December 2021 Roundup
A24 // Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson // Starring Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson
It’s well established now that A24 genuinely dance to their own beat. In the past decade, the studio has been responsible for some of the more demanding, most experimental and, well, best horror movies. But A24 delivers more than just ‘horror’, there’s usually a memorable experience accompanying their movies and their latest offering Lamb is certainly no different. Set in the rural wilderness of remote Iceland, Lamb is the story of a farming couple beset by the tragedy of child loss who upon discovering a bizarre hybrid newborn in their stables decide to raise it as their own child. Of course, as this is an A24 movie, there are darker forces at play and the couple aren’t the only ones who want the ‘child’ for their own. Like the titular entity, Valdimar Jóhannsson's movie is itself a strange hybrid. It’s alluring, meandering, intriguing, boring, beautiful and disjointed all at once. The majority of the runtime consists of silent depictions of quaint domesticity, we see Rapace’s María and Hilmir Snær Guðnason’s Ingvar go about their daily routines and Lamb is never in a rush to move things along or to deliver ‘scares’. This isn’t a scary film; you won’t find jump scares or things that go bump in the dark. Instead, you’ll find a portrait of grief, friction, conflict, and trauma delivered against an anomalous atmosphere that creates the uneasy ambience that permeates the entire movie (sidenote: I felt a hint of Ingmar Bergman’s spirit whilst watching). Jóhannsson is also more than happy to allow his story to coast on its ambiguity. Ada, the half-lamb-half human creature, receives no exposition and the ease in which the couple accept and raise it is disconcertingly glossed over. What exactly the director is attempting to say here isn’t immediately clear though the biblical allegories are obvious for all to see and comprehend. The frustratingly blunt and abrupt ending is less simple to grasp, however. As our focal (human) points, Rapace and Guðnason are excellent throughout which proves crucial to preventing Lamb from falling apart. Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, too, as Ingvar’s brother Pétur is strong and acts as the audience's conduit with his initially bewildered approach – there's a genuinely humorous unease when Pétur first meets Ada at the dinner table - though his infatuation with María seemed like handy and unnecessary story padding. It’s this narrative stretching that sees Lamb stumble towards its conclusion - at times, I found myself thinking this would have made a superb short film. Lamb is a movie that will linger with you for a while after viewing, it’s easy to dismiss it as nonsense but it carries real intrigue and beauty (as well as breathtaking natural visuals). The ambiguity will undoubtedly deter many, but, despite its stumbles, Lamb is one of the year's more interesting releases. The sheer benevolence in the shadow of such absurdity is unnervingly engaging even if the movie itself isn’t spectacular.
Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City
Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by Johannes Roberts // Starring Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Nathan Dales
Whilst the games have legions of fans, in cinematic terms, Resident Evil isn't exactly a cherished, celebrated franchise. The six Milla Jovovich-led are, for the most part, horrific aside from some decent sequences here and there and the original 2002 movie not being all that bad. Now, the time has come to reinvent Resident Evil for the big screen and Johannes Roberts finds himself tasked with the unenviable job in the form of Welcome to Raccoon City. A self-confessed fan of the games, Roberts aimed to please the hardcore followers whilst delivering an atmospheric and, yes, frightening, survival horror flick. I’m not sure he did either and he certainly didn’t deliver the latter. Welcome to Raccoon City is bloody awful. Whilst Roberts aim for something smaller and more claustrophobic (maybe due to budget constraints) is welcome in comparison to the action movies the previous batch became, this movie fails to deliver any moments of terror or atmosphere, and, really, it’s pretty boring for the majority of its runtime. The cast are all game and Scodelario once again turns up to play but they’re let down by a flimsy script and messily cobbled-together story. Say what you want about expectations going into a Resident Evil movie but it’s not hard to ask for less risible communication. On top of all that, the movie just looks…cheap. Whilst the budget was low, the locations still look like sets and the CGI is sadly lacking meaning any major sequences with villains lose all momentum or punch. Welcome to Raccoon City had great potential but ended up being a disappointing slog and a movie that struggles to hit the low bar set by the previous Resident Evil movies.
