HOLY GHOST PEOPLE
There’s not a lot in “Holy Ghost People” that you haven’t seen before, and the story of Charlotte (Emma Greenwell) and the profoundly broken war vet (Brendan McCarthy) she hires to escort her into the woods is interesting but ultimately clichéd. Searching for her sister, Charlotte stumbles into the pit of enigmatic preacher Billy (Joe Egender), who is as slithery as the serpents he handles.
“Holy Ghost People” has a nice sense of place, and plenty of interesting imagery, but the film grows increasingly erratic as it progresses, and the final sequence is both breathlessly thrilling and completely disjointed, the momentum almost distracting from the film’s claptrap narrative. The film’s script leans on obvious dialogue and exposition-heavy voiceover to tell its story, and even the most effective moments of the film never fully connect, making “Holy Ghost People” a wholly compelling misfire.
“Holy Ghost People” screens again Thursday 3/14 at 11:00 AM.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW
Miles Teller is one of the most promising young actors working today, and in his dozen or so film roles, he’s etched out a compelling screen persona with an assured depth, but “The Spectacular Now” brings entirely new dimensions to Teller, and is easily the best film of SXSW so far. Teller plays Sutter Keely, an impulse-driven teen who’s in the first stages of an intense post-dumping downward spiral when he wakes up on an unfamiliar lawn with Aimee (Shailene Woodley) standing over him.
What results is one of the most touching, naturalistic teen romances ever to be captured on film.. Sutter has an undeniable boozy charm, an innate skill at making everyone he talks to feel good about themselves, and Miles Teller’s performance is fascinating, casting Sutter as a self-destructive hurricane who isn’t sure how to react to someone who sees value in him. Shailene Woodley gives a gentle, warm performance as Aimee, a timid girl who finds herself breaking out of her shell for the first time, and many of the film’s most effective moments come from the fragile, tender intimacy that Aimee and Sutter build.
The script from “500 Days of Summer” scribes Scott Neustadter and Michaele Weber is gorgeously observed, sketching out the way that the personalities of the people you tie yourself to bleed into yours, and I love the way that Sutter and Aimee’s relationship is almost an accident, their first kiss the result of a perfect combination of booze and impulse. The film never forgets that they both nourish and poision each other, and their relationship is realistic and powerfully defined. Director James Ponsoldt deftly maneuvers the film, building Sutter and Aimee’s intimacy with long, talky tracking shots and demonstrating absolute, unwavering tonal control over each and every moment.
“The Spectacular Now” is deeply, profoundly touching, a beautifully insightful romance fulfilled by stunning lead performances. Ponsoldt does a great job rounding out the cast with wonderful actors, but Teller and Woodley do incredible work here, and it’s the unflinching honesty that they bring to their roles that sticks with you once the credits roll. “The Spectacular Now” is a promising work that connects on an emotional level that few films can even dream of, the strongest teen romance since “Say Anything,” and easily the best film I’ve seen so far in 2013.
“The Spectacular Now” opens in theatres later this year.
THE LORDS OF SALEM
“The Lords of Salem” marks a significant departure for Rob Zombie, who’s spent his career thus far writing slimy white-trash archetypes. Sheri Moon Zombie stars as a DJ on a gimmicky Salem talk show, and when she plays a mysterious record on the air, mysterious events begin to transpire. Zombie deserves commendation for creating a truly unsettling atmosphere here, and the film is most effective when it’s building dread, resulting in a more polished slow-burn than Zombie usually digs into.
However, “The Lords of Salem” is all smoke and no fire, and the film never gets more than creepy, its scares mostly fleeting and uninspired. Some of this can be attributed to the film’s narrative breakdown, and Zombie tells his story with genuine incompetence. There’s an interesting mythology built around the witches of Salem, but the film’s central conflict is never clearly defined, the implications of the villainous witches’ murky plan never explored or explained. Even worse, Mrs. Zombie’s character is a total nonstarter, the rare protagonist who is defined by her utter lack of action in any memorable way. Most of the film’s background is filled in by a historical writer/exposition delivery device played by Bruce Davison, and his story is another meandering plot device that adds up to nothing. “The Lords of Salem” drips with ambiance, but the film never builds any sort of momentum, rendering its bizarrely left turn of a climax totally inert. The final result is a repetitive and uninspired film that never rises above a few ominous moments.
“The Lords of Salem” screens again Wednesday 3/13 at 11:59 PM.