Three Thrillers from IFC Midnight
Don't Look Back (November 18/10)
Filmmaker Marina de Van's followup to 2002's In My Skin, Don't Look Back follows struggling novelist Jeanne (Sophie Marceau) as she begins to notice small yet disconcerting changes in her life (ie a kitchen table isn't where she remembers it, she keeps passing the same building on a drive in town, etc) - with Jeanne's troubles growing exponentially as she slowly but surely morphs into Monica Bellucci. It's an unapologetically oddball premise that's initially employed to striking effect by de Van, as the director does a nice job of punctuating the proceedings with images and interludes of a decidedly (and palpably) disturbing nature (ie Jeanne's husband and kids make weird gestures behind her back). There's consequently little doubt that the movie's aggressively deliberate pace is, at the outset, not quite as problematic as one might've feared, yet it's just as clear that the narrative's plotless sensibilities become more and more difficult to overlook as time progresses (ie the viewer begins to grow impatient for something of substance to occur). This feeling of pervasive pointlessness is compounded by de Van's reliance on as repetitive a structure as one can easily recall, as the filmmaker offers up a latter half that seems to consist primarily of sequence after sequence of Jeanne wandering into a new locale and looking around in horror. It is, as a result, impossible to shake the feeling that Don't Look Back is weird simply for the sake of being weird, and although the explanation for Jeanne's transformation admittedly does clear up a lot of things, the movie has long-since established itself as a hopelessly esoteric endeavor that feels as though it were pulled out of David Lynch's pile of (justifiably) rejected screenplays.
An intriguing yet uneven thriller, Exam follows eight men and women as they're sequestered in a stark room and asked to complete the final test for a mysterious job - with the test's decidedly inscrutable nature forcing the recruits to (temporarily) work together. There's little doubt that Exam fares best in its early scenes, as writer/director Stuart Hazeldine does a superb job of initially establishing the off-kilter situation and the various characters - with the initial emphasis on the candidates' creative (and collaborative) efforts at cracking their seemingly impenetrable test infusing the proceedings with an irresistible puzzle-like vibe. It's only as the movie segues into an each-man-for-himself, Lord of the Flies-type scenario that one's interest begins to dwindle, as the inherently hackneyed nature of the characters' ongoing squabbles effectively diminishes the novelty of the movie's set-up. Hazeldine does, however, mitigate the familiarity of Exam's latter half by peppering the narrative with a number of undeniably compelling interludes, and it's certainly difficult to deny the strength of the (admittedly over-explained) final twists - which finally cements the movie's place as a perfectly watchable piece of work that unfortunately never quite becomes as enthralling as its premise might have indicated.
The Possession of David O'Reilly (November 12/10)
Frustratingly misguided from the word go, The Possession of David O'Reilly follows happy couple Alex (Nicholas Shaw) and Kate (Zoe Richards) as they agree to let a friend (Giles Alderson's David O'Reilly) stay with them following a bad breakup - with problems ensuing as it becomes clear that David is either being pursued by blood-thirsty monsters or suffering from increasingly vivid delusions. Filmmakers Andrew Cull and Steve Isles have infused The Possession of David O'Reilly with an almost disastrously uneventful opening half hour that immediately alienates the viewer, as the directors offer up far too many sequences in which a frightened David stumbles around a series of dark rooms and hallways. And although the first couple of appearances by the sinister creatures are admittedly rather creepy, Cull and Isles' decision to perpetuate the film's mystery - ie are they real or are they in David's mind? - right to the very end effectively drains the proceedings of any real scares or suspense (ie there's nothing at stake for the scarcely-developed characters). The movie's various problems are exacerbated by Cull and Isles' low-rent visual choices, with the jittery, documentary-esque camerawork taking the viewer out of the story on an all-too-frequent basis. (It's clear, judging from the use of a spotlight during the film's darker sequences, that the directors are attempting a hybrid of a found-footage thriller and a traditional horror flick, but it simply does not work.) By the time the unsatisfying and disappointingly vague conclusion rolls around, The Possession of David O'Reilly has firmly established itself as a complete and total misfire on virtually every level - which is a shame, really, given the movie's relatively promising setup and uniformly strong performances.