Carol Morley’s film The Falling documents the curious incident of mass fainting at an English girl’s school in the 1950’s. A comedy whilst also being very serious and a horror without being scary Morley’s film is spellbinding and dreamlike, owing some debt to Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (it’s produced by son Luc) and Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures in tone and otherworldliness.
The wonderful Maisie Williams is Lydia, a slightly acidic bright young thing whose home life is undesirable with an agoraphobic mother as cold as a dead fish played by the outstanding Maxine Peake and a sexual predator for an older brother. Lydia (or Lamb as she is nicknamed at her beloved school) has one great pleasure in life – her friendship with Abbie. Florence Pugh plays the sexually advanced, full lipped and full-bodied Abbie. Abbie’s sexuality comes between the girls as of course it will with teenage girls, as theirs is as close as female relationships go. It is the world. For Lydia, Abbie is everything but also with that at fierce love comes jealousy and hatred and a desire to be more like Abbie. It’s a tornado of hormones and feelings.
Greta Scaachi is unrecognisable as strict teacher Miss Mantel, as we see her layers get peeled away through the fear of what is happening of the girls it’s a stunning transformation. Monica Dolan is also terribly good and the provider of some much needed humour as chain smoking head teacher Miss Alvaro.
Abbie reveals that she is pregnant and this begins a breakdown in her friendship with Lydia. As the cracks start to form the fainting begins as if the power of that break caused a ripple of emotion to seep into the school and start affecting the girls physically. Is it magic or persuasion? The teachers certainly think the latter with Lydia being singled out as ringleader but then the young art teacher faints and we definitely see wobbles from Miss Alvaro. The magic is spreading.
It’s as mystical a world as you want it to be The Falling. At the end I had no idea if the girls were real or faking it but I remember in my teens being obsessed with fainting, the idea of falling, being helpless, being scooped up and saved. I never did it but I most certainly pretended once or twice so my identification with this film was strong. Certain markers preface the mass fainting, an eye twitch, a physical movement then the girls affect a dream like, hypnotic dance as if they are possessed. It’s quite disturbing and beautifully executed. Whether Morley is suggesting the girls are possessed I don’t know, it feels more like a comment on the powers of suggestion among young females, coupled with sexuality.
Morley constantly brings us back to the lake with a weeping willow hanging over it, reflected in the still waters or rainy waters. It’s a mirror reflection and the girls worship the tree itself. Abbie and Lydia’s names are etched there forever. Abbie says let’s meet under the tree once a year forever until we die. The words echo constantly throughout the film. The lake and the willow reminiscent of Our Lady of Shallot.
The girl’s hypnotic playing in Abbie’s ‘alternative orchestra’, the constant roll of the wooden stick up and down on the xylophone with some simple accompaniments, an occasional triangle and Abbie’s languid harmonies underscores all of the drama. It bleeds into the film and becomes part of the action and all whirls around in to create a woozy haze of viewing. Tracey Thorn’s superb score adds beautifully to the trippy, retro atmosphere.
The Falling is an extremely effective and affecting piece of film making by Carol Morley, a triumph.
My first film of the festival and it almost didn’t happen as I had inadvertently gone to the wrong screening at the BFI and sat through what I thought was a pre cursor short film but actually turned out to be a documentary about Jazz legend Clark Terry called Keep on Keeping’ On. Quite different to the Spanish horror film I was expecting. Anyway after a minor kerfuffle I managed to run all the way to the correct cinema where as luck would gave it a pre screening q and a had just finished and I took my seat as the lights went down. Phew. I really must do the lottery one of these days.
I was pleased I made it in time because it turns out Shrew’s Nest is a riot. Misery meets Almodovar in a gruesome, dramatic and funny tale by first time director Juanfer Andres and Esteban Roel and seasoned producer Alex de la Iglesia. A mixture of dramatic sorry and full on horror inspired by such films as The Shining, Butterfly Wings, Repulsion and Rebecca.
It’s 1950 Madrid and Motse is a reclusive seamstress who lives in her small apartment with her beloved sister Elisa, la nina, who has just turned 18. Their mother died giving birth to Elisa and their father has been missing since the war. Montse has advanced agoraphobia, is mildly hooked on morphine and has not even stepped a foot outside the flat for 15 years. It’s a pretty intense set up even before the horror ramps up. Despite being a talented seamstress and an attractive woman Montse is haunted by the dead ghost of her father (a fabulously chilling Luis Tosar). Elisa can see that Montse is starting to become crueller and is plotting her exit via a young man. A handsome neighbour takes a tumble down the stairs and everything changes. For the worse….
It’s such fun is Shrew’s Nest. A touch of Heavenly Creatures about it tonally, the mix of horror and drama has somehow been deftly pulled off by the two directors. The main performance of deranged Montse by Maracrena Gomez is really quite something. At times over the top she still manages to remain somewhere in the realm of realism enough for us to go along with the somewhat implausible story. Likewise Nadia de Santiago’s turn as Elisa is fantastic and Hugo Silver as charming but dodgy neighbour Carlos is perfect in his charm and helplessness. The chemistry between the two sisters crackles. The lines often are very funny when something extremely gruesome has just happened. Elisa asks ‘how was your day’ after a particularly bloody day in the literal sense and she replies ‘hectic’. Hilarious.
The story never gets dull despite only being in one location and as we hurtle towards a conclusion that most people will probably have worked out before the end it’s still captivating and thrilling. Shrew’s Nest, a most welcome addition to a genre which the Spanish seem to be excelling at of late.
Based on Christopher Barzak's novel One for Sorrow, Carter Smith's Jamie Marks is Dead is a genuinely spooky coming of age drama which doesn't quite hit all targets it's aiming for.
The naked body of teen loser Jamie Marks (Noel Silver) is found in a river by Gracie (Morgan Saylor) when she is looking for rocks, her oddball hobby. School sometime jock Adam (Cameron Monoghan) is affected by the death, experiencing some guilt as he didn't stop Jamie being bullied once. He just walked on. Adam and Gracie form an unlikely friendship turning to romance through the connection with Jamie and Adam discovers that Gracie is being visited by Jamie's ghost, which he can also see. Adam then begins a 'friendship' with Jamie which takes some dark turns and threatens his relationship with Gracie. Adams life is sliding away and Jamie needs Adam's help to put some things right.
JMID works on some levels. The fact that Smith has us suspending our belief at all on this most ludicrous of takes is a credit to him and his cast but it falls flat in some areas. Monaghan, Silver and Saylor are all excellent. Saylor is much reminiscent of her moody teen in Homeland but she is effective and has chemistry with the excellent Monoghan. Silver is also good, giving us a performance that elicits empathy for a ghost is no mean at and he works well with Monaghan. The scenes between the two boys, one living and one dead, work well, they are touching and natural. The stark backdrop of the winter nowheresville these characters inhabit provides an appropriate backdrop for these eerie happenings. Darren Lew's expansive winter shots giving a chill down the spine. It's Adam's home life where JMID takes a turn for the worse. A strange story about mom Liv Tyler getting paralysed in a car accident and then taking up what is hinted at as a lesbian relationship with the other driver, Judy Greer, is frankly odd. I love Liv but she's not really working in this scenario. Scenes with Adam's dick of an older brother fare better but seem to just tail off.
There are some nice moments in JMID. Adam and Jamie spend he night with another angry ghost called 'fuck you Frances' which is fun and the the otherworldly aspects are handled well by smith considering there are very few special effects. It's an unusual story that works on some levels. Just not all.