The Babysitter: Killer Queen (McG, 2020)

In humour and topsy-turvy aesthetic, McG’s The Babysitter proved a surprise word-of-mouth success for Netflix. It was bolstered by a few key notes of merit. The first is that it was undeniably a crucial stepping stone for the star ascent of Samara Weaving, whose first major American role – at least in terms of filming date, more on that later – was as the eponymous character, a loving guardian for nervous pre-teen Cole (Judah Lewis) who turns out to actually be the leader of a devil-worshipping cult, looking to use her innocent ward’s blood for a ritual that will supposedly grant one’s deepest desires.

Second was a theoretically interesting theme concerning how, to kids on the cusp of puberty, older teenagers can have this air of terror, intrigue and incomprehensibility about them that is hypnotising – part of how Cole gets himself into the mess he does is because he wants to see what cool babysitter Bee gets up to with her friends when he’s supposed to be asleep.

Third, peppered throughout The Babysitter was a genuinely quite sweet subplot about Cole’s developing relationship with his best friend and neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind). In the final half hour of The Babysitter, Cole flees to Melanie’s house as Bee fires at him with a shotgun she swiped while disposing of a cop car and the bodies of two police officers her crew killed. Melanie’s own father is reportedly away on a date with a “protestant”, so, with no adults around to defend them, the pair end up hiding from Bee trying to find them in Melanie’s house.

Once she’s left, Cole tries to make sure Melanie is safe before he goes back to his house to face Bee and his fears. Melanie kisses him, telling him: “Just because she’s a psychopath doesn’t mean women are evil.” Boosted by this romantic development and Melanie’s suggestion they should make out next time, Cole heads back and takes out the remainder of the cult. This includes returning to swipe Melanie’s dad’s car to drive into both Bee and his own house, something the film shows Melanie supporting both as and after it happens.

Fast forward to The Babysitter: Killer Queen, the 2020 sequel with a title that seems to have been chosen on the basis of whatever the most expensive song on the soundtrack was, rather than much to do with the story. Despite two police officers called to the scene that night going missing (you’d think that would be a big deal), no one in the film’s world believes anything about Cole’s account of the first film’s events, except for Melanie who at least witnessed Bee brandishing a shotgun around her house.

A more fantastical film that confirms all the ritual business is real, Killer Queen brings back practically everyone from the first outing, including the deceased cult characters played by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Andrew Bachelor and Hana Mae Lee, who are resurrected from limbo for another chance at performing the ritual, something that can apparently only happen every two years. Samara Weaving’s Bee is also back, eventually, but since she’s become a much bigger deal of late and was filming both Bill & Ted Face the Music and the currently delayed GI Joe spin-off Snake Eyes when Killer Queen was being shot, adjustments had to be made for this direct continuation…

Full review for VODzilla.co

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Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento, 1971)

Dario Argento’s first three features as director – The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet – are commonly referred to as his “Animal Trilogy”. They are not connected by recurring story threads or characters, but by visual and thematic motifs in their mystery narratives about murder most foul, many involving voyeurism. And each of the three’s titles contains a species’ name, in case you somehow missed that…

Full review for VODzilla.co’s MUBI Mondays column

Ten of the Best Films From London Film Festival 2020

The 64th London Film Festival concluded this past weekend, taking place both online and in select cinemas across the UK in light of these unprecedented times, offering roughly a fifth of the usual number of features presented in a normal year, alongside shorts, experimental and VR works, and a couple of TV series previews. The festival ended with showings of Francis Lee’s period lesbian romance Ammonite, starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, in hundreds of cinemas nationwide, while Thomas Vinterberg’s drama Another Round won the inaugural LFF Audience Award.

