A Guy Ritchie Retrospective: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. 1998. Directed & Written by Guy Ritchie.
Starring Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, Jason Statham, Steven Mackintosh, Nicholas Rowe, Vinnie Jones, Lenny McLean, Peter McNicholl, P.H. Moriarty, Frank Harper, Ronnie Fox, Stephen Marcus, Vas Blackwood, Alan Ford, & Sting. Summit Entertainment/The Steve Tisch Company/SKA Films.
Rated 18A. 107 minutes.
Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
Poster
There’s always an obvious Tarantino comparison that comes along each time Guy Ritchie’s earliest movies are brought up, even some of the others, too. Well I’ve talked about that before in my retrospective on Snatch. Perhaps most out of anywhere, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels rings close to the spirit of Tarantino. However, there’s a vast difference in American and British humour. That’s first off. Full stop, though, Ritchie is a different writer. They each have their own quirkiness, no doubt. British jokes are decidedly British, and to me Ritchie is funnier. Tarantino is a little deeper in some of the dialogue underneath his funny writing. Ritchie is downright a crack up, alongside all the crime that’s also as enjoyable. He’s more hilarious than his supposed American counterpart. They have the same capacity for violence. Once more I posit this – Ritchie is far more Martin Scorsese influenced than anyone else. He’s a combination of those two big influences while continuing true to his own roots. He tells stories that are undeniably British in an American film influenced fashion. Because of that storytelling, because of the British humour with which I identify most (on account of being Canadian, I imagine), much as I love Tarantino I almost prefer Ritchie’s first two feature films over the former and his first couple. Not knocking him, I’m a massive fan of Quentin in all areas. Overall I’m a bigger fan of his than I am of Ritchie, if I had to pick. However, it’s hard for me to not love both Snatch. and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels most. That’s all personal.
For me, this movie is another case for how far quirky writing can go without stepping over the line and becoming silly. Ritchie’s characters here are rich in a short span of time. Then we get quite a bit of crime to add the flair, comedy in a whopping dose. Along with everything else, Ritchie’s got wonderful directorial sensibilities. His choices are fun, fresh, they move things along with nice pacing. Overall, this is a solid modern masterpiece of British cinema. Don’t accept any opinion less.
Pic3
One of the biggest ways to tell the difference between Ritchie and Tarantino is evident when Bacon (Jason Statham) and the boys go to the Samoan Pub. Almost as if spitting right at the Kahuna Burger and its quirkiness, Ritchie’s characters are normal, simple types of blokes. They just want a pint. Not some Samoan or Hawaiian hipster-type bullshit. There’s an awesome quality to Tarantino and his writing, which I do enjoy myself. There’s an equally awesome quality to the fact Ritchie sort of says “Sure there’s influence but I can also point out some needless quirk.” The characters in Tarantino movies are sometimes a bit too much written with the end of being singular by way of idiosyncrasy in mind. Now, that’s not to say characters should be alike, not at all. They need to be different, obviously. Yet at a certain point you’re just filling up too much space without really doing anything.
Using a setting in the middle to lower class underbelly of Britain, these simple guys with big ideas, it’s not even a direct way of trying to be different. That’s just how I see it. But what Ritchie does in actuality is present a life of crime that we don’t see in certain other comedy-crime combinations. Yes, we often see things go wrong in the underground world of professional crime: hitmen, gangsters, high class criminals, so on. Such is the case in a few Tarantino flicks. What Ritchie does in his first two features is present a world of men on the fringe, near the criminal world while not completely a part of it. It’s clueless guys that are incredibly small-time criminals, doing the measliest, most petty-type jobs in order to get themselves through the week. Then through a multi-linear plot these dopey, though kind-hearted fellas come face to face with big time crime, big time criminals, and tougher choices than they’ve ever had to make. Somehow the stakes are higher than films where the people are all professionals and murder’s nearly routine, able to be cleaned up on a whim. In opposition, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels gets messy.
Pic1
Vinnie Jones is a talented man. Not only does he have the enormous, intimidating physicality required of a tough guy actor (and a footballer as once he was), he’s spectacular as Big Chris. Supposedly, this character is based on Dave Courtney – a guy who claims to have been involved with all sorts of mad gangster shit. Either way, Jones uses his own natural bad ass-ness. Then there’s also the fact he was released from jail the first day he was in for filming, after getting locked up for beating on his neighbour. Amazing! Regardless of any true life experience he’s capable, which he proves more than once throughout the length of his filmography as an actor. Big Chris is funny, frightening. He’s a dad; a good one, a bad one. It’s a complex and overall laugh-inducing character from start to finish. Well written. Most of all, well performed. Each time I see this Jones gets me in stitches, being hard and at the same time disciplining his son, making sure others don’t swear around him. What a god damn laugh.
On top of his talent there are a bunch of others. Even Sting turns out a nice little performance. The Hardest Man in Britain, Mr. Lenny McLean, plays Barry the Baptist right before he passed away, and put in one hell of a performance; both makes you laugh and tremble in equal measure, similar to Jones. Jason Statham proves here he’s great when working with Ritchie’s writing, revving up his talent for the follow-up, Snatch., where he again proves the same thing. In truth, the entire ensemble cast carries the weight, even the more minor players. Each role is handled well enough to keep things funny, fast, and at just about every last turn unexpected.
Pic2
Ritchie started out his feature film career with a bang. The comparisons to other artists are inevitable. Though, as I said a bunch of times already and before this review, Scorsese is the director I see as Ritchie’s largest influence. Either way, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a solid slice of crime comedy in its own skin. There’s plenty to enjoy, from Vinnie Jones to Statham in fine form, down to Ritchie as a director and his high energy, frenetic, music-filled banquet of style. As you watch these hapless criminals navigate a world completely foreign to the small time one in which they usually roll, the plots all come together to make for a thrilling, at times hilarious finale. I’m always inclined to love this most out of all the similarly-styled crime movies in the 1990s. No matter what. The style and its flair, the dialogue, the characters each given their own time to shine. Every last inch is a damn fine good time.

