Tagged Psychological

Maryland: A Post-Modern Analysis of PTSD

Maryland (also billed as Disorder). 2016. Directed by Alice Winocour. Screenplay by Winocour & Jean-Stéphane Bron.
Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger, Paul Hamy, Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant, Percy Kemp, Victor Pontecorvo, Franck Torrecillas, Chems Eddine, Philippe Haddad, Jean-Louis Coulloc’h, Rachid Hafassa, David Colombo, & Rabia Elatache. Dharamsala/Darius Films/Mars Films.
Rated PG. 98 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2
POSTER
There have been plenty cracks, as of late, at tackling PTSD through cinema. Some good, some not so good. It’s all in the way you go about it. You can show many sides. Each person suffering with the disorder can experience it much differently, depending on the event which triggered the symptoms. Along comes Alice Winocour, writing alongside Jean-Stéphane Bron, giving us Maryland; a film that so deftly handles PTSD with suspense, tension, and a few good thrills.
All the elements are in place here to have made a proper thriller, filled by interesting interpersonal drama and a couple heady doses of action. First, there’s Matthias Schoenaerts, whose talents at doing more with his face, expressions, body language than many actors can manage to do with their entire repertoire. Second, Diane Kruger gives her character more weight than simply being a poorly written female character tossed in to give the plot a feminine angle. And finally you can’t deny Winocour’s talent as a director. Personally, I’ve not yet seen anything else she’s done so far. Shame, really. Because clearly she knows how to make magic on the screen. Not only is there a great look, Winocour combines the visual aesthetic with one impeccable aural feast, from sound design to the soundtrack itself by Gesaffelstein. Honestly it’s one of the better movies of its kind in the last few years. Like I said, the PTSD film has really become more of a thing again since the Invasion of Iraq, and everything soldiers have been mixed up in since. But Maryland offers up a look into that type of mind, one fractured deeply by the horror of war (and perhaps later the necessity for a life filled with violence). We don’t get all the typical moments you’d expect. Rather, Winocour shows us the genre we’re convinced is in front of our eyes, then makes it into something else more interesting.
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One of the immediate elements of the scripts is the paranoia. A technique Winocour uses that we’re given often in a film that leans towards a psychological story is that for the better part of the whole runtime we’re right alongside, behind, near Vincent (Schoenaerts). Sometimes we follow behind him. Others we’re at mid-range, as he talks to others, interacts with Jessie (Kruger) and the various people at the Maryland estate. Further than any of that, Winocour uses the cinematography of Georges Lechaptois to draw us into the sometimes hallucinatory headspace of Vincent. We’re not always sure exactly when reality ends and the PTSD working overtime within Vincent’s poor head begins. In fact, the very final shot has such impact due to the fact we’re consistently drawn into a place where the reality we witness is undermined by Vincent and his penchant for hallucinating. While the major events of the plot are clearly real, that final shot begs to question exactly how unstable is Vincent, as well as whether he’ll ever be able to fully heal again. Or maybe it’s real. You can never be sure. Although my two cents? I think the final moment is a hallucination. Essentially, he retreats into that world inside his mind when he’s all alone. Aside from seeking out violence, or violent situations, because of his time in the war – who knows what happened to him over there – Vincent likely works in security still due to the fact he needs to be near people, he has to have noise to occupy his brain. You’ll notice that while Vincent does have a couple moments of intense stress, most of the party is a distraction to him. It’s only once he gets to a quieter, less populated area of the party does his paranoia get into overdrive. Interesting little distinction.
The music from Gesaffelstein pushes certain scenes to the limit of psychological suspense. A tension ratchets at times until you think either you or Vincent are about to burst. People will pass off the music as “derivative of ’80s synth-pop” (something I actually read online if you can believe that) when it’s just electronic excellence. Plus, as I said, the music then works in conjunction with the cinematography and Winocour’s directorial choices to make the mental state of Vincent a thoroughly visceral experience. That sequence at the beach? The heavy electronic notes ramble until Vincent’s able to calm himself. And that whole minute or so is an exercise in how to draw out a tense scene. This of course leads up to another wild moment, which confirms for sure if Vincent is seeing things or if it’s all real. Nevertheless, on numerous occasions the visual and aural elements of the film combine to make the action and the drama exciting in equal measures.
