The End

The End, aka Fin

The End, aka Fin

The 2012 Spanish film The End has a remarkably similar story to The Wall, the Austrian film made in the same year. They are, however, very different propositions: whereas that was sparse and cerebral, this is an entertaining sci fi thriller. The Wall was slow moving and, quite frankly, rather boring; this has a comparatively packed plot which includes rampaging deer, a dog attack and more. It came from Antena 3 films, who were previously behind productions such as The Body (one of the best films of 2012), Intruders (2011), Julia’s Eyes (2010) and The Last Days (2013), so they have some prior history in the field.

A group of friends have a reunion in the very same cabin they were last all gathered together some twenty years beforehand. Most of them have very respectable and comfortable lives, despite the inevitable rocky marriages and concerns about careers. Apart from Ángel, aka The Prophet, who suffered from schizophrenia, a condition which degenerated further due to the actions of his former friends. But something weird happens: there’s strange lightning in the distance, the electricity cuts off and cars stop working. They decide that rather than waiting to see what happens they should walk to the nearest town. But everywhere seems strangely isolated… and then they start disappearing.

This is an interesting film which foregoes gore and shock effects in favour of a slow building atmosphere and sense of unease. As with The Wall, it uses the disappearances as a means of examining the isolation and existential crises of the characters, all of whom are merely putting off their fate and don’t appear any the happier for it. There are no answers provided and quite what the role of The Prophet is is never answered. Added to this are the crisp cinematography, beautiful landscapes and decent performances, all of which makes it yet another undeservedly obscure Spanish gem.

The end of the world, Spanish style...

The end of the world, Spanish style…

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Arrivederci amore, ciao

Arrivederci amore, ciao

Arrivederci amore, ciao

Director: Michele Soavi
Writers: Massimo Carlotto (novel “Arrivederci amore, ciao”), Marco Colli (screenplay), Lorenzo Favella, Franco Ferrini, Heidrun Schleef, Michele Soavi, Luigi Ventriglia
Stars: Alessio Boni, Michele Placido, Isabella Ferrari

Michele Soavi is a director best known for the brief series of horror films he made between 1987 and 1994, namely Stagefright (87), The Church (89), The Sect (91) and Cemetery Man (94). After a few lean years he then reinvented himself as an extremely capable maker of television poliziotteschi such as Una bianca and Il testimone (both 2001). Sticking in the same territory he then made the theatrical Arrivederci amore, ciao (2006), which is sometimes known as The Goodbye Kiss, a hard boiled noir which mixes politics and gunplay in a similar way to other popular releases of the time, most notably Romanzo criminale (2005), which was directed by Michele Placido, who co-stars here.

Giorgio Pellegrini (Alessio Boni) is the son of a writer and left wing activist who drifts into terrorism in the 1970s. After planting a bomb which accidentally kills a security guard he has is forced to go into hiding, fighting revolutionary causes in Central America. Fifteen years later he has lost his faith in the idea of the revolution and frankly just wants to go home. However, he’s a wanted man, and he only manages to avoid a lengthy spell in prison by striking a deal with a dodgy cop called Anedda (Placido) and shopping most of his old comrades.

After a two year spell in jail he finds it hard to adjust to living a normal life but manages to secure a job working in a strip club / brothel for an old cell-mate called Vesuviano (Riccardo Zinna). Vesuviano has a sideline in cocaine smuggling, and Giorgio hatches a plan to double cross him and make off with a briefcase full of cash, for which he turns to Anedda to help him. More schemes follow, most particularly the violent robbery of a security van, and eventually Giorgio has enough cash to go straight, open a restaurant and start a relationship with a rather naive girl, Roberto (Alina Nedelea). But the events of the past can never be erased.

Alessio Boni in Arrivederci amore, ciao

Alessio Boni in Arrivederci amore, ciao

This is a fast paced and slick production which is perhaps most notable for having one of the least sympathetic protagonists to be found in modern cinema. Giorgio is, to put it bluntly, a psychopath, a man who doesn’t hesitate to kill his friends (or anyone he’s close to) if it is advantageous to him in some way. As played by the handsome, impenetrable Alessio Boni (The Best of Youth, Don’t Tell) he veers from cowardice to petty minded vindictiveness at the drop of a hat, and is one of the most memorable monsters of modern cinema.

