London Film Festival reviews: Let the Corpses Tan, Good Time, Thelma, Downsizing, The Endless, The Lovers, The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Ivan Radford | On 15, Oct 2017
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.
Let the Corpses Tan
One of the films at the London Film Festival likely to have caught the eye of horror streaming service Shudder is Let the Corpses Tan. The film follows a group of men with a horde of stolen gold, as they rush through the desert expanse of Spain (or somewhere similar) to find a hideout from the cops. They collide with a remote group away from normal society, and the ensuing shootout is something horrible, marvellous and unique to behold. Directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani infuse the sweltering intensity of a Western with an Italian crime flick fetish and their own pulpy, Giallo-tinged visuals, resulting in a montage of dazzling tropes, cliches and homages. Bullets, women painted in gold, people’s insides on the outside – they all stack up with violent, garish, gleeful abandon. Wrapping up in 90 minutes of crash zooms and swiveling pans, it’s a bewildering, beautiful, bonkers piece of cinema that stays just short enough to avoid fatigue, while running for long enough to make it clear that plot and characters aren’t the point here. Lurching from sickening saturation to eye-popping negatives, who needs substance when you’ve got such style?
In search of UK distribution.
Netflix has already snapped up the streaming rights to this thriller, and it’s easy to see why: you simply don’t know where it’s headed. Continuing Robert Pattinson’s fascinating choice of projects post-Twilight, Good Time sees him play a New York criminal who is struggling to look after – and mostly taking advantage of – his brother, Nick, who has learning disabilities. From bullying and cajouling to encouraging and corrupting, it’s a relationship that’s as unhealthy as it is heartfelt, leading him to do everything from rob a bank to break into a hospital, and much more besides. Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie direct the onslaught of sleazy law-breaking with a relentless energy and drive, helped by a pulsating score that ensures the titular Good Time is never had – because every time you think this endless night might be over, something else comes along. The result is a gripping, wonderfully ridiculous string of set-ups that nails the simple pleasure of never knowing what’s going to happen next.
Released in November 2017 by Curzon Artificial Eye – and streaming on Netflix at a later date.
A supernatural thriller might sound like a strange move for Joachim Trier (Louder than Bombs and Oslo, August 31st), but the Norwegian director is perfectly at home in what emerges as a subtle character study about a young woman coming of age. Eili Harboe delivers a wonderfully tender performance as the eponymous enigma, raised by her ultra-religious family to believe in repentance – so when she goes to university, she films her life tumble into a spiral of excitement as guilt, as she forms a bond wit classmate, Anja. But with that awakening comes the stirring of a strange power that seems to give her control over the people and the world around her. Is she imagining it? Is she going crazy? Is she having divine visions? Or is it something more sinister? The result is stunningly shot and sensitively handled, piecing together a portrait of a young person struggling to breathe after years of suffocation at home. Disturbing, beautiful and entirely absorbing.
Released in November by Thunderbird Releasing.
From the bitter Sideways to the tragic Nebraska, Alexander Payne is a sharp, astute observer of the human condition. To say that Downsizing – a whimsical, ambitious comedy with a high sci-fi concept – is a departure is an understatement. Set in a future where scientists have managed to shrink people down to 0.634% of their size, saving on global consumption and making things more affordable, he does a remarkable job of bringing to life this dainty world, complete with mini-luxury villas and tiny animals. It’s wonderfully shot, all high angles and aerial shots, like watching an entire movie made with tilt shift. But for all its micro-touches, the movie is absurdly big – where Payne has often subtly captured the state of American society in his work, this globe-trotting project tries to tackle grander ideas, such as climate change and immigration. Those ideas are in there, and they’re intriguingly discussed, but the result lacks focus, feeling like three or four different stories sandwiched together. An introduction following Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), is entirely irrelevant, leaving you wondering whether we should be following another protagonist entirely – not least because Christoph Waltz as a lascivious mini-neighbour and Hong Chau, as an illegal immigrant, have far more interesting perspectives on the universe. Downsizing could do with exactly that.
Released in January 2018 by Paramount.
If you saw romantic horror Spring when it was on Netflix, you’ll know that Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are a filmmaking duo worth watching. That’s still the case with The Endless, a similarly high-concept sci-fi that once again grounds the otherworldly in the real. Here, that’s the relationship between two brothers – one controlling (Justin), one aimless (Aaron) – as they return to a cult that they were once a part of. At least, it seems like a cult, from the community’s reclusive forest location to the disconcerting smiles of its perma-happy residents. Things escalate slowly, building to some spectacular visual effects and mind-bending twists. And if the central relationship doesn’t always engage as much as Spring, and the story’s themes of conformity and independence don’t feel quite so profound, there’s much to admire in a genre flick that dares to be this ambitious.
Released in March 2018 by Arrow Films.
If you get frustrated by the lack of quality roles for older actresses, The Lovers is for you. A deftly observed romantic drama about a failed marriage, it gives Debra Winger a superb role to sink her teeth into, as she’s torn between the routine of her husband, Michael (an excellent Tracy Letts) and her lover (Aidan Gillen). With Michael also being unfaithful with his own secret partner (Melora Walters), the result is a gorgeously prickly study of long-term commitment and short-term desire – and the strange ways in which one can affect the other. There’s perhaps nothing new to be learned here, and Azazel Jacobs’ script follows the conventions you expect, but there are laughs and wry pathos aplenty, particularly in one dazzling piano sequence – and in a sea of lookalike romantic comedies, or softly played flicks targeted at the grey pound, it’s a treat to see a film focus on older characters with real meat on their bones.
Released in 2017 by Park Circus Limited.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
How do you follow The Lobster? By becoming even more twisted. Yorgos Lanthimos’ reunion with Colin Farrell is a fantastically dark beast, at once a scathing moral satire of wealthy society and a painfully fraught survival horror. Farrell delivers another career-best performance as heart surgeon Steven, who has a picture-perfect life with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their kids, Kim and Bob. But after feeling bad for the young son of a former patient, his unlikely friendship with the stranger turns into something unexpectedly sinister – Barry Keoghan’s performance as the eerily calm boy is one of the most unsettling things you’ll see this year. The pay-off is horrendously cruel and entertaining; you just wish the build-up in the first half didn’t take so long.
Released in November by Curzon Artificial Eye.