Black Widow

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A stand alone film for the Avenger character from which this flick takes its name, Black Widow is thankfully not just another in a long line of generic superhero movies. Instead it has enough action to please die hard fans and depth/story to thrill those new to the character. Plus, a stylish look and a game cast truly make Black Widow something special and definitely what I call a thrilling film.

We begin with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) from authorities for actions committed while she was an Avenger and hiding out in Norway, aided by resourceful ally Rick Mason(O.T. Fagbenle) . Out of nowhere she is sent an antidote by someone she hasn’t seen since childhood, her “sister” Yelena(Florence Pugh) . It transpires that they were raised by “parents “ in Ohio while they acquired intel as spies. Later both girls were taken for training in the Red Room, where they ended up separated but highly skilled in combat. It was controlled by the cruel and power-crazed Dreykov(Ray Winstone) who Natasha believes is dead but is in fact alive. The two women, who were raised like sisters , have animosity towards each other at first which begins to thaw once the true scope of what they are fighting comes into view. It transpires that the legion of Black Widows that are from the Red Room are controlled via sinister means like a chip in the neck that renders the wearer completely under the power of another. Yelena was exposed to the antidote which broke the control over her before she went rogue. There is also a being by the name of Taskmaster , who can mimic the movements and skills of others who is in search of the antidote to bring it back to Dreykov. After breaking their surrogate “father” Alexei( David Harbour) out of jail where he has been still trying to capture his glory days as a hero, Natasha and Yelena meet up with their “mother” Melina(Rachel Weisz), who also has important information having worked for years as a sleeper agent. It’s going to take all of their resources to take down the powerful and his brainwashed ‘Black Widows’ so it’s all hands on deck in this fight to avert global disaster courtesy of Dreykov and for Natasha to atone and learn from her past.

I’ll admit that I’m not what you’d call the biggest fan of Marvel Movies . But I know enough about them to pass muster and have some understanding of them. I’m not opposed to the films as I find them quite entertaining, I’ve just lost count of how many there are. To be honest, while a bit of knowledge is good, Black Widow stands well enough as a stand-alone feature and you can go in uninitiated . Director Cate Shortland shows a skilful talent for blending kinetic action, snippets of humour and set pieces with a story boasting more depth that just your standard superhero movie . If anything, although definitely boasting tropes of a superhero film, it also functions as a cracking and twisty espionage thriller with more than a little sprinkling of Bondian greatness. Being a huge Bond fan, seeing various nods here had the inner geek in me thrilled and I’m sure it’ll do the same for the audience who sees this action packed movie. Keep an eye out for the sequence in which break out of a snowy prison. To say it’s epic is an understatement as it’s so outrageously entertaining . Shortland is clearly a director who has a handle on things and keeps Black Widow flowing to stunning effect. A slight sag in pace can be forgiven in a film like this that sweeps you along with action and surprising depth. Black Widow is also very stylish to look at, especially in the action sequences and a grainy, snappy title sequence of being indoctrinated into becoming set to the sound of a haunting cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. And speaking of music, a grandiose and thundering score of action, peppered with Russian chanting, is another highlight in a stellar production that surprised me in how much I enjoyed it.

The cast is where it’s at when it comes to Black Widow. Scarlett Johansson can play the part in her sleep, yet she still displays various facets that are new and revealing. Whether it be in the action scenes or emotional moments of attempting to reconcile her past , Johansson is nothing short of fantastic at shading her part and providing backbone to an already popular character. The always watchable Scarlett Johansson is what I’d call perfect casting having played the part for so long and continuing to impress us. Ably backing her up and burning up a storm is the ever talented Florence Pugh portraying sister figure Yelena . Pugh nails the feisty, foul mouthed and quick witted Yelena while showcasing a buried resentment and hurt at realising that her past was so controlled and not what she thought. As a result much in the same way that Johansson explores Natasha , Pugh crafts a multi-layered character in Yelena that you truly root for. It helps that both actresses convince as sister figures slowly regaining trust after being separated for so long. The chemistry between the two is evidently strong and a valuable asset to the film. David Harbour provides much in the way of laughs as the washed up superhero dad to the two leading ladies. He’s comically endearing as a character and Harbour finds the genuine feeling of pathos beneath the clownish exterior. Rachel Weisz adds layers of complexity to a woman who seems sightly cowardly yet warm in the beginning before revealing a vast intelligence and ruthless determination. The wonderful Weisz makes every moment she’s on the screen count with her performance. O.T. Fagbenle provides nice support as a loyal friend and helper to Natasha, who trades good quips and witty banter along the way. The only people who get somewhat shortchanged and not given that much to work with are Ray Winstone and Olga Kurylenko. Both do what they can with their roles, I just would have preferred a bit more of them and more material for them to work

