Kate Dickie

Prevenge

31/01/17

Prevenge belongs to Alice Lowe. She’s the writer, director and the star – and the resultant singularity of vision gives this film a rare clarity. Truly, it’s a pleasure to watch this darkly funny tale, even if there are moments of such gruesomeness that I have to hide my eyes.

Ruth is a young widow, pregnant and enraged. Spurred on (she believes) by her unborn baby, she embarks on a killing spree, murdering her victims with ruthless determination. They include odious 70s music DJ, Dan (Tom Davis), workaholic CEO, Ella (Kate Dickie), and likeable climbing instructor, Tom (Kayvan Novak). Interspersed with visits to the midwife, these homicidal incidents grow ever more violent, yet – despite her obvious moral deficiencies – we remain firmly on Ruth’s side. She’s not likeable exactly – and why should she be? But her humanity is writ large; she’s an ordinary woman, with the same flaws and over-reactions that affect all of us. She just takes things to extremes, that’s all.

Lowe uses the obviously low-budget to her advantage: the film has a claustrophobic feel as we’re stuck with Ruth in cheap hotel rooms, the corner of a bar, another victim’s living room. The episodic structure means that it’s essentially a series of two-handers, but this plays to the story, and helps to underline Ruth’s isolation. The only constant in her life is the midwife. It’s a tragedy, I suppose – but a very funny one.

This screening is part of a Q and A tour, so we have the added pleasure of hearing Lowe speak about her project. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s fascinating to hear how the idea for the film emerged: “A funding opportunity came up, and I thought, ‘Oh, but I’m pregnant, so I can’t…’ And  then I started to think about what I could do that would include my pregnancy.” Like all the best creative pieces, then, this is a mixture of talent, experience and happenstance. You won’t see another film quite like it. It’s well worth a visit to your local cinema.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

The Witch: A New England Folktale

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17/03/16

New England, 1630. William (Ralph Ineson) is so pious he’s even managed to incur the wrath of the Puritan community in which he and his family reside and finds himself summarily banished. Undeterred, he packs up his wife and five children into a rickety wooden cart and heads off into the wilderness, eventually arriving at a remote plot of land bordering a forest where he sets up home. Before anyone can say, ‘bad idea,’ the family’s youngest son, a baby, disappears and since he was under the care of eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), she is largely held responsible. The family assume a wolf has taken her but the audience has already witnessed the baby’s rather grisly demise, so we know that there’s something very unpleasant lurking in the undergrowth, something decidedly witch-shaped. There’s also ‘Black Philip,’ a he-goat, who definitely knows rather more than any ordinary goat should.

Writer/director Robert Eggar’s low-budget tale sets itself some awkward elements to overcome. For one thing, the dialogue is rendered in authentic Olde English, with lashings of thees and thous and while this is probably more accurate than having the characters speak in a more contemporary way (as Arthur Miller did, in The Crucible, the masterpiece to which this story will inevitably be compared) it does make for difficult viewing, as does the funereal pace at which much of the action unfolds. Though the film successfully creates an atmosphere of steadily mounting dread, it’s never in the least bit scary. Ultimately, this seems to be all about the perils of religion. Poor William is so intent on begging God’s forgiveness for every little misdemeanour, he rather overlooks the bigger picture, until of course it all goes horribly pear-shaped – the eldest son encounters something worrying in the forest, the remaining kids start having fits and their mother, Katherine (Kate Dickie) finds herself breast-feeding a crow. And the inevitable question remains; is Thomasin as innocent as she seems to believe she is?

The Witch has arrived garlanded with acclaim and to be fair, it’s a creditable full length debut by Eggars, but it is at its strongest when (like The Crucible) it is ambiguous. Scenes that confirm our worst fears rather seem to undermine the film’s creepy intentions. So while I would encourage anyone to go and see this, to judge for themselves, I have to confess to being a little disappointed with the end product.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney