Film Review of the Week


The Bikeriders (15)

Review: Inspired by photojournalist Danny Lyon’s 1968 book dedicated to the camaraderie of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, The Bikeriders lights a slow-burning fuse on doomed romance and lawlessness at a pivotal moment in American history. The Vietnam War casts a long shadow over writer-director Jeff Nichols’ wistful drama, which is framed as a series of interviews in 1965 and 1973 between Lyons (Mike Faist) and a straight-talking young woman named Kathy (Jodie Comer), who gatecrashes a testosterone-soaked fraternity on two wheels.

Comer vividly embodies this real-life chatterbox with an unfaltering, melodic accent that imbues her narration with warmth and humour. On-screen chemistry with Oscar-nominated Elvis star Austin Butler smoulders and Tom Hardy leverages his imposing physicality to dominate scenes as the motorcycle club founder who insists that challenges to his authority should be settled in public using bare knuckles or knives. Explosions of violence are graphic but dramatically necessary including a wince-inducing altercation with a shovel and a vivid depiction of domestic abuse. An attempted sexual assault during a booze-sodden party is staged with nerve-shredding brio. The plot drifts aimlessly for extended periods and some characters are sketched in broad strokes for the sake of expediency but Nichols evokes a doom-laden era and the biker culture with conviction.

Dedicated family man and truck driver Johnny (Hardy) is inspired to establish The Vandals motorcycle club in 1960s Chicago in response to watching Marlon Brando swagger through The Wild One on his black and white TV set. Johnny assembles a motley crew including level-headed and loyal lieutenant Brucie (Damon Herriman), Benny (Butler), Cal (Boyd Holbrook), Zipco (Michael Shannon), Cockroach (Emory Cohen), Wahoo (Beau Knapp) and Corky (Karl Glusman). Exuberant outsider Kathy (Comer) falls under Benny’s spell at a bar and they marry five weeks into their courtship, shortly before the resident dreamboat is the victim of a violent assault. Johnny exacts swift and brutal revenge.

Realising The Vandals will always exert a vice-like grip over her husband, Kathy fights for her sweetheart’s tormented soul. “You can’t have him. The club can’t have him. He’s mine!” she snarls at Johnny. However, love is no match for the siren song of a revved motorcycle engine. A steady influx of drug-addled new club members, including traumatised Vietnam War veterans, ultimately sounds a death knell to Johnny’s imperious reign.

The Bikeriders is a handsomely crafted study of leather-jacketed machismo that stubbornly refuses to shift into top gear. The script unfolds through the eyes of Comer’s interloper, who is both intoxicated and horrified by her husband’s unwavering devotion to the brotherhood. Gently simmering romance shares a saddle with tragedy but Nichols’ picture requires more fuel in the tank to firmly convince us to be in his gang for two hours.

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The Exorcism (15)

Review: At the beginning of The Exorcism, Russell Crowe’s lapsed Catholic sits in a confessional booth and pleads forgiveness for his sins, which include “climbing inside a bottle for a couple of years” when he should have been taking care of his wife and child. His poorly written character might also consider atonement for the unholy mess of Joshua John Miller’s disjointed horror, a half-baked film-within-a-film conceit that unleashes pure evil on the set of an ill-advised remake of The Exorcist, codenamed The Georgetown Project.

Aside from a couple of efficient jump scares, spine-tingling thrills are conspicuous by their absence. The plot careens off the rails in the final 20 minutes and flickers of discomfort are extinguished and replaced with bewilderment and frustration. A script co-written by director Miller and MA Fortin asks us to believe that cast and crew of The Georgetown Project could witness a classic case of demonic possession in the middle of a take and rationalise the bone-cracking, bodily contortions as the erratic behaviour of a recovering alcoholic.

A thorny subplot concerning historic sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests is mishandled and the LGBT+ love story feels like an afterthought to loosely tether two female protagonists. When it comes to editors Gardner Gould and Matthew Woolley performing a modern-day miracle and conjuring coherence from the escalating madness, alas those prayers go unanswered. Heaven help us all.

