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Non-Review Review: Censor

Censor is a love letter to the era of so-called “video nasties” and an exploration of the moral panic that tends to encompass discussions of the genre.

Niamh Algar plays Enid, the eponymous moral guardian with a traumatic back story who has committed herself to protecting the nation’s sanity by watching and rating the low-rent horrors flooding the market. Over dinner conversation, Enid takes offense when her mother asks if she has seen any good movies recently. “It’s not entertainment, Mam,” Enid snaps. “I’m protecting people.” It’s very clear that Enid believes this, taking meticulous notes and engaging in rigorous debates about exactly how much eye-gouging the public can tolerate.

The Green Night.

On the surface, Censor is a movie with a plot that loosely suggests something akin to Hardcore or 8mm. Throughout the film, hints are dropped about Enid’s traumatic past, including the mysterious disappearance of her younger sister while the two girls were playing together. When the latest film from a provocative auteur named Frederick North crosses her desk, Enid seems to recognise one of the on-screen victims. Is her sister still alive? Has she been swallowed by this world of exploitation horror cinema? More to the point, can Enid finally rescue her and bring her home?

The beauty of Censor lies in how co-writer and director Prano Bailey-Bond plays with this familiar set-up, building a movie around the idea that horror movies are a form of escapism for moral guardians as much as the intended audience, a space into which these people can project their own nightmares and anxieties without ever having to confront the reality of the world around them.

Signalling concern.

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New Escapist Column! On the the Folly of Franchising the Predator…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday. With news that Dan Trachtenberg’s new Predator film might receive an edit for PG-13, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the difficulty in trying to reshape the iconic eighties movie monster into a modern franchise.

The appeal of the Predator is very simple. It hunts. It’s a concept that is perhaps best suited to a mode of franchising that doesn’t really exist any more, a set of reasonably budgeted sequel films that swap out characters and locations while retaining the core concept. However, modern franchises demand more. They demand world building, mythology, scale, spectacle and a shared universe. There’s something absurd about trying to retroactively apply that to the Predator as a concept.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On Hollywood’s Next Franchising Trend, the “Requel”…

I published a new column at The Escapist today. The success of David Gordon Green’s Halloween and the announcement of his upcoming Exorcist trilogy seemed like a good time to discuss one of the more interesting modern trends in studio franchising: the rebooted sequel, or the “requel.” The idea is that if an original movie is iconic, but subsequent sequels have devalued the brand, the studio can just roll the franchise back to the earlier beloved film and effectively start franchising again from that point onwards.

It is a frustrating and unsettling trend that illustrates the cannibalistic feeding frenzy that is modern franchising. Hollywood has already franchised every viable property, but this approach allows studios a second (or third) bite of the apple by effectively erasing perceived mistakes and rolling the clock back to earlier and more nostalgia-friendly points in the shared continuity. It’s interesting to see this approach becoming increasingly mainstream.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the “Jungle Cruise” and the Journey Into the Uncanny Valley…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Jungle Cruise this week, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt vehicle.

It isn’t particularly surprising that Jungle Cruise takes place in an unreal environment. After all, this is a feature film based on a theme park ride. However, it is striking how completely and how eagerly it rejects anything resembling reality. Jungle Cruise draws openly from films like The Mummy, The African Queen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, globe-trotting adventures that blend special effects with beautiful location work. In contrast, Jungle Cruise unfolds entirely within the hard drive of a computer.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! “The Suicide Squad – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of The Suicide Squad, which is releasing theatrically in Europe this week and in cinemas and on MBO Max in the United States next weekend.

New Escapist Video! “Jungle Cruise – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Jungle Cruise, which is releasing theatrically and on Disney+ Premiere Access this weekend.

Non-Review Review: Stillwater

Stillwater is effectively three different movies bundled together. Each of those three movies have their own merits and their own weaknesses, but none of them really work when bundled together.

Stillwater stars Matt Damon as Bill Baker, a demolition worker from the eponymous town in Oklahoma. His daughter Allison is five years into a nine-year sentence in Marseilles, having been found guilty of a sensational crime involving the death of her roommate. Even half a decade later, Allison still protests her innocence and Bill tries to maintain some connection with his previously estranged daughter. However, the past is pulled into the present when a potential new lead opens up.

Damon’s demons.

Stillwater is directed by Tom McCarthy, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar (and was nominated for the Best Director Oscar) for his work on Spotlight. McCarthy has kept relatively busy since winning the award, collaborating on the script for Christopher Robin and doing uncredited rewrites on The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. However, Stillwater still feels likes something of a long-awaited return from McCarthy as a prestige filmmaker. Stillwater is built around a central movie star, deals with weighty issues, and even (faintly) echoes the very public spectacle of the Amanda Knox trial.

However, the film never coheres into a compelling narrative. It is disjointed and uneven, bouncing clumsily between tones and struggling to anchor itself as it switches freely between genres. Stillwater doesn’t run quite as deep as it needs to.

An American in Marseilles.

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New Escapist Video! On How “Black Widow” Demonstrates the MCU’s Humour Problem…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with every second Monday’s article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film content – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

With the release of Black Widow earlier in the month, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the film. In particular, the use of humour in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general and in Black Widow in particular. In its best moments, the Marvel Cinematic Universe uses humour to enrich and deepen its themes. However, in Black Widow, it undermines them.

New Escapist Column! On the Promise and Peril of “Dune: Part One”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Last week, footage from the upcoming Dune adaptation was filmed for critics and press to build attention. One of the more interesting revelations from these screenings was that the movie apparently comes with subtitle Dune: Part One.

On one level, this is not really a surprise. It was been reported for years now that the upcoming adaptation would only cover a certain amount of the source novel. However, there is a certain boldness to including a “part one” subtitle on the cinematic release. In one sense, it harks back to the trend in the 2010s of splitting popular books into multi-part adaptations. However, it also suggests the blurring of boundaries between media, implying that this is really the first part of a two-part miniseries, where the production of a second part is contingent upon the commercial performance of the first.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “Black Widow” and the MCU’s Humour Problem…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Black Widow last weekend, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at one of the film’s biggest issues and one of the biggest issues with the MCU in general: the question of tone.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is funny. It has always been funny. This is part of what distinguished it from a lot of its comic book movie contemporaries when it was released. However, as the universe has progressed and evolved, the “house style” has tended towards ironic and self-aware punchlines. Sometimes this approach works beautifully; many of the best Marvel Studios films are also the funniest. However, it can also serve as a distraction that lowers the dramatic stakes and undermines key character beats.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.