Carnage (2017)

As mockumentaries go, Carnage may well be the first one to genuinely lampoon the culture of veganism while also making a very powerful, liberal prescient point.

Simon Amstell is a British stand-up comedian, probably best known as former host of popular BBC music panel show Never Mind the Buzzcocks. His first film as writer and director, Amstell doesn’t appear but provides near-constant narration as the omnipresent guide through a ‘future history’ where the vegan has inherited the Earth. Set in 2067, in a United Kingdom where the very idea of eating meat is an abhorrent abomination to an almost-utopian, youthful society, Amstell’s fake documentary tells the story of how we went from a savage, carnivorous culture to an enlightened, animal-loving species. If you’re laughing at the absurdity of this, that’s ok. That’s the intention.

And yet, Carnage is noticeably pro-vegan while being enormously capable of mocking the pretension of a following which, historically, has found itself tethered to the hippy, new age trail. Amstell, who wrote as well as directed this, is as keen to highlight the madness of being a meat-eater as well as enjoyably sending up the intense vegan legions who, in this future, are considered the norm. You may be surprised to hear Amstell, in doing so, utilises almost as much stock footage from a range of sources pre-2017 as he does future scenarios beyond the present day. It helps make his point.

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Headshot (2016)

Headshot is a direct consequence of two distinct elements: the growing, exciting Indonesian film industry and the existence of The Raid and its even better sequel.

Exploding onto Western screens in 2011, The Raid: Redemption was both a career launching picture for star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans, but felt like an adrenaline-fuelled shot in the arm to a genre which, if not stale, perhaps needed the window opening. Evans and Uwais essentially trademarked the use on screen of Pencak Silat, a traditional Indonesian martial art which, according to Wikipedia, is “a full-body fighting form incorporating strikes, grappling and throwing in addition to weaponry.” In short, every part of the body is both susceptible to and used for, attack. This made The Raid a wanton fury of intense close-quarter combat sequences, packed into a tight, contained, building under siege story.

In continuing the narrative, after The Raid’s surprise hailing as a modern action classic by Western audiences excited for more, Evans with The Raid 2 switched gears to deliver what to many is considered ‘The Godfather of action movies’. Perhaps praise too high, but as with any great sequel it takes the composite blocks and builds on them, with shades of Michael Mann crime world complexity until Uwais is let completely off the chain for a barnstorming final succession of action sequences as his character Rama, quite literally, fights big boss after big boss in a video-game stylee. It’s as bravura as it is ridiculous, but both The Raid movies made their mark on modern action cinema and cemented Indonesia as a player to rival Hong Kong when it comes to slick, thrilling action pictures.

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Don’t Breathe (2016)

A response to austerity, poverty and class, Don’t Breathe bludgeons the senses with a taut, brooding eighty five minutes of home invasion horror.

Not horror in the traditional sense of schlock and gore. Fede Alvarez, hot off the commercially successful Evil Dead remake, wanted to very specifically avoid blood, guts and copious claret spilling with Don’t Breathe and deal in suspense. The horror of suspense is a very different animal than the kind of horror Sam Raimi popularised in his original Evil Dead (taking nothing away from that seminal franchise). Indeed the biggest compliment you can give Don’t Breathe is that were Alfred Hitchcock alive today, he may at least have approved of Alvarez’s picture, even if it’s a cliched stretch to suggest he would have directed something similar himself.

Home invasion horror has become a sub-genre all of its own in recent years, much like found footage or ‘torture porn’ (is that still a thing?). As an entity its been around for decades, from George Romero’s legendary Night of the Living Dead (1968), or Straw Dogs (1971) which has resonated through cinema even to the point it dug its roots, remarkably, into the James Bond franchise.

The sub-genre has enjoyed a real renaissance in recent years, with films such as Michael Haneke’s profoundly disturbing Funny Games (1997) or his American remake ten years later, The Strangers (2008), The Purge (2013) which may have blossomed into a franchise all of its own but very much started as a claustrophobic home invasion thriller, or Knock Knock (2015), Eli Roth’s absurdist cautionary tale with a Shatner-esque hammy turn from Keanu Reeves. Lately, home invasion is everywhere.

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The Childhood of a Leader (2015)

The Childhood of a Leader is a fascinating piece of cinema, especially given it’s not only a debut piece of work, but the debut piece of work from an actor best known for playing Alan Tracy in the execrable Jonathan Frakes’ Thunderbirds movie.

Brady Corbet’s film is about the birth of fascism. Not in a political sense of being a historical depiction of the rise of Adolf Hitler, but rather the human genesis of a fascist mind. It plays out in the form of a strange psychodrama, one with almost verite touches in its final moments, strange not just thanks to it’s unusual post-World War One setting but in how it pivots around the key developmental moments of a young boy.

Trying to describe the very premise of The Childhood of a Leader would be extraordinarily difficult, something Corbet was acutely aware of when he started writing the script; he at first pulled back on it, convinced thematically it was “too big” for a debut feature, but his wife Mona Fastvold encouraged him to continue and together they developed the screenplay.

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Lights Out (2016)

Birthed from a short film that went viral, Lights Out has enjoyed a fascinating journey from YouTube curio to the launchpad of an unknown talent. The brainchild of Swedish writer/director David F. Sandberg, Lights Out is a deconstruction of mental illness wrapped around the trappings of, ostensibly, a B-movie spooky horror feature.

You wouldn’t have credited this as the direction following the original piece Sandberg directed for the Who’s There? short film competition (which he didn’t win). Made in 2013, with Sandberg’s muse and indeed wife Lotta Losten in the frame, Lights Out was a three-minute exercise in near silent, pared back terror. A simple premise; a woman on her way to bed, turning out the light in the hall, only to see the creeping visage of someone illuminated in shadow. Repeatedly turning the light on and off, she sees the same shadow looking at her until, finally, the mottled, decayed body of a straggly, naked woman is standing inches from her when the light goes off.

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Hard to describe, visceral to watch. There’s something primal about the fear that, intentionally or not, evokes the Weeping Angels from British TV series Doctor Who, creatures which of course moved closer to someone the more you blinked, the more you stopped fixing them into the stone creatures, Medusa-style, they were. It’s that terror of missing something, the terror of being invaded almost. The Lights Out short achieved that so brilliantly in such a short space of time, building to a climax where Losten hides under the bed covers as, in the darkness, she hears the invader creep into her bedroom before… well, that would be telling. It’s worth enjoying for the terrifying last shot alone.

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Welcome to the Black Hole

If you’re reading this, I know what you’re thinking – “not *another* blog, Tony!”

Expect to see my breakdowns of movies, TV shows, possibly some comics and film scores too. Plus any other feature articles or ramblings that may possess me.

Let’s do this thing.