The film itself isn’t so memorable, mainly because it loses focus as the running time progresses. It starts of as a tale of disillusioned revolutionaries turned criminals (Giorgio’s collaborators include both Spanish Marxists and Serbian fascists) before turning into a heist movie and then a psycho thriller. Whereas most films go on way too long, this one feels as though it’s only telling half the story because several plot lines drift away without any real sense of conclusion. But the central ironic joke – that the more despicably Giorgio behaves the closer he closer he gets to his achieving his stated ambition of becoming a ‘respectable citizen’ – is well worked and suitably cynical.

Soavi directs it all with great skill, investing it with an appropriate eighties sensibility (although it’s never explicitly stated when the story is set) and coaxing excellent performances from most of the cast, in particular the excellently sleazy Placido. He went on to direct a war drama called Blood of the Losers in 2008 before returning to television.

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Lord of Tears

Lord of Tears

Lord of Tears

Ooh, I like this. A no-budget film that was distributed via the internet, Lord of Tears does suffer from its lack of resources but if you can forgive the occasional lapses in pacing and sometimes variable acting (which if you’re being positive could be described as having a naturalistic feel which isn’t that far from what you get in Mike Leigh or Ben Wheatley films) it’s really a quite astonishing achievement.

James (Euan Douglas) inherits an old manor house called Baldurrock in the middle of the Scottish Highlands from his estranged mother. He hasn’t been back since spending his childhood there, during which his mother was suffering from a serious illness and he was plagued by nightmares about a sinister ‘owl man’ who nobody else could see. Despite his lingering fears he returns to try and discover what had happened back then, because he feels that there was something going on which he couldn’t quite understand at the time. Upon arrival he is met by the housekeeper Evie (Lexy Hulme) and the two of them strike up a firm friendship. But the owl man is also back, there is a locked basement that nobody can get into and it becomes increasingly clear that the secret of Baldurrock might not be one that should be discovered.

This has been compared to old fashioned Hammer Horror movies, but that’s not quite right: it’s not as theatrical as Hammer films and less reliant on identifiable monsters. In fact it’s a lot more like those old MR James adaptations that used to be on TV in the seventies, with a touch of Kill List and The Wicker Man thrown in for good luck. The narrative is sparse and sometimes predictable but it maintains its sense of mystery and takes some care with its characters. But what’s best about Lord of Tears is it’s sense of atmosphere: with its regular inserts of insects and glimpses of the owl man (which despite being a dude in a suit with an owl head and some immobile talons is a really eye catching creation) it sucks you in and never lets you go. And the best that can be said about it is that it’s one of those rare films that sticks with you for some time after its conclusion. Very impressive.

The Owlman in Lord of Tears

The Owlman in Lord of Tears

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Stalled

Stalled

Stalled

What if the apocalypse came and, well, you were stuck in the lav? That’s the silly, amusing premise of Stalled, the 2013 follow-up to the cult comedy horror Freak Out. Freak Out made up for its minimal budget with its left field humour and sensible film-making and Stalled carries on in much the same fashion. The best way to save money is to use limited sets and so this uses just about the most limited set possible: a toilet cubicle.

Dan Palmer (who also wrote) plays a lowly janitor who is called to repair the ladies toiled during a tacky office Christmas party. When a couple of girls come in and start indulging in a spot of drunken snogging he takes refuge in one of the three cubicles, which proves to be a pretty sensible place to be when one of them suddenly bites a chunk out of the other and it turns out that just about everyone else in the office has become a flesh eating zombie. After a few hours of understandable panic, less understandable drug taking and striking up a conversation with a fellow survivor in one of the other cubicles, he begins to devise a way by which they can escape.

This might be yet another in the endless stream of zombie films that seem to be coming out of the UK at the moment but it is at least – like Harold’s Going Stiff – one which is distinguished by a degree of intelligence and wit. Often laugh out loud funny (the fate of ‘Jeff from IT’ is particularly amusing) it’s one of the few films that can authentically claim to give Simon Pegg and Nick Frost a run for their money, although the key influence here is most likely Sam Raimi and his The Evil Dead films. But the writing also displays a degree of skill in the way it develops characters and the simple narrative, while Palmer makes for a strangely sympathetic downtrodden hero.

The end of the world comes with a flush...

