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Santa Clarita Diet Season 2

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Television’s perkiest zombie returns in the second season of Santa Clarita Diet, aka: the show where Drew Barrymore is a zombie. Whereas the first season was mostly table setting, demarcating our characters – chiefly affluent suburban husband and wife realtors Joel (Timothy Olyphant) and Sheila (Barrymore) Hammond – and their situation – chiefly holy crap, Sheila’s undead! – the second course expands the menu somewhat, serving up interesting character dynamics and beginning to lay out a background mythology that looks to be more detailed and involving than the pop culture’s default zombie lore.

This season is marked improvement over the first, which was no slouch itself, benefiting from a more consistent tone and having put all that set up behind itself. We’re in full-on story mode now. The show knows its central activity (looking for a cure while concealing Sheila’s condition and inevitable murders), it’s go-to gags (contrasting extreme gore against the pastel banality of suburbia), and its tone (upbeat cheerfulness stretched skingraft-thin over howling madness – that’s a tough needle to thread). Everyone involved is pushing in the same direction; uneven performances have been smoothed out, the stakes and buy-in have been established, and the overarching narrative is underway.

Not that Santa Clarita Diet is overly concerned with the big moments and sudden reveal theatrics that plague so many shows – instead, it piles minor complication upon minor complication until we and the characters look up and realise we’re hopelessly mired, overworked, under-rested, and a hair’s breadth away from snapping. It’s the old rat-race rigmarole of having to get to work, do the shopping, pick up the kids, make a dental appointment, do the laundry, make dinner, only with the added complication of clean the blood off the kitchen, get rid of the body in the freezer, and obtain the bile of a Serb. If it ain’t one damn thing, it’s another.

At the centre of it all are Barrymore and Olyphant, who are just killing it this season. Barrymore’s chipper and cheerfully homicidal Sheila is, of course, the main focus here, and its always fun to watch her try to conceal the fact that she is clearly loving being an undead cannibal (real talk: if a cure is found, will she take it?), while Olyphant continues to deploy comic gifts that could hardly be guessed at during his previous tenure as a tough guy in Deadwood and Justified. His ability to convey almost constant near-panic while maintaining a semblance of outward composure is remarkable.

The returning – which is to say, surviving – supporting cast are all in fine form. Liz Hewson as daughter Abby and Skyler Gisondo as professional dork Eric get a little more room to move on their own, with Abby becoming a kind of rebel hero at high school after she scones a bully with a lunch tray, while Eric continues to try and fail to be helpful. Andy Richter remains a perpetual thorn in the side as Sheila and Joel’s self-centered boss, while Natalie Morales is on hand as eccentric sheriff’s deputy Anne to crank up the tension whenever it needs cranking.

We also get a few new faces, some of which remain uneaten, including Joel McHale and Maggie Lawson as a ruthless rival realtor couple, and old Deadwood hand Gerald McRaney as a retired army colonel who may hold clues to Sheila’s contagion.

Santa Clarita Diet remains a consistently funny, weirdly amiable watch. For all that it deals with murder, cannibalism, and lashings of gore, there’s something nice about seeing a family sticking by each other through thick and thin, even when their matriarch is using a human heart as a stress ball. There’s nothing else quite like it out there at the moment, which is not something we get to say often. If subsequent seasons can maintain this level of quality, we’re all in.


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The Outsider

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In 1950s Osaka, former US soldier Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) finds himself drawn into the orbit of a struggling organised crime family after he saves one of their number, Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano) from being murdered while in prison.  Nick’s fearlessness, adaptability and talent for sudden violence make him a useful tool to the  yakuza clan, and one they’ll need; rivalry with another yakuza gang blossoms into bloodshed in a war for control of Osaka in general and the city’s valuable docks in particular. However, for all that he takes to the outlaw lifestyle like he was born to it, Nick is still a gaijin – an outsider – and his loyalty and ruthlessness might not be enough to secure his place in a criminal underworld that may never accept him.

Written by Andrew Baldwin, The Outsider went through a couple of iterations in development before finally reaching the screen under the guidance of Martin Zandvliet (the excellent Land of Mine) and with the divisive Jared Leto as the titular figure. At one point Daniel Espinosa (Life) was set to direct Michael Fassbender in the film, while at another Takashi Miike (200 movies and counting – you’ll know at least five of them) was going to call the shots on Tom Hardy (and, for real, imagine that). Still, there’s little worth in wondering what might have been; the version of The Outsider we’ve got is solidly entertaining, even if its plot steers well inside the familiar narrative constraints of the Mafia picture, Japanese or other.

The joys of the film are in the details. Zandvliet does well to place is an unfamiliar and intriguing milieu: postwar Japan after the end of the official American occupation but still under the Western power’s economics and, to a degree, cultural heel. As captured by cinematographer Camilla Hjelm Knudsen’s crips, clean work, mid-’50s Osaka is a place of clashes and contrasts: thugs wear slick western suits and visit America-style strip clubs, but tanto daggers are wielded as well as Colt .45s, a tea ceremony seals an oath of allegiance, and making amends for failure means losing a finger joint in a display of stoic self-mutilation. A few ignorant column inches have already been spent on the negative connotations of a story set in Japan centering on a white Western protagonist, but in this context that contrast is part of the film’s underlying thematic weave; this is no Mighty Whitey or White Saviour narrative, but an exploration of a time and place in cultural flux.

Leto makes some interesting choices in his portrayal of Lowell, keeping him closed off and inscrutable for the most part, while the script only alludes to his past life and prior crimes (Emile Hirsch crops up as a war buddy at one point, surprised to find his messmate suited up and prowling Osaka’s neon streets; the encounter does not end well). we get no explanatory or ironic Scorsese-esque voiceover, and must parse Lowell for ourselves. The inescapable conclusion is that he’s a sociopath and is determined to carve out a place fro himself in a world where that particular shortcoming is viewed as an asset; on reflection even his stilted romance with Kiyoshi’s sister, Miyu (Shiori Kutsuna), for all that it risks earning the ire of ally and foe alike for the perceived crime of miscegenation, seems calculated.

Inscrutable protagonists are, of course, a staple of the yakuza subgenre – look at the oeuvre of  “Beat” Takeshi Kitano for plenty of examples. Kitano’s shadow falls on The Outsider in other ways, too. The film’s execution of violence, which almost uniformly explodes out of stillness onto the screen with explosive force, owes a lot to Takeshi’s body of work, although the film of his it most obviously parallels is Brother (2000), the director’s only english-language film to date, which saw a nigh-mute yakuza member decamp to the US and guide a small gang of American drug dealers to preeminence.

The other obvious touchstone is the recently deceased Seijun Suzuki, who was making scandalous yakuza-themed B-movies not too many years on from The Outsider‘s period setting – consider Youth of the Beast (1963), Tokyo Drifter (1966), and Branded to Kill (1967), all highlights of the genre.

Nothing The Outsider does comes close to what those two wrought at the peak of their powers, of course, but while sublimity is always welcomed, solidity is good enough. With that in mind, The Outsider is a solid crime movie, elevated by a keen sense of place and some fine performances. Expect few surprises and revel in the texture.

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones Season 2

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Following on from the events of Season 1 (and last year’s The Defenders, barely referenced), life goes on for Marvel’s resident superpowered private sleuth, the titular Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). Of course, the past is never too far away in this series, which makes the processing of trauma its key concern, and so the hard-drinking, poor-life-choice-making Jones must now deal not only with the ongoing PTSD born out of her enslavement by the horrifically evil Kilgrave (David Tennant), but fresh mental wounds opened up by her breaking his damn neck in last season’s climax.

She does, however, have plenty to distract her, thanks to her messy life and career. Indeed, the first few episodes of JJS2 throw out a number of seemingly disparate plot threads and character arcs that will doubtless cohere by the final episode in true hard boiled/film noir fashion (this season really leans into its noir influences, up to and including dry voice-over narration and moody sax on the soundtrack). A paranoid, overweight speedster wants protection from mysterious forces that may or may not be threatening him (he knows he’s not well – “With great power comes great mental illness,” he quips). An arrogant, high class PI (Terry Chen) wants to buy out Alias Investigations for the prestige of having a superhuman on his staff. Neighbour-turned-assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville) is bucking for more responsibility, while bestie Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) deals with a multitude of issues, from professional ambition to romantic drama to the continued oppressive presence of her toxic AF mother (a deliciously vile Rebecca de Mornay).

There are a lot of balls in the air to keep track of, but in terms of plot the season is definitely canting in the direction of the past, specifically what would be termed Jessica’s “super hero origin story” in a lighter series that could stand including such a trite descriptor. It turns out her powers are the result of being experimented upon by a shadowy black science outfit called IGH in the aftermath of the car accident that killed her parents. She has no memory of the period, but events conspire to force her to look inwards and backwards.

Not something she’s particularly good at – what sets Jones apart as a female protagonist is how incredibly flawed she’s allowed to be. She’s a self-destructive alcoholic who engages in dangerous sex and is absolutely loathe to turn her incredible powers of insight and deduction inwards – so, of course, that’s exactly what the series forces her to do. Krysten Ritter has really settled into the role since her first outing back in 2015. With a character like this, whose demeanour is predicated in prickly abrasiveness and snarky patter, there’s always a risk of drifting into affectation. Ritter give her layers, and it can;t be easy portraying the inner life of a character whose standard operating procedure is to pretend that inner life doesn’t exist.

Incredibly, Ritter isn’t the MVP in the acting stakes thus far – that honour goes to Carrie-Ann Moss, whose icy lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, has been a frequent flyer in the Netflix MCU properties but here really gets to shine. A medical and professional crisis shakes Hogarth’s normally rigid self-control and, what do you know, it tuns out that she can be just as self-annihilating and reckless as our eponymous heroine – she’s just normally better at hiding it. Moss is flat-out fantastic as a woman coming to terms with the fact that, for all her wealth, power, intelligence and sheer will, she’s vulnerable to things completely outside of control.

