Tag Archives: Mia Wasikowska

Crimson Peak

crimson-peak-tom-hiddleston-3-1500x844

“It is a monstrous love. And it makes monsters of us all.”

Crimson Peak is not a horror. It’s a gothic romance. Creepy, tense, but full of emotion”. So promised Guillermo Del Toro before his latest film was released. Still, I’ve seen the trailers and they suitably creeped the shit out of me and I was more than ready to call bullshit and say that Crimson Peak is in fact a horror flick. After a conversation with my local Cineworld where, for reasons I simply can’t explain, they refused to do a showing of one of the few horror films I was looking forward to with the lights on, I jeered myself up and headed to sit in pitch black with a film from a guy who’s horrors – or whatever he wants to call them – scare the living crap out of me.

Mia Wasikowska is Edith Cushing; a woman who, as a child, discovers she has the ability to see ghosts when her mother’s death leaves her haunted by terrifying spirits. Now a grown woman, she dreams of being a writer and is stifled by the sexism of the late 19th century and is left a little deflated by the situation she’s found herself in. Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe, a very cool and suave looking Tom Hiddleston, an English baronet and an inventor who’s desperately chasing finances to build a machine to mine the invaluable red clay that his estate is built on. Falling for Sharpe’s charm and sophistication, the pair are quickly married and heading across the Atlantic from New York to Cumberland where they will live together in the gentleman’s run down estate with his sister, Lady Lucille Sharpe; an ever so slightly creepy turn by Jessica Chastain.

Having been ghost free for a decade and a half, Edith’s arrival at the Sharpe’s Allerdale Hall estate brings with it ghosts both new and old that haunt the new bride’s nights warning her of the evils that lie within the house she now calls home. As Edith digs into the pasts of the house and the brother and sister that live there, she begins to uncover a generations old secret that threatens to swallow her up and leave the creepy siblings successful in their diabolical plans that will make their run down estate shine once again.

Guillermo Del Toro’s films have always amazed me, but I’ve always been of the opinion that we, as an audience, get two different Del Toro’s. The first is the man we all got to know years ago, the man who writes, directs and produces creepy Spanish language films whose imagery is as disturbing as the stories he tells. His direction is simple and elegant and horrifyingly beautiful. Then we get the man who found commercial success with his English language movies like Blade 2 and Hellboy; films that are, in their way, just as good as his Spanish language movies but are missing something. They are amazing, and again his direction and imagery are superb but they feel like they are missing the soul that Del Toro puts into his ghost films. This is where Crimson Peak really shines. We are treated to the kind of world that, until now, has been reserved for the man’s sublime back catalogue. Films like The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and the Del Toro produced The Orphanage are where I believe we get to see the best in the director’s work and finally we get an English language film that takes us back to his roots.

As is always the case with Guillermo Del Toro’s films, the acting is amazing, but the direction is what shines brightest from the screen. The Sharpe’s Allerdale Hall is the true star of the film; the haunted house looks like a gothic cathedral standing tall in the rolling hills of North England. Inside, every turn takes you in to a perfectly crafted corridor that is as eerie and it is gorgeous; every creaky staircase and every flickering lantern is moulded perfectly into a house who’s walls literally bleed red from the wet clay surrounding it and as the snow falls and the house is surrounded with white, the mansion looks even more beautiful and even more eerie.

I genuinely can’t recommend Crimson Peak enough. I’ve loved Guillermo Del Toro’s films since I first saw Mimic almost two decades ago and to see him going back to what made me fall in love with his flicks is definitely something special. It’s got some horrific moments and some terrifying imagery, but I can’t argue with the director when he promises a creepy gothic romance, that’s exactly what we got. It’s emotional and powerful and everything a fan of Del Toro’s ghost stories could want.

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Callum Petch’s Top 10 of 2014: #5 – #1

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Welcome back to the countdown of my Top 10 Films of 2014.  If you missed Part 1, where we counted down entries #10 to #6, then you can go here to get caught up.  Otherwise, we are going to get straight back down to business.  So, without any further ado, GO GIRLS GO!

There may be spoilers.  Proceed with caution.


under the skin05] Under The Skin

Dir: Jonathan Glazer

Star: Scarlett Johannson

Under The Skin is not on the list because I enjoyed it.  The rest of the films on this list are here because I enjoyed them; the commonly accepted barometer by which people typically measure the quality of a film.  Under The Skin is not here for that, for I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  I experienced Under The Skin, I endured Under The Skin, but I did not enjoy Under The Skin.  Instead, Under The Skin is here, and is this high on the list, for two specific reasons.

The first – and honestly the more minor of the two, which is crazy to believe – is Scarlett Johannson’s performance as the lead character, which is the single best performance by anybody in any film released in 2014.  Her performance of the main character is sensational, having to simultaneously keep them an enigma and yet clearly be able to give the audience some semblance of a clue as what is going on in their mind-set, and she is more than up to the task.  Shedding all of her effortless movie star charisma, she positions herself in this very alien register, taking detached to new heights and playing each new revelation about her character – the discovery of a conscience, strange new emotions, exploring the form that it has taken, the reaction to its humanity – as major game-changers without bursting into a flood of emotion.  She is on a whole other level compared to everyone else this year, and I spent so much of the film’s runtime in awe of her.

You know, when I wasn’t being made incredibly uncomfortable.  That’s the second reason why Under The Skin is on this list, it got to me.  It really got to me.  If I were a hack writer and wanted to undermine the seriousness of that last statement, I’d make pun involving the film’s title right now.  But, although I am, I don’t want to.  Under The Skin really got to me.  See, I am very sexually repressed, possibly bordering on asexual.  I always have been.  Nudity makes me uncomfortable, the concept of sex grosses me out, and having to witness sex or nudity causes me to want to reach for the exit as fast as possible.  One of the main aspects of Under The Skin is all about sex, sexuality, and the body, but the film never shoots any of these aspects in an erotic way.  It instead presents them coldly, clinically, alien, and explores how we are affected by each of those things.

Many of the film’s most disturbing sequences for me come from the depiction of nudity.  The full-frontal shots of the men that return to the protagonists’ dark void of a room, the scene where the biker examines the protagonist, the sequence where they look at themselves naked in the mirror and inspect their body… all scenes that made me thoroughly uncomfortable because they contextualise themselves in the way that I often see the naked flesh, as something alien and strange.  It’s not just that we are presented with these images, it’s the way that we are presented with these images as something unusual and slightly imposing.  It taps very much into my psyche and pushes many of my buttons, confronting me with my fears in a presentation that visualises how I possibly see them deep down.

Not to mention how the film very much plays out its narrative as the visualisation of gender performance and gender awakening.  The protagonist slowly identifying as female, putting on the airs required to be seen as acceptable in modern society, and being viciously punished the second it fails to keep up that act.  If the film weren’t so deliberately abstract, Under The Skin could very much be read as a blisteringly angry clarion call against the way that our patriarchal society treats and views women.  That hateful attitude – not to its protagonist, instead from how our world is presented through alien eyes, how our sh*tty attitudes towards women and our complicated relationships with nudity and sex can look to an outsider – seeps through the entire film and serves to further prey on my underlying fears and deep-seated issues.

No film this year has stuck with me and affected me in the same way that Under The Skin has.  It’s not exactly a film I am clamouring to see again – I had to pause the thing three times whilst watching it because I just needed to stop and calm down – but it more than earns its place on this list.


