Review: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

This article was first published to The Edge on 31st January 2017

I’m by no means the person to ask about the history of horror in film, but you don’t have to be an expert to notice the subtext trend in the genre’s most recent successes. The Babadook is about depression and grief. The Witch is about fear of femininity and powers that a masculine worldview doesn’t understand. The Invitation, also about depression and grief. Last summer’s surprise hit Lights Out is concerned with the same, and the pain that families both hide and pass onto each generation. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe touches on all of these and more. It’s far from the best of the bunch, but it’s a punchy addition to the canon, bridging the gap between eerie chamber pieces like The Invitation, the atmospheric restraint of The Witch, and inevitably the more schlocky, booming crowd-pleaser tradition of Lights Out. It makes for a compelling, somewhat jarring stylistic and thematic cocktail.

When a near pristine corpse is found, half buried and naked at the scene of a violent triple murder, she is brought to the family mortuary of Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch). Dubbed ‘Jane Doe’ (Olwen Catherine Kelly), the father and son duo are tasked with uncovering how she died. But the further they go in their work, the stranger it becomes.

Director André Øvredal (of 2011’s Troll Hunter) brings a great deal of expertise and functional filmmaking to the picture, harmonious to his protagonists’ professionalism. Just as Tommy and Austin narrate their findings to the camera whilst conducting their autopsy, Øvredal uses the first act to efficiently, if clunkily, establish their characters. Through an opening autopsy, and the introduction of the titular subject, we discover how Tommy is the consummate professional, warm beneath his more repressed mannerisms. Austin is as caring, but more concerned with motive than the rational cause-and-effect of death; they share an untense and considerate relationship, but both are hiding something. The senior Tilden is still grieving and blaming himself for the death of his wife, whilst the younger is keeping secrets with his long-term girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond, in a promising but disappointingly small role).

None of the male characters here are especially masculine: Cox’s performance shines as he modulates the professionalism and fatherly warmth with a pervasive sadness that seems constantly at odds with his battle for rationality; Hirsch may play the lead role, but he’s the support in the mortuary, less sinister or tic-laden than he’s played in the past; even Michael McElhatton’s Sheriff seems cautious and aware of how out of his depth he is. But they’re all varying degrees of rational in the masculine sense, and watching that degrade as they’re presented with an unexplainable woman is one of the story’s key arcs.

Where the film begins to decline is, as with many, after the midpoint. Around the midpoint, the oppressive atmosphere – meticulously built upon increasing uncertainties – practically explodes off the screen. The chamber based dread shifts to explicit violence and ghost tactics, as the sound mix becomes dominated by loud noises. Not that this is bad; this detonation is the single most terrifying scene of the film, in no small part because of the impeccable editing and greatly discomforting cacophony. But this shift may turn off the more intellectual genre-fans, and they’re not the only genre tropes that undermine it – more than one sub-plot is clumsily closed, whilst the ending doesn’t satisfy. Still, The Autopsy Of Jane Doe is a great showcase for André Øvredal’s talent at opposite stylistic ends of the horror genre, and a point of confluence for the genre’s most recent thematic focal points. It’s a great Friday night scare-fest, a compelling mystery, and an almost brilliant study of hidden pain.

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, directed by André Øvredal, is pending UK distribution. Certificate TBC.

Review: White Lies – Friends

This review was originally published to The Edge on October 6th 2016

There’s a lot to say about the influence of the 80s on modern culture. The decade’s sounds resonate in acts like Blossoms and Bastille, who appear to be balms for people who aren’t fans of the prevalence of electronica and R&B in modern Pop. This nostalgia is in the text, context, and metatext of so much media: Stranger Things drips with it, whether or not it’s a positive thing for you; Sing Street, set in that decade, emanates a deep love of the music and experience of youth; the number of modern teens who continue to love John Hughes’ films, usually because they tend to capture a sense of the extremes and angst of youth and relationships, speaks for itself. (Sidebar:Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a badly made and evil film.) Continue reading

Review: Goldroom – West Of The West

This review was originally published to The Edge on 18th September 2016

By the tenth time in Goldroom’s West Of The West that a song title wriggles its way into the lyrics immediately before the standard EDM drop, like an overeager BASE jumper pushing through a crowd and doing star jumps to wave goodbye as they throw themselves off a cliff, you’d be excused by anyone for laying blame for this at the feet of the critic’s favourite: darned, lazy formula! Yet a formula is not inherently bad.

Opening track ‘Silhouette’ manages to do the right thing with it – take a simple structure, a proven format, and build more unique and attention-catching melodies upon it. Full of finger clicks, hand claps, a consistent snare beat, and twangy guitars backed by a pleasantly throbbing bassline, it’s pretty standard fare; it’s also got the playful energy of an adolescent sat in front of GarageBand for the first time. Before they’ve figured out how to maximise the parts they already have, they’ve found new ones to throw into the mix. It sounds bad, but the song is fresher, more upbeat for this. It contrasts oddly with the very restrained, yearning lyrics: a constant refrain of “Without you” every two bars or so in the verse, the sentence finishing before the drop as “Without you I’m a silhouette!”

