Thursday 5 November 2015

Reviews: Orion, The Nightmare, The Lobster, Knock Knock and more...

Reviews of some of the films I've recently seen (including Knock Knock, pictured above), in order from best to worst...

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King
(Director: Jeanie Finlay)
When Elvis Presley popped his clogs in August 1977, many people refused to believe the King had really gone. Stepping into the breach soon after came Orion, a mysterious Presley 'lookalike’ in a mask, who, whilst an eerie dead ringer for the King voice-wise, was substantially younger and much taller. It didn’t stop Elvis fans clamouring to see him and some even to believe he was the legend “reborn”. Orion performed concerts and released LPs (ironically enough through Sun Records) and, for a time at least, seemed to successfully exploit his manufactured association with the star’s history and music. As British director Jeanie Finlay’s fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking documentary reveals, though, there was a lot more to the story than that of a cynical chancer exploiting gullible people’s affection for a dead star. In fact, this is ultimately a very sympathetic portrait of a man – real name Jimmy Ellis – who wanted fame so desperately he allowed himself to be manipulated into an entirely bizarre situation that soon felt more like a prison than a music career. Fame chewing up and spitting out the unwary is a tale as old as the hills but one rarely told as effectively as it is here. 
Rating: WWWW

Orion: The Man Who Would Be King is available now on Curzon Home Cinema

The Nightmare
(Director: Rodney Ascher)
This is a fascinating and disturbing documentary exploring sleep paralysis, a medical ailment whose many sufferers are plagued by horrifying night-time visions and hallucinations. Director Ascher – who himself has the condition – talks to eight different sufferers and, using actors and special effects, recreates the sometimes disturbing, often downright terrifying, images and scenarios that await them when asleep. Some feel the condition’s effects so keenly they have – perhaps foolishly – eschewed medical explanations and treatment, believing sleep paralysis is supernatural in nature. Spending time with the people interviewed you quickly realise the deleterious impact the disorder has had on their lives, and how exhausting and dispiriting it must be to, literally, fear sleep. In the film’s most unsettling scenes, Ascher and one of his subjects illustrate how the condition could be an explanation for ‘alien abduction’ stories, making particular reference to the famous Whitley Strieber case. Rather cleverly, the director also shows how sleep paralysis sufferers have utilised the condition in their art; from John Henry Fuseli’s painting The Nightmare to Wes Craven’s horror film classic A Nightmare On Elm Street
Rating: WWW

The Nightmare is available now on Curzon Home Cinema

The Lobster
(Director: Yorgos Lanthimos)
Greek filmmaker Lanthimos is responsible for the beguilingly bizarre Dogtooth, one of my favourite films of the last 10 years and this – his first English-language picture – starts in the same impressive vein. Set in a surreal near-future world where single people must find a mate in 45 days or face being turned into an animal of their choice, our story focuses on Colin Farrell’s newly-divorced David. He’s booked into a posh country hotel and forced to mix with other singles, breaking off only to help hunt the pack of wild loners, who live in the woods, with a tranquiliser gun. The first hour is blisteringly good – a laugh-out-loud funny and excoriating satire on the enormous pressures society brings to bear on single people to find a mate and the sanctions imposed upon those who don’t (for Lanthimos, they are made, quite literally, less than human). The second half, in which the director has to engage with something approaching an actual plot, isn’t nearly as successful as Farrell escapes into the forest and hooks up with the loners, including Rachel Weisz (a short-sighted woman with whom he falls in love) and their no-nonsense leader Léa Seydoux. The satire is still there – especially when you realise these militant singletons have as many rules and regulations as the people from whose clutches Farrell has just slipped – but it doesn’t quite hit as hard or as effectively as it does earlier on. Ultimately, then, The Lobster is a frustrating experience, although Lanthimos deserves great credit for assembling such a terrific cast (which also includes Olivia Colman, John C Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Ariane Labed and Ashley Jensen) and creating a film quite unlike anything else I’ve seen all year.
Rating: WWW

The Lobster is in cinemas now

Knock Knock
(Director: Eli Roth)
I’m not the world’s biggest Roth fan so calling Knock Knock the US director’s best film to date is probably damning it with faint praise. That said, this is a pacy and surprisingly compelling horror thriller that sees Keanu Reeves’ family man come a cropper when he has a threesome with two bedraggled young women (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) who trick their way into his home and seduce him. Suffice to say the clearly damaged girls are after rather more than a bit of middle-aged man flesh and it isn’t long before Keanu’s up to his neck in trouble. Knock Knock wears its influences on its sleeve – Happy Games, Hard Candy – but ultimately manages to transcend them. Nicely worked ending, too. Bring on The Green Inferno... 
Rating: WWW

Knock Knock is available now on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray

The Overnight 
(Director: Patrick Brice)
Disappointing sex comedy starring Adam Scott (Parks And Recreation) and Taylor Schilling (Orange Is The New Black) as a married couple recently moved to Los Angeles from Seattle. Quickly befriended by Jason Schwartzman (Listen Up Philip, Big Eyes) and Judith Godrèche (Stoker, Potiche), proceedings get a little wild when an invite to dinner leads to recreational drugs, nudity and the possible offer of more besides. The cast are great and the first half shows real promise. Unfortunately, the script is never quite funny enough and a kind of twist towards the end fails to convince. What’s more, despite being barely 80 minutes long (a little over 70 without the credits) it somehow manages to run out of juice long before the end.
Rating: WW

The Overnight is available now on VOD and DVD

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey
(Director: Lucie Borleteau)
Slow-moving and, it has to be said, slightly mucky, French film from first-time director Borleteau. The titular Alice (Ariane Labed) is an engineer on a freighter that just happens to be captained by Gael (Melvil Popaud), her first love. Lonely and horny with her graphic novelist boyfriend hundreds of miles away, she recommences their affair, whilst every now and again reading through the scurrilous, shag-packed diaries of the dead man she replaced on board. The impossibility and impracticality of monogamy is a theme worth exploring but Fidelio is too often more interested in getting Labed out of her clothes and into la bed than truly engaging with its subject matter.
Rating: WW

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey is available on VOD and DVD now


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful


  1. Knock Knock is a remake, apparently. Not a huge surprise, that.

  2. I didn't know that - just been reading about it: