The Little Stranger 2018 ***

strangerAfter the low-budget, high profile success of Room, Lenny Abrahamson’s follow-up caused confusion and derision when released in 2018; it looks and sometimes feels like a horror film, but there’s no horror and the punch-line is subtle to the point of invisibility. Nevertheless, this adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel has much to commend it, even if it cleared halls in multiplexes. Dr Faraday (Domhnall Gleeson) is called to visit Hundreds Hall, the falling-apart country pile of the once prosperous Ayers family. Faraday has had a fascination for the house, and the family, since he was a child, and he inveigles himself with the present family including Will Poulter as Roderick, badly burnt and traumatised, sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson) with whom the doctor has some romantic feelings, and Charlotte Rampling as the Ayers family matriarch. Supernatural reasons for the house’s history are discussed, and may well be true, but The Little Stranger stops short of any kind of physical horror, and the dark reflections are as much about Faradary’s social climbing as anything. Well-acted by Wilson in particular, The Little Stranger is an intelligent, high-brow film that almost no-one saw.



A Sense of an Ending 2017 ***


Julian Barnes’s slim novella was a Man Booker Prize winner, and has obvious cinematic potential; it’s a long slow burn as we delve into the past, with a pay-off that’s humbling and painful. Ritesh Batra’s film captures ably the mood of the book; Jim Broadbent is ideal as Tony Webster, a London camera shop owner. A letter brings back memories of his teenage relationship with Margaret (Charlotte Rampling), and a counter-narrative about how they met is unfolded as Tony seeks Margaret out. A sensitive and more literate movie than most, A Sense of an Ending is an ideal way to approach the book; it nails the story down in a cinematic way, and a few anachronisms are forgivable due to budget restraints. Not for sensation seekers, A Sense of an Ending is an effective adaptation that deserved better than the minimal release it got; the young cast, including Billy Howie, Jack Alwyn and Freya Mavor should help it reach the next generation of film-goers who demand a little intellectual meat in the fare.

Melancholia 2011 ***


Opening with a series of breath-taking apocalyptic tableau, Lars von Trier’s is an end-of-the-world movie with a difference; with earth on a collision course likely to wipe out human life, there’s no last-minute rocketships to the rescue, just a numbing acceptance and a willingness to find an accommodation with what remains of life. Sisters Justine (Kristen Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) are already estranged, and the spiritual meaning of Justine’s chaotic wedding day is compromised by her inner distress. Von Trier pulls together a remarkable cast including John Hurt and Charlotte Rampling as guests while Justine wrecks her own special day. But as the end becomes night, the sisters come to a genuine understanding in the face of certain death. Melancholia is a story of depression, but presented as a reasonable reaction to the accelerated collapse of the world we know, and it’s metaphorical strength makes it a poignant, unforgettable watch.

Asylum 1972 ***


Psycho author Robert Bloch contributed for stories and a clever wraparound to this 1972 portmanteau horror film, directed by Roy Ward Baker.  The framing story concerns a doctor (Robert Powell) who arrives at an asylum only to be challenged by the doctor in charge (Patrick Magee) to guess which one of four patients was his predecessor. The first and fourth, Frozen Fear and Manikins of Horror, are quite silly although engagingly done, with brown-paper parcels containing body parts and little deadly robots on the rampage. The best two are The Weird Tailor is a finely wrought story of an unusual commission for the impoverished Bruno (Barry Morse) from mysterious gentleman (Peter Cushing), and Lucy Comes To Stay is a clever psychological drama featuring Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland. There’s a certain unpredictability about all of the stories, clearly woven into a brisk 88 minute package by Baker that’ll please horror aficionados.

Max Mon Amour 1986 ***


Working with Jean-Claude Carriere, the go-to provocateur for everyone from Luis Bunuel to Jonathan Glazer, Nagisa Oshima crafted this truly bizarre one-off drama. Peter Jones (Anthony Higgins) is vexed when his wife Margaret (Charlotte Rampling) appears to have taken a new lover, but his nose is further out of joint when he discovers her new paramour is a chimp called Max. To make matters worse, this isn’t sex but love, Peter’s world crumbles as he realises that he’s been bested by an animal. Max Mon Amour sounds like a comedy, but it’s a deadly serious examination of modern morals and sexual jealousy, played with a straight-face and the serious intention which might be expected from the director of In the Realm of the Senses. Without any real graphic content, Max Mon Amour deconstructs the male psyche with broad, brutal strokes, and looks at a darker side of animalistic machismo than most directors would be prepared to explore.

The Night Porter 1975 ***


The pivotal, subversive poster image of Charlotte Rampling, cradling her breasts wearing nothing but trousers and a SS hat, has infiltrated pop culture to the extent that Kylie Minogue quoted it as an influence. Liliana Cavani’s intense film sees Rampling as a concentration camp victim who meets up with her captor Maximillian (Dirk Bogarde), only to embark on a sadomasochistic love affair with him in the Viennese hotel where he works. Opening up questions about sexual relationships and the Holocaust, Cavani was both feted and derided for taking an ambiguous stance on explosive material, but now it’s the finely judged and brave performances from Rampling and Bogarde, a long way from his Rank starlet days in Doctor in the House, that make The Night Porter such a haunting experience.

I Anna 2014 ***


Charlotte Rampling has been a grand dame of British cinema for so long, but often in minor roles, that it’s a relief to see her centre stage and commanding in this low-key 2012 thriller directed by her son, Barnaby Southcombe. In a classic noir set-up, Rampling attends a dating evening and takes a potential lover home, only to awaken to find him dead. Anna’s guilt or innocence is kept uncertain for much of the running time, with Gabriel Byrne as the sympathetic cop closing in and Haley Atwell as her daughter. I Anna is a deliberately old-fashioned thriller which manages to provide the requisite twists and turns without selling out the idea of the central character’s emotional vulnerability; it’s a rare thriller that deal with mental health issues is an intelligent and un-exploitative way.