Thursday 16 May 2024

The Coffee Table (2022)


"Hilarious and Shocking and Not for the Faint of Heart"

That's a serious warning, by the way. Caye Casas' THE COFFEE TABLE, which is getting a digital release from Second Sight, is a film you probably need to think twice about viewing if you're a parent, and even if you're not, it's definitely going to be a bit much for some.

The film opens with married couple Jesús (David Pareja) and Maria (Estefania de los Santo) in a furniture shop where Jesús wants to buy a coffee table that Maria is distinctly unimpressed by. Over the course of their conversation we learn that Maria has made all the major decisions in the relationship, right down to the naming of their newborn son.

They buy the table and take it back to their flat. Jesús' brother and his much younger girlfriend are coming over for tea while the 13 year old girl upstairs is under the delusion that Jesús wants to run away with her but has yet to tell his wife. Maria goes shopping leaving Jesús to mind the baby.

So far, so Alan Ayckbourn or Fawlty Towers-type in its setting up for something that will happen and cause mounting tension throughout the rest of the film. It's this event that results in the following hour of THE COFFEE TABLE having some of the broadest swings between humour and horror ever put on screen. Many, of course, will not find the film funny at all and it likely takes a very special kind of black sense of humour to appreciate it. I'm not going to say what happens but suffice to say THE COFFEE TABLE is likely to make as many 'Best Of' lists as 'Most Hated' lists purely because of how skilful it is at achieving what it sets out to do. I thought it was brilliant in its excruciating execution and I'll leave it at that, I think. Here's the trailer:

Caye Casas' THE COFFEE TABLE is out on Digital from Second Sight on Monday 20th May 2024

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Source Code (2011)

Director Duncan Jones' second feature (after 2009's MOON) and another study of loneliness and isolation within a science fiction storyline, gets a 4K UHD release from Studio Canal.

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a US military officer, wakes up one morning in someone else's body, sitting on a commuter train bound for Chicago. He barely has time to register what has happened to him before the train explodes and Colter finds himself in a dark room surrounded by mostly broken equipment. The only thing that works is a video screen on which he sees the face of Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) who explains the bizarre situation Colter is now in.

The train he was on blew up due to a bomb and now the bomber has set his sights on a bigger target. The problem is nobody knows who he is, but they do know he was on the train that blew up. Using a technique known as Source Code, Colter has to keep playing out the last eight minutes on the train until the terrorist is found, while learning some truths about his own situation.

With a jump in budget after MOON, Duncan Jones was able to deliver a complex but never confusing piece of science fiction that touches on elements explored in that film while also asking big questions about what reality actually is or could be. Gyllenhaal makes for a likeable hero and that, combined with a tight run time of 93 minutes, means that SOURCE CODE never outstays its welcome while also managing to cram in some science fiction concepts that might well have lost audiences if the film were in less capable hands.

Extras include a commentary track from Jones, Gyllenhaal and writer Ben Ripley, interviews with Gyllenhaal (8 minutes) and Jones (12 minutes), Five Crazy Things You Might Have Missed (only two minutes but I learned a couple of things), 27 minutes of Cast & Crew Interviews, and 24 minutes of the science behind the ideas explored in the film.

Duncan Jones' SOURCE CODE is out on 4K UHD from Studio Canal on Monday 20th May 2024

Sunday 28 April 2024

Out of Darkness (2022)

"A Grim Slice of Pre-History"

After premiering at the London Film Festival and its subsequent cinema release, Andrew Cumming's grim tale of life in prehistoric times gets a Blu-ray release from Signature.

45 000 years ago. A small disparate group of humans are searching for a new home across a forbidding and unyielding landscape. In the distance lies a mountain and the promise of warm caves to live in. But to get there they're going to have to get through a thick forest that may well harbour monsters.

OUT OF DARKNESS boasts some fantastic locations (courtesy of Gairloch in Scotland), atmospheric photography and a constant dark and doom-laden atmosphere. Occasional scenes of horror, such as the discovery of a mammoth that has been forced off a cliff by something, all add to the intrigue. Unfortunately the story never resolves things like this satisfactorily. 

Tola, the made-up language the characters speak throughout (and which is subtitled so don't worry) is a very nice touch, which is why it's even more of a shame that the same level of attention hasn't been paid to the appearance of the tribespeople. We never see the group's barber but there must be one to maintain those male hairless chins and neat pencil moustaches, never mind the fashionably close-cut scalps. The skins everyone wears appear to have been run up on a sewing machine as well. 