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Schoenaerts is beyond a good actor. He has all the wonderful energy of a De Niro or a Pacino, a Hackman, a Hoffman (Dustin or Phillip Seymour), a Vincent Cassel or a Jean-Paul Belmondo, anybody you can think of really. He’s got the physicality to play any number of tough guy characters, already proving that in spades through his performance in my favourite film, Bullhead. However, he gets to show even more of his acting chops here (even though I still prefer that one). The way he paves a path into the world of Vincent, that inner paranoid inside the hulking exterior, is fascinating. His vulnerability is always present. He’s this big time security guard, and at the same time he has this gaping wound in his soul that comes out from time to time, piercing the outer shell of his military swagger, that built up, constructed masculinity. Again, as in the aforementioned performance, he taps into that side of masculinity, what it means to be a soldier in modern times/what it means to be a man, as well. It lifts the film up with how deep the performance goes, right to the last drop.
Likewise, Kruger does a pretty solid job, too. She plays a woman wrapped up in something that she doesn’t exactly understand. At first, she’s hesitant to treat Vincent with much more than awkward, casual conversation. Then, as events evolve and change her perception, she’s forced to rely on a man she does not know. Moreover, she has no idea of his real personality, the PTSD he deals with on a regular basis. So to watch her performance along with what we know, it makes for good excitement. Jessie isn’t a character just left helpless, she’s a mother also ready to shield her child from any danger. Added to the fact Kruger doesn’t play her as helpless, nor is she a waif-like woman. The bravery in her comes out after she plunges into a dangerous world with a man charged to protect her against whatever comes next, as she never gives up or hesitates to do what’s necessary.
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I can’t say it enough: Maryland is a god damn amazing movie. I’ve not stopped raving about it since getting the chance to watch it recently. There’s a soft spot in my heart for filmmakers who take a chance on subverting genre expectations. While many think this is a typical story from seeing the trailer, once you get into the mix and let Alice Winocour take you for a pulsing, frantic ride right next to Vincent, the irreparably damaged soldier, you’ll find out this film is something more than its foundation suggests. Schoenaerts and Kruger sell the characters, giving us more to latch onto than any number of recent movies trying to ride off the success of stuff like Taken. This film shows us the tough guy protecting the woman we’ve seen all too often in a different light. The well written screenplay takes on PTSD, using sight and sound to push the envelope. All the while serving up some piping hot action and thrills in the midst of its engaging drama.
And if you don’t find yourself impressed by the surprise of Maryland, you may have an empty chest. Not an empty head; this isn’t a cerebral drama in that there’s anything utterly life altering being presented. But the excitement is such that by that last shot, if you’re like me, you’ll want to watch the whole thing over again to pay closer attention.

Schramm’s Visceral Psychological Terror

Schramm: Into the Mind of a Serial Killer. 1993. Directed by Jörg Buttgereit. Screenplay by Buttgereit & Franz Rodenkirchen.
Starring Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Monika M., Micha Brendel, Carolina Harnisch, Xaver Schwarzenberger, Gerd Horvath, & Michael Brynntrup. Barrel Entertainment/Jelinski & Buttgereit.
Not Rated. 65 minutes.
Horror

★★★1/2
POSTER Really good or great serial killer films are few and far between. Because directors and writers often either don’t go deep enough, or sometimes they descend too far into the tortured psyche of a killer that their crimes and murders can end up sensationalised. There’s a truly fine line to making these types of movies. One of the more contemporary examples of which I’m a huge fan is David Fincher’s Zodiac; it tackles a true story, and it also makes a known case into interesting material for a dark crime-thriller. Then there are others which go for realism in examining a fictional killer, though sometimes they end up too far from anything poignant and fall into the sensational representation of violence.
