“Good memories, bad memories, they’re all just the same right now. It still hurts…”
Japanese Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda has a bold and distinctive voice in his debut feature, a contemplative piece about the nature of living as a human. In an isolated house on a beach, a fastidious man named Will interviews souls for a chance at life on Earth, his living room filled with a wall of CRT televisions screens showing real-time first-person perspectives of those he previously selected. It is the ultimate cinematic contrivance to experience others’ lives through an audiovisual medium, but the archaic technology (Will also records and rewatches his favourite moments on VHS tapes) assists in crafting an otherworldly suspension of disbelief. The primary issue with Nine Days’ conceit is that souls without the experience of life cannot provide meaningful answers to Will’s questions; rather, the selection process is background noise to illustrate Will’s own thought processes — hurt by his own life experience, he seeks those tougher and less sensitive than himself — whilst not really engaging with the inherent cruelty of judging others’ right to live. Winston Duke’s performance radiates the quiet pain of a man hurt by life and unable to forgive himself for perceived failure. However, it is Zazie Beetz that draws in the audience with her intriguing portrayal of a new soul — guileless, and yet intuitively understanding life. Nine Days is likely to strike a chord with certain viewers who find their worldview affected. I found no such profundity, but I would be very content to experience further meditations that Oda may wish to design.
With Chapter 3, I cautioned that the John Wick franchise was on the verge of diminishing returns through familiar repetition; in Chapter 4 it collapses under the weight of its High Table mythology in an overwrought and charmless instalment that runs to nearly three hours. Visual style remains front and centre with fighting figures silhouetted against beautifully lit Japanese decor in Osaka before moving to a Berlin rave, slick with cascading water and neon. The action choreography contains plenty of impressive moments and attention to detail, like a body pivoting on an arrow-pinned joint, but they are strung together in a manner more exhausting than entertaining, with little sense of fighting through interconnected spaces. With better editing, much of the first hour could be excised. Atrocious dialogue belabours the flimsy plot (“It looks like we have a conundrum. A quandary, if you will. A real life dilemma.”), though some new faces are welcome — Bill Skarsgård’s sneering French villain is easy to loathe, whilst Donnie Yen offers the charisma that Wick seems to have lost, playing a blind assassin with largely nonsensical combat abilities. The last hour of the film soars: a kinetic chase across Paris to Sacré-Cœur displays some of the best driving stunt choreography in recent memory, and a lengthy fight up and down the stairs to the church shows Wick earning every step. This strong closing may explain the predominantly positive response to a lumbering action film at nearly twice the length of this year’s similarly stylised Sisu. For all the merit of its individual moments, I cannot imagine wanting to sit through Chapter 4 again.
“This is a hell of a predicament we find ourselves in.”
A dark and off-kilter comedic take on home invasion horror, Villains veers between the surprising and predictable but its unsettling central performances are a delight to watch. Trimmed of any fat, we join a petty criminal couple mid-robbery, spending just long enough to appreciate that they ill-prepared but besotted with one another (reminiscent of Pulp Fiction’s Pumpkin and Honey Bunny) before moving to the house in which the remainder of this bottle movie is set. Jeffrey Donovan and Kyra Sedgwick bring a delirious Coraline-esque creepiness to the owners, all artificial smiles and crazed eyes, whilst also providing a warped glimpse at a potential future of the younger couple. The weak link is the tonal inconsistency in a script that never quite knows what it wants to be, so feels at times like a pastiche of its influences. Nevertheless, light acting and direction provide a deft gloss over darker themes, leaving Villains entertaining if insubstantial.
A surprisingly enjoyable (rather than scary) experience, It is filled with a series of beautifully shot and creatively weird scenes, having more in common with Stranger Things‘ blend of nostalgia and the supernatural than most contemporary horror. Jump scares are few and far between, in favour of steadily building atmosphere. Where modern horror tends to focus on individual isolation (a reflection of current anxieties), It is told from the perspective of the Losers Club, a group of unpopular adolescent outsiders. Disquiet arises through the group’s collective isolation from the community and particularly the adults in their lives. Like much of Stephen King’s work, It explores the loss of innocence and the murky underbelly of small town American communities. The film is slightly too long for its content (a cinematic streamlining of the book’s first half) and splashing through identical sewers becomes repetitive. Despite the recently released sequel, this first chapter feels complete if not always cohesive — perhaps due to its extended gestation period under multiple directors — and its most striking imagery will certainly linger in the mind.