Day 4 then and a very mixed bag that took in another genuinely impressive turn from Brie Larson (plus, stars named after cheese - top marks from us), a Romanian Western (not too many of those about) and a frankly godawful return from the once lauded director of Ringu. Oh, and the door shown in the picture here. We were too scared to look inside to see just what Education Hackney Picturehouse was offering but, well, surely it's not just us that finds that door a little intimidating?
Anyone want to guess the opening to this review? Yawn, yeah,right first time, I have not read the book. It would appear that I am borderline illiterate as once again, everyone I have mentioned this movie to has already read the book. Hey ho. There are minor spoilers ahead (according to people who have read the book) so if you haven’t read it and want to go in blind, stop reading now.
Adapted by Emma Donoghue from her book of the same name, Room picks up without any background with Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) living in the room of the title. The reason for their incarceration gradually becomes clear but is not explained until about the midpoint of the movie, though by this point I would be surprised if you hadn’t worked it out. In order to keep Jack as normal as possible giving their living conditions, Ma has constructed a very specific world for Jack to inhabit, including everything outside Room being ‘television’. This can’t last of course and after his fifth birthday and a encounter with her captor, Old Nick, Ma decides that it is time for Jack to break them out…
Frank director Lenny Abrahamson has a substantial challenge on his hands with this adaptation. Conveying the claustrophobia of Room is one thing but realistically depicting the time spent between mother and son in such an atmosphere is difficult. So the time spent within Room is shot through necessary closeups that do help to convey this to a point. I never quite felt the level of claustrophobia that the space warranted though. Having said that, the space is really only a small part of this movie, it’s the relationship between Ma and Jack that carries the most weight and Abrahamson has cast incredibly well. Larson was already a star in the making from her astonishing turn in Short Term 12 and here she builds on that. Her Ma is fallible, desperate and lost but has an amazing strength when it comes to her son. Tremblay, in only his second major role is superb. Asked to carry large parts of the movie (as well as providing some wonderfully insightful narration), he is well up to the task and keeps up with Larson well. It’s comparatively rare that a child actor gets so much screen time and he doesn’t waste any of it.
For a movie titled Room, I found the most interesting aspects of it once the pair escape. Movies are famous for concentrating on victims and perpetrators during events, they rarely stick around to deal with the aftermath. At least half of this movie’s running time deals with the effects on Jack and Ma once they have their freedom, or at least once they’ve exchanged their incarceration in Room to hiding in Ma’s mother’s house away from the baying media. It’s notable that the villain of the piece gets barely any screen time and his fate is only dealt with through news clips. Ma’s disintegration once she is released into the world (having been only a teenager when she was taken) is soul-destroyingly compelling as she is forced to draw strength from a son she has only every poured strength into. Highly recommended.
I can’t quite be sure how many Romanian movies I’ve watched but I suspect it’s a pretty low number. The number of Romanian western’s I’ve seen, well, you can probably guess just how many that it. So it was with some trepidation that I embraced Claire Stewart’s enthusiastic recommendation for this one…
Set in 19th century Wallachia, Aferim! (bravo! in English) follows a constable Costandin (Teodor Corban) and his son and sometime assistant Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu) as they traverse the wilds of the countryside in search of a runaway slave. Along the way they meet a variety of colourful locals, including a priest who delivers a spectacularly racist diatribe and various ‘Crows’ - as the local gypsy population is derogatorily referred to.
Filmed in a deep, grainy black and white texture, director Radu Jude weaves a variety of tales pulled from historical documents together and lays them on a bleakly beautiful Romanian landscape. His protagonists are at times comedically shambolic but as time wears on and we witness how they deal with the locals the humour of their actions drains and we’re left with two officers of the law who seem powerless or disinterested at least in doing the right thing. A gypsy boy they collect en-route is sold off to the highest bidder at a market and the slave they retrieve is dragged back to his savage master for a wholly unpleasant punishment.
Beautiful in its own way, occasionally funny and brutal as the times would demand, Aferim! is an interesting view of a time and a part of the world that we don’t often get to see.
Remember back in the day when Hideo Nakata unleashed the VHS nightmare on us that was Ringu? Remember how bang on terrifying that was? Just about, right? Well, since Dark Water in 2002 (a movie I never quite got on with), Nakata hasn’t exactly set the fright world alight, at least not that the Western part of it has noticed. Well, he’s back at this year’s LFF and…. well, I really can’t tell if he’s taking the piss or not. To be honest, I really hope he is.
Ghost Theatre tells the story of a young actress used to picking up roles as either dead bodies or soon to be dead bodies. When she auditions for a role with the hottest star in Japan, she is grateful for picking up a minor part (Peasant no. 3 or something I think). Things don’t quite go to plan though when ghostly shenanigans in the form of a decapitated mannequin see the star in hospital, meaning that Sara must step up to the main role….
The movie is prefaced by a sequence in which a hysterical man takes a meat cleaver to the above mentioned mannequin and I was almost convinced for large parts that the majority of it was deliberately put together to give us a heightened feeling of artificiality (you know, actors, mannequins etc), so it could slam us later on with a gigantic revelation that would chill our spinCones. No, not even close. In his synopsis for the LFF program, the BFI’s Michael Blyt19th century h states that this movie has a more tongue in cheek tone than Nakata’s previous work and also that it has the power to chill with haunting set pieces. Well, the tongue in cheek part is certainly true. This movie has its tongue so firmly in its cheek that its positively licking its own ear. Sadly though, it retains absolutely no capacity to chill and the set pieces, such as they are hysterically over the top and surely deliberately false.
I say deliberately false because for a film maker who is so talented this can only be the case, otherwise I really can’t think what Nakata is aiming for here. There are several moments in the opening act of the movie where he has every opportunity to head off in a genuinely creepy New Nightmare sort of direction but these are all shrugged off in favour of presumably anticipated scares from taking all of this nonsense on face value. The dolls movements are comedically bad, akin to something that Ray Harryhausen might have constructing in the fifties. If he’d been really drunk and in a mad rush. And its method of slaughter utterly bizarre. In the end though none of that makes any difference because Ghost Theatre insists on going entirely with the Theatre and not even slightly with the Ghost. Hysterical acting, a bland villain and absolutely no atmosphere of dread leave this one with very little to recommend it. And for crying out loud, don’t keep your petrol can next to your wood burner, that is obviously going to end badly.