Advertisements

Skinhead Subculture vs. White Nationalism in This Is England

This Is England. 2006. Directed & Written by Shane Meadows.
Starring Thomas Turgoose, Stephen Graham, Jo Hartley, Andrew Shim, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Rosamund Hanson, Andrew Ellis, Perry Benson, George Newton, Frank Harper, & Jack O’Connell. Warp Films/Big Arty Productions/EM Media.
Unrated. 101 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER Shane Meadows is a British National Treasure. His films are snapshots of British life in various ways. Above all else, his directing and writing gives us insight into the struggle of the lower class, from people living in council flats to those fighting war and coming home to a dreary life to skinheads and white nationalists struggling to discover some kind of place in the hierarchy of English citizens. Regardless of theme, his subjects are usually a part of the lower socioeconomic ladder. This technique is proper because the best films often illustrate the complexities of its issues, something Meadows is able to do time and time again.
This Is England tells two stories: that of skinhead subculture and its reappropriation by white nationalist groups, as well as the tale of a young man in a low class neighbourhood trying to find his way, fed up with being bullied and with nowhere else to turn but a damaged group of neo-Nazis. The realism of the film is what gives Meadows his edge. In the tradition of other well respected British filmmakers such as Ken Loach, this movie and the style of Meadows in his directorial choices makes This Is England an important piece of cinema. Not simply in terms of British film, but rather it is a hugely influential, emotional, provocative work that begs attention from the world. Best of all, though, it definitely has given the British film industry hope in the 21st century to have someone like Meadows making such excellent films.
Pic1
Effectively, Meadows turns a personal story into one that attempts to demarcate the end of being a skinhead simply as an apolitical lifestyle, an attitude and a way of dress, before the white nationalists adopted it into a part of their system. The central story is about Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), his being a member of the lower class and slipping in amongst the cracks eventually almost right into the grasp of a dangerous ideology. However, around that with the influence of Combo (Stephen Graham) comes the major examination of skinhead culture. Today, you say the word skinhead and just about every last person you ask will associate that automatically with neo-Nazism. Rightfully so, as we see throughout This Is England. Because the apolitical nature of the original skinhead subculture clashed so brutally, often violently with the resurgence of Nazi ideologies in the 1960s through to the ’80s; of course there are still groups out there, but it seems up until the ’80s, maybe early ’90s was when the heyday of neo-Nazi subculture raged. In this sense, the situation between Combo and Milky (Andrew Shim) can be seen as a microcosm of the entire national situation in England with the skinheads and the white nationalists bumping up against one another. That emergence of senseless violence in Combo is like the turning point of where the white nationalism overtook skinhead subculture and made it their defining look.
Pic2
To my mind, Graham is one of the best actors working today. He is consistently amazing from one project to the next, and his energy is undeniable. There’s this thing that Hollywood, and the movie industry as a whole, has with male actors of smaller stature where they don’t usually get enough attention, other than some of the classic guys from the 1970s like Dustin Hoffman, even Al Pacino who isn’t that big. They were able to break past any of that foolishness and impress with their style. Graham is one of those, whose size determines nothing about his performance. He is downright threatening, menacing to the extreme even in his quieter moments. The explosiveness of his temper as Combo is startling. Without him, this story would not come as effective as it does because his raw intensity, the emotion he coils up underneath the character is fascinating. One favourite moment, even though it’s so hard to choose: after Lol (Vicky McClure) leaves him alone in the car, Combo does all he can to prevent bursting out into tears, shaking and crying; a scene of wild emotion, very subtle, very personal.
Aside from Graham and an altogether spectacular cast, young Thomas Turgoose is a major reason why the character of Shaun and his whole story comes across so honest. Before this film he’d never acted. Apparently he’d previously been kicked out of his school play for bad behaviour, even demanded five quid for his audition. Amazing. But his lack of experience as a formal actor, or even amateur, pays off. His reactions, his timing, it’s all genuine and there’s no pretense in him whatsoever. I’m sure an experienced actor could’ve played the character of Shaun, but for a personal, truthful, tragic story and character someone like Turgoose was the perfect pick. The kid has charisma and he makes Shaun into an interesting character that in the hands of a professional actor might have been caught up in method over something more organic.
Pic3Pic3
Shane Meadows wrote and directed one of the greatest films in the past couple decades. Certainly one of the best of the 21st century, and will remain so until the end of time. The cast is spot on, natural, led by the fantastically riveting performances of Stephen Graham and newcomer Thomas Turgoose. Keeping things natural and opting for a style akin to realism, Meadows captures the violent clash of subcultures in England through the eyes of a lost and lonely young boy. Not enough films are honest. This Is England comes across as some of the more honest cinema, British or otherwise, I’ve personally ever seen. The hardest truths to confront are most important, and Meadows does perfectly well navigating tough subject matter to create an engaging story that should resonate with many, today and long after tomorrow.