And therein lies the biggest problem with OUT OF DARKNESS. If it were for not for the title card at the beginning telling us we're in the past, it would reasonable to assume we are actually watching the story of some modern-day university experiment. Halfway through you almost expect someone to whip out a mobile phone to call for help after things have gone pear-shaped. If you want this sort of thing to be believable you do have to make your prehistoric people more convincing than the rock people in Hammer's ONE MILLION YEARS BC (1966), something which unfortunately OUT OF DARKNESS resolutely fails to do. And in the end, despite some good intentions here, that's what ultimately sinks it. The Blu-ray contains no extras. Here's the trailer:

OUT OF DARKNESS is out on UK Blu-ray from Signature Entertainment now. 

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Witch (2024)

The latest horror release from 101 International is WITCH, a film that shares its title with at least three other recent films (Robert Eggers' THE WITCH and two films from Korea). You would think those involved would have picked something else to avoid confusion, but then perhaps that's the point.

This WITCH is British in origin and is set in 1575. But it's less an accurate 1575 and more a Harry Alan Towers late 1960s BLOODY JUDGE-type period setting, where everyone looks improbably modern and the Hungarian locations, while adding a lot of production value, aren't especially period accurate (or any kind of accurate) either. The 'local tavern' looks more like a large town hall and our blacksmith hero lives in the kind of roomy dwelling that would have been more suited to the local magistrate.

But those aren't the only problems with WITCH. Never mind that the lead female character's name is Twyla, never mind that the boom mike swings into view with gay abandon three times in rapid succession about 25 minutes in, never mind that we are shown the ending of the film at the beginning and then have to endure a long, slow 100+ minute slog to get back there. No, the main problem with WITCH is that the story is essentially simple but is presented in such a horribly convoluted way that it becomes increasingly difficult to work out what's going on. A length info dump in the middle of the film only serves to muddy the waters further. Again, perhaps all this is deliberate, in this case to distract you from the fact that the film doesn't actually have a witch in it at all. 

On the plus side there are some decent special effects and the music's not bad. On the bizarre side, if you watch the film through the end credits a scene pops up set in the present day with characters and actors we've never seen before (at least I didn't think so) and featuring what looks like a different book from the one that's been so important (I think) to the plot so far. So incongruous and odd is this sequence that for a moment I wondered if it had been edited in from another film by mistake. Perhaps it had. I haven't said too much about the actual plot because for a change I'm going to let the trailer do that for me. Here it is:

WITCH is out on digital from 101 International on 29th April 2024

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Prey! (2024)

"Christian Film-makers Throw Themselves to the Lions"

Mukunda Michael Dewil's new 'When Animals Attack!' picture gets a digital & DVD release from Signature Entertainment.

Africa: the Kalahari desert. Christian missionary couple Andrew (Ryan Phillipe) and Sue (Mena Suvari) are forced to leave the village in which they are based (or rather the solitary tent that is all we see if it) because of the imminent arrival of militant extremists.

The only plane out is a rickety crate piloted by the extremely dubious Grun (Emile Hirsch) who agrees to take them to safety along with three other passengers. No sooner is the plane in the air than a poorly CGI-rendered version of it is hurtling to the ground with such speed it should be dashed to bits. Instead the film cuts straight to the budget-saving aftermath to show that several bits have survived reasonably intact, which is more than can be said for Sue who has a bad leg and can't move.

Grun reveals that they have crashed in a game reserve filled with lions, leopards and hyenas. If that's true then luckily for them they've landed on the one vast plane of it that's completely devoid of any wildlife at all. This absence of wildlife persists for most of the film.

Oh yes. For a movie that claims to be about the threat of savage, carnivorous wildlife, PREY! is Trades Descriptions Act terrible. The few animals we see are in footage obviously shot somewhere else. At one point a freeze-frame lion's face attacks what's left of the plane and it's not until the very end that there's any significant human-animal interaction at all. Mena Suvari's character disappears halfway through, only for Andrew to reveal that lions have dragged her body away. We see none of it, meaning the only item of interest so far is to wonder whether Suvari's agent only allowed her to be in half of this, and only act from the chest up for most of that. There's the hint of a Christian message towards the end allowing the viewer to ponder the question: If God exists, would he allow his propaganda to turn out this ropey?

It's actually no fun being this hard on a film but PREY! is dreadful, and not in an entertaining 'Bad Film' kind of way. One can only imagine what the three main stars were thinking agreeing to be in this. Crushingly poor. Here's the trailer: 

PREY! is out on Digital and DVD from Signature Entertainment on Monday 29th April 2024

Wednesday 17 April 2024

All You Need Is Death (2024)

An ancient and obscure Irish folk song may have terrifying consequences in writer-producer-director Paul Duane's new horror that, after having its UK premiere at this year's Glasgow Frightfest, is now getting a cinema release from Blue Finch.

