We’re at the multiplex this week, with a goth girl with special powers destined to save the world and a prehistoric teenage boy who teaches a wolf to play fetch.
It’s near impossible not to see Jessica Falkholt’s big dark eyes, always peering out from under a black hoodie and not be reminded of her tragic death. Along with her younger sister and both parents, she was killed in an horrendous car accident on the South Coast last Boxing Day. Judging by her leading role here she was destined for greater things, in fact she’s one of the brightest things about writer/director Corey Pearson’s dark YA supernatural thriller, the first of a planned five-part saga. She plays a gothic super-empath named Harmony, one of five orphans born with special powers to “save humanity from an approaching storm of negative emotional energy and darkness,” according the the film’s notes. She’s able to absorb the pain of others and the evils of the world, an ability which comes at great personal cost. The process, we’re told, “leaves her greatly weakened.”
It certainly looks icky. After helping people with a healing touch – often strangers she keeps finding on the dark, bleak city streets she’s always hanging about on, an evil-looking black liquid seeps out of her extremities. Yuk, for its intended audience of teenage girls, maybe that’s not such a great image… But as a metaphor (maybe the evil of our planet is carbon-based like oil? Now there’s a thought) or even some sort of biblical allusion, it works fine. Anyway it explains why her living space is a bit grubby. All that black stuff oozing out can be washed away with lots of water, but that means her bathroom is constantly a mess… In fact when a trio of threatening hoods led by a sociopathic creep (Eamon Farren) break in intent on doing something nasty to her, they describe it as “shithole.” Considering they look as if they live at a garbage tip themselves, that’s saying something.
For the Twilight demographic, those dark atmospherics and our heroine’s essential goodness and vulnerability should resonant, but naturally she has a love interest too. That’s an odd but gentle character called Mason (Jerome Meyer) – who may have powers that can help keep her fragile physical and mental state in balance. He’s the son of a wealthy woman (Jacqueline McKenzie), a possible benefactor Harmony rescues from self-harm. She certainly should help her find better digs! In fact the production designers had great time finding Sydney’s (and Wollongong’s) meanest and dirtiest locations, rarely has our city looks grimmer and more menacing. We’re standing in for generic big urban conglomerates – we know we can’t actually be in our sparkling harbour city because there’s a reference to tearing down a community hospital to “build condos.” Hey, we don’t do that in Sydney, we built apartments. Memo to writer: Don’t give our developers more bad ideas – they’ve got plenty already! M from Oct 4. Local cinema – Hoyts Broadway (limited sessions) ★★★1/2
Without a doubt the domestication of wolves and their transformation into man’s best friend took longer and was far messier than the process shown in Albert Hughes’ shaggy dog story set in Europe some 20,000 years ago. But as spectacular Ice Age eye candy and a convincing fable, Alpha works a treat. Make no mistake, this is no sanitised Disney-style romp. In fact despite its PG rating, parents should be warned this downright gnarly and thrillingly tough film contains plenty of blood, sweat and tears, not to mention mud and shit. And maggots –which also serve as dinner for our two starving heroes, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and the canine he calls “Alpha” (a Czech wolfhound called Chuck).
After a thrilling bison hunt opener (do see this on a big screen if you can) which sets up the accident that leaves Keda for dead on cliff ledge, we go back a week or so to the boy’s tribe – who are preparing for the hunt, and introduced to his father the chief Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanneson) and mother. And learn a few things about these people – that they live in a harsh world, the men suffer from poor bodily hygiene and have a fiercely patronising attitudes to their women (hey, they’re cavemen).
Keda himself is a sensitive lad of about 16, and as played by the Australian-born Smit-McPhee (Slow West, Let Me In), looks like he’d be happier writing poetry on cave walls and combing nits out of his long centre-parted locks than chasing wild bison off cliffs. Unfortunately he couldn’t just wander down a pick up a tofu and lentil burger from the local Vegan super-store, so it’s a-hunting they will go…
The accident which leaves him stranded is a result of his inexperience, but later as his survival instincts kick in, he proves he has what it takes… especially as the unlikely buddy-story between him and the injured feral wolf (which he stabs in self-defence, but can’t bring himself to kill and eat) gets into gear. Actually, their slowly growing bond feels quite real and credible, with the fates of both characters tugging up our heartstrings in ways that, while thoroughly predictable, feel utterly well-earned.
Maybe it helps if you like dogs (but then, who doesn’t?). If you do own one, after you’ve seen Alpha you may well feel like patting him on the head and giving him an extra bowl of kibble. PG from Sept 27 Local cinemas include George St, Burwood, Auburn and Rhodes ★★★★
Reviews – Russell Edwards