I've almost forgotten exactly where Yann Demange's "'71" falls in the hectic line of new Jack O'Connell films. And yes, we get it, he's going to be a star. But here, he's asked to do very little besides wheeze and look exhausted the entire film as he plays a British soldier lost behind the slum lines during the Irish "troubles". That's not a knock on him. Substitute anyone in this role and the results would probably be the same. Demange's kinetic, frenzied tale isn't really about this single man, but his unwilling initiation and observance of the constantly shifting politics behind any good country's civil strife. The violence is swift and brutal. The sides, although supposedly clearly drawn, secede into a swamp of uncertainty as undercover cops play both sides, genuinely decent people try to make sense of the conflict and unflinching loyalty- even when one sees that allegiance is damning- coalesce into a muddy portrait of hopelessness. It's a powerful film driven by a simple action film conceit- be superman and get out alive.
It may seem rote to attempt a new subversion of the horror genre, but writer-director David Robert Mitchell does just that in his latest film "It Follows". Taking the act of sexual intercourse, which often spells disaster for teens in all those slasher horror movies of yesteryear, is stretched to full length parable here. Often a very vulnerable, short-circuit-head moment for young people (or really anyone of any age), the act of sex is shrouded in guilt, paranoia and complete fear in "It Follows" as "something" begins to stalk poor Jay (Maika Monroe) after having sex with Hugh (Jake Weary). Immediately knocking her out and subduing her, she awakens to his wild story of having to do this to her so "something" would quit stalking him and be transferred to her. In full control of every facet of the film, from its precise camera placement and movement to the moody synth soundtrack, Mitchell has created a deeply unsettling experience that understands the psychology of scare is always more penetrating than the scare itself. In his debut feature, the wonderful "The Myth of the American Sleepover", he perfectly accentuated the universal emotions of suburban teen aimlessness. Though far removed from my own current generational outlook, the film felt true and purposeful, as if he tapped into my own half memories and daydreams of being fifteen again. In "It Follows", the teens from that film could have graduated to these more grown-up acts, still aimless, but now struggling with not only the pangs of young adulthood, but the spectre of real consequences. It's one of the year's best films.
I spoke of O'Connell huffing and wheezing, well Sean Penn does it here too. Not a very good film but it fed my cheesy 80's action vibe. Full review can be read here.