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TIFF Review: High-Rise (2015)

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High-Rise (2015)

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Kill List (2011)

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An emotional, violent, and moody thriller that purposely grinds forward no quicker than a slow crawl. “Kill List” is much like holding one’s hand over an open flame. As you wait in gruelling anticipation for the moment that the heat will become no longer bearable. It sneaks up and leaves a stinging scorch on your palm. And much like this fresh burn, “Kill List’s” reveal will linger long after and send unpleasant, reminding shocks into your brain. This sophomore effort from up-and-comeing director Ben Wheatley is one of the most potent and disturbing films you’ll witness at an art-house…definitely not for the squeamish or easily scarred. Relying just as much on the excruciating tension and defined characters as it does on bloodshed and brutality. “Kill List” is a taut, well crafted horror that goes beyond the usual tendencies of the genre to create a truly unique, terrifying experience.

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Jay and Gal are former soldiers who have become hit-men since living the military. Jay suffers both mentally and physically from a mission in Kiev gone wrong. Soon, Jay and his family begin to run out of money due to his lack of employment. With the encouragement of Gal and his wife, Jay final gets back to business. Upon being hired by a shadowy character, Jay and Gal are ordered to kill three different men. After learning of the men’s criminal activity, Jay loses control and mercilessly tortures them. When a series of weird events start taking place, Jay and Gal are left fighting for their lives and everyone they care about.

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Although “Kill List” delivers its violence and gore with uncanny detail and precision…enough to satisfy any and all genre enthusiasts. What separates this intentionally slow-burning crime-thriller from other low-budget horror flicks is its visceral characters, their motivations, and the way each is played out. Driven by a staggering blend of family drama and PTSD, “Kill List” is a surprisingly veritable gaze into human psychology. While it might not be the type of fear that keeps you up at night or causes you to check in the closet and under your bed before heading to sleep. The sheer terror, disbelief, and haunting imagery will resonate steadily and stronger than any cheap scare or monstrosity you or any film can concoct. Aside from the occasional break brought on by really dark humour, which  is progressively becoming a Ben Wheatley trademark. “Kill List” is persistent and utterly unrelenting in its shocks, disheartening realizations, and vivid savagery.

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Featuring brilliant, exhausting, nightmarish performances from Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, and the supporting cast. Along with impeccable work behind the camera from the aforementioned Ben Wheatley. “Kill List” is as courageous, frightening, and disembowelling structurally and characteristically as it is visually and intellectually. Smiley, in a supporting role, does a superb job forming a skeletally sound base for Maskell’s enraged evolution and has a startling indifference about him that shrouds and petrifies the viewer. As for Maskell, who completely immerses himself in self-destruction and complex moral conundrums truly spawns a protagonist ripe with villainy. All in all, “Kill List’s” remarkable cast matches Wheatley’s harsh visuals and dramatic, astounding tale stride for stride.

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Disheartening, violent, and utterly mind-bending. Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” is a modern horror masterpiece.

Kill List: 8 out of 10.

A Field in England (2013)

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One can deduce the decidedly plain warning issued at the beginning of the film as mere tactics, even go as far as to mock its triviality, but cinephile or not… you truly have no idea what you’re getting yourself into. Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” is a hallucinogenic, achromatic, and visceral yarn. A pulsating thriller oozing with disturbing content and vivid, genuinely stomach-churning visuals. However, Wheatley’s third film in as many years isn’t all observation and no substance, far from it. A viewer’s opinion regarding what took place in “A Field in England” and what it all meant is a lot like a snowlike…as in no two are alike… The film’s extremely diverse influences and varying motivations are what make it like no other film you’ve ever experienced. There isn’t much viewers will agree upon after watching “A Field in England” except that Ben Wheatley is indeed the most intriguing, terrifying filmmaker in cinema today.

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During the English Civil War in the 17th century, Whitehead (Shearsmith) flees from the battlefield and his strict master. Down in the dirt, he meet Cutler (Pope) who is holding two travellers captive, Jacob (Ferdinando) and Friend (Glover). Upon being abducted by Cutler as well, Whitehead and the group journey across a field to find O’Neill (Smiley). Having Found O’Neill, the group is forced to help him and Cutler find a treasure buried somewhere in the field. Being subdued by hallucinogenic mushrooms and forced to work, the group soon begins to succumb to their own thoughts and mental instability.

