THE COTTAGE * * *
Cert 18, 92 mins
It's fairly common for a first time director to cut their teeth on a low budget horror and then go on to make a more grounded and richer drama.
Which would have been the case with Paul Andrew Williams had he been able to secure the funding for his planned debut. However, when plans ground to a halt, he put it on the back burner and made taut social realism thriller London To Brighton, instead.
That earned him a slate of awards and nominations and suddenly everybody wanted to know him. So, he took the opportunity to realise his first ambition and do things back to front by basically making his first film, second.
Much in the spirit of The Evil Dead with tongue firmly in cheek, it's a horror comedy that cheerfully embraces all the genre cliches and makes no bones about referencing Texas Chainsaw Massacre for its disfigured limb-hacking psycho with a pickaxe.
However, Williams takes his time getting to the ketchup. Initially we're presented with a bungled kidnap as forceful, aggressive David (Andy Serkis) and his wimp younger brother Peter (Reece Shearsmith) arrive at a remote cottage with gobby hostage Tracey (Jennifer Ellison), daughter of the strip-club owner for whom David's worked.
Having bullied Peter into taking part on the promise of giving up his share of their mother's house, David's plan is to hold her to ransom and then start a new life on the proceeds. Naturally, things go pear-shaped fairly quickly as Tracey proves anything but a helpless victim.
Matters don't improve when her idiot step-brother Andrew (Steve O'Donnell), who's also in on the plot, arrives with the bagful of cash which turns out to contain anything but. Having smelled a rat, his dad has had him followed by a pair of murderous Chinese hitmen.
At which point what, until now, has been very much a character driven piece built around argument comedy and smart one liners switches gear as Tracey breaks free, kidnaps Peter and, ignoring the badly spelled warning signs, everyone finds themselves in Leatherface territory at a local farm.
Much gore ensues with limbs being skewered, intestines eviscerated and even faces sliced off.
Williams ensures he's playing for grim laughs as well as terror, while the time he took setting things up means you have an emotional connection to the characters' fates rather than them being simply chopped meat.
It's far from perfect. One character simply vanishes from the plot, there is a pointless homage to League of Gentlemen when David visits the nearby village to make a phone call, and Ellison's barrage of expletives does get wearing after the umpteenth C word.
But, relying on old school props rather than CGI, and with solid performances from both Serkis and Shearsmith, this certainly warrants a weekend getaway letting alongside fellow B-movie Brit horrors Dog Soldiers and Severance.
10,000 BC * * *
Cert 12A, 109 mins
Apocalypto meets Conan in Roland Emmerich's prehistoric adventure romp with plot and characters lifted straight from some classic Western.
With a nod to global warming, the preamble introduces hunter-gatherer tribe the Yagahl who are suffering climate change and the consequent scarcity of the mammoths that provide their sustenance.
The arrival of a young girl, survivor of her village's massacre by "four-footed demons" (that'll be men on horses) prompts the local wise-woman to prophecy a time of one last hunt and how she and some as yet unidentified warrior will become the tribe's leaders in the fight for survival.
Fast forward a few years and the girl's now blue-eyed beauty Evolet (Camilla Belle) and the kid we saw giving her the glad-eye has grown up to become D'Leh (Brad Pitt substitute Steven Strait) who has a lot to prove since everyone thinks his dad, the tribe's former leader, abandoned them because he was a coward.
Of course, Tic'Tic (Cliff Curtis), dad's best mate and current holder of the "white spear", knows better but is sworn to secrecy.
To cut a long set-up short, when those four-legged demons arrive on a slaving raid and take off with various villagers, Evolet among them, D'Leh, Tic'Tic, brief rival Ka'ren and young Baku, whose mum was killed in the raid, set off on in pursuit.
What follows involves scrapes with prehistoric beasties, bonding with a sabre tooth and the discovery of several proto-African tribes, the wise leader of one just happening to speak the same language.
Rising to his destiny (i.e another movie about a white man helping blacks to freedom), D'Leh bands them all together to overthrow the evil empire at the mouth of what, presumably, is an early version of the Nile. More prophecies are announced and fulfilled, support characters die, heroes are forged, old mysteries are cleared up and the future lies in corn.
The CGI effects are tremendous, the large-scale action spectacular, the acting serviceable (though Omar Sharif's narration borders on the portentous) and the costumes look a tad more authentic that Raquel Welch's famous fur bikini. If there's no real plot it still adds up to perfectly enjoyable nonsense.
SON OF MAN * * * *
Cert 12A 86 mins, Subtitled
Collaborating with Cape Town theatre collective Dimpho Di Kopane, three years ago director Mark Dornford-May restaged Bizet's Carmen in a South African township, sung in Xhosa, as U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.
Now, receiving a limited weekend screening in advance of Easter, they take a similar approach to the New Testament.
