Reviews of film screening during the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.
The Red Riding trilogy (Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker, 2009) ✭✭✭✭
The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008) ✭✭✭✩
The Burrowers (J.T. Petty, 2008) ✭✭✭✩
This wonderfully atmospheric made-for-television trilogy of films is adapted from English author David Peace’s quartet of novels set in Yorkshire. Each film is set in a different year with Red Riding: 1974 directed by Julian Jarrold (Brideshead Revisited, Becoming Jane), Red Riding: 1980 directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire, The King) and Red Riding: 1983 directed by Anand Tucker (And When Did You Last See Your Father?, Shopgirl). The background of the films are all concerned with the criminal investigation into various actual serial killer cases, including the Yorkshire Ripper, but the main focus is the fictionalised depiction of the insidious corruption that was ingrained throughout the Yorkshire police force and community at the time. All three films depict Yorkshire as a dark and seedy hellhole; making heavy uses of dark tones and overexposure. The industrial, rural and suburban landscapes comment on the Yorkshire community in the same way that classical Hollywood film noir used images of the city to comment on social decay. The level of corruption, police violence and “we do what we bloody want” mentality is genuinely shocking, making the serial killings seem almost like a symptom of a community that has become rotten to the core. These three films are all excellent thrillers and being able to see them on the big screen is a treat.
Depicting the day-to-day work of a USA Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, who do bomb disposal in present day Iraq, The Hurt Locker consists of a series of incredibly tense (and apparently accurately depicted) moments without a fully satisfying overall cohesion to string all these moments together. Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Blue Steel) is one of the great action directors but in The Hurt Locker she relies a bit too heavily on what is increasingly becoming the very clichéd way of representing the Iraq War with the use of handheld camera, grainy textures and washed out cinematography. Nevertheless, The Hurt Locker is a frequently gripping film that contains some terrifically detailed sequences; not only depicting the process of defusing bombs but also depicting just how complex the act of targeting and firing a gun can be. Evoking Three Kings, The Hurt Locker has several moments of black humour plus some wonderfully surreal images of men walking down deserted city streets while dressed in the bomb blast suits that make them look like astronauts walking on the moon.
Often it is a good rule of thumb to avoid films being promoted as the offspring of two better-known films but in the case of The Burrowers, the MIFF program guide description of it as “Tremors meets The Searchers” is completely spot on. Set in the old west, the disappearance of an entire family prompts a group of men to team up, jump on their horses and go hunting for the Indian tribe that they assume took the family. However, they soon discover that the real culprits are some rather nasty underground-dwelling creatures that like to bury their prey alive before feeding on them. The Burrowers is an effective slow burning horror that contains some nice swipes at colonialist attitudes among the scares. It’s not a particularly memorable film but its originality, characterisation and genre-bending make it worth a look.