Six years after the death of her husband, downtrodden Amelia (Essie Davis, The Slap) is at the end of her tether. She struggles to discipline her maladjusted six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), and his out-of-control behaviour sees him excluded from school.
At home things are even worse: Samuel’s dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both, and when a disturbing storybook called ‘The Babadook’ turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the titular ghoul is the creature that he has been dreaming about. As his hallucinations start to spiral out of control, Samuel’s behaviour becomes more violent and unpredictable. Horrified by her son’s behaviour, Amelia is forced to medicate him, but when she starts to experience the same visions, it dawns on her that the Babadook could be real
Written and directed by disillusioned former actor Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is a visually striking, technically accomplished horror movie that delivers on every level. By blending crisp imagery with provocative chills, Kent has concocted an unusually self-assured debut feature, and its slow-burning critical reception is well-deserved.
Essie Davies, who also appeared in the two Matrix sequels, is put through the emotional wringer throughout, and will surely see her profile rise as a result of her terrific performance here. Interestingly, Davies and Kent have known one another since drama school, and their strong bond has seemingly allowed the director to coax an astonishingly raw performance out of the leading lady. William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, proclaimed: ‘I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook’, and while he may be overstating the case, it is enjoyably unhinged and seriously unnerving. Heavily recommended.
In Gutshot (Signature) degenerate gambler Jack (George Eads, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), finds himself out of his depth when he takes a wager proposed by unscrupulous millionaire Duffy (Stephen Lang, Avatar) -a wager that involves Duffy’s sultry wife May (AnnaLynne McCord, 90210). The plot thickens when Duffy’s seedy brother Lewis (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs) arrives on the scene, with too much knowledge for comfort. Running out of options, Jack seeks the help of Paulie Trunks (Steven Seagal, Under Siege), a larger-than-life loan shark looking to collect on Jack’s poker debts, and protect his own investment.
If you can ignore the cynical audience-grabbing cameos from the increasingly swollen Steven Seagal and his hardman-for-hire sidekick Vinnie Jones, then Gutshot is, for the most part, a nifty little B-movie neo-noir. He may be one of the least showy CSI cast members, but blank canvas George Eads is a surprisingly effective noir antihero, and shoulders the double-crossing narrative convincingly. Admittedly, the pace does slacken in the second half of the film, but Gutshot has enough worthwhile moments to keep you interested. Inessential, but strangely appealing.
Collection (Signature) is an underwhelming ensemble drama about a diverse group of Californians whose lives have been touched by the advice of a reclusive self-help author called Teddy Rayman (Tom Berenger, Inception). With the mystique surrounding Rayman at its peak, dozens of half-baked oddball characters (played by the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Kyra Sedgwick and Tom Sizemore) attempt to track him down, each pursuing their own private agenda.
The queasy mix of half-baked melodrama and low-level gangster posturing is entirely unconvincing -and frequently laughable -and considering the fact that jobbing director John Herzfeld has previous form in the B-movie field Collection seems like a strange experiment. Stallone’s eye-opening turn as a brash political muck-raker stands out by virtue of his boisterous, scenery-chewing commitment to the role, but the majority of the characters are so thinly-drawn they seem positively translucent.
How anyone can waste a decent cast this badly -and this inappropriately -remains a mystery. After all, even the most rudimentary crime thriller would have been improved with a supporting cast including Thomas Jane, Danny Trejo, Ryan Kwanten, Danny Aiello and Kelsey Grammer. All in all, an infuriating waste of space.
Written and directed by Woody Allen, London-based Scoop (Icon) tells the story of journalism student Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johannson, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) who is visited by the spirit of deceased journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane, Deadwood) whilst volunteering at a performance by American magician Sid Waterman (Allen). During the visitation, Strombel reveals his final major scoop: a tip-off that the notorious ‘Tarot Card Killer’ is in fact British aristocrat Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman, X-Men). Teaming up with a reluctant Waterman to pursue the suspect, Sondra finds herself irresistibly drawn to the handsome Peter, and her romantic and professional lives become dangerously entangled.
Filmed back-to-back with 2005’s money-spinning Match Point, Scoop (2006) represented the lowest ebb of Allen’s illustrious career and was actually denied a theatrical release in the UK. Although Woody’s quality threshold dropped even further with 2007’s wretched Cassandra’s Dream, Scoop is an unremittingly awful affair, fusing goofy knockabout comedy with an undemanding murder-mystery plot. Factor in the equally ill-advised supernatural element, and you have an end-product that is not just poor quality, but head-scratchingly bizarre. It isn’t hard to see why no one saw fit to release it on DVD for almost nine years -it is hard see why they bothered at all. Dreadful.