Shiva Baby – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 18 minutes, Director – Emma Seligman

While attending a shiva college student Danielle (Rachel Sennott) finds herself encountering many awkward interactions, including with her ex-girlfriend (Molly Gordon) and sugar daddy (Danny Deferrari).

Out of all places where you’d least want awkward, pressured into a corner, interactions a post-funeral gathering is perhaps towards the top of the list. It’s just the place where money-tight college student Danielle (Rachel Sennott) experiences almost every kind of social disaster possible. Her anxiety skyrockets, as does that of the audience, over the course of a tense 78 minutes as she encounters not just her ex-girlfriend, Maya (Molly Gordon) and her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari), but every unnameable friend and family member possible. All of the latter asking her if she’s lost weight and is eating enough, while saying that she appears to have gained weight as soon as she’s walked off.

Writer-director Emma Seligman’s feature debut – adapted from her short film of the same name – plays out in what feels like real-time. This style heightens the anxiety and tension that rises throughout the short run-time of the piece and truly places you in the shoes of the suffering central figure as she tries to weave her way through the event with as little trouble, mix-ups and identity reveals as possible. None of which is helped by her parents (Fred Melamed, Polly Draper) who want to tell everyone about how well their daughter’s doing at college, which Max doesn’t know she attends. In tandem Danielle is unaware of Max’s business-minded wife, Kim (Dianna Agron), or the fact that the couple have a child together. Seligman manages to mix humour into the proceedings while also allowing for the awkwardness to come through at the same time, hand in hand with tension. A cocktail of effects that all have an impact on the viewer and never get in the way of each other.

Seligman’s fluid and clearly structured narrative is brought further to life by the fine performances that line it. All characters largely present in the cramped environment of a small front room. Sennott in particular, in the lead role, perfectly captures and gets across the internal panic and fear of her character as she fails to avoid conversation and all manner of awkward encounters. Ariel Marx’s score adds to this with rising strings that feel as if they’ve been taken directly from a horror movie. Truly adding to the piece and putting you near the edge of your seat with tension and anticipation, wanting to see how the unpredictable set of circumstances will pan out.

The build-up suggests that it could end any way, although mostly perhaps that it won’t end well for a number of characters with the amount of secrets that some are hiding, painfully discovered by others at various points throughout – the slight feud between Danielle and Molly turns into a battle with known secrets as weaponry. There’s not one moment or scene where full advantage is not taken to increase the heaped tension and humour that the film raises, alongside advancing characters with something to do that helps to advance the narrative, or rather dizzying awkwardness that the central figure is plunged further into.

Despite the tension and anxiety that runs thickly throughout Shiva Baby is still a hugely enjoyable watch. All elements come together to create a fine, entertaining blend that forces the viewer to take a centre seat in-front of the crowd of gathered mourners and gossipers. It’s far from the drama of something like Uncut Gems, but equal levels of tension are mixed in with the film’s finely tuned humour, boosted by an excellent ensemble cast and stirring score. There’s a lot to like with the anxiety-based endurance test that is Shiva Baby. Luckily it’s a brilliantly made debut feature and keeps you entertained rather than cringing over the course of the gripping, fast-flowing 78 minute run-time.

The real time feel is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the anxious tension that flows thick throughout Shiva Baby. Luckily, there’s plenty of effective humour in Emma Seligman’s excellent debut feature, brought further to life by a great ensemble cast.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Nobody – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 32 minutes, Director – Ilya Naishuller

A former intelligence agency worker (Bob Odenkirk) finds himself the target of a Russian mob boss (Aleksey Serebryakov) after an attempted night-time robbery in his home.

There are plenty of action films where a character will say a line just before a needle-drop where you know that it’s about to go down. Nobody is filled with such moments. Each one bringing the viewer closer to the screen in giddy anticipation to see how someone’s face is going to meet Bob Odenkirk’s bloodied fist next. Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, by day he’s a number-cruncher for his father-in-law’s (Michael Ironside) factory, by night he oversleeps so that he misses the chance to put the bins out. It’s a mundane life of repetition as distanced as his relationships with his family appear to be. Excitement arrives when one night Hutch finds his home being subject to an attempted robbery. Not much is stolen – a few dollars, his watch and his daughter’s prized kitty-cat bracelet – however the family man who once plodded through life finds himself subject to ridicule from neighbours and friends as they tell him how they would have engaged in full combat with the would-be burglars.