Catch Me Daddy: A Grim Ride Into the Reality of Honour Killing

Catch Me Daddy. 2014. Directed by Daniel Wolfe. Screenplay by Daniel & Matthew Wolfe.
Starring Sameena Jabeen Ahmed, Connor McCarron, Gary Lewis, Barry Nunney, Adrian Hussain, Anwar Hussain, Ali Ahmad, Shoby Karman, Wasim Zakir, Nichola Burley, & Kate Dickie. Emu Films/Film4.
Unrated. 110 minutes.
Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
Does a film need to have a massive plot? Can an entertaining bit of cinema simply have a small, intricate plot that runs on atmosphere? Catch Me Daddy is a movie that certainly has a plot. All the same, the events move towards a conclusion that doesn’t particularly satisfy. Nor does it let down, either. Essentially, director Daniel Wolfe, along with screenwriting partner on this picture Matthew Wolfe, crafts a chase into the extended series of events which frame the story of love, honour, betrayal, culture, and so much more. The tone of the film is gritty, its look equally as raw. In addition, Wolfe uses mostly a cast of relative to completely unknown actors, which further grasps that aim of realism. Most of all, this movie tackles the issue of honour killings and the culture clashes amongst the lower class in England without getting too controversial. Not that controversy is bad. But Wolfe’s film takes on a different air, instead of diving deep into dialogue or exposition on the cultural and racial issues, and what results is an endearing, tense, even brutal ride through the streets of England, the countryside, the caravans. Best of all? We’re never spoon fed all the ingredients. Rather, the crew of filmmakers alongside Wolfe give us plenty to look at, listen to, and leaves us with a hunger for understanding.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.18.19 PM
Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed) is a young Pakistani woman living in Britain. She hides from her strict religious family in a caravan out in the country with her Scottish boyfriend, Aaron (Conor McCarron). They get by, as she works assisting a hairdresser, and Aaron does his best to track down a job.
But there are men looking for them, specifically Laila. Her brother Zaheer (Ali Ahmad) leads a group of his friends in the charge. Also, two white men named Tony (Gary Lewis) and Barry (Barry Nunney) are on the trail. When Laila and Aaron find themselves discovered, and she accidentally kills her brother, the chase is on. Unable to trust anyone, the two lovers rush like mad to escape their fate. Through the countryside, into the streets of London, Laila must run for her life. Or else she’ll lose it.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.15.33 PM
Cinematographer Robbie Ryan takes us right into the world of these characters, offering up a beautiful style and at the same time giving us a gritty, dark visual atmosphere that you can almost chew. Ryan is particularly adept at capturing those gritty landscapes, as evidenced by his previous work on such films as IsolationRed RoadFish Tank, and he has a unique flair that’s quite noticeable in the recent Slow West. This film is almost a mix of those qualities. While Ryan finds all those raw, rough qualities that are worth seeing when tackling a story highly based in reality, he simultaneously infuses many of the scenes here with a gorgeous look, nearly radiant at times. The rich, vibrant look of certain shots combined themselves with the grittiness of all the lower class neighbourhoods, caravans and other locations, and this aesthetic creates an interesting space in which everything plays out.
Not only is the cinematography excellent, the score from first timers Matthew Waston (a.k.a Matthew Wolfe) and Daniel Thomas Freeman is wild. Whereas a few scenes contain popular music, it’s the music Watson and Freeman add that helps make so many of the scenes chug along filled with adrenaline, fear, and suspense respectively. When Laila is first forced to flee the caravan where she and Aaron hide, the frenetic music propels the entire film forward, and it prepares us for a chaotic cat-and-mouse thriller.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.17.26 PM
I love the screenplay for this film. There are so many elements that are only alluded to briefly, which is always a plus. Stories that try jamming exposition and unneeded dialogue down the audience’s collective throat are the worst. Not to say there shouldn’t be anything concrete. On the contrary, I hate when scripts are vague simply for being vague’s sake. In direct opposition, Catch Me Daddy focuses very clearly on its present events, while all the past, the backstory, the characters and their lives remains distinctly behind them. We get allusions to previous events, the lives of the characters. Nothing is spelled out plainly, though. And all the better for it. Because once the end comes around, this film throws us for a curve. We want answers, we’d like to know everything. But what will that help? Will anything give us a clear path towards understanding Laila’s father? We already recognize her clear hopes to be her own woman, separate from the wants and wishes of her family, the expectations of her culture. Left with an ambiguous ending, no answers offered up, the screenplay defies explanation. Likely, we all know what happens after the credits roll. Although, Wolfe & Wolfe give us nothing perfect, nothing that fits entirely into the right box. The mystery surrounding some of the film’s plot and events is what makes it so intriguing. If everything were laid out, we might have come to a fully formed idea of what happened, perhaps even see exactly what comes next. Without that, director Wolfe leave us in a position where the agonizing questions, the lingering, sore emotions are still up for debate. Nobody here is trying to make a statement, so much as the filmmakers are presenting us with a harsh reality of what goes on within certain pockets of culture bent on fundamentalism, and the path hardcore belief can lead brothers, fathers, sisters, lovers on.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.18.06 PM
The central performance from Sameena Jabeen Ahmed is quality. She is amazing, even just when it’s her eyes on camera. Her expressions, her demeanour, it is all perfect for this role. Her acting talent, as well as the excellent Gary Lewis, provide Catch Me Daddy with an anchor. Even when it feels as if not much is happening, the actors allow us to stay rooted, and the film carries you away.
A definite 5-star affair. From cinematography to acting to score, this is one hell of a ride. The slow burn nature of the plot may get to some, but trust me, if you hang in there every last bit is worth it. Again, if you prefer expository dialogue and having every last detail of the characters and plot explained in long-winded scenes, then this is certainly not your cup of tea. If you do like a challenge, a film that tries its hand at storytelling instead of dishing out concrete evidence for every last move, this is up your alley.
There is a ton of great stuff to enjoy here, and it’s impressive this small film is capable of holding the weight it does. Wolfe does a spectacular job in the director’s chair, giving us a glimpse into a world foreign to many of us, yet gives us enough that we feel involved in that world, at least for 110 minutes.

Tyrannosaur; a.k.a What is Redemption?

Tyrannosaur. 2011. Directed & Written by Paddy Considine.
Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Samuel Bottomley, Sian Breckin, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Julia Mallam and Natalia Carta.
Warp X/Inflammable Films/Film4/UK Film Council/Screen Yorkshire/EM Media/Optimum Releasing.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.
Drama

