Tag Archive: Thriller


Preview: Elle.

Elle, a 2016 French psychological thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Isabelle Huppert in a role for which she’s become a surprising front-runner for the Academy Award for Best Actress, has quickly become one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Unfortunately, as it’s not due for release in the UK until March 10th, I likely won’t be seeing it until after the Oscars have been handed out on February 26th. But based on what we know of this film thus far, it deserves the recognition it gets, and bearing in mind the subject in question, I’m still somewhat taken aback that it has gotten such attention in the first place.

The film’s central character, played by Huppert, is the female head of a video game company. Themes tackled include rape, violence and murder, involving Huppert’s character whether directly or indirectly, which seem interesting if only for the reason that these are themes associated negatively with the video game industry in recent years. This is no coincidence I’m sure, and I’m intrigued to find out just how Elle tackles these issues – that, for me, will make or break the film, as I have my own strong feelings on the matter.

I’m making an educated guess that the movie tackles them intelligently and maturely, hence my eagerness to see it. Whatever the case may be, Elle promises to be a thought-provoking film for UK audiences to look forward to. No doubt you’ll be hearing more about this one in the weeks to come.

Traders.

Traders pic 1.

Imagine a world in which men had been pushed to the point where they willingly put all of their money on the line in a fight to the death; the winner walking away with everything in the other’s possession. Before starting the fight, you find a quiet area, making sure you’re not followed, and dig a hole in which the loser’s body will be placed. If you’re good at it, this can be quite a lucrative business – with frequent sparring partners getting involved out of pure desperation, having lost their job and finding themselves drowning in debt.

Well, Traders brings this scenario to life. An Irish thriller with darkly comedic elements, it’s set around the 2008 financial crash – indeed the film opens with the two central characters losing their highly paid jobs and facing the reality of being unable to afford the lavish lifestyle’s they had been living up to that point.

The film has a definite tongue-in-cheek style to certain parts of its script and acting performances; a tone which some may find slightly jarring as it tackles serious issues like depression and even suicide, resulting from unemployment and debt. But Traders does in fact handle these issues well. It simply does so with a refreshingly irreverent attitude, and dares not to make them the overall focus of the film – because the focus here is instead about finding thrills in a hopeless situation. That’s what the 2008 crash was. The so-called ‘death of the Celtic Tiger’, following a boom for the Irish economy throughout the 1990s and mid-2000s, left many feeling as hopeless as the characters of this film. To look back on it with a sense of humour is something one would like to think is warranted, if not necessary for moving forward.

Jointly written and directed by Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy, starring Killian Scott as its central ‘trader’ Harry Fox, with John Bradley as his hapless friend Vernon (to whom the concept of trading can be attributed; originally pitched as his new ‘business idea’), Traders has been named in the same breath as Fight Club (1999) by critics. It’s not hard to see why; in basic terms, both films involve fighting, men falling back to primal instincts in the face of societal disillusionment, and both provide a subtle critique of their cultural backdrop in entertaining fashion.

This film, though, had a much smaller budget, and in general feels like a more eccentric premise; so that it manages to be almost as successful as David Fincher’s accomplished cult classic is all the more impressive. In time Traders itself may garner a similar reputation in some circles, though its tone may turn others off. For me it was undoubtedly one of the festival’s best surprises.

8 / 10

Green Room.

Green Room pic 1.

No doubt, the main selling point of Green Room is the opportunity to see Patrick Stewart playing a ruthless neo-Nazi skinhead with a penchant for violence.

From that perspective it doesn’t disappoint; Stewart fits right into this sinister role with ease. Though he has less screen time than people might expect, the time he does spend there is priceless.

The film opens with a punk band on the road, struggling for money as they play gigs at dead-end bars. On the recommendation of a contact who says he can set them up with a good deal – and prefaces it with a warning – they end up playing at a club for neo-Nazi’s in the woods one night. From there you can probably guess how things go; though the band almost come through the gig unscathed, an unfortunate case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ soon turns menacing for each of them.

