Raging Grace

A film battling between two different threads results in a mixed, but bold experience.

Synopsis: An undocumented Filipina immigrant lands a job as a care-worker for a terminal old man, securing a better life for her and her daughter. But a dark discovery threatens to destroy everything she’s strived for and holds dear.

The first half of Raging Grace operates as a ghost story, both in the camera’s exploration of every nook and cranny of the old house Joy (Max Eigenmann) finds herself in and the experience of Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla), who is moved into the house in secret. As an immigrant, Joy faces discrimination and instability, taking jobs that she is unable to fully rely on so when she is offered work with accommodation she jumps at the chance. However, the home’s inhabitants, Katherine (Leanne Best) and terminally ill Mr Garrett (David Hayman) seem to be hiding dark secrets.

That early setup is dripping in atmosphere, swapping from the fast-paced, choppy edited scenes of Joy hard at work during the day to the long, slow creeps through the creaky dark house at night. Yes, the familiar moments of silence into loud stings are present, but it still feels genuinely spooky, coupled with the constant threat of Grace’s discovery.

A later shift in the film ups the energy and, unfortunately, loses some of that hard-won atmosphere. The further away the film drifts from Joy and Grace as the focus, the less cohesive it feels and the more divorced from the layers of exploitation laid out early on. There are several references to Rudyard Kipling, ranging from poetry quotes peppered throughout the film to props like a bottle of Rudyard’s Shampoo visible in the bathroom. Kipling’s endorsement of imperialism, especially at the cost of Filipino people is particularly relevant to the film’s themes, presented playfully at times, deservedly in contrast to the weightier way it treats Joy’s life.

Raging Grace introduces an interesting visual voice in director-writer Paris Zarcilla, showing an ability to capture sinister high-energy melodrama and tense sequences in addition to brighter, movement-rich scenes. Although the contrast of them within the same film may be too much at times, there is a serious level of technical skill on display.

Some of the elements may not quite gel, but Raging Grace still functions as an interesting tale of inequality in modern Britain, sustained by allegiance to a damaging legacy over humanity with great performances to sell it.

3 out of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars

Raging Grace screened as part of SXSW 2023.


A successful expansion of a short film that makes the most of cast chemistry and special effects work.

Synopsis: A young fashion designer’s life spirals as her darkest inner thoughts manifest into something gruesome- that won’t stop growing.

Anna Zlokovic’s original short film (reviewed as part of my Final Girls Berlin Film Festival coverage and available on YouTube) featured Rachel Sennott as a fashion student struggling to impress her difficult tutor and with a rather more literal manifestation of her critical inner voice. The feature version takes that intriguing concept as a jumping-off point for a deeper, wider story.

Swapping out Sennott’s nervous student for Hadley Robinson’s Hannah, a young woman battling to find her voice, the feature seeks to explore the origins and wider implications of anxiety and self-doubt. A domineering, sneering fashion lecturer rejects her work, despite it being drawn from her authentic experience. Her family relationships offer stuffy dinners and repeated criticisms. As the weight of everything presses on her, she soon finds a pain in her side that hints at a much more serious problem. While this explores similar ground to the short, there is much more to be explored within the feature.

Hannah’s anxiety is expressed through body horror – namely the titular appendage, but also in smaller moments with close-ups of anxiety behaviours like skin picking adding an extra layer to her discomfort within her own skin. These moments are effective at building the overall character as well as introducing elements that will likely draw winces. Despite excellent effects, this does feel like it struggles at times to marry the horror and comic elements, having to more obviously switch between the modes to make the narrative work. The darkness that Hannah’s character is required to explore, including her increasing isolation from her friend and boyfriend, is not a completely easy fit for too much comedy early on.

At around the one-hour mark, the film takes a departure from the heavier tone exploring Hannah’s internal life, instead moving to a larger narrative that allows Robinson to have a little more fun with her performance. Joined by Claudia (Emily Hampshire), a woman suffering from the same affliction, the pair’s easy chemistry carries proceedings for a while. Although there are times when this falls into the trap of laboured exposition that lighter reprieve does lend the film a greater balance, making it more enjoyable. This contrasting section held the most appeal to me because of the performances and the sense that the film feels most comfortable in the more overtly comic, or at least elevated (not that kind of elevated horror – elevated as in bringing more excessive elements) space.

