Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Review: In Extremis

In Extremis (BHFF 2017)
Cert: tbc / 93 mins / Dir. Steve Stone / Trailer

The third feature-length entry for BFFF's Saturday run turned out to be the most polished-looking film of the day so far. And also the one playing to the smallest audience, which felt slightly unjust. It was also the only movie without any kind of Q&A afterward, whilst coincidentally being the one I most wanted to thank the crew for making. Justice? Not in this world, mate.

Writer/director Steve Stone brings us In Extremis, the tale of Alex, a high-powered city businessman struggling to come to terms with the aspects of life he can't control. Leaving work early one day, Alex arrives back at his country mansion to find things at home are worse than he'd feared. What follows is a de-escalating character study, blurring the lines between memory, grief, nightmare, hallucination and breakdown (and unlike the film from earlier, everything pulls in the same direction - albeit downward).

The most genuinely unsettling work of the day, there's no spoon-feeding the audience (either of backstory or associated metaphor), just a relentless foreboding which drives things onward. The sense of dread grows organically, minute-by-minute, as the script respects its audience's patience and tests their trust without going so far as to break it. There's not a single action, prop, line of dialogue or facial twitch that isn't exactly where it's supposed to be.

As the focal character, David O'Hara's gruff Scottish drawl makes this feel like a Guinness advert based on an existential panic-attack, and as the narrative's reasons become clearer, reason itself dissolves; while as our protagonist's sanity entropies, so do his physical surroundings. A lot of close-framing ramps up the sense of claustrophobia, but makes In Extremis feel like a TV production rather than cinema (although still fantastic-looking TV).

But best of all, you know that this has been created for reasons other than just making a film. The finale is satisfying without feeling contrived, giving closure to some of the story's events, but leaving others unexplained*1. It's heartening to think that In Exremis exists at the same time in the horror genre as something as mechanical as the eighth Saw movie.

As it turns out, I missed the awards-show at the end of the festival's Saturday-run, but I'll be disappointed if Steve Stone didn't take home the gong for Best Use Of "that's what she said" In A Screenplay...

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
This will be a great companion piece to Aronofsky's mother!, although watch this first if you're doing a double-bill.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If you get the opportunity, absolutely.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Almost certainly.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
I couldn't really say, although it's certainly a high watermark.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Toyah Willcox is in this, and she was in an episode of Kavanagh QC alongside Oliver 'Sio Bibble' Ford Davies.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Most writers would want to explain why the clocks in the house appear to be stuck on 3:05. Steve Stone has just squirrelled that away with about a hundred other reasons to re-watch the film... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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