Sex, Leins & Videotape #28. Paignton film critic Tom Leins heads off the beaten track and digs up an obscure selection of new DVD releases.
Anyone with fond memories of 80s American high school movies should take a look at Afterschool (Network), a dark-hearted new high school drama for the YouTube generation!
Set at a private East Coast preparatory school, Afterschool follows the exploits of Robert, a lost soul with a penchant for watching sex and violence on YouTube. Disconnected from his peers, Robert immerses himself in his school audio-visual project, only to accidentally capture the deaths of two popular girls on camera. Bizarrely, as the rest of the school suffers in silence, the macabre event seems to boost Robert’s fragile confidence. Afterschool is intense, provocative and unsettling, and director Antonio Campos successfully cultivates an atmosphere of extreme unease throughout.
The camera’s voyeuristic gaze lingers noncommittally on the characters, letting us draw our own conclusions about their off-kilter behaviour. The hypnotic silence and languid pace recalls the recent work of Gus Van Sant, but arguably Afterschool succeeds where Van Sant has so often failed. By adding a dollop of Michael Haneke-style nastiness to the brew, Campos imbues his teenage wasteland with a casually amoral edge, and it is hard to look away. That said, although Afterschool won widespread plaudits on its theatrical release, it never quite hits the dizzy heights that its sinister opening hints at. Regardless, director Campos could have a bright future ahead of him if he continues to chronicle this dead-eyed generation of American youngsters who self-medicate with violence and pornography…
Ca$h (Momentum) is a morally ambiguous crime caper about a likable young couple whose life changes dramatically when jobless Sam (Chris Hemsworth) comes across an abandoned suitcase crammed with cash. Suffice to say, their initial good fortune doesn’t last long! After a tip-off from his incarcerated brother, Sean Bean’s greasy criminal Pyke Kubic(!) sets out to regain the loot that was jettisoned during a high speed chase. His robust British interrogation techniques only get him so far, and when Bean realizes that his reluctant hosts have spent a big wedge of the cash already, he forces them to commit a string of violent robberies so that he and his brother can share the spoils.
The glowering Bean is a watchable presence at the heart of the movie, but at the age of 50 he has probably missed out on the Hollywood gravy train. In truth, straight-to-DVD nonsense like Ca$h is unlikely to boost his profile at this stage in the game! Ca$h has an appealing, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, but it never really makes the most of Bean’s droll Northern delivery. With a tighter script and a darker sense of humour Ca$h could have been a deadly Coen Brothers-style romp. As it is, it just feels strangely pointless.
Freestyle (Revolver) is an undemanding urban drama about the trials and tribulations facing inner-city youngsters who are intent on following their dreams. If you’re even vaguely familiar with Step Up and other dance movies of its ilk, then you will understand the triumph-over-adversity narrative being flaunted by Freestyle. However, in an effort to subvert the status quo, Freestyle tweaks the traditional stereotypes. As a result, Leon (Arinze Kene) is a basketball-playing tough guy who yearns to turn his back on the mean streets and head to university, while Ondene (Lucy Konadu) is a privileged private schoolgirl who is desperate to cast off her middle-class shackles and enter a down-and-dirty basketball competition.
Suffice to say, their chosen paths are littered with obstacles, and both characters have to dig deep to overcome prejudice and hostility. Yawn. Male lead Arinze Kene is suitably charismatic, but his opposite number Lucy Konadu is truly awful, and would struggle to get a job on Hollyoaks, based on this evidence! The uneventful narrative may appeal to bored teenagers, but Freestyle lacks the substance to draw in more discerning viewers. Kidulthood and Adulthood explored similar issues with far more panache, and as for the climactic ‘Freestyle’ battle – if you’re hoping for 8 Mile with basketballs then you’ll end up sorely disappointed…
Bringing up the rear this week is iMurders (Anchor Bay), a lamentable ensemble movie about a group of hapless chat room acquaintances who are slaughtered by a vindictive murderer while they poke each other senseless on ‘FaceSpace’! iMurders aims for nudge-nudge-wink-wink Scream style post-modern horror thrills, but falls woefully short of its illustrious predecessor, and seems destined to gather dust in bargain bins everywhere. If the concept of a chat-room serial killer seems stale and unworkable, then that’s because it is, and iMurders feels contrived and badly pieced together throughout.
With dreadful dialogue and clumsy direction, iMurders has the odds stacked against it from the outset. The producers have seemingly expended all of their energy enticing the eclectic B-movie cast (including Tony Todd, William Forsythe and Billy Dee Williams), only to waste them with marginal roles and cringe-worthy dialogue. All in all, iMurders is a breathtakingly dull excuse for a horror movie. (That said, if you do stumble across it, try to resist the temptation to turn it off – it’s worth staying tuned just to see the spectacularly ham-fisted conclusion!)