A thrilling superhero/spy-action film of great performances, twisty story and oodles of style, Black Widow is what I’d define as high powered entertainment and a film that has something for everyone to enjoy.

An Explanation

I haven’t been as active as I’ve usually been on here and I believe you all deserve an explanation. I’ve had a stressful time lately with my depression and anxiety hitting me hard. I’m currently getting the help and support I need, but haven’t been that inspired to write because of this. I will be back blogging very soon, I just need to sort my head out first. I’ll be back better than ever before you know it, I just need to take my time.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness

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I was invited to right about the fantastic Christopher Lee by Barry and Gill and I was very happy to do so. 

A Hammer Horror with the iconic Christopher Lee back as the eponymous being, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is atmospheric and has a lot going for it.

A group of proper English tourists; brothers Charles(Francis Matthews) and Alan(Charles Tingwell), plus their wives Helen( Barbara Shelley) and Diana( Suzan Farmer) are visiting near the Carpathian Mountains. They are warned about not going to a certain region by Father Sandor( Andrew Keir) . Sandor isn’t your average man of the cloth as he speaks his mind and seems always on the lookout for danger in a similar way to a hunter. The group don’t pay much attention and attempt to reach a castle that doesn’t show up on a map. The worried Helen doesn’t think this is a good idea, but she is overruled by her husband and the brash Charles . After a carriage appears from nowhere following , they decide to get into it. It suddenly springs to life and transports them to the infamous castle. Not wanting to be outside as darkness approaches, much to the annoyance of Helen, the group enters the castle . There they find the castle in reasonably good condition, considering that it’s been abandoned for years . We learn that the reason for this is that it’s been taken care of by the creepy servant Klove( Philip Latham) . His dead employer told him to always make the castle welcome to those travelling through. But Klove has a more menacing plan for the guests. That night he murders Alan and strings him up over a tomb. This fresh blood resurrects the evil and powerful vampire Dracula(Christopher Lee) who then goes on to turn the strait laced Helen into a sensual creature of the night like himself. Realising the danger they are in, Charles and Diana  run from the castle before finding Father Sandor in his church. The couple now team up Sandor with in a battle against the nocturnal bloodsucker.

Terence Fisher, who was always one of the most reliable directors for Hammer Horror, is in his element here. His confident and nicely unobtrusive direction helps flow smoothly and with a genuine feeling of dark tension. The less is more approach works well in many areas here, leaving much to the imagination while not shoving it in your face.The eeriness builds before being fully unleashed in the last half when the stakes are raised and a desperate plan to slay Dracula comes into play. From the get go, you just know it’s going to be very creepy. It doesn’t just start with everything being rosy and ideal for everyone; we hear of darkness from right at the start of the film as well as a prologue of Dracula’s history(which is a flashback from the very first outing for Lee as the bloodsucking count.)That is the through line of and moves the plot along nicely with an exquisite slow burn before unleashing. Also of note is how some of the characters don’t fall victim to some of the dumb horror cliches out there. For example, Charles and Diana once sensing that something is wrong flee the castle instead of sitting and waiting to be picked off, along with other smart traits. Yes they do eventually have to go back to the castle for the climactic battle(which makes sense in the big scheme of things), it’s just nice to see characters who aren’t complete morons and at least boast some substance . Its a little thing but one I do appreciate it .Prince of Darkness has enough of a difference in terms of folklore to single it out among vampire movies, particularly the eventual way that the remaining characters try to use in order to kill Dracula. Dracula: Prince of Darkness also feels even by today’s standards rather erotic in a Gothic way. Dracula’s ability to hold people in thrall is a great example of this as is Helen’s flip from staid worrier to untamed vixen. Granted age has diminished some effects and it can come off dated in stages, the creeping aura is still there in a way only Hammer can provide . On the visual front, Prince of Darkness is gloriously done with a lot of the colour red mixing with a dark and unusual feeling of impending dread. Hammer Horror always has that special something in terms of how they look and is no exception. A swelling and rather grand score suits the movie as the action and atmosphere is cranked up to high levels as darkness falls.