04] The Raid 2the raid 2

Dir: Gareth Evans

Star: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad

It’s all about pacing.  The Raid didn’t understand proper pacing; that was a film that started at 11 and tried to stay at 11 for all 90 of its minutes.  That gets tiring and it means that your finale doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard as it should do, and in fact bores a bit.  The Raid 2 gets pacing.  It gets pacing very much so.  It starts at about 2 or 3 and then slowly builds to its 11 finale, so the 150 minutes that the film runs for pretty much fly by and its excellent finale works gangbusters and never ever bores or drags.

The Raid 2 also has a plot, something that The Raid sort of hinted at having but ultimately cut most of because it got in the way of the fighting.  It’s not a particularly original story – undercover cop infiltrates a criminal organisation to bring it down from the inside, son of criminal organisation wants to prove himself to his father but his impatience leads to temptation, and then everything goes to hell – but it is fascinatingly told with strong characters and excellent performances.  There’s a real stylish cleanness to proceedings, where every single frame is immaculately constructed and every shot tells you a story of some kind – a care and love that’s frequently missing from other action films nowadays in their desire to “immerse” the viewer by simulating being stuck on a rollercoaster mid-barrel-roll-crash.

Then there are the action scenes.  Oh, man, the action scenes!  Again, the film benefits from understanding pacing.  They’re doled out when they fit the narrative, there are no extended fight sequences just for the sake of 15 or so minutes having passed without a few dozen dudes being murdered, and they escalate.  The film’s opening fight involves a good 20 or so guys against 1 but lasts barely 90 seconds, the introduction of important lieutenants get fight scenes to establish their gimmick and dangerousness but they never drag, the final string of action sequences have ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, and enough breaks between them to keep the plot going and not make the last 30 minutes feel like an endurance test.  Plus, each sequence has enough variety and innovation to keep them from blending into one another.

And that final fight!  Oh, man, that final fight!  It is paced perfectly, the choreography is outstanding, the camerawork is beautiful, the story it tells is captivating and doesn’t require a single line of dialogue, and there is just this electric feeling to it that stands it above all other action scenes I’ve seen this year and maybe even this decade.  It is a perfect six-and-a-half minute encapsulation of everything The Raid 2 does right and every single time I see it I am left short of breath with my palpable adrenaline running through me and a burning desire to fist-pump the air repeatedly.

Prior to seeing The Raid 2, I was excited but also very cautious and sceptical.  After all, I was excited for The Raid and I have never been able to truly love that film.  But The Raid 2 blew me away totally, surpassing my every expectation, fixing every problem with the first film, and being my favourite film of 2014 for the longest time.  Gareth Evans is planning a third entry for some point in the future and I will be satisfied however it turns out.  If it happens, I cannot wait to see how he tries to top what is almost the perfect action film.  If it doesn’t, then I will still be satisfied thanks to this film kicking so much arse and that ending shot and line being almost the most perfect in all of 2014.  This is what sequel-making should be like.


the double03] The Double

Dir: Richard Ayoade

Star: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn

When I saw The Double in the cinema, the thing that stuck out the most to me was the sound design.  Everything about the way that The Double sounded just appealed to me.  The way that the film balanced its score – its bloody, bloody, bloody brilliant score by Andrew Hewitt – with the various diegetic sounds of the film’s world that it handles in such a way as to draw direct focus to them in an almost drone-like repetitiveness.  It does an outstanding job of getting the viewer inside the head of Simon James, conceptualising what it is like to be a spineless creep drifting through life making no impression, and I have done an appalling job at explaining and describing it.  Watching the film is the easiest way to understand why it works for me, so props to the entire sound team for their work here.

In fact, watching The Double is one of the best ways to understand why it works so well.  There have been many, many times this year where I think back on the film and question whether it is truly a comedy – the register it operates on being that black and the tone being that deadpan – only to re-watch it or certain clips from it and find myself laughing raucously along for pretty much every single one of its 93 minutes.  The world that the film exists in is such a bleak and miserable place that there are sections of the police force set-up solely for the purpose of dealing with jumpers in a certain area, yet the officers’ matter-of-factness about their job and the open contempt they have for those they have to deal with somehow manages to make their existence darkly laughable.  James is such a pathetic wet doormat when it comes to the world that it loops around from being sad to outright hilarious.  And the world’s singularly gloomy and laser-focussed hatred of Simon skips straight past irritating and is instead a constant source of laughs.

The world of The Double, whilst we’re on the subject, is one of the most singularly focussed, believable and immersive worlds that I have seen a film construct in a long time.  Even though it’s clearly not our world and many holes, specifically as to how this dystopia is like outside of the focus we get on Simon, are left unexplained, it still feels immersive.  I sit down and I just get transported to this world and at no point do I question it or get dragged out of it.  The sets do such a great job at filling in the details, the low-key lighting and claustrophobic camerawork paint the oppressive nature superbly, and little details like the glimpses of the in-universe TV series The Replicator, a look at their coins, and the usages of South Korean and Japanese artists on the soundtrack give an indication of life in this world outside of Simon James.

But The Double is about Simon James, and his physical doppelgänger, James Simon.  Simon is such a spineless timid useless tool that he is incapable of spitting pretty much anything out.  He walks around in life like he doesn’t exist and uses that to his advantage with his quietly obsessive stalking of his co-worker Hannah.  It is quite clear that he wants to just say the words to her, but he glides through life so passively, and has for so long, that he is incapable of doing so.  Crucially, the film recognises that James’ stalking of Hannah isn’t romantic and never endorses it – right up to the end, too; the last scene’s dreamlike ambiguity providing yet another fantastic ending for a 2014 film, a recurring thing with most every one of the entries on this list – but forces the viewer to have to get inside Simon’s head regardless and see why this has come to be.  It’s a difficult balancing act, and the film pulls it off just about with surprising deftness.

James, meanwhile, is a detestable little shit.  A weasely, conniving, smug prick whose slow absorption of Simon’s life is teeth-gratingly tough to watch.  He is that rare character whom I hate for the reasons the film wants for me to hate him.  As somebody who loves well-written and entertaining characters – and I mean properly loves, where I won’t sit there and demand their head on a pike because I juts enjoy their presence too much – it takes a lot to make me hate a character for the reasons that I am supposed to, but The Double pulls it off flawlessly thanks to an excellent script, by Ayoade and Avi Korine, and Jesse Eisenberg putting in the best male performance I have seen in a film all year.  He’s always been good, and I have always liked him, but he is on show-stopping form as Simon and James, twisting performances that he’s given in Adventureland and The Social Network into something new and fresh and majorly compelling.  The film hangs on his performances and he is more than up to the task.

Plenty of critics were tripping over themselves at the time of The Double’s release to throw plaudits in its direction, only for everyone to cool off and mostly forget it the further the year went on.  I honestly don’t know why because it is the best British film that I have seen all year and one of the absolute very best films of 2014.  Ayoade has had a fantastic directorial career so far, and I cannot wait to see how he tries to top this.


02] Life Itselflife itself

Dir: Steve James

Surprised?  So am I.  For the last month or so, I was quite certain that Life Itself was going to be my Film of 2014, such was the power, emotion and energy it stirred in me as I watched it.  It touched me in a way that no other movie released in 2014, or even that I had seen in 2014, had been able to do.  It sent me into floods of tears and re-invigorated my passion for movies.  Yet, when it came time to set in stone my official list for 2014, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t put it at the top.  As it turns out, there is one other film that has stuck with me more and affected me more and that I just plain loved more than Life Itself.

That, however, is not to discredit Life ItselfLife Itself is a genuinely uplifting, interesting, and frequently heart-breaking mediation on movies, friendships, rivalries, the progress of society in the last 50 years, the power of criticism, death, and life.  It’s a documentary that uses its supposedly restrictive set-up – a biopic about film critic Roger Ebert – to explore so many themes and ideas, without ever losing sight of its original subject, that even people who have no interest in Roger Ebert can watch the film and get something out of it.  It is a vital documentary and the truest possible definition of a “feel-good movie”.

