Child endangerment features in two releases this week, one a chilly remake of a true original, the other a bloated and unnecessary sequel.
Top pick: Angel of Mine
Noomi Rapace, from the original Danish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series plays a depressed and screwed-up single mother named Lizzie in this chilly Melbourne-based psychological thriller, which manages to deftly rises above its melodramatic underpinnings. She’s been under treatment for mental illness, and “not doing so well” her ex-husband Mike (Luke Evans) tells us, since the loss of her baby daughter who died in a maternity hospital fire some years ago. Then at a party for one of her pre-teen son’s (Finn Little) school friends, Lizzie spots Lola (Annika Whiteley), the 7-year-old daughter of Claire (The Handmaid’s Tale’s Yvonne Strahovski) and starts thinking the little girl is her long lost child. “Do you remember me?” she queasily asks Lola when she first gets the moppet-faced tot alone. “Don’t you think we look alike?” The answers don’t matter, nor does what Lola’s quickly freaked-out mother thinks, but the clearly un-hinged Lizzie is convinced. Cue the creepy stalking…
The ever reliable Richard Roxburgh as Claire’s husband Bernard even helps the process along by welcoming Lizzie into the home and dismissing his wife’s fears about the way she is always suddenly and unexpectedly turning up. The slow build-up of tension in Luke Davis and David Regal’s screenplay is aided by Rapace’s jangly performance, which in one astonishing side story about her attempt at “normal” dating with a possible suitor (Rob Collins) – is also incredibly brave. Things over dinner go ok but later as the pair start to get horizontal, suddenly Lizzie throws him off and starts dementedly masturbating on the floor, leaving her bemused partner nothing to do but get dressed and leave. There’s absolutely nothing erotic about that scene – it’s there to unsettle and show the gaping loneliness and twisted pain Lizzie is in. And it does so, stunningly.
Director Kim Farrant has done that sort of damaged motherhood stuff before – in Strangerland she even got Nicole Kidman to walk naked down the main street of a country town. And at one point I thought the outcome might be like The Kindergarten Teacher, another recent psycho-drama about a mother’s unhealthy fixation on someone else’s child. In that film the teacher kidnaps the boy, but then comes to her senses, and meekly returns him. And apart from a cliched mad-lady slasher-style ending, what else could happen? Well, something else does, and if I’d seen the original French Mark of an Angel in 2008 (this is a remake) I wouldn’t have been as quite surprised as I was. Surprised? This is eye-rolling WTF stuff, which you’ll either go with or not. My (female) partner had no trouble, but some may… Meanwhile, Strahovski might like to think carefully before accepting another role as a mum. MA15+ from Sept 5. Local inner west cinemas include Hoyts Broadway. ★★★★
It Chapter 2
The postcard-pretty but nightmarish town of Derry returns in this unnecessary sequel, looking even more unrealistic than it did two years ago. Then it was the locale for what (unexpectedly) turned out to be the highest-grossing horror film ever. “Unnecessary?” Nah, I didn’t mean that! With all that money sloshing around, course another It had to be made. And naturally the township’s nastiest pervert “Pennywise” (Bill Skarsgard) had to be in it, that stupid ugly clown who lives in Derry’s municipal sewers and chomps the heads off its small children.
He’s had a bit of time to grow into a monster-sized shape-shifter now, and most of the time scrambles around in the dark on giant claw-like spider legs. His appetite has extended past adorable small children too (one little cutie get sadistically slaughtered, for those who like that sort of thing) – and now he’s after the six surviving “losers” of those horrifying events 27 years ago. They are all 40-somethings now and living in far flung cities, but still – in the film’s only intriguing premise – “losers” in some way. The original kids all make reappearances too, but as adults they’re played Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone and Andy Bean.
A couple of big names there, but what were they thinking? And is it “the end” the movie’s artwork promises? For the sake of those A-listers’ and returning director Andy Muschietti’s careers, not to mention the original It author’s (Stephen King) reputation, we can only hope so. For the most notable thing about Chapter 2 is its bloated 2 hour and interminable 49 minute length. The Derry reunion of the losers makes no narrative sense, and neither do any of their actions once back there – except to provide a seemingly endless supply of jump scares. This is the sort of movie when everyone goes down a big deep hole in the ground for no reason other than that’s what people in horror movies always do. It’s dark down there, so all of a sudden they’re carrying flashlights. But where did they get them from?
Dumb question, dumb movie, but before that tiresomely extended climax in the sewer tunnels, much of it is stalled in a repetitive cycle of creepy, supposedly scary CGI as each adult character faces their childhood demons. Everything from every horror movie you’ve ever seen is chucked into the mix – once again proving that rock-solid movie maxim: The more money that’s pumped into special effects, the less likely anyone in the audience will remember any of them. Hundreds of millions of dollars must have been spent on barrels of rancid slime, gushing blood, putrid fangs and grotesque clinging tentacles, and all I can recall now is looking incredulously at my watch wondering, “when will It Ends actually end?” During that time the distributor email-reminded all the critics present that there was a global embargo on publishing reviews until Wednesday 4am. If only that prohibition had extended to making it in the first place. MA15+ from Sept 5, on everywhere, including Dendy Newtown and (why?) Palace Norton St ★
Not until next year, but the wait will be worth it. The inner west set and shot Babyteeth has been getting rave reviews at its Venice premiere. Controversially, it’s one of only two films from female directors (Shannon Murphy) in competition at the prestigious festival. In it Ben Mendelsohn and The Babadook’s Essie Davis play the parents of teenage girl (Sharp Objects’ Eliza Scanlen, in a stunning career-making performance) who falls in love with a drug dealer. There are two very well-known inner west locations in the trailer. Can you spot them?
Also opening this week
Surprised to see a Asian language film in an inner west arthouse cinema? So am I, they’re scandalously rare. There’s plenty more to say about the lovely dramady The Farewell, starring Crazy Rich Asians‘ Awkwafina, and we will. Review coming soon…
Reviews – Russell Edwards