pugh in it and have a pretty good time, but this is not one of her most distinguished vehicles – she’s played similar roles in other, better films before. If nothing else she proves, as if it were required, her genuine star quality, by being the best thing in a pretty bad film. This is a very good-looking film, but it takes an age to go anywhere, and when it eventually arrives it isn’t in a place which is new or interesting. Given how good Wilde’s first film Booksmart was, this is a substantial disappointment.

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I have a certain grammatical inclination – I’d say it was an interest but it’s really more of a complex – and it struck me just the other day that there are lots of films with titles that are just made up of nouns, and quite a few with titles where the only thing you’ll find are verbs. Apart from the occasional quirky exception, though, these tend to be films with reasonably short titles. With a longer title, you’re really heading into the realm of the sentence, with all the associated baggage that comes with that – articles, conjunctions, maybe even punctuation. And prepositions, of course – if you want to do a movie with a long name, you’re probably looking at most of these things.

And so the first thing that struck me about Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine’s Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song, is just how unwieldy a title that is (I’ll be referring to it simply as Hallelujah from this point on, hope that’s okay). I mean, it kind of does the job of telling you what the movie is about, but does it trip off the tongue? I put it to you that it does not.

Still, being clumsily on-the-nose is a bit like underestimating the intelligence of the average viewer, it’s not a brilliant thing to do but it’s not going to cost you money, either – the last documentary about Leonard Cohen went for a much more oblique title, to the point where it wasn’t immediately clear who and what it was about. It’s a hard life in the documentary business sometimes, especially as people seem to be running out of things to make films about – this is the second Cohen documentary in three years, while 2022 has also seen two films about the same pair of married French vulcanologists. (The Amazing Johnathan Documentary from a few years back kind of addressed this issue, also obliquely. (I think we’re going to be using the word ‘oblique’ a lot today.))

So this Leonard Cohen guy must be pretty famous if everyone keeps making documentaries about him! Constant reader, I take nothing for granted – I’m sure you’re extremely well versed (and indeed chorused) in everything from Death of a Ladies Man to You Want It Darker, but there may be people happening by here who aren’t, so: Leonard Cohen, scion of a wealthy Canadian family, first rose to fame in the sixties as a novelist, poet, and eventually singer, and probably one of the most unlikely people ever to become a massive influence on pop music.

This film’s way of carving out a niche in the somewhat crowded Leonard Cohenomentary market (there have been many, some dating back to the mid sixties – also an appearance in Miami Vice as a French crime lord, which I bet you didn’t know about, but on the other hand Bruce Forsyth was once in an episode of Magnum and no-one ever mentions that, either) is to present itself more as a kind of biography of one of Cohen’s songs, for which a certain amount of biographical detail on the singer himself is required. Which song? Well, as you will know if you’ve been paying attention, it’s Hallelujah, the inescapable blues-gospel-spiritual-rock song which has become as much of a standard as any other of the last forty years.

To be honest, Cohen is such an interesting figure – erudite, thoughtful, charismatic, witty – that this particular bit of framing probably wasn’t necessary, and the story of the first twenty years or so of his music career (pre-Hallelujah) is engaging in its own right, touching on classic themes of struggles against adversity and to retain artistic integrity. Is there a sense in which you are waiting for the moment where Cohen sits down and thinks, ‘You know what, it’d be a good idea to write a song about…’? Well, maybe, but only very mildly.

You will have noted that I just skipped over the whole question of what Hallelujah is actually about: so does the film, and key contributor John Lissauer (who arranged the original version of the song) reveals he never asked Cohen this question either. You’d expect it to be about something, given it took Cohen seven years to write it, producing somewhere in the region of 160 verses in the process – but perhaps the obliqueness of the song, the ambiguity of it and the contradiction it embodies (it’s a very downbeat song to be named after what’s traditionally a cry of joy) are partly why it has acquired such a status in modern culture – you can project anything onto the song, interpret it however you like, deploy it in any situation, and it will always somehow feel appropriate.

Once Cohen has finally written and recorded the song, the singer himself yields the focus of the film to his creation for a while, as it considers its long, inexorable rise, mainly due to it being covered by other people – Bob Dylan, John Cale, and especially Jeff Buckley (who may owe his particular influence – many people still think it’s a Jeff Buckley song – to the fact his was the first version in general circulation by someone who could sing in the conventional sense of the word). Then came the unlikely springboard presented by the song’s presence on the soundtrack of the first Shrek movie, endless versions done by TV talent show hopefuls, and so on.

This, as you have probably guessed, is not a movie for anyone who doesn’t like Hallelujah. Even if you’re only mildly ambivalent about it, this may not be the movie for you, as watching it will involve listening to about forty different performances of just this one song (not all in full, but even so). There are obviously many different Cohen renditions, of the original Old Testament version, the later ‘secular’ version, and finally a kind of ‘fusion’ version, but also covers by John Cale, Bob Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Brandi Carlile, people off The X Factor, someone singing it to her husband at their wedding (yes, this is a bit of an ‘eep’ moment), and so on.

(One striking omission (from the film as released, anyway) is the version done by Kate McKinnon, in character as Hillary Clinton, on the first Saturday Night Live after the 2016 election. Close scrutiny of the credits reveals that both McKinnon and the SNL writers are thanked for their participation, so I guess they either ended up on the cutting room floor, or – hopefully – as a DVD extra.)

