This weekend ASFF selects five new feature films – a mix of real-life biopics, innovative thrillers and genre-defying horrors from Europe and America. Dealing with themes of loneliness, innocence, love, guilt, alcoholism and depression, these directors are also pushing the limits of narrative, whether it’s shooting a whole film in just one take or never cutting away from the main character.
Gus Van Sant reunites with Joaquin Phoenix for the first time since 1995’s To Die For as they come together for this portrait of real-life paralyzed, alcoholic cartoonist John Callahan. Jonah Hill co-stars as the AA guru he turns to, and there are neat cameos from singers Beth Ditto and Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. As ever, Phoenix is on masterful form as the irascible Portland-based character, in a film that feels like a return to Van Sant’s early independent work.
Following in the footsteps of films like Phone Booth, The Call and Locke, Danish director Gustav Möller’s taut debut is set entirely around a police dispatch office. Jakob Cedergren plays a former officer consigned to desk duty who suddenly faces a life or death situation when a kidnapped woman calls after being abducted by her ex. Never cutting to her, Möller keeps it claustrophobic and all the attention on Cedergren, and those beads of sweat forming on his brow.
After Paul Greengrass’ July 22, which dealt with the savage 2011 terrorist attack in Norway when 77 people were killed, Erik Poppe’s film makes for a rather grim companion piece. Shot in one take, this brilliantly executed, utterly immersive film puts the viewer right in with the teenagers who faced Anders Behring Breivik on the island of Utøya, as he starts shooting and pandemonium reigns. Difficult to watch – or even justify – but compelling nonetheless.
Matthew Holness, who once brought us the horror-parody Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, explores a darker side of the genre with this unnerving tale, starring Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong. Set in Norfolk, it’s a grim coming-home story as Harris’ Philip returns to his past carrying a bag full of troubles. Digging into primordial fears – look away if you’re afraid of spiders or puppets – Holness has created an extremely creepy and unsettling exploration of a disturbed man’s psyche.
British mega-band Queen and their late lead singer Freddie Mercury get a somewhat safe 12A-rated biopic, directed by Bryan Singer, which studiously avoids delving into the more excessive side of their rock lifestyles. Rami Malek is stupendous as Mercury, however, and if the film rather shuffles facts for dramatic purpose, Malek’s on-stage performances, displaying the preening singer in his all his pomp, are a joy to behold.
All films released by 26 October.