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Taboo Season 1

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Ugliness is an integral part of the aesthetic in Taboo. The take on early 19th century London it presents is not a pleasant one, all mud, blood, offal, corruption, and horror. Even its characters are a parade of grotesques, looking like they just stepped out of the pages of a Mervyn Peake novel.

It’s a fascinating world we’re thrust into, though: the tail end of the 1812 war between Britain and the US, at the dawn of modern corporate dominance in the form of the British East India Company, the powerful merchant concern who are our villains here. Our “hero”, for want of a better term, is Tom Hardy’s James Keziah Delaney, long thought dead in some African hellhole and greatly upsetting the apple cart when he returns to London to claim his inheritance upon the death of his father.

Part of his inheritance is a vital spit of land on the Canadian/US border, which will be of strategic import in coming negotiations. The East India Company, largely represented by Jonathan Pryce’s conniving chairman, are of the opinion that the world would be a better place if James wasn’t in it, but they haven’t reckoned with the kind of man who has returned from Africa: tattooed, scarred, and a rumoured cannibal. But is James’ pragmatic savagery any match for the monolithic Company?

Taboo is OTT in the best and most gloriously Gothic sense of the word, offering up a feast of brutality and sensuality as our enigmatic hero, cutting a menacing figure in his stovepipe hat and long coat, negotiates high society and low in his quest for allies and advantage. He’s more at home in the gutters, it seems, winning Stephen Graham’s criminal Atticus to his cause, but is just as formidable cutting a deal with American spy Dr Dumbarton (Michael Delaney), or getting up in the grill of Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall), upper class husband to his half-sister, Zilpha (Oona Chaplin).

Is there incestuous desire between James and Zilpha? Of course there is, because Taboo throws every Gothic and Victorian literature trope into the blender and then spills it all out on the screen, like the result of Charles Dickens and Horace Walpole going on an absinthe bender together. What elevates it is a modern political sensibility that approaches topics such as class, race, colonialism, and corporate malfeasance with an astute eye – while still allowing space for the odd disemboweling.

At the centre of it all is Hardy, giving a performance as magnetic as any other in his career as the opaque and ruthless James. He’s ostensibly our point of view character, but for much of the series he remains as much a mystery to the viewer as he is to the rest of the cast of characters – Hardy’s sheer watchability carries us through, though, even if we’re left as witnesses rather than participants in the drama.

A grim romp with plenty of secrets, lies, violence and the odd grand guignol sequence, Taboo is an enjoyably idiosyncratic drama –  call it Peaky Blinders: The Early Years, or Boardwalk Empire 1814 if you need a quick shorthand. Such glib descriptions do it something of a disservice, though; while the ingredients might be familiar, in combination they result in a fresh flavour that is unlike anything else we’ve yet seen in the increasingly popular “adult historical melodrama” genre.

 
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From a House on Willow Street

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When a group of professional criminals, including Sharni Vinson as team leader Hazel, decide to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy couple, they get a lot more on their plate than the big ransom they were expecting. Their victim, Katherine (Carlyn Burchell), for a start doesn’t seem too concerned about her predicament.

At face value, From a House on Willow Street is a title that evokes memories of exploitation flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, such as Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. And whilst director Alastair Orr’s (Indigenous, The Unforgiving) latest film isn’t as exploitative as you might think, it still has enough going for it to send a few chills up the spine.

Sydney-sider Vinson stands out against the bloodshed and shadows, following up on her promise in You’re Next; she’s aiming for much more than just being your standard Scream Queen. Breaking free of the Final Girl trope by being at least proactive in her own story, Hazel is one of the film’s greater strengths. Elsewhere, the film’s building tension is only ever let down by digital effects that offset the practical ones, and an overreliance on jump scares.

Blending horror and home invasion, From a House on Willow Street shares a lot in common with Ryuhei Kitamura’s No One Lives which saw another bunch of kidnappers bite off more than they can chew. There’s also elements of Event Horizon too, as Hazel and her team are haunted by spirits of people they’ve previously wronged. And whilst that might sound like a lot of cherry-picking, Orr manages to serve it up in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re being offered leftovers. To top it all off, From A House on Willow Street makes the best of its running time to ensure it’s a sharp, succinct dip into horror.