Schramm is an odd case. All at once there’s an attention for the psychological mess inside the heads of serial killers, as well as the inclusion of bloody scenes to keep the interest of the most twisted horror hounds. While I’m not inclined to love this movie, though I do own it, there’s a certain quality that makes me find it a good serial killer character study. This can be extremely difficult to stomach. One specific scene is a truly hateful thing to watch, especially if you’re a guy and feel squeamish about anything genital-related. But outside of the controversy and its rough exterior, Schramm offers an effective look at the deranged life of a serial killer, the introverted pleasures of madness, and never once lets you forget what you’re watching.
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There is a hideous amount of blood and gore that will please the most hardened genre fans and disgust the less able to cope with such brutality. One of the first (which is presented in non-linear fashion so it actually comes later in the plot’s timeline) is a brutish double murder. We start with a throat cutting – even worse, while the man tries to drink himself a nice little, tasty glass of Cognac – and then ends with a head getting whacked by a hammer. Right afterwards, we see Schramm taking pictures of the dead, posed in terrifying sexual positions for his delight; some by themselves, other photos of them together.
The single most savage scene is the infamous penis moment. If you’ve ever read about this movie in any capacity, you’ve probably heard about it. This is like watching something out of the Pain Olympics, as Lothar’s self-hatred and his disassociation with reality comes forward tenfold. His unique mix of personality disorders makes him susceptible to self-harm and extreme behaviour, plus it explains his ritualistic manner of killing and what he does with the bodies.
Perhaps more frightening, somehow, than all the bloody imagery are the flashbacks and the snippets of memory from which we begin to glean a sense of the killer himself. They are eerie. Particularly, one early cut to a flashback simply sees children running in the distance through a field, the unsettling atmosphere of an 8mm tape rolling, catching them in their natural habitat. This also leads into the fact Schramm wears a large, complicated brace on his right leg, so right away there’s the idea that something happened to him all those years ago, an event which not only shaped his physical life, but also likely did the same for his mental life, too. Within many scenes we hear heavy breathing. Furthermore, the director edits in shots of Schramm running, other feet running in a group, at times as if he’s dreaming of running again, or maybe they’re memories, who knows. There’s an ever increasing sense that Schramm has been traumatized by his apparent leg injury. He even wakes up, supposedly, to imagine his leg’s been cut off below the knee, savage and bleeding, only to discover it’s all a dream. Most of all what this does is plant us firmly in the perspective of the serial killer whom we are about to examine in full.
So much of the camera work is impressive for a production that’s mostly low budget and fairly simple. There are several key points I find wildly interesting. The first comes after Lothar picks up his friend, a prostitute, and they’re driving – out of nowhere appears this swirling shot that makes you feel as if the car is going around an off-ramp, only there is none to be seen and they’re in the middle of a road; the car spins several times as they chat, neither of them noticing, except us, the audience. This is a disorienting moment that again throws you into Lothar’s world where you feel just as estranged and disconnected to real life as him. Later, in his apartment Lothar works out and the camera sort of follows along with his movements, then soars up over him giving us a bird’s eye view down on the apartment. We constantly get the sense of inhabiting the world he knows, and this only makes things scarier.
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Living with Schramm, in his headspace and seeing his actions from day to day, can be psychologically horrifying. And it is, undoubtedly. This film has gained comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and to a certain extent they are both quite alike. However, aside from Ottis, the main focus of that film was not sexual deviancy (even though the real Henry Lee Lucas was all manners of insane and although the character does commit horrible crimes against women), but instead honed in on the pure hideousness of Henry’s evil, the perpetual killer inside him unwilling to be tamed. Our main protagonist/antagonist, if you want to see it that way, Lothat Schramm is both a killer and a complete sexual deviant. The way we spend our time in the other film with Henry watching him commit one murder after another, we likewise spend our time during Schramm with this man, no matter if he’s having sex with a blow-up doll while listening to his neighbours fuck or if he’s doing incredibly masochistic things to his body. We experience all of it, and fall deeper, farther down the pit of his abyssal mind.