I will not, however, be writing any more about it.  Not because there’s not enough happening in the film to be able to do so, lord no, but because I can’t.  Fact is, I said everything I can say about Life Itself in my review from back in November.  In it, I laid bare my feelings on Ebert, the ways in which the film touched me, and why it got me so and that took so much painstaking effort to do that I can’t go through it again.  I can’t try and improve or re-state my thoughts on Life Itself because I said damn near everything I had to or could say about it back there, and I don’t want to have to repeat that or condense it to fit in the five allotted paragraphs that each entry in this list gets.  So, if you want further explanations and reasoning as to why Life Itself is this high up on my list, go and (re-)read my review.  But know that Life Itself deserves to be this high on my personal Top 10.

The only reason why it is not number one, is because of the following film…


gone girl01] Gone Girl

Dir: David Fincher

Star: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon

NO, SERIOUSLY, MEGA SPOILERS, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN GONE GIRL.

I sympathise with and root for Amy Elliott-Dunne.

The more that Gone Girl has been rattling around in my brain, the more that that realisation has stuck out in my brain.  Amy Elliott-Dunne is a psychopath, somebody who uses and discards people as she sees fit, somebody who goes the extra morality-crossing mile to get what she wants, a woman who refuses to compromise, and who is willing to commit a man to death and outright murder another in order to get out on top.  She forcibly inseminates herself with a kid she doesn’t really want to keep a loose end under her thumb, she fakes being a rape victim, she is a walking embodiment of everything that MRAs fear women to be.

And I sympathise and root for her.

Not completely, of course, there are lines that I won’t follow her across, but enough that I get why she does the things she does and quietly hope that she successfully pulls one over on everybody.  Gone Girl is very much presented as a “He Said/She Said” narrative and I am very much more inclined to believe the “She Said” side, even after the reveal that the diary was faked and everything that Amy has ever revealed about her relationship with Nick is thrown into question.  Nick, as presented in both Amy’s version of events and his own segments of the film, is a whiny, selfish, complacent ass who never fully appreciates what he has after he gets it, forces his life on others, bleeds his supportive wife dry, and doesn’t even have the spine to end things with her before moving on to somebody else.  He does have redeeming qualities, and he is forced into situations and events where it is hard to not feel sorry for him, but when Amy states out loud, point blank, that Nick Dunne “took and took from me until I no longer existed.  That’s murder,” I honestly find it hard to disagree with her.

Does this mean that Nick deserves the death sentence that Amy hands down to him?  Honestly, the fact that I don’t immediately go “no” scares me a little bit.

The cold-blooded murder of Desi is seemingly more black and white: she murders him in order to return to Nick and complete the fabricated cover story that paints her as a victim who managed to escape from a crazed ex-boyfriend.  She lies, and therefore she is not to be trusted – incidentally, brief side bar, I absolutely agree with those who interpret Gone Girl to be misogynistic as pretty much every female character in the film is a walking embodiment of a negative male viewpoint of a woman, but I find the dualities between that misogyny and its frequently blistering feminist heart (both embodied by Amy Elliott-Dunne) to be so loaded and so complex that the film cannot be dismissed so easily without a hugely detailed and in-depth analysis from people far more qualified than myself (although I could also be talking out of my arse and apologising for loving something so problematic, that’s the beauty of critical analysis).

gone girl

Yet, Amy is very much trapped with Desi.  She’s stuck in a figurative prison, partially of her own making and partially of Desi’s making.  She’s made commitments she doesn’t want to follow through on, Desi always carries this creepy possessive air around with him, and the slow realisation seeps in for Amy that Desi is the worst traits of Nick only with genuine devotion replacing quietly-resentful hatred.  She’s traded one loveless, inescapable relationship for another and, in both instances, she no longer exists.  Her only out is through force, to turn the tables and take their agency away from them.  Amy has spent much of her life being driven about by men.  In a way, she still is, but now she’s getting a say in the matter.

