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Entries in teen (2)

Friday
Sep092016

I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER

Stars: Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser, Karl Geary, Lucy Lawton, Bruce Bohne, Matt Roy and Dee Noah.
Writers: Billy O’Brien and Christopher Hyde, based upon the novel by Dan Wells.
Director: Billy O’Brien

Rating: 4/5

The ‘teenage American Gothic’ ambience of Dan Wells’ young-adult novel I Am Not a Serial Killer is recaptured with an occasionally morbid yet invigorating cadence in director Billy O’Brien’s bracingly icky, hugely entertaining adaptation.

In equal measure a small-town murder mystery, alienated teen saga and bloody body count slasher, O’Brien and co-scripter Christopher Hyde have crafted a work that has had reviewers recalling everything from TV’s series Fargo, Dexter and Six Feet Under to publishing franchise Goosebumps to George Romero’s 1977 film Martin (we’ll offer up Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil and some Twin Peaks, too). But the atmospherics soar when it is bringing its own uniquely dark and dirty take on murderous urges and giving the forward momentum over to its two outstanding leading men.

Key protagonist is John Cleaver, a young man pulling shifts draining blood at his broken family’s mortuary while being completely self aware of his borderline sociopathic state. In the hands of the great Max Records, Cleaver takes his place alongside Jake Gyllenhaal’s Donnie Darko as one of contemporary teen cinema’s most vividly etched characters; like Darko, O’Brien’s anti-hero is introduced peddling his own way through a landscape that is at once familiar yet disorienting. His snow-covered Midwestern burg is in the early stages of a serial killing spree, the by-product of a mindset with which Cleaver is himself grappling.

Cleaver’s ‘Hardy Boys’-like guile has him zeroing in on a suspect; when he witnesses the stranger smooth-talk his elderly neighbour Crowley (Christopher Lloyd) into a car trip into the wilderness, Cleaver suspects the worst. In one of the great second act kickers in recent memory, O’Brien spins the story into a whole new and shocking realm that rattles both Cleaver and the viewer. To detail the narrative developments would be unavoidably spoiler-y, suffice to say it allows for Cleaver to fully explore and better understand the nature of his own tendencies while still wonderfully servicing the requirements of both the ‘teen loner hero’ and ‘slasher pic’ tropes.

Expect Christopher Lloyd’s performance to come into sharp focus during award season prognosticating. It is entirely deserving of recognition in the always hotly contested ‘Supporting Actor’ category, so menacingly understated and against type for the actor, still best known as Back to the Future’s Emmett ‘Doc’ Brown (in a perfect world, he will be up against John Goodman’s similarly enigmatic mystery-man Howard in 10 Cloverfield Lane). An Independent Spirit nod seems most likely; could A.M.P.A.S. see past the film’s genre roots (horror rarely gets noticed) to award Lloyd, one of Hollywood’s most beloved ageing icons? Records nails the tone required of him by his director, as well; his delivery of Cleaver’s ‘cardboard box’ speech, in which he dresses down a bully with eloquent insight into how he keeps his homicidal drive in check, is an instant classic.

O’Brien has reworked some hoary horror tropes in the past to deliver sly, sinister, engaging B-movies (genetically-modified farm horror in Isolation, 2006; rampant alien-human crossbreeding in The Hybrid, 2014). I Am Not a Serial Killer is more of the same, only better. Blessed with a macabre sense of the absurd, a pulse that beats with as much emotion as it does blood and the mean streak required to pull off the inherent nastiness of the premise, Dan Wells and Billy O’Brien’s nightmare world is a horror fan’s dream come true.

 

Thursday
Sep042014

KITE

Stars: India Eisley, Samuel L Jackson, Callan McAuliffe, Zane Meas, Carl Beukes, Lionel Newton and Deon Lotz.
Writer: Brian Cox; based upon the film by Yasuomi Umetsu.
Director: Ralph Ziman.

Rating: 2.5/5

Dabbling in the same fetish-feminism and coldly-served revenge fantasies that made Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch such a wildly divisive work, artist and occasional director Ralph Ziman brings an appropriately seedy but miserably downbeat aesthetic to this long-in-development adaptation of Yasuomi Umetsu’s R-rated anime.

The blood-soaked, soft-core original drew conservative ire and censorship board wrath for its depiction of schoolgirl skin-flick anti-heroine, Sawa. In Brian Cox’s script, the random fornication so prevalent in the cartoon is gone, replaced by a greater focus on Sawa’s troubled psyche and fitful recollection of her past (the skimpy costuming, of course, remains). Fuelled by an addiction to the street drug Amp and hell bent upon avenging the slaying of her crusader cop dad, she delves deep into the sordid world of child prostitution where she ekes out and exterminates any evildoer that crosses her.

Live-action reimagining of the original’s key visual cues and memorable moments will register with the fan base. Relevance is attempted by positing the action in a post-GFC dystopia, riddled with the kind of social decay that budget restraints demand is conveyed by lots of peeling paint and smoke machines. The expansion of the plot from 50 minutes to a laborious 90 yields no discernible thematic gain; additional elements such as parkour street gang rivalries and Sawa’s softening when faced with an orphaned teen bolster the running time but not audience involvement.

Ziman’s flesh-and-blood embodiment of Sawa is American actress India Eisley, registering strongly when called upon to humanize the cold-blooded assassin but unable to cut it when the going gets physical; best amongst the cast is Australian Callan McAuliffe as Sawa’s street-urchin guardian, Oburi. Prime villainy is provided in the form of ‘The Emir’, played in a brief, charismatic turn by local character actor Zane Meas, and his OTT pommie offsider, Vic (some ol’ school scenery-chewing by Carl Beukes); all other bad guy parts are of the ‘arms folded and wait to die horribly’ variety. Gorehounds will find some glee in an opening sequence that features an exploding head seen through a gaping hole in one baddie’s hand and a henchman’s death by dum-dum dildo.

The property fell into Ziman’s hands when Snakes on a Plane director David R Ellis passed away unexpectedly during pre-production. Cast as the Sawa’s protector and loner cop Karl, a clearly disinterested Samuel L Jackson was locked in and hung around when the shoot went ahead, but there is a tangible sense that not everybody was particularly enthused about continuing. Shot in South Africa, the narrative occasionally recalls Luc Besson’s Leon and Tarantino’s Kill Bill double feature, but ultimately feels more akin to such weekly rental VHS staples as Avenging Angel and I Spit on Your Grave than anything worthwhile in its own right.