★★★★★
tyrannosaur-poster01 Paddy Considine is a great artist, in terms of writing and directing. He proves it here, fully. I already enjoyed his talents as an actor. However, the promise he shows in the dual role of writer-director with Tyrannosaur is astounding. Because it’s a grounded, raw and real piece of work. There’s no doubt. Every inch of this film speaks to the core of the lower middle class, hell, anyone who isn’t on the bourgeoisie scale. This movie is about the common man, its heart is in the common people. Considine writes as if he knows each of these characters, from Peter Mullan’s agonisingly truthful/equally painful Joseph to Hannah and her heartbreaking faith in the face of all hardship played perfectly by Olivia Colman. While there is truly a ton to love about Considine’s debut feature (his first work as director was the short film which turned into this: Dog Altogether), the best of everything is the fact that, among an industry almost obsessed with keeping to fads and follow along with trends, this movie touches on real issues and struggles, shockingly true to life situations and all the horrifically honest bits of life people often don’t want to acknowledge exist. At times this is a film you may want to look away from, even if its little speckles of violence aren’t explicit and graphically shown. But trust me, it’s worth the effort to get through because Tyrannosaur has a message beneath it all.
tyrannosaur
A career alcoholic and a man with constant burning rage in his heart, Joseph (Peter Mullan) has only acquaintances. His one friend, his dog, gets beaten to death one night. By his own hand. After this event, Joseph goes down the bottle even further. Between fighting people at his favourite hole in the wall bar to arguing with an idiot neighbour, something always seems to be following Joseph, to be eating him alive. After taking refuge in a store, he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) and they form a nice yet tenuous bond. She has her own problems. At home, Hannah’s husband James (Eddie Marsan), a fairly bad drunk himself , abuses her; he urinates on her after she won’t wake up when he’s home from the pub, he later beats her up. When the lives of Hannah and Joseph intersect more intensely, things begin to change for both of them. Although, for one of the two it may not turn out as perfectly as they had imagined. And soon an act transpires which can’t be changed.
2011_tyrannosaur_004
On top of the raw, gritty realism of Considine’s writing, his directorial style plays just as well to the story and its themes. There is nothing fancy about the way he presents his subject. In fact, that’s what works. I find there’s a tendency for films with tough subject to often lean into trying too hard for an aesthetic which matches it, in terms of it becoming fabricated. Whereas there are films like this one and something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy which use a very simple look, and it suits the raw feeling of the plot and story. Mostly, Considine puts us directly with both Joseph and Hannah. He finds a way to simply let the viewer watch these characters, as well as sit right in on their situation alongside them. We get great looks at the landscape around these characters, such as the lower class housing where Joseph lives and the little pubs and all that. At the same time, we’re closed in with good tight frames on the faces of Joseph and Hannah respectively. We’re as close to in their heads as possible, sort of floating along in their life. Not to say Considine doesn’t do anything interesting. He does. But it’s the way he does it so simply which makes it work flawless, it is understated film making; less is more, in a wonderfully bleak way.
tyrannosaur-5
Adding to the realism of the way in which Considine writes and presents his subject/themes, the two big central performances of Tyrannosaur are towering as the beast from which it takes its name.
Peter Mullan is an actor I’ve always loved. The first time I actually took notice of him personally was Trainspotting and then Session 9, but after that I went back and found all sorts of amazing performances. Here, he spreads his wings and flies. It’s utterly amazing. And crazy enough, from the first moments we see the character Joseph when he kicks his beloved dog to death, there’s somehow part of us wanting to connect. Even after seeing such a devastating and senseless, heartless act, there was something in Joseph I couldn’t shake. It’s a repulsive act to begin a film, but that’s part of the redemptive process. Mullan takes us through all the motions with Joseph, working from a despicable moment in time to the finale where surprisingly he makes it through, somehow. Part of why Joseph is able to hold onto us, or me anyways as a viewer, is because of the way Mullan plays him. There are sensitive scenes where Joseph actually appears naked and raw to us with his inner self, a man who wants to be someone else other than what he’s become. Those scenes are juxtaposed with the raging animal inside him, clawing to get out; and sometimes, it does. Mullan was and is the only man to play Joseph. Can’t see him as anyone else. The intensity of this character comes off perfect with Mullan in the role, as does the inner struggle without Considine having to write in a ton of expository back story.
No way can Olivia Colman be left out of the acting conversation. The role of Hannah is not an easy one, nor is it an uncommon life; sadly too many women suffer in disgusting relationships such as the one she and her husband have together. Colman brings a humanity to the role. Many female characters who are abuse/rape victims, such as Hannah, seem to get written wildly one-dimensional. With Hannah, Considine gives us a woman who is religious and at the same time is confronting all these things – alcoholism, physical and mental abuse, rape, et cetera – which directly contradict the heart of true religion. Colman shows us the core of a woman whose faith is holding on so hard to her heart and her mind, yet at the same time she is a woman who can only take so much. At times, I teared up, all due to Colman and her performance. It’s an excellent pairing with the powerhouse abilities of Mullan on display.
Tyrannosaur.2011.720p.x264.BrRip_.YIFY05-25-38
Tyrannosaur is a 5-star film. All the way. I love every last second of it, even if it is a grim watch at most points. Paddy Considine proves his worth as a writer-director. He knows how to present the grittiness of real life in a welcomed perspective. While there is an over abundance of the mental and physical violence inherent in many lives around the world, Considine also brings us into a space where redemption is possible. On one hand, the character of Joseph begins driving towards oblivion head-on and even Hannah gets caught up in this whirlwind of rage. On the other hand, both of these characters show us that, no matter what, in the end redemption can be possible. Even someone like Joseph, whose first scenes would have most people believing it would never happen. Maybe it never does, fully. But the faith in humanity, not that of religion, is what triumphs. Underneath the rough exterior, Tyrannosaur has a clear and true heart filled with the dreams of possibility.

The Last Horror Movie: Genuinely Chilling Found Footage Horror

The Last Horror Movie. 2003. Directed by Julian Richards; screenplay by James Handel from an idea by Julian Richards.
Starring Kevin Howarth, Mark Stevenson, Antonia Beamish, Christabel Muir, Jonathan Coote, Rita Davies, Joe Hurley, Jamie Langthorne, John Berlyne, and Mandy Gordon. Prolific Films/Snakehair Productions.
Rated R. 75 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
