Sarah Gadon

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

The 9th Life of Louis Drax

 

drax.jpg

03/08/16

Helmed by horror maestro Alexandre Aja (but far more restrained than we’ve come to expect from him), this strange, complex and intriguing movie is essentially the story of a boy in a coma.

Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is accident-prone and has suffered a series of disasters throughout his short life. The most recent one, a plunge from a cliff top whilst on a picnic with his parents, is the most serious yet. Though by all rights the fall should have killed him, he’s somehow clinging on to life – and having some very disturbing dreams while he’s at it. Coma specialist Dr Allen Pascal (Jamie Dornan) is called in to provide help, though his attentions seem to be more focused on Louis’s mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), who soon has the good doctor catering to her every whim. But how did Louis come to fall from that cliff? Could it be that he was actually pushed by his father, Peter (Aaron Paul), who has now gone missing?

At first, this plays like a straightforward psychological mystery, but Max Minghella’s screenplay, based on Liz Jensen’s novel, is intent on drawing in all manner of genre elements, so much so that the film sometimes seems to be bursting at the seams trying to contain them. Not everything here works (there’s an uneasy undertone of misogyny at times, and the portrayal of mental illness is problematic too), but it still fields more original ideas than your average Hollywood movie and the parts that do work are very good indeed. I particularly liked the fact that Longworth’s titular hero is about a million miles away from your usual adorable uber-poppet. He’s actually a bit of a twat, sneering and posturing and treating every adult he encounters with utter contempt – yet we’re still rooting for him, hoping he awakes to enjoy a longer life.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax will keep you hooked and guessing right up to the very end, and there’s also the bonus of some absolutely ravishing cinematography along the way. But I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be everybody’s cup of haemoglobin.

4 stars

Philip Caveney