Here are ten of the best titles from LFF 2020 worth looking out for in the future; some on their way to cinemas or digital soon, others further off…

Full feature for AnOther

Amateur (Hal Hartley, 1994)

Breaking through with early features The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990) and Simple Men (1992), writer-director Hal Hartley was one of the key figures of the tail end of the 1980s/early 1990s boom of American independent cinema, alongside the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch, before that landscape became altogether different in the wake of the success of films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Clerks (1994).

Hartley’s early tragicomic dramas – which explore such topics as class, the nature of love, and foolhardy ambition in the face of absurd reality – are immediately recognisable through the specific deadpan cadence to the dialogue and his performers’ delivery of it, whereby emotional duress or ecstatic highs are largely conveyed with a relatively expressionless affect, outside of a few select scenes. Hartley’s regular actors around that time included such talents as Martin Donovan, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Bill Sage and the late Adrienne Shelly. Hartley can also attest to being one of the earliest directors to regularly employ Parker Posey’s particularly unique screen presence.

Amateur (1994) is a key transitional work for Hartley. For one thing, it’s a decidedly more violent offering than anything he’d presented before; while relatively free of actual onscreen blood, multiple characters are shot and one is tortured to near-death and driven mad. Secondly, while his later studio foray and prosthetics-heavy oddity No Such Thing (2001) likely cost more, Amateur certainly looks like the most expensive film of Hartley’s career at that point, thanks to use of varied New York City locations (Long Island was his favoured locale before this) and the mere presence of a particular actor (more on that in a moment). Among the production company credits in the gorgeous opening title sequence, set to the score by Jeffrey Taylor and Hartley himself (under the pseudonym Ned Rifle), are the likes of UGC and what was then Channel Four Films (now Film4 Productions), a reflection of Hartley’s growing status as a hot commodity in European arthouse markets…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) (Arie Esiri/Chuko Esiri, 2020)

The feature-length debut of directing brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri (the latter also writing the screenplay), Eyimofe – or This Is My Desire – is a Nigerian drama that acts somewhat in opposition to the country’s filmmaking output at large, both in terms of general perception overseas and the standard domestic models. Nigeria is among the world’s most prosperous film industries, putting out roughly a thousand productions a year. That said, many are made on extremely low budgets and shot within maybe a week at most. Few tend to travel outside of Africa through traditional distribution channels, nor do that many seem especially commercially minded, as it were. (For a sense of at least one major Nigerian studio’s offerings, UK viewers with Sky can watch Rok TV, which screens Rok Studios-produced films and television series 24 hours a day.)

All of this is necessary context for why Eyimofe feels so different as a project. In interviews and supplementary production notes both before and after the film’s world premiere at the 2020 Berlinale, the brothers Esiri have cited their wide-reaching influences as including Robert Altman, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Vittorio De Sica and James Joyce’s Dubliners – filmmakers and authors who notably, though not always, gravitate towards works that examine the larger spaces their characters inhabit, where the city or town itself is truly a character in the text…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Filmmaker Rose Glass on making this year’s best horror

Saint Maud, the acclaimed horror darling of the past year’s festival circuit, finally reaches British cinemas on a wave of hype – despite release delays owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the debut feature of British writer-director Rose Glass, the psychological drama follows Maud (Morfydd Clark), a reclusive, pious hospice nurse with a dark past, who becomes dangerously obsessed with a perceived higher purpose and her latest patient in a seaside town: Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a hedonistic and embittered retired dancer who’s dying of cancer.

Glass has pointed to Taxi Driver as a specific influence on Saint Maud’s structure, with both sharing narration by the increasingly volatile protagonist. She also pays homage to Martin Scorsese’s film with at least two specific shots. “Generally any stuff that I felt that, in some way, I shouldn’t be watching, I wanted to watch,” she says of her burgeoning enthusiasm for left field cinema in her early teen years in the 2000s, which included films by David(s) Lynch and Cronenberg, Hideo Nakata (Ring), Takashi Miike (Visitor Q) and Fruit Chan (Dumplings).