Christopher Lee is what really makes this movie, returning after a number years following his first outing, to play the role of the indelible villain that is Dracula. Despite not speaking a single word, his imposing presence and intense, bulging eyes are all that’s needed to give us the audience and the potential victims the creeps. Lee plays the wicked but seductive Dracula with a sense of movement and hypnotising skill; brilliantly luring in the unsuspecting prey he has his designs on. He’s obviously enjoying himself and the menace he provides as the bloodsucker is second to none. Simply stated, the film wouldn’t be the same without the iconic Lee playing it. Francis Matthews is appropriately down to Earth and charming as the free living young Charles, who has to rise up and face Dracula. Barbara Shelley is wonderful playing essentially two different parts: sheltered, fearful killjoy Helen and her enticing, seductive vampiric form that is chilling and daring . Both sides are finely judged by her and stand out for how different they are and it’s down to the excellent of Shelley . Bombastic energy and portents of doom come courtesy of Andrew Keir as the unorthodox but forceful Father who isn’t going down without a fight.  A convincingly  insidious sliminess provided by Philip Latham as the ever loyal servant intent on raising his evil master from the great beyond is another effective tool used to elicit genuine uneasiness and terror to sublime effect. Suzan Farmer and Charles Tingwell have smaller roles but are nonetheless very good as the rest of the quartet happening upon terror. The cast is pretty stellar, but it’s the presence of Christopher Lee that truly lingers in the mind thanks to the talents of the legendary star.

A stylish and atmospheric horror from the iconic Hammer Homer, Dracula: Prince of Darkness is an impressively movie with an eerie and memorable Christopher Lee at the centre of it all.

Clash of the Titans

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Taking basis from Greek mythology and past fantasy/swords and sandals, Clash of the Titans is one entertaining film. Not without flaws, but glowing with a sense of adventure that can’t be denied or not enjoyed.

In Ancient Greece, King Acrisius is angered when he discovers that his daughter Danaë  had a child that was fathered by the all powerful God Zeus(Laurence Olivier). he imprisons his daughter and her son Perseus in a box and has them thrown into the sea to die . The powerful God Zeus is infuriated by this and orders the destruction of the King’s realm. Danaë and Perseus are spared and wash up on another island. Years later, Perseus( now played by Harry Hamlin) is an athletic young man who is good at horse riding and adventure. And it’s adventure that awaits him as the unpredictability of those on Mount Olympus transports him to the city of Joppa . This is done by Thetis(Maggie Smith) who is angered by the fact that Zeus has persecuted her rebellious som Calibos. Her offspring destroyed the group of legendary flying horses (leaving only the iconic Pegasus) and for his wickedness was transformed into a hideous beast. Calibos was betrothed to the beautiful Princess Andromeda(Judi Bowker) but now has fled to the swamp. Andromeda is under a curse that makes her unable to marry unless her suitor solves a magical riddle. Into this melee comes Perseus, who immediately falls in love with Andromeda. After figuring the riddle out and subduing, Perseus asks for Andromeda’s hand in marriage. In retaliation for the treatment of her now deformed son and also stinging with anger when Andromeda’s mother dares speak ill of her , Thetis decrees that Andromeda shall die at the hands of the beastly Kraken in thirty days. Realising the severity of what is happening, Perseus sets out to discover a way to save his beloved from an untimely death. Aided by some of the Gods, an elderly but comic sidekick Ammon(Burgess Meredith) , winged horse Pegasus and a golden replica of the Owl Bubo , it’s a whole new adventure for Perseus. This entails encounters with wicked, vicious two-headed dogs, the Gorgon Medusa and the legendary Kraken. It’s one hell of an adventure for Perseus as he does battle with this assortment of creatures to fulfil his destiny and save Andromeda.

