Review: Dutch suspense, Iceland-set thriller, horror and westerns coming to theaters and VOD
The title of “Bloody Marie” makes it sound like a splatter picture, but this taut Dutch suspense film has more in common with the jittery “person on the edge” dramas of European filmmakers such as the Dardennes brothers and Michael Haneke. Co-written and co-directed by Lennert Hillege and Guido van Driel, the film focuses intensely on one woman, as she makes a series of catastrophic choices.
Susanne Wolff plays Marie, an acclaimed graphic novelist who hasn’t produced any significant new work in years. Living in the red light district of Amsterdam — and burning quickly through the last of her savings — Marie spends her days trying to hustle publishers into advancing her more money for booze. When that fails, she just swipes what she needs from the corner liquor store.
“Bloody Marie” begins with the heroine about to use up all her last chances — which we then see happen, one by one. She goes too far though when she steals a hefty sum of money from her neighbors, setting up a chain of events putting lives at stake.
The film’s second half is more action-packed, resembling film noir in the way Hillege and Van Driel show Marie racing through the city, scrambling to cover for her mistakes before anyone else gets hurt.
But even at its most pulse-pounding, “Bloody Marie” remains locked on its sympathetically pathetic protagonist, as she hops across rooftops and slithers through windows, all the while muttering to herself, “Stupid drunk, stupid drunk …”
In Dutch with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Nov. 11 on VOD
Though it’s less surreal and less terrifying, the indie drama “Spell” is a kind of companion film to the recent horror hit “Midsommar.” Instead of a grief-stricken woman having relationship woes while living with a Swedish pagan cult, “Spell” is about a mournful boyfriend, trying to get over the tragic death of his partner by taking a trip to Iceland — where the locals fill his head with Norse mythology.
Barak Hardley (who also wrote the screenplay) plays Benny, a comic book artist heartbroken by the loss of his alcoholic girlfriend. While drowning his sorrows in Reykjavik, Benny is persuaded to get a mysterious rune tattoo, and then to take a trip into the chilly wilderness with a macho tour guide (Magnús Jónsson). In the middle of nowhere, the hallucinations begin.
Hardley and director Brendan Walter offer multiple explanations for what’s happening. Maybe Benny’s been suckered into some dangerous ancient ritual. Maybe his mind is slipping, because he’s in a fragile emotional state, without the medication that manages his emotional disorders. Whatever the reason, Benny keeps drifting into a fog halfway between dream and memory, where he recalls his recent past and wonders what he could’ve done differently.
The experience is a kind of torture — albeit not quite the same as being sacrificed to some dark god. Genre fans may be disappointed that “Spell” is more of an artful character sketch than a supernatural thriller. But by focusing on despair and regret, the movie is still pretty haunting.
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Nov. 19 on VOD
The grimy fright flick “Crepitus” gets off to a promising, disturbing start. Two sisters, Sam (Chalet Lizette Brannan) and Eli (Caitlin Williams), who each have an “X” carved into their foreheads, are living in a spooky old house with a monster: their angry, alcoholic mother (Eve Mauro). Whenever mom’s passed out — which is often — the girls investigate their family history. That’s how they discover their fate is tied to a demonic cannibalistic clown, Crepitus (Bill Moseley), named for the sounds human joints make when they crack.
Though the ugliness in “Crepitus” persists, the promise dissipates. Director Haynze Whitmore (working from a screenplay by Eddie and Sarah Wenner) creates some effectively sickly textures, with lots of rotting wood and pale colors. But the plot doesn’t build inexorably to its shocking final twists, the way more gripping horror films do. This picture is just one upsetting scene after another, which then only belatedly coalesce into a story — too late really to pay off any investment in those remarkable early moments.
Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; available Dec. 13 on VOD
Writer-director Robert Conway takes chances with his gothic western “Eminence Hill,” and though he lacks the budget or chops to realize his vision, the sheer nerve keeps the movie engaging. Even when the acting’s stiff — and even as the effects, costumes and sets all look cheap throughout — it’s hard not to respect the effort Conway’s making here, to turn out something so weird and unpredictable.
Conway’s brother, Owen, plays Quincy, a straitlaced lawman with a dark past, tracking a murderous gang who’ve abducted a young woman, Ruth (Anna Harr), after slaughtering her family. Before Quincy can get to them, the kidnappers stumble onto property owned by a violent family of religious fanatics. Multiple bloody surprises ensue, in a story with no clear heroes.
Veteran character actors Barry Corbin and Lance Henriksen pop up in small roles, but can’t do much with Conway’s overwritten dialogue and stodgy blocking. Still, better a filmmaker trying to emulate the likes of “Deadwood,” “Bone Tomahawk” and Tarantino than someone sticking with the safe and dull. “Eminence Hill” isn’t that good, but as edgy westerns go, at least it’s on the right trail.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; available Nov. 5 on VOD
Some of the best modern westerns have taken unusual approaches to storytelling and style, defying audience expectations both with how they unfold and how they look. Writer-director Justin Lee’s latest western, “Badland” — his third released in the past two years — goes only halfway. The storytelling’s smart, but the style’s tediously reverential and somber.
Kevin Makely stars as Matthias Breecher, a vengeful gunfighter who rides the post-Civil War frontier, intent on assassinating Confederate war criminals. “Badland” is divided into chapters, as Breecher locates and targets the men on his checklist, played in turn by Trace Adkins, Bruce Dern and Jeff Fahey.
The cast — which also includes Mira Sorvino, Tony Todd and Wes Studi — is easily the best part of “Badland.” They bring a lived-in quality to what is, for the most part, an array of stock characters. Even with the multipart structure, Lee doesn’t do enough to make his different sections distinctive, either from each other or from countless run-of-the-mill shoot-’em-ups. “Badland” is ultimately too beholden to the past to be as energized as it should be.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes
Playing: Starts Nov. 1, Arena Cinelounge, Hollywood; also on VOD
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