lasthorrormoviethe2.0 I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about found footage. It’s a sub-genre which I happen to love, though, there are certainly tons of bad ones out there. Having said that, are there really any more than bad horror, drama, comedy, thriller, et cetera? Nope, not at all. It’s merely the fact that, after The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity later, this sub-genre was reinvigorated after cult classics such as Cannibal Holocaust or The McPherson Tape, and naturally when a type of movie gets popular there are always other filmmakers looking to capitalize. Maybe this brings about more dreck than needed, but it also brings out quite a few excellent films in the lot which are more than worth the time to sit through.
The Last Horror Movie takes found footage, even a concept which we’ve seen before, and uses it to create a chilling, horrific bit of film. Certainly the, as I see it, overrated Man Bites Dog has stomped through the territory Julian Richards takes us into. However, it’s in the charisma and energy of the lead actor Kevin Howarth, playing a savage, voyeuristic serial killer, where the true horror of this movie lies and it is him, through every last scene, that will terrify you endlessly.
IMG_1982Using a cheesy horror video rental, naughty serial killer Max Parry (Kevin Howarth) tapes over the bad film on a VHS tape and lets other unsuspecting people rent it from the store. He’s even recruited an unnamed assistant (Mark Stevenson) to record all his murders and assaults on videotape.
Max goes on killing and doing terrible things, as the assistant films on. At one point he even attempts to involve the young, naive assistant in his work, putting a knife directly in his hands in order to experience the thrill of the kill.
Will Max Parry keep killing? Will he be caught? Can he successfully indoctrinate his assistant into a world of serial killing and depravity? With the tape wearing on, Max and his assistant find themselves in a scary, voyeuristic world where it almost feels as if the camera’s red light is our own eye, Max’s eye; and even scarier, we may come to discover that Max is not unlike a great many of us, terrifying and unsettling as the thought may be.
IMG_1988There are several amazingly chilling moments which deserve to go down in the horror history hall of fame. Honestly, there’s a wealth of horror in this short feature. I’ll discuss a few I think are particularly awesome and which deserve recognition.
The first happens very early, around 15 minutes in, as Max (Howarth) goes by a school, picking up a young boy. My heart started pumping as we watch Max, his video assistant taping the whole time, as he goes over to the boy, talks to him – you’d never suspect it was his nephew. There’s an undeniably pulse pounding lead up to this, until you see him at a door with the boy; his mother, Max’s sister, opens up and the terror is finished for the moment. But heading into this, even on a second viewing – and beyond – I’m consistently terrified by this part, though I know the outcome. Still gets me because the tension is there.
Other excellent, similar scenes happen as we often forget Max has an assistant following him with a video camera. Such as when we see a woman getting into her car in a parking garage, I actually lapsed and forgot Max wasn’t actually filming his own murders: then we see the woman in the car get strangled from behind, as Max sits in the backseat and his assistant films outside the car. Little bits like this make the tension and suspense of The Last Horror Movie draw out and last nearly the entire, scant 75-minute runtime.
IMG_1990 IMG_1991What scares me most about the character of Max is how he, through this film and his own film within a film taped onto another film, sort of confronts us with madness, murder, and violence in order to make us confront the concept of voyeurism. How much should you watch? How much will you watch?
When Max kills two people separately in the same room – turning the camera away for the actual murder – he then asks if we’re waiting to SEE THE VIOLENCE – curious about what happened, hoping to have seen the savagery up-close (edited with quick cuts briefly of the stabbings full-on). What he says afterwards chills me entirely to the very core of my being: “If not… then why are you still watching?
It begs the question, for the supposed person actually watching the VHS tape which Max has recorded over with his murderous rampage, why would you continue watching if you know what he’s doing is real/wrong? If that person, us the viewer, waited through those stabbings, we were waiting in order to see some bit of the blood and gore, to see the effects, the “realism” that apparently we’re craving terribly. The overall theme of this film is set in stone through this scene, as Max basically gives us his manifesto RIGHT HERE. Not only effective in making his actions and intentions known, it is downright fucking creepy and horrifies me each and every time I watch this scene.
IMG_1984 IMG_1985 IMG_1987I think there are obvious comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I do believe are warranted. However, while there are certainly similarities I believe The Last Horror Movie goes further in certain aspects. There’s a similarly disturbing angle concerning video cameras: here we have Max; with John McNaughton’s cult classic, Henry and Otis use a video camera to record some of their nasty doings. There’s the whole essence of voyeurism and how the audience relates to what they’re seeing, whether it’s CNN news footage showing war and death or serial killers like these guys traipsing around, killing, savaging people and capturing everything on video.
Max Parry goes further than Henry and Otis in the sense of recording every last killing. They, often times, would do lots of terribleness outside of the camera’s frame. Not Max, though. He and his assistant carry the camera everywhere, anywhere, to get each single solitary moment of pain and torture recorded for the unsuspecting next viewer of the VHS rental. Max strangles, stabs, bludgeons, and even lights people on fire! His methods are completely barbaric. Whereas Henry and Otis in Henry videotape in order to get their rocks off later – sort of a substitution for having to physically revisit the scene of a crime like many serial killers do – Max records his murders in order to make the person SEEING THEM respond in a visceral way; they are either disgusted, or they find themselves drawn in (for any number of reasons). Either way, Max shows us this absolutely frightening display of serial murder and makes us accept the fact we are voyeurs – as citizens in a media dominated world and also as viewers, as an audience, sitting and watching the horror of a “realistic” movie. This is what rocks me so hard about The Last Horror Movie.
IMG_1980This is one of my favourite found footage horror movies. Absolutely at the top of the list, there aren’t many others which find themselves above this one; 4.5 out of 5 stars on my radar. Some may say it’s boring, that there’s nothing happening: to those people I say, are you serious? There’s a ton happening, as well as the fact The Last Horror Movie boasts a great deal of commentary on how we relate to horror/watch it and the voyeuristic tendencies which come along with seeing videotaped murder (doesn’t stop at fiction; think of the beheadings which have been filmed, the supposed tape of Saddam being hung, and tons of other real life death captured in realtime on video).
If you’ve not had a chance, do see this film as soon as you can. It’s not even that long, either. Both an excellent example of modern British film, British horror to be exact, as well as just a plain ol’ heavy horror film. If you’re a big fan of found footage done correctly, as I am, then you HAVE to see it! Necessary viewing for those who love this sub-genre. If you have any comments or theories of your own concerning Max, the film, then leave a comment and put in your two cents. Always love a good civil discussion or debate.