While Appendage is too familiar in places and occasionally overwrites its otherwise refreshingly honest yet still positive messaging, it would be an ideal Friday night film, with enough energetic sequences, engaging performances and an overall technical flair to hold attention.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

Appendage screened as part of SXSW 2023.

Trim Season

Strong visuals and a cohesive ensemble cast provide Trim Season with some real highs.

Synopsis: A group of young people go to a remote marijuana farm where they hope to make quick cash. But, they discover the location’s dark secrets and now must try to escape the mountain on which they are trapped.

When we are first introduced to Emma (Bethlehem Million) she is facing another setback in her life. Her cracked mobile phone and car windshield are all indications that she is struggling with finances. More of her problem, however, is her overall lack of control and ability to speak out for what she really wants and believes. Taking comfort in Jules (Alex Essoe) on a night out, the pair are introduced to friend-of-a-friend James (Marc Senter) who offers them a quick way to make money on a marijuana farm. As they travel to the farm, they are introduced to others taking the opportunity, but the farm appears to be home to a dark secret.

Trim Season utilises its ensemble cast to great effect, grouping the characters as all in a similar situation – desperate for money and also, to some extent, struggling with their identity. Early in the film, it is established that the job is potentially dangerous, taking place in a near-lawless space with few opportunities to access help if required. The fact that the group is, for the most part female (with one non-binary character) is intentional on part of the farmers, with the belief that women are perceived as less trouble and easier to control through fear. This makes the development of the characters all the more satisfying as those perceptions are challenged. Dusty (Bex Taylor-Klaus) even as a non-binary character suffers from being perceived in gendered terms in one of the film’s most refreshingly representative scenes.

Director Ariel Vida’s production design experience really shines with the initial soft-focus of the establishing scenes giving way to a more vibrant descent into hellish behaviour and visuals. Initial scenes contain a softness which is soon lost, with the surrounding forest taking on a more threatening aura as the film develops. While some may struggle with the slower pace at the outset the film grows considerably in intensity and truly delivers on gorier set pieces in later acts. A perfectly designed scene ruptures all of the scene setting, plunging the viewer into outright horror in a way that feels genuinely unsettling. From that point on, it feels like no one is safe, punctuated by increasingly discombobulated edits and a drastic increase in pace. Jane Badler offers a captivating performance as farm owner Mona, who straddles sophistication and strictness, prone to harsh treatment delivered in matter-of-fact ways.

Arguably more impressive than the film’s striking visuals is how everything is tied to the wider themes and that character-building. This is a film that cares about its characters and that is felt throughout. Emma’s lack of control over her life is echoed throughout the film and it is to Bethlehem Million’s credit that she makes this work so naturally. Emma is not weak or naive, so her struggle to fully vocalise her needs and wants in order to take control feels more nuanced. Ally Ioannides delivers an excellent performance as outspoken stoner Harriet, whose bold nature contrasts with Emma’s, the pair clashing while also attempting to find common ground.

Wrestling complex themes around control and gendered perception into a genuinely disturbing film that delivers on the horror elements, Trim Season is beautifully realised and confident film making.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Trim Season screened as part of the 2023 Overlook Film Festival.

Late Night With The Devil

David Dastmalchian’s smooth talk show host comes undone in this retro-styled horror.

Synopsis: A live television broadcast in 1977 goes horribly wrong, unloosing evil into the nation’s living rooms.

Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) is poised for superstardom, having secured a name for himself as a knowledgeable and affable talk-show host. The late night show status he craves seems within his reach as his current show Night Owls looks to make an impact on Halloween night. With guests assembled and trusty sidekick Gus (Rhys Auteri) at his side, everything looks set for a memorable evening, but soon events take a sinister turn.

Directing and writing team Cameron and Colin Cairnes drop the viewer straight into the unrest and paranoia of 1970s America, including the Satanic Panic (a popular topic at SXSW this year with the documentary Satan Wants You also screening). That early background sets the scene for Jack Delroy’s ascension, explained through collage and voiceover in the film’s introduction. Offering clips of his evolving career and personal life, by the time we get to the night of the broadcast, we already feel like we know Jack, which helps in keeping an early buoyant pace.