Does this mean that Desi deserves to get his throat slit?  I will answer “no” far quicker than I would the question earlier, but that itself raises further questions.  Is the fact that Nick isn’t being directly murdered by Amy making it easier for me to not immediately turn on her?  Am I projecting with Desi?  After all, he doesn’t openly act possessive and the film purposefully spends little time with him to properly deepen his character.  Am I just assuming and judging someone without truly knowing them?  Is this all being fuelled by a misunderstanding and misappropriation of feminism on my part?

These are the sorts of thoughts and moral quandaries and conundrums that have been rolling around in my head for the last 3 months, more so the further we got to the end of the year.  More so than even Under The Skin, Gone Girl is a film that has clung to my brain since I first saw it in the cinemas and it has not let go since.  What began as a love for a smart, stylish, complex, and slightly trashy thriller with a phenomenal performance by Rosamund Pike – in other words, a film I loved as a film – has evolved into a constant moral discussion and self-examination that refuses to let me get up and walk away.  Gone Girl commands my thoughts, Gone Girl asks tough questions of myself, Gone Girl is seared into my brain like no other film that I can recall.

And that is why Gone Girl is my Film of 2014.  Not only is it the best made film of the entire year – absolutely nothing else is operating on the same continent as the ball park that Gone Girl resides in – it is the most thought-provoking and personally challenging film I have bared witness to in a long, long time.  I cannot wait to watch it again.


And there you have it.  My Top 10 Films of 2014.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments below and tell me your favourite films of 2014!  Tomorrow, I will return with the first half of My Bottom 10 Films of 2014.  Prepare the pitchforks and torches.

Callum Petch just wants to be a woman.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

GFF14 Diary: Sunday 23rd Feb – The Double

TheDoubleStarting the festival a day or two after everyone else (and missing the Opening Gala screening of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel) was always going to leave me feeling like I was playing catch-up, and so the pressure was even higher for my first film in Glasgow to impress me. Last year I started off with a highly anticipated film starring Mia Wasikowska that ultimately left me bored and slightly betrayed. Shame on you Stoker.

So it was that I took my seat in the lecture hall-style GFT1 for The Double, Richard Ayoade’s second feature starring Jessie Eisenberg and the aforementioned Wasikowska, as well as a host of alumni from Ayoade’s debut Submarine (a film that I shamefully still haven’t seen, but that I have bought with me to Glasgow for one of those mythical periods of ‘free time’).

The Double is loosely based on a novella written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, but the immediately obvious influences are Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, as well as the dark humour and nightmare future envisioned in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The narrative also feels at times like the work of Czech absurdist playwright and former President Vaclav Havel, yet the film itself feels both personal and original.

Jessie Eisenberg stars initially as Simon James, a middle-ranking bureaucrat at an data entry organisation where despite seven years of hard work he is still not recognised by the security guard on the gate, or even by his boss. He dreams of one day meeting ‘The Colonel’ (James Fox), the company figurehead who claims in an TV commercial that “there are no special people, just people”, and he also has designs, bordering on a Rear Window-style obsession, on his co-worker Hannah (Wasikowska).

One day, Simon’s doppelganger appears at work, by the name of James Simon (obviously, also played by Eisenberg). James Simon is everything that Simon James is not; confident, carefree, and utterly irresistible to women. At first the two bond over a very funny night out drinking, and James Simon even offers advice on how Simon James can win Hannah round, including the excellent advice that when accompanying a date the man should “put your hand just above their ass. It shows that you’re interested, but that you can push them down the stairs at any time”.

Slowly the doppelganger starts to take over Simon’s life though, and paranoia quickly consumes his very existence. Even his work colleagues struggle to understand, with his colleague Harris only finally seeing the similarities after much prodding, commenting on their likeness that “you’re not even Chinese, that’s pretty fucked up”.