Desmond Davis is on directors duties and does a commendable job of laying on the challenges for Perseus and letting it flow. Some missteps are there it has be said , but it’s definitely very watchable as a fantasy film . Events looks amazing as do the sets that transport you to Ancient Greece in all its glory. A shot of pace might have benefited the middle section that does honestly drag things out a bit. But Clash of the Titans recovers in the finale as a glorious throwback to the old school adventure movies that where popular in decades gone by. And I frankly love it for that. Clash of the Titans is an imperfect film, but the nostalgia and feeling of adventure truly sweeps me as well as the audience along. Clash of the Titans is all about the work from special effects and stop motion wizard Ray Harryhausen. This was to be his last hurrah before retirement and he doesn’t disappoint with the array of creatures he crafts for the big screen for Perseus to face . The best among these are Medusa and the Kraken . The scaly and slithering Medusa is a terrifying creation that is part of one of the finest sequences here. Suspense abounds as Perseus attempts to slay Medusa while avoiding being turned to stone by the beast. And the last part with the Kraken is high on adventure and tension as Perseus swoops into the rescue. Both creatures on display make the movie that something special. It’s Harryhausen who is running the show here and whenever his touch is felt, it’s something to behold .The pace may get leaden in areas and the story is not exactly what you’d call the most cohesive, but as sheer entertainment it scores very high points. And the rousing score is another excellent addition to this action packed movie. 

Clash of the Titans isn’t exactly what you’d call an actors movie, but the cast is pretty good. Harry Hamlin is hardly the most expressive star out there, but he is nonetheless suitable and physically impressive in the part of the heroic Perseus. Judi Bowker is also hardly winning any awards but her stunning beauty makes it convincing that a man would risk life and limb for her. Burgess Meredith clearly has fun as the loyal best friend of our main hero, with a mischievous glint in his eyes. Laurence Olivier, with his Shakespearean training and sense of indomitable majesty is ideally cast as Zeus. Intimidating yet charismatic, it’s a blast seeing Olivier bring his theatrical talents to the screen in this fantasy yarn. The always excellent Maggie Smith has a ball as the vengeance seeking and silver tongued Thetis, whose meddling sets in motion a lot of events. Smith brings with her a sense of commanding power and playfulness, which she lends well to the film at hand. Sadly, Claire Bloom and Ursula Andress as goddesses are relegated to the sidelines as and don’t particularly register as a result. 

So while not quite up there in the echelon of fantasy films of yesteryear, Clash of the Titans is very close and boasts an immense amount of charm and nostalgia. Plus it’s a fine showcase for the Ray Harryhausen and a great final flourish for him. 

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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A sensational adventure drama with a great attention to detail, fine direction and two sterling central performances, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is hugely entertaining while still holding inside a depth that you wouldn’t expect.

It’s 1805 and the Napoleonic Wars are in full swing. The experienced and charming Jack Aubrey( Russell Crowe)is captain of the HMS Surprise. At the orders of the British Admiralty he is taking his ship off the North coast of Brazil to intercept a French ship by the name of the Acheron. It’s feared that if the Acheron continues its journey , the wars will spread further and last longer . Aubrey and his crew are surprised when fog rolls in and the Acheron ambushes them, severely damaging the Surprise. It’s a much bigger ship that is more heavily armed and stronger than the Surprise. The crew have to fix the ship while at sea, which poses a challenge for them. For Aubrey, the mission becomes personal as he begins to push the crew harder and starts to display questionable tactics and a foolhardy attitude while in pursuit of the Acheron . He has the crew attempt to track the much bigger and elusive ship against the seemingly insurmountable odds. This puts him at sixes and sevens with everyone, most prominently the ship’s surgeon/ naturalist and confidante Stephen Maturin( Paul Bettany) who argues that his good friend is risking the lives of the crew and not following the code of conduct by which he usually governs by. The journey around South America and the Pacific Ocean to find the continues as much in the way of bad luck befalls those present aboard the and Aubrey’s single mindedness elevates. Once the Acheron comes into view again, but with the crew paranoid and the Captain’s ways beginning to challenge those in his care, it’s not going to be plain sailing for anyone involved