Where the narrative then runs almost feels like a classic episode of The Simpsons. One random thing is built up to then lead to almost absurd, unrelated heights. Setting out to prove himself Hutch soon finds his situation spiralling. His façade of a normal life is shattered as he becomes the target of Russian crime boss Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksey Serebryakov). It’s here that we learn about Hutch’s past life as an “auditor” for various intelligence agencies and it’s made clear that there will indeed be glorious action.

Nobody has already received plenty of comparisons to the successful John Wick franchise – screenwriter Derek Kolstad has worked on the script for each title. There are plenty of (literally) explosive knife, gun and good old fashioned fist fights to call back to the series, however there are also sequences that feel inspired by, what was viewed to be Wick’s rival at the time, The Equalizer. What sets this out from both features is the levels of humour that the film brings in. Far from that of a generic, cheesy action film, and not exactly one-liners as some may have come to expect from the ‘geriaction’ genre – of which this doesn’t really fit into, although the age of the central figure is subject to a couple of prods and nudges – it’s simply small details that involve themselves in the ensuing violence and bloodshed, adding to the overall entertainment value of the film. As things pan out and circumstances escalate it’s hard not to let out giggles of joy as more and more great introductory lines and needle-drops are introduced. Paving the way for moments that can only be described as COOL!

Director Ilya Naishuller – with previous action experience on the first-person perspective feature Hardcore Henry – makes sure to keep things fast-paced and engaging. The run-time is only 92 minutes, with credits. While the violence is often centre-stage it’s never completely dwelled on. While some might choose to show a triple headshot in slow-motion for full effect Naishuller simply shows the event happening as it happens and moves on; managing to have more effect on the pacey nature of the piece. As open-road car chases smoothly lead into enclosed battles and trap detonations there’s plenty of exciting, entertaining thrills that lead you to sit on the edge of your seat, leaning forward towards the screen in anticipatory joy.

The initial gradual build-up of Hutch’s conventional mundane everyday family man routine pays off when it comes to the ensuing action. It’s a worthwhile build-up that also acts as a near deception for the audience, almost unprepared for what’s to come as you witness the, still amusing, normal life of Odenkirk’s wonderfully performed character; it’s clear that he’s having a great time. As he grunts and stabs a group of Russian home-invaders for ruining a perfectly calm family lasagne dinner it’s hard to not want to punch the air, or raise both fists up in celebration, as he puts long-dormant skills to use. Even the brief appearances of Christopher Lloyd, who it’s wonderful to see, elicit this response. It’s all down to the highly entertaining nature of Nobody and the humour in which it carries with itself. Not taking things too seriously and recognising, alongside Odenkirk, exactly who its main character is. Allowing for a violently COOL! audience experience.

Much like Odenkirk’s wonderfully performed main character, Nobody slightly deceives you, before transforming into an endlessly entertaining action flick that knows not to be without humour, injected well into the effective violence and needle drops.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 57 minutes, Director – Haruo Sotozaki

A group of demon slayers board a train believed to be full of demons who have been killing fellow blade-wielders.

Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train is perhaps the first time since cinemas reopened in the UK where the big-screen experience truly elicited a genuine “Wow!”. Its visual flare and style, mixing together stylish anime with dashes of CG animation, is fantastic, drawing you into the action-packed world of demon slaying battles that make up the fast-paced near two hour run-time of the piece. The narrative carries on from the first series of the hit anime series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, acting as a bridge between that and the upcoming second series. However, the film successfully ticks the boxes of working for both the worldwide fanbase of the show and those who may not have seen it or are completely unaware of it – myself falling into the latter camp.

For those who haven’t seen the worldwide phenomenon – as the feature has also become, now in place as the highest grossing film of 2020 – the main story revolves around a group of young demon slayers boarding a train which is believed to hold many demons who have been killing fellow slayers. Led by Tanjiro (Natsuki Hanae), they board and meet master blade-wielder Rengoku (Satoshi Hino). While for audience who are more engaged with the series there’s a look into characters past and minds, elements delving into background and context – although nothing to exclude other viewers. In fact there’s something interesting about the nature of the film as it delves into the dreams and subconscious of the central figures. Forming a connection with them and engaging the audience into the film all before the action once again kicks off.