The plot very quickly starts spinning out of control, and if you’re not careful you’ll struggle to keep up as it reaches its denouement. That said, the performances and production design are so spot on that you’ll forgive a slightly muddled third act. The sound design is comparable to the excellent Berbarian Sound Studio, and the production design is a brilliant vision of steampunk bureaucracy that belies the director’s love of or obsession with the 1980s.

Ayoade fleshes out the cast with great performances in small roles, including the always brilliant Wallace Shawn as a company middle manager, Paddy Considine as a futuristic space cop in a James’ favourite television show, and the welcome return of Chris Morris to our screens as an unsympathetic personnel officer.

The Double is a film that not only cements its director’s status as a major challenge, but is also a brilliant and individual dystopian thriller in its own right.

BD_Logo_WhiteThe Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive Tom HiddlestonBy Mike Shawcross (@shawky1969)

Being a big fan of horror genre I’ve always considered the vampire sub genre as my favourite type of horror film. From the ageless story of Dracula, the oh-so-cool Lost Boys and the gritty dirty vampires from Near Dark or Stake Land, I’ll never grow tired of the blood sucking forces of evil. Unless they make them sparkle that is.

Hearing Jim Jarmusch was writing and directing a vampire film, starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton and John Hurt I had to say I was somewhat excited to say the least. But that was all I knew, I had seen nothing else, no trailer, no synopsis; and that for me is the best way to see a film.

Only Lovers Left Alive is a love story, a romance between vampires, spanning centuries.  It’s unlike any vampire film I’ve seen before, and I’ve tried to come up with something remotely similar and failed; hopefully someone may know of one, I would be interested to know if one does exists. This isn’t a vampire falls for girl or boy and romance blossoms like most teen vampire films, here the vampires are in love, and with an intense passion  that only 100’s of years could mature; this concept alone had me hooked.

Tom Hiddleston is Adam, a brooding vampire who’s will to remain alive is dying as fast as the human race. He is suicidal, resigned to composing funeral marches, he lives in solitude on the outskirts of Detroit. His only contact with anyone is with Ian (Anton Yelchin) who supplies his instruments and anything else Adam requests;  and a local Doctor (Jeffrey Wright) who supplies his blood.

Adam isn’t alone though, there are more of his kind, Eve (Tilda Swinton), Marlow (John Hurt) and Ava (Mia Wasikowska) are the only vampires which fill this story. Eve and Marlowe are in Tangiers, supplied with their blood from a local Doctor, and it’s blood of a high quality according to Marlowe. Eve is Adams wife,  and it’s their relationship which is the centre of the film.  Like Adam they keep themselves to themselves and trust only a few people.

The final vampire is Ava, Eve’s sister in name rather than blood; she is a little more trouble than she’s worth and Adam only tolerates her for Eve’s sake. She is young, carefree, irresponsible and is living in L.A. ; she just doesn’t have the same control as the others;  it’s the consequences of her actions which puts Adam and Eve in danger, as they leave Detroit for Tangiers; their problems go from bad to worse.

Jarmusch strips away the vampire action; if you are looking for kills and cool vampire deaths this isn’t the film for you. The focus is on the relationship between  Adam and Eve; their eternal love they share for each other, his love of music, her love of reading and the world they live in; even while it is dying around them. Pure blood is rare, the majority of the human race is infected by the polluted water supply. Blood is bought like a drug; Jarmusch rather  plays on this, as the vampires take their “hits” of blood they exhibit pleasure, a rush as the blood brings them to life; one of my favourite little touches.

Much of the vampire lore is intact, being invited into a house, the sun is deadly and blood sustains their life. Yet the script does make fun of some of these traditions, as Ava breaks some of these rules and mocks them. The script is superb, it’s sharp and witty with little anecdotes of people they’ve met through their long lives; the ultimate in name drops.