The talented Peter Weir is on fine fettle directing this adventure on the high seas thats both thrilling and engaging. He combines the epic scope of an adventure film with the sense of intimacy you think of with drama. While the whole exercise is beautifully mounted, it’s the little moments that really matter here. And we do bear witness to a compelling literal and figurative journey of morality and leadership, beautifully brought to life by Peter Weir. Master and Commander was filmed on two replica shops, one that was actually used on the sea while filming. Both add a further authenticity to events and truly place us at the heart of this journey. Plus, they truly convince as a living vessel of cramped conditions, doubts and thundering action. Once again, Weir and his exceptional crew of production designers really went for painstakingly true to the time period details that are sublimely realised . There’s a revealing side that displays the frictions, rivalries and bloodshed( though most of it is discreetly shot). As most of the film takes place in the ship, it becomes alive with all the emotions running through it from the characters. When one thinks of Master and Commander, there are two main action sequences in it, which might surprise many. But the sequences are stunningly orchestrated and full of danger, while not sugarcoating the often brutal reality of war and how damn unpredictable it can be. The opening out of the blue attack hits hard and unexpectedly while the ingenious final battle is a full on thrusting sequence of action and tactical one upmanship.A few parts in the middle sag but is largely a very involving movie, particularly pertaining to the characters and visuals . The sound editing which is thunderous and immersive and the cinematography that gets across the conditions aboard a ship and the natural beauty of the sea both received deserved Oscar wins. The sound design in particular is truly marvellous; every crack and shot of a canon rings with energy and fire The scenes in the are breathtakingly beautiful and a feast for the eyes so all lovers of stunning imagery should take note during these sequences, and the cinematography from Russell Boyd is gorgeous. The score from Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti is an adventurous one that really suits the story and has the same amount of energy and drama that is depicted on screen.

Russel Crowe heads the cast of the seafaring adventure with an absolutely entertaining performance. The dashing leadership, cheeky grin and then the realisation and sense of shock that comes with making big, life threatening decisions are all there and embodied by Crowe. It’s a full blooded portrayal of a rash but dedicated man serving his country and running into a questionable quagmire of which some is his own making. A delightfully subdued, dependable and cynical performance from Paul Bettany as the surgeon/naturalist Stephen is also of note for how effectively he slips into the part. Maturin is the more practical, rational one of the two but also boasts a deep sense of questioning curiosity that can’t be harnessed. Bettany brilliantly conveys all of these parts and really makes the character his own. It helps that Crowe and Bettany work so well together and boast a great chalk and cheese chemistry that lends an extra string to its bow. The friendship between the characters is one of the best parts of Master and Commander it has to be said. James D’Arcy makes for a stalwart supporting character playing the loyal first lieutenant, while Lee Ingleby is sensational as the tragic Midshipman who is unliked by the rest for his lack of nerve and suffers deeply because of his treatment. Young and spirited Max Pirkis stands out as the pint sized midshipman who loses an arm early on, but has enough tenacity to overcome this obstacle. Pirkis has a maturity that belies his young years and he more than holds his own against most experienced costars. The overall cast of the film is of a good standard, but it’s Crowe and Bettany that you’ll remember the most.

A surprisingly human adventure with questions of morality and order in at as well as spectacle, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a fine achievement in filmmaking.

9 Year Blog Anniversary

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Today marks the 9th anniversary of my blog. I seriously can’t believe I’ve been doing it for this long. Along the way I’ve made such great friends from all over the globe. I love you all so much. I know over the last year things have been tough, but I have a feeling light is at end of the tunnel. So in the meantime, I wish to extend my deepest gratitude to everyone who has supported me along the way and during this journey of blogging. I couldn’t have done any of this without the continued love, appreciation and acceptance of this thriving community.

The Devil Rides Out

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A thrilling and very creepy film from Hammer Horror, The Devil Rides Out stands as one of their finest films. It’s the whole atmosphere and compelling story, aided by a pacy running time, The Devil Rides Out is a must see. 

