With Netflix, Amazon, MUBI and more all taking to London’s Leicester Square to showcase a diverse range of films, we head to the London Film Festival to review the latest films – and TV shows – either looking for distribution or heading to a streaming service near you.
Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman bring their hit London stage play to the big screen – and the result is a theatrical triumph, combining creepy surprises and quiet emotion to chilling, entertaining effect. The anthology of three stories takes us from a dark spin on a haunted house (starring an excellent Paul Whitehouse) to a bedroom pregnant with portent (hello to Martin Freeman, enjoying playing against type) and a monstrous encounter in the woods (featuring future household name Alex Lawther). Spliced together with a framing device about Phillip Goodman (the deliciously bitter Andy Nyman), an academic debunker of the paranormal, the pacing is perfectly judged, cumulatively building up suspense until a conclusion that’s packed with pathos and wit. Presented with old-school practical effects that make everything more believable, the imaginative production rips the scenery out from under your feet time and time again, creating something that’s enjoyably nostalgic but thrillingly innovative – and never once feels staged. A terrific treat in every sense of the word.
Let the Right One In meets The Orphanage in this brilliant little Brazilian horror, which follows Clara, a care worker who is hired to look after Ana, the child of a well-off mother living near Sao Paulo. Things take a turn for the creepy soon after, and Clara finds herself having to deal with the consequences. The result is creative and cute, while simultaneously unleashing flashes of gory horror – a tale of growing pains and parental struggles that never loses realism or emotional weight, even as it sinks its teeth into weirder genre elements with relish. Well performed and stylishly written and directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, this is a beautifully disturbing fantasy that is destined to become a cult hit. Expect Shudder or another streaming service to snap it up immediately.
The Florida Project
Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine is a real peach of a film. A portrait of life on the fringes of America’s buzzing tourist hotspot of Disney World, The Florida Project spends its days trying to make ends meet in a rundown motel – a candy-coloured building that houses rotten dreams from all walks of life. Our window onto that world is Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince), who lives in a room with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite). One is six years old. The other still hasn’t become an adult. Their juvenile existence is fraught with risks and danger, from men coming into Halley’s room for money to Mooney running across roads unsupervised – and Baker’s movie succeeds in precariously perching between the childlike joy of free ice creams and spitting on cars and the sober knowledge that things here cannot have a happy ending. Bria and Brooklynn are remarkable, both bursting with day-glo charm and a blunt honesty, while a never-better Willem Dafoe provides perfect support as Bobby, the tough-but-tender manager of the motel, a gateway to more serious matters, such as the law and child safety. The film is at its best when just freewheeling along with its young cast, racing into empty homes and stuffing their faces with pancakes, after sneaking into a nearby hotel for breakfast. The result warms your heart for two hours, before breaking it entirely, offering a colourful companion piece to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey; Mooney may lack the freedom of the road, but there’s comfort in the knowledge that when life’s troubles get too real, the Magic Kingdom is only a short run away.
The Big Bad Fox and Other Stories
If you liked Ernest & Celestine, prepare to have your sides split again, as this endlessly funny treat arrives from the same French animators. Our heroes this time are a bunch of animals who live around a tiny farm – and they’re a wonderfully dysfunctional bunch, who don’t quite their place in the food chain. There’s a pig who decides to play postman, a duck who wants to be Santa, chicks who want to be foxes, a fox who wants to be a wolf, and a wolf who couldn’t care less about any of them. A trio of short tales dart between the group, linked by a typically cute vignette set within a theatre – a setting that makes no more sense than the absurd adventures themselves. A Christmas-themed story is the weakest of the bunch, with the titular middle outing emerging as the wittiest and most moving, but you’ll be too busy giggling to worry about ups and downs – wise-cracking and funny, even when you’re reading subtitles, this animated gem is an utter delight. Released in the UK by Studiocanal, this is destined to be a family favourite when it arrives on Amazon Prime Video – be ready to add it to your kids’ watchlist.