There’s almost a solid 30-40 minutes of non-stop action. Finely styled to match the tone and themes of the film, not to mention the visual nature which commands to be seen on the big screen, especially when it comes to the design of the various battles. Each one filled with tension and excitement. What makes the action work even better is the fact that even with so much going on there’s a focus on where each character is, you know where they are at all times, who they are and what they’re doing. While focusing on one figure the film never allows others to be forgotten at any point, simply making the action all the more better. Allowing it to flow with more ease and catch those watching up in that world-involved action. Causing them to lean forward in engagement and intrigue as the simple base narrative pans out, adding in character detail and background along the way to make for an even more effective piece of work.

This is far from a dark film. The contrast between the character styles shows that, demons are often darkly shaded, covered in what look like tattoos and body markings – one main villain, Enmu (Daisuke Hirakawa), bringing in a lot of fun and some of the best combat exchanges and sequences, has a hand with its own mouth; think a scarier, more gothic version of Thing from The Addams Family – while slayers have more lighter colours and abilities. Rengoku has a fiery nature, often surrounded by bright blasts of yellow, orange and red. Intensifying the flare and stunning visual nature of the film that truly comes to life on the big screen. There’s so much detail present in the animation that the senses and responses to the unfolding action are heightened making for an even better experience. All wrapped up in a wholly entertaining film, almost from the very start as the central characters run to leap onto the train as it departs from the station.

Alongside this the film is certainly not without its slight humorous beats. Most of which come from half-man, half-boar character Inosuke (Yoshitsugu Matsuoka). Initially his appearance on the train is treated as fairly normal, he walks past people who generally appear to ignore him. And within the world of the film this works perfectly, it’s simply another factor that adds to the detail and brings you further in and therefore has an even bigger impact on the already repeated effects. Add to this a not half bad score and the generally consistent nature that the film has, rarely missing a beat and working for all kinds of audiences, no matter what their familiarity with the series is – although the final 10-15 minutes perhaps leans more towards the fans as it establishes the end of the bridge towards the likely start of the second series – and you have an excellently entertaining time. One that commands the big screen thanks to its visual style and finely pieced together near non-stop action which expands the world and makes for what’s perhaps one of the most entertaining films of the year. Cinema is very much back!

The brilliant blend of animation and fluid world-involved action are already great, however where Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train truly succeeds is in its ability to explore characters, with detail, for both fans and those unaware of the series it extends from.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First Cow – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 2 minutes, Director – Kelly Reichardt

When a lone cow is introduced to early 19th Century Oregon the newly formed friendship of chef Cookie (John Magaro) and immigrant King Lu (Orion Lee) benefits as they begin to make and sell treats with the help of its milk.

For those unaware of the phenomenon that is ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) it’s often described as a tingling feeling down your spine or across your body, sometimes in response to certain gentle visual, verbal and audible triggers that have a generally relaxing nature. Over the past couple of years it’s gained a large following on YouTube, and has even begun to be incorporated into films – a haircut scene in 2017’s Battle Of The Sexes took direct inspiration from ASMR videos. Now, whether intentional or not, Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow finally makes it to the UK, after being released in the US early last year, and provides such comforting feelings. There’s a genuinely relaxing feeling that lies throughout the film with it’s naturally gentle treatment of the friendship at the heart of it.

The friendship at hand is between chef Cookie (John Magaro) and Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee). The two meet in the wilderness of early 19th Century Oregon, while Cookie is working for as the mistreated chef for a group of fur-trappers and King-Lu is on the run from a group of Russians. It’s established that, while in two very different ways, the two are outsiders in their differing situations. This chance encounter is the beginning of what feels like a genuine friendship. A number of years later the two find themselves sharing a cabin, wondering how they can get by with Cookie’s skills. Things eventually turn around, in terms of time in the world of the film and its run-time, when a lone cow is brought into the area by an Englishman known as the Chief Factor (Toby Jones). The milk the cow provides opens up plenty of new opportunities for the pair in terms of recipes. Taking some milk for themselves in the dead of night they begin to expand operations, making what they refer to as ‘oily cakes’ which they sell with great success and acclaim at the nearby market.

