The Childhood of a Leader (Soda) is the ominous story of a young American boy (Tom Sweet in his debut role), who is living with his family in France in 1918 while his taciturn father (Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones) works for the US government on the creation of the Treaty of Versailles. What the precocious youngster witnesses helps to mould his beliefs, and the film charts the birth of a terrifying ego.
Very loosely based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s short story of the same name – published in 1939 – The Childhood of a Leader is the directorial debut of actor Brady Corbet, who knows a thing or two about unsettling roles after starring in the likes of Mysterious Skin and the 2008 Funny Games remake. Young Tom Sweet delivers a brilliantly twisted performance as Prescott, while Cunningham and Berenice Bejo (The Artist) impress as his troubled parents. Robert Pattinson offers solid support as he steps further away from the Twilight Saga, and his involvement also delivers a peculiar twist in the tale.
The premise of the film is undeniably intriguing, and although the slow-burning drama initially feels slight, but it isn’t long before the bored, neglected Prescott’s wayward personality traits start to shine through. Weird, accomplished and ultimately chilling – this is superior arthouse fare.
The Wailing (Kaleidoscope) is an intense crime-horror mash-up set in a rural South Korean village, where the recent arrival of an enigmatic Japanese stranger coincides with a spate of killings – as well as the outbreak of a mysterious affliction that induces a murderous type of madness in those who come into contact with it. Out of his depth, local police officer Jong-goo is horrified to discover that his young daughter may have fallen under the stranger’s curse, prompting him to enlist a charismatic shaman to free his daughter from the curse.
The Wailing broke box office records on its release in South Korea, but director Hong-jin Na (who directed the acclaimed thriller Chaser back in 2008) has steadfastly refused to dilute his vision for mainstream consumption, and what unfolds is head-scratching and gore-streaked in equal measure. Suffice to say, at two-and-a-half hours long, The Wailing is a weighty undertaking, and the cryptic plot takes on a gruelling quality at times.
Indeed, I think that the story would actually have benefitted from a mini-series format, so it could have further explored the deranged Twin Peaks-esque mood. The Wailing is dark, weird and fascinating, but likely to prove to be an acquired taste.
Adapted from Liz Jensen’s bestselling novel of the same name, The 9th Life of Louis Drax (Soda) tells the story of the nine-year-old title character, who inexplicably reawakens from the dead after his latest life threatening accident. His unique case sees him become the patient of celebrated neurologist Dr Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan, The Fall), who specialises in child psychology. Determined to uncover the truth of Louis’ bizarre existence, Pascal is drawn into both the child’s life and that of his fragile mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon, 11.22.63), whose affections begin to cloud his judgement.
Directed by French horror director Alexandre Aja, whose previous credits include Switchblade Romance, Mirrors and Horns, The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a seriously uneven movie that freewheels between mystery, horror, romance and magical realism, mashing the genres up into a queasy, garbled end-product. The romantic tension between Dr Pascal and Natalie – one of the film’s key driving forces – is fairly low-wattage, and the other plot strands are similarly unconvincing. In the plus column, the film is impeccably acted, and Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) does a particularly good job in his intermittent supporting role. All in all: awkward, and far too garbled to make much of a mainstream impact.