A fascinating amalgamation of absurdism, visual storytelling, mystery and body horror, Matt Smith’s short The Altruist alarms and entertains in equal measure. Menacing images — metal hooks hanging from a ceiling, filthy cellar walls, a woman in a befouled metal framed bed — to set a mood he will puncture in the most remarkable, unexpected and weirdly humorous ways.
Sound design, too, keeps telling you that you know what is about to happen. And yet, with every passing scene, you are bound to wonder What the hell is going on?
There is a layer of wild absurdity just beneath the expertly crafted horror environment, but Smith has more in store than cheeky sleight of hand. The story of Daniel (Smith) and his lady love (Elizabeth Jackson) mines a revulsion that, though extreme in this case, hits a nerve. And even that doesn’t go where you expect it to go.
Both actors deliver peculiarly lived-in and rounded characters. Jackson, who essentially repeats one line in varying degrees of neediness, defies limitations. Smith, who benefits from more space and dialog to work with, creates a tight mix of anxiety, guilt and longing.
By the time the film turns playfully sexual, well, just try not to be disturbed.
Set design, shot choices and Cronenberg-level viscera demand your constant attention. But more than anything, the film is a masterpiece of imagination. Icky, glorious imagination.
The Altruist begins screening on Bloody Bites from Bloody Disgusting and Screambox on September 19.
A pair of Beats headphones is Last Night in Soho‘s first clue that you’re not where you think you are.
The sights and sounds of young Ellie’s (Thomasin McKenzie) bedroom scream 1960s London. And though that’s where and when she’d really like to be living, Ellie is a modern-day British country girl, brought up by her Grandparents after her mother’s suicide years earlier.
Ellie dreams of a career as a designer, so she’s thrilled by an acceptance letter from the London College of Fashion. But once in the big city, the shy “country mouse” has trouble adjusting to the pace and the pressures of city life.
Her refuge becomes vivid dreams from the swinging 60s era she celebrates, detailed visions that put Ellie alongside Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young singer looking for fame and fortune among a sea of predatory men.
As Sandie’s trust in nightclub manager Jack (Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith) leads her down a dark and dangerous path, Ellie’s dreams turn truly terrifying. And the deeper Ellie is drawn into Sandie’s world, the more she believes a creepy old dude from her local pub (Terence Stamp) is really present-day Jack, who needs to pay for his past misdeeds with a succession of starstruck London girls.
Director and co-writer Edgar Wright slows his often frantic pace this time, trading those trademark edits for a more languid, appropriately dreamy vibe. His love of color is still front and center, and a giallo pastiche is just one in his Soho arsenal. There’s a time-hopping mystery here, sitting at the center of bloody thrills and a Black Swan-esque exploration of female trauma.
Wright hooks you early with delightful period details and – of course – some effortlessly hip throwback tunes for the soundtrack. His camera is nimble and his faming is precise, often using mirrors to exquisitely blend Ellie’s dreams with Sandie’s past.
McKenzie is doe-eyed perfection as the naive Ellie, an innocent somehow working out her own issues through the tragic past of a kindred spirit. Taylor-Joy is equally wonderful, bringing sad authenticity to Sandie’s quick descent from confident talent to broken soul. Stamp and Smith provide terrific support, eclipsed only by the bullseye casting of Diana Rigg (in her final role) as Ellie’s landlady.
Last Night in Soho is an often glorious mashup of settings and genres, and though you’ll recognize all of them, the package still carries a postmark that’s uniquely Wright’s. Maybe that’s why the resolution lands as curiously rote.
As was the case with the darling zom-rom-com Shaun of the Dead, it seems as if Wright doesn’t have the meanness to make a scary movie. He understands them, clearly, and bends their tropes to his will. Here he pulls apart Hitchcock and Argento to invert the genre’s fetishistic relationship with violence against women. Wright does this with such panache for 2/3 of the film that the final act feels abruptly tidy, too clear a reversal.
Does it spoil the Soho experience? Don’t be silly, baby! This film is a gas, but one that leaves you with with a little reminder that Wright’s most perfectly groovy film is still to come.
It’s been 50 years since Charles Manson and his family effectively terminated the 1960s. Filmmaker Mary Harron (American Psycho) joins Daniel Farrands and Quentin Tarantino in commemorating the anniversary.
Earlier this year, Farrands unleashed the grim and quickly forgotten The Haunting of Sharon Tate, while Tarantino’s next likely cultural phenomenon, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, promises to shine some of its spotlight on the Manson family crimes as well.
Harron’s film, Charlie Says, follows Leslie Van Houton (Hannah Murray), Susan Atkins (Marianne Rendon) and Patricia Krenwinkle (Sosie Bacon), three years after their incarceration, as they reflect on Manson’s promises and their own actions.
The aptly titled film is as concerned with the women’s brainwashing
as it is the crimes themselves, although it unfortunately provides no real
insight into either.
Harron spends about half the film in the California Women’s Correctional Facility, where the trio is taught by dedicated grad student Karlene Faith (Merritt Wever, portraying the author of the book that inspires the film).
The eerie chorus of “Charlie says…” greets nearly every
question Wever lobs at her students, which generally spurs a flashback to time
on the ranch with Charlie (Matt Smith).
Here we hit a snag, because Smith lacks the charisma, the
hatred, the ugliness or the psychotic aura to pull of Manson. He is never terrifying,
never seductive—never convincing.
In fact, most of the flock lacks the weather beaten conviction we recognize from police tapes. The period detail and tone lack degrees of authenticity as well.
Harron’s film opens strong, but it quickly loses its footing
and never really finds it again. Working from Guinevere Turner’s screenplay,
Harron brings up some interesting themes—particularly questioning the point of
breaking through to these women, knowing that puncturing their fantasies only
means their clear-eyed horror whether looking backward or forward.
But she doesn’t really land any punches. The film never
feels particularly queasying, especially enlightening or even very memorable.
I guess we still have Tarantino. Or maybe it’s just time we all moved on and stopped obsessing over what Charlie had to say.