The structure of the film is helped by the fact that Cohen himself essentially dropped out of sight for six years in the 1990s, just as the song was becoming known, spending the time in a Zen monastery in California (I’m tempted to add ‘as you do’). The image of him finally returning to society, suitcase in hand, only to discover one of his songs has become so ubiquitous in his absence, is an almost irresistible one, but not much dwelt on by the movie – the directors seem more interested in the fact that Cohen was forced to go back out on tour after his business manager ran away with all his money (I think this may be the kind of thing that happens if you spend six years in a Zen monastery, to be honest). Still, the film ends with the singer at peace, or at least as close to it as someone like Leonard Cohen ever gets, and presumably living very well off the royalties of a song which is so widely beloved.

Do you have to be particularly interested in Leonard Cohen or this song to enjoy the documentary? I don’t think so – though that would certainly not hurt. It’s a curious tale of slow-burning triumph, both for the song and its creator – there aren’t really any formal innovations or oddities here, just a straightforward telling of the story. But it’s a good enough story and much more than a good enough song to be a very engaging and satisfying watch.

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Given the popularity of so-called Scandi noir, with all the darkness and moral ambiguity implicit in the notion, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the past year has seen something of a bumper crop of horror movies from the Nordic countries – the weird livestock-based psycho-drama Lamb, the profoundly disturbing ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ movie The Innocents, and now Hanna Bergholm’s Hatching. In some ways this is more of a conventional horror film than either of those, but there’s always something to be said for the classic style.

Hatching is centred on the members of an affluent family living somewhere in Finland (though there is nothing intrinsically Finnish about the story). The father is amiable but clueless, while Mother (Sophia Heikkila) rules the roost, demanding nothing but domestic perfection from everyone else, mainly because this is best for the video-blog which seems to be her main concern in life – we see a few glimpses of this cringe-making project, which is entitled Lovely Everyday Life. In the case of her daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) this extends to constant and gruelling gymnastics training, to which she submits without complaint.

One day the domestic idyll is disrupted when a bird flies into the house – the distressed creature swoops around, flapping and cawing, breaking plates and generally wreaking havoc amongst Mother’s carefully-managed decor. Tinja manages to catch the frightened bird – only for Mother to snap its neck, seemingly out of simple spite. Mother has a thinly-disguised ruthless and manipulative streak, as quickly becomes apparent – when Tinja walks in on her cavorting with the handyman (Reino Nordin), she quickly manages to make her daughter complicit in her infidelity.

It’s a lot for a young girl to deal with, and Tinja has more to contend with than this, anyway – racked with guilt over the death of the bird, she has brought what initially seems to be one of its eggs into the house and is secretly trying to incubate it. This at least seems to go well, for the egg grows to an enormous size – before cracking open and disgorging…

Well, thereby hangs the tale, of course. The hatchling is a remarkable creation, a fusion of CGI and the puppeteer’s art – a rather disquieting bird-thing and yet not entirely without the capacity to evoke sympathy. Perhaps even more disturbingly, there is clearly a profound bond between Tinja and the creature, which she names Alla. For her part, Alla seems very prone to becoming outraged on Tinja’s behalf, even violently and excessively so – a local dog which nips at her meets a grisly fate. Needless to say things do not bode well for her annoying little brother or her rival on the gymnastics team…

This is a slick and impressive production which has clearly been thought-through by the writers. It’s kind of curious that several of the things I’ve been saying about horror movies recently certainly apply to Hatching – firstly that it is, to some extent, clearly inspired by E.T. the Extra-terrestrial – a troubled pre-teen develops an extremely close connection with an unearthly creature they keep hidden in the family home – but done as a horror movie. (My understanding is that the original conception was for the protagonist to be male, which would have made the derivation even clearer.)

The origins of the film are just a starting point, of course, for this eventually goes off in a quite different direction. Whatever the alien is meant to represent in E.T., Alla is clearly a symbol of something else. When I was writing about Men, one of my complaints about the film was that while the central metaphor was entirely clear, the film didn’t make sense in any terms other than those of the metaphor – while the thesis was clear, the narrative delivering it was a nonsense. Hatching doesn’t fall into the same trap, but it pushes the limits of the narrative right to the limit, by which I mean that the horror story is just good enough to serve the director’s purpose. The decision to frame and present the story almost as a fable or fairy tale helps smooth some of the more awkward edges, too.

What Hanna Bergholm is up to here is another film about the pressures placed on young people, particularly girls, in modern society: forced to adhere to a certain set of standards and requirements, they have no socially-sanctioned outlet for their negative emotions – which nevertheless build up and lead to a destructive outburst. Here, the eruption takes the form of an alarming bird-monster, but I am sure that many parents of teenagers can empathise, plumage or no plumage.

The film is well-made, and extremely well-acted, with an astonishingly self-assured performance from Siiri Solalinna (who apparently has never acted before). The eruption of gore and grue into the carefully-curated family home is striking, and there are a few effective jump-scares sprinkled into the story (even the most atmospheric horror movie is sometimes enlivened by the odd jump-scare). However, once it becomes clear what’s going on – and, to be fair, the film is so well-paced that this takes a while to become apparent – the film inevitably seems a bit less interesting than it did to begin with, like a song where you can guess many of the rhymes in advance.

