Ben Wheatley on pandemic-shot horror ‘In the Earth’

“We were the first people back and – whether it’s true or not – we really felt like the eyes of production were on us across the board.”

Writer-director Ben Wheatley is speaking to The Skinny over Zoom about In the Earth, the horror feature he wrote during the first few weeks of the COVID pandemic and shot with a small crew over 15 days in the early summer, as the UK came out of its initial lockdown period.

While Hollywood blockbusters with hired studio spaces – such as Jurassic World: Dominion – were able to resume shooting in the UK last summer after they had to hit pause, In the Earth was among the very first low budget productions to get going in late June 2020. And being first off the blocks had its pressures…

Full interview for The Skinny

10 great horror sequels

One is the loneliest number in the world of horror movies. As cinemas welcome A Quiet Place Part II, we celebrate some of the best first sequels…

Full feature for the BFI

After Love (Aleem Khan, 2020)

In writer-director Aleem Khan’s debut feature, the great Joanna Scanlan is Mary/Fahima, a British Muslim convert residing in Dover with her husband Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), a ferry captain to whom she’s been happily married for many years. In the film’s pre-credits sequence, their gentle domestic harmony is horribly disrupted, however, when Ahmed abruptly passes away in his armchair…

Full review for The Skinny

Surge (Aneil Karia, 2020)

Since early notices following its world premiere at Sundance 2020, Surge – the first feature from director Aneil Karia – has been labelled a British equivalent to Falling Down, Joel Schumacher’s 1993 thriller in which a disgruntled guy violently lashes out against “society”.

It’s not a totally unfair comparison, particularly given that the bulk of the breakdown narratives and crime sprees in both films take place over the course of a single day. But there are some crucial differences. Surge isn’t an especially reactionary work in terms of signposting dialogue, and the criminal activities it concerns are robberies and street beatings rather than a murderous rampage. Most crucially, Falling Down is built around Michael Douglas, who had established form in playing men prone to psychotic outbursts.

That’s not the case for the star of Surge, Ben Whishaw, who Karia previously directed in the 2013 short Beat. Whishaw’s breakthrough leading role was admittedly as an olfactorily-driven killer in 2006’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, but the star persona he has developed since has tended to concern reserved or even overwhelmingly polite individuals, one of them a friendly little bear in a duffel coat. Taking place in an altogether harsher version of London, Surge is in fact the anti-Paddington

Full review for Little White Lies

10 great debut films by music video directors

From David Fincher to Jonathan Glazer, some of the most acclaimed modern directors began their careers making music videos. Here’s what their first films looked like…

Full feature for the BFI

I Blame Society (Gillian Wallace Horvat, 2020)

Gillian Wallace Horvat’s 2015 short film Kiss Kiss Fingerbang, a Grand Jury Award winner at SXSW, was the kind of distinctively dark calling card that might ordinarily lead to ample directing offers. At least, going by the success stories of so many genre-inclined filmmakers (most of them men), that’s what should have happened.

Judging from interviews supporting the release of I Blame Society, the micro-budget film that has ended up being Horvat’s debut feature, this is not what happened – and her pitch black, metatextual mockumentary certainly feels like a response to this. Crucially, it’s not a case of a filmmaker demanding that we worship the artistic genius that The Man failed to recognise, through the medium of a didactic feature-length performance art-criticism hybrid.

What it does do is explore the various microaggressions that are rampant within American film production, on both the independent and studio sides, that can lead to marginalised voices being denied the same seat at the table as their (predominantly) white male peers, despite the supposed efforts of those already at the table to be more inclusive. Oh, and I Blame Society is also a serial killer movie…

Full review for Little White Lies

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers: Stardust Melodies

Originally published as a print-exclusive in SciFiNow #167, in January 2020

In 1985, a legend was born. Except, in the western world, it’s a legend you never encountered. And, to be fair, it wasn’t encountered much in the eastern world where it originated. 

Released in Japan that year, The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers is a terrific musical comedy, with horror and sci-fi trappings, that premiered to not-so-terrific critical notices and box office, seeing virtually no release outside of East Asia. In the 30-plus years since, the film has developed a cult following, to the extent that its writer-director was able to make a semi-sequel, The Brand New Legend Of The Stardust Brothers, in 2016. Thanks to the efforts of distributor Third Window Films, the original Legend is premiering on UK home media in a dual format, region-free Blu-ray and DVD set, having undergone a full restoration.

Director Macoto Tezka has gone on to a career of further live-action films, animation and teaching, but in 1985, he was primarily known for being the son of Osamu Tezuka, the man considered the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. Tezuka’s best known manga series include Astro Boy, Black Jack and Kimba The White Lion

Full interview for SciFiNow

20 years on, Josie and the Pussycats is a meta, zany pop time capsule

Time has been kind to Josie and the Pussycats. Long before the fictional rock band featured in TV’s Riverdale, their Archie Comics source material was brought to the big screen in 2001. Writer-director duo Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Can’t Hardly Wait) were at the helm, with Rachael Leigh Cook, Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid cast as band members Josie, Valerie and Melody, respectively, and the glorious scenery-chewing pair of Parker Posey and Alan Cumming as antagonists. But there was a twist.

While operating perfectly well as a sincerely heartfelt tale of friendship in the face of growing fame, the film is also a feature-length jab at the industries behind its existence, skewering consumerism, subliminal advertising, and the very notion of adapting a comic into a movie. Josie is an indelible early 2001 time capsule, but it also feels of a piece with the later meta stylings of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, whose 21 Jump Street and The LEGO Movie also walk a fine line between enthusiastic adaptation of an intellectual property and more cynically questioning their very existence. Comparing it to closer contemporaries, it’s something like Spice World meets Zoolander

Full feature for Dazed

Stray (Elizabeth Lo, 2020)

A celebrated director of documentary shorts, Elizabeth Lo makes a compelling leap to features with Stray, a concise ethnographic film that’s presented from a nonhuman perspective. Filmed mostly in Istanbul between 2017 and 2019, with an occasional detour to slightly further afield, the film uses the city’s interesting and complicated history with stray dogs as a means to explore life on the peripheries of human society, free of status and security.

The Turkish state has attempted widespread annihilation of stray dogs since the 1900s, resulting in mass killings of the street dog population. But while campaigns to drive non-pet dogs from towns and cities still gain a little traction now and again, widespread protests against these killings have allowed Turkey to become one of the only countries where it’s currently illegal to euthanise or hold captive any dog without an apparent owner. Meanwhile, dogs that don’t appear to be a human’s property are integrated into the fabric of urban existence with relatively minimal backlash…

Full review for Little White Lies

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams