The decline and fall of Ken Russell would make a film in itself; once the enfant terrible of British cinema, he ended up making films in his nursing home. The Lair of the White Worm is a very strange late entry from the end of his peak; the 80’s saw him venture across the pond of the excellent Altered States and the oddball Crimes of Passion; returning to Blighty saw him head back to the literary path with Frankenstein creation story Gothic and this adaptation of Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm. Both film have enough baroque imagery to qualify as horror films, although the sight of Peter Capaldi pacifying the giant worm with his bagpipes is likely to create sleepless nights with mirth. Capaldi’s Angus Flint is one of a ground of excavators who come across a giant skull on an archaeological dig; could the mysterious Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), who seduces boy scouts in her spare time, know anything about the giant worm it suggests? And does Lord James D’Ampton (Hugh Grant) realise that his family have a history of slaying giant beasts? Russell’s use of chroma-key effects to create weird hallucinogenic montages of Bacchanalian tableau is hit or miss, but the cast all seem game for a ludicrous adventure that’s part Dr Who, part Nigel Kneale, and mainly Ken Russell, having fun with the production design by finding worms, snakes and all kinds of visual motifs for his story. The Lair of the White Worm was less than popular on release, but it’s gained a deserved cult following; the star names involved should draw a crowd to streaming services, and even if they don’t want to remember this film, it’s use of classic British mythology gives it a unique, decadent tone.
A24 will be releasing the latest Peter Strickland opus in the U.S. later this year; for fans of his previous ventures post 2009’s Katalin Varga, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy, it’s an enticing prospect. While Ben Wheatley’s output has been variable (Free Fire and High Rise were let-downs), Strickland’s work has been remarkably consistent, and this bizarre horror/comedy reveals no drop in quality. Wheatley executive produces here, a strange, lyrical, poetic, blood in the kitchen-sink drama about a killer dress. Seen slinking around the floor or hovering above the characters, it’s a slinky red number, initially fancied by downtrodden divorcee Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) to give her confidence for some dates. The department store Sheila buys it from is an odd place, with mannequins, pervy staff and vamping sale-women who speak in strange, loquacious tongues. This initial set-up, however, proves deceptive, as the story switches unexpectedly and focuses more on the minutiae of washing machine repair for the second hour; Strickland has always been an eclectic bird, and while there’s elements of Amicus and Tigon films here, as before, the writer/director brews them up into a stew that’s heady, baffling and hugely entertaining for the open minded. And if that’s not enticement enough, Gwendoline Christie has a brief but memorable role where she burns up the screen as the arrogant lover of Sheila’s son, Julian Barratt does a nice comedic turn as an HR man, and Sidse Babett Knudsen knocks it out of the park as Jill the sales-lady. British audiences haven’t rushed to In Fabric, but it’s likely to be a cult film from the ages; In Fabric is well acted, sumptuously mounted and designed, and defiantly weird and wonderful in a way that will leaving you talking for hours/days/months afterwards. If nothing else, you could always throw a great fancy-dress party in the style of be these characters; just think twice about what you want to wear.
In Fabric is in UK cinemas from June 28th 2019 and can be streamed via the Curzon website.
As odd a film as could be imagined, Border is an intelligent Swedish film that pursues some off-beat analogies in style. Tina (Eva Melander) is a creature of some kind who is employed as a customs agent; she has the ability to sniff out illegal activity and is used by her bosses to investigate the darker end of human behaviour; child pornography. Tina meets Vore (Eeor Milonoff), whose gender is unclear, and who seems to have many of the same physical characteristics that she has. Taken from a story by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Ali Abbasi’s film is tricky, dank and obscure at times; it’s dealing with real world issues through decidedly downbeat fantasy, and the result is uncomfortable to watch. Without revealing the various twists, Border casts the audience into a strange place without many signposts; the characters surprise themselves and the viewer, and there’s no simple punch-line meaning; we’re talking about gender and cultural borders, but also talking about what makes us human. A curiosity, Border is a difficult film that’s worth seeking out for the jaded. Acting and make-up design are of the highest order, and it’s inevitable that either a US remake or a rip-off will follow.
Streaming, DVD and Blue Ray are out on MUBI in the UK from 15 July 2019.
Satire may have closed many a theatre show, but there is evidence that good cinematic offerings can find an audience. Sorry to Bother You is the first film by writer and director Boots Reilly, and follows in the tradition of Get Out’s brainy social critique. Business is under the microscope as Cassius Green (LaKeith Stanfield), an ambitious young man gets a call-centre job, but his skill in impersonating white voices leads him to a promotion that reveals uncomfortable truths about the company itself. Armie Hammer gives a nice turn as our chief villain, Worrycore’s Steve Lift, and the arc of the story is worthy of Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!, as are the grotesque physical embodiments that are discovered in his scabrous, angry take on modern mores. The way Reilly imagines his scenes so vividly, notably when each telephone call crashes Cassius through the ceiling of each house he calls, is refreshing and revitalising, and promises a fresh, original voice in our cinema’s future.