The blurring of reality and nightmare is one significant aspect to the psychological elements. A most evident sequence is when Schramm is with the dentist (or imagining it at least), and as the doctor begins removing teeth, he seems to notice something else: all of a sudden Lothar has his eyes pried open like A Clockwork Orange and the dentist begins slicing open his eye socket, a dental assistant comes in to help and removes his whole eyeball. Reality and the nightmare world in Schramm’s head often collide in the most awful ways, from techniques used by the director in shooting a scene to the way things ar edited from time to time.
The most disturbing break from reality? Schramm wakes up naked in bed to find a strange vagina-like creature between his legs, squirming, its lips opening to reveal a set of ugly teeth. Honestly, this one frightened me. Repulsed me, too.
It isn’t my favourite serial killer film. Schramm isn’t easily digested. There are intensely nasty sequences which will push the boundaries of even the most hardened veterans. Myself, I’ve seen 4,200 films and many of those horror, at least one third or more maybe. And still, I find myself squeamish during a couple of overly vulgar scenes. The best part about the whole thing is that this is a quiet, more subdued serial killer tale than most you’ll find. Not subdued in its blood or willingness to show the inner workings of a sick, rotting mind, but quiet in its process. There are no jump scares like other contemporary works of horror cinema. There isn’t a masked or unknown killer. Director Jörg Buttgereit forces us to spend just over an hour (thankfully a short runtime) with Lothar Schramm, until we’ve had our fill of depravity, running blood, murder. Until no more can you deny that evil is entirely human, not a supernatural element by which people feel themselves overtaken. In the end, you’ll need a cozy blanket and a warm beverage to start heating up the cold heart you’ll be left with awhile after seeing experiencing Schramm.

Snowtown: The Chilling Seduction of the Disadvantaged

Snowtown. 2011. Directed by Justin Kurzel. Screenplay by Shaun Grant. Based on books by Debi Marshall & Andrew McGarry.
Starring Lucas Pittaway, Bob Adriaens, Louise Harris, Frank Cwiertniak, Matthew Howard, Marcus Howard, Anthony Groves, Richard Green, Aaron Viergever, & Daniel Henshall. The South Australian Film Corporation/Carver Films/Screen Australia/Warp Films Australia.
Rated R. 119 minutes.
Crime/Drama

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Before his wonderfully grim and atmospheric Macbeth adaptation, director Justin Kurzel first wowed me with Snowtown. This is a film dedicated to telling an awful, tragic story, and in the most impressive way possible. Aesthetically, you’ll be hard pressed to find such an intense look at the horrific crimes of a real life serial killer as this movie.
Using the real life killings and crime spree of infamous Australian criminal John BuntingSnowtown examines how the lower class and the disadvantaged are in danger of being prey for emotional/sexual predators, as well as those masquerading in the costume of saviours. When Bunting came into contact with James Vlassakis and his mother, as well her other children, he did so under the guise of being a protector. From there, the group which began surrounding them all became much like a cult of personality, everyone following Bunting as he launched a self-imposed campaign of murder and torture against paedophiles and abusers, some confirmed, others only suspected. Bunting often called his killings “playing”, as well as the fact he and accomplice Robert Wagner ritually played the song “Selling the Drama” by the band Live as they murdered, tortured, and cut people into pieces. While this movie definitely contains graphic, explicit material, Kurzel does an amazing job straddling the line of decency. With regards to movies focused on actual serial killers directors and writers can run the danger of being insensitive, being too overtly nasty, and just generally risk coming off as disrespectful. However, for all its brutality and dark subject matter, Snowtown remains a disturbingly raw and honest look at one of the most terrible men to have ever walked the streets of Australia, or anywhere else for that matter.