To be clear, there’s a definite pleasure to be gained from finding yourself so in-synch with a film, or when a film is so congruent with the conventions of whatever genre it is operating in. Hatching is a satisfying and effective film, certainly a success by any rational metric – both as a horror story and a film with something to say about the dehumanising and pressurising elements of modern life. But the distinctiveness of the early part of the film, when it is at its most fairy-tale-ish, led me to anticipate something as original and striking throughout. Nevertheless, this is a very good movie, and one which will hopefully mark the debut of a number of talents who will go on to do interesting work for years to come.

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Some movies don’t really need a directorial credit on them: the identity of their creator is imprinted on every frame, every casting decision, every line of dialogue. It’s the brushstroke of an artist or some other mark that a great stylist is about his or her craft.

Crimes of the Future (the new version) is mostly concerned with the doings of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux), who are performance artists. The duo live in a strangely-divergent world where digital technology does not appear to exist and the process of human evolution has become somewhat fractious. One of the forms this takes is that Saul’s body spontaneous generates new and mysterious organs – causing him some discomfort in the process – which Caprice then extracts on-stage using a device which resembles a sort of bone coffin sprouting bio-mechanical arms.

This has earned Saul and Caprice something of a following, amongst both other art-lovers and the people running the National Organ Registry, which keeps track of new pieces of internal human architecture (they are played by Don McKellar and Kristen Stewart). He is invited to enter the forthcoming Inner Beauty Contest, where he is likely to stand a good chance in the Best Original Organ category. But he has other things on his mind, such as an encounter with members of a cult with a very strange dietary restriction, and their idea for a new show in which the victim of a shocking murder is autopsied on stage…

Do I even need to tell you who wrote and directed Crimes of the Future? Does their identity not blaze forth from even this simple description? It’s David Cronenberg. Of course it’s David Cronenberg. It’s such a David Cronenbergy film that if anyone else had come up with it (a fairly unlikely eventuality, of course) they would have been greeted with derision for such a blatant act of plagiarism. As it is, it is the most David Cronenbergy film that even Cronenberg himself has made in over twenty years – which I suppose is another way of saying that Cronenberg has, fairly effortlessly, managed to shed the trappings of his early films in favour of a less instantly recognisable mode of storytelling.

But here all those trappings return: gristly, throbbing bits of bio-machinery, a morbid fascination with rebellious organic matter, strange pseudo-erotic interactions between human and technology… at one point Kristen Stewart’s character says ‘Surgery is the new sex,’ which is almost certainly the most Cronenbergy line you’ll hear in a cinema this year. Needless to say this is followed up by a moment in which Mortensen and Seydoux, in what looks very much like a post-coital embrace, recline ecstatically together in a skeletal sarcophagus as robotic scalpels carve into their soft flesh. Someone tells an artist ‘Seeing you makes me want to cut my own face open’, as a compliment.

Needless to say it is extreme and provocative, and arguably less well-mannered than most of Cronenberg’s recent films. Apparently this was an old script that he fished out of his bottom drawer and reworked, which may explain why it seems to have more in common with a film like Videodrome than anything from this century. Then again, rumour had it that Cronenberg was actively contemplating retirement from film-making, such was his disillusionment with the whole process of raising finance, so we must be grateful for his making anything at all. (The strange world of film financing means that the new version of Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg’s debut movie from over fifty years ago was also called Crimes of the Future, but the two are distinct entities – this isn’t a remake) is a Greco-Canadian co-production, filmed on location in Athens, giving it a very distinctive atmosphere and visual style.)

I must say that it is a real treat to see Cronenberg making this return visit to an area where he has previously produced so much of his most distinctive work. The visceral impact of the various strangenesses and outright horrors that he unleashes only gains in power from the fact that the director is clearly not just attempting to shock or nauseate the audience – even though there are moments in this film where I thought the director was in genuine danger of going too far – everything is in service to ideas and metaphors with real heft to them. At the heart of this film is a grotesque metaphor for the creative process; it also deals with questions of consumerism, ecology, and political freedom. The stew of ideas is almost overwhelming, both in its richness and in the casual way that Cronenberg presents the individual elements to the audience.

This is very reminiscent of what I suppose we should refer to as Classic Early Cronenberg – the string of unambiguous horror movies running through the 1970s and early 1980s that includes such famous works as Rabid, Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly, all of which found new ways to employ the notion of body-horror as a metaphor. The new Crimes of the Future does this, but I do feel compelled to admit that it resembles some of the earlier films in another way, too – when Cronenberg is really in full flow, the onslaught of ideas and images can be so irresistible that the actual plot can become a little oblique or, on the initial viewing at least, somewhat incoherent. That’s the case here too: there’s a plot about a cult and a couple of assassins that I never really felt like I entirely understood. It’s solely the fact that parts of Crimes of the Future seem a bit obscure and oblique that keeps me from suggesting the film contains rather more gratuitous nudity than is generally the case these days, even in a horror movie – for all I know the naked female cast members are all vital to the plot and theme of the movie, I’m just not recognising the connection.

Normally I’m very harsh on movies with incoherent plots, and it may indeed be the case that I am letting my respect for David Cronenberg get in the way of treating this film objectively. But I don’t watch his films for the details of the plot, I watch them for the ideas, the squelchy bits, the metaphor. Crimes of the Future has all of those things in abundance, together with some excellent performances from a talented cast. It’s a grisly, potentially disgusting, deliberately obscure and really rather challenging film. But it also feels like a bit of a treat.

