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Toronto International Film Festival 2017 - UPDATE #8

Directed by Michael Pearce

Beast casts Jessie Buckley as Moll, a quiet, guarded twentysomething whose orderly yet boring existence is turned upside down when she meets local outcast Pascal (Johnny Flynn) - with the movie detailing the forbidden romance that ensues as well as the ongoing pursuit of a vicious serial killer. It's an oddball premise that's initially employed to engrossing effect by director Michael Pearce, as the filmmaker does a fantastic job of cultivating an absorbing atmosphere and immediately capturing the viewer's interest   - with Buckley's striking turn as the damaged central character certainly perpetuating the promising vibe. The familiar narrative - sheltered girl falls for rough-and-tumble bad boy - is offset by Pearce's striking visuals and the appealing dynamic between the leads (ie there's plenty of chemistry here), and it's clear, too, that the serial-killer subplot provides the movie with a recurring undercurrent of thrills (even if the whole thing often does feel like an art-house riff on a Nicholas Sparks story). And though the film continues to enthrall in its midsection, Beast's increased missteps slowly-but-surely wreak havoc on the film's positive elements and overall impact - with the weird, ineffective final stretch certainly ensuring that the whole thing ends on a rather underwhelming note. (And this is to say nothing of the unpleasant, pointless sequence in which a rabbit is brutally murdered.) It's a sharp downward turn that ultimately can't quite diminish the strength of a captivating first half, with the movie certainly standing as a better-than-average debut from a promising new filmmaker.

out of

What Will People Say
Directed by Iram Haq

Written and directed by Iram Haq, What Will People Say follows popular teenager Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) as she's sent to Pakistan to live after being caught with a boy in her bedroom - with the movie detailing Nisha's ongoing efforts at conforming to her parents' absurd expectations. The strength of Mozhdah's affable performance ensures that What Will People Say gets off to an impressively strong start, with the decidedly less-than-subtle bent of Haq's screenplay offset by an inherently intriguing story heightened by an impressively suspenseful stretch (ie after her parents decide to send her away, it's impossible not to wonder if Nisha is being driven to her execution rather than just the airport). And although Nisha isn't always the most sympathetic figure (eg she takes her mounting frustrations out on a homeless cat), What Will People Say is nevertheless, in its early stages, an eye-opening look at a seriously backwards culture and way of life. It's a shame, then, that the movie grows more and more meandering (and repetitive) as it unfolds, with Haq's increasingly heavy-handed sensibilities paving the way for a second half that's just too didactic to take seriously (ie there are no shades of gray here). Haq's inability to get inside her protagonist's mindset doesn't help either (ie why doesn't Nisha stay with a friend or call the police?), and the film does begin to feel like it's just 106 minutes of the central character being tormented by virtually everyone she meets. By the time the laughably abrupt conclusion rolls around, What Will People Say has certainly squandered any good will built by its intriguing opening stretch - which is disappointing given Haq's efforts at shining a light on a very timely issue.

out of

Directed by Lisa Langseth

Lisa Langseth's English-language debut, Euphoria follows Alicia Vikander's Ines as she reluctantly agrees to accompany her estranged sister (Eva Green's Emilie) to a remote spa in the mountains - although it becomes clear soon enough that this is more than just a place of placid tranquility. Though the siblings' initial journey to the aforementioned retreat is more tense than one might've expected (ie are they being led into a sinister trap?), Euphoria quickly settles into a subdued, meandering narrative devoted mostly to the characters' continuing chatter - with problems ensuing as it becomes increasingly clear that many of these conversations just aren't that interesting. Langseth's decision to employ a decidedly episodic structure also contributes to the less-than-captivating vibe, although, to be fair, some of these digressions do manage to lift the film out of its doldrums. (This is especially true of everything involving a periphery character played by Charles Dance.) It's subsequently not surprising to discover that the storyline suffers from a total lack of emotional resonance, despite the fact that this is the sort of tale that should be provoking tears on an ongoing basis, and there's little doubt, as well, that the film's final stretch is hardly able to pack the punch Langseth has obviously intended - which ultimately confirms Euphoria's place as a disappointingly half-baked drama.

out of

Valley of Shadows
Directed by Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen

An intriguing if rarely completely successful piece of work, Valley of Shadows follows a young boy as he heads off into the woods to find his lost dog and subsequently finds himself encountering a host of oddball elements. There's certainly nothing conventional about Valley of Shadows in terms of its execution, as first-time filmmaker Jonas Matzow Gulbrandsen delivers a spare narrative that's rife with bizarre, often inexplicable attributes - with the film, which progresses at a pace best described as challenging, segueing from a comparatively familiar opening stretch into a fairy-tale-like second half. It is, as such, not surprising to note that the movie is really only effective in fits and starts, as it often does feel as though Gulbrandsen is looking to cultivate an artful atmosphere more than he's looking to entertain (and, on that level, there's little doubt that he's completely succeeded, as Valley of Shadows is consistently appealing in terms of its visuals and production values). The end result is a picture that one generally admires more than one enjoys, and it should be interesting to see what Gulbrandsen does next (especially with a more well-worn narrative).

out of

Winter Brothers
Directed by Hlynur Pálmason

A truly singular little drama, Winter Brothers details the day-to-day exploits of a seriously oddball figure named Emil (Elliott Crosset Hove) and the impact his strange behavior has on various folks around him (including a long-suffering brother and an increasingly exasperated boss). Filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason kicks Winter Brothers off with an almost extraordinarily striking opening, as the film begins with a baffling shot that is eventually revealed to be the mine in which Emil works - with the film, past that point, segueing into an episodic narrative revolving around Emil's often incomprehensible activities (eg Emil watches an old VHS tape of military drills, Emil steals the underwear of a neighbor, etc, etc). The impressive degree to which Pálmason is able to completely establish the central character and his desolate environs plays a key role in confirming the movie's mild success, and there's little doubt, too, that the film benefits from an ongoing inclusion of surprisingly engrossing sequences (eg one of blahs coworkers tells a story of a loyal dog) - although it's equally clear that Winter Brothers is often just a little too off-the-wall for its own good (ie it's occasionally weird solely for weirdness' sake, it seems).

out of

© David Nusair