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There are so many things at play in this film. Underrated Australian actor Daniel Henshall brings John Bunting to life in an especially dangerous manner. He’s not a big, huge man, but even in his quietest moments there’s this simmering power right below this soft and smiley exterior. It isn’t evident right away. As the movie progresses, you start to understand there’s something very wrong with him. Because at first he’s really a white knight for Jamie Vlassakis (Lucas Pittaway). Though we know who John Bunting is, or most of us do coming to the film, there’s still a questionable aspect to his character here. He’s doing what a lot of people say they’d do to paedophiles, rapists. Along the line things start to become clearer, and the fact Bunting is stealing welfare cheques, prescriptions, et cetera, is a little less knight in shining armour. Not just that we see how reckless the judge, jury, executioner routine becomes, as John starts to need less and less proof. Furthermore, he and his pal Robert start to close ranks. Bit by bit they start to kill people closer to home. And all the while there are times you’ve really got to question your own morality, whether some of these people deserved death. Likely if you’re a real good person, there won’t be anything relatable about Bunting or his crimes. I don’t identify with him whatsoever. But seeing some of the troubles of these lower class families it makes you wonder if getting some deviants off the streets wasn’t the right thing. Until things go much, much too far. There’s one murder in particular that is devastating. Then you can see Bunting exactly for the monster he is. What once was the disguise of a vigilante is then revealed to be plain and simple psychopathy.
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What’s incredibly interesting is the relationship between Bunting and Jamie. After we’ve seen the abuse Jamie’s suffered at the hands of his mother’s old boyfriend, and even his own stepbrother, there’s a scene where they’re eating supper together. John casually asks Jamie if he likes “being fucked“, and you can see the young man’s surprise at hearing it so openly. After that he slowly reels Jamie into his grasp. Even to his mother, Jamie says not to fuck up her relationship with John after they’ve had a big argument. He gets indoctrinated gradually. It doesn’t matter that his own friend gets murdered, he goes along. Jamie then finds himself along for a brutal, dark ride. Because in the end, it’s all about the socioeconomic realities of Jamie and his life as a disadvantaged young man, stuck in housing projects, forever doomed to be part of the lower class without any real hope going forward. Along comes Bunting, who knows how to pull a fast one – even if by murder – and figures out ways to scam the system. Sadly, for Jamie, there is nothing else in the way of hope. So inadvertently, after everything he’s seen Bunting do, after his own personal heartache, Jamie becomes this pawn in a series of murders.
There are some gorgeously poignant scenes throughout the screenplay, which Kurzel brings to life. There’s one scene that felt to epitomize Jamie’s situation – he sits near the fire at a big party outside, he just watches as everyone else jumps around, dancing, having fun, and you can really feel the weight of everything bearing down upon him. Another perfectly captured moment is when John’s got Jamie out posing as a dead man so they can get an extra cheque from the government; John sits just behind the young man, peeking out around him, and it’s just about the most dead-on image of Bunting that you can find. He is the mastermind behind all their misery.
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The cinematography is very natural. I love the style of directing that Kurzel uses herebecause we really start to feel a part of this world. As disgustingly gritty as it is, the life of John Bunting and his associates feels all too real. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (True Detective Season 1, Top of the LakeLore) is someone whose work I’ve enjoyed over the past handful of years, ever since I first got the chance to see Animal Kingdom. He’s able to make things feel like they’re not simply blocked and set in front of a camera. There’s a wonderful chaos and frenetic feel to his lens, yet contained chaos. His close focus on the characters and their actions take us into their lives. In the slow burning moments, which are plenty, the story moves along so well because Arkapaw allows us to feel directly in every last moment, as opposed to stuck outside looking at perfect frames constantly. Things don’t always need to be steady and centered and composed like an equation. Arkapaw’s camera helps us connect, even if that’s a difficult, horrifying task.
Even better, director Justin’s younger brother Jed is an amazing composer, and he lends his talents to Snowtown with a beautiful score to underpin all the macabre events of its story. His music is this haunting soundtrack, one that makes strange moments in the screenplay feel like dreams. And even with all the realism of the camerawork there are still times where all the various pieces out of the score almost give off a surreal atmosphere.
