The first Sunday of the festival rocks around and we drag ourselves back to base at the Picturehouse Central for some spooky shenanigans. Also, the Black Mass premiere where a slow motion Johnny Depp wows the crowd with his utter slow motion-ness. Must have had a tiring flight we think. Anyways.....
I’m not a big fan of excesses of blood on the screen. I’m sure there’s some significant psychological thing going on but I just can't be doing with it. This is especially true of anything that resembles a medical procedure. Notbig fan of needles either. But as one of the main joys of the LFF is seeing films with little or no prior information, every now and again the above issue makes screenings something of a gamble. I was a little weary or Evolution form the synopsis but by the thirty minute mark, I was done. To be fair, the movie wasn’t excessively gory as such, it was more the pervading atmosphere that did me in. It was also Sunday lunchtime which I don’t think is necessarily the best time to be watching something like this.
So this is based on the part of the movie I actually managed to watch before stumbling out into the bar - an altogether safer Sunday afternoon destination. We pick up with a young by swimming in a beautifully photographed sea of indeterminate location. He discovers another boy’s body wedged amongst the coral and flees the water in a panic. Back at his curiously sparse white home, his mother dismisses what he saw, gives him his weird gloopy tea, some drops of deeply suspicious medicine and puts him to bed. Later that night, all the women of the town troop out of their identical houses and down to the beach where the mother retrieves the dead body.
And so it goes, the kids go swimming the mothers all sit around and bathe… and then you notice that all the kids are boys and all the adults are women… As you’re starting to get your head around this, the boy who discovered the body starts a fight with the local bullies before brutalising a starfish with a rock. Soon after, his mother carts him off to the local infirmary where iodine is painted on his stomach and a GIANT needle is produced. I’m wobbling at this point. A few minutes later a group of nurses are sat watching a very pregnant woman draped in surgical sheets….. And I’m out. Apologies if you were either of the journalists I stumbled past on the way out.
Evolution then is an odd movie, or the first thirty minutes are and one that I’d bet good money makes itself no clearer by the end. It is beautifully shot and the strange world the people inhabit is meticulous constructed… just not one for me and not one for Sunday lunchtime. Never let it be said that we aren’t professionals here at BS. When the going gets weird, we hit the bar.
After the experience of Evolution, I thought I would re-jig my calendar and take in a nice relaxing movie. That didn’t quite work out though so instead I headed off for Robert Eggers’ debut feature The Witch. I’ve just glanced at Eggers’ profile on IMDB - his next project is listed as Untitled Nosferatu Remake. Given this movie, I can see how that might come about but for crying out loud Robert, stay away from the Nosferatu. No good can come of that.
Similarly, no good an come of being kicked out of your New England plantation for non-specific god based issues and thrown into the wilderness with your young family. This being the 1600’s, it’s not looking too friendly out there, even without the intervention of anything remotely supernatural. Which is the key to why Eggers’ movie works so well. It is billed as a horror, but in a way, that probably does the movie a disservice. The wilds of New England are horrific enough in the situation described and Eggers does really well to concentrate on the family and their relationships. The titular Witch is barely glimpsed and doesn’t need to be, the family’s gradual destruction is compelling in itself.
Central to the family are father William (Ralph Ineson) and eldest daughter Tomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). When the youngest member of the family disappears in particularly abrupt circumstances whilst in Tomasin’s care, the family initially face it stoically, relying on their faith to pull them through the dark times. As things start to escalate though, suspicions (stoked by the family’s mischievous twins) turn inwards and the family falls apart in line with the gradual destruction of its crops and livestock. The central performances are both impressive, Ineson, in what I think must be his first attempt at carrying a movie is great as the gruff, pious father. Ineson and the script both manage to steer around the usual witch hunt style personality that could easily have ben inflicted on the father figure and his eventual accusation against his daughter is all the more powerful for it. Taylor-Joy is likewise impressive in what is her first major role. Nailing the accent (decent for a Miami resident) and the right line between Thomasin’s youthful innocence and the strength required to support the family in the time period.
Eggers paints his New England doused in greys and browns and creates a horrifically hostile environment to layer on the pains of the family. My only reservation in my recommendation for this one is the final ten minutes. There is a point (no spoilers) where one character sits dejectedly at a table and lays their head on the kitchen table in utter lost desperation. Had Eggers cut to credits there, I’d have been happy. Sadly he continues into an utterly unnecessary prologue that I won’t describe for fear of ruining it for you. You’ll know when you get there. But up to then, as a dark, brooding shocker filled with believable characters and motivations, The Witch scores well.
POST FESTIVAL NOTE: Okay, I re-checked my facts, Taylor-Joy was bought up in the UK so the accent wasn't a stretch. Doesn't matter, she was still magnificent.
Jo has already covered Black Mass in some detail so I won’t go into too much here as I’m pretty lazy and about ten reviews behind on a deadline that doesn’t exist. Suffice to say that despite the absolutely stellar cast on hand here, Scott Cooper’s South Boston tale of James ‘Whitey’ Bulger is a solid but not particularly spectacular entry into a genre that is stacked with great movies.
Johnny Depp has fun but is otherwise borderline distracting in the title role, Benedict Cumberbatch is mostly sidelined as Bulger’s senator brother, Kevin Bacon barely registers on screen as the FBI boss and it’s only really Joel Edgerton who stands out as the brilliantly morally distracted agent John Connolly - an old boy from the hood now getting into bed with Bulger in an attempt to score points at the bureau. Oh, and the girls are around there somewhere but hey, man stuff.
Overall then, not especially worth your time unless you really want to spend two hours starring at Depp’s impressive contact lenses and wondering just how many times you can watch a tale of brothers from the Baawston hood doing bad shit and getting away with it for an astonishing length of time. You know what, go watch Precinct Seven Five instead. That is far more thrilling and it’s a documentary….