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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘RUIN ME’ 

This concept horror from Preston DeFrancis tries to combine the shlocky guesswork of a whodunnit in with the craze of Escape Rooms to middling effect. When ex-addict Alexandra (Marcienne Dwyer) accompanies boyfriend Nathan on Slasher Sleepout, the orchestrated haunt becomes menacingly real and the pair must fight for survival. Some of the narrative twists work but the acting is standard C-list horror subpar, the practical effects disappointing, and the scares lacking entirely. The script from DeFrancis and Trysta Bissett is loaded with bromides and jump-to-conclusions dialogue as well as some hare-brained endgame mustache-twirling that comes across as more tasteless and off-putting than brutal and brilliant. (C-) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘LEAVE NO TRACE’ 

Following 2010’s Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik continues to peer into the grungy sideshow of backcountry American life in the delicately told Leave No Trace. About a father and daughter who attempt to live off the land, Granik’s third feature film tackles heavy themes with a soft touch, allowing Ben Foster and Thomas Harcourt McKenzie’s soulful performances to soar in this quiet coming-of-age character study. A treatise on the bonds that tie and emotional scars too ugly to bear, Leave No Trace is a graceful and absorbing drama about the profundity of family love. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘BEAST’ 

This moody slow-burn from writer-director Michael Pearce is a psychosexual tone-poem of quiet desperation. On a reclusive island, Jessie Buckley’s misfitted Mal falls for Pascal (Johnny Flynn) who just so happens to be the chief suspect for a string of heinous murders perpetrated against the communities’ women. Pearce’s seductive romantic thriller plays a tantalizing game of cat and mouse, teasing the audience with an eerie soundscape and an off-axis visual palette. Buckley is a find as Mal, offering a full-charged performance and a different breed of leading lady. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘SORRY TO BOTHER YOU’ 

Sorry to Bother You is on its own level of strangeness. Like stranger than tentacle porn strange. Bold, experimental, and loaded with rich, cryptic and powerful themes of the African American and working-class experience, Boot Riley has crafted a sashimi raw, energetic manifesto exploding with purpose, despite flaws. Seeing Lakeith Stanfield’s lackadaisical mystique dominate a lead role is a joyous experience but the film’s attempts at comedy can sometimes be too broad, even when rooted in razor-sharp satire. Going places you will never in a million years anticipate, STBY is rich with strange soul and sickening twists and turns, smuggling “white voice” and meta-human rights in to challenge audiences in this not-to-be-ignored creationist tale that tackles new racial epitaphs and demented sociopolitical hierarchies. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘BODIED’ 

Joseph Kahn’s battle rap satire is a dish delish of sick burn served hot and heavy. Exuberant slashes of searing bars and ill rhymes punctuate this come-up story of an unlikely friendship broiling in the maw of an oft-unseen underground culture. Kahn’s electrifying feature takes down the hip-hop scene, collegiate PC culture and the unquenchable thirst for success detailing this underdog ascension to the throne and he does it with style to spare. Rap game cinema hasn’t burned this hot since Hustle & Flow with writer Alex Larsen (aka Kid Twist) borrowing from his own life and capacity for epically clever rebuttals to make this the crowd-pleasing Whiplash of rap battle entertainment. Get hyped! (A-) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘EIGHTH GRADE’ 

A bighearted DM of awkwardness and warmth, Bo Burnham’s transportive comedic-drama debut Eighth Grade will return audiences to those pimple-pocked middle years; when being cool was synonymous with having no personality and anxiety over self-identity dominated every waking thought. The drama from A24 marries a tender coming-of-age saga with perfectly-layered cringe-comedy in a universal story of finding oneself in the digital age. Compelling use of musical cues and spirited, raw performances from Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton characterize this sweet, memorable story about the soul-crushing horror-show that is middle school. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘BLUE MY MIND’

A maybe-mermaid metamorphosis, MDMA, and mean girls combine to make Blue My Mind an unforgettably queasy coming-of-age body horror fantasy. Lisa Brühlmann’s Kafkaesque sexual awakening exists somewhere between Raw, Girlhood and The Fly – a Cronenbergian exploration of feminine maturation that deals in earnest themes of friendship and acceptance, tackling the challenges of life’s transitions through a unique, sexually-charged, and often dangerous lens. This Swiss import boasts the distinction of complicated performances (Luna Wedler’s fire) and a supercharged young talent in Brühlmann, who, mind-blowingly, submitted this as her film-school thesis. Bravo. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘REVENGE’

Vengeance is a dish served gory in this stylish, brutish bloodbath that updates 70s rape-revenge fantasy exploitation films to the #MeToo era. The bare bones plot leaves Jen (a hypnotic Matilda Lutz) pitted against three male assailants/trophy hunters, stranded in the middle of nowhere with an axe to grind. Hallucinatory camerawork and a throbbing soundscape bring artsy flair to this otherwise stripped-down final girl kill-fest that pops with cringetastic, French New Extremity levels of blood geysers. At nearly 2 hours, the feminist horror crowd-pleaser drags in spots but deeply satisfies nonetheless. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘FIRST REFORMED’

What is it to have faith, Paul Schrader’s haunting, meditative drama asks, luring audiences into a dreamlike spiritual journey in avant-garde exploration of the disharmony between modern religion and biblical teachings. This artful collision of good intentions turned awry and infectious melancholia pulsates with themes of despair, environmentalism, ailment and self-loathing, lead by a naked knockout of a performance from Ethan Hawke. Reminiscent of Taxi Driver (which Schrader wrote), First Reformed is an arthouse miracle of filmmaking and one of the most impactful, poignant, thought-provoking movies about faith ever made. (A) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?’ 

A potpourri of warmth and goodheartedness, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ explores Mr. Rogers’ overwhelming generosity of spirit and his well-concealed demons through the lens of his radically unfussy television program that ran from 1963 until 2001. Putting the unlikely star back in the spotlight, this heartwarming and tear-duct-attacking documentary from Morgan Neville dazzlingly teaches that we probably never deserved this low-spoken, child-whispering icon and yet his benevolent lessons on acceptance and kindness are more necessary today than ever. A good-natured salve for the soul and inspiring portrait of blinding decency. (B+) Read More