The Hypnotic Criminal Lure of Hyena

Hyena. 2014. Directed & Written by Gerard Johnson.
Starring Peter Ferdinando, Stephen Graham, Neil Maskell, Elisa Lasowski, MyAnna Buring, Richard Dormer, Gordon Brown, Tony Pitts, Orli Shuka, Gjevat Kelmendi, Thomas Craig, Lorenzo Camporese, Shaban Arifi, Alfred Doda, and Mem Ferda.
Film4/Number 9 Films.
Unrated. 112 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★★
MV5BMTk1ODk1Njg3MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjA5MjQxNTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_ With the endorsement of Nicolas Winding Refn right on the film’s poster, there is no doubt in my mind anyone who has seen the Pusher trilogy will definitely find a likeness here in Hyena. I don’t find any crossover in terms of ripping it off, though, but merely the situations and feel of the plot definitely have that sort of vibe, a very realistic and low budget rawness that Refn also had in his crime films.
The last film Gerard Johnson wrote and directed, also starring Peter Ferdinando, was an amazing dive into the black mind of a quiet serial killer living in a tiny council flat, Tony (you can find my review here). I absolutely loved that one and I’m inclined to enjoy this even more. While the Refn vibe is absolutely present, I feel between Ferdinando’s acting and the directing/writing on the part of Johnson this movie takes on a life of its own without having to rely on predecessors with similar style.
Hyena is a savagely intense, visceral crime thriller in regards to its plot and story. At the same time, Johnson instils his film with an incredible amount of visual flair. Not only is there a gritty, raw style, Johnson opts for a lot of great imagery often involving colour and shadow. Most of all, the character Ferdinando plays and the story surrounding him is enough to hold you for a little under two hours. Not once was I bored, between the screenplay’s action, its turns, and the high tension involved as the stakes for the main character seem to never stop skyrocketing, right up until the bitter end.
69862564319377227606Michael (Peter Ferdinando) is a detective in London, his crew includes Martin (Neil Maskell) and Keith (Tony Pitts) among others. On his own, Michael takes care of the Turkish criminals as much as he can, getting a piece of the action. When several Albanians murder one of his Turks in horrific fashion while Michael watches on in hiding, things begin to change. At first it’s merely the disappearing presence of the Turkish criminals he’d been dealing with all along. Soon, Michael himself becomes the target of another law enforcement officer with whom he has history, Nick Taylor (Richard Dormer).
Forced into dealing with the same Albanians which he was forced to watch murder his Turkish friend, Michael enters into a scarily tenuous relationship with these newly moved in gangsters. What follows is part crisis of conscience, part survival of the fittest, as Michael must figure out how to live off the scraps of all the carcasses beginning to pile up and topple into the streets.
image_banner.phpSomething I thought that’s more evident here, both explicitly and implicitly, is how the brutality amongst the gangsters in the world of Hyena feels even more vicious than anything in Refn’s Pusher films (not knocking them because they’re some of my favourite crime films ever). For instance, the Albanian gangsters are pretty damn awful with their level of savagery. One early scene just after the first half hour sees a woman at their hands get cut them her wound is salted (I think it’s salt; could also be detergent of some kind) – it’s like another day at the office for them, each stone faced and uncaring, almost enjoying watching the woman’s pain. Not everything is perfectly explicit, as I said; some of the violence comes offscreen. Like when Michael’s Turkish gangster friend gets chopped by the Albanians. Though, we do see the aftermath, the actual violence itself is offscreen, which is something I’ve always found effective: show us the consequences, let us deal with those, but refrain from showing the acts of violence themselves. There’s a particular sort of gravitas that comes out of that technique I find works well for certain films. In Hyena, writer-director Johnson serves his film and story greatly by not having all the violence and murder displayed openly. Instead he sort of edges along the cliff – giving us pieces now and then, to satisfy the bloodlust, then merely teasing us, wetting our beaks slightly in order to ramp up the tension. It’s the same way Johnson went about his previous serial killer flick Tony, which didn’t have as much blood and violence in it as you’d expect for a story like that; he reveals only what is necessary to keep the tension and the suspense flowing at high volume.
hyena_f3As for the previous Johnson film, musician Matt Johnson composed the perfectly fitting score for Hyena. Some of the pieces he put into the score are beyond foreboding and full of darkness. As I always say, a movie that has music which compliments its visual style can really create an intense atmosphere and tone. One aspect of this movie I love is the ever pervading atmosphere that keeps us uneasy, unsettled, as if anything might happen at any time – particularly anything bad. The score has plenty of interesting sections. Some are full of this pulsing electronic rhythm, many others have this mysterious thriller styled music with beautiful foreign instrumentation and percussion which really puts you in the middle of these Albanian run neighbourhoods, the Turkish spots, et cetera. You almost get, in the music alone, a look into the multicultural side of London; albeit the gritty, criminal side, but still it’s fascinating stuff. I think my favourite bits, though, are the electronic pieces in the score because there’s a wildly scary quality just through these sounds which helps Johnson easily put together shots to hold us in that place of stasis he needs. Then when Johnson uses the visuals again to bring us out of that lull and SLAM US with something intense and visceral, the music also pumps up the emotion and the film charges at us in these moments. Another great instance of a film where audio and visual elements work together creating a wonderful atmosphere, as well as this combination helps set and hold a tone the director aims to attain.
My favourite instance of this involves a MASSIVE SPOILER – when Michael (Ferdinando) takes David Knight (Stephen Graham) to meet the Albanians, and as David is violently murdered Johnson slows everything down – time nearly stands still, the scene happens in slow motion while the score is just mesmerizing. You won’t believe it until you see it. Afterwards, the music still pumping, Michael runs and runs down the streets of London, fast as he can. It’s an incredible sequence which starts a minute or so before the one hour fifteen minute mark.
MV5BNDAzNTIyNTA2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDg1MDg2MjE@._V1_SY576_SX1024_AL_Peter Ferdinando does a great job with his character Michael. Further than that, I think the character itself was written well by Gerard Johnson. There’s parts of Michael with which I found myself empathizing – he’s sort of trying to stay relevant while also hoping to keep alive and out of jail. Other times, I wondered how the hell he managed to get himself down into the dirty quicksand so abruptly. Michael also seems to me like someone who can be slightly naive at times, even for such an obviously seasoned detective, no stranger to dealing with violent, insane criminals; he willingly walks himself into too much at various times throughout Hyena. However, despite the character’s flaws Ferdinando plays him spot on. I love the last ten minutes of the film because you can almost chew on the tension watching Michael, it’s all in his face and his eyes, everything about him speaks to how strained and stressed this man is, which makes you feel as if you’re sitting right alongside him. Ferdinando does great things as an actor with plenty of range in him, from this to Tony alone he has proved to be fantastic.
HyenaThis is a 5 star crime thriller film to me. Not much out there in the past couple years as good and slick as this, nor as interesting in terms of visuals and the score. Tons of great things happening underneath the surface. Some critics and filmgoers online would have you believe the ending is not satisfying. Me, I’m the type of person who also loved The Sopranos and how it ended. There’s something about the last few moments, watching Michael, the music washing in over us again heavier, heavier, then when things come to a head and the credits cut in I feel more satisfied than anything. Sure, there are no concrete answers, but think about it: can you imagine ANY situation in which Michael would’ve been all right afterwards? There’s no possible scenario that would’ve worked out appropriately for him in the end, so Gerard Johnson gave us a poignant, quiet end with no resolutions only an anticipation of the WORST TO COME. I love the way the credits come in afterwards, the title card nice and stylized in blue ink, and there’s an amazing song playing in the background.
See this and enjoy it or not – one of the greatest crime thriller films of the last 5 years easily. I can only hope others might find the same fascinating elements in Hyena that I have. So far, I’ve seen this about a handful of times now and I highly suggest heading over to iTunes at some point soon for a copy. I’m definitely going to watch it again soon.. again.

Gerard Johnson’s Tony: Portrait of a British Killer

Tony. 2009. Directed & Written by Gerard Johnson.
Starring Peter Ferdinando, Frank Boyce, Lorenzo Camporese, Cyrus Desir, Lucy Flack Ian Groombridge, Ricky Grover, Ish, Eddie Johnson, Mike Johnson, Darren Jones, Greg Kam, Jill Keen, and Sam Kempster. Abbott Vision/Chump Films/Dan McCulloch Productions.
Unrated. 76 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller