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There were a couple things I wish were more clear in the screenplay. A few things involving John Bunting’s character I never quite fully grasped that felt a little too cryptic. But overall, Snowtown is one of the greatest films concerning real life crime I’ve seen. It is so brutally, openly honest about its subject matter, and its main subject in Bunting. Whereas some many find it an endurance test at points because of its few graphic bits, this is much more a psychological crime film than horror. At the same time, it is most certainly a terrifying piece of cinema. Both Lucas Pittaway and Daniel Henshall give spectacular performances that make the characters of Jamie Vlassakis and John Bunting feel totally real. The look and feel of the film as a whole makes its plot that much more effective. Also, Kurzel used many locals who had never acted, most from a rough location called Davoren Park (around where many of the murders took place), which further lends authenticity to the whole production; aside from Henshall and Richard Green, everyone else was pretty much picked up from that area. Although a few reviews I’ve seen seem to toss this off as a bunch of boring, slow moving cinema with a shock or two and real life crime as its basis, for me Snowtown is a frank and chilling tale of how the lower echelons of society are susceptible to dangerous influence, and they are at much more risk than alcoholism, getting diabetes, heart disease, any of the normal things you’d hear. Bunting was pretty much evil incarnate. He struck at the weak and the economically crippled, the easier his target the better. Kurzel manages to make an interesting and suspenseful journey out of some of the most shocking murders in Australian history.

Secret Rural Lives: Uncle John the Protector

Uncle John. 2015. Directed by Steven Piet. Screenplay by Erik Crary & Piet.
Starring John Ashton, Alex Moffat, Jenna Lyng, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Cynthia Baker, Andy Cameron, Adria Dawn, Tim Decker, Don Forston, Janet Gilmme, Gary Houston Matt Kozlowski, & Ashleigh LaThrop. Uncle John Productions.
Not Rated. 113 minutes.
Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
Digital editing technician, cinematographer and first time director Steven Piet has really done a fascinating job with the double-plotted Uncle John – a true slow burning mystery with doses of both the thriller genre, as well as, surprisingly enough, some romance. Strangely, these two pieces of the puzzle weave together into what becomes a veritable creepy thrill ride, mysterious and murky. With high praise from one of my favourite directors, David Lynch (he says it stuck with him days after watching), this was a film I knew needed to be seen.
But not only is this a smoldering mystery-thriller with some romance mixed in, Uncle John has a psychological angle, a strange unsettling feeling almost from the beginning. Piet and cinematographer Mike Bove create a natural looking movie that has an undercurrent of tension running through every last frame. Added to that, Adam Robl and Shawn Sutta bring a beautiful score to the table, which gives certain scenes a dreamy, lighter-than-air feeling. All the pieces mould together into a near perfect pastiche of paranoia, rural life, secrets, and plenty emotion.
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In a little rural town, John (John Ashton) is a very well-liked older man whose carpentry skills are much appreciated. Except when we first meet John, he’s just killed a man named Dutch (Laurent Soucie). Dutch was a terrible, mean sort of fella. Nobody in town went untouched by his trouble. But nobody would suspect John of murdering the man. That is, nobody except for Dutch’s crazy, drunk brother Danny (Ronnie Gene Blevins); he seems to believe John, or someone close to him, has done the deed. As time goes by, Danny becomes more and more convinced it was John, and only John.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, John’s nephew Ben (Alex Moffat), whom he raised after his mother died/father split, works at a 3D design company. He meets a co-worker named Kate (Jenna Lyng) and falls for her. Only she isn’t keen on dating co-workers.
One day, after an impromptu trip back to the country for Ben’s favourite donuts, he and Kate show up to see Uncle John. With so much going on in John’s head and around him, trying to keep out of hot water for the murder of Dutch, the trip becomes something more than any of them could’ve expected. And with Danny lurking around, it’s only a matter of time before something tragic will happen.
