Film Review of the Week


Sting (15)

Review: During a jump scare-laden final act of writer-director Kiah Roache-Turner’s sleek horror, a wise-cracking exterminator (Jermaine Fowler) issues a stern warning against keeping eight-legged pets. “Spiders only know two things,” he counsels, “eat and kill.” The aggressive arachnid in Sting does both with relish to satisfy a hunger for unsuspecting humans and their pets across four days in snow-laden South Brooklyn. I suffer from arachnophobia and there are a couple of intense sequences in Roache-Turner’s picture that genuinely made my skin crawl.

That visceral response is largely thanks to the New Zealand-based special effects wizards at Weta Workshop, responsible for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. They realise the titular beast predominantly through physical effects including puppetry, trapping us in claustrophobic spaces with terrified characters and a merciless monster that suspends incapacitated prey from ceilings and walls in sticky webs. The running time is mercifully brisk – there’s no treading narrative water between kills like some monster movies – but character development sometimes suffers, particularly the trajectory of a fractious parent-child relationship that could be spun more elegantly.

Rising star Alyla Browne, who portrays the youngest incarnation of Furiosa in the most recent Mad Max saga, is compelling as a comic book-fixated adolescent who innocently invites a predator into her family home. Her transformation into pintsized avenging angel, crawling through ventilation ducts with a modified water pistol like Ripley in the first Alien film, is undeniably crowd-pleasing.

An asteroid cluster passes close to Earth and a mysterious object falls from the sky, smashing through an upstairs window of a rundown apartment building. A spider-like creature emerges from the crash-landed otherworldly egg and befriends 12-year-old Charlotte (Browne), who lives with her mother Heather (Penelope Mitchell), stepfather Ethan (Ryan Corr) and six-month-old baby brother Liam. “You are the bane of my existence,” Charlotte huffs at the bawling infant.

Charlotte christens her new companion Sting after an elven blade in JRR Tolkien’s fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings and keeps her eight-legged pet inside a glass jar in her bedroom. Sting secretly escapes and scuttles through ventilation ducts to observe neighbours including Charlotte’s grandmother Helga (Noni Hazlehurst) and monstrous great-aunt Gunter (Robyn Nevin). The creature grows rapidly in size, waiting to pounce on an all-you-can-chomp buffet of tasty treats on two legs.

Sting sends shivers down the spine like Arachnophobia and Eight Legged Freaks, exploiting the creature’s ability to scuttle up walls and along ceilings in pursuit of the next meal. It’s surely no coincidence the heroine’s name cheekily nods to the benevolent barn spider in the title of EB White’s children’s book. A lean script clearly telegraphs the final showdown between Charlotte and her oversized roommate. What a tangled and sticky web Roache-Turner weaves.

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Young Woman And The Sea (PG)

Review: They do make ’em like they used to and that’s a blessing when it comes to Norwegian director Joachim Ronning’s heartstring-tugging biopic of American competitive swimmer Trudy Ederle, who became the first woman to conquer the English Channel in August 1926. Comfortingly old-fashioned in its dramatic structure, Young Woman And The Sea sermonises self-belief and courage in an era when women were expected to cover up and certainly didn’t learn to swim in bathing suits that might flout decency laws. Censors on public beaches, wielding measuring tapes to deduce the amount of uncovered flesh on display, vigorously enforced the draconian rules.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson confidently adapts Glenn Stout’s non-fiction book of the same title, condensing timelines and heightening suspense with artistic flourishes to abide by the tropes of an underdog story. A rousing orchestral score courtesy of composer Amelia Warner teases generous trickles from our tear ducts as a splashy ensemble cast, led by Daisy Ridley, dives into a largely forgotten chapter of sporting history marked by a ticker-tape parade through the streets of New York City that stands firm in record books almost 100 years later. The supporting cast scene-steals by stealth, notably Jeanette Hain’s strong-willed mother who paddles against patriarchal tides and Stephen Graham’s long-distance swimmer, who prefers to perform physical exertions in his birthday swimsuit. Fleeting buttock nudity is played for gentle laughs.

Trudy (Ridley) demonstrates grit and determination before her 10th birthday by escaping the deathly grip of measles to the delight of her German immigrant parents Henry (Kim Bodnia) and Gertrude Anna (Hain), older sister Margaret (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and brother Henry Jnr (Ethan Rouse). Gertrude Anna overrules her husband to enrol the girls at the Women’s Swimming Association but coach Charlotte (Sian Clifford) initially refuses to teach Trudy, saying: “She swims like a horse with two broken legs, possibly three.”

In response, the defiant teenager breaks world records en route to proudly representing her country at the 1924 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. News footage of Rotherham-born swimmer Bill Burgess (Graham) becoming the second man to safely cross the English Channel inspires Trudy to chase a new dream under the guidance of no-nonsense Glaswegian trainer Jabez Wolffe (Christopher Eccleston).

Young Woman And The Sea is a cockle-warming delight that addresses gender inequality through the tear-filled eyes of the close-knit Ederle family, who support each other against seemingly overwhelming odds. “They don’t want us to be heroes,” Margaret warns her sister during a rain-soaked heart-to-heart in an alleyway. Ridley and co-stars are convincing in the water, including the climactic Channel crossing shot over nine days in the Black Sea. “Seems like a nice day for a swim,” quips Trudy before she takes the plunge. Indeed it does.

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