The end of the world comes with a flush…

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Sawney – Flesh of Man

Sawney Flesh of Man

Sawney Flesh of Man

There’s undoubtedly a good film to be made out of the legend of the Sawney Bean, the semi-mythical head of a clan of murderous cannibals who lived in a cave and allegedly feasted on the bodies of over 1,000 victims in the 15th or 16th century. Unfortunately, Sawney, Flesh of Man isn’t it. A low budget British production from 2012, it does its best to update the story to a modern day setting, but this unfortunately has the effect of making it seem all the more like a rip-off of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (or Alexandre Aja’s remake), which was itself loosely based on the Sawney Bean story.

Sawney here is played by David Hayman, a familiar face from TV, the latest head of the ancestral clan and just about the only one of them who isn’t a gibbering maniac. They have relocated to a system of old caves deep in the Scottish Highlands and, rather than snatching passers by, they pluck their victims from the streets of Glasgow before taking them home to torment and eventually butcher. But a reporter (Samuel Feeney) and cop (Gavin Mitchell) are looking into the numerous disappearances in the area and don’t take long to figure that a serial killer (or killers) is responsible.

This has some good aspects to it: the Scottish scenery is amazing; the scenes in which the Bean ‘children’ (who have an animalistic athleticism) stalk their victims are well realised; and in David Hayman they have a protagonist who both commands the attention and seems to be relishing every minute. Unfortunately the story that has been constructed around the titular character is mundane and rather silly, and the acting from some of the younger performers is really quite terrible. It’s extremely violent and gruesome and it looks good enough, but that can’t make up for the tangible lack of tension and the rudimentary writing.

David Hayman in Sawney Flesh of Man

David Hayman in Sawney Flesh of Man

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The WildEye’s top ten films of 2014

As it’s customary at this time of year to knock out a ‘best of’ list, here are my top 10 films of 2014. Ok, that statement needs some qualifying. Firstly, here at The WildEye we’re not all that fussed about being the first to see a film; whether it’s six days old, six weeks old, six years old, heck, we don’t care. So these are films that aren’t necessarily made this year, but which I’ve seen for the first time – and given the ever growing pile of films I have to watch a lot of them have been around for some time now. Secondly, by ‘best’ I don’t mean that they’re the most technically accomplished or the most intelligent. Some of them have serious flaws but, for some reason, they just stick in the mind; that, for me, is the mark of a good film.

So, without further hesitation, here they are…

10. Compliance
Compliance is a truly scary film about just how stupid people can be. It’s not a great film, in fact it’s rather dull in places and there’s little in the way of directorial vision. But the story – about how a prank caller pretending to be a cop encourages various people who work in a fast food store to systematically humiliate an unfortunate female employee – is all the more gripping for being true.

9. Lord of Tears
This is the first of three British horror films (or four if you think Byzantium is a horror film, which I don’t) to appear on the list. What can I say: I like horror films and I especially like British horror films. This was a no-budget 2013 production directed by debutant Lawrie Brewster and largely distributed over the internet. Considering it was made for almost nothing it’s an amazingly poetic and atmospheric achievement. The story: a man returns to the childhood home where he witnessed something bad happens and is haunted by the figure of a mysterious owlman. This is horror of the MR James school and makes up for its limited means by being darned creepy.

8. The Lookout
Dismissed by many critics as being decidedly inferior to Romanzo criminale, Michele Placido’s 2012 film Le guetteur is utterly bonkers but a lot of fun. Beginning as a standard policier with cop Daniel Auteuil hunting down bank-robbing sharpshooter Mathieu Kassovitz, it then completely changes tack and turns into a weird thriller about a serial killer. Granted, it’s not on the same level as Romanzo criminale, but Romanzo criminale was exceptionally good, this is just good. As a result it just about edges out The Great Beauty (which is a better film, but everybody goes on about it!)

7. Outpost 11
Another low budget British horror movie, this is a weird mashup of David Cronenberg style body horror, steampunk and surrealism. In an alternative 1950s three soldiers are stationed in an Arctic military base, charged with monitoring enemy transmissions and looking after a weird contraption known as the ‘Omega Machine’. Then they start having strange visions… Thoroughly imaginative and very well made considering that the budget wouldn’t have paid for Tom cruise’s packed lunch, this is exactly the kind of film that the British Film Institute should be funding.