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The bridging of a romantic subplot with the main plot of the murder, which precipitates a thriller, is incredibly interesting. When the film starts out you imagine it’s going to take on the trappings of any other mysterious thriller. However, woven between everything is this plot involving Uncle John’s nephew, who happens to meet a lovely woman at his office and starts falling for her. This converges with John’s predicament – the murder we witness at the outset of the story – and everything becomes connected, in a violently tragic sense. Some reviews have lambasted Piet’s film as taking too long for the double plots to join up, but I found the slow build-up works incredibly well. The plots play out at a steady pace, taking their time to open up and bloom. Then finally, they merge to make things even more thrilling than before.
Particularly, I’m a fan of movies that don’t have to throw everything out at you through expository dialogue. Whereas the romance plot with Ben and Kate is fairly straightforward, the plot involving John, Dutch, their history and the murder all comes out in cryptic portions, casually through conversation everything gets revealed. Even the romantic scenes with Ben and Kate are subtle, as it isn’t the typical ‘two people immediately fall in bed together’ sort of relationship; it takes on the form of a true-to-life situation instead of the wildly unrealistic dating in so many movies. So it’s nice to see writing that isn’t so typical and cliche in that sense, plus the main chunk of the film’s mystery-thriller aspects are subdued and their impact is much more profound than if things were laid out on the table plainly.
Note: the last few minutes of the film have a wonderfully written parallel between John and the people in Kate’s family whom she describes as crazy, which is some of the best writing in any finale of any movie I’ve seen in a long time. Just so well-written that it’s undeniably awesome.
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Best of all are the actors involved. All four of the main characters we spend time with are performed to perfection. Both Alex Moffat as Ben and Jenna Lyng as Kate provide the necessary chemistry for their onscreen relationship, as they’re co-workers and friends but obviously something more will likely come out of it – even if we don’t see their complete story by the end of the film, you can imagine them developing a strong, lasting relationship together. The way they speak to one another, especially on the part of Ben who has the strongest feelings, we gain such an emotional connection to them. So much so that once things get real thrilling and tense in the final half hour everything feels massively heightened.
Furthermore, Ronnie Gene Blevins as Danny is quietly menacing, a troubled man with a paranoid mind, but really not all that paranoid – mostly, he’s a suspicious character. And rightfully so. Although, the complexities of the situation involving his brother and John make it difficult to fully side with him in any way. Blevins is a solid actor, and he was the perfect choice for the role of Danny. He brings that quiet nature to the character and it makes him more threatening, right up to the point where we realize exactly what he’s up to.
Finally, John Ashton gives a thoughtful, subdued performance as the titular John. From the first time we see him there is a nervous tension about his neck, which obviously stems from those initial scenes where he kills Dutch, gets rid of the body and so on. These quiet performances, like that of Blevins as well, they help the story and the subplots get into our head in such a visceral way. John’s pensive behaviour is extremely watchable, as his face almost emotes everything we need to know about the character. The looks off to one side where he’s running through every scenario in his head, trying to make sure he’ll make it out of suspicion, and the way he stares off at his darkened barn, Ashton draws us towards the character he plays and keeps us interested at every turn.


An absolute 5-star film. The directorial choices by Piet and the cinematography of Bove are an excellent pairing, as even in the most mundane of scenes we’re caught on their hooks, they draw us along through the motions and around the next corner it always seems as if there’ll be something devastating. So that eventually, once the devastation rears its head, the way it crashes into the viewer makes for a bigger splash. I was never entirely sure how the film would end, which is great because I kept on guessing. Even more, the guessing lingers with you, as the outcome of the events in the finale aren’t clear to us, so anything could happen in this story after the credits finish rolling. But the juxtaposition of two vastly different actions in the last 15 minutes is so heavy, so beautiful in a twisted sense, that it rocked my world. Absolutely one of the greatest films of 2015. Currently, as of this writing, it’s on Netflix Canada. Check it out while you still can, and stick with it all the way. The reward is beyond worth the time.