The Rover (Australia/USA 2014)
10 years after the ‘collapse’ in the decimated Australian outback, listless loner Eric (Guy Pearce) gets his car stolen, the only possession he has left. He will stop at nothing to get it back. Eric finds that Rey (Robert Pattinson), the brother of one of the car thieves, can help him locate the car and so begins one of the more gruesome road trips in cinema history. Eric is a man past redemption and Rey, in turn, is an overwhelmed young man who is not equipped to handle the harsh card life has dealt him. This grim gem of a film boasts stand-out performances from its two leading men and a consistently thrilling, hard-hitting tone. Director David Michod has made a brutal, formidable film which fuses nihilistic philosophy with thrilling sequences beautifully. Like most intelligent films that hone in on something real about the human condition, The Rover will haunt you long after the credits roll.
The Babadook (Australia 2014)
The Babadook is a perfect example of the potential of horror to act as metaphor; a horror film that is both chilling and emotionally resonant. Single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) lives with her challenging and bright son Samuel (a terrific Noah Wiseman). Samuel is obsessed with monsters to a point where it takes over both their lives. Amelia desperately tries to keep it together though she has not gotten over the tragic death of her husband who died driving her as she was about to give birth. The already unstable living conditions get exponentially more difficult once a mysterious children’s book called Mister Babadook enters their lives. Samuel and Amelia are beautifully acted and intelligently written which makes all the dreadful events that transpire in this neo-gothic film that much harder to watch. First time director Jennifer Kent’s homages to Poltergeist and early cinema are just that: it is a brilliantly conceived film in its own right dealing with unsavory human emotions.
R100 (Japan 2013)
A middle-aged man (Nao Omori) with a son and a comatose wife working at a tiresome job finds that the only thing that gives him pleasure and relief from his humdrum life is s&m. He signs a year-long contract with an exclusive, hardcore club called Bondage that he cannot get out of. R100 is one of the most riotous, unpredictable, and audacious films in recent history. It was not made to make much sense nor is it believable in any way whatsoever – but R100 does make for a bizarrely great time at the movies. This silly film has ‘cult hit’ written all over it and should be seen by everyone that can handle violence, excessive spitting, and of course, gobbling.
It Follows (USA 2014)
19 year old suburban Jay (Maika Monroe) has recently started dating a boy she genuinely likes but it all shatters to pieces once they have sex. Right after their encounter, Jay becomes infected by some malevolent shadowy force that is out to get her, an entity that shows itself in various way and is relentless in its pursuit. The film’s new spin on sex equating to danger is quite innovative and thrilling, yet director David Robert Mitchell is content to leave it at that making the novel idea fall a bit flat towards the halfway mark. The threatening, old-school tone and sympathetic characters make up for its somewhat inert tendencies, though. A richer psychological framework would have made more of an impact, but It Follows is certainly still a breath of fresh air for the ‘teens in peril’ subgenre.
Under the Skin (UK/USA/Switzerland 2014)
A creature (Scarlett Johansson) comes to Earth in human form and proceeds to seduce men and kill them for unexplained reasons. The being can make nice and knows how to interact with men (non-actors who were apparently filmed with hidden cameras), yet everything else is uncharted territory. The film is less concerned with plot than it is with striking imagery and an eerie, otherworldly tone. One scene in particular evokes empathy in an ingenious way which is quite spectacular for a film that has a detached interloper at its center. Under the Skin is not a very coherent film, yet it does provide viewers with one of of the more spectacular and singular film experiences of the last few years.
Honorable mentions: What We Do in the Shadows, Coherence, Starry Eyes, Metalhead
Written by: Eli Lewy
For more Berlin festival coverage and film reviews go to my blog www.film-nut.tumblr.com
Illustration by http://www.karolinschnoor.co.uk/