A slight smile of hope and joy gradually forms on Magaro’s face as his character sees the titular cow for the first time. It’s a sign that he believes his fortunes are finally turning around and that this change could vastly improve his life. While he might be stealing the milk of an animal which belongs to someone else this doesn’t really enter your mind, instead you simply feel happy for him and King-Lu, wanting to see them succeed. The film is led by two highly understated central performances that get across the small impacts of the various gestures, conversations and kindnesses that make up Reichardt’s latest feature (co-written with Jon Raymond, the writer of the novel on which the film is based on, The Half-Life). With everything that happens over the two hour course of the film it forms something the complete opposite of The Revenant.

When more serious dramatic elements are introduced in the final 20-25 minutes of the piece you’re almost unprepared for them. Because of how quiet and calm the film has been in the build-up to this point you almost don’t feel ready for the slight shift. You’re still engaged with the characters and there’s certainly still an effect, but perhaps not as much as there could be, especially when it comes to some of the potential emotional impact that the film appears to be aiming for. However, this does show the strength of the 90 minutes beforehand, particularly when the film finally gets around to the more business related venture that the central pair set out on. Magaro and Lee both give strong performances that feel genuine and believable. Very subtle and never forcing anything onto the viewer, as is the case with Reichardt’s film as a whole, simply following the developing respectful friendship over the course of 122 minutes. It’s finely done and truly leaves a comforting mark on the viewer, and forms a personal cinematic experience unlike any other. All through calmly viewing the quietly genuine – to use an overused, yet sincere, pun – milk of human kindness.

First Cow may very well be the definition of an actual comfort film. You might not quite be ready for the dramatic rise in the final stages but Magaro and Lee remain strong leads with subtle, understated performances, pushing the genuine friendship at the heart of Kelly Reichardt’s calming film.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Quiet Place Part II – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 37 minutes, Director – John Krasinski

Following on from the events of A Quiet Place, the Abbott family (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe) venture into the noise of the outside world, searching for silent safety in various different places.

Thank God for John Krasinski and Paramount waiting and delaying A Quiet Place Part II so that it can be viewed in a cinema! Of course, the first film, released back in 2018, was made all the more impactful from the edge-of-your-seat silent tension that all audience members took part in. From the start of the sequel it’s evident that the cinema speakers are being put to use, with the much advertised day 1 of the alien attack being witnessed in all its loud chaos. Skipping to day 474 we see the Abbott family immediately after the events of the first film. Venturing out from the silent sanctuary of their farmhouse home to hopeful safety in the noise of the outside world, using research for potential survivors collected by dad, Lee (John Krasinski).

The search for safety very much takes centre-stage in this sequel. While mother Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is simply looking for shelter and safety, worrying about the survival of her newborn baby, the older children are looking for something more permanent, away from the towering alien attackers. With this in mind brother and sister Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds) are perhaps the biggest focuses of the film. This decision certainly creates something interesting, and as deaf Regan ventures out in search of other survivors she becomes the biggest source of engagement with the film. Simmonds is put to good use, especially after the impact that she made in the first film, and gives a strong performance.

She ventures through a number of different areas and landscapes trying to get to a location with an uncertain result. However, as monsters race to attack and kill at any hint of sound, what remains of society has, of course, changed vastly. Krasinski’s follow-up (having solely penned and directed the film) lightly looks at such changes. We meet new major character Emmett (Cillian Murphy), a former family friend before his and the Abbott’s surroundings were dramatically removed. He appears to have lost his family and is simply trying to get by by himself for as long as possible, struck by recent grief.

Alongside elements such as gangs that have been formed in certain areas, teaming for survival, and a handful of other ideas the film doesn’t go overly in-depth into such points. Simply showing them as a thing and then moving on, seemingly wanting to be as close to 90 minutes as possible. Thus, when it comes to characters being split up at certain points the film jumps between two or three different perspectives. For the most part this works fine, especially when focusing on the arcs of the kids as they grow in confidence in this world, however when it comes to the latter stages of the film and the film cuts back and forth in one moment to show action happening in various places at one time it does nearly create a sort of shift away from focus for the viewer.

