Monday 18 October 2010

Review: Never let me go

Year: 2010
Director: Mark Romanek
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley

Synopsis is here

Never let me go has the issue that I feel most avid book reader fear. Despite being proficient from a technical viewpoint (with a lovely use of muted colours), and having a strong cast that really holds it's own with the delicate material, Never let me go is missing something. I haven't read the book but it feels obvious to me that some of the nuances that Kazuo Ishiguro are missed somewhat. Maybe the films reveal is a bit too quick. perhaps the performances just don't tug on the heartstrings, or the grand themes are all a tad too subtle on screen, I'm not sure.

Still, there is a lot to enjoy in this taut and restrained piece. Like other good sci-fi, Never let me go is as much about the human condition as well as the tropes of the genre. As we gradually learn more about these characters way of life, we're not only slightly unnerved but we begin to feel for these people. Their character is drained from early in life and as the emotions inside them began to stir, so did my hope for them. There's moments within the film that are quietly heartbreaking. In many love stories, we cheer because the characters rebel against the social norms placed upon them. Their fight for love is what we go for.  In Never let me go, we lament because the fight has been taken out before these young people can even acknowledge what they're feeling. This gives the film such a fresh and unique feel from so many dramas.

And yet still something in Garland's adaptation stops me from truly falling for this movie. After a quick read of the novels synopsis I realise that there's been small changes to the narrative that dull an already muted plot, and lessen the impact one of the films more powerful scenes. The films restraint; while welcoming also causes slight problems in finding warmth within the films characters. There are moments that truly call out for it, but the mood is so subdued it may only be those who are really connected to Ishiguro's prose who can get the most out of it. 

There are three solid performances to enjoy however, with Mulligan, Knightly and Garfield all getting into the right brain space for the immature and naive players. Garfield especially rounds off a great year with a performance that almost taps into that emotion that bubbles under the surface. Kudos must also go out to the child casting as the kids not only look like their older counterparts, but give solid, watchable performances.

I've said before that is the film gets me interested enough in the book then it's done it's job. Never Let Me Go does enough to warrant my interest into heading to Waterstones and purchasing a copy of the novel. The problem however, will be that the books prose will be be rich enough for me to really get into the piece.

Review: Rec 2

Year: 2009 (UK Release 2010)
Director: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Screenplay: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza, Manu Díez
Starring: Jonathan Mellor, Óscar Zafra, Alejandro Casaseca, Ariel Casas

Synopsis is here

Other reviews have said it more eloquently so I'll also jump on the bandwagon in saying that Rec 2 is the Aliens to Rec Alien. Like James Cameron's arguably superior (to some) sequel. This film concentrates on bulking up the action and expending the universe. Not a terrible thing in a world where sequels usually try and mimic the original and add nothing new (See also certain remakes). The issue with this in Rec 2 however is,  you suddenly realise that less is more. By the time the film springs it's big surprise, you won't be bitching to Toto about Kansas. In fact, screw Oz for that matter, as Rec 2 goes into a brave new world of bonkers. Some of it's inventive, a lot of it is visceral but nothing compares to how bloody barmy the whole thing is.

As I said before in my review for Survival of the dead. The zombie sub-genre doesn't need to look to Romero for interesting commentary anymore. Rec's combination of hand-held immediacy, quarantined setting and vague religious codec was a heady blend which ended on a perfect note. It also remembered that less is more, especially when it comes to found footage. Even Cloverfield knew it had to hide it's monster for as long as possible.

Rec 2 feels that it needs to fill the gaps by utilizing many, many references to various other horror flicks and some awkward (read: silly) plot moments. As it explains what the virus is and what these new characters have to do in order to survive/cure the virus. The thing is, Rec had our imagination do the hard work and the fun was in not knowing. Rec 2's quasi-exorcist shenanigans and cornball plot twists do their best to show how deep the rabbit hole goes, however, not only do they take away some of the mood (the last third becomes very jarring) but they also help expose the fact that the screenwriters had to create an uber twist to justify the films very existence. Added to this a much weaker cast (with no character development in sight) and once again you have a lesser horror sequel.

There are good points however. The films first third brings back some of the claustrophobic tension that made the first film so memorable. The films setting is still brilliantly handled at times and the use of lighting and sound really brings together that "bump in the night" feeling. There is also one or two well executed jump scares and action set pieces that help capture that familiar kinetic energy.

Rec 2's wish to expand the situation really plays havoc with what made the original what it was. One must remember that, while the first film isn't an in-depth character study, but it did have people we wanted to watch. This added to the tension that the setting and situation brought. The insistence of adding more to the films streamlined narrative really screws with the chi. With Rec 3 and 4 on the way there's a good chance that this franchise will be running on fumes very soon.