★★★★1/2
tony-poster-1-724x1024After having seen Gerard Johnson’s recent thriller Hyena, which is very in-line tonally with the gritty Pusher films by Nicolas Winding Refn, I decided to revisit this creepy little film – Tony. What a wonderful bit of British film; indie film at that!
There’s a way to do a serial killer film, then there are ways not to. For instance, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is one of the greatest of them all, as is David Fincher’s fantastic Zodiac, then there’s midrange mediocrity like The Hillside Strangler offering nothing more than nudity and murder underscoring poor performances, and of course we’ve also seen the terrible outings Nightstalker from serial offender Ulli Lommel, Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck, and the Kane Hodder star vehicle Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield. So they run the gamut. Serial killers are interesting to me, so it’s sad that most of the films about them end up terribly made as fodder for horror, instead of horror mixed in with what can often be great psychological thrill (see Fincher’s film based on The Zodiac Killer; lots of cerebral thriller stuff there in my opinion).
With Tony, director and writer Gerard Johnson gets closer to something like John McNaughton’s horror classic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than anything else I mentioned. In a totally different manner than any of these other movies, Tony stays extremely sparse, almost to the point I’m sure certain viewers might say “nothing happens”. Yet so much happens. If you wait and watch along with this expertly paced film, full of atmosphere and a grim tone, there is most certainly reward in the horrific moments to which we’re treated. Johnson gives us enough of the inner life of the titular character to both empathize with then later hate him. There’s emotion here you rarely see in a film centred around a serial killer, and I think that’s interesting enough to make this film enjoyable.
tony3Living alone in a council fat somewhere in Dalston, Tony Benson (Peter Ferdinando) watches 1980s action movies, starring the likes of Steven Seagal and other mainstays of the era. He putters around eating cereal, then heads out on the streets stopping into the pub for a pint and a packet of crisps. It’s obvious Tony has social issues, as he can’t seem to connect with anyone in any sensible shape or form. From the man selling bootleg DVDs on the side of the road, to a prostitute whom he asks “how much for a cuddle?”, to a gay man he takes home from a club, there’s nobody Tony can feel close to without being ridiculed or made to feel Other.
Even worse, most of the people Tony seems to not be able to get along with end up murdered, chopped to pieces in his kitchen sink and in the bathtub. Then they’re packed up: bigger bits are thrown in a bag with lye, smaller stuff like organs get wrapped in newspaper. All of them end up at the bottom of a river.
But when a man’s child goes missing, Tony ends up as Suspect Number One and there’s no telling if, or how, he will get out of it all.
To92lEarly on I felt bad for Tony (Ferdinando), as he’s basically run out of a bar because a big loud mouthed idiot is tearing into his wife yelling – Tony stares a little too long, enjoying the scene a bit too much, and the big fella comes over, grabbing him by the face and pushing his fingers slightly into Tony’s eyes. Instead of kicking the crazy man out, Tony gets the toss; a look on his face afterwards is full of anger, confusion, yet most of all it’s the disappointment I see inside him which gets to me.
Even once you see who Tony really is, back at his council flat, lonely and looking for any kind of human connection, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for how pitiful he seems. Through his confrontations with the man at the bar, Paul (Ricky Grover), we get this terrible feeling in our gut. Once you learn Tony is a killer, you imagine it might lead to this man’s death. What’s more interesting than wondering where it might go is the fact we see how vulnerable Tony is, as well as how overlooked and unassuming he is as a person. All the while Paul is harassing Tony, from the bar to the street where he’s looking for his supposedly missing son, this seemingly lonely guy is in his flat, murdering, disposing of bodies, bagging them up and tossing bits into the river while he’s out for a walk. The terror comes from how creepy Tony is and how, most likely, he’ll probably end up killing and killing and killing without every stopping; simply because nobody ever notices him.
Tony-London-Serial-Killer-www.whysoblu.com_Another thing I really love about this film is how director-writer Johnson doesn’t give us everything served on a platter. Not saying there’s a treasure trove of secret information lying within Tony. What I’m saying is that Tony, as a character, is explored in fine form without having to dive deep into his background, his history, and so on. What we do get is a very brief voiceover, as Tony is doing his dead body routine, washing up, getting things taken care of, which I’m positive HAS to be Tony’s father – more than likely an abusive, terrible man to Tony, perhaps why he has remained in a sort of stasis all his life more of a child eternally than an adult man. What gets me most about this voiceover moment is that it’s very subtle, quiet in volume even, and you really have to make sure you’re paying attention to get that it ISN’T Tony thinking to himself or anything like that (which some have suggested online). Right before a knock comes at the door, the voiceover gets louder and echoes hard. I thought the whole sequence was incredible. The fact this happens with just under 15 minutes left to the film is something I’m a fan of, as it doesn’t answer every question we have concerning Tony yet there’s a definite understanding of the man having serious childhood issues, no doubt traumatized by a physically and mentally abusive father. The way Johnson doesn’t spell every last bit out concerning Tony reminds me of the aforementioned McNaughton horror, where Henry is frightening enough without knowing every last detail about what made him a killer. Because of this approach, Johnson allows us to form our own terrifying versions of Tony and his trauma, what led him to kill, all in our own minds. Furthermore, I like that Johnson gives us that opportunity: it means he knows an audience can think for themselves.

One thing I have to mention is the fact parts of Tony reflect the infamous killer Dennis Nilsen. Such as when Tony ends up killing a gay man he brought home from the bar; rejecting the man’s sexual advances, Tony kills him similar to how Nilsen worked at times. Even further than that, there’s almost a physical resemblance to Nilsen in the way Tony looks. As well as the fact Tony also keeps a corpse around to sleep with in bed, waking up in the morning to the dead body; Nilsen would also do the same, only to later dismember the corpse and dispose of it. Tony, like Nilsen, had a foul stench in his flat due to the bodies/body parts most likely stuffed in the floorboards, or somewhere similar, which is exactly what happened with Nilsen – he actually put deodorant in the floors and sprayed insecticide about regularly, but it didn’t do much because dead bodies are RUTHLESS when it comes to their smell and the insects it attracts.
So what I enjoy is that there’s most definitely lots of influence of Nilsen here, yet the plot and story itself don’t particularly follow along much with the real life serial killer. Tony is his own person and not every aspect of him comes out of Nilsen. Tony is a much more socially disturbed and helpless individual than Nilsen ever was. I venture to bet Tony has never once had a relationship in his life, fairly obvious throughout the film when he can barely even talk to a prostitute or friendly neighbourhood women alike. So it’s the interesting introspective view of Tony that I like overall, but I definitely agree the addition of the aspects mirroring Nilsen help to setup one intriguing character study.
tony_004A 4.5 out of 5 star film, hands down. There’s a great score on top of everything from Matt Johnson and The The, which puts an intriguing atmosphere over things. Along with the cinematography by David Higgs – very gritty, realistic, and raw – Tony‘s score is something which makes this film exactly what it is meant to be. Director-writer Gerard Johnson crafts a simple, small story into an intensely savage view into the life of a lonely, socially cut-off serial killer. Peter Ferdinando gives us everything as Tony and chills me with each scene. One grim modern horror movie with all the right stuff.
While I can imagine some won’t feel the same as I do about the pace and the plot, or the fantastically creepy/grim befitting ending, I honestly think this movie is great. One of the best character study films surrounding a serial killer that you can get your hands on. If you like the style Johnson has in this one, you should definitely check out Hyena; a much different plot and characters, but another wild ride into a brutal world again starring Peter Ferdinando, whom I believe to be one hell of an actor. Check this one out, then see that as well – or the other way around. Just see Johnson’s work and enjoy. I hope you’ll get into as much as I did.

