Nightcrawler – a review

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you rang…

Jake Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a down-on-his-luck nobody who’s looking for his calling and finding nothing. A chance encounter one night sucks him into the underworld of guerrilla journalism, which fuels his desire and aspiration, ultimately giving him more than he ever bargained for: he becomes a Nightcrawler.

Coldly comic and chilling, Gyllenhaal delivers a performance that’s very much of the moment and which, perhaps, no one else could have given. Quiet, pathologically contained and just seething with intensity, he is the rhythm and tone of the film; building your attention from the off towards a thrilling crescendo, reaching boiling point then bubbling over and exploding, finally settling into something far more sinister and subtle than just another movie monster.

Parallels could be drawn endlessly between Gyllenhaal’s turn here and other iconic movie madmen – Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Heath Ledger as the Joker, Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman, De Niro as Travis Bickle – but really he deserves to stand alone and be judged on the merits of his own creation. A modern misanthropic solipsistic maniac!

Bloom is the 21st Century incarnate: lonely, isolated, confused, detached from reality, obsessed with delusions of his supposed right to success and emphatically saturated with and by the ‘media’. He’s a walking talking internet sound bite, learning by rote everything from self-help guides to consumer user manuals to the latest TV ratings. He’s “on his computer all day”, as he proudly boasts, and he means it. A whole new American Dream.

He’s scary in so many ways but most of all because he could be any one of us. Your neighbour, a colleague, someone’s partner perhaps. Is he a sociopath? A psychopath even? Almost certainly both, but that’s not what makes him terrifying. He’s terrifying because what he says makes sense and what he does feels doable. Well, most of it anyway.

The direction and characterisation are matched in their sense of reality and it’s that which makes for the truly compelling two hours of cinema that Dan Gilroy serves us here. Especially impressive as this marks Gilroy’s directorial debut.

Raising questions of where we are as a society, our increasing predilection towards voyeuristic exploitative entertainment, the misuse and misappropriation of power, wealth and success, the inherent manipulation of the media etc etc, but, ultimately, the question: what would you do if no one were there to stop you? Or, more, what could you do?

Lou Bloom’s answer: absolutely anything.

Edgy, dark and intelligent, Nightcrawler, like Bloom, will make you laugh, gasp and ultimately enjoy every minute of this magnetic thriller. An instant cult hit.

 

first published on filmjuice.com

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The Babadook – a review

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After you, yeah?

Whilst on the surface just another foray into the ‘monster in the attic’ genre, The Babadook serves a slightly more thoughtful entry into the world of scary cinema. Positioning itself as a psychological thriller rather than an out-and-out horror, it frees itself from some of the shackles of its genre. But only some.

The attempt to draw you into this mother and son’s world is realised by exceptional performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. You feel the relationship and mutual love between the two, which is essential in making you root for them as they battle against this malevolent force.

Young Wiseman is somewhat of an enigma. It’s hard to work out whether he’s inherently annoying or originally talented. In either case, he displays admirable depth for an actor so lacking in years. Davis’ Amelia certainly owes more than some of her performance to Jack Nicholson‘s legendary turn in Kubrick’s seminal masterpiece, and arguably (yes, let’s argue: definitely) the best psychological thriller of them all, The Shining. Cue the ‘breaking down the door’ scene with a modern twist. Whether this is intentional homage or accidental imitation, it’s strange to watch a movie that’s trying to be a bit different still referencing a film from over 30 years ago.

The sound design is impressive and plays a big part in creating an incredibly tense and gripping atmosphere. Its genius is not giving you the horror ‘scares’ you expect, to break that tension or silence, but maintaining its level of suspense almost to the point of discomfort. Intelligently conceived and beautifully executed by director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook delivers, for the most part, a genuinely sustained chill rather than obvious and predictable make-you-jump moments.

It’s Amelia’s journey that really centres the film though. Her gradual descent into isolated desperation, her fight with The Babadook, and what it represents, and her transformation giving the emotional connection that separates it from being just another horror movie. And Davis does it all excellently.

However, all this good work is disappointingly undone by some strangely obvious mistakes, such as revealing the ‘monster’ too soon. It’s like jazz, sometimes it’s the notes you don’t hear that accentuate the ones you do. By playing the monster note too soon it loses that carefully constructed sense of foreboding and descends into more formulaic territory. And for fans of The League of Gentleman, the Babadook itself might prove a little too familiar to actually find frightening…

Sadly, it loses its way somewhat as it approaches climax (as Amelia does in one humorously edgy scene towards the beginning of the film), getting a bit garbled as it rushes to a conclusion, but The Babadook should be applauded for the bits it did well and learn from where it went wrong.

 

first published on filmjuice.com

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Love Me Till Monday – a review

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Cute, funny and appropriately targeted, Love Me Till Monday never leaves the middle class realm in which it’s set, with its distinctly ‘first world problems’, but then that’s what and whom it’s about, so why should it?

 

Becky is a 25 year-old woman living at home with her never-present mother, apparently soon-to-be step-dad and near catatonic younger brother. She works in an office, looks after things at home and is looking for love. Hopelessly.

Poignant in its observation and commentary on post-university twenty-something life, writers Justin Hardy, Muireann Price and Jack Fishburn have created a very watchable and likable microcosm of modern life. Relatable and amusing for those who’ve been through it themselves but also digging a little bit deeper into what it is to be alive and alone. The aspirations of youth are unmatched by the realities of adulthood.

This depth comes from a combination of positives: Hardy’s competent and, at times, lyrical direction, a solid cast (notable mention for Tim Plester, who surprises with his range here), Matt Wicks‘ sun-kissed and intimately crafted cinematography, a well written script but, above and beyond the rest, Georgia Maguire‘s standout central performance. Her imp-like charm and innate shyness cleverly tempered with gentle strength and confidence, delivering an accomplished, bold and natural turn which will no doubt lead to more silver screen time in the coming years.

As an independent British film, with magic and romance at its heart, Love Me Till Monday succeeds in bringing a smile to your face and, really, that deserves a little praise.

 

first published on filmjuice.com

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