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Non-Review Review: Dragged Across Concrete

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews. This was the Surprise Film.

Dragged Across Concrete is weird, unpleasant, mean-spirited and vindictive.

It is all of these things in a very knowing manner. This both adds to and detracts from its attempts to get under its audience’s skin. There can be something charming in a provocateur who needles the audience in an interesting or compelling way, who pushes the audience outside of their comfort zone. However, there is also something very tiring in a filmmaker who is only doing that for the sake of pushing the audience outside their comfort zone. Call it the Jurassic Park paradox; just because something is possible does not mean it is valid or necessary.

Indeed, the most frustrating part of Dragged Across Concrete is how much time and energy it devotes to being frustrating without any greater purpose. It is a film that is very consciously designed to push certain buttons, but without any really sense of why it would want to. Dragged Across Concrete is a deeply frustrating piece of cinema, and that frustration is only deepened by a hefty two-hour-and-fifty minute runtime. Watching Dragged Across Concrete, it can be hard to tell whether that frustration is more or less pure for its clarity of purpose.

However, it is abundantly clear that it does not make for a good film.

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A Surprise Movie Is Good For the Soul: In Praise of Blind Screenings…

A number of major Irish and British cinema chains have begun offering “Secret” or “Surprise” screenings over the past few years. ODEON have their “Screen Unseen” brand, Omniplex have their “Secret Screenings”, the Irish Film Institute have their “Mystery Matinee”, Cineworld have their “Secret Unlimited Screenings.” This is to say nothing of what might be the biggest example on the cinematic calendar, the Dublin International Film Festival’s long-standing “Surprise Film”, which famously originated when Michael Dwyer discovered that he had accidentally left a gap in the original programme.

The basic premise of a “Surprise Film” is simple. The audience buys a ticket to the screening, often at a discounted rate compared to usual ticket prices. The audience is not told what the film is to be ahead of time, instead trusting the organisers of the screening to produce something interesting and compelling. The audience then gets to experience the movie completely blind, without any lead-in and without any hype. It is something to behold, a rare opportunity to see a movie completely blind in an era of heavy media saturation and social media gossiping.

Of course, the quality of these screenings is highly variable. Over the past year, Irish surprise screenings have included films as diverse as I, Tonya, Lady Bird, Snatched, The Florida Project, Ghost Stories, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Unsane, Battle of the Sexes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mindhorn, Baby Driver, The Big Sick. That is an eclectic list of films, and it is almost certain that there is something for everybody in that list and also something that will repulse everybody on that list. But that is the thrill of such screenings.

There is something to be said for the willingness of a movie goer to open themselves to new experiences, to step outside of their comfort zone and to take a risk on something that they are not anticipating. Even if those films are occasionally terrible, and especially if they were not films that the audience member would choose to see on their own terms.

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