Be warned: at certain points this film does get pretty violent. Dogs chewing people’s throats out, arms hacked almost in half, a belly being slit open… To be fair it doesn’t go much further than that, and I’ve certainly seen worse. This isn’t fully hardcore shit; in fact I wouldn’t even consider it primarily a ‘slasher’ movie. But those with a stomach of lesser strength may feel differently.

Instead Green Room is best considered as a tense, atmospheric thriller with horror elements and the occasional moment of dark comedy. I’d say it has definite ‘cult’ potential. Director Jeremy Saulnier also made 2013’s Blue Ruin, regarded by some as one of the best films of its year. Whether this follow-up will have the same appeal remains to be seen, but for 95 minutes of violent fun there’ll be few other movies in 2016 better.

8 / 10

It often happens that I see films at a greater rate than I review them. There are a few reasons for this, not least my wariness of over-saturation. Sometimes though, I like to pause, look back at those I haven’t reviewed in full and, in order to save time, write bite-size reviews instead.

Some of the following are definitely worth giving more time and attention to, Sicario in particular, but I’d prefer just to offer a few of my thoughts and move on. It likely won’t be the last time I discuss Villeneuve’s new thriller in any case. So without wasting more letters, let’s get started.

Solace – This was one of those ‘guilty pleasure’ movies in that while I know it isn’t actually very good, I enjoyed it in a really coke-guzzling, popcorn-munching, easy-going and casual kind of way. Of course the premise is entirely stupid, and the film plays out as silly as it sounds: Sir Anthony Hopkins plays a retired, reclusive psychic who’s recruited to help the FBI catch another psychic, Colin Farrell, whose appearance mid-way through the film is supposed to be a ‘big reveal’ – which it would have been if it wasn’t plastered all through the trailer.

For the record, I liked Farrell’s performance, by far the most entertaining element of the film, while it is hard to work out quite what Hopkins, at his age, saw in this project that he thought would make it worth his time.

Farrell's presence, though spoiled, creates some of the best moments of the film.

Farrell’s presence, though spoiled in the trailer, creates some of the best moments of the film.

The script isn’t great, the acting ropey (especially from Abbie Cornish who is downright irritating), the characters unoriginal and the villain treated clumsily. You can tell the whole thing is really going for the comparison that it was marketed with (apparently intended as a loose spiritual sequel to 1995’s Seven) as it attempts to raise some interesting moral questions, but ultimately fails to do so in a compelling fashion. And yet, for all the criticisms I throw at it… I enjoyed it for what it was. I feel almost dirty for admitting that. 6 / 10

Marshland – A Spanish thriller that won an impressive ten Goya Awards (basically the Spanish version of the Oscars) earlier this year, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor.

Set in 1980, the film’s plot follows two ‘ideologically opposed’ homicide detectives from Madrid who are sent to a small town on the Guadalquivir Marshes to investigate the disappearance and suspected murder of two teenage girls. Those marshes form an important part of the film’s cinematography and there are some beautiful overhead camera shots as a result.

The two leads have good chemistry and the film’s script is well paced, assisted by a couple of twists interwoven into the narrative, leading to an enjoyable, albeit occasionally uncomfortable experience. This is certainly one of the more interesting films of the year. 9 / 10

The Visit – M. Night Shyamalan’s newest attempt to rediscover his success around the turn of the Millennium (i.e. The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) is… an interesting one. Described as a ‘comedy horror’, the latter part of its genre comes across much better than the former. The cringe-worthy attempts at comedy in this film were at best irritating and at worst downright infuriating.

Two irritating lead cast members, who play the two most annoying teenagers of the entire year, don’t help this. Nor does their ditzy mother. The film also fails to deal with a couple of fairly obvious, gaping plot holes.

Having said that, as a horror movie it is intriguing. The underlying theme and (somewhat) twist towards the end of the film is something you haven’t seen in too many other forms of media recently, and to that end I kind of liked it. In that sense it avoids the typical clichés of a lot of modern horror movies. But the film forces you to put up with its other rubbish in order to see the positive side of it, and that’s something I can’t really tolerate. 4 / 10

Irrational Man – Yep, Woody Allen is still making movies and I found his latest, Irrational Man, to be an entertaining if unoriginal affair.