Sightseers a.k.a Caravan Holiday Massacre

Sightseers. 2012. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Screenplay by Alice Lowe & Chris Oram; additional material by Amy Jump.
Starring Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Roger Michael, Tony Way, Seamus O’Neill, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Aymen Hamdouchi, and Tom Meeten. BFI/Big Talk Productions/Film4/Rook Films/StudioCanal.
Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
Adventure/Comedy/Crime

★★★★★
sightseers_ver4
I’m a hardcore fan of Ben Wheatley. Some say he’s the best thing to happen to British film in a while. I say he’s one of the best directors to come along in a while, period; not just British, but all over. I think there’s something I enjoy about Wheatley because all of his films are, at their core, fairly simple. Not meant in any way negatively. What I enjoy is that he can take those simple, smaller premises and turn them into something big and exciting.
Even in this case a couple’s week-long trip in caravan, under direction of Wheatley, becomes an intriguing and unexpected story. What could easily be something dull – and I’m sure there are detractors who say it is – turns into a tense and weird ride alongside an equally tense, weird two lovers. Not only is there tension happening, Sightseers is one hell of a riotous black comedy.
Until now I had no idea Edgar Wright was an executive producer on this film. Turns out the screenplay by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram had been turned down for years – too dark, they said – and Wright came along to greenlight the project. I think this fits so well with Wright’s own style as a director that it’s no surprise he was willing to get onboard.
With the purposefully awkward and tense atmosphere, dark laughs, added to excellent directorial choices, I really think this is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in the last 5 years. A highly underrated film, at least on this side of the pond. I’m sure the British film fans have been ALL over this already.
sit2Little moments which make this so funny, often in a dark way, make the movie so memorable.
For instance, even right after they’ve cleared everything with the police following Chris running over a stranger by accident, killing him, Chris tells his girlfriend Tina “he’s ruined this trip for me“.
Later while Chris and Tina are having some fun, getting the caravan all setup at the campsite, they all of a sudden notice a bright splash of blood on one of the hubcaps, abruptly interrupting their laughs. It’s in the way Chris responds I get a kick, how casual and unassuming he is about the whole thing. Gets me every time.
Then there are the tensely awkward bits of which I can’t get enough. Like the first encounter Chris and Tina have with another couple out in their caravan. Right from the beginning it is so incredibly painful to watch, but in the right way – these two are socially inept, they’re both on the fringe of life in so many ways. However, as the caravan holiday wears on, Chris and Tina find themselves becoming less and less awkward, while becoming more and more sinister. The comedy coasts along with them, only it gets progressively darker and more unsettling; at the same time, it also gets foolish with great effect.
The whole bit of the film with Martin testing his mini-caravan is ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS! So awkward and weird and way too funny. Even from the first scene, as Chris leaves after talking with him and then Martin gets into the mini-caravan only to roll away down the hill chaotically; I burst laughing at this moment. There are a bunch of these great bits.
Sightseers2Something I love about Wheatley’s films are the way in which they’re edited. The are a couple other editors on this film, including Amy Jump and Robin Hill, aside from Wheatley. Hill and Wheatley have worked together ever since Down Terrace; the trio have edited together on Kill List, this film, and A Field in England. I totally dig how these three edit films. There are countless examples of how well they work.
WARNING! SPOILER AHEAD!
My favourite here, I believe, has to be the scene where Chris sneaks up on the writer he and Tina met; Vanilla Fudge’s excellent cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays, as Chris follows him along the highlands, creeping behind, then smashes him in the head with a rock. The great part is how it’s edited with cuts of both Tina, as well as the writer’s wife. In particular, the wife is interesting – she steps on a piece of broken plate, one Chris tipped over purposely earlier, then hauls it from her bleeding foot. I thought this was just a genius bit of editing, snapping between these quick cuts at times. Not sure what it means, other than Chris sort of hurting them both simultaneously – albeit one worse than the other; the writer husband more actively, the wife inadvertently. But either way, how the editing cuts here I find is extremely effective.
HERE ENDETH THE SPOILER!
sightseers-2012-003-tina-with-dog
For me, the greatest part of Sightseers is the juxtaposition of the comedy and its awkwardness with horrific murder at the hands of both Chris and Tina. Every excellently hilarious segment seems to come along with a heart dose of violence.
The best scene of murder, and in turn makeup effects, comes when Chris murders a man chastising Tina for leaving dog shit at a public historical site. Building up to the violence, there’s this funny moment when Chris and Tina sort of land on the same page; if only for a moment. Then Chris traipses up behind the man, who decides to walk away instead of pursue an argument with this manic couple, and proceeds to bash his skull in with a big, heavy walking stick. When we get slight glimpses of the leftover face, it is HEINOUS! In the best possible horror-ish sense.
But this leads me to another part of Sightseers I found interesting. There’s a strange sort of awakening in this scene, as Chris and Tina become closer. While Tina watches Chris bashing in the man’s head, though she appears to be slightly traumatized, not long after she seems to be totally in on it, willingly; a radio report they hear in the car prompts her, and Chris, to go mad with glee. Then later, Tina herself joins in on the murder without even being coaxed into by Chris (except for the dumb and thoughtless flirting he engages in). They become, tenuously, a murder couple.
So it’s this weirdly violent story undercut with a romantic tale. The ending is the ultimate undercutting of the romance, however, there’s still a love between Chris and Tina. It reminds me of the real life story of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who committed the Moors Murders – as in, if Tina had never gone on that caravan holiday with Chris, she’d probably never have killed a person in her life. Yet Chris and his personality, his actions, draw her into murder. It’s no secret Tina is a bit slow, in many ways, so I’d venture to bet she would probably have lived at home with her mother until the end of time had she not met him.
sightseersThis is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. While at times it might seem there’s nothing going on, plenty happens under the surface and right in front of us. Dark comedy comes as immediately obvious, but underneath it all there’s the story of two damaged people. Chris and Tina are the victims of unfulfilled expectations – most of all, Chris hates himself and everyone around him who are either more competent or more successful than he is. This is where the violence originates from. However, it’s interesting to see how Tina latches onto Chris and sort of supports this vicious, animalistic side to him; for her, being a muse to his violence is equal to or even greater than being the muse to some writer. It’s only once Chris sort of messes it all up by shamelessly flirting that Tina turns against him, using her own violence to then turn the tables. Without ruining the ending, Tina gets a major last laugh that I’d not expected whatsoever, personally.
If you’re a fan of Ben Wheatley, then absolutely see this as soon as possible. Great black comedy, burnt like toast. As well as there’s a real horror aspect at times, between the violence and a trippy little dream sequence. I’m a huge fan of Kill List, as well as the vastly different A Field in England and Down Terrace. Ultimately, though, I’m beginning to think my favourite of his work is Sightseers. The performances from Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, also the screenwriters along with frequent Wheatley collaborator Amy Jump, are so unbelievable and it’s as if they’re being completely natural; so much so you’d almost have a hard time separating the actors from their characters’ personas. This has got a bit of everything, from a road trip-like feel of adventure, to awkward and dark comedy, and even a nice dash of horror for good measure.
What’s not to like?
If you’ve got any SENSIBLE and thoughtful comments about Wheatley’s film, drop one below and let’s chat!