September 2022 Roundup
IFC Films // Directed by Peter Strickland // Starring Asa Butterfield, Gwendoline Christie, Ariane Labed, Fatma Mohamed, Makis Papadimitriou, Richard Bremmer, Leo Bill
For his fourth directorial effort, Peter Strickland offers up Flux Gourmet, a movie about sonic catering…something that I was absolutely not familiar with but certainly am now. It is the practice of extracting strange and interesting sounds from food for the ultimate goal of performance artistry. So, there you go. The movie, however, is really a biting satire of the unrequited lust for control that powers certain people, the feud between art and mainstream, the odd cultish idea of collectives, and, well, flatulence (flatulence is the fuel that keeps the movie running, in reality). Flux Gourmet may not be to everyone’s tastes (no pun intended), especially those unfamiliar with Strickland’s work, and, whilst I found the movie to be simply OK overall, there’s plenty to appreciate, not least the pop art visual stylings. Gwendoline Christie dives into her role as Jan Stevens, the proprietor of the revered institute that sonic caterers dream of earning a residence at, with glee and more than an ounce of relish, and Asa Butterfield brings an assured performance to match. The flatulent character of Stone (Papadimitriou) is really the pulse of the movie, he is employed to document happenings at the institute but soon finds himself becoming one of the cult…I mean, collective. He also provides expository narration in Greek (because, of course) during the movie to further our understanding of the motivation of the collective. It all comes together by the end, I promise. Flux Gourmet, of course, leans into the performance art angle heavily, certain sequences providing genuine wince-inducing moments, but moments that affect the narrative, the majority providing more than just style and shock (but not all of them). It’s a handsome-looking movie with a quirky score to match, though I can’t ever say I was truly engaged with the characters or their journey. It was a nice meal, but not one I’m rushing to try again.
Nordisk Film // Directed by Hanna Bergholm // Starring Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Reino Nordin, Saija Lentonen
Hanna Bergholm’s feature debut Hatching is certainly a bold one - body horror fused with a major dose of allegorical horror. It centres on twelve-year-old Tinja (Solalinna), a budding gymnast desperate to attain the approval of her domineering mother (unnamed but played by Heikkilä). Alongside that, Tinja is caring for an unhatched egg that belonged to a bird killed by Tinja’s mother after it destroyed many expensive-looking items on a panic-fuelled accidental trespass into the family home. However, what hatches is anything but ordinary and sets the stage for this surprising and grim fable. It’s not a stretch to state that body horror can live or die by the quality of its effects and makeup. Thankfully, costume designer Gustav Hoegen and special effects makeup supervisor Conor O’Sullivan delivered some truly inspiring work with their creature designs here, without describing quite what hatches, it is grotesque and extremely well realised. Tinja’s story is inextricably linked with this creature and the majority of straight-up horror comes from their connection, however, her struggles to win the approval of her mother are equally as sad and emotional - Solalinna is very confident in her debut role covering various states of emotion and peril. How these parallel storylines come together eventually is superbly executed after a slow, tense journey towards the shocking conclusion of the movie (it must be said that the pacing is impeccable) and, whilst bleak, it was a satisfying ending, Bergholm went in and stuck the landing. As well as being extremely creepy and unsettling at times, Hatching is incredibly deep as well, there’s a lot to ponder beneath the surface regarding appearance, acceptance, validation (Tinja’s mother is a serial vlogger), and coming of age - not to mention the specificity of having a crow being behind the inciting incident. Boasting alarmingly effective creature designs and strong performances, Hatching is resoundingly unique and familiar at the same, it’s deep and imaginative, and it’s very, very good.
Crimes of the Future
NEON // Directed by David Cronenberg // Starring Viggo Mortensen, Léa Seydoux, Kristen Stewart
Delia Owen’s novel Where the Crawdads Sing became a huge hit upon its release in 2018 and being lauded by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club certainly aided sales and popularity. For this adaptation, Witherspoon takes a producer credit with Olivia Newman in the director's chair for a movie that came with plenty of anticipation. As someone who hasn't read the book, I approached the movie with no ‘expectations’ and ended up being mainly satisfied. The movie follows the trial of Kya - known to the townsfolk as the Marsh Girl due to her living as a recluse out in the marshes and swampland - where she is accused of the murder of her abusive ex-partner, Chase (Dickinson). With the trial as the framing device, the narrative flashes back to various moments in Kya’s life, including her early, torrid family life and first romance with the hunky Tate (Smith). There’s more than a whiff of Nick Cassavetes here and there’s plenty of mawkishness and flights of fancy to boot also - though that isn’t necessarily, or always, a good thing. Thankfully, the movie is anchored by a fabulous lead performance from Daisy Edgar-Jones, she delivered the perfect amount of innocence, naivety, and strength through her portrayal of Kya, and it all felt authentic. Her performance, alongside a strong showing from Straitharn as Kya’s lawyer, elevates the movie to a higher level than it probably deserves. At times, the dialogue feels as if it had been simply lifted directly from the pages of the novel and often felt clunky or unnatural and some of the characterisations were weak. It’s also a very ‘clean’ movie given that the main protagonist literally lives alone and isolated surounded by a swamp - more could and should have been done to deliver less of a polished presentation and this lent another level of stretched fantasy to a story that appeared to want to be taken rather seriously. Frustratingly, the movie offers up plenty of intrigue with its plot and thematically as well, but it never seems overly interested in peeling back the layers which leave it feeling surface level despite a few emotional moments in the final third. Overall, Where the Crawdads Sing is perfectly serviceable and works as a solid enough mystery drama, but it’s hard not to wonder what it could have been. Edgar-Jones is excellent throughout and without her, the movie would have been much worse off.