Review in Brief: Scare Me (2020)

SCARE ME is an absolute joy, full of mischief and creativity and completely different to every other horror anthology film out there. A simple enough premise – an aspiring horror writer waits out a power cut in an isolated cabin with a successful published author and both proceed to tell and perform scary stories to outdo each other. The sound design accompanying the stories is genre mainstream quality but everything else is left to your imagination and the game performances of Josh Ruben and Aya Cash who pantomime the events and characters of their stories for our amusement. It’s funny, intriguing and sweet until it definitely isn’t anymore. Likely won’t satisfy every horror hound, but for anyone looking for something a little different, it’s well worth catching on Shudder. SSP

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Review in Brief: Eternal Beauty (2019/20)

I always love films that look unflinchingly at mental illness but are also brave enough not to perpetuate the fallacy that someone with a mental health problems automatically becomes a saint. In Craig Roberts’ second complex directorial feature, Jane (a superb Sally Hawkins) is a challenging personality to put it mildly. If getting jilted at the alter wasn’t enough, Jane is unlucky enough to have a cold mother (Penelope Wilton), a useless father (Robert Pugh) and sisters patronising and uncaring (Alice Lowe and Billie Piper respectively). We follow Jane through her latest spiral, hooking up with another troubled soul (David Thewlis) and becoming more erratic than ever as she decides to take herself off her prescription medication in order to feel more. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s worth it for the truthful, painful performances, a surprising amount of awkward laughs to be had among all the affecting melancholy. SSP

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Review in Brief: Monsoon (2019/20)

Hong Khaou’s follow-up to LILTING, another tale of love, identity and displacement, is quietly mesmerising. The cinematography of MONSOON is particularly striking, from the opening aerial shot of scuttling columns of Saigon traffic to how the camera frequently seems to momentarily lose Kit (Henry Golding) as he wanders off screen to ascend a flight of stairs, drifting slowly up buildings to reconnect with him higher up as he walks back into frame. This is a film of connection and remembrance but not an overly sentimental one, the rough edges to the story of returning to a country previously fled in terror as an adult are made prominent and the characters are refreshingly imperfect. Golding shows his range and is ably backed up by Parker Sawyers and David Tran whose characters get full and fledged-out arcs just as Kit does. SSP

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Review in Brief: Relic (2020)

RELIC is an oppressively creepy, deeply moving horror from already-distinct Australian filmmaking voice Natalie Erika James. Kay (Emily Mortimer) along with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) goes looking for her missing dementia-suffering mother (Robyn Nevin) but when she reappears apparently fine and lucid things start to take a turn for the strange. The unsettled characters, the mouldering, shifting environment and the sinister unknowability of external tormentors makes for the perfect dementia parable. The imagery of the film’s creepy and surreal final stretch involving invasive mould, endless cluttered corridors and peeling flesh will stay with you for a long time, whatever the hell it really means. That’s the message here: don’t expect answers but do expect to be hypnotised, haunted and affected in profound and unexpected ways. SSP

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Review in Brief: Impetigore (2019/20)

Even in a year chock-full of examples of distinctively-voiced horror, the Indonesian offering IMPETIGORE stands out. It’s self-aware without being glib (someone asks “who kills students?” the answer every horror fan knows, is any antagonist in a horror film), it’s extreme without being nasty and it uses aspects of uniquely Indonesian culture to add depth without resorting to outright stereotype. It’s pretty hard to neatly categorise in a horror sub-genre, incorporating elements of slasher, folk, occult and supernatural horror but never settling in one for long. Prepare to be constantly wrong-footed, frequently shocked and consistently entertained by this unique beast. Tara Basaro and director Joko Anwar are a killer combination and while they may be genre veterans in their home country, Impetigore could very well get them some much-deserved attention in the West. SSP

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Review in Brief: Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)

The world loves telling teenage girls what to do with their own bodies – don’t wear this, don’t take that, if you end up with another life inside you then you absolutely must have it. If you were being glib and reductive, you might call NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS the anti-JUNO, but it’s so much more than that. Naturalistic and raw and moving, we are kept sometimes uncomfortably close to Autumn (the incredible Sidney Flanagan) as we follow her and her friend’s gruelling journey from Pennsylvania to New York to have an abortion without her parents finding out. This never feels anything less than completely real, standing in for so many young women’s painful experiences, their distress at being deprived of choice. If the “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” scene doesn’t get you, then you’re made of stone. SSP

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Planet of the Apes Movies Ranked SSP

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Review in Brief: His House (2020)

HIS HOUSE tells a familiar enough haunted house story but filters it through the real experience and plight of refugees and is all the sadder and hard-hitting for that. The lead performances of Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku are raw, the atmosphere pervasive and the way the film visually represents a blurring boundary between real and supernatural nightmares really stands out. You get all the usual jump scares and jolting soundtrack that comes with a classic haunting but as PSD trauma gives way to present trauma and then without warning everything gets consumed by delirious, beautiful fever dream imagery you realise this is so unlike any film it might share a passing similarity with. As distinctive feature debuts go, director Remi Weekes couldn’t ask for a better one. SSP

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Review in Brief: My Octopus Teacher (2020)

Nature documentary makers are told never to interfere with the natural order of things, to be neutral observers only. MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is the magical story of a man with a camera forming an unlikely and unbreakable bond with another living creature. We follow Craig Foster’s developing relationship with a female octopus over a year, documenting the trials of being such a creature trying to survive in a South African kelp forest, hunting and being hunted. Memorable and moving sights captured by the pristine underwater photography include the first hesitant hand-to-tentacle contact, the octopus’ daring escape from a hungry shark by riding it and their bittersweet farewell. This is a moving and personal take on the natural world and how we interact with it. SSP

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Review in Brief: A White, White Day (2019)

A WHITE, WHITE DAY is a film, like its protagonist (a craggy, mesmerising Ingvar Sigurdsson), utterly consumed by grief. The imposing Icelandic landscape blurs the line between life and death, beauty and bleakness, memory and reality. Little moments of quiet wisdom, like “Kids don’t think about what adults or old people are doing” and fairly frequent black comic beats keeps the film alive and the performances are all excellent, layered and challenging. The film begins with one of the most beautiful time-lapse sequences in ages where we see seasons pass and a vacated dwelling slowly being made habitable once more. From here Ingimundur splits his time between DIY, looking after his granddaughter and investigating the infidelity of his late wife. Aside from the loving devotion to his family he’s not the easiest guy to like, especially with his deplorable actions as an emotional ex-cop later on, but if you treat the film as a dark modern fable it ends up being rather moving, even life-affirming. SSP

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