Exotic and thrilling – the latest DVDs reviewed

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Deliver Us From Evil, movie
Deliver Us From Evil: a twisted thriller that examines small town xenophobia.

Deliver Us From Evil (Axiom Films) is directed by Ole Bornedal, the Danish filmmaker best known for writing and directing Nattevagten (Nightwatch,) the 1994 thriller about a law student who works in a morgue as a night-watchman, only to become implicated in a series of prostitute murders, as well as the 1997 English language remake, which starred Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette. His latest movie sees him return to his homeland with a twisted thriller that examines the dangerous implications of small town xenophobia.

In search of a better quality of life, mild-mannered Johannes and his wife leave the city and move their two children to the small town where he grew up. However, violence erupts when Johannes’ drunken trucker brother Lars runs over a local woman and pins the blame on a Bosnian refugee – dismissively branded ‘the negro’ by the locals – who recently fled to the town. When Johannes stands up for the man and gives him shelter, Lars and a hostile posse of locals to get tooled up and storm Johannes’s secluded house in search of vengeance.

Deliver Us From Evil is an uneven but undeniably effective thriller, which improves dramatically as it enters the explosive final third. After a deceptively homespun opening section, the film gradually ratchets up the tension one notch at a time, and the awkward blend of rural whimsy and extreme violence recalls various Coen Brothers projects over the years. In true Coen Brothers-style, violence breeds more violence, and by the end no one’s hands are clean. Unusual and atmospheric, with a serious undercurrent of menace, Deliver Us From Evil is a memorable thriller from an unlikely source.


Crows Zero, movie
Crows Zero: Takashi Miike puts a sleek high school edge on his trademark ultra-violence

Controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike’s reputation as a prolific filmmaker precedes him, and his relentless working pace has shown few signs of slowing down as he enters his sixth decade. While not all of his projects have made it onto cinema screens in recent years – 2010’s Thirteen Assassins is one of the few movies to warrant a big-screen release – the DVD market has long provided a happy hunting ground for Miike fans. While Crows Zero (MVM) isn’t strictly a ‘new’ movie – it was made in 2007, and Miike has directed a dozen films since, including a sequel, Crows Zero 2, in 2009 – it is the latest movie to arrive on these shores.

The movie takes place at the notorious Suzuran Senior High School for Boys – Japan’s lowest achieving and most violent school – which is nicknamed ‘The School of Crows’ on account of the students’ tendency to band together and battle for domination. Against this tumultuous backdrop, Genji Takiya, a recent transfer student from a rival school, arrives at Suzuran, with his sights set on seizing control of the School of Crows before graduation. His chief obstacle is Tamao Serizawa, Suzuran’s toughest senior, but Genji gains an unlikely ally in the shape of Ken Katagiri, an older Yakuza gang member with his own scores to settle.

Based on the bestselling manga by Hiroshi Takahashi (screenwriter of the original Japanese Ring movies), Crows Zero is an unashamedly accessible venture, half a world away from the director’s notorious early projects such as Ichi The Killer. That isn’t to say that it is devoid of Miike’s trademark ultra-violence – far from it – but the proceedings are given a slick, populist slant, presumably with one eye on the mainstream. However, with a two-hour-plus run-time, Crows Zero is dangerously over-long, and the swollen plot regularly threatens to sap the menacing power of the juvenile delinquency on display. Not Miike’s best work, but a vivid, engaging thriller nonetheless.


Griff the Invisible, movie
Griff the Invisible: Ryan Kwanten enters geek-mode as he dons a superhero costume and wages war on criminals

Quirky Australian comedy Griff the Invisible (Matchbox Films) is the latest star vehicle for Ryan Kwanten, the former Home and Away actor who boosted his reputation considerably when he landed the role of Jason Stackhouse in HBO’s Deep South vampire drama True Blood in 2008. Griff (Kwanten) is a shy, socially awkward office worker, picked on by his colleagues. However, little do his mean-spirited co-workers know, after dark Griff dons a superhero costume and wages war on the criminal elements plaguing his neighbourhood. Equally unaware of Griff’s enigmatic dual identity, his brother Tim (Patrick Brammall) is concerned about his behaviour, and attempts to get him to socialise more. Through Tim, Griff meets the beautiful but obsessive scientist Melody (Maeve Dermody, Beautiful Kate), who is determined to discover a way of walking through walls…

The fact that Griff the Invisible’s script dates back to 2005 means that it is able to avoid unwanted suggestions that it ripped off 2010’s excellent Kick-Ass. Nevertheless, a comparison between the two movies is unavoidable, and the whimsical Griff struggles to emerge from the better-known movie’s imposing shadow. Considering it took around five years to make it from screenplay to screen, Griff’s script is unfortunately weak, and gives Kwanten very little to work with. Anyone used to watching him as the endearingly dumb jock Jason Stackhouse will be surprised to see him unveil his inner geek here, but the novelty soon wears off, as the offbeat plot takes on a strangely aimless quality. Despite an engaging lead performance from Kwanten and a memorable visual style, Griff the Invisible is nothing more than an underwhelming curio.