 
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Author: The JT LeRoy Story

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Plenty of authors use pen names for one reason or another. Stephen King had Richard Bachman. JK Rowling has her crime fiction nom de plume, Robert Galbraith. Laura Albert, the subject of the film at hand, had JT LeRoy, and the both the reasons for his creation and the sheer scale of the deception go well beyond the norm, as detailed in Author: The JT LeRoy Story.

Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy published his first novel in 2000. Sarah was a rough, raw, emotionally devastating tale of a gender-confused teenage hustler working the truckstop circuit and idolising his junkie mother. LeRoy, gender-fluid, HIV-positive, and hailing from an unimaginably abusive background, based the novel on his own experiences. By the time his follow-up work, the short story collection The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, landed in 2001, LeRoy was a genuine literary sensation, hailed as an uncompromising voice from the underground and amassing a following that included Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan, grunge icon Courtney Love, actress and filmmaker Asia Argento (who would go on to film The Heart is Deceitful) and more.

Of course, LeRoy didn’t exist. It all came out in the wash in 2005/2006. LeRoy was the literary persona of Laura Albert, a housewife in her 40s, who began constructing the avatar as a way to communicate her years of abuse to emergency hotline counselors, and eventually used it to channel her unarguable literary talent. How it all got out of hand, leading to Albert roping in her sister-in-law to play LeRoy at public appearances and cultivating personal and, it seems, sexual relationships with a number of high profile patrons and fans, well, that’s the story we have here.

Director Jeff Feuerzeig lets Laura tell her own tale, supplementing the narrative with snatches of animation and, interestingly, a huge number of answering machine messages and telephone conversations, the latter of which Albert apparently recorded without consent. These are frequently fascinating; at one point Corgan refers to himself as “The Corganator”, at another Love pauses the conversation to bump a quick rail of cocaine.

What’s really arresting, though, is the palpable need people have to believe in whatever fits their narrative. It’s easy to laugh at these bandwagon-jumping celebs as they sing LeRoy’s praises and describe their personal connection to the fictional author (poor Matthew Modine comes off as particularly naive in one clip), but it speaks to something deeper: the desire, found even in the most successful, to attach themselves to something unique and special.

Of course, Albert took advantage of that, but the question is whether through intent or dysfunction. Her own history of abuse and trauma is well documented, but one still wonders if there is a line between expression and exploitation in this case, and where it might lie. Albert herself is no help in locating it; we get a lot of her here, speaking directly to camera, but while she seems open to discussing the fine details of events, what;’s missing is any sense of self-awareness or introspection. She takes no responsibility for any harm she’s caused, and it’s rather damning no matter how sympathetic you may be feeling.

Author fails to hold her to account for that, and that is the film’s central failing. There’s no thesis here, just a recounting of (fascinating, mind you) events. We get the facts, but not their meaning, and that makes the film interesting but ultimately inessential.

 
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The Neon Demon

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Nicolas Winding Refn was posed a question early on in a Q&A of The Neon Demon that piqued his introspection. It related to that of his filmmaking process and if he (intentionally or not) opts for style over substance. He responded with a question of his own – what really is style over substance? Are the two ever truly mutually exclusive?

This question, or slight variations of it, have dogged the Danish filmmaker for much of his turbulent, twenty-year spanning career. Although his brevity-conscious response imparted immense insight into how he views his films, it is his latest film, The Neon Demon that speaks volumes, reverberating throughout the cinema and drowning out the severe booing it received at Cannes (which many directors have come to consider a rite of passage for anyone producing anything of memorable note and significance). Harsh criticism has followed Refn throughout most of his work, fortunately though the man (and by extension TND) has remained impervious to this, delivering an amazing, exemplarily made film to those that deserve it most – his legions of loyal fans.

TND has proven not only to be the Danish filmmaker’s magnum opus (thus far at least), but also the definitive answer to this aforementioned question that has divided critics throughout his extensive, disparate filmography. It is most definitely driven by a story, a subversive and subject-to-interpretation story to be sure, but gilded with Refn’s instantly-identifiable flair for (and propensity toward the) surreal.

He creates an unprecedented, arresting presence, plunging us into this neon-soaked dreamscape, an otherworldly Los Angeles, that shocks as well as it stuns, often grotesquely beautiful, yet inexorably hypnotic.

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You might find yourself squirming in your seat through Jessie’s tumultuous journey through L.A.’s fashionistas, but you will never be able to look away; much like a dream, you are a pedestrian to its (Refn’s) conviction and whim. When a compelling story is paired with awe-inspiring imagery, you have a formidable work on your hands and a talented, highly-capable director at the helm, such is the case with The Neon Demon.

Only a handful of directors are known (and widely acclaimed for) their creative verve. Quintessential exploitation filmmaker and deity of the hipster, Quentin Tarantino, is known (and idolised) for his razor-sharp, indulgent dialogue showcased in lengthy scenes that tease suspense while only occasionally delivering (depending upon what Tarantino is feeling).

But who, if any, among Refn’s contemporaries are known for being so visually stunning? One who needs not resort to a nine-digit budget or hiding behind the glossy smokescreen/whitewash found within the miracles of green-screens these days? (See Zack Synder).

Precious few handle themselves so confidently, who embody this visually-stunning style and definitively earn virtuoso status. This bold approach, commonly misinterpreted as style over substance, is the schism wedged between seasoned critics and casual filmgoers alike. This was the singular dissension that filled the collective lungs of those swollen bags of hot air at Cannes and caused them to vent such vitriol. These self-same folk who mistake an emphasis on striking, ethereal imagery as coming at the cost of a coherent, memorable story and solid performances.

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Refn has been assiduous in realising his vision, right from his fledgling Pusher days. Thankfully he has never relented to appeasing these hostile few, and in that regard he is fearless, with the results he produces shining and withstanding both critique and the test of time. Much of this can be attributed to Refn’s unique eye. As French painter Claude Monet collected a fanatically virulent bunch of critics vocal with their harsh disapproval of his art, so too Refn has been on the receiving end of naysayers, bearing the brunt of swipes related to his deeply stylised films.

From the opening of The Neon Demon it is immediately apparent that the director has not tailored his work to assuage those that have spoken ill of his trademark approach. On paper, it almost beggars belief that he can be such a visually-prolific filmmaker. By his own admission he is almost totally colour blind, seeing only the most extreme hues, those at the polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Thus the neon, almost iridescent, colour palette Refn uses and reinvents in all his work (thought particularly from Valhalla Rising onwards) makes perfect sense – a pragmatist that seeks to stretch said colours to their extremities, fusing each into a perfect marriage, so that he may see it, while simultaneously treating the viewer to an optical feast.

What he attains through this unorthodox method is the superlative, artistic quality akin to Barry Lyndon, which has received universal accolades for both director Stanley Kubrick and cinematographer, John Alcott. That’s a mighty big call, but one need only study even some of the stills from The Neon Demon with an impartial mind to appreciate the striking beauty imbued within each frame. Why should such a work be subjected to such undue criticism simply because it enchants with such beauty?

Interestingly (and perhaps ironically) this senseless jealousy and hatred for such beauty commonly found within the diatribes of those speaking negatively of the film parallels the mistreatment of Jessie within said film, further strengthening the point Refn is trying to make.

Throughout the film’s tight running time one is acutely aware that they are watching a Nicolas Winding Refn movie (just in case you missed the monogram “NWF” prominently positioned underneath the title in the deceptively subdued opening sequence). We are first introduced to Jessie, the film’s central (and arguably eponymous character). Splayed out, blood-soaked and rigour stiff, staring impassively at the camera as pictures (no doubt taken by a pervert not dissimilar to us, the voyeur) snap incessantly, while a synth-inspired soundtrack pumps primal bass (yet another sterling soundtrack by frequent Refn collaborator, the masterful Cliff Martinez).

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With no information to go on, we can only gauge that we are past the event horizon of this dreamscape/nightmare Refn is sharing with us, and that what he delineates is likely to become more ghastly and mesmerising as we continue.

Freshly turned sixteen-year-old Jessie is new to the sprawling city of Los Angeles and its myriad of unsavoury, wily inhabitants, be they the more obviously opulent (that of the talent agency owner, Christina Hendricks) or the more repulsively sleazy (that of the motel owner, Keanu Reeves in a brief but lasting performance). As this shy, modest dilettante tries to ingratiate herself in the cutthroat fashion industry, she soon encounters success unimaginable, while embroiling herself in a succession of perilous situations. The worst of which involves upsetting the fragile pecking order enforced by the unholy, witch-like trio of the openly hostile Sarah (Abbey Lee) and the more docile, yet unpredictable Gigi (Bella Heathcote) who are in contrast to the sweet, almost overbearing friend found in Ruby (Jena Malone).

That is the premise and in the execution, the film quickly (deliberately) falls into the fantastical, much like the audience tumbling headlong into the rabbit hole – and this is what Refn does do deftly in his unique (often underrated and misunderstood) way.

There is a story, though Refn may focus more on the visual aspect of its telling, as compared to the performance-based work of say, similarly accomplished fellow Danish filmmaker, Lars Von Trier. Bear in mind that one would never openly voice such an opinion in comparing the pair within either of the men’s respective hearing. They have a less-than-cordial relationship as a wealth of YouTube clips of their Cannes spats and clashes will attest (despite being supposedly distantly related). What drastically differs the two, though, is pacing. Refn has, thus far, never suffered from a meandering pace and bloated running time (which Von Trier exhibited in the Nymphomaniac double).

For someone who fills every frame with a visual feast to gorge on as starving pigs to the proverbial trough, Refn never sacrifices the pacing in order to accentuate to a layman viewer that they are gazing upon something stunningly beautiful. No overly-indulgent, ten-minute static ‘nothing’ shots commonly found in (and to the detriment of) of Gus Van Sant and Jim Jarmusch’s work (see Elephant and Broken Flowers). Also to his credit, Refn has markedly improved on the story front since his previous film, Only God Forgives. That was another neon-saturated, ultra-violent, prolonged dream sequence with reality having little bearing (or evident bearing) on the dream world and vice versa. Sadly, OGF suffered from this endless, scarcely-linked shuffling of awesome single shots and vignettes haphazardly connected with one another. Thankfully, The Neon Demon does not suffer from this, it continues to gain momentum right up until its aghast-inducing ending.

The performances are engaging and believable, without ever straying into contrivance or melodrama, which might’ve seemed like a tall order from the plot outline. One couldn’t be begrudged for heading into the movie convinced bad performances would be inevitable. After all, since when does a bunch of ruthless, image-obsessed models ever conjure images of a group of individuals that would have anything profound or poignant to offer either in their interaction with each other or those outside their coterie?

Yet each of the lead actors draws a blistering apex predator performance, full of intrigue and a large dollop of menace. The standout was definitely Abbey Lee (Ruben Guthrie, Mad Max: Fury Road). Doubtless steadfastly hurtling toward superstardom she shines here as the spurned and murderously irate Sarah. With an intensity, so commanding, she often blotted out the performance of Elle Fanning, who herself deserves top kudos for handling the difficult (perhaps slightly underdeveloped given it being the central) role of Jessie.

