Crime novelist Vincent’s (Xavier Samuel) first book was a smash hit – and was based in part on the murder, as yet unsolved, of his wife two years previously. Perhaps that’s why he’s having so much trouble making progress on his follow-up book. Worse, he’s being harassed by a private detective (Rob Macpherson), who thinks that he had something to do with his wife’s death, and stalked by a mysterious hooded figure. It’s possible that a retreat to a remote country house with his new girlfriend, Carrie (Morgan Griffin) in tow, might be just the tonic he needs. Then again, this being a fairly rote example of Australian Gothic cinema, that might be just the place for everything to come to a head, complete with ghosts from the past, dark family secrets, and the odd bit of grim murder.
As a thriller, David Pulbrook’s (Last Dance) latest offering is pretty perfunctory. It’s competently directed and realised on what is evidently a fairly limited budget, which accounts for the low number of both characters and locations, but the script isn’t dexterous enough to overcome those handicaps. Bad Blood is heavily predicated on a surprise reveal that we won’t be callous enough to expose here. In the context of the film, it works a treat; the problem is, outside of that surprise, there’s not a lot left, narratively speaking, to keep the viewer engaged. Surprises only work once – there’s not a lot of re-watch value here.
Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth looking at once. Samuel and Griffin, last seen together in the B&S Ball rom-com Spin Out, both give good performances, with Samuel in particular stretching himself to play the frustrated writer who may or may not be a murderer – and who may or may not be cracking up. For her part, Griffin makes for a good Final Girl – even though, in this scenario, she’s almost the Only Girl – in the film’s last act.
Indeed, putting Griffin at the centre of things might have made Bad Blood a lot more effective as a thriller. Instead, we drift from Vincent’s perspective to Carrie’s as the film progresses and the plot demands, which feels like undisciplined writing. It’s easy to imagine a tighter version of the film with Carrie as our sole POV character, and Vincent by default a more suspect and menacing figure.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of Bad Blood will depend on your generosity as a viewer. It’s solid but unspectacular fare that will be all too familiar for genre regulars, but still provides a thrill or two.
Films such as The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 are considered classics in their genre; true tales of steely US determination to conquer the stars. Conversely, Russia, the US’s only real competitor in the great space race, is painted as a footnote in America’s climb to the top. Spacewalker attempts to re-address the balance with the true story of cosmonauts, Pavel Belyayev (Konstantin Khabenskiy) and Alexey Leonov (Evgeniv Mironov).
It’s the ‘60s and the US and Russia are competing to be the first to have a man walk in outer space. Getting wind of the progress their rivals are making, the Kremlin pull their deadlines forward by two years in the hope of being the first out of the gate. Directed by Dmitry Kiselyov (Black Lightning), Spacewalker starts with a tame first act that follows Belyayev and Leonov through their training. Slowly, we begin to see cracks in the veneer. Yes, a technician dies whilst helping to build the very craft that will be shot off into space. But hey, it’s nothing that isn’t to be expected and can’t be quickly dusted under the carpet all in pursuit of glory.
Once the cosmonauts are blasted off into the unknown, the aforementioned death retroactively becomes a portance of things to come. The rush to be first leads to problems and very quickly, Spacewalker breaks free from the biopic tropes that weigh it down to become a throughly engaging and tense thriller. Backed by a score that would make Hans Zimmer blush, Kiselyov racks up a surprisingly large amount of tension from a setting which is essentially two men in a metal box, whilst on Earth their fates are decided by bureaucratic yes-men more concerned about the reputation of the motherland.
Engrossing, nerve rattling and patriotic without turning into parody, Spacewalker is a fascinating glimpse into another time and place.
It is sometime in the not-too-distant future, and after some unspecified environmental collapse, genetically modified crops designed to save humanity are failing. Geneticist Erol (Jean-Marc Barr) hears tell of Cemil (Ermin Bravo), a controversial scientist who predicted what he called “genetic chaos” which now seems to be occurring. Looking for answers to the world’s current plight, Erol leaves the protection of the city and ventures out into the poisoned wilderness in search for Cemil, and what he discovers will change him forever.
Shot in gorgeous black and white by Hell or High Water cinematographer Giles Nuttgens, Grain unfortunately only has its visuals to recommend it. The plot itself is, after a very promising start, laborious new age twaddle masquerading as insightful reflection. The characters feel all too wooden, existing just as pontification devices, and with a running time of over two hours, there becomes a fine line between quiet, soulful contemplation and utter tedium.
Director Kaplanoğlu is obviously wearing his influences on his sleeve, as the film calls to mind Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker with a dash of Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent, but is considerably, achingly, less profound or entertaining. It is perfectly fine for filmmakers to adopt styles or framing from other filmmakers, as part of the enjoyment of the art form is how films become conversations with each other, but one also needs to measure up to those directors they are conversing with. If a film just ends up reminding the audience of a laundry list of better films, then it is in trouble.
As mentioned before, Nuttgens’s cinematography is absolutely stunning. The only thing that carries this film through its tedious quiet moments is the black and white images of the cold and barren landscape. It perfectly captures the dystopian vision of the film, while at the same time reinforcing the film’s themes of man’s relationship to nature and our hubristic obsession with “perfecting” it. These images are so well composed and bring forth the themes so strongly it is unfortunate the screenplay hammers them home so thoroughly, rather than letting those prolonged, silent moments of beautiful imagery just speak for themselves.
A strong start, amazing cinematography, and an interesting premise is not enough to save Grain from the protracted tedium of most of its running time. Props to the filmmakers for wanting to tell a worthy story about humanity’s environmental impact, and setting it in a dystopian future is a perfect way to do that. It is unfortunate that the film seems more interested in naval gazing than looking outward and making its story more universal, because then this morsel may have become a touch more palatable.
Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) and her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) are having a party for close friends after Janet’s unspecified British political party wins an election, putting her in the position of Health Minister. One by one the friends arrive: staunch pessimist April (Patricia Clarkson), her life coach husband Gottfried (Bruno Ganz),Bill’s university colleague Martha (Cherry Jones) and her pregnant wife Jinny (Emily Mortimer), and finally Tom (Cillian Murphy), the husband of Janet’s aide-de-camp who has arrived coked to the eyeballs and secretly armed with a handgun. Needless to say, the party begins civilly enough but quickly descends into a night of accusation, paranoia and violence.
Sally Potter’s brutal satire on modern society and politics starts quietly and builds to a hilarious crescendo as she manipulates her room of characters like a maestro conducting an orchestra. Working with a murderers’ row of acting talent from Britain, Europe and America, it isn’t hard for Potter to hit the right comedic beats at the right time, as they are all on very fine form here. The black and white cinematography and the single location give the film the right amount of claustrophobia, which gets tighter and tighter as the story progresses.
One is reminded, at least at first, of the Australian play Don’s Party by David Williamson, as a group of friends congregate (in this instance after the election) and as the liquor flows an unspoken tension rises to the surface and the cordial atmosphere begins to fracture. Then in the later scenes it begins to resemble Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel, as the characters seem to feel trapped inside the house, unable to escape the escalating events, even though the front door is right there in front of them.
The Party feels more like a filmed play than a piece of cinema, but with the acting talent on display that hardly matters, the script is thing and these performers make it positively sing. Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall are excellent as the upper class married couple whose relationship teeters on the brink of collapse, Murphy is wonderfully unhinged as the cocaine addled, villainised investment banker, and Jones and Mortimer provide a great counterpoint to one another, with Jones as the freewheeling feminist and Mortimer the traditional family woman. But the standouts in a film of standouts have to be Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz. Clarkson spends the entire movie spouting pessimistic and unhelpful rhetoric while Ganz is superb as the hippy guru wannabe, sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room, whispering new age gibberish, much to the consternation of most in the room.
The Party is whip-smart satire at its very best. A cast of incredible actors given a sparkling script can raise any film above the stratosphere and they do just that very thing here. Potter is a master filmmaker and may not be working at full capacity but she doesn’t have to. She gives the film exactly what it needs to be a claustrophobic, tightly wound snapshot of absurd humanity at its most acerbic.