6. The Liability
A 2012 British crime film that garnered unusually good reviews on its release, and it definitely deserves them. Jack O’Connell is a rubbish youth who is assigned by his dodgy stepfather (Peter Mullen) the task of accompanying an ageing assassin (Tim Roth) as he carries out one final murder. Gripping, occasionally funny and very well acted, this is up there with the likes of Sexy Beast and Gangster No. 1.

The Body, aka El cuerpo

The Body, aka El cuerpo

5. The Body
Just about edging out Jaime Balaguero’s Sleep Tight is this excellent Spanish thriller from 2012. A body goes missing from the morgue, and the investigating detective suspects that the dead woman might have been murdered by her philandering husband… but it’s all a lot more complicated than that. Twisty, turny and very, very dark, this proves that Spain is continuing to produce excellent films that don’t get the recognition they deserve.

4. Citadel
Another British horror film from a debutant director, 2012s Citadel marked something of a calling card for Ciaran Foy. With a bigger budget than Lord of Tears or Outpost 11 it’s slicker and features better acting (from the likes of Aneurin Barnard and James Cosmo), but it’s also an intelligent entry in the hoodie horror strand of horror which has been bubbling away for the last few years (see also Community, Tower Block) which touches on bigger themes like grief, depression and claustrophobia. Barnard plays a widower getting over the murder of his wife by a bunch of feral teenagers who all live in an imposing tower block… but are they quite what they seem or is there something demonic about them? And what do they want with his baby daughter?

3. Byzantium
I didn’t think I was going to enjoy this film quite as much as I did, but Neil Jordan has a habit of coming out with smashing films when you least expect it. Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan play a pair of vampires who hide out in a seaside town in order to escape the attention of other vampires who want to destroy them (for assorted reasons). Despite the vampires this isn’t a horror move, no more so than Company of Wolves was despite ostensibly being about werewolves. It’s poetic, moving, technically top notch and well acted, with good supporting turns from Daniel Mays and Sam Riley. And it’s filmed in Hastings, which just suits the story perfectly.

2. Kings of Summer
This one has had a lot of plaudits elsewhere but still seems to have remained under the radar for most cinemagoers. It’s a shame as it’s the best coming of age film since Son of Rambow. Over the summer holidays two teenagers get so fed up with their parents they decide to build a house in the middle of the woods and live there. Naturally, it doesn’t work out quite as they planned. This is funny, lyrical and poignant, just what you want from a coming of age movie. (Mud was another good movie in the same vein I saw this year, but Kings of Summer was better)

1. The Hunt
Number one… this is undoubtedly the best film I saw last year, with only Kings of Summer really running it close. Made in 2012, it stars Mads Mikkelsen as a mild mannered teacher who is accused of paedophilia and as a result is prosecuted and ousted from the local community. It shares many of the good aspects of Thomas Vinterberg’s best known film, Festen, but having abandoned the constraints of dogma its more cinematic and less stagey. It’s not a happy-go-lucky film, but it’s one that you really shouldn’t miss.

The Hunt

The Hunt

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Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight

Jaume Balagueró has been one of the most consistent directors of horror films in recent years and has done much to reanimate the genre in Spain with films likeThe Nameless and Fragile. In recent years he has been tied up with the [Rec] franchise, effectively scary films that – apart from the first in the series – seemed to lack the spooky atmosphere and undercurrents of evil that was so notable in his earlier work.

Sleep Tight (2011) is one of his best works; a really nasty little film about a very creepy man, Cesar (Luis Tosar), the porter at an exclusive apartment block in Barcelona. Cesar is a manic depressive who can only find meaning in life by making other people just as glum as he is; so he sets about bringing misery to the assorted tenants he serves in any way he can. His prime target is the relentlessly upbeat Clara (Marta Etura), and he sets about tormenting her in an escalating campaign which includes: poison pen letters, injecting cosmetics with irritants, infesting her appartment with cockroaches, drugging her nightly, sleeping in her bed and… well, you get the picture.

The really troubling thing about this is that the film is almost entirely shot from the perspective of the monstrous Cesar so, for instance, you start wanting him to avoid capture despite the fact that he’s so awful. It’s relentlessly tense and very, very manipulative; but you can’t fault the cleverness with which it’s made, the technical credentials or the quite superb performance of the beetle-browed Tosar. Unpleasantly excellent.

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