Tag Archives: Little White Lies

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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Rose Island (Sydney Sibilia, 2020)

Relatively early in 2020, one video game became a phenomenon as Nintendo Switch players looked to simulate some sort of structured existence in the context of quarantine. Animal Crossing: New Horizons sees your customisable character move to a deserted island, decorating the place and developing it into a community of anthropomorphic animal residents. Selling the most units of any title in 2020, it has already cracked the top 30 list of the best-selling video games of all time.

All the specific factors for Animal Crossing’s success would merit a deep-dive article, but one thing appears clear: with the world in the grip of a pandemic, vaguely whimsical explorations of forming start-up communities during a period of global unrest are hot right now. By sheer luck of timing, Sydney Sibilia’s Rose Island, based on the real-life story of an island being created and bringing people together, looks set to capitalise on this…

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Murder Me, Monster (Alejandro Fadel, 2018)

Appreciators of Amat Escalante’s The Untamed and Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux – Latin American social dramas that toy with horror to varying degrees – may find a new work to admire in Murder Me, Monster from writer/director Alejandro Fadel. It’s a Spanish-language international co-production set around the Andes Mountains, and features a similar fusion of libidinal imagery and arguably Lovecraftian terror to that of Escalante’s film, in particular…

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Isadora’s Children (Damien Manivel, 2019)

Among the most influential figures in dance of the 20th century, Isadora Duncan faced a horrible tragedy in 1913 when her infant children both drowned while in the care of their nanny as their runaway car plunged into the Seine. During her grieving process, Duncan choreographed a three-part piece called ‘Mother’ as a means to express her heartbreak.

Written and directed by former dancer and acrobat Damien Manivel (who won the Best Director prize at Locarno in 2019), the delicate and deliberately-paced Isadora’s Children is cut into three distinct parts, each exploring how the lives of three sets of women – all of different ages and backgrounds – are touched by ‘Mother’…

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Special Actors (Shinichiro Ueda, 2019)

When your breakout feature as a writer/director is predicated on narrative twists and sudden aesthetic left turns, there can be pressure for your next film to retain a similar element of surprise. Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors is his solo follow-up to One Cut of the Dead (he co-directed another feature in-between), the independent Japanese zombie horror of sorts that earned more than one thousand times its budget back in its home country, and became a word-of-mouth hit overseas.

For the sake of those still yet to see it, this review will avoid explicit spoilers for One Cut of the Dead; suffice it to say that Special Actors was always going to struggle to live up to its predecessor. That said, the results are largely entertaining and inventive…

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