I’d say this is one of the richest and most precisely orchestrated dramas I can recall seeing in many years. There’s such a thunderous atmosphere flooded throughout Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth as he crafts a film which manages to find an admirable balance between the power of silence and the outspoken nature of its titular protagonist. What appears as just another 19th century period drama soon morphs into a chilling tale of murder, lust and betrayal. This is helped by a screenplay which accurately represents the film’s wide range of emotions and dark themes, but without Florence Pugh’s controlling performance all these compliments would be meaningless. It’s an integral part of the film, Pugh portraying this figure with the most assured confidence that should see her go far as an actress. If anything, it’s one of the best performances of the year from any actor, male or female and Lady Macbeth stands tall alongside the best films released in the year. A phenomenal work of tension and accuracy.
Simply put, this is one of the most enthralling works of mystique I can recall seeing in years. Everything Joachim Trier places within Thelma is flooded with the most precise atmosphere that its power is hard to fully realise until the camera finally pans out one final time. As he did with the equally impressive Oslo, August 31, Trier succeeds by connecting ideas of psychological trauma with the most relevant issue of social interaction. It’s something we’re seeing more and more in recent years, but rarely has the balance been as refined as intelligent as we witness here. The lead performance from Elli Harboe is sensational. She manages to strike the film with a performance which feels nuanced yet emotionally visible, refined yet expansive. It’s representative of the film’s pure ambitious identity. Absolute stunning and one of the favourites of last year without a doubt.
As they did with Heaven Knows What, the Safdie brothers take a relatively familiar narrative and put their own unforgettable spin on it. There’s such an impressive atmosphere laced through every shot of Good Time as we follow this story all the way into nightmare mode, evoking similarities to a lot of things I love. It has the visual energy of Noe’s Enter the Void, exhausts the insomnia of Gallo’s Buffalo 66, and works the heist formula as effortless as any Lumet or Mann. Yet it feels beautiful and inseparable to anything made in years. There’s a freshness in how raw and brutal Good Time is and the frenetic style of certain sequences really amplifies all these above comparisons and helps to transition them into the film’s very own attributes. The way this is bookended by two of the film’s most emotionally charged sequences even further drives home its brilliance. Pattinson is sensational and I already need to experience this again.
Often criticised as simply a rip-off the more famous slashers of its time, Sleepaway Camp is far away from this and instead evolves into one of the most energetic and inventive horrors slasher has ever given us. There’s a raw, savage quality to Hiltzik’s film which is impossible to tear away from. He’s well aware of the film’s narrative relations in how the premise mimics the setting of Friday the 13th and how one of the death’s draws memory back to Psycho, but Hiltzik uses these influences intelligently, instead turning in a film which pushes on a lot more issues and human emotions than you’d anticipate.
Sleepaway Camp challenges conceptions of gender, the naivety of youth and the bullying ever present in films like these which really separates it from other slashers. It’s dark and misleading at times in where the narrative will culminate, but Hiltzik is directly focused on addressing all those above issues with an explosiveness rarely seen elsewhere. It just feels even more emphatic once the ending rolls around, but when all this is considered, it’s not all that shocking at all.
Much of this power is owed to how Hiltzik directs his camera. There’s the familar sinister movement of an unknown killer and the choice of cuts in the film’s most memorable moments. Some call for a range of quick cuts, others call for Sleepaway Camp to simply hover over the locale and engage the audience through atmosphere and suspense. That’s powerful to me.
It may seem obvious, but that’s one of the reasons Sleepaway Camp works as well as it does. Hiltzik is aware of every simplistic or inventive decision he makes, always adapting his ideas to what the sequence demands. When the credits have rolled and the horror of its ending has engulfed the viewer, you realise the sheer brilliance of Hiltzik’s action. It’s one of the finest works of slasher cinema about.
There are inevitable comparisons to the recent Girlhood, in how both Sciamma’s film and Divines both depict the poor inhabitants of its French locale and their struggle to escape into something more. The legendary La Haine even comes into memory here as another example, but there’s still something very special about what Benyamina achieves within Divines which I absolutely adored.
It’s a film aware of its rough edges and the trials of its characters through their unglamorous existence, but there’s always this flirtation and fantasy towards something better which gives it a nice kick. A notable example being Dounia and Maimouna’s Ferrari roleplay which is shot with a real creative swivel, giving the film more energy and enthusiasm.
From then on, Divines establishes itself with an identity we’ve seen explored before – selling drugs and appeasing the local kingpin, Dounia’s own love interest, and troubles at home with her alcoholic and promiscuous mother – but there’s always this insatiable enthusiasm and interest to anything the film says which relegates the importance of a lot of its familiarity seen in its narrative components.
You could even argue some of the film’s subplots aren’t fully realised, but I’d defend this theory with the suggestion they’re more than likely obstacles for Dounia to tackle as she goes through adolescence. This suggestion shows dividends in Divines final moments, as we witness our heroine distraught by what she’s been through already and the tragedy suffered hits home in the most explosive manner possible.
A wonderful, frenetic, memorable work of cinema, which deserves more attention. I look forward to see what Benyamina comes up with next.
In terms of biopic, Jackie succeeds because it manages to identify an iconic and unforgettable moment in American history without ever feeling like a lecture on the subject. But its success in terms of character assessment is where Pablo Larrain’s study of widowed first lady Jackie Kennedy makes its mark. Larrain manages to represent the strain on Jackie’s existence in what is the toughest week of her life, utilising the camera to absolute precision with the most uncomfortable close-ups on her face, detailing the immense stress and grief facing her at this time. Natalie Portman, in the role, is astonishing. The way her emotions are presented and the trauma seen within every expression provides even more trauma for the viewer witnessing it. It’s impossible to pull away from the dignity of Portman’s performance, the courage within her work to unleash every trait of acting and make it feel as pure and human as possible. I’m struggling to find another performance to compare it to, it’s that impressive. The writing is also excellent, but another element of Jackie which helps intensify the film’s traumatising atmosphere is Mica Levi’s score. It’s unbelievable.
One of the more supreme and underrated examples of non-franchise slasher cinema there is, Tony Maylam’s film is keenly indebted to the legacy of its clear inspiration in Friday the 13th. The Burning manages to explore similar narrative themes seen with Cunningham’s genre classic, and a lot of its criticism can be attributed to its similarities and a lack of intelligence in formulating its own real identity, but that couldn’t be further from the truth because Maylam’s film simply uses the Friday the 13th formula as a blueprint to shape something very different entirely. Sequences throughout will lead you to believe it’s another forgettable entry in a never-ending line of slasher films from the 1980’s, but The Burningincorporates elements I could never have expected. The way the killer stalks, how the camera presents him and the way Maylam elicits music queues as someone is about to be slaughtered evokes a mood more familiar with a lot of Dario Argento’s Giallo pictures. The killer is also shown dressed in all black to drive home the homage even further. It makes for a very unsettling atmosphere, and while the finale reverts back to more familiar slasher territory in a rather underwhelming manner, there’s no doubting this is a work of horror worthy of more discussion.