Curse of the credit crunch

Image of Nigel Andrews

Drag Me to Hell (★★★★☆, Sam Raimi); Fireflies in the Garden (★★★☆☆, Dennis Lee); Fermat’s Room (★★★☆☆, Luis Piedrahita/Rodrigo Sopeña); Fugitive Pieces (★★☆☆☆, Jeremy Podeswa); Jonas Brothers – The 3D Concert Experience (★☆☆☆☆; Bruce Hendricks); Sleeping Furiously (★★★★★, Gideon Koppel); Obsessed (★★☆☆☆, Steve Shill); 12 Rounds (★☆☆☆☆, Renny Harlin)

With his latest film, Sam Raimi has consciously taken a retrograde step, returning to the exploitation horror genre with which he made his name nearly 30 years ago in the first of the Evil Dead trilogy. But he has picked up a thing or two directing the monstrously successful Spider-Man films, not least access to larger budgets, and Drag Me to Hell is a B-movie served up with almost disconcertingly lavish special effects. The result is hokum and trash, but very entertaining hokum and a classy kind of trash.

Alison Lohman is terrific as Christine, an ambitious but fundamentally decent loan officer at a Los Angeles bank who has to prove that she can be hard-nosed in order to bag the promotion she craves. Unfortunately, fate has decreed that the mortgage extension that she coldly turns down is sought by the obviously spooky Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver), who doesn’t take rejection kindly and puts a curse on Christine that may just end up costing her her soul. What follows is the first credit crunch horror-comedy, and it could also very probably lay claim to being one of the half-dozen loudest films ever made. More significantly, and this is high praise indeed, it is scarier than – and almost as funny as – Raimi’s Evil Dead II.

Willem Dafoe proved his talent for playing a creepy father with a dark secret or two in Spider-Man, and confirms this aptitude in the opening sequence of Fireflies in the Garden. During a rainswept car journey through the Texan countryside we are introduced to three of the central characters as embittered academic Charles Taylor (Dafoe) chillingly vents his frustration on his young son Michael (Cayden Boyd), watched helplessly by his long-suffering wife Lisa (Julia Roberts).

From there we gradually learn more but not quite enough about these three and their extended family as the film flits back and forth between the late 1970s/early 1980s and the present, in which Ryan Gosling plays the adult Michael and Emily Watson his sexy aunt. It is consistently watchable and sometimes rather moving, although it is a rather slighter piece than the film-makers seem to think.

Fermat’s Room is an ingenious Spanish thriller. Four brilliant mathematicians are invited to a remote location in the Catalonian countryside, where they find themselves trapped inside a bizarre, custom-made room. There they not only have to work out why each has been summoned but also face more (literally) pressing conundrums, lateral-thinking puzzles that must be solved to stop the room’s moving walls from turning them into human pi(e)-filling. This is good, smart, taut fun and the odd flaw in the narrative will be ironed out by the time of the film’s inevitable Hollywood remake.

Fugitive Pieces is a disappointingly flat adaptation of Anne Michaels’ poetic novel of Holocaust survival. The film has a strong cast, with Rade Sherbedgia particularly fine as Athos, the adoptive father of Jakob (Stephen Dillane), sole survivor from a family of Polish Jews. There are fleeting moments of poignancy and poetry, significantly when the script features narration taken almost directly from the novel, but this is clunkily written and poorly edited.

Young teenagers with a fondness for asinine pop performed by virginal sex gods can watch the technically impressive Jonas Brothers – The 3D Concert Experience with special glasses and indulge in the fantasy that they are really there. Meanwhile, accompanying parents can don blindfolds and ear-plugs and indulge in the sweet fantasy that they are somewhere, anywhere, else. KF

Other releases

Television personality Anne Robinson once asked: “What are the Welsh for?” A nation nestled into the side of mainland Britain has been sleeping furiously – and waking likewise – ever since. “What is Anne Robinson for?” was a possible riposte. Now there is a better: Gideon Koppel’s magnificent documentary, though that noun gets nowhere near this artist/photographer/filmmaker’s mixture of community portrait, pastoral fresco and musing on eternity.

Sleeping Furiously’s title comes from Noam Chomsky’s formulation for a sentence perfect in syntax but meaningless in content: “Colourless green ideas sleep furiously.” But nothing could be more meaningful – pace Chomsky – than such a surreal vapour of images when seen as a summation of this film. Presenting scenes from the life of a Welsh farming community, Trefeurig, Koppel somehow infuses the idyllic with the impassioned, the bleak with the lyrical, the inarticulate gaze with the evangelistic vision.

Koppel has talked of his desire to rehabilitate the concept “documentary”. Long ago, a non-fiction film could be a meditation, an audio-pictorial poem, a pastoral. Then television took over and “polemical themes and journalistic structures now prevail over visual observations and lyrical stories”.

Step back and reposition your brain. The camera and sound-mike here are not Quixotes tilting at real or opportunistic foes, but recording angels. Entranced yet detached, they are weightless witnesses to the villagers who natter as they prepare a vegetable show; to the mountain mists knitting mighty patterns over valleys; to the mobile librarian trundling his yellow van along corkscrew roads; to the vaporous scrim diffusing a line of sheep crossing a distant hillside (like white stitching moving inch by inch across a green fabric), to a shepherd and his collie drilling their ewes with superhuman and super-canine patience. In one scene a sleeping toddler is watched in a shifting time-lapse staccato as seraphic as a series of Rembrandt sketches, before the scene’s music segues us into a landscape time-lapsed in a rhyming odyssey through day and night.

The message? That there is no message. Koppel’s film transcends the pedagogic to touch the celebratory, the holistic, the mystical – if we allow that last word to include the materiality of a world fashioned for our senses but seldom, in a medium made for seeing and hearing, so fully perceived or lovingly honoured.

Out in Rubbish-land the choice is between Obsessed, a Fatal Attraction-style sex drama, and the police-versus-psycho thriller 12 Rounds. Skip the cop rot – it will damage your brain – and go for gung-ho wife Beyoncé Knowles beating the daylights out of spouse-stalker Ali Larter. The best ladies’ final to be seen this side of the French Open. NA

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.