Christopher Abbott

Black Bear

30/04/21

Curzon Home Cinema

Of course, my primary purpose here is to review Black Bear. But, before I do, let’s take a little look at Curzon Home Cinema. Why, I’d like to know, are there still no subtitles available for English language films on this platform? I try my best, where possible, to support indie endeavours over the major franchises, but this lack of accessibility is becoming something of a deal breaker. I can watch a film without subtitles; I just prefer not to. There are many, many people who simply can’t. Come on, Curzon. This needs to be resolved.

And so to Black Bear, sadly one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in a while. It’s not half as clever as it keeps telling us it is; even the fabulous Aubrey Plaza can’t save this one for me.

Be warned: there are spoilers ahead.

There’s a remote house by a lake. It’s owned by a couple, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), who market it as a retreat for creative people. Blair is pregnant. Gabe is a failed musician. Along comes Allison (Plaza), a film-maker. She’s here to write, but spends most of her time sitting staring at the lake dressed in a red swimming costume. They’re all horrible. Blair and Allison become jealous rivals on sight. Gabe is a Lawrence Fox type, who thinks he’s being edgy by saying that feminism is the cause of society’s collapse. Blair says she’s a feminist, shrieks for a while and then cries. Allison sits dead-eyed, agrees with Gabe, then says she’s only joking. And fucks him.

I don’t know what writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine is trying to say here. It’s very muddled. Of course, characters don’t speak their author’s thoughts, but Gabe is given a suspiciously long time to expound his anti-feminist views in excruciating detail.

And then we have a switcheroo, sort of, except nothing really changes. Now we see that they are all making a film: Gabe is the director, Allison and Blair are actors. But instead of Blair and Gabe being a pair, it’s Allison and Gabe. But Allison and Blair are still jealous of each other, because… why? Because of Gabe? Because they’re two women in the same house and that’s just what happens? It’s a curiously old-fashioned view of female relationships.

The bear rustles in the undergrowth, a big unsubtle metaphor. When we see him, just twice, he looks passive, almost cuddly.

There are moments here that glimmer with promise. The deliciously uncomfortable conversation in the first act, where Gabe and Blair undermine everything each other says. The frantic chaos of the film set: the prompt (Jennifer Kim) who can’t find her page; the runner (Paola Làzaro) who’s got the runs.

But there’s a cruelty at the heart of this story that just doesn’t sit well, a mean-spiritedness that seems to pervade everything. The performances are flawless. But the story is a mixed-up mess.

2.5 stars

Susan Singfield

It Comes at Night

11/07/17

What is the disease that’s afflicting America? In Trey Edward Schults’ stylish dystopian fear-flick, it appears to be an airborne virus that’s decimating the population, and isolating survivors. Joel Edgerton stars as Paul, an ex-history teacher holed up in his family home with his wife, Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their teenage son, Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). They’re paranoid and distrustful, trapped in their sealed sanctuary, donning gas masks and carrying guns whenever they’re compelled to venture into the outside world.

Staggering into this powder-keg of neuroses is Will (Christopher Abbott), desperately seeking shelter for his young family. He, his wife, Kim (Riley Keough), and their infant son, Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), are reluctantly invited to move in, albeit with very strict parameters. But things are bound to go wrong.’Trust no-one,’ Paul tells Travis. ‘You can’t trust anyone except your family.’ Suspicion and wariness pervade every interaction: it’s a recipe for disaster.

The film is fiercely intense. Okay, so the allegory isn’t particularly subtle: the fear and ‘othering’ of outsiders is, in fact, the disease – and it’s the same one that’s afflicting the real America today. Scare-mongering about refugees, seeking to impose travel-bans: these isolationist behaviours do not auger well. Without trust and cohesion, society can’t work.

It’s a tightly crafted film, with a real sense of claustrophobia throughout. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is particularly mesmerising as the teenage boy, struggling to mature in a disintegrating world with no peers with whom to compare experiences.  And I like that there are no ‘baddies’ here, just individuals seeking to protect themselves and their families, unwittingly destroying all that they hold dear. As their circle shrinks ever smaller, there is less and less to hold on to, and the ending (which I won’t spoil here) is beautifully bleak.

This is a sly, thought-provoking little film, with plenty to ponder and discuss after the credits roll.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield