Tag Archives: Lola Petticrew

Sister, Sister


by Brandon Thomas

Growing up is tough, especially once adolescence rears its ugly head. Your body gets weird, emotions are all over the map, and you don’t know shit despite thinking you do. Now imagine growing up amidst a global catastrophe with an overbearing mother and not being able to step foot into the daylight. In Shadows, this scenario ends up being a recipe for disaster.

Alma (Mia Threapleton) and her sister Alex (Lola Petticrew) live in total isolation with their mother (Saskia Reeves). The girls remember nothing of their lives before a catastrophic event drove the family deep into the woods. By day, the family stays indoors hiding from mysterious entities known as “Shadows” – beings that live in the daylight and fully inhabit the land beyond the river. As the sisters’ rebellious curiosity takes hold, they begin to wonder about the world beyond the river, especially as their mother’s grip on reality becomes more and more tenuous. 

Director Carlo Lavagna makes the close bond between Alma and Alex the focal point of Shadows. The mother almost exists on the periphery of their lives – appearing to reprimand them or scare them back into obedience. Even though they are teens, there’s a stunted immaturity to the sisters that’s hard to ignore and makes their situation all the sadder. Threapleton, daughter of actress Kate Winslett, walks a tightrope between inner strength and debilitating reliance on her emotionally distant mother. Many times Threapleton does both within the same scene.

The depiction of Mother is another bright spot. Mother appears sparingly – keeping the audience at arm’s length just as she does with Alma and Alex. Her coldness is rivaled only by her calculated survival instincts and desire to keep the sisters confined and “safe.” The mysterious nature of Mother helps keep us in the same shoes as the constantly confused and fearful sisters. 

For a film that spends so much time in the same location, the cinematography is a standout. Cinematographer James Mather (Frank, Extra Ordinary) has an incredible eye for space and makes the world the family lives in feel spacious, yet closed in and emotionally walled off. The daytime threat of the Shadows themselves is visualized through a harshness in the few daylight scenes that is contrasted perfectly by beautiful nighttime photography.

Where Shadows stumbles is on its way to the finish line. Most viewers will see the “surprise” ending telegraphed a mile away and feel a bit underwhelmed at its perceived cleverness. The climax – while not wholly original – doesn’t retroactively make the rest of the film feel lesser. 
Shadows doesn’t break any new ground on a narrative level, but it does feature three captivating performances by an entirely female cast.

Sheep’s Clothing


by George Wolf

More metaphorical than Cuckoo’s Nest, more elusive than Girl, Interrupted, and with less satirical bite than The Lobster, Wolf brings a few other films to mind. But like many of her characters, writer/director Nathalie Biancheri is committed to her own different animal.

George MacKay is hypnotic as Jacob, a young man suffering from species dysphoria. He believes he is a wolf trapped in a human’s body, and when we first meet Jacob, his distraught parents are dropping him off for an extended stay at a treatment center promising a cure.

Once inside, Jacob meets others in similar circumstances: Parrot (Lola Petticrew), German Shepard (Fionn O’Shea), Duck (Senan Jennings), Horse (Elsa Fionuir) and Wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp) – all patients under the domineering thumb of The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine).

Though enemies in the wild, Wolf and Wildcat become drawn to each other within the confines of the treatment center. She’s mysterious, with privileges the other patients don’t enjoy, which comes in mighty handy when Wolf starts resisting The Zookeeper’s increasingly harsh methods.

Biancheri’s metaphor for conversion therapy certainly isn’t hard to pick out, but on a wider scale, her film speaks not only to ignorance toward the LBGTQ+ community, but to a universal push for conformity across all lanes of society. To The Zookeeper, a happy and productive life comes only when you accept what is expected of you, and while Biancheri often juggles different tones within this theme, she is able to craft several moments of powerful humanity, including a structured lesson on laughing that will just about break your heart.

MacKay (1917, The True History of the Kelly Gang) is such a wonderful actor, and it’s no surprise that he’s able to uncover Jacob’s inner conflict with a touching, understated depth. But even beyond that, his command of the role’s animal physicality is powerful and striking.

As Wolf and Wildcat grow closer, MacKay and Depp (also impressive in a comparatively underwritten role) often seemed locked in to an acting school exercise on primal instincts that left the rest of the class in the dust.

There’s more than enough here – from the narrative core to the stellar ensemble to the clinical production design and beyond – for a compelling and thought provoking parable. But while Biancheri’s ambitions are bold and worthy, her second feature (after 2019’s Nocturnal) can’t quite settle on a species.

Such commitment to a unique identity is certainly thematically consistent, but a more streamlined focus may have made the finale feel less abrupt, and brought more clarity to Wolf‘s high concept vision.

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Dating Amber

by Hope Madden

Awkward teens pretend to date each other to sidestep the school bullies, only to find a deep and genuine bond. That sounds pat enough, but writer/director David Freyne (The Cured) and a stunning cast have something far messier and human in mind.

Welcome to County Kildare in the mid Nineties. Divorce is still illegal, homosexuality a curse, the Irish army or the hair salon are the likeliest post-graduation vocations. As Amber (Lola Petticrew) says frequently, “This place will kill you.”

Amber should know. She found her father hanging in the forest near the trailer court where she rents out spots to horny teens, which she does to accrue enough dough to head to London the minute she graduates.

But to survive between now and then, she proposes the “let’s pretend we’re dating” con to Eddie (a remarkable Fionn O’Shea). Because Amber is gay. Gay gay gay. And so is Eddie.

No. No, he definitely is not gay. Not at all. But still…it isn’t a terrible idea.

So begins Freyne’s semi-satirical look at the perils of high school generally and sexual conformity specifically. There are delightful, early, broad-stroke comic moments that simply feel like a cheeky Irish upending of John Hughes tropes.

But that’s not Dating Amber. Not at all. The brightly familiar comedy trappings serve to lull you into a comfortable space so the film can unveil something beautifully untidy and really heartbreaking, something simultaneously devastating and resilient.

Freyne mixes darkness and forgiveness in equal measure. Everyone has their own shit to deal with, and an depressed small town full of frightened people lacking in any real opportunity or choice is bound to take its toll—on the gay kids, on the parents who probably don’t want to be married anymore, on the younger brother who just wants to feel like his family is normal, and on everyone facing graduation and whatever likely dismal future lies ahead.

But mainly, Freyne is interested in how Amber and Eddie contend with things. Luckily, Petticrew and O’Shea share a truly lovely chemistry, creating the kind of bond you long to see for every desperate and lonely teenager.

Their honesty gives every scene an extra punch—of laughter or heartbreak. Coming of age still looks like it seriously sucks, but Dating Amber is a keeper.