I mean how amazing could a horror movie about a haunted windmill be? The Windmill Massacre is not bad as far as cheap thrill slashers go and actually gets together an effort to tell a decent story here and there amidst the carnage. Several tourists, runaways and drifters take a guided windmill tour in Holland throughout the countryside one weekend, and when their bus breaks down near a spooky old windmill that doesn’t seem to be on any of their maps, weird shit starts happening. It turns out this particular structure is owned and operated by a miller who once sold his soul to the devil for snazzy witchcraft powers and has been doing naughty things in the several centuries since including using the bones of corpses to grind through his mill and recently, hunting and brutally butchering these poor stranded folks with his scythe thingie. But are they all really just innocent victims? There’s a cool spin on the story where every tourist potentially has a dark past and this miller isn’t just some unhinged clog wearing maniac but serves as a sort of reaper who collects these souls based on their sins. Even our good hearted Australian protagonist (Charlotte Beaumont) has a dark, unfortunate and violent secret in her past that the miller preys upon. The gore is decently vicious, the miller is a threatening enough presence with a neat Leatherface facial aesthetic and all the actors range from good to decent. An entertaining enough time killer now streaming on Shudder, worth it alone just for those two hysterical tag-lines on the two posters. “This isn’t hell, this is Holland!” Ffs lol.
The New Daughter is an odd one, a creepy Kevin Costner vehicle that almost seems like an M. Night Shyamalan idea that didn’t quite take flight from the drawing board. Nevertheless it’s a good enough time at the movies, and there’s genuinely skin crawling moments too. Costner, in solemn mode, plays a father who relocates to South Carolina with his kids. As if an obligatory adjustment period isn’t bad enough, soon his teenage daughter (Pan’s Labyrinth’s Ivana Baquero, skillful but an odd choice to play all American white boy Kevin’s daughter) starts acting strange, and I mean Stranger than your usual garden variety brand of pubescent restlessness. There’s something out there in those rural woods, something that’s drawing the girl’s attention and slowly start possessing her. Father Costner is creeped out and desperate, seeking help from anyone he can, including a professor of far flung urban legend mythology (Noah Taylor), the creepy previous owner of his new home (screen legend James Gammon in his last living film role) and his kid’s foxy local schoolteacher (Samantha Mathis). It’s a spooky enough little flick, albeit cobbled together from several other better movies. There’s creature effects later on that score some points, and atmospheric cinematography, but ultimately it’s average, middle ground material.
It’s tough to say much about Predestination without giving away the tantalizing, thinking man’s dream of a story, but I will say that I’m sorry it flew under my radar until now, because it’s one of the most thought provoking, intelligent and wicked sharp films to come along in decades. There’s a special place in my collection for each and every movie in the time travel sub-genre, I love those thematics to death and imagine my surprise when I finally caught up to this one two years after it’s release and discovered it’s my favourite in the genre by a mile. Innovative. Beautifully made. A guessing game for the ages. Plot revelations that glue your jaw to the floor. Two staggering central performances from Ethan Hawke and mesmerizing newcomer Sarah Snook. Hawke plays a temporal agent working for a mysterious handler (Noah Taylor doing an even slier rift on his Vanilla Sky character), his job being to jaunt through time and stop murders before they happen. If that sounds generic, familiar or a path well trodden, therein lies the irony because it is anything but. Any preconceived notions of a flashy, slick thriller will be decidedly dismantled once you chow down on this beauty of a story, unwrapping each twist and turn of the narrative like a present. Hawke is an actor I never used to take seriously, I always just thought of him as the kid cop from Training Day. He’s surprised me in recent years though, deliberately picking fascinating scripts and knocking it well out of the park with his performances. Sarah Snook is an Aussie up and comer who does an absolute encore here in a heartbreaking, multifaceted performance that should have gotten her awards recognition. This is the first film on record to tackle some previously taboo subjects regarding the concept of time travel, ideas that everyone has no doubt thought about but Hollywood has been too chicken to explore thus far, so props to these storytellers. Also, if you thought time travel flicks were elliptical and paradoxical until this point, you ain’t seen nothin’ til you’ve seen this one. It’s also just a brilliant, emotional, daring story told in a soaring cinematic fashion that stirs thoughts and pulses throughout.
Mindscape, given the less tantalizing title ‘Anna’ upon release, is a thinking person’s thriller, and perhaps a little bit too much so. In the near future, or perhaps some alternate reality, some humans have evolved into pseudo clairvoyants who can enter the memories of other people and interact with their subjects within them. This talent has been trademarked by law enforcement, who employ ‘memory detectives’ to psychologically resolve conflict or retrieve otherwise out of reach information. Mark Strong is one such man, but his talents have dimmed a bit following the deaths of his family and a crippling stroke. Hauled out of retirement by his former boss (Brian Cox, sly as ever), he finds himself tasked with navigating the labyrinthine mind of Anna (Taissa Farmiga) a girl accused of murder and deemed a potential sociopath pending diagnosis. The film is deliberately dense and elliptical, not standard Hollywood fare at all, which is nice to see, but it also trips just a little bit on its own cognitive aspirations, especially in the third act. It’s one of those pieces that’s less like The Cell, and more like Vanilla Sky or Danny Boyle’s Trance (two absolute favourites of mine) where so much of the story wades through muddy mindgames that at a certain point we think to ourselves ‘well who’s to say if any of this is actually real if it’s gotten so complex’, and indeed it’s very difficult to piece together what has transpired here, especially with a conclusion that would require multiple viewings to even get an inkling. It’s stylish as all hell though, given a clinical, steely grey palette punctuated by flourishes of startling red to show the capacity for violence lurking just out of sight within the opaque and enigmatic human psyche. The acting is top tier as well; Strong is reliably committed and intense, Farmiga is deeply disconcerting as the most fascinating and ambiguous character, showing blossoming talent that I look forward to seeing more of, while Cox steals his scenes as per usual. The film trips over itself a few times and like I said, overly convoluted, but it’s one mesmerizing effort for the most part, albeit after a second or third viewing.