Joaquin Phoenix plays a brilliant but downtrodden philosopher who is approaching the point of being tired with living. Having just moved to a new school to teach, where he is revered by staff and students alike, he soon meets Emma Stone, a student who challenges his ideas and whom he develops a certain respect for.

The film’s main strength is this relationship between Phoenix and Stone’s characters; how they develop and evolve both individually and together over the course of the script. The backdrop to this is an interesting moral dilemma presented to Phoenix from which he finds a new lease of life. That itself is arguably less interesting than the interaction between the characters, though overall I enjoyed the film. Not groundbreaking by any means, but solid entertainment. 7 / 10

Sicario Prisoners and Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s last two films, are two of my absolute favourites of the past couple of years. So I came to his new thriller, Sicario, fully aware of the director’s talents and expecting to enjoy one of 2015’s top films. It didn’t disappoint.

One of my favourite things about Sicario is that all the way through it you, along with Emily Blunt who plays the film’s main character, are like a fish out of water. Around you are various characters, two of whom are played brilliantly by Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, whose motivations you feel constantly suspicious of, and they are unwilling to ever spoon feed you their intentions. The film hooks you in with its intensity, keeps you guessing, and keeps you on the edge of your seat until an equally tense finale.

Emily Blunt may not have the most glamorous role in Sicario, but the performance is undoubtedly one of her best.

Emily Blunt may not have the most glamorous role in Sicario, but the performance is undoubtedly one of her best.

This is a movie that thrives on moral ambiguity; it’s not one you’ll like if you prefer your movies to be cookie cutter, good and evil, straight down the middle, happy ending type deals. Sicario is smarter than that. In a way I think it might just be the most realistic film of the year.

Sicario puts you on the side of the FBI without pretending they’re always the good guys. Their aim is not necessarily to win the fight, but rather to establish a better way of controlling it, and they’re more than willing to work with the enemy of their enemy in order to achieve that. If such a premise already has you salivating, you’ll perhaps enjoy this movie more than any other released this year.

Villeneuve is honestly one of the very best directors working in the industry today. His name, in my eyes, belongs alongside a Tarantino or a Nolan – each of his films now essential viewing, and I already can’t wait for his next project. What’s that you might ask? Oh, it’s only a sequel to a little known science fiction movie called Blade Runner10 / 10

BFI London Film Festival.

I found myself in London last weekend (10th-13th October) just as the BFI London Film Festival was getting into full swing. Of course, I couldn’t simply pass by the opportunity to see what was on offer and check out a few screenings while I was there…

Now here’s the thing I’ve realised about film festivals; while the selection is much greater and more diverse than anything you’ll find in your local money-grabbing multiplex, that doesn’t necessarily mean everything you’ll see there is going to be brilliant. Indeed a better selection also represents a larger gamble with your own time and money, especially as few of these films have been released and reviewed beforehand (not in the UK at least).

Approaching the weekend I was quite selective about which screenings I wanted to attend. Some, such as Hideo Nakata’s new horror Ghost Theater and the Northern Irish produced film The Survivalist, I chose because of a prior interest in those areas (Nakata is most famous for Ring, which kick-started the peak of J-horror in the late 90’s/ early 2000’s, while my native heritage obviously provoked intrigue for the latter). Both of these movies ultimately disappointed, though perhaps I went in with unreasonably high expectations.

Others were drawn to my attention out of intrigue for the actors involved – Tim Roth’s new film Chronic was one of the understated highlights of the weekend, while Bone Tomahawk, a dark ‘horror Western’ starring Kurt Russell and Matthew Fox among others, was anything but understated…

And the remainder I chose from my own intuition. What I mean by that is, I put in the busywork of skimming through the synopsis’ of those films which sounded at least a little intriguing from their titles, and took the chance of buying a ticket without knowing any more about them. May I say that I much prefer this method over watching trailers in any case. Better to know less than have two thirds of the plot spoilt for you.

