The bitter and the sweet: British features at Edinburgh 2019

2019 marked my seventh trip to the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Something I’ve always appreciated about its commitment to new British cinema – and not just through its Michael Powell Award competition – is that it provides a platform for more idiosyncratic examples of independent British cinema that may struggle to get a launch at the grander London Film Festival. And while it’s faced competition from the rising Glasgow Film Festival for specifically Scotland-focused fiction and nonfiction, Edinburgh has always launched interesting fare from across the increasingly divided United Kingdom – from Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) to Matt Palmer’s Calibre (2018), to name but two recent personal favourites.

That said, not every year can be a vintage one when you take a chance on lots of relatively unproven talent, and my experience of this year’s British line-up was that while the pick-ups from overseas A-list festivals were mostly solid to very good (the Toronto-premiering British folk horror Gwen, now opening in UK cinemas, stood tall), the festival’s own finds were underwhelming so far as the fiction films went…

Full feature for Sight & Sound

Advertisements

Gwen (William McGregor, 2018)

We may not yet be in a full-blown renaissance of folk horror, a subgenre particularly popular in British cinema in the 1970s, but several recent high-profile offerings indicate a burgeoning interest in films eschewing traditional monsters and boogeymen for stories of the land, community traditions, and, occasionally, religion driving hysteria and hauntings.

Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England and Kill List flirt with folk horror in both period and contemporary contexts; Ari Aster’s Midsommar has an isolated Swedish village’s rituals causing terror; and Robert Eggers’ The Witch has the explicit subtitle A New-England Folktale. Gwen, the debut feature from TV veteran William McGregor (Poldark), fits neatly into this scene in terms of its use of landscape and how its writer/director flirts with macabre folklore to fuel a near-suffocating sense of dread…

Full review for Little White Lies

William McGregor on the ‘slow burn, anti-capitalist folk horror’ of ‘Gwen’

No one’s having an especially good time in Gwen, a gothic tale with a rural focus where the most tender moment involves someone applying blood to their cheeks as blusher.

In mid-19th century Snowdonia, north Wales, a young girl, Gwen (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), tries to hold her home together. Her father’s failure to return from war has her and her little sister, Mari (Jodie Innes), concerned. Her stern mother (Maxine Peake) has developed a strange illness, the farm’s crops are rotting, their closest neighbours have mysteriously died, and a ruthless mining company is looking to seize their land.

Gwen is the debut feature of William McGregor, a writer-director with various prize-winning shorts and acclaimed TV runs to his name, including Poldark (2015-). His breakthrough effort, co-financed by the BFI, is a tricky film to define, but he has a very specific way of describing it for prospective viewers. “A slow burn, anti-capitalist folk horror would be the best description,” he says. “You have to add that caveat because if you tell people it’s only folk horror, they might go in with slightly different expectations”…

Full interview for the BFI

Ali Abassi on bringing ‘Border’ to the screen

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at last year’s Cannes, and an Oscar nominee for Makeup and Hairstyling, Ali Abassi’s Border arrives on MUBI UK as a landmark title. Aside from streaming on the subscription service, Border is MUBI’s first release – in conjunction with distributor Modern Films, who also released it in cinemas – to receive a Blu-ray and DVD release in the UK. High-profile MUBI-distributed titles Suspiria and Under the Silver Lake are due to follow later this year, although without the co-deal with Modern Films.

The Swedish film is based on a short story by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In), who co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Abassi and Isabella Eklöf. A curious blend of romance, fantasy, realism and magical realism, Border sees Tina (Eva Melander), a customs officer with the ability to smell fear, develop an attraction to an odd traveller, Vore (Eero Milonoff), while aiding a police investigation. An outsider all her life due to her physical features, Tina learns from Vore that her own animal-like appearance may be because she’s a species that isn’t actually human.

We sit down with the Iranian-Danish director to discuss bringing the unique tale to the screen…

Full interview for VODzilla.co

Filmmaker Lulu Wang talks laughing through the tears

When Lulu Wang’s The Farewell premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January, the praise was near-unanimous. A tragicomic drama rooted in its writer-director’s own real-life experiences, it begins with the words: “Based on an actual lie.”

The film sees a young Chinese-American woman, Billi (Awkwafina), return to China when her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao), is given a terminal diagnosis. There, she struggles with her family’s decision to keep Grandma in the dark about what’s happening, while they promptly schedule a wedding for Billi’s cousin – so that everyone can be together one final time before Nai Nai’s imminent deterioration.

While keeping loved ones unaware of their serious illnesses is apparently common practice in China, doing so presents difficulties for Billi when it comes to making sense of her grief. Although born in China, she moved to the United States with her parents when she was still very young; with this ‘lie’, the cultural divide is laid bare…

Full interview for HUCK

We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Stacie Passon, 2018)

Stacie Passon’s We Have Always Lived In The Castle premiered on the festival circuit before the Netflix launch of Mike Flanagan’s series based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but it’s certainly set to benefit from a resurgence of interest in adapting Jackson’s fiction for the screen. A feature-length take on Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, is also in development…

Full review for SciFiNow

I See You (Adam Randall, 2019)

Written by Devon Graye and directed by Adam Randall, I See You flirts with multiple genres across its runtime, keeping viewers guessing as to the exact nature of what they’re watching. Wildly different modes of horror and thriller storytelling are presented across the film. The protagonist(s) you think you’re following may not retain that status for the whole thing.

To compare it to other notable horror hits of late may provide an accurate sense of the film’s tone or plot, but that would only apply to a certain section of the story or the mood for just part of the film, rather than a precise picture of the whole. That said, ‘Hereditary meets Don’t Breathe’, with shades of Scott Derrickson’s forays into detective-led horror, wouldn’t be a terribly erroneous description…

Full review for SciFiNow