How many shady, degenerate 70’s era Boston lowlifes does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter, they’re too busy shooting at each other, the lightbulbs and everything that moves in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, the best film of the year so far. After an arms deal gone royally wrong, we get to spend a joyous, breezy hour and a half watching these halfwit scumbags blast each other to kingdom come in a not so abandoned warehouse, unfolding in real time and at a pace that has our pulses racing faster than the magazine clips can defecate shell casings. Wheatley’s output hasn’t been my cup of tea so far, but he’s won me over with this lighthearted, ballistic mini-masterpiece. It’s what I call a ‘low concept high concept’ flick, which I’m sure someone has said before, but suck it. A bunch of childish idiots in a roomful of heavy artillery, the bullets are bound to soon be flying as fast as the dry insults. The deal is simple: meet, sell a bunch of rifles to help the IRA cause, and be on their way. That’s not to be the case though, for as soon as one of them recognizes another party’s member from a violent scuffle prior, tensions mount until that first shot rings out. From there on in it’s a ‘childish game of paintball’ (to quote a friend) that escalates into a deafening fire fight filled with acidic humour and John Denver music, a hilariously counterintuitive soundtrack choice. Armie Hammer is priceless as Ord, cool as a cucumber and constantly lighting up joints mid-gunplay. Sharlto Cooley chews scenery as Vern, the preening peacock of the group, Brie Larson kicks ass and takes names, Cillian Murphy underplays the IRA consort while Michael Smiley, the butt of the geriatric jokes, gets in everyone’s face even before things go south. Patrick Bergin, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti and Jack Reynor also get their licks, but the performance of the film goes to Sam Riley, a criminally overlooked talent who’s been laying somewhat low recently. His character Stevo is indirectly the reason for all this mayhem, and he’s a walking disaster, the sleaziest little reprobate you can imagine. Riley plays him balls out and doesn’t hold back, I really wish we saw more of him in films these days. All of these bozos positively ventilate each other with bullets, no one not sustaining at least two or three gunshot wounds somewhere on their body, and once the Reservoir Dogs esque conclusion rolls around, we know that few will be left standing. Clocking in at a rapid fire ninety minutes, this is surefire entertainment for not only action fans, but anyone who loves movies, it’s a perfect example of the reason I go to the theatre. Cheerfully violent, casually profane and hysterically unapologetic. Just the way I like em’.
John Hillcoat’s Lawless is the very definition of badass. Bathed in blood and moonshine, gilded by Nick Cave’s rustic, textured musical score and brought alive by vivid and varied performances from an eclectic, grizzled cast, it’s one of the most enjoyable gangster pictures to come along in recent years. It follows the rough and tumble Bondurant brothers, fabled bootleggers who defy prohibition and run their product all over the aptly named ‘wettest county in the world’, until the greedy and very corrupt arm of the law snakes its way into the territory. The eldest and toughest is Forrest, a grumbly, shambling Tom Hardy who’s something of a gentle giant, until the straight razor comes out and he’s not. Jason Clarke is Howard the booze hound, who has sour mash coursing through his veins and a temper to prove it, and Shia Leboeuf, somewhat miscast, does his best as the youngest of the three. The three of them run an idyllic little manufacturing and distribution ring spiralling out of their county into the nearby area, until trouble comes looking for them, in the form of a monster played by Guy Pearce. Now when I say monster, I mean it.. when the villain in your film is scarier than Gary ‘Scary’ Oldman’s roguish supporting work, you know you have one hell of an antagonist. Pearce, sporting a sour look and parted hair that Moses could lead his people through, is Charlie Rakes, some kind of government dispatched deputy whose sole purpose is to make out heroic trio’s lives exceedingly difficult. Cheerfully sadistic and ruthlessly corrupt, Rakes is a bona fide moustache twirling psychopath and Pearce milks the role for all it’s worth, as per usual in his case. Oldman does appear briefly but memorably as lively gangster Floyd Banner, a shark of a businessman with a fondness for tommy gun tantrums resulting in vehicular mayhem. The film walks a line between two distinct tones, which can be seen in the characteristics of the pair of older brothers: Hardy is laid back, laconic and ambles along at his own pace, which any film set in the south just has to have a bit of, whilst Clarke is volatile, fired up and hot blooded, also needed in crime fare. So you have a relaxed, violent, wistful piece with a mean streak that sneaks up on you more than a few times. Any Ozark tale wouldn’t be complete without a romantic flair, as Hardy is swept off his feet by mysterious, plucky Jessica Chastain and Lebeouf has an eye for a beautiful Amish girl played by Mia Wasikowska. The film looks visually magnificent, shot in broad, sturdy rural strokes by Benoit Delhomme, and strict, impressive attention to detail is paid throughout. While maybe not as gritty or mythic as it wants to be, or at least as far as Hillcoat’s previous work has been (The Proposition remains the stomach churning gold standard), it’s a full blown, R rated crime picture, something more than welcome in an age when the genre has had its blood somewhat watered down. Highly recommended.