David Dastmalchian is utterly perfect here, crafting an image of the host who has seen and most importantly, can handle it all. That smooth surface and easy rapport appears to come so easily that the little cracks he allows to appear in the showman veneer all the more impressive. For a film with some very big, fun and graphic moments, it is the smaller looks and actions from Jack that have left the largest impression.

The construction is a lot of fun, departing from the early montage style to provide a view of the show and behind the scenes. Use of split-screen and switches to black and white cleverly weave the viewer between the two modes with those shifts allowing the overall film to play with tone. This is not a gag-a-minute show but the moments that do indulge in horror really commit. There are, at times, returns to a slower pace but this is a film unafraid to become deliciously unmoored for more heady sequences.

The supporting cast are excellent too, made up of various figures that would have been on the talk show circuit during the 1970s. Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) plays a medium, working with both Jack and the audience to introduce the supernatural concepts into the audience. This gives way to the James Randi-style skeptic Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss) who maintains a strict manner, talking down the spooky happenings. Dr June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and Lily (Ingrid Torelli) appear to bridge that gap between the supernatural and study. Torelli, in particular, is able to capture important small moments that all add to the overall disruptions of the talk-show as it progresses.

Late Night with the Devil feels like it should become essential Halloween viewing with a capable mix of fun, frights and play with the format that delivers a pleasingly spooky package.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

Late Night With The Devil played as part of SXSW 2023.

The Beasts (As Bestas)

Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s immersive slow-burn drama excels.

Synopsis: A middle-aged French couple moves to a local village, seeking closeness with nature where their presence inflames two locals to the point of outright hostility and shocking violence.

With a runtime of over two hours, it would be easy for The Beasts to lose momentum, but the pauses in the conflict offer much-needed respite for the viewer, who becomes trapped in the escalating tensions between the characters. Sorogoyen’s tendency to overextend scenes perfectly primes the audience for violence but holds back on the release it would provide. The strength of The Beasts is in denying the moments that would bring some kind of resolution, never allowing that intensity to fully dissipate.

When Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs) Denis move to a small village, their aim is for a quieter life, growing and selling vegetables at the market. However, their relocation attracts negative attention from two local men who are determined to unseat their new, peaceful life.

The encounters between Antoine and his aggressors Xan (Luis Zahera) and Lorenzo (Diego Anido) build so gradually and so skillfully that the full effect almost doesn’t register. A heart-in-mouth encounter in a car feels like the first time that threat is almost fully realised, an escalation in behaviour on both sides and perhaps most importantly, Olga’s realisation of how bad their situation is.

Slow crawls through the landscape highlight the rustic nature of their surroundings, contrasting with some of the Denis’ ideas and political aims. The open space becomes just as oppressive as the more enclosed spaces that place the men in close proximity to one another. Even though the final third of the film takes a different direction, the use of space is so clever and thoughtful, contributing to the stresses placed on the characters.

Of course, all the considered use of space and drawn out tension would not work without the cast meeting that intensity. Denis Ménochet is excellent as Antoine, possessing an imposing physicality that, like the film itself, is restrained. Zahera and Anido’s performances deliver on the necessary aggression, while also capturing the more quiet bitterness behind it. Marina Foïs stands out as the film progresses, shifting as her awareness of the situation changes and leaves a lasting impression as the credits roll.

A considered film about male rage and competing interests with an incredible ability to switch tones while sustaining that carefully built tension.

4.5 out of 5 stars

4.5 out of 5 stars

The Beasts is available to watch on Curzon at Home.

With Love and a Major Organ

Dreamy imagery underpins a moving interrogation of messy human emotion over sanitised technological perfection.

Synopsis: In an alternate world where hearts are made of objects and suppressing emotions is self-care, a lonely woman rips out her own heart for the man she loves, only to discover that he has run away with it.

At first glance, With Love and a Major Organ may seem like a pretty major departure from the kinds of films I’d usually cover here and yes, while you wouldn’t double-bill it with the likes of Irreversible or Titane this is a film that knows when to use its otherworldly and horror-adjacent elements to full effect, confronting the difficulty of big emotions and repressing them. While this is based on a play it neatly finds its footing in cinema terms, utilising the internal and external worlds with a host of visual shifts.