Anna (Simone Collins) and Aleks (Charlie Maher) are collecting old folk tunes in Ireland with the express purpose of selling them on to collectors. So far their efforts haven't yielded anything sufficiently obscure for them to hit the jackpot, but a lead takes them to the house of alcoholic Rita ConCannon (Olwen Fouéré doing her best Fionnula Flanagan impersonation). 

Rita claims she knows a song that is 'only for the ears of women' and claims any attempt to record it could spell disaster. Unfortunately that's exactly what Agnes (Catherine Siggins), an obsessive academic does, resulting in some very strange happenings indeed.

An interesting entry in the 'dangerous art that can drive you insane' genre, which would also include John Carpenter's CIGARETTE BURNS and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH seems to get a bit bored with its own (very good) central concept about halfway through and throws in a lot of other things the film doesn't really need. All it had to do was keep to the idea of 'song that brings about STONE TAPE - like creatures' and that, coupled with Agnes' arrogant academic and our two innocents abroad - both characters we see in the fiction of M R James - and ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH could have been a classic.

Instead it collapses under the weight of its own unchecked ambition. Even so, Duane isn't a hack, thank goodness, and visually the film has some inspired compositions and even some pleasing visual quotes to both Argento (one death scene) and Cronenberg, both senior (Agnes's introduction) and junior (the establishing shot of Agnes' residence is straight out of POSSESSOR). 

So ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH is certainly worth a watch and Duane is certainly a film-maker to keep an eye on, but lowered expectations for this one are recommended. Here's the trailer:

Paul Duane's ALL YOU NEED IS DEATH is out in UK cinemas on Friday 19th April 2024

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Nyctophobia (2024)

"Found Footage Rides Again"

The genre nobody wanted to see a resurgence of gets a new entry with Kim Noonan's NYCTOPHOBIA, getting a digital release from Miracle Media.

Twin sisters Rose and Azalea (Chiara and Bianca D'Ambrosio) are about to set off to their post-graduation party with friend Brooks (BJ Tanner). However, before they leave the house, strange things start to happen. Rose is convinced the moon, which was previously full, has disappeared. Then there's a power cut. The only source of light is Brooks' phone which he has been using to record their pre-party preparations.

No other light source - including the torch Rose has bough as a present for nyctophobic Azalea - will work, and as the night goes on it becomes apparent that there are creatures in the dark who are after the eyes of human victims.

NYCTOPHOBIA has a brief running time of less than 80 minutes but still needs padding by topping and tailing the main action with two youtubers in conversation about what might have happened. There are a few nice touches - the twins' father has had a stroke and starts talking gibberish in a nicely composed scene where images of the kids' graduation are projected on a screen while a strange message has been written on a blackboard in the corner.

Otherwise this is strictly amateur stuff - clunky dialogue that frequently feels improvised, and a lot of shaking the camera (or rather the mobile phone) around to create tension. There are worse found footage films out there but there an awful lot that are better than this, too.

NYCTOPHOBIA is out on UK Digital from Miracle Media on Monday 22nd April 2024

Monday 15 April 2024

The Bad Shepherd (2024)

"Almost a Horror Western"

It's a bit rough and ready but there's a pleasing sense of doom and gloom that infuses Geo Santini's THE BAD SHEPHERD, now getting a UK digital release from Scatena and Rosner Films.

Four friends on a hunting trip come across the dead body of a woman next to a sackful of money, leading to the inevitable question: should they call the police or give the body 'a proper burial' as one of them calls it and run off with the money?

Guess which they choose.

Off they go to their isolated cabin in the woods where they soon have a visitor in the form of the mysterious Mr Sidney (director Santini), who seems to know everything about them. Should they give him what he claims is his money, or tie him to a chair and descend into spiralling madness and betrayal?

THE BAD SHEPHERD has a contemporary setting but with a bit of rewriting (the opening set up and dialogue is all a bit clunky), and a bit more money it would have made a decent supernatural western. If you can get through the opening 20 minutes the film gets better and by the end it has the feel of a good EC comics story. The locations are excellent and go a long way to giving the film a considerable sense of atmosphere. Certainly worth a look of you're forgiving and especially if you fancy a could-have-been western.

THE BAD SHEPHERD is out on UK Digital on Monday 22nd April 2024