Retro espionage, unhealthy appetites and watery graves -Tom Leins reviews the week’s best DVDs.
Set during the Cold War period, The Americans -The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox) is the story of Elizabeth (Keri Russell, Dark Skies) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys, The Edge of Love), two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple, living in the suburbs of Washington, DC with their unsuspecting children.
As the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union escalates, Philip and Elizabeth -who have been deep under cover for 15 years, constructing rock-solid American lives -are forced to take extreme measures to continue their mission and keep their true identities hidden. However, when sinister FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich, Super 8) moves in across the street, and becomes instantly suspicious of his new neighbours, the couple become ensnared in a labyrinthine game of cat and mouse.
When The Americans first aired, viewers were quick to draw parallels with Homeland, and the two series’ fusions of suburban life and deadly espionage offered clear points of comparison. In truth, the two shows are very different beasts. In The Americans, the quirky early-80s period details are pushed to the fore from the opening scene, and give the series an appealingly alien feel -at least to viewers under 40! Keri Russell -a former Mickey Mouse Club ‘Mouseketeer’ no less -is particularly impressive as Elizabeth, the more hard-line of the duo, who stands strong as her husband’s commitment to the cause starts to waver.
Although the sporadic flashbacks sometimes appear too clunky for comfort, and the surplus of plot-lines can get overwhelming, The Americans is an impeccably realised vision -as created by former CIA operative Joe Weisberg. If the idea of a trashier cousin to Homeland appeals to you, then The Americans should fit the bill nicely.
We Are What We Are (Entertainment One) tells the story of the Parkers, a seemingly wholesome family, overseen by glowering patriarch Frank (Bill Sage, Mysterious Skin). When tragedy strikes, Frank’s daughters Iris (Ambyr Childers, The Master) and Rose (Julia Garner, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) are forced to assume terrifying responsibilities that extend far beyond those of a typical family. As the girls come to terms with their disturbing family legacy, the local authorities slowly begin to uncover clues pointing to a horrific secret that the Parkers have kept hidden for many years.
We Are What We Are is Jim Mickle’s follow-up to the deservedly acclaimed post-apocalyptic vampire movie Stake Land. If that movie went under the radar, then so did Somos Lo Que Hay -the 2010 Mexican horror film that inspired this movie. Although Mickle initially rejected the opportunity to helm an English language remake, it has been reported that original director Jorge Michel Grau convinced him otherwise.
With a gothic, dust-streaked Americana feel, atmosphere is clearly Mickle’s strong suit, and the grimy, unpredictable mood steers the film away from typically exploitative horror territory. That said, We Are What We Are is not as engrossing as the excellent Stake Land, and the tense, bloody pay-off is noticeably better than the slow-paced build-up. Uneven, but belatedly thrilling.
For Those In Peril (Soda Pictures) tells the story of Aaron (George MacKay, Sunshine On Leith), a young misfit in a remote Scottish community, who is the lone survivor of a strange fishing accident that claimed the lives of five men, including his older brother. Blamed by his fellow villagers, and spurred on by sea-going folklore and local superstition -the sea devil that swallowed children into its ‘dirty belly’ is a recurring theme -Aaron sets out to recover him. Steadfastly refusing to believe that his brother is dead, outcast Aaron is possessed by grief and madness in equal measure.
Winner of Scottish BAFTA for Best Film (MacKay also scooped the Best Actor gong at the same awards ceremony), Paul Wright’s debut feature is troubling and compelling in equal measure. A scene-stealing cameo from Michael Smiley (A Field In England) -in menacing mode -is inspired, while Kate Dickie (Red Road) provides gravitas as Aaron’s tormented mother, struggling to find some kind of meaning in the tragedy.
Despite its strengths, For Those In Peril is destined to be categorised as ‘uneven, but promising’, with the blend of salty folklore and mental illness too messy to be truly satisfying. Nevertheless, director Paul Wright seems certain to benefit from his association with influential production company Warp X Films, which previously backed the likes of Tyrannosaur, Kill List and Berberian Sound Studio, and is definitely ‘one to watch’ for the future.