Dir. Michael Petroni, Australia, 90 mins
Starring Adrien Brody, Robin McLeavy, Sam Neill and George Shevtsov
Out in UK Cinemas 29th January
Every now and then one of those offers comes along you don't like to say no to. And 'do you fancy reviewing Adrien Brody's new movie' is definitely one of those scenarios. A firm favourite for me as an actor, and when I found out this one also had the wonderful Sam Neill in it I was all over it like a rash. So, what's it all about then?
Backtrack follows the story of Peter, a psychotherapist who recently lost his daughter in a car accident. Of course their marriage is in a difficult spot, and Peter is struggling to keep up with the needs of his patients and the strain the tragedy has taken on his mental state. It's at this stage that the very mysterious Elizabeth Valentine appears in his office – an unspeaking girl of about 14 who offers no clue as to how and why she got there. And it turns out there's a supernatural element to her presence there – and to all of his patients...
Let me start off by saying up front that I absolutely love this movie. It is the brain child of Christopher MacBride who both wrote and directed it, his only feature length film thus far, in fact. It is an incredible story of two filmmakers who are best friends that look into a guy named Terrence, played pitch perfectly by Alan C. Peterson, and find a conspiracy rabbit hole that goes far deeper than they ever thought possible. The two filmmakers are Aaron and Jim, played by Aaron Poole and James Gilbert, respectively.
"How prepared he is to look old, and vulnerable,
and scared, and trapped. It’s all there from the getgo,
written in the gray stubble on his lined face.
Something’s wrong with Han. Badly wrong."
So this one is going to get very spoiler heavy. If you have yet to see The Force Awakens, and you want the experience to be spoiler free, stop reading now.
To the rest of you - welcome. Blimey. I feel like we have a lot to talk about.
I’ll do the inevitable biography bit first - Jedi was my first cinema outing, at 5 years old. Star Wars was one of the best things about my UK childhood Christmases (because they showed them on TV). I wanted to be Luke. My favourite colour is green. Because, Luke’s saber. I made my sister cry on long car journeys by calling her Darth Vader over and over in a sing-song voice until she cracked - normally only took five minutes or so.
I don’t mind the special editions (apart from Han shot first, obviously) - loved seeing them at the cinema. And Simon Pegg circa Spaced has my proxy on the prequels. I hated Sith so much I didn’t go back to the cinema at all for about 5 years - not really the fault of the film itself, more that it took the accumulated weight of all my prequel disappointment. I thought it somehow would all come good in episode three, and, well, spoilers, it didn’t. I have not seen it since, and can’t imagine I ever will.
ANGER OF THE DEAD (2016)
Dir. Francesco Picone, Italy/Canada, 84 mins
I should start with something of a disclaimer – I've never massively been on for zombie films. Sure, I enjoy some of the classics, but for me it's a subgenre that of late has become distinctly overdone without a real injection of freshness or interest. So when Anger of the Dead was offered my way, it was one I approached with a sort of mild interest rather than a rabid excitement. As an Italian production – a country with a strong pedigree in the field – this one had quite something to live up to.
But overall I have to say Anger of the Dead was a pleasant surprise – there's nothing revelatory here, but this is an effective apocalyptic tale which does have an emotional heart to it. The tale begins with Alice taking a pregnancy test and watching riots break out on TV – but of course these are no ordinary riots. A lone zombie breaks into her flat and proceeds to devour her daughter while she is powerless to defend her – but of course we find out she has another child on the way...
We cut to four months later, where Alice is accompanied by Stephen and they are driving through the devastation simply trying to stay alive. When they discover a message talking about a boat headed to an island uninfected by the zombie virus, they are given a glimmer of hope, something to drive them on through the nightmare-infested wasteland ahead of them. This coincides with a subplot following Rooker, a mysterious but dark figure who is seeking out a female prisoner that has escaped from his 'refuge' We swiftly find out just how uncompromising he is, and what he will do to bring his prey back. When Alice and Stephen stumble across his path, things are about to become even more difficult for our heroes, and they have both the living and the undead to worry about.
What sets this apart from some of the other zombie features I've seen – as I've intimated – is that there's more emotionally going on here than standard. Alice has her newborn baby to think about, and a strange, burgeoning relationship with Stephen in difficult circumstances. Peter – whom they pick up along the way – is forced to kill his own sister when she is infected. Even the seemingly uncaring Rooker has his reasons for pursuing the unspeaking prisoner. While some of the zombie effects don't necessarily look great, and the filming looks a bit low-budget in places, there ws enough here to keep me interested and rooting for the characters – and as I say, in a subgenre that's not my favourite, that's no mean feat.
RATING: 7/10. It's rare that a zombie flick really aims to break down barries and try something truly different – Pontypool being a notable exception in my eyes – and there are many of the classic tropes here. We have our noble survivors trying to do things the right way, our cruel bad guys willing to survive by any means, the distant ray of hope that keeps the main characters pushing on through their respective personal hells. But personally I feel like there's more going on storywise and there's a bit more heart and soul here than I'm used to, so for that reason it's a very respectable 7/10 here. Not up there with some of the Italian zombie classics, but not a bad addition to the pantheon all the same.
The first two Evil Dead movies blew my mind. By the time I'd gotten around to watching them the first film had already been out for 15 years, but they still felt fresh and fun, and were gory as hell. Evil Dead (1981) was campy, dark and surprisingly emotional: a journey straight into hell that gave rise to the popular "cabin in the woods" horror trope, and was made on a shoestring budget. Its camerawork (done by Tim Philo, who went on to shoot Evil Dead II and not much else) was inventive, always keeping the viewer uneasy and on edge, particularly during the shaky-cam POV shots of the woods nicknamed “The Force” or “The Evil Force” by the crew. Its editing by Ruth Edna Paul (who, again, did not do much beyond this film) used intercutting and jarring cuts to build tension. Looking back on the first movie now, it feels very much like a student film, which is likely why director Sam Raimi virtually remade it with Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, rehashing many of the same plot points, while cranking up the gore and humor to eleven. Most of the movie was carried by Bruce Campbell's balls-to-the-wall acting during scenes where Ash battled his own Deadite-possessed hand while struggling to hold onto sanity as the Necronomicon Ex Mortis and its minions used him as both a chew toy. The SFX crew literally splattered buckets of blood on the actors and The Cabin.