Celluloid Screams 2019Film Reviews

Celluloid Screams 2019: Day Three

Making Monsters

( Feature – Dir: Justin Hardin, Rob Brunner )

How far has the line been crossed before it’s too late to say “it’s just a prank?”. Director duo Justin Hardin and Rob Brunner take a swipe at millennial culture that’s willing to eat up mass edited acts of cheap scares. Chris (Tim Loden) and fiance Allison (Alana Elmer) doll out, albeit much to the dismay of the latter, bi-weekly doses of thrills and chills on their prankster YouTube. Along the way, they’ve amassed a large fanbase and monetization to keep them afloat. Between their scares, they’re also trying for a baby which leads to an ultimatum between them in which pranking will be put on indefinite hold.

Invited to stay at a friend’s converted church house in the country, it seems like a break away from the city could be what Chris and Allison need to evaluate their future. Que terror. Initially revelling in a tone not too dissimilar to Pineapple Express oddly enough, Loden and Elmer provide a convincing duo of charisma that only seasoned Youtubers could project amongst their friends and fans. It doesn’t take long before Hardin and Brunner wipe their fake smiles off.

The strongest elements of Making Monsters are when Hardin and Brunner are taking time to look at the culture that consumes viral content and its effects on the perception of people behind camera lenses. When Making Monsters finally lets itself off the chain, there is an eerie sense of “what if?” when the dark web aspects of the narrative show their face. Sadistically playing with the notion of whether this could happen is an aspect I wish this was explored more but unfortunately doesn’t it have a true chance to shine as the tone returns to a typical slasher effort. There are also supernatural elements that are never fleshed out with a logical narrative beat or editorial decision, instead leaving it purely to a thinly fleshed out backstory that serves no purpose in the long run.

As a cyber slasher, Making Monsters excels in its goal to entertain and provide decent gore. There just isn’t enough meat to hold the skeleton of the narrative up.

Rating: ★★★

 

It’s Not Custard

(Short – Dir: Kate McCoid)

Have you ever journeyed down the slimey YouTube hole of pimple popping videos? Yeah well, It’s Not Custard is another spark to that conversation. Louise (Charlotte Luxford) is a young schoolgirl struggling with acne and severe bullying from her peers and sister. Narrating her day-to-day is the voice of Donal Cox, who provides It’s Not Custard with an appropriately witty insight to Louise’s plight. Waking up the next day to find her issues have disappeared, it seems that this is only a surface-level solution.

It would be a disservice to reveal the ensuing antics but the final images of this short will continue to make me dry heave for the next couple of days. Charlotte Luxford doesn’t have much to say in regards to dialogue but her mannerisms do all the talking she would ever need to do. It’s a performance full of introverted behaviour that is captured well for the high school years of embarrassing body mishaps. McCoid’s grasp of tone and comedic beats make It’s Not Custard an intrinsic edition to the short film list presented at Celluloid Screams.

Rating: ★★★★

 

Skickelsen

(Short – Dir: Jonas Gramming)

Manifest destiny? Maybe. Jonas Gramming’s Skickelsen centres around this concept under the guise of an unfolding mystery. The Guy (Lars Väringer) moves into Sara’s (Lova Schildt) apartment block in unknown circumstances, dwindling away in the dust of his crumbling apartment as an egg timer fills the air.

Painting the frames with a noir laden aesthetic, Skickelsen plays out like a jigsaw missing pieces. Is The Guy a hitman or a disturbed individual? What part does destiny play in our perception of choice? The answers might not be all there but Gramming keeps everything on a high wire as Sara’s environment changes into a playground for causality.

Skickelsen is light on purpose but heavy on effect in part to Gramming’s enigmatic direction.

Rating: ★★★

 

The Nightingale

(Feature – Dir: Jennifer Kent)

Ahead of its UK release in November, Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale was next to come. Set in the Australian outback in 1825, Van Diemen’s Land is an abyss of bleak futures. Claire Carroll (Aisling Franciosi) and her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) live a life of rigorous manual labour, under the power of a British Army unit stationed with them. As more than three months have passed, Claire is due a letter of recommendation that allows her husband and young baby to live a life of freedom. Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) has more sinister intentions for Claire, dismissing both her and husband’s pleas for a better future.

Almost unwillingly joining Claire as she seeks revenge is Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), a tracker used by the army to guide them through the perils of the outback. In this dynamic, The Nightingale allows an unexpected sense of dark humour to escape within Ganambarr’s excellent performance. This slight injection of levity isn’t enormous but lights up any slither of “happiness” that might exist beneath the cold earth.

Radek Ladczuk captures Kent’s unsparing vision of an extremely troubling narrative to an extent that it reaches out and breathes fear into you. Condensed into a claustrophobic 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Kent’s gruelling realism grips you with one hand, whilst Franciosi’s commiserating performance grabs the other. It isn’t a gentle guiding gesture however, as The Nightingale drags you into a land of dirt soaked despair. If you have been following the release of this film, it’s subject matter has been a matter of deep controversy in regards to its depiction.

The Nightingale is a supremely important film to seek out. It might not be one to “enjoyed”, but it is an experience that needs to be discussed. Without a shred of gratuity, Kent explores the sharp dagger of colonization down the middle. Given the time period The Nightingale inhabits, the unrelenting vignettes of violence that occur are tough to watch but serve a purpose in Kent’s dissection of power.

Kent’s direction seeks out an ambitious path to examine all parties, most of them deeply repugnant, the deeper Claire digs into her turmoil. Later in the film, Hawkins begins to manipulate a young orphan boy with a twisted dream of a soldier’s future. This power dynamic encapsulates Kent’s message succinctly even in its briefest moments. White men are slaves to the taste of power, abusing it with vile consequences.

Claire is still part of the colonization, that’s just not her choice. That’s the sickening reality that Kent boldly explores, even if Claire’s story is singular to her point of view from start to end. I have an incredible admiration for Kent’s boldness to tackle this material, especially with the complexity it comes with. However, this kind of filmmaking should be discussed and rightfully so.

Rating: ★★★★½

 

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