Kia ora, welcome to the second half of my NZIFF review round-up. Enjoy!
Vivarium (Directed by Lorcan Finnegan), 98 minutes – 10/10
The second film of the festival to feature Jessie Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Vivarium follows a young couple, Gemma (Poots) and Tom (Eisenberg), who are looking for their first home. After following a mysterious real estate agent to a new housing development, they find themselves trapped in a labyrinth of identical houses. In the spirit of not giving too much away, I’ll stop there. Suffice to say that Eisenberg and Poots deliver strong, relatable performances bringing a genuine chemistry to their onscreen relationship. Watching their attempts to navigate and cope with the sinister, otherworldly scenario they find themselves caught in, is a sadistic treat for the viewer. For fans of darker science-fiction, like The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror, and/or “millennial” viewers, I can’t recommend this film enough.
Come to Daddy (Directed by Ant Timpson), 95 minutes – 8/10
Come to Daddy is the directorial debut of Kiwi, Ant Timpson, the twisted mind behind the 48 Hours Film competition. The film stars Elijah Wood as wannabe DJ, Norval, who has bond with his absent father. To Norval’s surprise, despite being the one to invite him, his father seemingly wants nothing to do with him. Instead, he spends their “quality time” drinking and verbally abusing Norval. It’s not long though before this films takes a sudden left turn, the first of many. For his first feature, Timpson is confident in his direction, delivering a film that had me sold on it from its name alone. Reminiscent of a Tarantino or Drew Goddard film (particularly Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)), Come to Daddy is darkly funny, with sharp, stylish bursts of violence that will keep you guessing throughout its runtime.
Spring Interlude (Directed by Martin Sagadin), 80 minutes – 10/10
Next comes another Kiwi filmmaker, Martin Sagadin, with their film, Spring Interlude! This film was made independently and locally within post-quake Christchurch. The film is centred on the relationship between Lily (Hannah Herchenbach) and Alex (Alayne Dick), two friends that are awkwardly manoeuvring around their friendship, which could possibly become something more. One night, one of them meets a stranger (Luke Agnew) needing a place to stay, leading to an anxious night of second-guessing, as they wonder if they’ve made the right choice. Beautifully simple in its premise and setting, Sagadin’s direction and actors’ respective performances emphasise a naturalistic approach, with the dialogue itself being largely inconsequential before the subtler, quieter moments. Capturing a specific time in a recovering Christchurch, Spring Interlude is an earnest, heartfelt piece of queer cinema that I cannot recommend enough.
In Fabric (Directed by Peter Strickland), 118 minutes – 6.5/10
Taking the baton from last year’s Mandy (2018), Peter Strickland’s In Fabric steps forward as possibly the strangest film I will see this year. Part B-movie/giallo homage, In Fabric is a haunting and surreal horror, often catching you off-guard with its wild sense of humour. A film of more than one part, In Fabric is essentially the “Sisterhood of the Travelling Dress”, except the dress wants to kill everyone it comes into contact with. An insane, satirical look into retail and fashion, In Fabric will be on your mind long after the credits have rolled.
The Nightingale (Directed by Jennifer Kent), 136 minutes – 10/10
After her debut with the bleak horror, The Babadook (2014), Kent is back with her colonial Australian-set period thriller, The Nightingale. In 1825, a young Irish convict, Clare (Aisling Franciosi), goes into the wilderness with her Aboriginal guide, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). Her goal is simple, to seek revenge against the British officer, Hawkins (Sam Claflin) and his cronies (Damon Herriman and Harry Greenwood). As a warning, The Nightingale, includes some devastating, gut-wrenchingly violent scenes. That said, this film is much more complex than its seemingly straightforward revenge narrative. Kent, here, is determined to expose Australia’s dark colonial history, and the contrasts she draws between Clare and Billy’s respective experiences are fascinating, to say the least. Bolstered by authentic costume design and period-accurate dialogue (including both Clare and Billy’s native languages), The Nightingale is unflinching in its purpose. All the actors in this film deliver strong performance, but the standouts are Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin, and of course, the eponymous nightingale, Aisling Franciosi. While the film’s occasional dream sequence may prove frustrating for some viewers, this film’s brutal honesty affected me greatly. All I can say after seeing this, is that Jennifer Kent is a director to watch out for.
Monos (Directed by Alejandro Landes), 103 minutes – 7.5/10
Taking place in the chilling mountains and lush jungles of Colombia, Monos is very much a loose adaptation of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Working for a shadow anti-government group known only as “The Organisation”, are a group of teenage soldiers (all bearing various pseudonyms from Rambo to Smurf), who have been put in charge of an American POW (Julianne Nicholson). Kept (largely) out of the actual fighting, we instead bear witness to the bizarre rituals they have formed and games they play to pass the time. Here, director, Alejandro Landes’ script (co-written with Alexis Dos Santos) dives deep into the anarchic relationships and environment of these teenagers’ world. While this aspect was fairly interesting, particularly when seeing how their antics affected Nicholson’s POW character, the film could drag on occasion. However, thanks to Jasper Wolf’s genuinely stunning cinematography, which takes full advantage of Colombia’s environment, I remained interested throughout the film’s runtime. Landes’ use of the lens of war to explore the corrupting influence of power is, itself, not entirely new concept. However, by applying it to Golding’s seminal tale, Monos manages to add a take a fresh stance on its subject matter, supported by its young cast’s strong performances.
Sorry We Missed You (Directed by Ken Loach), 100 minutes – 10/10
Sorry We Missed You is an emotional gut punch. Ken Loach returns to the NZIFF after his acclaimed 2016 film, I, Daniel Blake, this time, to look at zero-hour contracts in the UK. Set in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (aka Geordie Shore for the uninitiated), Sorry We Missed You follows Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), a couple who are both working under zero-hour contracts as a delivery driver and home carer respectively. The film unflinchingly follows their everyday struggles. Alongside the crushing nature of their jobs, we also see their efforts to be good parents to their children, Seb (Rhys Stone) a moody teen with a penchant (and talent) for graffiti and his smart, caring younger sister, Liza Jane (Katie Proctor). The strong performances throughout this film emphasise Loach’s dedication to the realities facing everyday working people. Ultimately, this film isn’t looking to provide answers, or offer its audience a false semblance of hope. Loach wants to make people aware of the brutality of these contracts, even if it means leaving us devastated afterwards.
That’s almost it for the films I caught at the NZIFF! I will be posting a separate review for Ari Aster’s new horror, Midsommar, in the very near future.