Thursday 30 May 2024

Nightsiren (2022)

Writer-Director Tereza Nvotová's powerful and visually arresting new provincial horror drama gets a limited edition Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

When Sarlota (Natalia Germani) was a little girl she witnessed (and may have been responsible for) her younger sister falling from a cliff. Years later she is summoned back to the tiny provincial village of her birth to discuss an inheritance from her late mother.

She finds the house next door burned out and her own empty, the villagers unfriendly, and too long in the city has made her forgetful of the misogynistic practices of the menfolk and the passive acquiescence of the women. There are accusations of witchcraft, both of old and currently, and some of these are levelled at Sarlota herself. With the help of Mira (Eva Mores) Sarlota finally discovers the truth behind her family's history while having to deal with the shocking attitudes and presumptions the villagers still harbour.

NIGHTSIREN is beautifully filmed, with some jaw-dropping compositions against a background of the lush Czech landscape where the movie was filmed. It's also not afraid to venture into arthouse territory with some scenes of strangeness, while all the time pushing its grim, bitter and extremely vital message regarding the abuse of women in an extreme patriarchal society. Consequently some of NIGHTSIREN isn't easy viewing, but then it shouldn't be. It's a moving film, skilfully put together and if you like your European art house cinema grim and confrontational then this one's definitely for you.

Arrow's limited edition Blu-ray comes with a commentary track from Kat Ellinger, and there's a video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on the idea of witches and 'sisterhood', as well as another video essay from Justine Smith that addresses the issues raised in the film directly.

Finally you get a trailer, a reversible sleeve, a double-sided foldout poster, and a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film from Anton Bitel, Cerise Howard and Alexandra West.

Tereza Nvotová's NIGHTSIREN is out on limited edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 3rd June 2024

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Pandemonium (2023)


"Nihilistic French Art House Horror Anthology"

After its UK premiere at Grimmfest, the interestingly-named Quarxx's new film gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow.

Two men wake up at the scene of an accident on an isolated mountain road. Pretty soon they realise they're dead. Two doors appear, one of which has lilting music coming from it, the other screams.

Nathan (Hugo Dillon) finds himself in a hellscape that will be familiar to fans of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND. Examining some of the bodies gives him visions of how they ended up there, which takes us into two stories. The first is about a little girl who killed her family (with the possibly help of imaginary friend Tony the Monster), the second is about a mother who has neglected her suicidal daughter's cries for help. Then we're back in Hell and things turn even grimmer for Nathan.

The beginning of PANDEMONIUM is remarkably light considering what follows, so much so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking that, for a change, here's a piece of French horror cinema that's not going to be relentlessly (and endlessly) nihilistic. But be warned - this gets very grim. Fans of French horror cinema will, of course, love it.

Extras on Arrow's Blu-ray include a 20 minute interview with the writer-director, a 23 minute making of, and an interesting piece on the real birth scene that's included in the picture. There's also 17 minutes on creating Tony the Monster, as well as a trailer. The limited edition set also comes with reversible cover, poster and a booklet with writing on the film by Anton Bitel, plus more from the director. 

Quarxx's PANDEMONIUM is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films and ARROW on Monday 27th May 2024

Friday 24 May 2024

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

"Contains No Trains"

At the same time as the classic TRAIN TO BUSAN comes out on 4K in the UK, Studio Canal are releasing its sequel on the same format. There are no trains but there is a boat and some lorries. As for zombies, read on...

The action starts one day after the events in TRAIN TO BUSAN as a family make their way onto a refugee boat headed for Hong Kong. Unfortunately an infected has made it on board, but just when you think this is going to be like the first film but set on a boat (which could have been a lot of fun) we jump forward four years.

The two survivors from the prologue are now illegal immigrants in Hong Kong and get roped into a scheme to recover a lorryload of money from the Korean peninsula (aha!). The baddies have a ship laid on and the team have satellite phones to say when they've located their target and are ready to bring it in. But the place is teeming with infected, plus a community of soldiers who have gone rogue and now play macabre games with anyone they kidnap.