Sony Pictures Releasing // Directed by Jon Watt // Starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jacob Batalan, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina, Benedict Wong, Marisa Tomei
Was this the most anticipated movie of the year? I think for the majority of film fans, yes, yes it was. Spider-Man: No Way Home hit cinemas after what seemed to be the longest time of speculation, rampant rumours and buzz which only made the potential for disappointment greater. Thankfully, Jon Watts, in his third Spidey outing as director, manages to hold back the tide and deliver a fun, exhilarating, and surprisingly emotional outing for everyone’s favourite webslinger. With his identity being outed in Far From Home, Peter Parker (Holland) must now battle with the knowledge that everyone close to him is a target and turns to Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) for help to ensure the world forgets he is Spider-Man. Frustratingly for him, Parker inadvertently disrupts the subsequent spell and tears open the mysterious multiverse, letting in foes from years (and movies) gone by. Chaos ensues. The big fear I had with No Way Home prior to viewing was, “could Watts juggle all of the elements and deliver something satisfying” and the answer is a resounding yes. The initial forty-minutes were fine, previous plot threads were tied up and new issues raised but everything felt like it was building to something…bigger, something more momentous. Well, those moments do come and when they do, boy do they hit. The final sixty-minutes of No Way Home are amongst the most fun and exciting I have had in a cinema in a long time and to say anymore would roam into spoiler territories, but, suffice to say, the action packed finale was wonderfully realised. As mentioned, the movie is also surprisingly emotional for varying reasons, not least our finale which may be the strongest the MCU has delivered up until now. Tom Holland is finally allowed to flex his acting chops and provides his best outing as Spidey to date and it will never not be a pleasure to see Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina reprise their roles as Norman Osborne and Doc Ock - something they do with relish alongside Jamie Foxx as Electro. Where Spider-Man goes from here is unknown, however, I’m fairly sure the next collection of movies will have a hard time topping this rollercoaster. Whilst not perfect and carrying a fairly thin narrative, after overcoming a decent opening act, No Way Home surges to life and gives fans of the MCU, Spider-Man and blockbusters one hell of a ride.
NEON // Directed by Julia Ducournau // Starring Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh
Julia Ducournau’s Raw was a (fairly…) grounded and, well, raw horror drama that proved to be rather good - a coming-of-age horror drama that left viewers intrigued for the next offering by the French director which has arrived in the form of Palme d’Or winner Titane. It's the story of a woman, Alexia (Rouselle), who, as a young child, suffered severe head injuries in a car crash resulting in the need for a titanium implant in her skull. As she grows older, she realises she has an attraction to automobiles and may also be a serial killer (or at least she harbors certain tendencies). Not just that, she also takes on the appearance of a missing person, Adrien, in order to bond with said missing person’s lonely father, Vincent (Lindon), as she seeks refuge. The easiest way to describe Titane is that it is an experience and assault on the senses. Ducournau attempts to up the shock value this time around, and, in doing so, loses sight of any real narrative or character value. There are a handful of scenes in Titane that made me wince and/or turn away whilst watching such was their severity or lust for distress but it seems that’s all they were intended for - bone-breaking, piercing snagging and...automotive pregnancies included to test the viewer with every sequence. Newcomer Roussell is powerful in the lead role, she genuinely is fearless as the androgynous, gender fluid Alexia, however, she is presented with such cold abandon that it is nigh-on impossible to care for her or the plight she finds/puts herself in. The missing person/identity searching element seems oddly shoehorned in in order to float the idea that there is something more to the story than disturbing imagery, instead making the audience believe that grief is the underlying theme alongside body autonomy. Visually too the movie isn’t appealing; it’s grimy, it’s sleazy and the splashes of neon do little to add to the depressing tone and atmosphere. Being the celebrated recipient of the Palme d’Or, there must be something about Titane that stood out above simply the fortitude test, but amongst the grimy visuals, unappealing characters, nasty imagery and overstuffed and overwrought plot, I’m struggling to find what it could be. This wasn’t intended for everyone and it certainly won’t be for everyone.