Indeed the experience of a lot of these films are greatly enhanced when you go in knowing nothing of what’s about to hit you… I cringe at how much the Bone Tomahawk trailer may spoil when that film gets a nation-wide UK release in mid-December. Do yourself a favour and try to avoid them – S. Craig Zahler’s directorial debut is a completely thrilling experience that could be partially ruined by knowing certain details beforehand.

That Bone Tomahawk screening I attended last Saturday evening (at the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square) was hands-down my favourite of the year so far. Yes, much of that was owed to the participation of the audience – I’ll probably need to watch the film for a second time to judge it more fairly on its own merit – and this is the other thing I’ve grown to love about these kind of festivals. Frankly it’s an opportunity to be surrounded by people who are as passionate about this type of storytelling as you are. There’s much less chance of a group of casuals dropping in only because they had nothing better to do with their free time. Not that I wish to sound snobbish – I’ve got no problem with people enjoying cinema casually as long as they are enjoying it, because life is too short otherwise – but to experience that difference occasionally is just kind of… nice.

So anyway, the first screening at which I found myself in attendance was that of South Korean film Assassination on Saturday morning. This was an entertaining if unspectacular drama-thriller set in 1933 during Japan’s occupation of Korea, which was set to end in 1945. The film follows three assassins in a plot to, well, assassinate some core Japanese figures and help to bring about an end to Japan’s rule over their country. Amidst this backdrop are various plot twists, betrayals, and snappy dialogue; the whole experience comes across very Tarantino-esque, almost too much so for me. In a post-screening Q & A, the film’s director (Choi Dong-hoon, one of Korea’s most successful directors working today) hinted that he intentionally wanted to make this film ‘commercially accessible’ so that as many people as possible could enjoy it and learn a little more about the subject in question. In other words, I think its over-the-top nature was an intended ploy to widen its audience, and as a result it didn’t feel entirely organic to me. But nonetheless, this was still a very entertaining movie. 7 / 10

Next was the aforementioned Ghost Theater, about which the less said is probably better. Needless to say it’s a pale imitation of Nakata’s best work (still 1998’s Ring, closely followed by 2002’s Dark Water) and that’s putting it mildly. In fact the whole thing comes across as some kind of parody of J-horror, and it becomes a little awkward when you realise that you’re actually supposed to be taking it seriously… that’s hard to do when the main ‘evil force’ in this film is basically a doll with an emotionless, human-looking face. The main ‘scares’ revolve around the doll’s eyes moving when no-one’s looking. Many scenes feel regurgitated from J-horror films of the past, which represents the dying genre’s main problem; it seems unable to move forward, still caught up with its own success fifteen years ago. It all leads up to an ending almost as absurd as the film itself. Best avoided by anyone who doesn’t have an obsessive interest in the genre. 2 / 10

Mark the 11th of December out in your diaries – that’s when Bone Tomahawk is released in UK cinemas (a whole week before The Force Awakens so you don’t have that excuse). As I’ve already made my feelings clear on this ‘horror Western’ hybrid, I won’t say any more for now… though it is worth pointing out that I don’t consider it much of a ‘horror’ at all – it is horrifying only in its rawness and its stark realism. This naturally leads to a couple of rather violent, bloody set pieces, but these don’t feel forced nor inserted for effect. Rather they feel entirely appropriate in the context of what this film is. Certainly one of my favourites of the year so far. 10 / 10

Kurt Russell may be the biggest name, but Bone Tomahawk's other cast members play their parts immaculately.

Kurt Russell may be the biggest name, but Bone Tomahawk’s other cast members play their parts immaculately.

On Sunday I saw four more films: Canadian (but also distinctly German) revenge thriller Remember starring Christopher Plummer, a curious Star Wars-related documentary called Elstree 1976, Venezuelan thriller and Best Picture winner at Venice Film Festival, From Afar, and the entertaining Dutch drama-comedy, Schneider vs Bax.

