Tom Leins casts a critical eye over a coming of age drama The Kings of Summer, a backwoods horror movie, No One Lives, and an enigmatic revenge thriller, Dead Man Down, in this week’s DVD round-up.
The Kings of Summer
In The Kings of Summer (StudioCanal) likable Joe (Nick Robinson) finds himself increasingly frustrated by the attempts of his single father, Frank (Nick Offerman, Parks & Recreation), to control his life. Along with best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso, Super 8) and school misfit Biaggio (Moises Arias, Hannah Montana), Joe hatches a bold plan to achieve independence by building a house in the woods and living off the land. Free from their parents’ rules, the trio construct an idyllic lifestyle for themselves in which they are the masters of their own destiny. However, as the summer draws on tensions between Joe and Patrick come to the fore, and the arrival of Joe’s high school crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) risks driving an irreparable wedge between the two best friends.
The buzz around The Kings of Summer has been palpable since it premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and the movie comfortably justifies the hype. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has concocted an idiosyncratic little movie that oozes quirkiness, and offers a surreal spin on the Stand By Me-esque coming-of-age drama. Like a less scatological version of Superbad, or a rural US retread of Son of Rambow, The Kings of Summer rises above its undeniably daft premise, and hints at a bright future for Vogt-Roberts. It may not have the same depth as Jeff Nichols’ recent Mud, but The Kings of Summer is a seriously enjoyable little gem.
No One Lives
No One Lives (Anchor Bay) commences with an unnamed man (Luke Evans, Immortals) and his girlfriend driving cross-country, seemingly in the process of relocating from their previous home. After stopping for food at a remote bar -deep in redneck country -the couple have a run-in with a local criminal gang led by Hoag (Lee Tergesen, Oz), which leads to them being taken hostage and imprisoned in an abandoned farmhouse. However, all is not as it seems: a shocking discovery is made in the trunk of their car, and the Driver is revealed to be a sociopathic murderer, wanted for a number of grisly killings. After escaping from his shackles, the Driver proceeds to exact a demented form of revenge against his captors, eliminating them one at a time.
Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Sky High) is a cult figure in horror circles, even if his output has been erratic over the years. No One Lives represents his second US movie, following the underrated Midnight Meat Train in 2008. Improbably co-produced by Britain’s Pathe Films and WWE Studios, the film is essentially a backwoods revenge thriller with a twist. Unfortunately, the twist -the identity of the sinister anti-hero -undermines the very fabric of the film, giving the audience no one to root for, and little in the way of emotional involvement. The brooding Luke Evans is a charismatic presence, and seems unlikely to go short of work in the near-future, but the remainder of the cast struggle to distinguish themselves and make scant impact. Inventive gore aside, No One Lives is pure B-movie trash.
Dead Man Down
Dead Man Down (eOne) is the US debut from Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, the man best known for directing the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movie. When formidable crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard, Fighting) discovers a number of his henchmen murdered he turns to his trusted lieutenants Victor (Colin Farrell, Seven Psychopaths) and Darcy (Dominic Cooper, The Devil’s Double), for answers. Little does he realise, Victor is the culprit, and the killings are part of an elaborate revenge scheme designed to destroy Alphonse. However, Victor’s plans are complicated by his tentative relationship with his seductive but disfigured neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus), a woman who also has revenge on her mind. But as their increasingly violent plan edges towards its conclusion, can they achieve redemption through their unconventional relationship?
Despite its top-drawer cast, Dead Man Down is a chaotic mess of jumbled sub-plots and half-baked quirks. The pairing of Oplev and Rapace may hark back to Dragon Tattoo -the film that helped carve their reputations -but Dead Man Down singularly fails to whip up enough intrigue to keep you hooked. Curiously, WWE Studios produced Dead Man Down, and it feels like the film has been thrown together with the dubious narrative panache of a wrestling plot-line. Regrettably, what starts out as a gritty neo-noir thriller with a welcome veneer of European flair quickly degenerates into a stodgy mess. Forgettable stuff.