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Vengeful women lead the new releases this week, with Shudder’s Candyman-like horror Kandisha summons an ancient misandrist demon, and Amazon Prime’s original action-comedy Jolt sees Kate Beckinsale channel John Wick in a swathe of violent retribution.
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Kandisha - Shudder
Very much a Candyman homage set in and around a Paris banlieue, Kandisha winkingly references the vengeful African slave of Clive Barker and Bernard Rose’s classic 90s horror film. Kandisha summons the other definitive aspects of Candyman through its setting amongst neglected high rise blocks inundated in graffiti, illustrating urban gentrification and the yet unhealed wounds of lingering racial tensions. There’s also perhaps a bit of Girlhood in how it mixes in contemporary Parisian youth culture. The multiethnic trio of girls Morjana (Samarcande Saadi), Bintou (Suzy Bembou), Amélie (Mathilde Lamusse) all collaborate on graffiti-ing the walls of the abandoned banlieue, lovingly throwing racial slurs at each other in the process. Along with their larger group of friends they’re a perfect and kindly portrait of racial harmony, perhaps aside from group outcast Farid, Amelie’s obsessive ex-boyfriend.
During one of their outings Morjana shares offhand the North Moroccan myth of Aicha Kandisha, a beautiful woman who killed male Portuguese invaders after seducing them. She was eventually caught and tortured to death, in her death merging with a Jinn to become a monsterous, succubus-like figure, who preyed on men. In Bustillo and Maury’s film, Kandisha is summoned through catoptromancy and the repetition of her name, much like Bloody Mary or the aforementioned Candyman. In a moment of righteous anger after being attacked and almost raped by Farid, Amélie calls upon Aicha Kandisha, who swiftly enacts retribution upon Farid, but begins a murderous spree that begins to claim Amélie’s loved ones as collateral damage of her brief moment of vengefulness. There’s another element of Candyman in how African myth is tied to the life of a white woman.
In this respect it quickly pivots from rape-revenge to slasher, Bustillo and Maury’s typically slippery approach to subgenres of horror applied to a film which becomes just as much about coping with grief as it is about the brute force and tension of a slasher film. It truly discomforts with some savage gore, palpable tension, and visceral emotional reaction to it as the film’s decent and quite affably charming male characters fall victim to Kandisha’s aimless rage.
Also new on Shudder: Manhunter, Day of the Dead
Jolt - Amazon Prime Video
Another entry in the increasingly busy canon of John Wick clones, Jolt is an action-comedy that in part recalls the deranged Jason Statham-starring Crank 2: High Voltage as often as it does that Keanu Reeves action vehicle, or its spiritual cousin Atomic Blonde.
In the lead is Kate Beckinsale as Lindy, a one-time government experiment with an anger-management problem (the film dubs it “intermittent explosive disorder”) that borders on the murderous, kept under control only by an electrode-lined vest which she uses to shock herself back to normalcy whenever she gets too homicidal. After getting fired as a bouncer, she unexpected falls for a (seemingly) normal, decent man (Jai Courtney) who doesn’t annoy her to the point of homicidal rage. Sadly, before long the man is murdered, and Lindy goes on a rampage to find the killer while the cops pursue her as their chief suspect.
Its overly long and detached opening narration about Lindy’s childhood and lack of normality is indicative of the film’s desperation to appear provocative. It’s aimlessly misanthropic, and feels lacking in the Keaton-esque humour that was at the core of the action in John Wick. For a film that suggests a concise viewing experience there’s far too much run-up, none of its promised action really kicking in until about half an hour in. Its little flashes of misanthropic violence feel boring instead of promising, and the quippy dialogue it occupies that first act with mostly falls flat, juvenile and derivative at best. When the action does occur it’s disorientating, poorly cut together with no real sense of forward momentum or even a clear conveyance of the space in where its action sequences take place. Worse still, it all feels so bland.
Beckinsale does her best to rescue it with her naturally dry wit, as does Stanley Tucci as Lindy’s sort-of handler, sort-of psychiatrist. But it’s simply a waste of a charming cast, Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox in particular (and ends with a particularly bizarre use of an all-time great actress, seemingly there to pitch Jolt 2). There’s something to hang onto at least in that timeless classic of a thorny and anti-social person getting in touch with their feelings, but little else. Some moments are more fun when it leans into its exploitation film vibe (like an early sequence where Lindy imagines all the ways she could kill Jai Courtney while she has sex with him), but it’s just inert, another film that mistakes blue and purple lighting for a sense of style.
Also new on Prime: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Annabelle Comes Home
Memento - BBC iPlayer
The breakout feature from Christopher Nolan remains one of his finest, his penchant for playing with temporal structure in his films and jigsaw-puzzle narrative feels more personal here than it ever has since.
The tricky neo-noir story is that of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) a victim of an event that leaves him with anterograde amnesia, meaning that he cannot make any new memories - although he can recall details of life before his accident, Leonard cannot remember what happened fifteen minutes ago, including where he’s going, or why. It’s quite the hurdle to manage when trying to piece together an investigation, tracking down the man who raped and murdered his wife and so Leonard’s memories are recorded through a complex system of notes, Polaroid pictures, and tattoos on his body (one of which states “notes can be lost”).
Leonard is one of the best characters that Nolan has ever conceived, and Guy Pierce’s vulnerable but affable performance of a man whose life seemingly only exists in the abstract, is even better. It’s a story of small scale, with just a handful of main actors, but with high ambition, told both backwards and forwards as Nolan starts the film at its conclusion, before slowly unpacking the significance of this imagery as it works back in time, and another story thread starts and the beginning, both threads working towards each other with astonishing and thrilling precision.
Lady Bird - BBC iPlayer
Indie darling Greta Gerwig’s debut feature’s high acclaim and vast reputation is somewhat in contention with the humility of the film itself: which has no pretences above being a coming-of-age high school film. But Lady Bird is told with an artful gentleness that feels like a renewal of that niche, turning the paranoia and millennial uncertainty of the 2000s into a backdrop for a teenage girl’s self-discovery, and a story of matrilineal love.
As the eponymous Lady Bird — a sort of semi-autobiographical take on Gerwig, the film being set in her hometown of Sacramento — lead actor Saoirse Ronan is phenomenal, remaining utterly compelling even as her character hits real heights of brattiness and self-involvement. The film’s most effective moments are simple: realisations that becoming an adult is a matter of perspective, the ability to see outside of yourself. This is tied into how Lady Bird sees her hometown and the adults around her, first seemingly stubborn roadblocks to her own success and happiness, but later revealed to be as multifaceted and complex as she is.
Also on iPlayer: Stronger, The Lost Boys