It’s the 1920’s in the English countryside and the cultured, well-respected Duc De Richleau(Christopher Lee) has become concerned about a friend. This friend is the young and often irresponsible Simon Aron(Patrick Mower) ; De Richleau knew his father and since that friend’s death he has looked out for Simon along with fellow chum Red Van Ryn(Leon Greene). The concern regarding comes from Simon seemingly cutting contact off with those closest and disappearing for long periods of time. Aided by loyal best friend Rex, the two men soon unearth that the reckless has fallen in with a secretive society of devil worshippers who wish to baptise him once more as a follower of darkness. The sect is headed by the powerful and dangerously charismatic Mocata (Charles Gray), who is known to be ruthless and extremely gifted in getting people . After knocking Simon out and whisking him away, De Richleau and Rex must contend with the knowledge that they are marked for something dark by the evil Mocata  . They also help rescue a female follower Tanith( Niké Arrighi )who hasn’t been initiated into the bit is struggling with the pull of it. He shelters both Simon and Tanith with his niece Marie( Sarah Lawson) and her husband Richard(Paul Eddington) , who live in a large house in the country. Protecting the potential victims isn’t going to be a cakewalk for as the wicked Mocata can use mind control and hypnosis to make unsuspecting victims do his bidding.  Now De Richleau must fight to save Simon and from the clutches of Mocata , who has set his sights on the rest of De Richleau’s family in a cruel blow that will require a lot of faith to overcome. Let battle between good and evil commence in entertainingly spooky fashion. 

Terence Fisher adopts a restrained, low key approach here that allows for the story to become front and centre, while moving it along at an acceptable pace of mounting chills and unnerving mystery. That doesn’t mean that is without set pieces, it simply means that they are done in a way that isn’t too razzmatazz and more slithering menace. The scene of Mocata intensely putting Marie under hypnosis is gloriously creepy and stands out as a piece of dark filmmaking as the psychology of the situation and overall ambience is cranked up higher in a battle of wills. The other big standout is the protection circle scene where the group have to face off against the dark forces that don’t let up. It knows how to up the ante excellently in the best possible way. Hammer was known for its villains in the guise of Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster, but the fact that the main enemy in The Devil Rides Out is actually people who believe in a dark purpose makes a very unnerving prospect. Supernatural events occur throughout in the form of dark sorcery and satanism but the battle between good and evil feels more rooted in some semblance of reality while still retaining the magic of Hammer that you’d expect. The lack of bloodshed is also a stroke of genius; it allows us to focus more on the story than just parts that are possibly grisly. As mentioned earlier, the approach of a bit more subtlety adds immensely to the atmosphere of the piece as it unfolds deliberately but in a manner that is very fascinating. The film also has a dazzling colour scheme within in that highlights the richness of red and purple, plus there’s some great camerawork that employs intense close ups of eyes to startling by effect. A few special effects don’t measure up to modern eyes, but the main focus of the spooky story is the true crux of things that outweighs niggle. The score by James Bernard( himself a Hammer Horror regular) is one of great tension and action, which is exactly what you’d want in a film like this. 

Christopher Lee heads a very good cast in a role that is a change of pace for him; the hero. But Lee quickly displays how adept he is at surprising us with a passionate turn as a knowledgable man fighting to save a friend with a sense of great dignity to his core. Lee acquits himself well with force and gravity it must be said and provides the centre of this film. Charles Gray is his counterpart and he relishes being very evil throughout. For Gray, it’s all in the eyes as he uses them to such creepy effect as the character he plays manipulates those around him unsettling skill. Even before we’ve seen Mocata, we get an impression of the man and Charles Gray plays to that spectacularly. loyal friend who is supremely tested by the ordeal and along the way develops romantic feelings for the beautiful Tanith. And speaking of Tanith, she is played with the right amount of sex appeal by the enticing Niké Arrighi. There’s something a little otherworldly quality to her and it’s utilised nicely in The Devil Rides Out. Patrick Mower has the role of the reckless and foolhardy man caught in something he is starting to regret. The part isn’t the biggest stretch for the actor, but he puts in a very good performance nonetheless. Really standing out from the moment she’s introduced is the role of Marie, played by Sarah Lawson. She starts out as seemingly immensely vulnerable, but Lawson shows that the character is actually more switched on and important than people think. In fact, later becomes quite integral to the plot and a lot of this is down to Sarah Lawson. Paul Eddington rounds out the cast as the sceptic among everyone who soon comes to believe in the darkness about to surface.

A creepy and very enthralling Hammer Horror, The Devil Rides Out stands at least in my book as one of their finest. This owes much to a great cast, somewhat low key approach and feeling of elevating tension.

Crawl

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A simple premise of two people against a vicious pack of creatures, locked in a fight for survival, Crawl does what it says on the tin and is all the better for that. Well acted and suspenseful, it’s a decent little horror flick.

