Category Archives: Little White Lies

Fear Street: 1666 (Leigh Janiak, 2021)

In covering each entry in director Leigh Janiak’s interconnected Fear Street trilogy as they drop weekly on Netflix, it’s been relatively easy to be vague with plot details. That said, the fun and freaky final instalment, subtitled 1666, is near impossible to discuss without spoiling some threads left dangling from parts one and two. So, to paraphrase Fear Street author RL Stine’s better-known horror series, reader beware…

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Fear Street: 1978 (Leigh Janiak, 2021)

The 1994-set first part of Leigh Janiak’s RL Stine trilogy saw teenagers stalked by several undead mass murderers from their seemingly cursed town’s history. It established that these homicidal outbursts across 300-plus years were the work of suspected witch Sarah Fier, a woman killed in 1666, possessing unsuspecting Shadysiders every so often from beyond the grave, as a means of revenge against the town.

Extinguishing their specific nightmare problem in part one, the surviving characters were then left on a cliff-hanger when one of their own became Fier’s latest victim of possession. The second film’s framing device sees her friends turn to the only local who might believe them. C Berman (Gillian Jacobs, selling two decades of trauma in only a few scenes) is a scarred, nihilistic survivor of the ‘Camp Nightwing Massacre’ of 1978. In its immediate aftermath she spoke of Fier’s involvement, but no one would listen. Berman was said to have briefly died, before resuscitation, while her sister was among the slain…

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Fear Street: 1994 (Leigh Janiak, 2021)

Pre-global pandemic, a gamble was taken with a trilogy of gory films loosely based on YA-horror series Fear Street by RL Stine, all directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak. Twentieth Century Studios (née Fox) was originally set to distribute these three interconnected movies, each set in a different time period, in cinemas across three consecutive months in the summer of 2020.

With theatrical distribution disrupted that same year, production company Chernin Entertainment sold their experiment to Netflix, with the streaming giant now releasing the trilogy across three consecutive weeks. First up is the 1994-set film, directly inspired by that decade’s slasher genre revival, and it will be followed by trips to 1978 and 1666…

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WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc (Gio Arlotta, 2019)

Back in 2012, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary Searching for Sugar Man explored undersung recording artist Rodriguez, a Detroit-born singer-songwriter. More specifically, the film looked at the unusual degree of success and influence his music exerted in apartheid-era South Africa. Its framing device sees two South African Rodriguez fans in the late 1990s journey to find out what happened to this relatively obscure musician in light of his studio album output ending in the 1970s.

The set-up of Gio Arlotta’s music documentary, WITCH, is certainly not identical to that of Bendjelloul’s film, but the rhythms of the editing bear a strong resemblance and it does also concern a small group’s pilgrimage to track down a musical titan from the 1970s that they want to bring to more people’s attention. That the journey of the film effectively starts in 2014, only two years after Sugar Man’s success, makes an intentional influence seem plausible…

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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

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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…

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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…

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Limbo (Soi Cheang, 2021)

Ben Sharrock’s 2020 Limbo concerns refugees waiting for asylum approval while housed on a remote Scottish island, the film’s title referring to the logistical circumstances setting its plot in motion. In contrast, Soi Cheang’s 2021 Limbo allows for some interpretation with its choice of title.

Presented in particularly bewitching black-and-white, this grisly Cantonese noir flirts with various genres and is full of characters dealing with very different forms of abandonment, each waiting to move on with their lives. And spinning off from the title’s biblical connotations, there’s one lead who’s essentially made to be a martyr, then facing a form of Hell on Earth…

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Tides (Tim Fehlbaum, 2021)

A German-Swiss co-production with Roland Emmerich among its executive producers, Tides is an atmospheric sci-fi anchored by an engaging performance from Nora Arnezeder. Although computer-generated vistas are employed for the presentation of a dystopian Earth, Tim Fehlbaum’s film benefits greatly from the tactility of the sets and real-world locations he employs, particularly the mudflats of Northern Germany…

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Creation Stories (Nick Moran, 2021)

The spirit of executive producer Danny Boyle looms large over Creation Stories, a biopic of Scottish businessman Alan McGee, whose influential Creation Records label launched such acts as Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine and Oasis. Trainspotting seems a conscious influence on director Nick Moran’s film, from the editing style and frenetic pacing to Irvine Welsh being one of its screenwriters. The presence of Ewen Bremner as McGee only hammers home the connection.

But there’s another filmmaker looming over Creation Stories. Someone who also made a largely comedic, self-reflexive biopic concerning a British record label head who was inspired by seeing Sex Pistols perform, which covered a similar period of time: Michael Winterbottom. Speeding through three decades’ worth of events but lacking any actual momentum, Creation Stories is like a version of 24 Hour Party People gone horribly wrong…

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