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I have a confession to make: I sometimes struggle to tell my McDonaghs apart. I like both of the brothers, John and Martin, which is another way of saying I like the great majority of their films, which include Calvary, The Guard, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Seven Psychopaths, War on Everyone, and In Bruges. However – and please imagine blushing sheepishness appearing on the countenance of your correspondent – if you put a gun to my head and asked me to tell you which were made by John and which were made by Martin, I would almost certainly struggle. They’re both fond of casting Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, their films have a tendency to turn into darkly witty black comedies… do you begin to see the problem?

Having said all that, John has a new film out which doesn’t quite fit that description (while Martin’s imminent one, The Banshees of Inisherin, is apparently a black comedy-drama starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, so it’s entirely congruent with the McDonagh intersection zone). John McDonagh’s new film is The Forgiven, based on a novel by Lawrence Osborne, which in turn was apparently based on true events (this seems to be a bit tricky to pin down).

It certainly has a very literary sort of feel about it, although to be honest I was expecting to discover it was an adaptation of a book from the 1930s – many things about this tale of dissolute Europeans taking their leisure in Morocco have a vintage touch to them, from the names and attitudes of many of the characters to the string-backed driving gloves which prominently feature in a few key moments. But no: it is set in the present day, complete with jokes about Twitter and odd pop-cultural references (one of which seems likely to earn the Terry Nation estate a few quid: everything is indeed connected, but it’s sometimes odd to be reminded of the fact).

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain play David and Jo Henninger, an affluent English couple – he is a doctor, she is a moderately successful children’s author – travelling to Morocco to attend a party being held by their wealthy acquaintance Dickie Galloway (Matt Smith) at his palatial desert home. The fellow guests are artists, writers, nobility, sleekly prosperous Americans, together with a swarm of interchangeably glamorous young women, all waited on by an army of Moroccan servants. It does sound rather like the premise of an Agatha Christie novel – the only element of doubt being, who is going to end up murdered?

The twist proves to be that the Henningers arrive having brought their own dead body with them – on a desert road, just outside the estate, they struck and killed a young Arab man apparently only seeking to sell them a fossilised trilobite. (We see the moments before the accident, but for a long time only hear the Henningers’ account of what actually happened.) Henninger pays a sort of lip-service to remorse, but denies any real culpability, despite having had a few drinks before setting out; Jo seems more genuinely concerned about the loss of a young life.

The couple get on with trying to enjoy their weekend, even though word has got around and David is pelted with stones by the local kids while out riding. Dickie does his best to smooth things along with the local police: the subtext to all of this is that one poor local boy is of very little consequence compared to the convenience of Dickie and his assembled guests. Then the boy’s father (Ismael Kanater) materialises out the desert, stone-faced, implacable, demanding that Henninger do the right thing – if nothing else, accompany the father and the body back to their home village for the funeral. It will mean a trip deep into the desert, in the company of strangers who have every reason to wish him ill…

There is something faintly stylised and self-consciously emblematic about The Forgiven from the start – it’s always clear that this is meant to be more than just a story about a clash between cultures and social strata. This never quite topples over into outright clumsiness, but one might still wish for McDonagh to have exercised a slightly lighter touch in both his writing and direction. For a while it’s not clear what the film is going to be about, beyond a forensic portrait of the filthy rich at play in all their awfulness – David Henninger is a self-justifying racist alcoholic, and many of the others are very nearly as bad. (This is a rare example of a film which has earned an 18 certificate in the UK despite not including graphic violence or sexual content – the reason given is the inclusion of drug abuse, but I suspect some extremely strong language and bigoted attitudes will also have played a part in this.)

But the film proves to be something a bit more thoughtful and humane: Henninger sets off into the desert half-expecting the worst, certainly to have cash extorted out of him. But the experience he has exposes new sides to his character, while at the same time the fun and games at Dickie’s mansion are perhaps showing Jo in a new light. The guests continue to thrash about in a swamp of their own moral turpitude, while deeper issues of moral responsibility, retribution and justice are explored far away.

In the end it’s a relatively simple story, though it doesn’t always feel that way at the time: McDonagh has turned it into a thoughtful, very good-looking film, and something of a rarity these days – a serious drama obviously intended for a grown-up audience. The cast respond to this by contributing a strong set of performances, all showing just how good they can be given the right material. Said Taghmaoui is particularly impressive in a relatively small role as an Arab driver who gradually comes to befriend Fiennes’ character; not being having to play someone who is required to symbolise something probably helps his cause a bit.

Some of the film’s oddities eventually prove somewhat explicable – McDonagh opt to open the film by running virtually the entire set of credits over footage of the Henningers arriving in Morocco, but this is mainly to facilitate the ending of the film through a powerful coup de theatre. Others prove a little harder to decode. But the end result is an impressive drama, more measured and less cheerfully provocative than many of his other films. I’m not sure I’ll be putting The Forgiven on as a piece of entertainment in quite the same way that I do The Guard, but this is still a fine piece of film-making.

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1. A Tour Bus, en route to Cornwall, 2011. Possibly a Thursday.

JIM (James Purefoy) and his fellow singing Cornish fishermen are heading home at the end of a gruelling tour.

JIM: ‘Morning lads. Here we all are again. Seeing as how the last film did so well, they’ve got us all back again to do a follow-up.’

