Tag: Will Poulter

Midsommar

minsommarThere is an uneasy tension in the air with Ari Aster’s latest horror.  In his follow up to last year’s harrowing and unsettling Hereditary, the brooding filmmaker has extended his cold touch into the warm reaches of a Scandinavian summer.

Midsommar follows a group of American students into the rural Swedish hinterland where a closed-off druidic community has lived for hundreds of years. The community provides Anthropology student Christian (Jack Reynor), the opportunity to study their pagan rites and rituals. But when one ritual turns from an innocuous flower-clad-romp into an insidiously horrific death, the group start to doubt the community’s principles.  

Far from a diet of schlocky jump-scares and giggles, Midsommar is a slow burn, a ruminating and sinister film that ratchets tension with a vice-like grip. Aster maintains Hereditary’s grief-stricken psychological brilliance but dispenses with the disappointingly supernatural literalness that plagued its ending.  Instead, Midsommar, while flirting with the uncanny, roots itself in the real … and feels more creepy for it.

Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) plays the film’s mainstay, Dani.  Suffering from a tragic loss in her family she cuts a needy figure desperate for stability and security, something she hopes a trip to Sweden with her boyfriend, Christian, might provide. Pugh’s skill, once again, proves why she is one of the most impressive actors working today, with a nuanced performance that masterfully distills the suffocating effects of anxiety.

It’s an odd but refreshing experience to have horror in the sunshine. Rather than skulking around in the darkness offering opportunities for lazy production design, Aster has quite astutely put Sweden’s perennial summer sunlight to good use. With a prowling camera that keeps the cast at arm’s length, he has employed a bright canvas and ironically daubed darker themes of grief and shame with striking results.

Horror films should never outstay their welcome and if I had one reservation, it would concern the film’s length which becomes one pagan ceremony too many. Yet again, Aster can’t quite nail an ending down and almost overcooks what is otherwise a superbly crafted film.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Detroit

detroitThe link between racism and unlawful police brutality never seems to leave the headlines, and this makes Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, the true story of the murder of three black men in 1967, a relevant topic today.  The fact that Detroit is set fifty years ago only serves to illustrate how little America has moved on with regard to race relations. 

Set to the backdrop of the Detroit race riots, the film begins by explaining that the pointy end of the maligned racist stick is the result of historically deep-seated problems.  Certainly, Detroit and Raoul Peck’s recently released I Am Not Your Negro would make the perfect double bill.

Detroit’s opening sequences paint a striking picture of a city in violent chaos, but its broad scope soon gives way to a more focussed telling of police brutality against a small group of youths. Larry (Algee Smith) is a burgeoning singer on the cusp of a record signing. One night at the Algiers Motel, Larry and his friend Fred (Jacob Latimore) cross paths with some youths goofing around with a starter pistol.  With riot tensions high, the paranoid and trigger-happy authorities move in to “quell” what they believe is a sniper.

Bigelow’s restless camera jitters and shakes its way around the scenes with a kinetic momentum that perpetuates the mood and tension of a powder keg ready to blow.  It’s an exhausting watch. The black community’s fear of a predominantly white police force is palpable, although the film stops short of being a complete diatribe against white authority—its main antagonist, Krauss (Will Poulter), is portrayed as an unhinged policeman drunk on power rather than being representative of white motivations. Ultimately, it is the judicial system that comes under the film’s moral scrutiny.

Unfortunately Bigelow’s literary muse, Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) has delivered a screenplay that falls short of his usual high standards, as moments of Bigelow-esque brilliance are dulled by overdrawn scenes that become repetitive and tiresome.  Nonetheless, Detroit remains an unnerving illustration of a dark period in American history that deserves to be seen.

Read my full review for the NZ Herald here.