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Film round-up: November 26, 2020

Van Connor and Maria Duarte review of Happiest Season, The Ringmaster, Cordelia, Possessor, Audrey and Jungleland

Happiest Season (12)
Directed by Clea DuVall
★★★

ACTRESS-turned-director Clea DuVall returns with the very rarest of treats – a seasonal family romp with bonafide queer representation – in Happiest Season, applying the conventions of screwball rom-coms such as The Proposal to an LGBT couple at Christmas.

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis are the couple spending Christmas with the latter’s family, only for Stewart to learn that her partner’s sexuality remains unknown to them, requiring her to play along for the holidays.

An all-star cast of contemporary comedy stars such as Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy and Alison Brie feature alongside veterans Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen in this madcap yet formulaic romp that never rises to become more interesting than what it represents, but never sinks below simple fun.

A by-the-numbers dose of festive familial frivolity, Happiest Season may be a tad-too-sugary for its own good, but it’s a perfectly enjoyable stocking filler. VC

Available on demand

The Ringmaster (18)
Directed by Soren Juul Petersen
★★★★

STEEN LANGSTRUP’S 2018 horror novel Finale comes to the screen – courtesy of director Soren Juul Petersen – as The Ringmaster, in which two Danish petrol station workers find themselves stalked for sadistic entertainment by a malevolent circus showman.

Subverting obvious conventions by intercutting between different strands of its non-linear narrative, Petersen’s well-honed suspense building is afforded more introspection.

Horror fans – especially mainstream fans for whom subtitles might otherwise prove a barrier – will delight in this slick production as would-be victims Anne Bergfeld and Karin Michelsen strive to survive the night.

The Ringmaster’s true appeal is however – predictably enough – the Ringmaster himself, with Damon Younger relishing the chance to veer between calm-and-collected and gleefully perverse – a fine addition to the pantheon of iconic horror monsters. VC

Available on demand

Cordelia (15)
Directed by Adrian Shergold
★★

SPORTING a poster that’s been the subject of dismay to more … repressed Twitter users, British-made psychological thriller Cordelia sees Irish actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes (best known as Jack Dee’s daughter on seminal Britcom Lead Balloon) land her feature-screenwriting debut alongside Funny Cow director Adrian Shergold.

Successful as the sum of its parts, Cordelia sees Campbell-Hughes take on a further pair of roles as both the traumatised, eponymous lead and her twin sister Caroline – the former embarking on a tempestuous relationship with musician Johnny Flynn that could both help her overcome the horrors of the past or see her enveloped by them.

Let down by a very awkward screenplay that never quite manages to embrace its own nature, Shergold and his frequent collaborator Tony Slater Ling nonetheless ensure its gothic credentials are on display for all to admire. VC

Available on demand

Possessor (18)
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
★★★★★

WITH David Cronenberg relatively quiet on the filmmaking front, son and fellow director Brandon Cronenberg follows up 2012’s intriguing Antiviral with this chip-off-the-old-block effort.

Packed full of extreme violence, reality-bending storytelling and a nostalgic display of incredible animatronics, Possessor makes for an impressive showcase for one of the most exciting directors on the scene since his dear old dad.

Andrea Riseborough brings a rigorous intensity to the story of assassin Tasya Vos, who is capable of hacking and controlling would-be patsies – her latest target the brilliantly twitchy Colin Tate (Christopher Abbot). 

Through Tate, a lowly tech-conglomerate underling, Riseborough sets out to assassinate mogul –and Tate’s future father-in-law – John Parse (Sean Bean), but when the connection between driver and vehicle begins to break down, the consequences could well finish them both.

Armchair-gripping to the point of injury, Possessor delivers one of the terrifically unconventional features of an already unconventional release year. At the extreme end of “adults only,” it’s a compelling sci-fi thriller stuffed with enrapturing visuals, game performances and an uncompromising vision of a darkly inventive tale.

Available on demand 

Audrey (PG)
Directed by Helena Coan
★★★★

CHILDHOOD starvation, abandonment by her father, a miscarriage and a number of bad marriages – this documentary about Audrey Hepburn’s life and work provides a fascinating new insight into an extraordinary humanitarian, cultural icon and Hollywood star.

Featuring interviews with Hepburn’s son, her granddaughter, close friends and colleagues along with unseen film footage, writer-director Helena Coan paints a revealing  and contrasting picture between the public and private Hepburn – secretly plagued by sadness throughout her life.

Her father divorced her mother, leaving them both when Hepburn was six; listening to Hepburn describe its impact on her – and her future relationships with men – is heart-wrenching. As is her harrowing tale of living in Holland under Nazi occupation as a ten-year-old – the famine and hunger she underwent affected her dreams to become a ballet dancer and her health into adulthood. 

However, Coan’s attempt to tell Hepburn’s story through dance proves to be distracting and kills the flow. 

But the film shows that the remarkable, Oscar-winning Hepburn was much more than just a film star and a style icon; through her passionate and unwavering work with Unicef she proved she was just as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. MD 

Available on demand November 30

Jungleland (15)
Directed by Max Winkler
★★★

BRITISH actors Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell star as two brothers form the US forced to travel across the country for a no-holds-barred bare-knuckle boxing match after becoming indebted to a local crime boss, which turns into a fight for their lives. 

Stanley (Hunnam) is the brains while Lion (O’Connell) is the braun as they hustle and battle to leave their impoverished past behind them in this predictable tale, co-written and directed by Max Winkler. Of course a pretty young girl (Jessica Barden) throws an explosive spanner into their tight relationship when she encourages Lion to stand up to his controlling older sibling/manager. 

There is nothing groundbreaking about this boxing drama except that it punches well above its own weight, thanks to knockout performances by Hunnam and O’Connell. The pair are a class act – you can’t help but root for their characters to succeed and live the American Dream. MD

Available for download and rental on digital platforms November 30

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