LEADVILLE TREBILCOCK (Dave Johns): ‘What, all of us, Jim?’

JIM: ‘Well, not quite all of us, Leadville (your name is completely ridiculous, by the way), as some of the younger actors from last time round either didn’t want to come back or wanted too much money. So their characters have gone off to Australia for a holiday which will conveniently last for the entire movie.’

FISHERMEN: ‘Arrr.’

JIM’S GHOSTLY DAD: ‘However, I will be appearing in this film, despite my death being a major plot point in the last one. I am proud to say I was both willing and cheap.’

JIM: ‘I’m quite sad about my dead dad, which could well turn out to be a plot point.’

LEADVILLE: ‘I have just outraged a metropolitan female journalist with my rough-hewn but authentic Cornish humour, which may also have some story potential. Let’s see how it turns out.’

SINGING CORNISH FISHERMEN: ‘We’ve made this film with care and skill, though there is a possibility / That you’ll notice problems that we had with cast availability.’

 

2. Record Company Offices, London, which is depicted as just as horrible as in the first one, though I bet the producers still love living there.

The president and various other executives sit around smugly.

PRESIDENT (Ferdy from This Life back in the 90s, but he seems to be turning into Alan Partridge): ‘Well, here we all are, doing our best to represent the metropolitan shallowness and insincerity which is the opposite of what those singing fishermen embody, just like last time.’

RECORD EXECUTIVE: ‘Weren’t you Noel Clarke last time around?’

There is a lengthy and awkward silence.

PRESIDENT: ‘Anyway. This film needs some conflict so I am going to decide that the singing fishermen are a bit of a liability due to their rough-around-the-edges authenticity.’

RECORD EXECUTIVE: ‘Won’t that just turn us into ridiculous stereotypes of mirthless politically correct killjoys out of touch with so-called normal people?’

PRESIDENT: ‘Yes, but it’s in the script.’

 

3. A house in Cornwall.

LEADVILLE: ‘Well, I’ve just been to the toilet during a conference call with hilarious results, not the least of which is that we’ve all had to do media training with an absurd straw-man caricature of a soulless feminist.’

JIM: ‘You’ve got a funny idea of what’s hilarious, Leadville. Thank God, however, the film seems to have abandoned the idea of being some kind of culture-war vehicle for an assault on political correctness and wokedom and whatever else the right-wing media will like to keep banging on about in the distant year of 2022.’

LEADVILLE: ‘So what is it going to be about this time?’

JIM: ‘Well, I’ve got a mysterious Irishwoman staying in my B&B who clearly has a bit of a past.’

YOUNG FISHERMAN: ‘I’ve been slung out by my partner over a misunderstanding about something that happened on the tour.’

LEADVILLE: ‘We need to find a replacement for your dead dad in the band, and it looks likely to be a Welsh farmer who you will hate for political reasons the script will avoid going into.’

JIM: ‘I’m still clearly grieving for my dead dad and drinking too much because of it.’

LEADVILLE: ‘It’s a bit all over the place this time around, isn’t it? It almost makes you wish for a trite and hackneyed tale of a metropolitan visitor discovering about The Important Things in Life.’

JIM: ‘What did you say? There’s a lot of stuff in this film I’m struggling to find rhymes for.’

SINGING FISHERMEN: ‘A film without much focus / Will now occur before your eyes. / With Cornish farmers getting stick / Because their trade is subsidised.’

JIM: ‘Also Welsh farmers who happen to live in Cornwall, of course.’

 

4. Another house in Cornwall.

JIM is talking to AUBREY (Imelda May), the mysterious Irishwoman.

JIM: ‘… and so now the film has turned out to be about me having a sort of personal crisis, hitting the bottle, falling out with the band, and neglecting my grand-daughter. If only there was someone around here who could teach me about the pitfalls of fame.’

AUBREY: ‘Well, as it happens, I am actually a reclusive ex-rock star who has been there and done that and has lots of quiet wisdom to share. Also, while I am still young enough to be attractive, I am old enough for the two of us to get it on and it not to seem icky or inappropriate.’

JIM: ‘Oh. Shall we get it on, then?’

AUBREY: ‘May as well.’

SINGING FISHERMEN (over scenic shots of Cornish coastline): ‘Now with her help our good friend Jim will climb back on the wagon / Just as soon as the pair of them are finished with their sha… ring of their emotional baggage.’

 

5. Yet another house in Cornwall.

JIM’S MUM (Maggie Steed): ‘All this emotional growth and late-life romance is all very well but it’s not helping us find a climax for the movie.’

LEADVILLE: ‘I think there was an implied climax in the last scene.’

WELSH FARMER: ‘Well, the band’s been dropped by the label due to Jim’s wild behaviour, will that help?’

JIM’S MUM: ‘Perhaps, if it turns out we can only persuade them to re-sign us by finding a way to play at Glastonbury.’

YOUNG FISHERMAN: ‘And maybe you and Jim’s grand-daughter can have a moment of personal jeopardy which brings everyone together and reminds Jim of what The Important Things in Life are.’

JIM’S MUM: ‘I’m game.’

WELSH FARMER: ‘And how about a trip down to London to sing for the record company executives on an almost wholly spurious pretext?’

LEADVILLE: ‘Sounds like pretty desperate padding to me, but if it’s all we’ve got…’

SINGING FISHERMEN: ‘We’ve got a pretty dodgy script / It’s hardly writ’ by Schiller / There really would be nothing left / If you took out all the filler.’

