My my my July. It’s really not been the finest of months for Netflix content, at least not of the cinematic sort. The opening week’s drop—studded with worthy watches no matter the month—notwithstanding, it’s been an exceedingly dull three weeks on demand; we’ve been lucky even to salvage a single recommendation to get excited about from each new batch. This week, alas, is much the same, though buoyed by the convenience of that single recommendation being particularly good. With the year’s fourth Netflix original series, Orange is the New Black, playing to fine reviews, and the announcement this week that the service had secured exclusive UK and Ireland first-run rights to the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, it seems TV really is becoming more and more the focus. Sad news for cinephiles, but let’s wait and see what August may bring…
A Haunting at Silver Falls
It’s hard to imagine, when one of the generically long-haired, pale-faced ghost girl twins of A Haunting at Silver Falls starts shaking her head at thrice-normal speeds, how anyone could not have spotted the comedy in the scene. This is a horror that plays like a parody of the genre, its faithful appropriation of tired tropes without even the faintest hint of irony the only thing that reveals the truth: that it is, simply, really bad. It’s that particular sort of badness that seems to be, that must be, intended, but that’s demonstrably not the case as the straight-faced—and, to be fair, largely competent—cast go about enacting this stale collage of ancient tropes. Director Brett Donowho and his trio of first-time scribes are evidently not horror fans; they mount these old concepts as if they’re fresh new ideas, seemingly oblivious to just how exhaustingly average and entirely devoid of aspiration this narrative is. AVOID IT.
It takes a truly great actor to single-handedly hold the attention of an audience for 83 minutes. With Barrymore, we get two. Adapted from William Luce’s Broadway play, which sees a fictionalised incarnation of John Barrymore drunkenly rehearsing an ill-conceived restaging of his 1920 production of Richard III, Erik Canuel’s film has Christopher Plummer reprise his Tony-winning role. It’s a nicely metatextual conception that finds little success in this screen adaptation, which struggles to lend cinematic heft to the theatrical material; there is no justifiable reason for this to exist in movie form, and no matter how fine a performance Plummer contributes that’s a hurdle Canuel just can’t overcome. A hammy supporting role—only portrayed vocally in the play—for John Plumpis serves to make matters worse and further complicate the uneven tragicomedy on which the story is pitched. This is a beguiling oddity of a film: not awful, just awfully unnecessary. SO-SO.
There’s a certain endearing quality to God’s Country that, in its own peculiar little way, makes a little more palatable the overt religious agenda the title suggests. Perhaps it’s because the story, which contrives a scenario whereby a cold banker must spend six days on the titular retreat before she can earn the owner’s signature for a land deal, boils down to a simple moral that transcends particular faith: be nice. It’s only in the film’s final act that its own brand of Christian nicety comes to the fore and distances the non-believers; before this point it’s a surprisingly affable, if rather bland-humoured, family comedy, which is not—incidentally—to say it’s much good. No, it’s too shoddily constructed and narratively procedural a work for that, too generally unimaginative and unimaginatively general in its structure. Its quality lies only in its surprising restraint, its willingness to not be quite so forceful as its name suggests. AVOID IT.
Lore (Read our full review)
There’s a moment in Lore, Cate Shortland’s visually striking drama set in a Germany crippled in Hitler’s wake, where a one-second shot sees a character pull their sleeve over a barely-visible tattoo. It’s all we need to see, of course: such is the Holocaust’s ugly iconography that so simple a gesture can summon such immediate, immense sympathy. But this is not the protagonist of the film, and the bold brilliance of Shortland’s vision lies in centring Lore on the eponymous elder daughter of fleeing Nazis, who has never thought to question her parents’ beliefs. Starkly shot with quasi-horror intent, this is a powerful, vitally important engagement with the past that finds in its characters the perfect cipher for the nation post-war. This is daring drama on the level of Germany, Year Zero; Shortland, an Australian, has created a masterpiece of German cinema, a desperately sad evocation of the helpless hopelessness of generations left with the most terrible legacy. MUST SEE.
Shut Up and Play the Hits
It’s its curious duality which robs Shut Up and Play the Hits, Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern’s documentary covering the last performance of LCD Soundsystem from the perspective of front man James Murphy, of the intrigue such a portrait should command. All-but inaccessible to anyone but established fans, the film’s refusal to contextualise the band and its history at least allows time for a more intimate engagement with Murphy’s reasons for ending it all, yet the haplessly ordinary interview which comprises half the movie reveals nothing of the sort. Serving only to skim the surface, the audio answers—they gratingly play over unbroken shots of Murphy shaving or making coffee the morning after the show—offer no valuable insight into the act’s dissolution. The concert footage, by contrast, is very fine indeed: nicely shot, energetically cut—even emotional—it is the heart of the film. It might have made a nice live DVD. SO-SO.
There’s something quite commendable in the self-reliance of The Collection, which acts as a sequel to director Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector, yet plays no less successfully to an audience entirely unaware of that earlier film. It’s no doubt an effect indebted to the relative absence of plot; Dunstan, director of several instalments of the Saw franchise, has interest in dissecting his characters in only explicitly literal terms. He has honed his skills well on those films, though, and his gore is executed with as much visual flair and vulgar excess as can be asked for. Following the efforts of a team of mercenaries to rescue a rich man’s daughter from the abandoned factory lair of a demented masked man with a fondness for booby traps and biological experimentation, it’s less a narrative with characters than it is an excuse for bloodshed with a helpful supply of bleeders. It is what it is, and happy to be it. SO-SO.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files
How strange it is that Chris James Thompson’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, a meticulous documentary tracing the capture and conviction of one of the most infamous serial killers in American history, is at its best when raising a laugh. Pat Kennedy, the detective who wrung a confession from the murderer of 17, recounts the interrogation with a vibrant and cheerful gusto that makes a welcome change from the sort of procedural sombreness that defines so many such films. It’s a considerable shame, then, that the rest of Thompson’s work is so comparatively unremarkable, his consistently dull recreation sequences and otherwise ordinary—if still enlightening—interviews doing little to distinguish the documentary from others of its ilk. It’s only in the inherent fascination of the case itself that the film remains captivating; it’s its subject, above all, who’s really done the most to make a viewing experience of The Jeffrey Dahmer Files. WORTH WATCHING.