In Florida, Haley(Kaya Scodelario) is an aspiring young swimmer, who nevertheless feels like a letdown as she hasn’t had much success. A lot of this stems from her father Dave(Barry Pepper), who coached her and pushed her very hard as a child. Haley has never felt good enough and is not dealing with her parents divorce very well. While she is estranged from him, she still gets a call from her out of town sister who is worried. Dave hasn’t responded to any of her calls, even though Florida has been warned of an approaching Category 5 Hurricane. Haley decides to check in on her father, despite the warnings of others and the harrowing weather conditions. When she arrives at his place, she can’t find him at first. With the guidance of his dog Sugar, Haley discovers her father in the crawl space, where he lies injured from a vicious bite that has broken his leg. While attempting to move her incapacitated father, Haley is menaced by an alligator that forces her to find what she can of safety in the crawl space. When her father comes around, Haley must work with him in an attempt to escape. It becomes apparent that there is more than just one alligator with them, as they got through via the storm drain . Trapped in the house that is beginning to flood and being terrorised by the vicious predators that are patient but can spring out at any minute , it’ll take all of Haley and Dave’s strength to make it out of this. But with flooding becoming more rapid, hopes of help dashed when looters meet a violent end and the alligators gaining momentum, surviving this hellish ordeal is not going to be so easy for Haley and David.

Alexandre Aja is well known for his films in the horror genre and Crawl fits in nicely with his capabilities. It’s not going for revolutionary horror, but Aja constructs immense suspense throughout, with the dual threats of catastrophic weather and killer alligators proving both a terrifying prospect for the main characters . Setting the film in predominately one location, mainly the crawl space and flooded interior of a house, was a very deft move that lends something claustrophobic to Crawl. Sometimes a simple premise can be successful through entertaining execution. Crawl certainly does that with some added bite, from the direction of Aja and an unexpectedly effective script. It has moments that do make you scratch your head and suspend your sense of logic,  but is largely a tense exercise in thrilling horror that is purely there to give you a thrill. The bleak visual style conveys the terror of a hurricane and the damage, added to with a slimy green and moody blue in the crawl space moments that are mightily impressive. Point of view shots crank up the feeling of dread as Haley has to make her way through the crawl space in hope of escaping and saving her father. The effects for the alligators are rather good too, never becoming overly reliant on obvious CGI to create these brutal creatures that feast with ferocious glee, particularly on a group of unsuspecting looters nearby. The running time of just under an hour and a half benefits Crawl as it leaves no space for any excesses or superfluous ideas. It’s a lean, mean horror that boasts good suspense and scenes of bloody terror. Added in is the underlying drama of family that thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome; rather it allows for something grounded to emerge between who are more alike than they’d care to admit. The fact that Crawl isn’t traversing anything newfangled doesn’t matter because it proves intense and is done with a level of style. A score laden with pervading doom and bubbling atmosphere lends itself well to Crawl; soaking events in a dark and menacing sphere of growing panic, while also putting forth music that has an unusual emotional depth to it for a horror flick.

In what is essentially a two hander , save for other fleeting characters who are mainly there to be food for the alligators, Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper give it their best as the fractured daughter and father. Kaya Scodelario is especially good at navigating a character who isn’t the easiest to warm to at first but who earns our sympathy as she refuses to give up in the horrific situation she finds herself stuck in. Scodelario exhibits a troubled and spiky demeanour that’s tempered by ingenuity and depth that you don’t expect. is required to be both emotional and immensely physical, which she roses to with great energy . Barry Pepper is also a reliable presence as an injured, cranky man who is nevertheless someone who when out to the test, can rise above it. Pepper plays the part greatly, showing a man desperate to survive and eventually reconcile with the daughter from whom he is estranged. The characters aren’t given the biggest arcs ever, but what we have proves good enough as we watch their relationship starting to heal amid the carnage before them.

Entertaining, thrilling and filled with tension, Crawl is a suspenseful horror movie that takes advantage of a limited setting and good cast to craft an exhilarating film with snap.

Happy Birthday Keira Knightley

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Today the delightful Keira Knightley turns 36. It feels like she has been on our screens forever, having broke onto the scene at a young age. Since then, she has become a popular star in blockbusters, period pieces and independent movies. I’ve always enjoyed watching Knightley on screen and I just know she has many more decades of cinema work to give us. So Happy Birthday to this beautiful and gifted actress. Plus she was my first cinematic crush.