With U-Carmen's Pauline Malefane igniting the screen as Mary and again incorporating indigenous song and dance into the narrative like an African gospel opera, whatever your religious persuasions, it's another stunning triumph.
There's angelic visitations (a young lad sporting white feathers visits Mary as she hides among child corpses in a schoolhouse) and Satanic temptations in the Wilderness and at Gethsemane, but for the most the film downplays the miracle aspects (a couple of healings are kept deliberately ambiguous) in favour of highlighting the political elements inherent in the original story.
Here, set in Judea, an African state torn apart by civil strife and government terror, the adult Jesus (a charismatic Andile Kosi) is very much a rebel activist, a persuasive speaker and strategist who has drawn around him apostles (including several women) and followers to seek self-determination through non-violent means.
Wary of his potential impact on their powersharing plans with the local government, the tribal leaders engage Judas to obtain the incriminating evidence necessary for his arrest and subsequent "disappearance". The way it handles the resurrection and crucifixion to prompt a mobilisation of defiant resistance is inspired.
Powerfully incorporating episodes from the gospels into the fabric of its narrative, most notably a sequence as Jesus saves a prostitute from the mob and she returns to wash his feet in oil, this is a potent and poetic agitprop parable of the highest order.
REDACTED * * *
Cert 15 91 mins
Another addition to Hollywood's critique of the Iraq war and its aftermath, in many ways Brian De Palma's low budget, urgently raw video diary is the most potent of them all.
Recalling his savage indictment of Vietnam with Casualties of War, it's an unapologetically confrontational and hard-to-watch fictionalised account of the March 2006, rape, murder and burning of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl by American troops. For good measure, they killed her family too.
Like Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead, it adopts a video (and in places CCTV) camera perspective as, stationed in Samarra, Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) decides to record the "real" experience of soldiering in Iraq (as opposed to the official censored or 'redacted' version) as a way into film school. Intercut with footage from a French documentary crew, it's initially banal everyday routine of boredom, banter and the shooting of innocent pregnant women.
Early on though, it's clear rednecks Rush and Flake (Daniel Stewart Sherman and Patrick Carroll) aren't exactly big on winning hearts and minds. When their sergeant's killed by a booby trap, they're the ones quick to organise retaliation, targeting the family of a girl who regularly crosses the checkpoint for school.
Sneaking out at night, with Salazar filming everything and a reluctant McCoy (Rob Devaney) along to keep an eye on things, they burst into the house. The atrocity ensues, followed by the military's attempt to keep things under wraps and discredit McCoy's accusations, and the inevitable Iraqi response posted on the internet.
The acting's uneven and some of the improvised dialogue hamfisted, but you can't deny the sense of chaos it captures or the unbridled power of the harrowing images, both from the actual drama and in the closing montage of actual photographs of wounded and dead Iraqi victims, many of them children.
The first casualty of war is truth, remarks one soldier. DePalma's film seeks to disinter it from the grave.
HANNAH MONTANA & MILEY
CYRUS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS CONCERT * *
Cert U, 75 mins
Watching hundreds of hands reaching out from a sea of prepubescent girls, thoughts of Hieronymous Bosch's visions of hell sprang unbidden. Welcome then to the world(s) of the latest US tween pop sensation.
In the grand tradition of the Partridge Family, the Monkees and, er Hilary Duff, Hannah Montana is both TV character and real life pop star. In this case, the wholesomely sexless Hannah is the Disney Channel TV show's bewigged alter ego of wholesomely sexless high schooler Miley Stewart; both played by wholesomely sexless Pia Zadora lookalike Miley Cyrus.
Such is Montana's popularity in America that her recent mammoth tour, masterminded by Kenny Ortega, former Dirty Dancing choreographer and director of both High School Musicals, drew bigger crowds than Springsteen, Van Halen or The Police.
This is the condensed version, the concert filmed (for no discernible reason other than to throw drumsticks at you) in 3D, punctuated by 2D backstage footage and, in one amusing moment, dads taking part in a high heel race to win tickets.
Cyrus is the 16-year-old daughter of country singer Billy Ray and, as Satan spotters will note, was born the year of his execrable Achy Breaky Heart.
Perky hamster-cheeked smiley Miley doesn't have an especially strong voice, nor are her girl power songs particularly memorable. None of which stops the almost exclusively girlie audience from going mental as she bounces around between anonymous band and vacuum packed dancers.
For the first half she sings as Hannah then she returns as herself. Sadly for anyone expecting a good girl/bad girl dichotomy, other than no wig and a mildly raunchier outfit, there's absolutely no difference. Or indeed point.
Cruel true, but it's hard to resist a little cheer when the male dancers accidentally drop her. Still, encouraged by mummy, she's soon aloft again. What a trooper.
The Montana phenomenon's not really taken off here but for those parents dragged kicked and screaming, there is some good news. Whenever Billy Ray threatens to start warbling, the screen dissolves to black. Well, you don't want to scare the kids, do you?