Yet, perhaps the biggest issue of all for the film is its use of sound. There’s a lot more talking and general noise in this sequel and you can’t help but feel that it removes a fair deal of the silent, gripping tension that made the original such a great cinematic experience. While there’s still some decent action and moments here and there – especially condensed into the short 97 minute run-time of the piece, including credits – the horror doesn’t come through as much. The film’s angle certainly seems more focused on character in this case, once again, particularly in the case of the younger figures; who are the main source of interest and engagement. There are a number of good ideas in the film, some not as explored as much as they perhaps could be, especially in the face of exploring more of changed environments, almost unrecognisable after the alien attack of a year and a half before the events of this feature. Generally the stakes and threat feels lower because of all the noise, perhaps meaning that while with some interesting points this film wouldn’t likely survive its own world.

Focusing more on characters A Quiet Place Part II makes the most of its young performers, particularly Millicent Simmonds. Allowing for, although underexplored, world development; and increased noise, removing levels of horror and tension.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Cruella – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 14 minutes, Director – Craig Gillespie

A hopeful fashion designer (Emma Stone) leaves a life of stealing on the streets of London to work for icon of the fashion world The Baroness (Emma Thompson)

Cruella De Vil is undeniably one of Disney’s most recognisable villains, we surely all aware of ‘her’ theme song. Glenn Close famously brought a celebrated turn to the hater of fur in the mis-90’s and early 2000’s, however in this 70’s set origin we see Emma Stone step into the shoes of Estella. After seeing her mother die, Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland on young Estella duty) runs away, blaming herself, and finds a home on the streets of London with fellow orphans Jasper (Ziggy Gardner) and Horace (Joseph MacDonald). The group grow up stealing and picking pockets, always looking for an angle to help get by, even when well grown up.

However, it takes a while to meet the grown-up versions of these characters. There’s certainly a lot of exposition to get through beforehand, and rather clunky exposition at that. A number of details seem rather forced, even when clearly groan-inducingly obvious, especially when it comes to certain origin elements for the titular figure. Generally the first act feels very clunky and more like a number of familiar ideas thrown together with basic dialogue thrown into the mixture too. It’s this first act that adds what feels like the most length onto what is by the end a slightly overlong film. Although, as we finally meet the 1970’s versions of the three characters things begin to somewhat pick up. We meet Emma Stone’s aspiring fashion designer, still living with her two friends (now played by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser respectively – the latter presenting a rather dodgy London accent) in a drab upper floor of a rundown, partly destroyed, building.

But, things are looking up, as she finds herself working up the ladder to her dreams. Starting off with a dead-end job in a lavish department store Estella soon finds her way to company with The Baroness (Emma Thompson) – one of the most famous and celebrated figures in the fashion industry. The Baroness is a stony-faced figure, little can please her. Her commands very often met in a highly unsatisfactory manner, however Estella shows some form of hope. Things are going well for the two, until Estella sees her employer wearing a necklace that belonged to her mother. Gradually as answers are looked for we see the birth of the monochrome haired face of evil, “born brilliant, bad and a little bit mad”.

Estella ditches her dyed red hair and unleashes black and white fury – with the help of her two henchmen. However, this fury comes in an explosion of colours. The costumes in this film are fantastic, and truly stand out amongst its merits, it’s highly likely that this could, rightfully, win the Costume Design Oscar next year. A far step away from the costumes of Mad Max: Fury Road, for which she also won an Oscar, costume designer Jenny Beavan demonstrates a fabulous array of character defining statements. A fabulous array of dresses, tuxes, jackets and masks that when paired with some of the hair and make-up and production design make for a rather visually intriguing and investing film, certainly drawing away from the state of some of the CGI dogs and water. Truly getting across the favourite combination of “gorgeous and vicious” that the central character devilishly smirks with.

Stone and Thompson are clearly having a great time playing their roles. It comes across in their characters and makes for two enjoyable performances and central figures to engage with over the course of the film, particularly when the run-time begins to be felt towards the end. The feeling is certainly present that this could be cut down to be a more rounded two hours at least. Even amongst the highly on-the-nose musical choices the performances carry through and so does the overall story. There’s an engaging enough narrative, led by its various characters, to make for an enjoyable piece. One that seems to know its target market. Much like with Mulan, Disney appear to be further branching out with the audiences and content of their live-action “reimaginings”. In the case of Cruella they appear to be pitching towards a teen/ young adult market, and the general nature of the film will likely capture that audience and work for them rather well. As for other audience members outside of this demographic there’s still plenty to enjoy about the flare and performances of the film – particularly Stone and Thompson – to make it a worthwhile, enjoyable and certainly stylish watch.

Stone and Thompson bring to life their two feuding characters and help lift Cruella from its clunky first act into an eventually enjoyable narrative. While some origin elements might seem too in-your-face the fantastic costumes have a similar, but much more wanted, effect.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Earwig And The Witch – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 23 minutes, Director – Gorō Miyazaki

A young orphan (Taylor Henderson) finds herself adopted by, and forced to work for, a witch (Vanessa Marshall)

Gorō Miyazaki is perhaps behind some of the bolder entries on Studio Ghibli’s slate. While his debut Tales From Earthsea might not be the best of the master-studio’s animations it certainly stands out as something adventurous and different from the many classic features that they’ve produced. It, including the animation style, feels inspired by a number of American fantasies of the 80’s. Now, the younger Miyazaki introduces a new animation style to the Ghibli roster in the form of their first fully 3D CG animated feature. Adapted from the Diana Wynne Jones children’s book of the same name (the studio previously adapted one of her works for, what is for my money their best feature to date, Howl’s Moving Castle), the story follows young orphan Erica (Taylor Henderson). She’s grown up, almost her entire life, in an orphanage, trying her best not to be adopted, making herself seem as unattractive a choice as possible – not knowing that she was left on the doorstep with instructions not to allow her to be adopted, the mother claiming she’ll be back one day when she’s away from a group of witches.

This final point comes back when Erica (real name Earwig) finds herself taken in by witch, Bella Yaga (Vanessa Marshall). Quickly Earwig is put to work, cleaning the grimy work area and prepping obscure ingredients for spells and potions. As this all-work treatment continues Earwig is determined to escape from the magical environment, although it’s not as easy as walking out the door – mostly due to the fact that it vanishes and moves when it comes whenever Bella Yaga wishes it to. In many ways this is as far as the plot extends, Earwig’s multiple attempts to escape, or at least learn some magic herself. With this in mind it’s not much of a surprise that the film only just reaches 83 minutes total run-time; including opening and closing credits. There’s not a great deal to grip onto within the rather simplistic narrative, and at times it’s even difficult to connect with Earwig who at times can prove to be quite an annoying protagonist.

Generally the film feels rather underdone. Admittedly it appears to be aiming for a much younger audience of children than many other Ghibli films, the general tone and style feels quite different to anything the studio has made before (even Earthsea had a fairly Ghibli tone to it). This particular film feels almost inspired by a number of smaller animations by some European groups – almost the kind we get from France and Spain with occasionally mildly starry casts for the English dub. The biggest name present within the cast for this particular film is undeniably Richard E. Grant, having great fun playing the growling voice of The Mandrake – a crochety, towering creature fond of nearby food, books and a good newspaper. Grant is certainly the most enjoyable thing about the film, and perhaps it is the fun you can hear him having that causes this.

Unfortunately it’s not enough to lift up the rest of the film – The Mandrake gets little screen-time, particularly within the first half to two-thirds of the film. The loose nature of the plot and simplicity of the film overall is a bit too much. Meaning that the film lacks in overall detail or escapist ability. Even the animation doesn’t feel completely best at times throughout. It’s no bad thing that at times it sometimes feels or looks a bit like stop-motion, however this is only in brief bursts and in general the look of the CG animation doesn’t always help with connecting with the film and feeling immersed within the limited boundaries of the world that it creates. Overall Earwig And The Witch unfortunately falls flat due to its lack of detail within the narrative, and to some extent its characters, luckily meaning that it only clocks in at 83 minutes.

While certainly something different from Ghibli, which is no bad thing, Earwig And The Witch unfortunately falters because of its general lack of detail making it feel underdone and hard to engage with.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Michael Chaves

The Warrens (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) try to prove that a young man (Ruairi O’Connor) accused of murder was possessed by the devil.

The devil made me do it is an excuse that for some people might simply call back to Bart Simpson’s fame-leading “I didn’t do it”. However, it’s (close to) a genuine claim made in a US court in the early 80’s, when a young man said that he was possessed by the devil when accused of murder. This leads the Warrens (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) to investigate before Arne Cheyenne-Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) is sent to prison, and possibly given the death sentence, for murder. There’s a race against time brought into this latest instalment into the Conjuring franchise, playing more dramatic or light-thriller related territory than horror. Of course, the traditional Conjuring jump scares are present, you can certainly tick of quiet, quiet, bang. But, this addition to the series – and third in the main line of Conjuring films – ticks off less of the boxes in Horror Movie Cliché Bingo than a handful of the other entries.

For the most part we focus on the the Warrens. The film takes time to explore their relationship, and the bond formed around their investigations into the supernatural and occult. While this mostly comes in the third act and in the final stages of the film for the film certainly focuses more on their relationship than previous entries may have done. All as they find themselves delving into a dark world beyond the normal possessions and hauntings that they’ve seen before. It’s perhaps these scenes of investigation and research that form the main source of engagement with the film. It certainly creates some interest within the characters and helps form a plot not overly reliant on weak scares. However, this does also cause the horror-leaning scenes to have little impact, the scares are for the most part fairly predictable and ineffective; as they commonly have been with this particular series.

Throughout director Michael Chaves (returning after one of the weakest entries into the series, The Curse Of La Llorona), alongside screenwriter David Leslie Gordon-McEldrick, seemingly pay homage to a number of classic films. It’s hard to not see in certain shots, and indeed scenes, references to The Exorcist and A Nightmare On Elm Street, although similarities can sometimes prove a bit much if they linger for too long. There’s also plenty here for fans of this franchise, of course the continuation of the Warrens is present, and the standard style of horror, but there’s also plenty of references – this wouldn’t be a Conjuring film without a reference to Anabelle, would it?

There’s plenty here to please fans of the franchise, of which there are clearly many, and perhaps even casual viewers too. The focus on the Warrens – Wilson and Farmiga both giving good performances – certainly adds something and allows for the plot to be followed with some ease, also preventing the film from feeling overly busy. It seems almost more restrained when compared to the previous entry in the main Conjuring trilogy – especially when it comes to the ending, a reveal with little impact is better than something over the top – and makes for something that’s easier to engage with and that certainly works well enough for most of its run-time. In many ways it’s testament to Ed and Lorraine as characters, how invested the writers and creators of the franchise are with them as characters – and of course Wilson and Farmiga are too. This click makes this latest entry into the Conjuring universe that bit more interesting, preventing it from simply coming across as cheap and lacking in scares.

By focusing more on the Warrens as characters The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It forms a more interesting, engaging storyline compared to previous entries in the franchise, and distracts from the mostly ineffective jump scares.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Unholy – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Evan Spiliotopoulos

A struggling journalist (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) begins to feel spirits are stalking him in the wake of the Virgin Mary helping a once mute and deaf girl (Cricket Brown) perform healing miracles.

We’re all aware of the term ‘be careful what you wish for’, writer Evan Spiliotopoulos twists this adage for his directorial debut, The Unholy, to ‘be careful what you pray for’ – close to one of the taglines for the film. We follow struggling journalist Gerry Fenn (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) as he’s called to investigate strange goings on in a small town in Massachusetts, involving markings on a cow. When it turns out that the occurrence is nothing more than a prank Gerry does what he’s become famous within his industry for and twists stories and scenery to fake a better article. However, with the alteration he commits here Gerry unknowingly releases a restrained demon on the town of Banfield.

Initially things seem miraculous. A local mute and deaf girl, Alice (Cricket Brown), finds herself suddenly able to speak and hear. With what she claims is the help of the Virgin Mary, she begins to heal sick people in the are – helping a paralysed boy walk. It’s not long until discussion about a tree just outside the church being made a shrine crops up; with Boston based Bishop Gyles (Carey Elwes) and Monseigneur Delgarde (Diogo Morgado) visiting to observe the occurrences and decide for themselves if indeed what is happening, and attracting mass internet conversation, is miraculous. It’s such elements that the majority of the film revolves around, playing more as a drama than anything else – particularly for the majority of the first two acts.

For much of this time the most horror comes from brief glimpses of a grey-hooded figure stalking Gerry, mostly around his motel, only appearing more for brief unsuccessful jump scares. By the time the final 20 minutes comes along the film feels the need to catch up with not just horror but the plot that it’s been somewhat light on until now. Cramming in a rushed investigation into tackling the realised problem of the demon that’s waiting to be released wider into the world, with the help of unwitting Alice. The simplicity of the narrative that has come beforehand almost feels thrown out the window in exchange for constant rushing about. Giving physician Natalie something more to do than simply stand around and briefly talk to Morgan’s character about Alice, possibly providing him with more insight for the story he so craves to help him get back into the big time of journalism, already being attracted by a number of major publications.

As the horror pushes almost all at once the final handful of scenes remain with the supernatural element but never feel as if there’s any threat present. The lack of scares, chills or tension cause a sense of distance with the piece and almost feel out of character when compared to the simple drama of beforehand, albeit with some slightly demonic elements or glimpses; which also lack any proper impact. The Unholy’s final stages simply feel overblown, and as if the horror has arrived too late in the game to properly feel a part of the film, alongside not overly working in the first place. While what might have come beforehand was somewhat decent, even if the horror patches didn’t quite click, the rush to form a proper plot in the final half hour lets things down and makes for something that feels more messy than scary.

The Unholy works best when it works as a, even if simplistic, drama with some supernatural elements. By the time the horror is properly introduced things feel too rushed and messy to have any proper impact.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Peter Rabbit 2 – Review

Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Will Gluck

After being marketed as ‘the bad seed’ Peter Rabbit (James Corden) runs away from the McGregor’s (Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson) garden and falls in with a group of heist-planning animals.

Perhaps one of the last things to be fully expected from Peter Rabbit 2 is a somewhat self-aware nature. The point where the film begins to welcome the viewer in is as it pokes fun at a charming, innocent book series being turned into something more mass-market to make money, removing all British identity with an American at the helm. In fact, it’s roughly this idea that Peter Rabbit 2 revolves around. After penning her hit childrens story Peter Rabbit. Bea (Rose Byrne) is receiving interest from a big time publisher, Nigel Basil-Jones (David Oyelowo – who it’s always nice to see). However, Nigel has views to adapt Peter Rabbit for a bigger market, giving similar treatment to that he gave a picture book about insects – giving them skateboards and cartoon faces to make them more appealing to modern readers. Through this he displays potential character posters for the cast of rabbits, pitching Peter (James Corden) as ‘the bad seed’.

Fed up of getting into constant trouble, often through misunderstandings or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and being pitched as the villain Peter decides to run away. It’s not long until he bumps into an old friend of his father’s Barnabas (Lennie James), think a more family-friendly stereotypical Ray Winstone character. Peter finds himself joining Barnabas’ crew and leaving his old life in the McGregor’s garden behind. Instead planning a dried fruit heist at the local farmer’s market, rat Whiskers (Rupert Degas) being a highlight with his occasional sidetracks and regularly interrupted, romanticised flashbacks and plan walkthroughs. During some of the more heist orientated moments the film goes for a less in-your-face approach to that which the first had. There’s a lot less ‘unsubtle’ comedy present and it allows for an easier, more enjoyable watch – particularly when it comes to the final 20-25 minutes when the general plot comes more together and the film stretches out a bit more.

Still present are some of the general wisecracks of Corden’s titular figure and Domhnall Gleeson’s effects-assisted slapstick, however even these seem toned down in the sequel. Once the more self-aware, and slightly deprecating, nature comes through there’s a more enjoyable time to be had here than that of the first film. It might only be some lines here and there to start with, but as the film embraces such styles more and more and carries along through its fairly simplistic plot there’s enough present to fill the brief 93 minute run-time of the piece. There’s a consistency that helps things along even more and manages to help keep the pacing of the piece the same way – as it goes back and forth between two or three rural locations. For the most part there’s enough in Peter Rabbit 2; especially when it focuses more on slightly self-aware comedy and not cramming it in as much humour as possible, to make it an enjoyable watch that keeps you amused for most of its short run-time.

Peter Rabbit 2 succeeds by not only lessening some of the weaker elements of the first film, but also by managing to make jokes at such elements too. The plot and a number of gags throughout provide enough amusement to make for an easy enough, worthwhile viewing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.