 

6. Glastonbury festival 2011, though nobody famous is ever visible.

JIM: ‘Well, here we are at the end of the film at last, about to perform at Glastonbury.’

LEADVILLE: ‘How come the film implies we’re performing in the afternoon, when actually we were the first band on in the morning?’

JIM: ‘Oh, I’ve given up worrying about this script, I get the impression the writers did too.’

YOUNG FISHERMAN: ‘So what moral premise and lesson has this film been attempting to impart? Something about the importance of authenticity and old-fashioned values in an over-sophisticated and over-sensitive world dominated by snowflakes?’

JIM: ‘No, thank God, though it seemed like a near thing for a bit.’

WELSH FARMER: ‘Something about the plight of the Cornish economy, particularly the fishing industry?

JIM: ‘Bit too political.’

YOUNG FISHERMAN: ‘Well, how about that you felt really sad when your dad died and struggled to cope, but thanks to your friends and family you eventually got through it?’

JIM: ‘I suppose that’ll have to do.’

LEADVILLE: ‘Pretty slim basis for a movie, though.’

ALL PRESENT: ‘Arrr.’

SINGING FISHERMEN: ‘The last film did extremely well, so they’ve gone and made a sequel / Here’s the main thing we have to tell: the quality is faecal!’

Fisherman’s Friends – One and All (dir. Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard) is, at the time of writing, still taking up perfectly good screens in cinemas all over the UK. Don’t go near it, you’ll only encourage them.

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Baltasar Kormakur’s new movie has a bit of a problem in the title stakes: all the obvious and good ones have gone. This is a film about Idris Elba being chased by a lion for the best part of an hour, but he couldn’t call it Lion, as that was the name of a well-received Dev Patel vehicle from a few years ago. Likewise, calling it Pride would run the risk of getting mixed up with a movie about LGBT activism during the 1980s miner’s strike from even further back. Help! It’s a Lion! would probably have been a bit too on-the-nose even for a modern studio picture. In the end they’ve gone with Beast, which is hardly a perfect solution because – as any fule kno – there was a rather superior psycho-thriller of that name in 2018. First world problems, eh?

The film itself is, obviously, concerned with nothing of the sort, and opens with some people whom we eventually learn to be poachers shooting some lions deep in the South African bush. However, they miss the male of the pride, which – presumably due to the trauma of the experience – transforms into a sort of magical monster lion, capable of killing people in complete silence, shrugging off tranquiliser darts, teleportation, surviving being inside exploding vehicles, and so on.

None of this is known to Idris Elba, playing a doctor who’s flying into the country with his two teenage daughters (Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries) for a much-needed holiday: his estranged wife, the girls’ mother, has recently passed away and everyone feels it is important that the family spends time together (no-one actually uses the word ‘bond’, presumably as Idris Elba always gets very agitated whenever he hears it, even in passing). They are staying with an old family friend who is a game warden: as this is an Afrikaans character, he is of course played by Sharlto Copley, who has owned the Hollywood concession on playing white South African supporting roles for a good many years now.

Off they go into the bush for some driving around and looking at animals, and it is all fairly agreeable until they come across a village where every single person has been killed by the magical monster lion. The lion even has a go at eating Sharlto Copley, but as this would mean Idris Elba would essentially have to be in every scene for the rest of the movie, it just nibbles on him a bit. Elba and the kids end up stuck in a landrover looking worried. This takes up a surprisingly long section of the movie. Eventually, of course, it falls to Elba to put aside his metropolitan skittishness and man up, for the sake of his children if nothing else. How is he feeling emotionally as the struggle gets underway? The magical monster lion could probably tell you the answer: raw!

There’s a lot of meat on the menu in Beast, but really this movie does feel like low-hanging fruit somehow: it’s a film about Idris Elba being chased by a lion. At heart it is as basic and straightforward as that. It takes exactly the shape and form you would expect from a movie about Idris Elba being chased by a lion. There is an initial opening section in which there is no lion, in which there is some industrious laying-in of heavy-duty backstory and relationships. You know from the start that the classic, archetypal story of Idris Elba being chased by a lion is going to (in theory) be given some emotional heft and colour by the subplot about this damaged family coming together in adversity, as there is always an upside to this kind of experience, apparently. It’s a bit like in the Spielberg version of War of the Worlds where thousands are killed and civilisation nearly collapses, but it’s all okay because this teaches Tom Cruise how to be a better dad. In the same way all those people who get mauled to death by the magical monster lion must end up resting easy as they reflect on how their agonising demises at least served to help Idris Elba and his kids remember that they are really quite fond of one another.

It is, I suppose, quite functional; the scenery is nice, there are some decent jump-scares, there is nothing to nitpick in the special effects department, and Copley is always a watchable presence on screen. Elba isn’t really done any favours, by the script, however – I know this is supposed to be the story of how Elba finds the strength and will and ingenuity to fight for his family, but he’s so completely useless at the start of the film it’s genuinely quite irritating (it’s like a suspense thriller where the main character is Daddy Pig – Peppa’s old man). I found myself actually wanting him to get eaten by the lion; it almost feels like he deserves it.