The world Jarmusch has created for these vampires is fantastic, it’s a visual treat from the derelict house filled with Adams instruments to Eve’s apartment stacked to the ceiling with books; you get the impression she has read them all a number of times. The detail is fantastic and it doesn’t stop at the set design the look of the vampires is stunning as well; their porcelain skin, their thick matted hair and their striking eyes;  Adam and Eve are two of the coolest looking vampires I’ve seen in a long time. It really is a wonderful film to look at and listen too.

Overall it’s ultra cool, extremely stylish and really it’s the “Drive” of the vampire films.  Hiddleston and Swinton are superb, they carry the film effortless; while the rest of the cast all deliver decent if quite short parts through the film, none of them seem out of place.

However I’ll warn you now, this is a slow burn, I mean a real slow burn. It is a film which will divide audiences; some will call it dull and it manages to achieve absolutely nothing. Yet some will enjoy the story, the detail, the dialogue and the cast; calling it a film for film lovers….. Personally I thought it was superb and I’m not saying that to be cool; I really am looking forward to seeing it again.

GFF13: Stoker

stokerSo, Stoker. Hmmm. I’m just going to have to start writing this review, and hope I have something to say by the end of it. I know that doesn’t seem very professional, or even sensible, but it’s incredibly difficult to find things to say about a film that has so little to say itself.

Park Chan-wook‘s first foray into English-language film-making was one of my most anticipated films of Glasgow Film Festival, and indeed the whole of 2013. I couldn’t wait to see what the director of a masterpiece like Oldboy could do with what appeared to be a Hitchcockian psychological thriller, with a dash of American Gothic, and possibly even a hint of something more supernatural. The film tells the story of India Stoker (Mia Waskikowska); a girl who loses her father and best-friend (Dermot Mulroney) on her eighteenth birthday. Her father’s brother, Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) appears at the funeral, and moves in with India and her increasingly fragile mother (Nicole Kidman). Uncle Charlie clearly has dark secrets and hidden motives, and while India is suspicious of the man she never knew existed, she finds herself increasingly infatuated with him.

I am desperately looking for positives here. The direction is very stylish at times, and the use of sound is brilliant (India has a skill that allows her to hear things other people cannot, and the viewer is drawn into this aural soundscape in a very satisfying fashion). We are also ‘treated’ to some shocking set-piece scenes, with some images as indelibly burned into our retinas as the octopus scene from Oldboy. The problem is that the film amounts to little more than a few excellent scenes and disturbing images.

The story is threadbare, with not much in the way of action to propel the narrative. What little does happen feels forced and convenient, rather than believable. Characters just don’t do what they’re supposed to do. In some films this could be seen as a brave attempt at ‘anti-storytelling’, but in a film which clearly cites Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt as a major influence, this is unforgivable.

The central performances aren’t bad, it’s just that they don’t get the opportunity to show any great development. Matthew Goode does a reasonable ‘creepy uncle’, but the lack of depth to his character means there is no real twist; nothing to really catch us by surprise. The shocks are all telegraphed, and anyone who has seen one of the slew of ‘sensual psychological thrillers’ from the early 1990s (think The Hand the Rocks the Cradle or Malice) will have a pretty good idea how this plays out in the opening few minutes. The way in which the film plays with vampire mythology (from the title, to India’s attack on a student with a sharpened pencil/wooden stake), and then forgets about these set-ups is frustrating, and symptomatic of a script that feels like a first draft.

It’s not a bad film, it just isn’t good. And from a director who has delivered so much in the past, that is hugely disappointing.

Stoker is released in March

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The Failed Critics coverage of Glasgow Film Festival is sponsored by Brewdog Bar Glasgow – providing award-winning beers and brilliant food in one of Glasgow’s friendliest bars.

We would have spent most of the festival there regardless, so we’d really like to thank them for their generous hospitality.