Lady Bird

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In general, I’m not a fan of those ‘slice of life’ films – you know, films which focus on a characters or group and meander through some aimless part of life in the hope that we’ll be endeared enough to care. Which is strange, because I love coming of age films which are a very similar strain of the same idea. Lady Bird falls somewhere in between these, following roughly a year in a teenage girl’s life at that transitional period between school and whatever comes next. The film is up for a bunch of Oscars, looks certain to win at least one, but how does it differ from others of its ilk…. and is it any good?

These films often succeed or fail based on the quality of writing, of whether we accept and enjoy the characters, and the performances. There are two central performances here – Saoirse Ronan as the titular teen who we follow through the adventures of being an outcast, looking for a boyfriend, looking for purpose, and Laurie Metcalf as her mother. Metcalf has been doing the whole world weary thing for a while now, and here she is particularly embittered towards a daughter who doesn’t appear to deserve any of the criticism. The relationship between the mother and daughter has been highlighted as one of the pluses of the film, but it’s actually fairly vague and undefined – at moments they appear to be head of heels besties, at other times they seem to genuinely despise each other. There’s no doubting the caliber of the performances, but Oscar worthy? I guess that’s what passes for such these days. I like the performances, but I’m just not as wowed by them as I expect to be when so many plaudits are attached.

Lady Bird, or Christine, is your typical precocious teen, appearing at once wise and naive. There’s little of the quirks of Juno yet plenty of similar behaviour, though many of the antics will be familiar to many of those watching. I couldn’t help recall my final year of school – the stress of exams, the desire for a girlfriend, the need of friends, of freedom etc. It’s clear Gerwig was drawing from her own, universal experiences, and doesn’t allow the script to get bogged down by being too personal. In essence, Lady Bird isn’t going to be someone you will mind spending 90 minutes or so with, and her surrounding characters embellish proceedings nicely. There’s a wider family group, essentially there for comic relief, though her father, played by Tracy Letts gets special mention for a constant sympathetic ear. Gerwig does create a fully realized world – even though the focus is on Lady Bird, we understand the struggles of her parents – the pain and stress they are going through, and the fact that Lady Bird’s peers are surely going through similar issues as she is. The dialogue never becomes too affected and while it’s rooted in the early noughties it also achieves a universal, dateless quality. To be honest, I think I need to watch the film a second time to watch specifically for direction – everything was fluid, but on the surface it felt like the director was anonymous or that it could have been anyone pulling the strings.

There are some light laughs, what heartache or tragedy there may be is slight, marking this as a soft, warm drama which doesn’t really go anywhere but is perfectly content in relating these few months of activity for us. I was thoroughly on board and comfortable within the first five minutes, after ten I was won over, but by the end of the film I couldn’t help but think that it didn’t live up to whatever expectations it had given me in those opening minutes. Nevertheless, if the film is to win a number of Oscars I would hardly complain – at the time of writing I’ve only seen this, Dunkirk, and Get Out out of the big Oscar hitters and have enjoyed them all roughly equally – like the other two I’ve seen, Lady Bird is not without its flaws and I doubt I’d need to see it again. It’s no Kings Of Summer, it’s no Lucas, but maybe being Lady Bird is all it needs to be.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lady Bird and if you think it deserves the acclaim it has, and will continue to receive!

The House Of The Devil

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Ti West has been carving a name for himself in the horror world for quite a few years now, earning critical praise if not quite the commercial recognition he deserves. In a run that any director should be proud of, West crafted this nifty little throwback to the Seventies slasher, with nods to many classics, and showing an eye for flair, and for creating tension similar to those masters De Palma, Carpenter, and Hitchcock. From the setting to the soundtrack to the camerawork to the title credits, House Of The Devil is a fun, loving dedication to an interesting time in horror – one ripe for ridicule, but also for respect.

Instant Transportation

I love the introduction to House Of The West instantly transporting you to a more simple, better time for horror. We get an authentic retro opening credits sequence with big Yellow writing, hilarious, apt zoom shots and freeze frames, and 80s music blasting out of a walkman. There’s a case for saying that this intro is the best part of the movie, and it’s difficult to argue against that, but to say what follows isn’t great would be a foolish disservice. The retro look and feel is seen throughout, thanks to filming with 16mm and keeping a number of techniques familiar to 70s and 80s horror fans prevalent throughout. It’s not just in the stylistic approach – the hair and clothes and vehicles etc are all authentic, but in an interesting twist it takes the slasher sub-genre and gives it the slow-burning treatment. Aside from a few obvious classic, the slasher is more about gore and over the top kills and buck a minute thrills than creating tension or atmosphere. West keeps the kills and blood to a minimum until the conclusion, and even though there are few answers or reveals until close to the end, we are shown enough, and know enough that something isn’t right.

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West’s direction is assured, that’s easily enough established in the opening moments, so what of the rest of the cast? We have a pleasing range of familiar icons and fresh faces, and there are no let downs. A trait of the cheapest and sleaziest, and even the most popular horror films of the 70s and 80s were the less than stellar performances from less than household names – there would usually be a decent leading lady, and one reputable actor surrounded by people who had just enrolled in Acting 101 never mind those who had graduated from it. Dee Wallace appears in an early, minor role to set the tone of horror pedigree, but it is a soft spoken Tom Noohan who leads the way, a man known for many creepy roles. His wife in the film is played by another less known horror actress Mary Woronov, and they make a formidable pairing, both charming and affable and unnerving like a certain other sociable couple from Rosemary’s Baby, hint hint. Added to the cast in lesser roles are AJ Bowen who is gradually making his name known in horror circles, and Greta Gerwig who it seems just needs the right film to hit the big time after a number of well received performances. Our Scream Queen though is played by Jocelin Donahue who does a great job as both plucky heroine, 80s college girl, and distressed damsel, fighting, kicking, stabbing her way through a chaotic conclusion. For sections of the film she is alone and has to act by herself, managing to hold this scenes without issue.

Fine Carnage

These sections all lead towards a final vague reveal and some fine carnage. The only scene of violence before the final section is a pretty shocking gun-blast to the face for one unfortunate victim, but those last moments are a gripping mix of chase and torture, yet another game of cat and mouse in a large, shadow and secret filled house, but rather than simply re-tread old ground, West tries to actually make things scary rather than gory. The film and the payoff may not be perfect for all horror fans, but I was happy. Without giving away any spoilers, there is a reason behind all the violence and it’s fairly stock horror stuff, and even though there are brief hints throughout, it isn’t truly reveled until the final moments. Definitely a film which horror aficionados will appreciate more than the casual fan, but there is plenty to love here for those not accustomed to hockey masks and human centipedes.

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Have you seen The House Of The Devil? What did you make of the retro stylings of the movie and do you think it will be a future cult hit? Let us know in the comments!