Some films are deliberately challenging, some meanings are proposed to be elusive; Olivier Assayas should offer a cash prize for anyone who can confidently synopsise his supernatural thriller Personal Shopper. Twilight fans with a crush on Kristen Stewart will get more than they bargain for in this strange story set in the world of high fashion. Stewart plays an intern in mourning for her twin, who has recently died. After an ectoplasm manifestation which looks straight out of Ghostbusters, Stewart is menaced an unknown assailant by phone, via a series of cryptic messages. Do ghosts use social media? Or it the man who attack her boss after her? A series of tense scenes further the story without ever explaining what’s happening, and scenes which feature an invisible ghost boggle the brain. Stewart is absolutely brilliant in this role, mixing movie-star looks like a fragile vulnerable character that generates huge involvement. If the climax doesn’t make sense, the coda further muddies the waters; Personal Shopping is a great, original film, just don’t ask what it means.
Andrew Garfield has struggled to make a name for himself outside of his abortive stab at being Spiderman; it’s unlikely that his let-it-all-hang-out performance as a sex-starved stoner in this comedy/thriller from David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) will change that, but he’s actually pretty good here. Garfield plays conspiracy-theory loving slacker Sam, who bums around his LA apartment until Sarah (Riley Keough) moves in next door. She vanishes, leaving Sam to attempt to track her down while also looking into the case of the mysterious Dog Killer who is murdering local pooches. Sam’s investigation is shambolic, and digs up various bits of sordid ephemera including video games, prostitution rings and underground communities. Characters with names like the Owl Woman and the Homeless King suggest some kind of David Lynch netherworld, and that’s what Under The Silver Lake aims for; sprawling, obscure, obnoxious and deliberately alienating. But if you’re prepared to try something a little off-menu, there’s a lot to enjoy here, notably the creation of dark LA lore of interest to any fans of the city’s Gothic side. Like Southland Tales, it’s likely to gain a cult following, and Mitchell’s film deserves a second chance.This UK DVD release has a Q and A with Garfield, but also two featurettes, Beautiful Specter and What Lies Beneath The Silver Lake which give a tantalising glimpse of the impacted layers the film-makers have created here. On DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK from Aug 26th 2019.
The debut feature from Brazilian writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Neighbouring Sounds is a clever domestic drama that takes place largely in an apartment block in an affluent suburb. Within the walls, a spate of minor crimes lead to a new security system coming into place, with guards becoming parts of the residents’ lives. Bia (Maeve Jinkings) is a young mother who is tormented by the sound of her neighbour’s dog, but does the barking signify imminent danger? Neighbouring Sounds has plenty of ominous foreshadowing, but the pay-off is surprising and effective; by selecting and dissecting a microcosm of Brazilian society, the film nails a few universal truths that resonate internationally.
Writer/director Carlos Reygadas is something of a visionary in the manner of Alejandro Jodorowsky, and the surrealist spirit of El Topo and The Holy Mountain is present in his 2005 head-scratcher Battle In Heaven. The film opens with a graphic sex scene involving (Marcos Hernández), a chauffeur who is being aroused by the daughter of his employer. Marcos and his wife have been involved in a botched kidnapping that led to a child’s death, and his guilt leads him to take part in a bizarre religious pilgrimage. It’s hard to summarise or explain the events in Reygadas’s film, but as with his later Post Tenabres Lux, the result is both beautiful and troubling to behold; with a direct interest in both sexual detail and metaphysical issues, Battle in Heaven is well off the beaten track for entertainment seekers, but a challenging mental workout for sensation seekers.
Working with Jean-Claude Carriere, the go-to provocateur for everyone from Luis Bunuel to Jonathan Glazer, Nagisa Oshima crafted this truly bizarre one-off drama. Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) is vexed when his wife Margaret (Charlotte Rampling) appears to have taken a new lover, but his nose is further out of joint when he discovers her new paramour is a chimp called Max. To make matters worse, this isn’t sex but love, Peter’s world crumbles as he realises that he’s been bested by an animal. Max Mon Amour sounds like a comedy, but it’s a deadly serious examination of modern morals and sexual jealousy, played with a straight-face and the serious intention which might be expected from the director of In the Realm of the Senses. Without any real graphic content, Max Mon Amour deconstructs the male psyche with broad, brutal strokes, and looks at a darker side of animalistic machismo than most directors would be prepared to explore.
So while King Lear is not a particularly good or recommendable piece of cinema, although some claim it is, in terms of cinematic ephemera, it’s a must. Any film featuring Woody Allen, Molly Ringwald, Burgess Meredith, Julie Delpy, Norman Mailer and Jean-Luc Godard has to have a curiosity value, and even it that’s all it offers, King Lear has a certain fascination in the same way that the 1967 version of Casino Royale has. Most of the screen time is absorbed by Peter Sellars as William Shaksper Junior the Fifth, who is attempting to create a performance of King Lear in the wake of Chernobyl. This mafia-tinged version is never seen, although Meredith as Don Learo and Ringwald as Cordelia are seen rehearsing, while director Goddard plays someone called Professor Pluggy and is presumably doing this as an expensive joke on his producers good nature. A mess, a shambles, and yet not bereft of ideas, King Lear is one of the oddest films on You Tube today.