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“A Field in England’s” obscurity and surrealistic texture evoke an array of mental and physical reactions that more often than not feel brought on subliminally and are best left uncontrolled. It’s a complex blend of dark humour, thought-provoking characters, and brash imagery that result in a mystifying adventure that isn’t for the faint of heart. Never has a film generated such an unsettling, yet resplendent contrast full of infuriating, dynamic, and poetic sequences that are enough to drive one insane for the film’s entirety. Not only does “A Field in England” render the viewer helpless throughout, it lingers, almost unwelcome until you’re able to comprehend and conclude. It’s thick, tonal consistency, horrific mood, and unbearably trippy scenes are so vibrant, entrancing, and unnerving, it’s tough to label it within a single genre or anything known to man.

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Driven by the bonds formed amongst the shady individuals who each search and yearn for a fortuitous intervention they have no legitimate reason to believe exists, whether it’s buried treasure or religion. “A Field in England” is a taut character study that doubles as a hypnotic allegory at the beginning of the western world. Whether you chose to look at it from a certain perspective or not is entirely at your discretion. Seeing as the film has en endless amount of interpretations, each valid take is as valuable as the next. I’ve yet to come across any two individuals who’ve witnessed the film and agree on an explanation. Treading somewhere between folklore, socio-political, and historical relevance. “A Field in England” is an intricate mishmash of importance and insignificance. To be honest, I’ve still not made up my mind as to what I think this film is about, perhaps I never will. I’ve watched it a few times now and I love the fact that I’m constantly dissecting, analyzing, and surmising.

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Aside from the film’s obvious abstractness, it’s refreshing to see Wheatley step out of his comfort zone. While his initial releases seemed to be centred more or less in his genre wheelhouse. “A Field in England” is Wheatley at his most unrestrained and brilliantly showcases his growth. Without question, this is his most controversial and complete offering to date. While it may not be as decidedly vicious or magnificently gory as his previous offerings. “A Field in England” is much more psychologically perplexing, dramatically sensational, and is a visual feast unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And of course it contains some Wheatley trademarks such as excessively detailed gore, genuinely disturbing sequences, and utterly compelling characters. In my opinion, Wheatley’s work both behind the camera and on paper has never been better.

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While “A Field in England” is sure to be memorable for its stroboscopic, symmetrical, bizarre hallucinogenic trips, in addition to truly frightening scenes such as Whitehead emerging from the tent and so on. The performances of “A Field in England’s” entire ensemble are equally mind-blowing. Which kind of makes the entire film satirically ironic. As striking and monumental as the film is, there is a small part of me that wishes I could forget it. Starring Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith, Ryan Pope, Richard Glover, and Peter Ferdinando. “A Field in England” finds itself a cast who are up to the task of heading into the farthest reaches of their psyches, not knowing if they will return.

Without question, Shearsmith’s performance is phenomenal, from start to finish. Although, from the get go, Shearsmith dives head first into chaos and compassion, he ascends slowly to a gradual realization of this world’s true intentions. A ghostly, unbalanced, nerve-grinding portrayal that is not to be missed. Richard Glover does a fantastic job providing comic relief. However, his dramatic moments are something to marvel, honestly atmospheric. Michael Smiley gives a truly haunting portrayal of a stoic antagonist filled with all the wrong intentions and hateful greed. Ryan Pope is intimidating to say the least, and while it may not last, it trails off into something better. As for Peter Ferdinando, I feel he garners the least notice, but deserves better. His role is severely important and the performance he infuses into it is nothing short of spectacular.

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Disturbing, beautiful, and down-right insane. Ben Wheatley’s “A Field in England” is an acquired taste and a must see. And although I highly recommend it, odds are more than a few of you will dislike it, but a majority of you will despite it, along with me as well.

A Field in England: 8.5 out of 10.

Top 10 Emerging Directors

C’mon guys, we all know the truth. As cinephiles, we are apart of a very select group that don’t joke around about movies, unless they’re directed by Michael Bay. The sad truth is that not everyone is as inclined to obsess over cinema as we are. At times they can’t differentiate what is a truly good film and which is bad. After recently speaking to people I know at random about the film industry, I realized that not a lot of people are familiar with the actors on screen, let alone the people behind the camera. This list is for all of you out there who have better things to do than compile a cinematic top 10, essentially those who have a life, unlike me.

