My review of the haunting micro-budget indie Feral is over at FM and below…
An eye-opening study of a side of New York rarely shown on screen, Andrew Wonder’s Feral is a haunting story that forces a confrontation with the realities of homelessness.
With a subterranean, underworld setting echoing themes in films as diverse as feature documentary Dark Days (2o00) and recent Jordan Peele hit Us (2019), Feral is an examination of stark loneliness and the masks everyone wears to deal with reality. Bringing a focused gaze towards the dangers homeless people face every day, the film is at once unsettling and impossible to ignore.
These dangers are not limited to being out on the streets. Serious problems in the entire infrastructure of aiming to help homeless people are addressed with a fixed eye. The additional abuse problems that homeless women contend with – even when off the street – are displayed too. Whether as part of government bodies or religious charitable organisations, for homeless women there are always sexual predators looking to take advantage of the most vulnerable.
The film tells the story of Yazmine (powerfully played by Annapurna Sriram), a young woman living in the vast network of tunnels underneath Manhattan. Left on her own from the age of 16, following her mother’s deportation, Yazmine exists from day to day. Navigating her way through the underground tunnels of Manhattan, she emerges to attempt to find food and sustenance wherever and however she can.
The film never backs away from the harsh truths of what surviving on the streets means. For Yazmine, it sometimes involves picking up guys in order to get away from the freezing New York winter nights. A complex and moving scene shows her meeting up with a sensitive musician (Kevin Hoffman), and enjoying a drunkenly romantic evening as young New Yorkers. However, the great distance between their two internal worlds can’t be bridged.
Other encounters show how the kindness of strangers can be misguided. This is the case with the elderly lady who invites Yazmine into her home and offers her food and drink and talks to her about her past in the city. The two dance together in a beautifully realised capturing of movement and feeling. The outcome of the lady’s best intentions is far less uplifting.
Ultimately Yazmine’s journey is a mysterious and lonely one. She is able to don different guises and play various roles as a key to survival; we are left with the impression that after performing for so long, surviving is the defining factor in who she is. It’s an incredible showcase for Annapurna Sriram, an actor bound to gain a lot of attention from this role.
Feral covers a complicated and serious issue. It’s clear that with a strong creative vision and a talented cast, films on a micro-budget can make a memorable impression.
It’s oh so easy
And it don’t cost you a single dime
Or do anything drastic
Like waste all your time
It’s custom built
To lock away your pain
And fully shrink wrapped
To be one and the same
As all of the things
You were hoping for
When you put on your chains
And bolted up your door
When you ordered plastic friends
From far away towns
To help with the parties
And the smiles and the frowns
To take away the thinking
That led you astray
That asked all the questions
That weren’t black or white
A fresh Spring-clean and a major Fall-out
These seasons turn to mush and are one and the same
Doppler effect caught on camera
Stuck in a loop from one to the next
A smile in the mirror says it’s time to think different
To turn off the ongoing repeats
To mute the direst of diatribes
And bring a new mic to the listening booth
Amp one and amp two broadcast the news
The state of this union; ugly and bruised
Loaded with trauma from point A to Z
Directive: remember, learn, don’t forget
My review of Through the Fire (Sauver ou périr) is over at Filmink. Avaliable to see at the French Film Festival here in Australia, it is a powerful and emotional story…
Playing as part of the French Film Festival here in Australia, At War (En Guerre) is reviewed by moi over at Filmink.
My review of the great new doco Waiting: The Van Duren Story about the Memphis singer-songwriter Van Duren is over at Filmink now.
Spoiler… I really enjoyed it!
Review of Possum over at Flickering Myth…
A memorable, surprising and darkly disturbing feature debut from Matthew Holness…
Anyone expecting any sort of light relief from Matthew Holness’s debut feature will be sorely disappointed. The writer director, best known for his comedic parody work on cult-comedy masterpieces Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and Man-to-Man with Dean Learner, takes a step into full-on bleakness with Possum, the deeply disturbing story of a man forced to deal with long buried memories.
Focusing on the travails of Philip (Sean Harris), a children’s puppeteer forced to return to his quiet Norfolk childhood home after something awful happened at work, the film is an abstract rumination on suppressed memory and the pain of dealing with abuse. Possum refers to the hideous spidery puppet Philip keeps hidden away in a brown leather bag. He is intent on destroying Possum, but is forced to confront his sinister stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong). The old man is an unsettling presence never far away, either in the home or in the back garden, where the flames of a fire can do little to quieten the intensity of the puppet’s malevolent power.
Holness brings his detailed knowledge of and affection for vintage British cult programming and film-making to the fore on this journey of dread and painful confrontation. A fantastically realised soundtrack composed by the legendary sound studio The Radiophonic Workshop layers on the creepy, weird effects, and helps to hark back to partly remembered cult-classic TV and films.
It is in the long shots of the East Anglian countryside that that the film finds its true visual sense. There are shots of our lead wandering along paths and bridges that recall 1970’s public information films – the kind of Government ads that often followed a group of kids playing near a construction site, a railway or a body of water. A menacing voice-over would intone of the children’s foolishness in not paying enough attention, and something tragic would then inevitably occur.
There are also whispers of the classic ghost stories of M.R. James and the excellent Christmas Ghost Story BBC adaptations of them. One of those stories, Whistle and I’ll Come to You (filmed in 1968 and 2010), is beautifully invoked in the land and surroundings of the Norfolk location. The loneliness and sense of something monstrous on the horizon is there in hazy day-lit terror for all to see.
Possum has this sort of fear factor running throughout its running time, and Holness has spoken of his desire to create a modern ‘silent’ horror film. Harris’s work brilliantly fits in with this; the display of raw emotion and tortured memories sketching their insidious lines over his face and body language, expressing the pain of an abused child/disturbed adult in full view. As Holness says himself, real life horror is more frightening than any supernatural monster. The monster here is all too real, and Possum expertly works through it, leaving behind a ghostly memory of a tragic story beautifully told.
My review of the brilliant Videoman is over at Flickering Myth
It mixes social issue drama, giallo horror and 80’s pop to phantastik effect – bloody loved it. Strongly recommended.
It’s on the tip of my tongue
That sharp, savory hit
A bundle of rose life
I can’t quite place
I see the floral essence
Future blooming in my mind
And yet, I cannot fathom the name or the times…
With a sprinkle on the plate
Its message told in part
And as it nears completion
I appreciate the art
The colour, the wonder, and the oceanic depth
The strangeness of secrets better left unkept
And yet, I cannot fathom the name or the times…
Robert W Monk