Archive | May, 2020

The Wretched

2 May

The IFC Midnight collection often rides that fine line between arthouse chiller and mainstream horror hash, such as the “Grudge” and “Annabelle” series. “The Wretched” isn’t any different, layered with grim, ghoulish visuals (bloody, feasting mouths and disjointed body parts) gurgling under small-town idylls.

The film begins with a sharp hook as a babysitter, arriving at a home for her shift, can’t find her charge but hears strange noises in the basement – the kind of flesh- and bone-crunching noise that says “Don’t come down here.” But she does. (Not that she sees it, but the basement door bears an occult symbol.) From that happy opener we rewind five days as we settle in with Ben (John-Paul Howard), whose life as a young teen (his parents are recently divorced, and he’s making youthful forays into romance, or not) is more interesting than the freaky shenanigans of Abbie (Zarah Mahler, who does demonic effectively enough), his next-door neighbor who skulks about at night in silk gowns with an evil glower in her eye. Ben doesn’t pay her wacky wanders too much attention at first. Then her son, Dillion (Blane Crockarell), terrified of his mother, comes running to Ben one night.

The film, written and directed by Brett and Drew T. Pierce (billed as the Pierce Brothers, who collaborated on “Deadheads,” a zombie flick that has nothing to do with the trippy 1960s rock band) slide into “Stranger Things” territory as Ben does some googling about witches of the woods and finds a strange, gnarled tree with an underground lair. As things hit their gory, blood-splattered crescendo, the Pierce lads pull in as much as they can from the classic goo-steeped transmutation scenes in “Alien” (1979) or “The Thing” (1982) – which those films did better. The big miss here is Ben’s angst-filled existence in a township of privileged jerks, bullying jocks and elusive coeds out of his league. In one such scene, a comely partygoer entices Ben into the pool and coerces him to get naked, only to have the intimate moment quickly exposed for what is: a planned group prank. Then there’s Ben’s relationship with Mallory (Piper Curda), a coworker at the local marina; their late-night phone calls as Ben spies on Abbie are more compelling in what they say about each other and the character of the town than the weirdness Ben is drinking in. “The Wretched” feels like a melding of two films: one I’ve seen ad infinitum, and another that begs empathy and intrigue.

True History of the Kelly Gang

1 May

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’: In the outback for a bloody, convoluted crime tale, clad in tulle

True History of the Kelly Gang: How an Irish bandit became Australian  antihero

The film, based on an award-winning 2000 novel by Peter Carey that played it loose with facts (“Nothing about this is true,” reads an opening overlay) the film is broken up into chapters: “Boy,” “Man,” “Monitor.” In “Boy” we get the lay of the land in two quick shakes as the young Ned (an angelic and androgynous Orlando Schwerdt) drinks in the sight of his mother (Essie Davis, Kurzel’s wife and the star of “The Babadook,” giving a fierce, compelling turn here) performing fellatio in a grimy barn on an expectant officer (Charlie Hunnam). Ned’s cuckold pa (Ben Corbett) who likes to dress in ladies wear, pulls the boy from the sight. Kurzel’s outback, like Jennifer Kent’s Tasmanian territory in “The Nightingale” (2019), is a grim, sexually charged place where violence seems on the edge of erupting in every frame.

Eventually Ned comes under the tutelage of Harry Power (a gruff, effective Russell Crowe), a notorious outback criminal – known as a bushranger, the equivalent of Old West outlaws in the United States. It’s horse thievery that puts the Kellys at odds with Hunnam’s officer and later, and far more drastically, with a sadistic constable (Nicholas Hoult) named Fitzpatrick who ingratiates himself to Ned and the Kellys while quietly poisoning them.

The dance with the law is a dicey one, but ultimately Ned falls outside it and forms a brigade of foppish fancies (as Carey’s book has it) who take no issue in cutting down quarry in lipstick and tulle. As depicted, Ned’s both Robin Hood and cold killer; Kurzel clearly wants to romanticize Ned while bathing him stylistically in blood, scene after scene, which is where the film begins to lose its hold on Ned the human being, sliding into ritualized retaliatory strikes. Kurzel takes some chances with the soundtrack with its occasional infusion of modern rock, and with chaotic body cam POVs that disrupt the gorgeous framing of the lush yet spare outback by Ari Wegner (“In Fabric”). MacKay as Ned is starkly overshadowed by Davis’s fuck-all mother and Hoult’s cunning manipulator – the scene where the two confront each other in tight confines late in the film is a powder keg of tension. The nearly final chaotic shootout, like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” with Ned and crew in metallic headgear made from farm plows, is done with gorgeously hallucinatory imagery rendered between bullet flashes and accentuated by a balletic rat-tat-tat. It’s one of the many alluring shards of the “Kelly Gang” that envelop the viewer for a moment, but never collectively get to the soul of the man at the epicenter.