Then again, you have to admire Idris Elba, if only for his sheer staying power: the man keeps plugging away, even if the average person would be hard-pressed to name a hit film where he is genuinely the leading man as opposed to the head of an ensemble or a supporting player. (His people would no doubt point out Elba’s sheer bankability, given his films have made nearly four billion dollars in total, but most of that would probably come from cameos in half a dozen Marvel movies – an experience he apparently hated.) As this film goes on he becomes less irritating and his innate charisma is allowed to manifest; in the end, it’s not actually a bad performance, even if the climax, when it finally arrives, put me very much in mind of part of the Monty Python Scott of the Sahara sketch, which was rather disastrous for it as a piece of drama.

It’s… okay. It’s the kind of film you’ll probably end up watching on TV on a Saturday night, because you fancy watching a thriller about a man-eating lion and your partner likes Idris Elba (or vice versa). It’s about Idris Elba being chased by a lion. It delivers everything that description promises, but very little else of substance or genuine interest. If you want to watch Idris Elba being chased by a lion for the best part of an hour and half then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, not so much.

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What’s that, you say? Subtitled movies? You’ll have to be more specific, constant reader. Japanese movies? By the dozen, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, by the dozen. French, Farsi, Arabic, Swedish, Italian, Indonesian, Cantonese, Spanish, Korean, and probably a few more besides. However, proudly joining the role of honour today is something I’d never anticipated: a subtitled movie from my own country.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle and some amusement when some metropolitan showings of Trainspotting took place with the (ostensibly) English dialogue subtitled in the same language, but Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast (Gwledd) is a differently fishy kettle, a British film made in Welsh. (At least, the print I saw was: I get the impression two versions were made, a decision which apparently didn’t go down very well with some of the cast.)

It seems a pretty safe bet that the existence of Welsh language cinema is largely a result of state funding to support minority-language arts, but the makers of The Feast seem to be trying their best to make something relatively commercial which stands a chance of getting the subsidisers their money back – in the time-honoured fashion, they are making something in a genre which is famous for delivering big returns on a relatively modest investment. Yup, The Feast is – and my research suggests it may be a first in this respect – a Welsh-language horror movie.

It’s not something that would ever have occurred to me. If you’d asked me what a Welsh-language horror movie might look or feel like, I would have struggled to answer you. I might have suggested it would end up looking like one of those rough-around-the-edges low-budget movies that still turn up on it’ll-always-be-the-Horror-Channel-to-me in the small hours of the morning, probably rural, probably gory.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad, but – to begin with at least – The Feast is a notably well-behaved and well-turned-out movie, if a little on the oblique side. The setting is the countryside (the movie was shot in Snowdonia, or Eryri as I believe some locals prefer), in and around the opulent if slightly brutalist home of local MP Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones). Gwyn is hosting a dinner party for a few friends, which of course means that his wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) is having to do all the cooking and make other preparations. (The couple’s two grown-up sons are loitering about the place too, but don’t seem particularly interested.) So Glenda has recruited Cadi (Annes Elwy), a quiet young woman from the local village, to come in and help with the serving and tidying up.

All of this becomes clear relatively slowly: the opening movement of the film is quite discursive, presenting a series of images and moments which don’t initially seem connected as a narrative. But the film slowly coheres, and its transition from something approaching impressionism to a much more naturalistic narrative structure, and then on beyond to something distinctly non-naturalistic is handled extremely well. The characters come into focus: the family are both indulged and self-indulgent, casually patronising towards Cadi, who is after all just the hired help. Suggestions that many things are not quite right in this family begin to pile up: one of the sons clearly has some kind of issue, possibly psychological, while the other also has a chequered past. Odd little inexplicable things start to happen; an atmosphere of unease, shading into dread, begins to develop. (Much of this is all down to the sound design and editing, which is excellent.)

It initially seems like The Feast is going to turn out to be one of those bleak psychological dramas that imports an edge of horror just for effect, or some other kind of horror-adjacent or post-horror movie. Possibly the most impressive thing about a movie which is strong overall is the immaculate way in which it is paced – the way in which it reveals itself to be a true horror movie, dealing with classic genre themes, doesn’t put a foot wrong. There isn’t a single moment when the film tilts over from something resembling the real world into a place more steeped in the uncanny and unsettling; the transformation is too gradual for that. Suffice to say that by the end of the evening it has become clear that ancient and primal powers are moving in and around the house, with regrettable consequences for many of those coming to eat there.

Without giving too much away, The Feast turns out to be – on one level at least – a very gory new addition to the folk-horror tradition, with perhaps just a touch of the gothic to it as well. (There really is some strong meat before the end of the movie, in every sense of the expression.) But there’s also something very modern about the film’s sensibility, too. I’m not sure satire is quite the right word for it – it feels more like a rather grisly fable, an updating of a very old story for a new audience. The script gets the balance between explaining what’s going on and letting the audience work it for themselves just about spot-on, which is very unusual these days.

Grabbing the attention performance-wise, to begin with at least, is probably Nia Roberts, who seemed to me to be channelling Alison Steadman in Abigail’s Party some of the time: Glenda is quite magnificently self-regarding and awful, and as such a very appropriate matriarch for her family. That said, Annes Elwy increasingly grabs the attention as the film goes on and events begin to unfold; and all of the performances are good.

