Couple in a Hole: Tragedies of the Soul

Couple in a Hole. 2016. Directed & Written by Tom Geens.
Starring Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jérôme Kircher, & Corinna Masiero. 011 Productions/Chicken Factory/A Private View.
Unrated. 105 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER
There are certain films that never originated from a stage play, yet feel as if they were made for live theatre. Couple in a Hole is very much like a play, involving a limited few characters and, apart from the wilderness at large, there are only a few scenes in different locations other than the hole in question. The characters are rich and very real, as are the visuals. But on top of the stage-like aura this movie is refreshing, as it both offers an intriguing story while also giving us the heart and soul of theatre performance.
For only his second feature, writer-director Tom Geens crafts an impeccably thrilling bit of cinema out of such a small, personal-type of concept. Aided by the two central performances of Paul Higgins and Kate Dickie, brave ones at that, Couple in a Hole transcends its immediately avant garde style screenplay and story to become an engaging, exciting, and at times disturbingly crazy work.
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A major part of the film’s appeal is that the story doesn’t come out in expository dialogue, over and over. We’re given slow trickles of information that start building a foundation, until the backstory of the characters, why they’re out in the woods, it all comes together later in the film. And it isn’t only the couple, but the man who hopes to help them. Everything is wildly interesting from the start because of the premise itself. Once things start to flesh out there is a massive weight that starts bearing down on the viewer. When you piece together the intentions of the characters, as you see where the story is headed (or where it’s moved from), the plot becomes even better. At first I imagined the film would take a much different turn. Honestly, I expected something much more strange. However, at the core of Geens’ odd premise it is all about humanity, about people, the choices we make, how we live with ourselves, so on.
There’s absolutely a heavy thriller element the further towards the end we get. It shifts from a lot of drama to a morbid excitement, as we’re watching how things progress from one moment to the next in rapid succession. The finale is just heartbreaking in so many ways, once everything’s revealed and that last few events come down. I feel the worst for John, even above Karen. The entire thing was unexpected. And I enjoy how Geens gives us time to let everything sink in before that finale, so that the weight becomes even more tremendous.
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Dig the score of the film so much. There are so many pieces which add the perfect element to the scenes. Especially after things kick up a notch in certain sequences, then the music matches the pacing perfectly. Plus, there’s an organic quality about the score, a sort that feels almost completely at home. It’s a strange mix, though it works. Geoff Barrow makes an indie rock sort of sound feel so sensible throughout a film that’s set completely in the woods, about two people literally living in a hole in the earth. Word is the soundtrack is getting a proper release, too. So I’m definitely looking forward to getting a copy, it’s that damn good.
And the look of the film overall, its atmosphere, everything helps set the tone. There’s a realism at play that helps offset the near foolishness of what the characters are attempting to do, in the way that they’re attempting to. Out in the forest, cinematographer Sam Care just lets us lap up the vast beauty of the green forest. Not only the big sprawling visuals are wonderful, but all the raw energy in the lead characters he manages to bring out through the lens with Geens directing them is so perfect. This film has a wonderful feel and a massive part of that is because of the way it looks.
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Couple in a Hole is a difficult film, it’s unconventional. So that means a lot of people might dismiss it too quickly. Admittedly, starting out I saw myself ready to walk. But I didn’t. Because the further the whole realist vibe drew me in, the more its story was able to grow on me. The characters are unforgettable. I know Paul Higgins mainly from The Thick of It, so to see him playing this character is a treat. He really digs in. Even more than his performance, Kate Dickie lays it all on the line. Karen is the character who is most affected; John goes off and makes a new friend while she wallows in that hole, to the point it’s mostly wife in a hole, not a couple in there. She gives a very visceral, physical performance that resonated with me. Much as I pitied John most in the end, Karen is the most impressive character in terms of the writing. She is complex, full of depth, always keeping the viewer guessing. Both Dickie and Higgins work well together as a couple and their chemistry helps the film immensely. If anything, watch these two put on a clinic in acting. I look forward to more films written and directed by Tom Geens, as this one is innovative, quirky, yet doesn’t get lost in its own originality by staying grounded with a beautifully tragic story of love, loss, spoiled redemption, and ultimately how couples cope with grief together.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

