YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT

Cert 18 Stars 3

This creepy psychological horror is at its strongest when allowing Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried to bicker and simmer in a fractious mood of marital mistrust and sexual insecurity, but loses its menacing allure when they’re forced apart by a script which can’t disguise its intentions.

This is surprising as director David Koepp’s writing pedigree includes blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, Mission: Impossible and Spider-Man, however he establishes a strong look and tone, and gives us for the first half at least plenty to ponder as he sends his stars to a remote Welsh house for a nightmare holiday.

SAINT MAUD

Cert 15 Stars 5

There’s a startling power to this modern day horror which is powered by devilish intent and graced by an immaculate performance of subtle complexity by Swedish-born Welsh actress Morfydd Clark.

As a devout hospice nurse called Maud, Clark delivers a confessional, fragile, stern and punishing turn, yet always maintains our sympathy as she becomes infatuated with her latest patient, Amanda.

She’s a former dancer who’s now wheelchair bound and in need of palliative care, a role which requires a great deal of intimacy and includes bathing, physical therapy and massage.

You’ll remember BAFTA winning Actress Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice opposite Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy, and she masterfully switches moods in a role requiring her to be sexy, self-pitying, abrasive and cruel.

Together they form a frighteningly intense double act, and their delicate relationship spirals out of control to jaw dropping and heartbreaking effect.

There are shades of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Nurse Ratched in Maud, and there’s nothing more disturbing than bad behaviour carried out by those believing they are doing good. Especially when convinced it’s what the Lord wants them to do.

On her feature length debut, Rose Glass directs with the conviction of someone in possession of a terrific script. Which she is. And she wrote it, filling the screen with jealousy, rapture, blood, pain and cockroaches.

Cinematographer Ben Fordesman provides bleak exteriors and oppressive interiors, it’s edited with tight-as-a-drum economy by Mark Towns, and Adam Janota Bzowski’s tremendous music seems to bypass your ears and penetrate straight to your soul, combining to create an atmosphere foggy with sexual intrigue and dank with skin scrawling menace.

This is definitely not for the squeamish and watching it probably qualifies as a traumatic event. It is so suffocatingly great I barely breathed for the last half hour and was left exhausted from nervous tension. Saint Maud is the best British horror in years.

THE ASSENT

Cert 15 Stars 3

Possession, parenting and mental illness give a single dad a rough time in this US supernatural mystery which stomps with brisk determination across familiar horror terrain, and takes its name from the third stage of diabolic control when the victim consents to the demon being part of their soul.

Robert Kazinsky stars as Joel who believes his blonde poppet of a son is possessed with the little things causing concern such as violence, speaking in latin and growling. Joel’s allies are a scandal-ridden priest with a well practised disregard for the law and Florence Faivre’s concerned psychiatrist.

FANTASY ISLAND

Cert 15 Stars 2

It’s a terrific concept to take the 1970’s TV show about a mysterious tropical paradise where customers paid to have their dreams come true and reinventing it as a contemporary supernatural horror, especially as it’s produced by Blumhouse production studio, the team behind the successful The Purge, and Insidious franchises.

However they manage to take this dream of an idea and turn it into a series of mediocre chills.

Michael Pena steps into the shoes of Ricardo Montalban as the Master of Ceremonies, but has to cope without his diminutive assistant, Tattoo and his catchphrase, ‘The plane, the plane.’

THE WRETCHED

Cert 15 Stars 2

This US slasher horror aspires to be a dark fairy tale for a modern age, but is mostly a familiar mix of teenage fear, skinny dipping, blood letting and jump scares.

John-Paul Howard plays the terrifyingly ordinary teen Ben who has moved in with his dad for the summer only to discover the mother of the young family next door has started to behave strangely, and mysterious symbols are appearing scratched onto windows and tree trunks.

Co-director’s Brett and Drew Pierce apparently claim their script is inspired by their parents’ divorce and a love for Roald Dahl’s The Witches, but I’m not convinced the author would approve of the way his kids story reinvented with a deathly lack of imagination as a standard tale of a teenager fighting local bullies and supernatural forces.

It begins with a flashback to a Rubik’s Cube, and the scratchily written caption which tells us this was 35 years ago is probably the most shocking moment on show.

SEA FEVER

Cert 15 Stars 3

This tense, atmospheric and claustrophobic sea-going Irish thriller ploughs ahead on strong currents of horror, sci-fi, and fairytales, skippered with a firm and sure hand by Neasa Hardiman on her feature film directorial debut.

When a fishing trawler becomes stranded in a military exclusion zone, a mysterious parasite infects the crew’s precious water supply.

Causing emotional outbursts, psychosis and violence among the increasingly desperate and dwindling crew, they resort to extreme measures to save themselves.

Veterans Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen play the grizzled captain and his wife who due to being in financial straits, have taken on a fare-paying passenger.

Hermione Corfield is a thoughtful and reserved presence as marine biology student struggling to get her sea legs, but her auburn hair is a red flag to the superstitious sailors.

Taking its name from John Masefield’s evocative poem about the attraction to and obsessive nature of seafaring, the film’s intelligent photography captures the cold beauty and changing moods of the sea, while the scenes of isolation and deadly contagion make for a terrifyingly timely and uncomfortable watch.

UNDERWATER

Cert 15 Stars 3

Kristen Stewart is in deep water and under enormous pressure in this claustrophobic survival sci-fi horror which left me gasping for air.

The Twilight star is typically terrific as an engineer seven miles down in an ocean bed oil drilling station, which suffers mysterious tremors leading to a catastrophic collapse and leaving most of the crew dead.

Vincent Cassel’s noble captain attempts to lead his five remaining crew on a desperate bid for safety across the sea floor to a sister platform and its precious escape pods, but as morale and oxygen run low, they face even more monstrous terrors.

Refreshingly the script is angled more towards a conspiracy theory than an eco-message, and the faint residue of philosophical musings are washed away by a welter of crowd-pleasing blockbuster thrills.

Uncharitably described by a co-star as a ‘flat-chested elfin creature’, Stewart anchors the action with a gutsy physical performance, the latest left turn in a career marked by its impressive range and constant evolution.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

Cert 15 Stars 4

This demanding and demented gothic horror about a pair of 1890’s lighthouse keepers is as far from the Adventures of Portland Bill as Dorothy was from Kansas.

As uncompromising as the rain-lashed stump of rock off the US’s Atlantic coast on which they begin a four week stint of duty, it’s a barking study in madness from Robert Eggers.

Having previously directed 2015’s acclaimed art house horror The Witch, which was also creepy if low on scares, the atmospheric black-and-white photography is nominated for Best Cinematography at the Oscars.

Committing to their roles with impressive vigour, Willem Dafoe plays a one-legged crabby old sea dog, from whom Robert Pattinson is supposed to be learning the ropes.

But with the weather even more foul than a British summertime picnic, they punctuate their drudgery with dancing, drinking and violence, they lose all sense of time as their sanity is battered by hallucinations, seagulls, storms, and sexual fantasies about mermaids.

Pattinson also goes batty in his next film, playing Gotham City’s Caped Crusader in next years superhero reboot.

 

THE TURNING

Cert 15 Stars 1

In squandering its grand Irish setting, superlative source material and a game cast in favour of tepid atmosphere, timid scares and bewildering incompetence, this supernatural gothic horror is an early contender for the worst film of the year.

Mackenzie Davis is a warm presence with a hard working line of quizzical looks and can scream to order, which are all useful traits playing Kate, a newly appointed governess to a wealthy seven year old orphan.

Brooklynn Prince is exuberant and engaging as Flora, she lives in a stately manor which is somewhat neglected since the groundskeeper mysteriously died.

Apparitions appear at windows, there are ghostly voices at night and then stranger things happen when Flora’s teenage brother unexpectedly arrives home from boarding school.

Played by Finn Wolfhard, Miles has a love of macabre practical jokes, predatory spiders and inappropriate behaviour.

Teasing violence and nudity but delivering neither, it updates Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, from 1898 to 1994,  but twists James’ studied ambiguity into rambling slipshod incoherence.

THE GRUDGE

Cert 15 Stars 2

This belated reboot of a long dead Hollywood horror franchise is reasonably coherent, borderline competent but not the worst horror film I’ve seen this week.

I don’t know what dark satanic pact Andrea Riseborough fell foul of to deserve to star in this, but credit to the talented Geordie who gives her all as a detective cop and widowed mother of one.

She’s investigating a series of deaths centred on a creepy suburban house, which suffers from a Japanese curse which once you’ve encountered is impossible to escape.

In its favour it relies on physical effects not CGI, and the sound design guys do their damndest to make you jump. As a grown man hides in a closet, there are several unpleasant deaths, bodies in the bath, crazy old crones and a velour bathrobe made me shiver.

But most terrifying of all is how all this good material manages to be consistently deathly dull. At least you don’t have to have seen any of the previous films in the series to dislike this one.