The whole album alternates between this overzealous, endearing production, and more restrained, consistently more vanilla arrangements. For the more modernHONNE-esque slap-guitar riffs and the clumsy, subdued seduction of ‘Freeway Lights,’ there’s the plain pleasantries of ‘Back To You.’ Its apathetic use of the EDM structures introduced over half a decade ago ensures it has no memorable moments of its own. Unlike ‘Silhouette,’ the production is too consistent to be particularly colourful, and lyrics like “Racing fast but the nights go slow / It’s heavy on my soul” are delivered with no commitment to their (possibly accidental) poignant reflection on unrequited love.

There’s only one song that feels entirely sincere in its use of these tropes on the whole record. Fourth track ‘Lying To You,’ one of several that leans on 80s synths, has a terrific guitar-led bridge. It builds up to a simple chorus – “I’d be lying if I said / You’re not always in my head / Yeah, I’d be lying to you” – and it feels like a hit in waiting with the cheesy, limp lines delivered with commitment by Goldroom (Josh Legg) himself. But when this earnest, yet tame and predictable track is the best you’ve got amidst a sea of duller moments, it’s hard to be anything close to excited.

West Of The West is released on September 25th by Downtown Records

Review: The Spitfires – A Thousand Times

This article was originally published to The Edge on  14th August 2016

Here’s how I imagine The Spitfires’ elevator pitch for A Thousand Times going down: “Imagine you’re standing in a lift listening to the tame, boisterous, and uninventive pop sounds of elevator music, timidly conducted through the air. Suddenly, the brakes screech, you judder to a halt, and the music continues; now it’s far louder. The sound of the brakes continues as you’re brought painfully slowly down the shaft in this metal torture box that refuses to give you the rapid and sweet release of death from an aural nightmare of the soul-crushingly boring, and the ear-splittingly horrific. We’re going to make an album out of that experience!” Continue reading

Review: Globelamp – The Orange Glow

This article was originally published to The Edge on 10th August 2016

Perhaps Elizabeth Le Fey, the girl behind the solo act that is Globelamp, should have written a book rather than make an album. Globelamp emerged after her own exit from Foxygen, which later completely split up.The Orange Glow is her second record, reportedly written “as a reflection of the last year and a half and how [she]got out of it alive.” That period included both a breakup and the death of her best friend so it’s hardly like she has nothing to draw on, but this occasionally ethereal fairytale fails to get across the devastating power of those experiences. Continue reading

Music Video Review: Gojira – Low Lands

This article was originally published to The Edge on 26th July 2016

If you wanted to make a music video that did everything that you might expect of it, ‘Low Lands’ by Gojira, would be a very good place to start gathering inspiration. It’s a narrative-less, confusing array of horror-genre establishing images, intercut with images of a (pretty darn rad) metal band rocking around an enormous bonfire sans instruments to their own song. Continue reading

Film Review: Warcraft: The Beginning

This article was first published to The Edge on 12th June 2016

It’s incredibly easy to spot the difference between a film which makes big strides in the name of a studio’s cynical interests, and one where risks are taken by a truly talented filmmaker straining his every muscle to create something special under the weight of studio expectations. Duncan Jones’ third directorial feature is exactly in line with the latter category – his determination and vision in creating the Orcs in Warcraft: The Beginning alone, is the sort of landmark for CGI and motion capture that would be impossible to find in another director’s stab at this material. Continue reading

Film Review: Race

This article was originally published to The Edge on 9th June 2016

There’s a true, convincing love story at the heart of this biopic; but it isn’t the one between Jesse Owens (Stephan James) and Ruth Solomon (Shanice Banton). It’s the one between Owens and his coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Buoyed by immensely charismatic, emotional and empathetic performances from the two, the relationship grows as many coach-player relationships do in sports movies: from an aloof coach with the optimistic, often outsider player, into mutual respect and then a true friendship. It’s standard stuff, but at its best Race makes it work like gangbusters. By the halfway mark, as coach and runner make the Transatlantic voyage to Berlin for the Olympics, a small gesture by Snyder to stay below deck with Owens cements their bond. In fact, it’s something of a surprise that both men can make it through the events of the film without actually kissing. Continue reading

Review: Noises Off at the Nuffield Theatre

This article was originally published to The Edge on 8th June 2016

Explosions and physical comedy surpass language barriers. While Noises Off contains no explosions, for almost all of Act 2 of Michael Frayn’s farce, there is some of the best, most complex physical comedy to be seen on stage. It’s at this point that the play reaches its apex – while the rest of it, for me, proves how different types of comedy appeals different people.

Continue reading

Review: Eliza And The Bear – Eliza And The Bear

This article was originally published to The Edge on 10th April 2016

Eliza and The Bear’s eponymous debut album is what happens when you put fans of Mumford and Sons in a room with fans of Imagine Dragons, shake the room vigorously to cause violent arguments and steamy sex as bodies fall into each other, and then have them exit, dazed, to tell a record executive exactly what they learned from each other – except none of the interesting sexual or philosophical lessons, but just what musical sounds they now enjoy. Continue reading