Remember is basically best described as ‘Memento, if you substitute Guy Pearce’s Leonard Shelby for Christopher Plummer’s dementia-suffering pensioner’. If you think that sounds as good a premise as I did, you won’t be disappointed by what Remember has to offer. The plot? An ageing Jew decides before it’s too late (as the nature of his illness will soon take away his ability to do so) that he should take revenge on the Nazi who murdered his family in a concentration camp in the second world war. This intriguing set-up is executed well, right up to a surprising final twist. I look forward to searching this one out again. 8 / 10

Now, Elstree 1976 had a similarly interesting premise: a documentary about a group of actors who got small parts in the original Star Wars, before anyone could have guessed what it would become (that being: the most profitable movie of all time up to that point and a multi-million dollar franchise). But I had more of a problem with its execution, which focused very much more on the small-name actors in question rather than Star Wars in general. That’s fine – these guys have as much a right to get their story told as anyone – though I was left feeling like maybe this would be a nice addition as a special feature on a DVD/ Blu-ray rather than a full release in its own right. Others may feel they get more out of it than I did personally. 4 / 10

From Afar is everything you’d expect from a ‘Best Film’ winner at an international film festival; it’s quite heavy stuff. Deals with themes like repressed homosexuality, child grooming, and features more than one character with ‘daddy’ issues. Has some refreshing surprises in store for those who’d like to invest in it, though it clearly isn’t for everyone. 8 / 10

From ‘heavy’ to comedic and light-hearted, Schneider vs Bax is about a hit-man who we first see being woken up by his wife and daughter on his birthday. As it is his birthday, he has the day off… until he gets an emergency call from his contractor to take out a reclusive writer who’s living in a cabin with his mistress. This film was every bit as crazy as it first sounds, and it delivers with a somewhat coherent narrative that, for the most part, manages to hold together just enough to be believable. It’s all done with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour of course, but it also has a heart underneath its exterior. Worth seeing, whatever your personal taste. 8 / 10

Six more to go, from Monday and Tuesday. This included Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue. Having not read the book myself, I took a bit of a punt on this one and, boy, was it worth it. Room is probably going to turn out to be the best literary adaptation of the year overall – it’s already secured a place in my personal end of year list. I went into it not knowing much of the story at all and, as with many films (I’m not a big fan of trailers, remember), I think that’s the best way to approach it if you also haven’t read the novel on which it’s based. All you really need to know is: the film is seen mainly from the point of view of a 5 year old boy (Jack) whose only experience of life so far is from within ‘room’, where he and his mum live. As his latest birthday passes, Jack begins to wonder whether there might be more to discover… It’s due to be released nation-wide in a few weeks, and is one definitely worth checking out. 9 / 10

11 Minutes is a Polish film by experienced director Jerzy Skolimowski and is the official Polish entry for Best Foreign Language Film at next year’s Academy Awards. In a post-screening Q & A, Skolimowski admitted that his film was likely to provoke a love/ hate type of reaction, and to be totally honest, I found myself more in the latter category. To me 11 Minutes just felt like a mess of scenes jumbled together, leading up to an ending that didn’t really mean anything. My main thought from the film as a whole was: what exactly was the point? The film is smartly shot and features some clever editing, but lacks overall substance in my eyes. To sum up what there is of a ‘plot’: it follows a set of seemingly unrelated characters over the course of 11 minutes between 5:00-5:11pm, who are eventually brought together at the end. Why? Well, that’s kind of for you to judge, though I struggled to find an answer. In fact I struggled to find a reason that justified my spending 81 precious minutes of my life watching this movie at all. 3 / 10

That feeling didn’t last long as the next film I saw was Chronic, starring Tim Roth in a challenging role as a care worker who seems to take care for his chronically ill patients to a level bordering on unhealthy. He spends his evenings checking up on patients online, and regularly takes on his co-workers shifts in order to spend more time caring for them day and night. Initially the premise for this movie gave me the impression that it would go in a different direction than it actually does, and ultimately Roth’s character is a sympathetic one rather than the bad guy you may have suspected him as going in. Chronic is an interesting and honest character study; I suspect its title refers not to the numerous patients we meet, but Roth’s character himself, who bears his own chronic obsession with helping people. To this end, it asks the question: how far is too far? It does so while challenging its own audience on what they would feel is appropriate. An exceptionally intriguing movie. 9 / 10

Then came one of my most anticipated screenings coming into the weekend: The Survivalist. This same movie was the closing night premiere of Belfast Film Festival back in April, and this London screening was its first in mainland Britain. As always, it sounded nice to hear Northern Irish accents on stage as director Stephen Fingleton and lead actor Martin McCann introduced the film before closing it out with a Q & A at the end. The title is fairly self-explanatory as it pertains to premise: a man is trying to survive alone in an environment overrun by nature, and doing a pretty good job of it when the film opens.

Martin McCann played the 'survivalist' himself, but was the film any good?

Martin McCann played the ‘survivalist’ himself, but was the film any good?

Here’s the thing about my feelings regarding The Survivalist: I wanted to enjoy it more than I actually did. I’d like to hope I’ve made this fairly obvious up to now. In this case as in any other, upon the acknowledgement of such possible bias, one’s opinion – whether good or bad – should always be taken with a fair pinch of salt. I’d definitely recommend taking a look at The Survivalist if you get the chance, but can’t claim it’s worth any more than a rental. Why? It’s difficult to put my finger on that. There were numerous elements within the film that I felt were slightly cliche, not least the premise itself, and frankly the production values just didn’t feel on par with the other films I viewed at the festival. Perhaps it’s unfair of me to judge it alongside other national cinemas that have gained much greater prestige than Northern Ireland currently has. But that is where I will leave it for now. It’s not a bad movie – my honest assessment is that it’s a rather average one, and in some cases, that might even be considered worse. 5 / 10

The final two films I enjoyed were Bulgarian drama Thirst and an eerie French dreamlike experience called Evolution. Thirst  focused on two families – one a mother, father and son who earn their income by washing sheets for local hotels, the other a father and daughter who arrive to drill for water. The latter’s introduction into the former’s way of life goes some way to upsetting what was a delicate balance, and the five-person group head towards a seemingly inevitable (and literally explosive) climax. I can understand how the words ‘Bulgarian family drama’, when put together, may make the average British filmgoer apprehensive, but this movie was more entertaining and emotional than one would think from the premise. 8 / 10

But Evolution was something else entirely. I don’t really want to say anything about it; the most I knew going in was that it was an ‘existential horror’ with undertones of Cronenberg and H. P. Lovecraft. It’s certainly deserving of those comparisons; the film is every bit as beautiful, creepy and emotional as you’d expect of it, the bar having been set so high. I was left speechless by the whole experience, which is testament to how effective it was. There is not much dialogue; most of the story instead told through evocative imagery and character close ups. If you need any premise, the most I’ll give you is this: the main character is 10 year old Nicolas, who lives on an island with a group of other boys and their mothers. There are no men in sight, and the women all go off at nights to engage in… who knows what. A general feeling that everything’s not quite as it seems is only exasperated when Nicholas decides to follow the women one night to see what they get up to… This is a film that, rather like David Lynch’s Eraserhead, can’t be described effectively on paper and has to be experienced on an individual level for one to truly ‘get it’. 9 / 10

The London Film Festival actually ran from the 7-18th October (only finishing today) but I was unfortunately only able to attend for a portion of that time, and only saw a small portion of the great selection of films that were on offer overall. If this group was anything to go by, I trust the rest of the festival was as much of a blast. We’ll be seeing quite a lot of them filter out into our cinemas over the next few months and no doubt playing a major part in awards season at the start of next year (I’ll make an early shout that Bone Tomahawk should walk away with something).

Click here for a link to the festival’s website.

The Gift.

Gift pic 1.

“You may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you.”

Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is the latest in a string of impressive directorial debuts over the past year. My two favourite films of 2014, The Babadook and Nightcrawler were also the debuts of their respective directors, as was Ex Machina earlier this year and most recently Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. These are genuinely excellent films for a new generation, from a new generation of filmmakers, and as someone who likes seeing fresh ideas rather than the same repeating patterns, it’s one of the few recent industry trends that I find exciting.

Does Edgerton’s movie belong in the same category as those other films? I think it comes close, and is certainly one of the more interesting cinema releases this summer.

Fresh off his portrayal of Ramesses in Exodus: Gods and Kings – arguably the best thing about that film alongside Christian Bale’s Moses – Edgerton emphatically proves with The Gift that he is much more than the proverbial one-trick pony, in both his acting ability and in an accomplished sense of direction which helps turn what could have been – indeed what starts out as – another generic Hollywood thriller, into something much more intriguing.

Having said that, its secret is actually quite simple: plotting. The Gift captures the essence of what makes you come back to any good story, winding one way and then another, before a surprising and satisfactory conclusion. It begins with a happily married couple, Simon (played by Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) moving to a new house, Simon having just secured a new job. They seem to have a picture-perfect lifestyle, though little details over the course of the film’s first half reveal that Robyn may have had recent issues with mental health and/ or drug addiction.

Once they’ve moved in, they soon meet Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (played by Edgerton himself), a stranger who claims to know Simon from school. Gordo comes across suitably creepy at first; while he does not appear overly threatening, you get the feeling you wouldn’t want to leave him alone with your kids. He starts to leave harmless gifts on the couple’s doorstep as a way of welcoming them to the neighbourhood, and as the film goes on you begin to wonder when we’ll finally discover his true intentions. This undercurrent of slight unease from start to finish is one of the movie’s core strengths.

The Gift does a great job, exemplified through Edgerton’s ambiguous character, of luring you in with a seemingly formulaic set-up before turning certain plot elements on their head. As the story progresses, especially towards the final third, you begin to suspect Gordo might not be such a bad guy at all; while his presence unsettles the relationship between Simon and Robyn, you get the sense that might not be his fault, but rather an unspoken aspect of the past that gradually changes how we see one of these main characters.

Yes, this is a movie about how our past sins can come back to haunt us, but it also goes a little further than that; suggesting that our past sins or mistakes, if not adequately dealt with, are actually indicative of who we are today. We see, as more details are revealed, that said character is essentially the same person they were then – and their lack of remorse or ability to see themselves as having done anything truly wrong is eventually used against them.

The surprises don’t stop there with this film, though any further details should really be experienced in the cinema rather than a review. Needless to say, The Gift is one of my favourite films of the summer. It won me over with its simplicity, and I think it will likely do the same for you.

9 / 10

2. Memento (2000)

Memento pic 1.

Memory can change the shape of a room; it can change the color of a car. And memories can be distorted. They’re just an interpretation, they’re not a record, and they’re irrelevant if you have the facts.”

Leonard Shelby is as unreliable a narrator as you’re likely to find – mainly because it is not only the audience that is unsure whether they can trust him, but Leonard himself. Suffering from a form of short term memory loss caused by thugs in an attack that also killed his wife, Leonard (played by Guy Pearce in what I consider his signature role) lives only for revenge, surviving each day by taking celluloid pictures and writing endless amounts of notes to keep track of where he’s just been and where he wants to go next.

Memento was Christopher Nolan’s second feature film, before he became best known for his Dark Knight trilogy and mind boggling, big budget epics. For me it’s still his best work, and certainly his most innovative.

In order to keep us in the same state of disorientation as the protagonist, the film’s scenes are shown in reverse order, meaning we see what happens before knowing what came before it. This was more than a simple gimmick designed to catch the audience’s attention, though; it did that for sure, but those who’ve watched the entire film and seen the final scene understand that its structure is essential in delivering quite a unique final twist.

In the end, the movie leaves you wondering whether it’s really convinced by its own rules – a nice narrative element further developed with multiple viewings. Memento is definitely one of my ‘most watched’; though I refuse to watch the alternative version, which shows the scenes in chronological order. That is not how this movie should be viewed, and even after all these years of knowing it, I still feel I wouldn’t want to spoil it for myself next time.

7. Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver pic 1.

Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.”

Travis Bickle is truly one of the most complex characters in Hollywood cinema history. Here is a man who would not take it any more, and would use his anger towards the perceived trash of society for a final act of righteousness… or not, depending on your point of view.

For all the controversy Taxi Driver’s violent final act caused upon its release, the film is most intriguing as a psychological study of what loneliness and a feeling of ‘not belonging’ can do to an average man. Here, Robert De Niro plays the lead character in a role that remains among his best (though another of his famous partnerships with Scorsese, 1980’s Raging Bull, probably just snatches that honour).

It was offensive for sure, but I believe appropriately so. If one felt terribly offended by the vulgar content of Travis’ private monologues, which gave the audience a valuable insight into his increasingly vulnerable psyche, I daresay it was only because they took it to be directed towards them in some way. Perhaps Travis was intending to talk to you directly. Or maybe you simply disagree with his outlook and methods.

But if Taxi Driver conveys one thing better than most other films, it is the nature of subjectivity. Travis’ thoughts and feelings are exactly that; his own. What the movie does so well is insightfully let you know how, and why Travis develops those thoughts and feelings based on his surroundings. In the end, one could possibly feel slightly sorry for him, or dislike him – though you will at least understand him.

12. Hidden (2005)

Hidden pic 1.

The tape runs for another hour, if you want to watch how he feels.”

A French domestic thriller/ drama by Austrian-German director Michael Haneke, Hidden (known as Cache everywhere except the UK and Ireland) became one of my favourite films during my university years. With themes related to class, race and even the history of French colonisation, it was also one of the first films that taught me how effectively the medium could be used to subtly communicate messages about almost anything; and just how much you could find if you looked hard enough. This is certainly a film all about ‘looking’.

Starring Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche as a bourgeois husband and wife who find themselves the target of mysterious video tapes made by someone who is seemingly watching their every move, this film quickly became one of the most talked about European cinema releases when it debuted back in 2005. Its director, Haneke, has since gone on to win the Palme d’Or twice in three years – with The White Ribbon in 2009 and Amour in 2012 – and is now one of the most respected industry names. But Hidden is still my film of preference from his acclaimed filmography.

There really isn’t much more I can say now without spoiling what I guarantee will be one of your more memorable recent viewing experiences. Place Hidden/ Cache near the top of your watch list if you haven’t yet seen it, and with a little patience, you may find it makes you look at films differently as well.

20. Ring (1998)

Ring pic 1.

The media haven’t changed much in 40 years.”

Okay, so this one is light on quotable lines. Instead, Hideo Nakata’s Ring is a horror film primarily concerned with imagery and atmosphere. The latter plays such an important role that most of the movie comes across as more of a mystery thriller than the psychological horror it claims to be. But make no mistake – Ring is not heralded as one of the most important recent horror films for nothing, and that scene towards the end has deservedly become one of the most iconic images in the history of the genre.

It’s fitting perhaps, that only a couple of days ago I referenced Train Pulling into a Station (1895) and how audiences were fooled then into thinking a train was actually going to come out of the screen towards them. Part of the horror of Ring is that kind of thing actually does happen here. The film’s antagonistic spirit, Sadako, uses a video tape as her means to spread a ‘curse’ that gives its victims a week’s warning before she literally crawls out of their television screens to collect the debt.

A main component in Ring’s success was in how it mixed older elements of Japanese folklore, that being the restless ‘yurei’ spirit of Sadako, with the modern technology of TV and videotapes. Such a juxtaposition sounds simple, but in this case it proved quite potent, bringing with it underlying themes such as the collision between Japanese cultural traditions and modernity. It represented a true evolution for the genre – in Japanese terms at least.

In time, the effects would seep into American cinema as well; many Western audiences, including myself, were first introduced to the film via its 2002 Hollywood remake, The Ring. As recently as It Follows (2015), we can see that Ring’s unconventional legacy continues to be passed on, ultimately inspiring its viewers to do more than just ‘make a copy’.