In an unremarkable pre-credits sequence, actor Tom (Adrian Pasdar) perishes on the set of The Georgetown Project as he practises lines as the conflicted priest played in The Exorcist by Max von Sydow. Troubled film star Anthony Miller (Crowe) is hired as Tom’s replacement by perfectionist director Peter (Adam Goldberg), who loftily describes the remake as “a psychological drama wrapped in the skin of a horror”. Anthony rehearses with his estranged daughter Lee (Ryan Simpkins), who has been expelled from college and will work as her father’s personal assistant.

She is happily distracted by Anthony’s co-star Blake Holloway (Chloe Bailey), a singer with a vampire TV series on her resume, who burns sage outside her trailer to cleanse bad energy. The presence of Catholic priest Father Conor (David Hyde Pierce) as a religious consultant unsettles Anthony and he exhibits troubling behaviour that threatens to shut down production. Lee fears her old man is relapsing but the demon he is fighting is real, not 80% proof.

The Exorcism is unedifying hokum that becomes incomprehensible as director Miller stumbles towards a final reckoning between Anthony and the demon. Overwrought performances in an emotional vacuum flirt with unintentional hilarity including Crowe’s embodiment of a survivor of childhood trauma. His anguish gets hopelessly lost in the supernatural lunacy.

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Something In The Water (15)

Review: It has not been safe to go into the water since 1975 when director Steven Spielberg terrorised the fictional New England town of Amity with a flesh-hungry, great white shark. Jaws concealed its titular terror by necessity because the mechanical prop sharks, nicknamed Bruce, malfunctioned on location in the Atlantic Ocean. The digitally rendered predator in Something In The Water is also absent for prolonged periods, forcing two-dimensional characters to literally and figuratively tread water as director Hayley Easton Street merrily sets sail with a leaky script.

Dialogue capsizes from the moment a stricken bride-to-be loudly narrates her dire predicament (“You brought us to shark-infested waters the day before my wedding?”) when she should be dreaming of tiger prawns and sea bass not becoming fish food herself. Survival thrillers including Open Water and The Shallows have played out similar battles between sharks and tasty human prey with ruthless efficiency. When a shark fin does surface here like a submarine periscope, it is merely to telegraph the unhurried demise of the next protagonist without a compelling back story.

A burst of Reach by S Club 7 provides heavy-handed musical foreshadowing. “We’ve got to all stick together/Good friends are there for each other…” harmonise the pop outfit. The contrary heroines in Street’s picture go out of their way to ignore this excellent advice and doggy paddle into the slavering jaws of certain death.

One year after a violent homophobic attack on the streets of night-time London, traumatised survivor Meg (Hiftu Quasem) travels to the Caribbean for the dream wedding of effusive, gal pal Lizzie (Lauren Lyle). Meg is forcibly reunited with ex-girlfriend Kayla (Natalie Mitson) and the other bridesmaids, Ruth (Ellouise Shakespeare-Hart) and Cam (Nicole Rieko Setsuko), whose brother Dominic (Gabriel Prevost-Takahashi) is the lucky groom-to-be. The day before the nuptials, Cam hires a boat and persuades the friends to join her on an expedition to a remote island on the recommendation of the resort’s assistant manager.

“You can’t have a proper adventure on a fancy-pants yacht,” chirrups Cam to justify her questionable choice of water transport. A sun-baked afternoon of wistful reminiscence becomes a living nightmare when Ruth is attacked by a shark. The friends make haste towards the mainland only to puncture the boat’s hull on a pesky reef. The vessel quickly takes on water, stranding the heroines far from help without a mobile phone signal or any way to stop a steady stream of blood from Ruth’s wound attracting the shark to their location.

Something In The Water orchestrates more discomfort on dry land with the hate crime than any of the hysteria at sea. Common sense is shipwrecked: one character bandages an injured hand then lets her bloody appendage fall into in the water as a tasty treat. Whatever is in the water of Street’s film, I am not drinking.

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