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The Reckoning

Director – Neil Marshall – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 111m

***

A woman accused of witchcraft finds herself pitted in a battle of wills against her witchfinder torturer at the time of the Great Plague – on digital from Friday, April 16th and Shudder UK from Thursday, 13th May

On the one hand, this explores the historical time period of the Great Plague and links that directly with women being burned at the stake for witchcraft by way of a widespread, social scapegoating process. On the other, it depicts a horribly misogynistic society where, for the most part women are regarded as inferior and treated really badly. Two sides of the same coin.

The film itself is mixed. Parts feel hackneyed, parts will have you on the edge of your seat. The cliché-ridden opening, for instance, cross-cuts chocolate box-y photography of a cottage-dwelling couple’s idyllic, married existence in the constantly sunlit countryside with the wife digging a grave in torrential rain after finding her husband has hanged himself from a tree at night.

It transpires that farmer Joseph Haverstock (Joe Anderson) stopped off for a pint at the local tavern and accidentally drank the beer of a plague victim, contracting the disease.… Read the rest

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The Vast Of Night

Director – Andrew Patterson – 2019 – US – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

A radio DJ and a young switchboard operator discover strange noises in the ether which may possibly be of great significance to the small US town where they live in the fifties – on Amazon Prime since Friday, May 29th 2020

Bookended with a curious and somewhat redundant framing device which sets up an episode of black & white, fifties TV show Paradox Theater called The Vast Of Night, to which the otherwise colour film periodically and pointless returns from time to time, this is an enigmatic little tale set in the small rural US town of Cayuga where the local high school is set to host a basketball team for a match.

Older teenager Everett (Jake Horowitz) is trying to sort out technical problems before the game gets under way: Sam reminds him that last time this happened, it was a squirrel that had chewed through a wire and the wire was still in its mouth. This story seems to crop up every few minutes as yet another character relates their own abridged telling of it. And 16 year old Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) wants him to show her how the tape recorder she’s just bought works.… Read the rest

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Detention (Fanxiao)

Director – John Hsu – 2019 – Taiwan – 12A – 103m

****

Two Taiwanese students find themselves trapped in their school overnight under that country’s White Terror regime in 1962 – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

This is a real oddity: an adaptation of a video game set in a specific historic period of political turmoil. That period is Taiwan’s White Terror (1949-87) under which, among other things, numerous books were banned by the ruling Kuomintang party on the grounds of promoting left-wing or Communist ideas. Merely reading some of these books could provide grounds for execution.

Like the video game, the film is set in the Greenwood High School. It’s 1962 and boy and girl students Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chong-ting (Tseng Jing-Hua) find themselves trapped overnight in the school building after flood waters destroy the access road to the school. What follows isn’t particularly linear in terms of its narrative as school corridors, walkways, rooms and halls are visited by various supernatural beings and become scenes of terror, torture and execution.

The elliptical and sometimes repetitive nature of the storytelling and its component images mean that the film isn’t always that easy to follow, at least not to Western audiences familiar with mainstream Hollywood narrative.… Read the rest

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Nocturnal

Director – Natalie Biancheri – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 84m

***

A man becomes obsessed with a schoolgirl and starts spending more and more time with her at night – in cinemas and on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September18th

A Yorkshire seaside town. Teenage schoolgirl Laurie (Lauren Coe) is training to be a sprinter and spends much of her time training at the school track. She’s spotted by odd job painter and decorator Pete (Cosmo Jarvis) whose regular girlfriend has just moved out of his apartment. Pete starts to take an interest in Laurie, eventually driving her out to a club then talking with her for hours in his flat.

From Laurie’s life at home with her mother Jean (Sadie Frost), it’s clear that they’ve only recently moved into the area. The girl has a healthy distrust of the older man who starts stalking her. She points out that he might be a serial killer, which he turns into a running joke. His interest seems pretty creepy though, so you do wonder if there’s any truth behind this banter. She’s a teenager playing at being an adult. When he takes her to a bar and they drink shots of whiskey, she is being sick soon after.… Read the rest

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Run

Tramps like us

Run
Directed by Scott Graham
Certificate 15, 77 minutes
Released 13 March

First published in Reform magazine, March 2020. Now on BFI Player and iTunes.

Finnie (Mark Stanley) hates his job in a fish factory in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire. He and his wife Katie (Amy Manson) have Springsteen’s legend ‘Born to Run’ tattooed on his chest and her ankle, but as he says to her: ‘We never did run very far, did we?’ This is a story about regret and longing, about not getting out, family and relationships.

Finnie’s older son Kid (Anders Hayward) has just got his girlfriend Kelly (Marli Siu) pregnant, isn’t talking to and has been dumped by her. Kid throws a wobbly at work, in the same plant as Finnie, and loses his job. When Katie gives Finnie the come on, he just wants to shower because he stinks of fish. Out of nowhere, he borrows Kid’s car keys and takes his son’s car out for a spot of illegal night time street racing, something he used to do when younger… Read the rest

First published in Reform magazine, March 2020. Now on BFI Player and iTunes.

Trailer: