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THE THOMPSONS (2012)
Directorial duo The Butcher Brothers (aka Mitchell Altieri and Phil Flores) follow up their 2006 family themed vampire flick “The Hamiltons” with “The Thompsons”, offering up more of the same as the clan quit the US for the English countryside after an unfortunate incident has them on the run from the police. With older brother David (Samuel Child, also in the Brothers’ “The Violent Kind”) looking after the gravely injured youngest family member Lenny (Ryan Hartwig, recently in Steven C. Miller’s awesome “The Aggression Scale”) while the twins (Mackenzie Firgens and Joseph McKellheer) lurk in Paris, it’s left to Francis (Corey Knauf) to follow up a vague lead on other vampires in a small village called Ludlow in rural England. There he meets the Stuart family, upper class vampires who initially offer their help, but quickly are revealed to have their own less than decent intentions.
Coming in below the radar, “The Thompsons” is very much a pleasant surprise, an entertaining and reasonably well crafted modern vampire tale. Though a little bit “True Blood”, the film is considerably more engaging than most others of its type, boosted by a likeable returning cast. The film’s real strengths are its surprisingly human script (written by the Butcher Brothers and Knauf) and solid character work, both of which help to keep the viewer involved. Mixing in a few soap opera touches along with the family theme, the investment in character really pays off during the last third, and as the action heats up the film becomes tense and dramatic. There’s a fair amount of gore throughout as well, and the film does have a few pleasingly gruesome and violent scenes, as well as a perverse undercurrent which occasionally rears its head. The English setting also works well, and the film makes good use of the quaintly beautiful setting and the sharp contrast between the two very different vampire families.
Overall, this is enough to make “The Thompsons” very much worth catching for vamp fans and a far more enjoyable film than expected.
SLEEP TIGHT (2011)
“Sleep Tight” was one of the films screening at the festival that had been the subject of most critical praise, a dark Spanish suspense thriller from Jaume Balaguero, one half of the “[REC]” directing team. The acclaimed film sees top Spanish actor Luis Tosar (who delivered a towering performance in the recent “Cell 211”) as Cesar, a quiet, kind seeming man who works as a janitor at a posh old apartment building in Barcelona and is well liked by all the inhabitants. However, Cesar has a sinister secret, spending his nights stalking and hiding under the bed of beautiful tenant Clara (Marta Etura, also in “Cell 211”), carrying out a strange and twisted campaign against the unfortunate young woman. Although Cesar seems to have everything under control, a nosy child across the hallway and a police investigation threaten his plans, and it all soon starts to fall apart.
‘Hitchcockian’ is an overused cinematic adjective, though here it’s truly fitting, as “Sleep Tight” is a marvellous, cunningly constructed piece of near-immaculate tension and twists, Balaguero notching up the suspense throughout. The film also resembles Hitchcock through its pitch black sense of coffin humour, things becoming ever more complicated and it looking increasingly less likely that Cesar will succeed in whatever it is his scheme entails, and it plays out almost like a creepy comedy of errors. It’s no easy ask to feature such an unpleasant protagonist and still hold the interest and generate sympathy, but thanks to a marvellous showing from the hugely talented Luis Tosar, the film is never anything less than gripping, and there’s more than a touch of Almodóvar to the way in which things eventually pan out.
“Sleep Tight” is well deserving of the praise heaped upon it, standing as one of the best thrillers of the year, and being very likely to be a break out foreign language hit.
DEAD SUSHI (2012)
It shouldn’t come as much surprise to learn that “Dead Sushi”, which does indeed feature killer Japanese food, comes from the demented mind of director Noboru Iguchi, who has built up a cult following thanks to the likes of “The Machine Girl”, “RoboGeisha”, “Mutant Girls Squad” and other delightful lunacies. The film stars martial arts sensation Rina Takeda (“High Kick Girl”) as Keiko, who after being kicked out by her ultra-strict sushi chef father gets a job working at a resort hotel. Unfortunately, a visiting party from a nearby pharmaceuticals research facility attracts the attention of a crazed former employee, who brings the kitchen’s sushi to homicidal life, setting it loose on the guests and staff in a wacked-out rampage.
Basically, “Dead Sushi” is insane. Every bit as mad as its premise suggests, the film sees Noboru Iguchi on gibberingly creative form, even by his own not inconsiderable standards, assaulting the viewer with a nonstop cavalcade of truly bizarre sights. Even more of an out and out comedy than his last few efforts, the film is mind-bogglingly creative, with Takeda teaming up with an unlikely sidekick in Eggy, a friendly piece of Tamagoyaki sushi, fish flying all over the place, and a giant California roll battleship putting in an appearance. As usual with Iguchi’s films, though bloody and filled with kooky gore, the far-out carnage is played entirely for laughs and bafflement, and there’s nothing too nasty or perverse on show. The cast are all game for the silliness, most of the attractive actresses staggering around in various states of undress or being mercilessly pelted with sushi, and Takeda is as appealing and likeable as ever, getting a few chances to show off her considerable martial arts skills in battles against ridiculous enemies.
Recommending “Dead Sushi” is a no-brainer for fans of the recent wave of eccentric Japanese splatter cinema or of Noboru Iguchi’s zany works, as it delivers exactly as promised and packs in an incredible amount of playful freakishness. For all others, approach either with an open mind or more than a few shots of strong, strong alcohol.