Anna Maguire plays Anabel, a woman who finds the world around her overwhelming and oppressive. Co-workers and friends suppress their emotions while she feels everything vividly, keen to indulge in art, poetry and other emotional pursuits. After a particularly devastating turn of events, she does as she has seen others do and removes her heart, sending it to a man named George (Hamza Haq) with whom she tried to cultivate a connection.

That our reliance on technology stands to turn us all into disconnected robots, thoughtlessly reliant on ‘the algorithm’ to direct our attention is, by now, an overused trope that feeds directly into moral panics about the internet, apps and any other current communication. We trust technology with a lot of information about ourselves so that it delivers us more of what we want to see and makes our lives easier. With Love does much to tie love to tactile art and technology to mundane sterility, with those who have handed over full control to the app becoming more disconnected. It does, thankfully, have enough depth and other diversions that this focus shifts more to how people utilise that technology rather than the tech itself.

At the outset, this plays more like a romantic comedy, albeit one with a tragic edge. The first images of the film are a vivid recreation of Anabel’s mother’s description of her heart being like a ball of yarn, soon twisted and tangled up wherever she goes. That red yarn, immediately visually realised as tied around trees is the first indication that the film has more to offer than a conventional boy-meets-girl narrative. Anabel also witnesses a sobbing man rip out his own heart – a sight that sets the stage for her own emotional journey.

Comparisons to Paul King’s Bunny and the Bull came to mind in terms of the technical elements becoming characters in their own right, enhancing the central story. That hearts are replaced with meaningful objects positions the film in a weird space also, not quite a conventional drama, not quite sci-fi/horror but still within an elevated Some will find the initial twee tone and quirky elements a turn-off, but as the film grows in comfort those elements become integral. The attention to detail is excellent with even throwaway lines adding to the overall feel. The voice of a Satnav advising an upset man to ‘please walk away from the ocean’ is both a fun line as well as immersing you into the film’s world.

The cast is excellent, providing the anchor for the elevated world the characters are in. Anna Maguire often has to play against more static characters in the first section, producing a big performance in contrast. It is also a performance that frequently needs to drop into poetic interludes, bathed in neon light. Maguire meets every section of Anabel’s journey with alternating intensity as required. Hamza Haq as George, too, handles the shift in tone incredibly well with the pair having to navigate a strange kind of chemistry as the film progresses.

A curious film that excellently weaves its humour and soul-searching. What begins as a quirky take on love and emotions shifts into something genuinely moving with a wider exploration of how we deal with sometimes overwhelming feelings.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Sideworld: Damnation Village

The latest Sideworld documentary continues to offer ghostly tours from the comfort of your own home.

Synopsis: Director George Popov explores the dark and disturbing secrets behind three of England’s most haunted villages.

Pluckley in Kent, Prestbury in Cheltenham and Eyam in the Peak District make up the haunted locations in Rubicon Films’ latest journey into England’s spooky history.

The strength of the Sideworld series of documentaries is that they cover a lot of ground within a short space of time. Damnation Village follows that thread, with a film that veers from playful poltergeists to the crushingly relevant story regarding a village that bears the brunt of an infection. That mix of light and dark allows the viewer to settle at the outset, becoming more absorbed as the stories head in a more macabre direction.

Damnation Village views villages as contained spaces of collective grief, held in buildings, landscapes and the people that inhabit them. A reference to The Stone Tape furthers this connection of those spaces as storing traumatic events and repeating them. It is perhaps a shame that there is a focus on just English towns as the rest of the UK has much to offer in terms of strange stories (although this may well be the next step in the film’s journey).

A combination of the reliable voiceover from Popov and recreations of eyewitness accounts prevents the documentary from becoming static, as does a revolving series of scenes from the villages and more abstract illustrations. Where it does pause, however, is far more important, allowing the gravity of one story to fully weigh upon the viewer.

If you are familiar with this series of films, you’ll find another enjoyable documentary here and if you aren’t, the run time of just over an hour makes it the perfect introduction to them.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Sideworld: Damnation Village is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.