Friday, 18 January 2013

AMERICAN MARY - a review by Paul Worts


The twisted Soska Twins indie debut feature film: Dead Hooker in a Trunk, a gutsy homage to grindhouse exploitation, made seismic ripples throughout film festivals worldwide when it surfaced in 2009.  Destined for cult status, it was a remarkably assured ballsy calling card for the twins, and their follow-up project, American Mary was hotly anticipated.


Medical student Mary (Katherine Isabelle), studies by day and practices her suturing techniques on dead turkeys by night. Money problems impinge on her studies and as she turns to alternative methods of financial sponsorship she finds herself being drawn deeper and deeper into an underground world of ‘body modification’ surgery.

This is a measured thought-provoking and at times challenging film. It slices through the layers of perceived normality, eviscerating so-called notions of ‘respectability’ and ultimately champions self-expression over conformity. It’s also very funny, although its humour is often of the blackest variety. Naturally, given its subject matter there are scenes of surgical implementation, but these are not mere cheap thrills. They are carefully staged, orchestrated by classical pieces of music (‘Ave Maria’ being used particularly memorably) and rather than play to the Grand Guignol gallery they invite a sombreness which induces hushed silence rather than nervous giggles or cheering whoops.
Katherine Isabelle as ‘Mary’ turns in a remarkable performance of range and depth rarely seen or indeed scripted in genre film making. Antonio Cupo provides excellent support as the sleazy nightclub owner ‘Billy’, and Tristan Risk’s performance as ‘Beatress’ is embodied with a truly heartbreaking pathos.
The eclectic soundtrack perfectly accompanies the film, each track or piece of music instantly conveys a scenes mood or intention, and the scope photography is striking and beautiful on its wide canvas.
American Mary will probably divide opinion, and perhaps that’s a good thing. It certainly doesn't take the easy path of pure amputation exploitation that the poster artwork may suggest, but it’s all the more richer and rewarding for it. The Soska twins have served up a delicious allegory based in part on their own experiences as film makers in the mainstream vs. indie arena, and their unique vision brings a more than welcome infusion of life.
Long live the new body modified flesh!

 

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

GRABBERS - a review by Paul Worts


“It’s the quiet places where all the mad shit happens”.

Director Jon Wright’s Grabbers is a good old-fashioned monster B movie. Good in the sense that it takes its time to introduce its characters (it’s genuinely likeable characters). Good in the sense that it has a no-nonsense pleasingly simple plot that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Good in the sense that it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and, above-all, good in the sense that its two main leads aren’t played by Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. In fact, the only element that’s not old-fashioned about Grabbers is the excellent CGI creature effect work which given the film’s modest budget puts some major studios efforts to shame.

A meteor crashes into the sea off the coast of Erin Island, a sleepy Irish fishing village. A fishing boat (fatally) mistakes it for a distress flare. An old man out walking his dog along the shore comes across the sight of a pod of dead Pilot whales washed ashore, and a local fisherman catches a strange kind of lobster and puts it in his bathtub...

The three main leads that are set for a close encounter of a most undesired kind with this nasty beasty are Richard Coyle - delivering a more than passable Irish accent as local Garda officer ‘O’Shea (an alcoholic); Ruth Bradley as the seconded from the mainland Garda officer ‘Nolan’ (a workaholic); and a pompous English so-called scientific expert, ‘Dr Smith’ played by Russell Tovey. Coyle and Bradley play the ‘opposites-attract’ dynamic with panache and Tovey heartily throws himself into the comedy mix as the English now-it-all. Ably supported by some fine Irish character actors (including Bronagh Gallagher from The Commitments) there is some nice character-driven humour before the real monster mayhem takes over. The culmination of which leads to the discovery that the creature is allergic to alcohol – result: the entire village is invited to a lock-in where the basic instruction is get pissed or get eaten.

The creature and its offspring are nicely rendered by effects company Nvizible, with the main monster being a seething mass of rotating tentacles, and the scope cinematography is nicely employed both as a means of capturing the picture-postcard natural beauty of the coastal vistas, and in then jarring the tranquillity with pans that reveal dead whales on the shore, or ominous eggs nestling in the sand...

It has been mentioned that the best way to view Grabbers is after a pint or two; I would humbly suggest it’s by no means a necessary requirement to enjoy this modest but lovingly crafted creature-feature.