As PENINSULA progresses there are scenes and sequences reminiscent of Neil Marshall's DOOMSDAY, Lamberto Bava's DEMONS 2 and Zack Snyder's ARMY OF THE DEAD. At no point is there anything especially reminiscent of the original TRAIN TO BUSAN. Whether or not you enjoyed those other films will give you a good idea of if you're going to enjoy this. Either way at 116 minutes PENINSULA is about half an hour too long and has a climactic chase that goes on for ages. 

Unfortunately this all allows plenty of time for your attention to wander and start asking questions like why haven't the zombies rotted away to nothing over four years, and how is the little girl in this is so chipper and giggly when all she has known in her short life is a harsh and violent apocalyptic wasteland.

Studio Canal's 4K disc comes with four featurettes on the making of the film, which total just over eight minutes, plus a trailer. 

TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS PENINSULA is out on 4K UHD from Studio Canal on Monday 27th May 2024

Thursday 23 May 2024

Train to Busan (2016)


“A 4K Upgrade for a Genre Classic ”

Oh yes indeed - one of the best ever zombie films gets a welcome 4K UHD release from Studio Canal.

Seok-Woo (Yoo Gong) is accompanying his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) on the train from Seoul to Busan to visit his ex-wife. Unknown to any of the travellers when they board, a bit of a toxic waste leak at a chemical plant has led to a zombie outbreak of the ‘running very fast’ variety, and one of the infected is on the train. Soon there are lots and lots of infected on the train and when it turns out city after city is being affected the few remaining survivors have to hold out until they get to Busan. If they ever do.

So many good things have been said about TRAIN TO BUSAN by so many reviewers that it’s difficult to know what to add, suffice to say that Hollywood could learn a few lessons in character building and development from this one. Then they might realise that when the non-stop action and razor-sharp editing kicks in you actually end up with a thrilling, edge-of-the-seat movie experience rather than a hollow effects extravaganza.

What else? Well, great horror films that take place entirely in daylight are a rare commodity in themselves, but this is one (TREMORS is another). There are some tiny bits in a tunnel but there’s no night in this picture. You’ll miss the music on first viewing because the pacing and the acting will sweep you away but it’s actually nicely effective. 

Extras on Studio Canal’s disc are the same as on their previous Blu-ray and DVD release. These include a trailer for SEOUL STATION, and a making of featurette.

On its release in 2016 press releases for TRAIN TO BUSAN were filled with quotes like ‘The Best Film of the Year’, ‘Exhilarating’, ‘Will Keep You Gasping For Breath Until the End of the Line’ and ‘A Genre-Transcending Masterpiece’. It’s still all true. TRAIN TO BUSAN isn’t just a great horror picture, it’s a great film. one that will enthral you, thrill you and (by the end) move you. A must for any genre connoisseur's film library. 

TRAIN TO BUSAN is on on 4K UHD from Studio Canal on Monday 27th May 2024

Monday 20 May 2024

In Flames (2024)

Writer-director Zarrar Khan's IN FLAMES, a film that uses magical realist horror in its commentary on the treatment of women in contemporary Pakistan, gets a cinema release from Blue Finch.

Mariam Rizvi (Ramesha Nawal) is a twenty five year old final year medical student living at home with her mother and younger brother. Her grandfather has just died, and this sets in motion a cascade of male persecution, from an unscrupulous uncle determined to steal her mother's property, to random attacks in the street because she is an independent young woman. A relationship with Asad (Omar Javaid) beckons, but this is also destined to end in tragedy. When it does the haunting visions Mariam has been experiencing begin to worsen and that, combined with her family's increasingly dire situation, suggests that everything may well indeed end 'in flames'.

IN FLAMES is powerful stuff, with much to say, and portray unflinchingly, about the treatment of women in contemporary Pakistan. While art house cinema is no stranger to such subject matter, the inclusion of a strong magical realist element makes this stand out in an emotionally charged field. It's extremely well made, written and acted and its numerous festival award nominations (including Cannes) are not surprising. It's also not surprising that IN FLAMES was Pakistan's submission for Oscar consideration last year. It takes a while to get going but if you're in the mood for a serious thought-provoking film about a very serious subject indeed this one's highly recommended. Here's the trailer:

Zarrar Khan's IN FLAMES is out in UK cinemas from Blue Finch Releasing on Friday 24th May 2024 

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