It’s fair to say that The Feast is one of those movies which casts an odd spell while you’re watching it, so much so that you’re almost inclined to overlook some of the more outlandish elements of the plot. As it proceeds it does increasingly feel like being trapped in a nightmare – the characters likewise seem to become beguiled, forced to play out their darkest impulses and natures. Looking back on the film with hindsight it’s true that certain elements of the story don’t quite hang together, perhaps, but this is movie to be viewed and felt rather than reflected on and analysed. This is an extremely strong and effective horror movie, and the best argument for state-subsidised film-making I’ve seen in a long time. Hir byw Cymraeg!

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‘He hasn’t done a movie for a bit,’ observed Former Next Desk Colleague Now Manager (At A Different Establishment), when I revealed I was planning on seeing the new movie by Jordan Peele. ‘He tends to take his time, doesn’t he?’

I wouldn’t necessarily have said this, but. ‘Well, I suppose he has spent the last couple of years pretending to be Rod Serling,’ I said.

‘You what?’

‘You know, he did the most recent version of Twilight Zone on the telly.’

‘Are we thinking about the same guy?’

It turned out we were not, and Former Next Desk Colleague Now Manager (At A Different Establishment) was actually getting Jordan Peele mixed up with Neil Jordan – which is not, perhaps, the most obvious confusion to get oneself entangled in, given Neil Jordan does all kinds of movies and Jordan Peele, as a writer and director at least, has tended to stick to a horror-adjacent furrow (and see, as mentioned already, his take on The Twilight Zone).

Things do not seem to have changed very greatly as Peele’s new movie, Nope, gets underway: there is an opening tableau which manages to be rather gory and unsettling and borderline surreal, before we are off into the lives of the protagonists, the Haywood family. They are long-established horse-breeders and animal trainers for Hollywood movies – a remote ancestor was the first man ever caught on film – but things are not going well. Family patriarch Otis (veteran actor and cult star Keith David) is caught in a freak shower of metal debris and killed, leaving taciturn elder son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) struggling to make ends meet, even with the help of his more personable sister Emerald (Keke Palmer).

Things get so bad that OJ finds himself selling some of the family horses to former child star Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), who has set up a fairly tacky wild-west themed attraction down the other end of their valley. But it seems that cash flow could be the least of their problems – there are sudden, inexplicable power outages around their ranch, strange noises and shadows, and horses begin to mysteriously disappear. When the siblings see a disc-shaped object in the sky overhead, and discover that there is a cloud formation nearby which seems bafflingly immune to the local weather, they begin to suspect the ranch may have visitors of a non-terrestrial kind…

Peele body-swerves around the usual notes of panic and alarm that would normally accompany this kind of plot development in favour of something more down-to-earth: Em points out that there’s big money in UFO footage, all they have to do is get the saucer on camera somehow and all their financial troubles are over. However, it transpires that they may have dangerously misunderstood the nature of the thing in the sky, and getting a camera pointing at it and in focus may not be the best of ideas…

This is one of those films that probably sounds a lot more straightforward in precis than is actually the case. There’s a reason why Peele was given the job of doorman to the Twilight Zone, and that’s because his last couple of films have been fairly low-key, high-concept horror allegories (even if, in Get Out at least, the exact nature of the metaphor he was trying to construct remained a bit oblique – to your correspondent at least). Nope is a slightly different piece of work – not least in its scale, as it has getting on for twenty times the budget of Get Out. There is much more of a visual element to this film.

This is touched upon from the opening moments, which feature a Biblical quotation on the topic of ‘making a spectacle’ – although not in the positive sense in which we usually talk of something being spectacular. It does seem like Peele is, on some level at least, attempting to deconstruct the whole idea of what a spectacular summer movie is and how it works; sight and the visual image are touched on again and again as motifs, throughout the movie – much of it is mediated by cameras and their images, as characters observe events through CCTV systems or attempt to capture a particular moment on film. It’s hardly insignificant that the Haywoods have their unique ancestral distinction, while another character’s reaction, after being involved in a fairly significant road accident, is to ask whether anyone filmed it. (This character appears to be named after Eadweard Muybridge, one of the pioneers of motion-picture photography.)

This is a laudably big and complex project for a summer movie – one which attempts to provide spectacle as well as comment on it. In this respect Peele appears to be borrowing from the playbook of one of the grand masters of the form, namely Steven Spielberg – there are a lot of clearly Spielbergian touches to this movie (one should say it starts off by bearing more than a passing resemblance to an M Night Shymalan project, too), and if one wanted to be as reductive as possible the plot could be described as a mash-up of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is a fairly weird premise for a movie, but then Peele goes ahead and includes a lot of additional, even surreal touches – there’s a whole subplot about a chimpanzee running bloodily amok on the set of a fictitious sitcom back in the 1990s, which doesn’t really connect to the main storyline except in the most tangential and thematic way.

Nevertheless, the performances are good, especially by Kaluuya, who has the tricky job of trying to lead a movie while playing someone who’s basically an introvert. It’s also nice to see the return of ash-gargling one-time heavy Michael Wincott, who shows up as the expert called in by the siblings – his area of expertise is, inevitably, cinematography. Peele himself handles the film with obvious skill, transitioning from the creepier early sequences to the wide-screen action of the climax with great deftness.

In the end I would say Nope is an admirably intelligent and well-made film, but more of a commentary on cinema than a genuine example of it. Too many elements remain oblique and obscure, although the central idea is a strong one and it’s never less than watchable. It seems a very safe bet that Jordan Peele will one day make a really great film. But this is not quite it.

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