To mark Saint Maud’s UK release, Huck spoke to Glass at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival – in an interview that originally took place back in March – about making an empathetic genre movie concerning mental illness, body horror, and the extreme places the human mind can take us…

Full interview for Huck

“I used the cinema to learn about the world” – ‘Daphne’ director Peter Mackie Burns on making his second film, ‘Rialto’

Following a decade’s worth of award-winning shorts, Glaswegian director Peter Mackie Burns made his fiction feature debut in 2017 with Daphne, a lauded character study concerning a pessimistic and hedonistic young woman (Emily Beecham) living in south London and undergoing an existential crisis after witnessing a stabbing. 

Second feature Rialto, supported by the BFI Film Fund, sees the director collaborating with writer Mark O’Halloran and heading to Dublin. Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is a married dock worker with 2 teenage children. Still grieving the death of his destructive father, and with his job threatened by a recent takeover, he struggles to share his vulnerability with wife Clare (Monica Dolan). Where he finds solace, while threatening his family’s stability, is in his encounters and growing infatuation with Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney), a 19-year-old who intermittently works in prostitution.

Speaking to us at the Glasgow Film Festival in February, Mackie Burns discussed his tips for second feature success…

Full interview for the BFI

Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas, 2012)

The French title of Olivier Assayas’ 2012 film, Après mai, translates as “After May”, referring to the famous uprisings in the country during May of 1968. It was a period of revolutionary zeal that is also evoked by the film’s UK title, if one recalls the lyrics of Thunderclap Newman’s 1969 hit single Something in the Air: “We’ve got to get together sooner or later, because the revolution’s here.”

Assayas is no stranger to the revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s himself, and Something in the Air is semi-autobiographical. Rather than providing a historical exposé of the revolutionary ideals of the time, the film is instead a coming-of-age narrative set against that backdrop of demonstrations and fervour; it is more in line with a film like Dazed and Confused (1993) than any overtly politically charged work…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Tesla (Michael Almereyda, 2020)

Since breaking through as a writer-director in the 1990s, with oddities such as 1994’s post-modern vampire tale Nadja, Michael Almereyda has remained one of American independent cinema’s most unpredictable creative forces. What is consistent among his recent fiction efforts – he also dabbles in documentary – is playfulness when it comes to genre or adaptation, such as in housebound sci-fi Marjorie Prime or his 2000 take on Hamlet. The latter saw Shakespeare’s Prince of Denmark become the son of the newly dead CEO of Denmark Corporation in New York City, with Ethan Hawke delivering the key “to be or not to be” speech in a Blockbuster Video store.

Hamlet leads Hawke and Kyle MacLachlan reunite with Almereyda for Tesla, a freewheeling biopic of inventor Nikola Tesla (Hawke) that focuses on his antagonistic interactions with Thomas Edison (MacLachlan); his scientific developments concerning the transmission of electrical power and light; his business matters with entrepreneur George Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan); and his relationship of sorts with philanthropist Anne (Eve Hewson), daughter of dominant American financier JP Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz). Some of this narrative territory was also explored in Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s recent The Current War, in which Nicholas Hoult, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Shannon and Matthew Macfadyen played Tesla, Edison, Westinghouse and Morgan, respectively. But two more different takes on ostensibly similar material you are unlikely to find…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Barking Dogs Never Bite (Bong Joon Ho, 2000)

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has previously said in interviews that he considers his 2003 sophomore breakout Memories of Murder to be something akin to his “true” debut feature. Whether or not that has anything to do with his actual debut feature, Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), underperforming financially in its home nation – and only belatedly being distributed in many international territories – is a question only the man himself, or possibly a therapist, can answer. In the US, distribution rights were only finally acquired in the summer of 2009, around the time when Bong’s Mother received rave reviews at Cannes. In the UK, Barking Dogs Never Bite played at the London Film Festival in 2000 but has otherwise never had an official release until now, a time when Bong’s star has never been higher after Parasite’s game-changing Oscars haul and global box office success…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams