Tag Archives: Gothic

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

Directed by: Antonio Campos

Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born

Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos

Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.

Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Cinematography: Lol Crawley

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.

The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.



Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.

The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.

Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


BBC TV REVIEW – DRACULA (2020)

BBC TV REVIEW – DRACULA (2020)

Created and Written by: Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat

Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Producer: Sue Vertue

Directors: Jonny Campbell, Paul McGuigan, Damon Thomas

Cast: Claes Bang, Dolly Wells, John Heffernan, Morfydd Clark, Joanna Scanlan, Lujza Richter, Jonathan Aris, Sacha Dhawan, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Clive Russell, Mark Gatiss, Catherine Schell etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat are uber-television scriptwriters of vast experience and expertise. Solo and together they have been involved with fine TV programmes including: Sherlock, Doctor Who, Coupling, The League of Gentlemen, Press Gang, Jekyll and many other films, comedies and dramas. Their latest BBC project found them combining forces again and breathing new life into Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel. Screened over three dark nights on BBC1 from January 1st, 2020 onwards, this horror adaptation mixed Stoker’s traditional vampiric tropes with fresh and bloody ingredients infused by Moffat and Gatiss’ typically iconoclastic approach to genre.

The structure of the first episode, Rules of the Beast, finds a gravely ill Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan), recounting his misadventures having travelled to Count Dracula’s (Claes Bang) castle in Transylvania. A haunted shell of a man, his stories of doomed employment, entrapment and the “children of the night” are delivered to Sister Agatha (Dolly Wells). Somewhat incisive, intelligent and irreverent for a nun, Sister Agatha becomes both our hero and main foe to Dracula’s nefarious uber-villain. Having said that, the fantastically witty script and Claes Bang’s charismatic representation of Dracula almost succeed in making him the hero. Indeed, other than being a life-sucking, murderous, blood-addicted, shape-shifting, immortal and homicidal maniac he’s actually quite charming and likeable.


Image result for dracula and sister agatha

The first episode, apart from certain structural alterations and differences in characterisation, stays kind of faithful to the spirit of Stoker’s gothic vision. The second episode especially is one of the best examples of horror television I have seen in a long time. Cleverly called Blood Vessel, the action merges suspense and terror with an Agatha Christie style of plot. Here the crew and passengers of the ship Demeter find they are at the mercy of a vicious killer. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who is picking them off one-by-one. The episode also contains an ingenious reference to the BBC anthology series Inside No. 9. Thus, overall, this was my favourite episode of the series.

By the third episode though, Gatiss and Moffatt couldn’t stop themselves taking a bold leap away from the original text. The Dark Compass contains some fantastic twists and ideas, but arguably the writers strive too much for reinvention and originality. So much so, it lost some of the narrative impetus of the first two in the mini-series. Nonetheless, I would love to see more of Claes Bang’s Dracula in the future. His performance and chemistry with Dolly Well’s Sister Agatha were a bloody joy. Likewise, the script was brilliant; full of fangtastic one-liners, poetic turns of phrase and fascinating plot developments. Lastly, I was grateful they did not spare us the horror too. There were many memorably gory deaths throughout, as Dracula and his wolves wreaked devilish havoc across land, time and the television screen.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW – absorbing self-hating misanthropic, Southern Gothic tale!

SHARP OBJECTS – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Marti Noxon

Based on: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Marti Noxon, Gillian Flynn, Alex Metcalf, Vince Calandra etc.

Editors: David Berman, Maxime Lahaie, Émile Vallée, Jai M. Vee

Starring: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Chris Messina, Eliza Scanlen, Matt Craven, Henry Czerny, Taylor John Smith, Sophia Lillis, Elizabeth Perkins

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

amy-adams

As is often the case when a writer has a big hit producers and studios look at their back catalogue to see if there are any apples in the shade ripe for plucking. Thus, following the cinematic success of her book adaptation Gone Girl (2014), Gillian Flynn’s debut novel from 2006 is given a stylish, small-screen HBO treatment. The story concerns crime reporter Camille Preaker – Amy Adams on stunning form – who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the murders of two girls. There she confronts a personal ordeal from the past, clashes with her mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson) and attempts to bond with her precocious, teenage sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen).

Firstly, I must say Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Her performances in films such as: The Fighter (2010), American Hustle (2013), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) to name but a few, have demonstrated what a striking screen presence she has. Furthermore, she is able to illuminate a character’s emotion through sheer being; it’s almost effortless. But while she excels in serious roles, displaying both inner strength and vulnerability, she also has a sense of mischief and humour. Indeed, who better to evoke the pathos required to portray a character like Camille Preaker? Adams nails the alcoholic, self-harming, ex-psychiatric hospital patient role, refusing to suffer fools and using mordant wit to hide her pain.

hbo-sharp-objects

Camille’s assignment takes her back to a place she never wanted to go back to; drinking even more to further block out her inner turmoil. But, she has a vested family interest to find the killer of two missing girls, as her sister, Amma, knows the victims. Her inquisitive nature finds her locking horns with local cop played by Matt Craven; and forming a dysfunctional liaison with out-of-town investigator, Chris Messina. Being a small Southern town everyone has secrets to hide and out-of-towner Camille is not actually welcomed with open arms; not so much the Prodigal’s daughter but the outsider’s insider come to poke her nose where it doesn’t belong. Conflict further derives from external and internal grief that drives a feeling of gothic dread throughout. This is a story about abuse and neglect and the need to dominate through an overpowering sickness and poison. Dysfunctional humans harm others and themselves in order to get through the day.

Having watched a number of films and programmes dealing with the death or taking of children, this harrowing subject is becoming a real go-to for filmmakers and writers. Over eight episodes such crimes are melded with themes relating to: family secrets, mental illness, grooming, mutilation, addiction, suicide and sexual assault. As with Gillian Flynn’s aforementioned Gone Girl, the setting is not a happy place. Human beings do not come off that well either and are presented as very damaged personalities; or controlled and bullied by even more fucked up parents. However, as a brooding psychological thriller Sharp Objects is utterly absorbing and well worth a watch.

sharp

I would argue that it moves too slow for eight episodes and is on occasions slightly repetitive, but Jean-Marc Vallee once again proves he is one of the best directors around gaining brilliant performances from Adams, Patricia Clarkson and Eliza Scanlen especially. The editing also is very poetic, shifting beautifully from past to present and in between, charting a series of chilling, violent events. So, while it does have filler moments in the middle it is worth sticking with. Indeed, the end contains a great twist, which in my opinion, was delivered with way to much subtlety. Ultimately, if you like your dramas dark, elegant AND brutal then stick with it; because Sharp Objects cuts deep, way after the end credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

SCREENWASH – JUNE FILM & TV REVIEWS 2016 – BY PAUL LAIGHT

June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:

SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016

**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**

THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV

The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight.  (Mark: 5 out of 11)

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)

The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors.   (Mark: 9 out of 11)

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX

I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display.  Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA

Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun.  (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV

If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.  I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)

GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV

The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX

Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off.  Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)


IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV

Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA

Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown (1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)

PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER

The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV

Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time.  I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)