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CINEMA Film round-up: March 26, 2020

MARIA DUARTE and ALAN FRANK review Vivarium, System Crasher and The Wolf Hour

Vivarium (15)
Directed by Lorcan Finnegan
★★★★★

WHEN junior-school teacher Gemma (Imogen Poots) and her gardener partner Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) finish work one day, they decide it is time to find their ideal home.

And, fortuitously they believe, Jonathan Aris’s somewhat strange estate agent Martin drives them to the straggling new and silent development Yonder, where every picture-book perfect suburban home is identical and empty.

Martin, after showing them around an already furnished house, vanishes and when Gemma and Tom — perfectly cast and played — try to leave Yonder, they find every road inevitably leads back to where they started off.

They realise that they are trapped in their dream home and matters becomes cumulatively terrifying, despite obvious comforts and frequent food deliveries.

And the arrival in a box of a baby boy who grows up at an alarmingly fast pace and claims that Gemma and Tom are his parents, catalyses an increasing terror for the trapped couple as Tom desperately tries to dig a hole in the garden in the hope of finding a way to escape from the horrendous situation in which they are trapped.

Armed with Garret Shanley’s creepy screenplay, whose supernatural elements are cleverly developed without resorting to genre cliches, Lorcan Finnegan’s direction delivers a genuinely terrifying chiller whose nightmarish concept – filmed against the progressively weird background of an apparently impeccable housing development – is likely to stretch your nerves near to snapping point.

Alan Frank

System Crasher (15)
Directed by Nora Fingscheidt
★★★★

VIOLENT, unruly, uber-energised and totally unpredictable and unmanageable, nine-year-old wild child Benni is every social worker and children's home's nightmare.

Yet, told from the point of view of Benni herself this drama —  written and directed by Nora Fingscheidt — is a compassionate and thoughtful portrait of the child's trauma and anger.

Just like the German professionals who deal with her, you develop a love-hate relationship with Benni, given a stunning and surreal performance by Helena Zengel.

All she wants is to be reunited with her mother (Lisa Hagmeister) who can't cope with her extreme violent outbursts. With two other young children to look after, she feels overwhelmed and is basically scared of her.

There's a suggestion that Benni was mistreated and traumatised as a baby. She won't let anyone other than her mum touch her face, and those who do suffer severe consequences.

She keeps having her hopes raised and dashed by her mother, along with the system — no children's home or foster carer wants to take her in.

Those who do try to help her, like her social worker (Gabriela Maria Schmeide) and Micha (Albrecht Schuch), her school escort and anti-violence trainer for juvenile delinquents – who gets too close – are fighting a losing battle.

This is an extraordinarily powerful and difficult drama, as you watch with bated breath to see if Benni kicks off. You can't help but sympathise with everyone's plight, especially the protagonist.

She is a young girl who just wants to be with her mum.

Maria Duarte

The Wolf Hour (15)
Directed by Alistair Banks Griffin
★★★

SET in July 1977 in New York City, the smell and sweltering heat of that boiling hot summer is almost palpable in this Hitchcock-style psychological thriller.

It stars Naomi Watts as June, a once-renowned writer who's holed up living in her grandmother's apartment in the South Bronx with writer's block.

Due to her agoraphobia, she hasn't left the place in a long while and that become problematic when she starts being hounded by someone ringing her buzzer at all times of the day and night.

Like James Stewart in Rear Window, she spends her time observing the world and life from her window, but in a state of inertia. She's a keg waiting to blow up in a city on the knife edge.

The single setting is something like a stage play, as individual characters enter and leave the apartment. There is Jennifer Ehle as June's old friend, who's been bailing her out financially for years, Jeremy Bobb as a lascivious and creepy bent cop and Kevin Harrison Jr as Freddie the food-delivery guy who keeps hustling June.

There's no sense of time passing but writer-director Alistair Banks Griffin knows how to ramp up the claustrophobia-driven tension, aided by a sterling performance from Watts.

While it doesn't reinvent the wheel, this is nevertheless a solid drama which is more about mood and atmosphere than substance.

MD

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