Don’t Breathe (Sony) is Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez’s follow-up to the gore-streaked 2013 Evil Dead reboot that divided critics.
The story involves a trio of young thieves – all with entirely different motivations – breaking into the house of a wealthy blind man Stephen Lang (Avatar), thinking that they can get away with the perfect crime. Their ambitious scam proves to be badly misjudged, however, and the homeowner isn’t a vulnerable old man, but a trauma-wracked veteran who was blinded in combat. Getting in was the easy part – getting out proves far harder…
From a deceptively simple premise, Alvarez – and co-writer Rodo Sayagues – have crafted a slick, satisfying picture that skilfully blends visceral thrills with nerve jangling twists. Lang is well cast as the blind man, and would-be robbers Jane Levy (Suburgatory) and Dylan Minnette (Lost) also impress. Alvarez ratchets up the tension nicely, and while a queasy, mid-movie twist is likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth for some viewers, the director doesn’t really put a foot wrong. Nice work!
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Axiom Films) is the bizarre not-quite-true story of Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (Finnish actor Elmer Bäck), who travels to Mexico in 1931 – at the height of his post-Battleship Potemkin fame – determined to shoot a new (ultimately doomed) film called Que Viva Mexico. Chaperoned by his guide Palomino Cañedo (Luis Alberti), with whom he eventually embarks on a sexual relationship, Eisenstein enjoys a bawdy, chaotic trip. At this stage in his career, Peter Greenaway can get away with indulging his filmic passions to the hilt, and Eisenstein in Guanajuato is his most absurd – and indeed most enjoyable – movie in years. Charming, playful and wilfully uneven, it is strangely compelling concoction.
Adapted from the memoirs of Arielle Holmes – who also takes the lead role – Heaven Knows What (Axiom Films) is a grubby, gritty drama about Harley (Holmes), a young heroin addict living a hand-to-mouth existence on the streets of New York. Drugs aside, Harley’s highly charged relationship with her boyfriend, Ilya (Caleb Landry-Jones, X-Men: First Class) is equally bad for her health, and their toxic chemistry drives the film forwards. Grim and seemingly authentic, Heaven Knows What has earned plaudits for its cinéma vérité values, but I found it to be a gruelling, charmless viewing experience. The film has a potent raw power, but it is devoid of the kind of black humour that generally alleviates the downbeat mood in junkie melodramas. Approach with caution.
Finally, a pair of out-of-print John Carpenter movies are back on the shelves this month, courtesy of new British distributor Indicator. First up, re-released on a limited edition Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) basis is Vampires (Indiactor), the moody 1998 thriller that pits Jack Crow (James Woods) and his rag-tag, church-approved team of vampire slayers against Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who is revealed to be the first and most powerful of all vampires. Starting with the arresting opening scene at a New Mexico ‘goon nest’ where vampires are dragged out into the sunlight to burn, Carpenter presides over a number of memorably bloody sequences, and the film’s central mythology is satisfyingly quirky. It may not be top-drawer Carpenter, but Vampires is definitely worthy of reappraisal.
Altogether less successful is 2001’s Ghosts of Mars (Indicator), the lukewarm sci-fi/horror fusion which prompted Carpenter’s semi-retirement from filmmaking. Natasha Henstridge – six years after her breakthrough role in Species – improbably heads a squad of soldiers who are dispatched to the now-terraformed red planet to escort notorious convict Desolation Williams (Ice Cube) back home. When they arrive they discover that the mining colony is deserted, and only later do they realise that the miners have been possessed by the ghosts of an ancient Martian civilisation, prompting bloody scenes or carnage as they attempt to fight off their ghoulish enemies. The eclectic cast (which includes Jason Statham and Pam Grier) is great – particularly Ice Cube – but the creaky aesthetic, stodgy plotting and weak dialogue means that the whole project falls badly flat.
(Note: both Indicator titles are limited to 5,000 copies apiece. When the initial run is sold out, they will still be available on Blu-ray, just without the DVD or accompanying booklet.)