The Witch: Religious Madness and Persecution in Early America

The Witch. 2015. Directed & Written by Robert Eggers.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, & Wahab Chaudhry. Parts and Labor/RT Features/Rooks Nest Entertainment/Code Red Productions/Scythia Films/Maiden Voyage Pictures/Mott Street Pictures/Pulse Films/Special Projects.
Rated 14A. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
POSTER
People will tell you that The Witch is overhyped, that critics are simply trying to sell Robert Eggers’ feature film debut  as something more than it really is, or rather that anyone calling the movie a modern horror masterpiece is, to put it plainly, full of shit. I’ll put my two cents in to say Eggers has made an impressive, unapologetic horror about witchcraft, religion, repression, and above all paranoia. Eggers’ talent is enormous as a director, not to mention he brings with him the further talents of cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who will no doubt see a spike in his being booked for future films), as well as a host of others who elevated this picture to its level of art. The quiet and subtle essence of the film is its strongest point. Around the edges of all the amazing cinematography and direction is a score from composer Mark Korven, which at times calls to mind classic horror films and at others brings its own feeling while keeping you on edge, engrossed in the moment and continually wondering what may come next. There are so many things to love about The Witch, from its look and entire atmosphere to the cast whose willingness to go all in on the characters makes each scene worth relishing.
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The year is 1630. In New England, William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) live as devout Christians, so much so that they do not fit in with the colony, and William’s refusal to conform with the church sends them out into the wild on their own with their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger), Jonas (Lucas Dawson), as well as the newborn infant Samuel.
After settling into their new life, one day Thomasin plays with the baby. But out of nowhere, Samuel goes missing. They search for  aweek for the child, to no avail. While Katherine is distraught, blaming Thomasin for the disappearance, the children believe it is a witch hiding out in the forest, stealing and eating babies. William, steadfast in his religious ways, assures Katherine of their favour with God, that he is merely testing them. However, once Thomasin goes into the woods hunting with Caleb, and only she returns, the search is on once more. Only this time, even William begins to suspect his daughter may have been wed to the devil.
As religious paranoia and repression take hold, the family’s land becomes haunted. And the devil slowly but surely creeps his way into their hearts and minds.
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I’ll admit, maybe Eggers isn’t for all horror fans. My expectations, though they were huge and still paid off, were also subverted, completely. There were many times I expected things to happen, or the plot to go a certain way, yet Eggers defied me at nearly every turn. There isn’t anything particularly revolutionary in terms of plot here, but the way in which it plays out is lots of terrifying, horrific fun. The dialogue may be a problem for some, as I’m sure not every horror fan will enjoy the Early Modern English dialogue. But that’s part of why I love the screenplay, we truly feel in the time and part of what makes everything so scary is that the story feels real. So all the different elements to the movie make each aspect seem true to life. Part of what sometimes angers me in period pieces is that the characters don’t speak properly for that period in time (we see much of this similarly in films that have people supposedly Russian or German speaking English only with the respective accents; another piss off we sometimes have to endure for Hollywood to make the stories they want). The Witch brushes that off by having the dialogue all in Early Modern English, which drives home, along with so much of the natural-looking cinematography, the authenticity. Furthermore, I love the way Eggers keeps us guessing. Without revealing too much of any actual plot detail, other than the obvious, what intrigued me most is that we’re never quite sure whether or not what we see is reality, if everything in each scene is truly taking place. At least not until the plot develops more and certain events (see: Caleb and the apples) force us to realize exactly what is happening. Again, not an overly fresh idea as a whole, but certainly Eggers takes it and puts his spin on it, absolutely providing us with a fresh take on an old tale. And the fact there was lots of research put into the writing in terms of looking at actual records (et cetera) from the period that still remain, folktales and other bits of writing as well, only makes the movie more enjoyable for its attempts at getting things right.
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The dark beauty of the film is very much a result of Eggers’ direction, Jarin Blaschke on duty as cinematographer, and Mark Korven creating a tense, moody score to compliment their work. Even shots of the forest itself seem ominous, as it stands tall and shadowy in the midst of day, the stands of trees casting a deep sorrow within the woods. Putting Korven’s score on top, Eggers shows us ominous, foreboding frames of the vast wilderness, which itself almost becomes as terrifying as the witch out there. The natural lighting of the interior scenes, inside the family’s small barn or its main house, casts everything in long shadows, flickering on the walls and on the faces of the characters; again, this technique amplifies the authentic feeling of the entire film. The rich texture of the movie’s look makes things feel perfect, as if you’re right there in the trees watching them go by, right next to William as he chops wood, or in the field with the children playing.
Best of all, though, are the brief and unsettling scenes where we see the witch herself. Barely do we ever get a straight look at her, but still, she is a devilish presence. Very early on we’re treated to a scene where she mashes up what we’re to believe is a baby, smearing its blood all over her body, all over a large thin tree, and every last bit of this is covered in shadow, so that there’s barely much you can see. What you do see is disturbing. It sets the tone for everything to come. Another aspect of the film I dig, that Eggers gets the macabre atmosphere going almost from the start, within very little time. So much so there is rarely a moment without tension, not many moments where you’ll feel able to breathe a sigh of relief. Just another reason this film is a modern work of horror art.
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Aside from the technical aspects, The Witch is dominated by powerful acting. Each of the actors brings their role to life, even the young kids who add their own authenticity to the scenes. Particularly, both Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy are magic here, as they are both faithful, religious people in their own rights, but who end up walking down quite different paths. Taylor-Joy does spectacular work with the character of Thomasin, which isn’t easy, and especially once the finale arrives I found myself hooked on her eyes; watching just her face in those last few minutes will chill any warm heart. Ineson is perfection as William, a man trying to keep his faith and family together as one, and a father confronted with the ultimate evil at his doorstep, invading his home; his delivery of lines will keep you glued, even if Early Modern English troubles you, as he can reel you in with just a look, a motion. Two excellent performances heading an already solid cast.
5 stars go to Robert Eggers and . Everyone in the theatre with me today seemed transfixed, whether they liked it or not. Certainly this isn’t a film for everyone, and those looking for a modern horror with all the modern cliches will be disappointed. Likewise, don’t go in expecting the same thing as It Follows or The Babadook, two other notable modern horror movies that did well recently. The Witch is entirely its own brand, despite taking on a timeworn sub-genre in witchcraft. This creeped me out royally at many points and I’m liable to see this again someday soon, as the atmosphere and the entire production itself really hit the spot, I’d love to experience it another time around. Until it hits Blu ray; then I’ll watch it to death, whether I die or the disc dies first remains to be seen.