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It was in this interaction with Jessie and the trio of models (two models and a makeup artist for the purists out there) that the conflict ensues and proliferates, played out almost as an ancient Greek tragedy. Unsurprisingly, the Danish filmmaker cited Greek and other mythologies and fables as his main influences whenever penning a story and that is particularly prevalent within The Neon Demon. It wouldn’t be a Winding Refn film without a bit of the old ultraviolence, though in comparison to some of the utterly sadistic scenes of Only God Forgives, TND never feels dangerously close to crossing the line. It is important to note that, within this context, an absence of sickening violence should not be mistaken for the director being censored or stifled, nor baulking at the tough subject matter, either by his or that of the studio/financier overlords. This particular Danish filmmaker isn’t curtailing the story he chooses or how he depicts it, the opposite in fact, he is one of the daring few that chase the extremities of their imagination and constantly challenge the conventions of self and the impositions of filmmaking.

Fortunately, in the case of Nicolas Winding Refn, what he produces is always a joy to watch and admire. If Helen of Troy’s beauty was enough to launch a thousand ships, Refn’s unique, aesthetically-gorgeous films are sufficient to launch a million heated discourses on the Interweb. For those that are lucky enough to possess a pair of eyeballs, Refn’s movies are invariably similar to wandering through an art gallery, one threaded with the occasional installation of horrific, visceral imagery. When the stroll is concluded and you exit the magnificent edifice, you are always exultant to have been so privileged as to have been granted access in the first place. The Neon Demon is Refn’s boldest, most accomplished project to date, loudly proving to the cinematic world and those that obliquely orbit it (we the hoi polloi filmgoers), that he is still very much one to watch, and perhaps yet to reach his prime. Please, may we have some more?

 

Samuel Elliott is a Sydney-based reviewer and writer. For more of his upcoming work, including excerpts of his upcoming novel, like the page.

 
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I.T.

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Pierce Brosnan plays Mike, a business mogul who has everything; a fast car, a big house and a beautiful wife played by Anna Friel. When his IT adviser, Ed (Aussie James Frecheville), gets him out of a jam during an important presentation, Mike offers him a modicum of hospitality, inviting him to come over for beers and to fix his wi-fi. Unfortunately, Ed takes advantage of this perfunctory act of gratitude and uses it to start stalking Mike’s daughter, Kaitlyn (Stephanie Scott).

In psychological thrillers which involve a disturbed individual becoming obsessed with someone else, the audience can sometimes forgo a bit of subtle storytelling. For example, if someone stares a little too long at the hero, it’s just accepted as shorthand for ‘This is our antagonist and things are going to fall apart.’ I.T., the latest film from A Good Day to Die Hard’s John Moore, is so over the top that it’s hard to tell if the whole thing is a commentary on the very nature of psychological thrillers.

Wiring up Mike’s house with intrusive security measures – that the aforementioned seems to have no qualms about having installed – Ed watches on from his own home that looks like it hasn’t been upgraded since he saw The Matrix. As Frecheville pogos around his cyberpalace to industrial music, he begins to make life extremely difficult for Mike and his family; sending out upsetting emails and nude videos of Kaitlyn.

At times, I.T. feels like it was created by people who fear technology. Mike, at the behest of IT expert Henrik (Michael Nyqvist), soon strips himself of his electronic gadgets as the film hurtles towards a caveman showdown that sees the already terribly underused Friel scream from the sidelines in her underwear. It’s all incredibly silly and not even slightly in a fun way.

 
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The Hollow Point

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The long arm of the law becomes a little shorter in this energetic thriller from director Gonzalo López-Gallego (Open Grave). In a small town on the US/Mexico border, Wallace (Patrick Wilson) has returned home to become the new sheriff when his predecessor, Leland (Ian McShane) shoots an unarmed man on a traffic violation. Leland thinks the dead man was up to no good, and when Wallace digs a little deeper he uncovers a smuggling cartel.

Expertly shot against the fierce background of the desert, The Hollow Point ups the ante when Wallace ends up in a brawl with a machete-happy assassin (John Leguizamo) and loses a hand in the process. Now having to rely on Leland for support, the two men strike a deal to bring the cartel down.

A mash up of western, noir and exploitation, The Hollow Point may not be subtle in terms of character or plot, but it is well-crafted and exhilarating with its director using every last cent of its budget to great effect. Take, for example, the parking lot shootout that sees the drunken Leland defending his land as smoke swirls around in a manner which both aids and hinders his task.

Whilst Wilson adds the human side to a midnight movie plot, its McShane that stands out as the hard-drinking, hard-talking ex-sheriff with a penchant for wearing cowboy boots with his pyjamas. With a voice as rough as his 5 o’clock shadow, Leland is the archetypal western anti-hero; who epitomises everything Wallace can become if he lets the town and its politics get to him. Also of note is Jim Belushi, as a sleazy car salesman with a debt to pay.

The Hollow Point works to its strength with the exception of a romance sub-plot that’s best cut adrift.

 
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Red Billabong

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Home And Away stars, Tim Pocock and Dan Ewing, move away from the Bay to the billabong in this Aussie monster movie that marks the directorial debut of Luke Sparke. The two men play a pair of estranged brothers brought together after the loss of their grandfather, who has left them a huge amount of land out in the bush. When a shady land developer (Felix Williamson) shows interest in taking the property off their hands for a princely sum, Tristan (Pocock) wants to sell up, but Nick (Ewing) is concerned about a warning from grandad’s friend, Mr. Garvey, played by Gregory J. Fryer (The Sapphires). There’s something in the dark and its feeding time.

And that’s all that can be said plot wise, as Red Billabong relies on its audience going in as cold as possible to preserve its numerous twists and genre shifts that Sparke throws in. Tipping its hat to Aliens, Jurassic Park and even Crocodile Dundee, it’s clear that Sparke’s passion are the action films of the ‘80s and ‘90s. This is further demonstrated when drug dealer, BJ (Ben Chisholm), rocks up with his mates for a party in the brother’s new home…a drug fuelled party plus an evil lurking in the bush never works out well for anyone.

With so much going on – there’s guns, girls and The Dreaming yet to be mentioned – Red Billabong starts off surprisingly slowly. Perhaps too slow for those in the audience looking for a quick, one hit and you’re done, monster massacre. But once Sparke lets the film off its leash, Red Billabong mutates into a special effects driven action movie that’s still undeniably Australian. And whilst the credits hint at a potential sequel, it’s hard not to cross your fingers for the possibility of a spinoff with Mr. Garvey and his band of indigenous Ghostbusters.

 
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The Duel

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Following on from his 2012 debut, Wish You Were Here, local director, Kieran Darcy-Smith, leaves modern day Australia behind for 19th century America in this contemplative revenge western. Ambiguous in its morality, The Duel, with its themes of religion and treatment of indigenous people, is likely to resonate in light of the recent election period in America.

Written by Matt Cook (Triple 9), the film sees Texas Ranger David Kingston (Liam Hemsworth) going undercover to investigate the deaths of several Mexicans, including the nephew of a prominent Mexican general. All signs point to a small town, under the control of softly spoken zealot, Abraham (Woody Harrelson), being the epicentre of the crimes. Things become a lot more personal when you take into account the fact that David watched Abraham kill his father many moons earlier.

After a frantic opening that shows the aforementioned murder of David’s father, The Duel slows down to a comfortable trot that sees David secrete himself into Abraham’s life by becoming his sheriff. Whilst David begins to uncover Abraham’s shady dealings, his Mexican wife, Marisol (Alice Braga), begins to fall for Abraham’s charms. Though it should be said that it’s in a spiritual capacity rather than a sexual one. This conflict – a sort of love triangle built on religion – has potential, but like the main push of David’s investigations, it has to shout in order to be heard above the other sub-plots jostling for attention. All of which engage, though none are given the breathing room that they deserve.

However, The Duel’s biggest strength – outside of Darcy-Smith’s beautiful landscapes – is Harrelson as the snake-handling Abraham. Always a hair’s breadth away from being decidedly unchristian, Harrelson is the perfect foil to Hemsworth as the ranger who begins to succumb to the violence that permeates his new home.

 
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Into The Badlands: Season 1

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Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Miller, who also gave us Smallville, Into The Badlands is a cocktail of influences, taking it cues from westerns, samurai movies, and apocalyptic dramas…all within the space of a regular episode.

At some point in the future, America has fallen, and from its ashes have arisen seven leaders, known as barons, splitting the country between them. Guns have been outright banned, and everyone runs around doing high kicks and waving swords around. Which brings us neatly to Daniel Wu as Sunny, a strongman for opium baron, Quinn, played by Martin Csokas, who appears to be having a whale of a time. Rescuing a young man called M.K. (Aramis Knight) from danger leads Sunny down a path of self-preservation that sees him question his loyalty to Quinn. Meanwhile, M.K. appears to be sheltering some form of super power, and he may not be everything that he appears to be.

Spread over six episodes, Into The Badlands does well to build its world quickly and get its audience up and running. It does, however, often feel like we’re being left out in the cold, with characters painted in broad strokes with little nuance. The Widow (Emily Beecham), a rival of Quinn, is a prime example, as are a number of other female characters. Season 2 may remedy this, but for now, it grates. Where the show makes up for its issues is in its fight chorography, which is furiously intoxicating, and will be a large part of the reason that people will want to tune in. It might not replace The Walking Dead in your affections, but it’ll give it a damn good try.

 
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REVIEW: Outcast: Season One

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Demonic possession is one of the horror genre’s most ubiquitous tropes. Director, William Friedkin’s 1973 classic, The Exorcist, cemented the convention, and it’s been used with shocking regularity ever since. While there’s nothing wrong with homaging the classics (James Wan, for instance, used possession extremely effectively in 2013’s The Conjuring), it does begin to feel a little stale after a while. Creepy kid starts acting weird, cue the swearing and the head spinning, bring in the reluctant priest to save the day, spew a bunch of bile versus bible verses, rinse, repeat. Just as rock always trumps scissors, God always beats Devil, which is reassuring in a fairy tale kind of way, but not terribly imaginative from a storytelling perspective.

Happily, Outcast has come along to freshen up the conventions and offer 2016’s best new series. Based on the comic by The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, the story revolves around Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) and Reverend John Anderson (Philip Glenister), who live in the small town of Rome, West Virginia. Kyle is despised by local residents for allegedly beating up his wife and daughter, a charge that he doesn’t deny, but there’s a lot more going on with Kyle, and it seems tied to the spate of alleged demonic possessions that has the reverend so busy of late.

Patrick Fugit in Outcast: Season 1

Patrick Fugit in Outcast: Season 1

Outcast’s setting is working class rural America, a change from the predominantly affluent or upper middle class settings where these stories usually take place. Possession here is often used as an allegory for class, alcoholism, or domestic violence, and the series plays with viewer’s expectations, particularly in the Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Blair Witch)-directed pilot, “A Darkness Surrounds Him” – a profoundly tense and engaging introduction to the series.

Over its ten-episode run, the first season of Outcast raises some fascinating “what if” questions. Like, what if so-called demonic possession has nothing to do with theistic notions of God and the Devil? What if the people who are possessed were much worse prior to their occupation? And why do the demonically afflicted call Kyle “outcast”? The answers to these questions are not fully delivered in the first season, but the revelations on hand are striking and original with the usual tropes subverted cleverly.

A scene from Outcast: Season 1

A scene from Outcast: Season 1

Highlights of season one include the aforementioned pilot, along with “What Lurks Within” (an episode dealing with the villainous Sidney, played by Brent Spiner) and the white-knuckle ride finale, “This Little Light”, but the series as a whole is a showcase of slow-burn horror, quality drama, and stylish episodic storytelling.

The extras on the Blu-ray include deleted scenes, documentaries on the comic book origins of the series, and a deeper dive into some of the episodes. That said, the series itself is the gold here. Outcast is consistently tense, cerebral and occasionally deeply disturbing. It reinvigorates the well-worn concept of possession, and delivers something fresh and even dangerous. Explore it now before the second season takes over your telly in 2017.