Saturday, February 20, 2016

Rapid Reviews: The Witch and The Lady in the Van

Robert Eggers' The Witch has been on my radar ever since its vocalized debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 resulted in an award-winning run on the festival circuit. When in comes to the genesis of my affinity for film watching, the horror genre has always been the heart of my bloodlines. And with the fresh indie horror title, The Witch, finally receiving a theatrical run, Eggers breeds new life into the creatively barren genre.

William (Ralph Ineson) is the patriarch of a deeply devout Puritan family in 1630s New England who breaks away from their local community following a dispute in beliefs. The husband, his wife and five children settle on a pristine location at the edge of a large wilderness where they begin a new life dedicated to god. But after their infant child goes missing and their harvest yields destroyed crops, the family starts to believe that they are cursed by darker evil.

The Witch cleverly utilizes a creepy 1600s setting to enhance the fear and uncertainty splashes all throughout the feature. Tension builds slowly but effectively as the family spiral deeper and deeper into madness. A wonderful collection of unknowns put worth spectacular performances that help carry this period piece along the way to an explosive finale. In conjunction with stellar direction and a strong cast, Mark Korven's eerie score is a brilliant complementary force that sets the mood perfectly throughout the film. The Witch stumbles over some issues with pacing at its onset and the dialogue takes some getting accustomed to, but even an over-the-top final scene becomes forgivable thanks to a well crafted story that's executed remarkably well by its first-time director.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

By now we're all familiar with the indisputable acting talents of two-time Academy Award winner, Maggie Smith. And in the twilight of her performing career she tackles a kooky true story in Alan Bennett's stage-play turned feature film, The Lady in the Van. Yet, despite her widely acclaimed performance that landed her both a Golden Globe and BAFTA nomination, Bennett's adapted story lacks the necessary depth to pull of the transition.

Miss Sheppard (Smith) has built a sketchy reputation as a homeless woman living out of her van. Traveling around from town to town and making residence on any street corner that will allow her, Miss Sheppard lasts just long enough to always outstay her welcome. That is, until writer Alan Bennett befriends the puzzling old woman and eventually offers up his personal driveway to her where the unlikely duo form an unusual bond over the course of 15 years.

The Lady in the Van offers a healthy dose of the ceremonial British wit, thanks in large part to Maggie Smith's knack for humor. However, the film fails to dig beneath the surface of her character as the story migrates back and forth between Miss Sheppard's bizarre life story and Bennett's personal struggles with his sexual orientation and lack of connection with his own mother. In a very self aware style that becomes immediately obvious, The Lady in the Van merely glosses over its most fascinating and primary character in order to paint a clearer, and admittedly less interesting, picture of the story's author. Consequently, the product as a whole suffers and leaves the film as nothing more than a pedestrian cinematic effort.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C

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