This list isn’t about household names like Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg. This list is about the up and comers, those who’ve solidified a base for themselves and that we look forward to seeing add and build on top of it. Again, as always this is my personal list, not the opinion of the general public. So, let’s get started.

10: James Wan.

Why you should know him: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010).

What to expect from him: The Conjuring (2013) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013).

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9: Ben Wheatley.

Why you should know him: Sightseers (2012) and Kill List (2011).

What to expect from him: A Field in England (2013).

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8: Rian Johnson.

Why you should know him: Looper (2012).

What to expect from him: Nothing in the works as of the moment.

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7: Joss Whedon.

Why you should know him. The Avengers (2012) and Much Ado About Nothing (2012).

What to expect from him: The Avengers 2 (2015).

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6: Edgar Wright.

Why you should know him: Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).

What to expect from him: The World’s End (2013) and Ant-Man (2015).

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5: Derek Cianfrance.

Why you should know him: Blue Valentine (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2012).

What to expect from him: Nothing scheduled as of the moment.

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4: Duncan Jones.

Why you should know him: Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011).

What to expect from him: Warcraft (2015).

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3: Nicolas Winding Refn.

Why you should know him: Bronson (2008) and Drive (2011).

What to expect from him: Only God Forgives (2013).

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2: Steve McQueen.

Why you should know him: Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011).

What to expect from him: Twelve Years a Slave (2013).

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1: Jeff Nichols.

Why you should know him: Shotgun Stories (2007) and Take Shelter (2011).

What to expect from him: Mud (2012-2013).

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If you feel that I’ve overlooked someone or have an issue with the top 10 feel free to comment below. Actually if you have anything to say comment below. Have a good weekend :).

Sightseers (2012)

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A whacky and sincere story about psychopathic lovers taking to the road. Sightseers is a devilishly atmospheric and intensely sociopathic black comedy. Directed by Ben Wheatley who appeased the Toronto International Film Festival faithful with Sightseers this past year and with his previous film Kill List in 2011. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I purchased my ticket for Sightseers at TIFF, but I had heard good things regarding Kill List so I approached Sightseers with cautious optimism, and I was rewarded. Sightseers is as cruel as it is unique when it comes to its two loveable murderers and provides huge laughs that strain your entire body. Starring and written by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. Sightseers morbid sense of humour and lackadaisical attitude towards its victims is vitally refreshing and breathtakingly hilarious.

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Chris (Oram) is dying to take Tina (Lowe) on a vacation travelling around in his caravan. When the plans are finally set, the two take to the road. As they visit several odd destinations, Tina begins to see a darker side of Chris. He gets very distracted and angry at the slightest annoyance and tends to overreact. As they continue on their journey, Tina learns of Chris’s terrible secret. Committing despicable acts as they continue on their journey, Chris and Tina begin to frustrate one another.

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Sightseers is one of a kind. I can’t really compare it to another film and do It justice. Its approach is unconventional and its comedy is not for everyone. It shares the most similarities with recent Quentin Tarantino films. There is shared DNA in the way Tarantino and Wheatley and crew distinguish their violence with comedy. They both fixate on the marrow of their stories even though Sightseers isn’t as elaborate or complex.

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Wheatley seems to have perfected his craft with Sightseers. His brilliant camerawork showcasing the outstanding vastness of the terrain and dizzying heights of the sky are immaculate. But he hasn’t forgotten what has gotten him here in the first place. The gruesome detail in the savagery and care meshed into the barbarity is incredible. However effective Wheatley is able to conduct his settings and cast is incomparable to Oram and Lowe’s script which drives the film.  I have the utmost level of appreciation and respect regarding the script. The emergence of Lowe’s character’s subtle, passive realization of Oram’s bloodthirsty rage and her quick acceptance and accompaniment is laughable and sweet.

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As for performances, Oram and Lowe are at the centre of the film for the majority. Lowe fits her role brilliantly. She performs her characters shy, passive aggressiveness faultlessly and that compliments the reluctancy exploding from her in regards to the foulness throughout Sightseers. As for Steve Oram, I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard with such a thorough performance. Just so there is no confusion, I mean that in the best way possible. Every movement, every disgusted grunt, Oram delivers the psychotic goods.

Just missing out on our top 10 list for the films released in 2012. Sightseers is a must see for those looking for some terrific visuals and a laugh while they’re being grossed out.

Sightseers: 8 out of 10.

Don’t forget guys to check out this weeks past top 10 and contribute to blogger talk which was posted yesterday, cheers!