Understanding the limits of control is one of – if not the – major thematic concern of Season 2. For all that it deals with PTSD, abuse, addiction (Oh, Trish), the casting couch (Trish again), common across the board is the notion that characters are grappling with their frustration over their lack of control over their lives, or else learning to draw strength from understanding what they do have influence over. It’s all very Stoic. The past is set, the actions of others are difficult to change without conflict, scars are permanent, diseases are indifferent, and entrenched power structures and covert conspiracies alike grind ordinary people to dust, but knowledge and mastery of the self is a goal worth fighting for – and the only real goal attainable. It’s a smart and logical extension of the first season’s explorations – don’t forget, what made Kilgrave such a compelling and terrifying villain was his ability to take away that self-mastery from anyone.

So far (the first five episodes were released to critics for review purposes) season 2 lacks a singular villain of such narrative power, but this is, let us not forget, a mystery, and some confusion and murkiness in the early stages is to be expected. What makes Jessica Jones great television is its thematic coherence – it knows what its about, more so than any other Marvel series on Netflix or off. If the new season manages to carry that forward through to the final episode, it’ll be one for the books.

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The Tick Season 1 Part 2

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The second half of the first season of the third television iteration of Bed Edlund’s big, blue, befuddled superhero, The Tick, picks up where it left off: accountant turned superhero Arthur (Griffin Newman) has been captured be returned megalomaniacal supervillain The Terror (Jackie Earl Haley), and The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz, still brilliant), Arthur’s sister Dot (Valorie Currie) and hyper-violent vigilante Overkill (Scott Speiser) must mount a rescue.

While The Tick in general delights in parodying the entire swathe of superhero culture and history – and demonstrates plenty of deep dive nerd cred while doing so – the back half of season one is more concerned with the somewhat convoluted internal history of the show’s setting, delving into relationships, back-stories, old rivalries and romances. As a result, it’s more plot-focused than the first six episodes, and less funny – its hard to keep the one liners coming when you’re trying to sketch out a narrative that starts with the Tunguska Blast of 1908 (the show’s ground zero for superpowered heroes and villains), plus decades of relationships and rivalries.

Of course, in this instance “not as funny as the first half” means “still pretty goddamn funny”. This is a show where an artificially intelligent boat (voiced by Alan Tudyk) ponders the ramifications of identifying as a gay man; where a supervillain obsesses with the movie Whiplash; where a talking dog (voiced by Townsend Coleman, who voiced The Tick in the animated series back in the day); where the title character, still mystified by his origins, spends an episode convinced he’s a robot, much to Arthur’s consternation.

It’s delightful stuff, unafraid to be silly and unashamed to be poignant. Stepping to the emotional foreground in this run of episodes is Arthur’s stepfather, Walter (Francois Chau) an amiable Asian-American retiree whom Arthur utterly resents. The show gets a lot of mileage out of Arthur’s largely unfounded anger at Walter, playing it mostly for laughs but never forgetting there’s a complex emotional dynamic at work under the surface. It’s an incredibly well-written relationship, and the show makes sure to leave narrative threads dangling that indicate it’s only going to get more complicated down the track.

Hopefully there’ll be something down the track to look forward to; tucked away on Amazon Video, The Tick has mostly flown under the radar here in Australia, which is a shame. It’s an absolute delight of a series: riotously funny, defiantly geeky, and big-hearted – a rare bit of alchemy by any measure. If you enjoyed the first six episodes, you’ll be well served by the remainder of season one. If you’ve yet to sample The Tick’s weird delights, marathon the lot.

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In near future Berlin, Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), a mute Amish (!) bartender, is set on a twisting trail of mystery and violence when his girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh) abruptly disappears on him. Does her disappearance have anything to do with underground surgeons Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux)? And, even if it does, will you care?

Well no, probably not. The fourth film from Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code, Warcraft) is a massive, confused misfire, a noir pastiche inexplicably set in a near future cyberpunk milieu while being neither particularly “cyber” nor “punk”. More than any other film in recent memory, Mute is a pointless genre exercise, in that there is absolutely nothing in it that necessitates it being a genre film at all; its science fiction elements are all window dressing, none of them explicitly necessary to the plot and, more importantly, the themes being explored.

Neither of which – plot or theme – are in any way clearly discernible, at least without a deeper level of contemplation than Mute does anything to earn. What we’re left with then is the characters, who are either unknowable (Skarsgård) or unlikable (absolutely everyone else); the aesthetic, which is more Strange Days in its retrofitted near-future-ness than Blade Runner but still fairly un-engaging; and the action, which is almost non-existent.

Of course, it’s not meant to be an action movie, it’s a noir, a hypothetical defender might say. Mute has been compared to Casablanca by a number of people who have apparently never seen any other film that might be film noir adjacent except bloody Blade Runner, and that apparently includes Jones himself. There’s actually almost nothing in Mute that rhymes, narratively-speaking, with Casablanca, which has an entirely different setting, plot, theme, and set of characters, including its protagonist. You could make a case for our silent hero here being of a type with other Bogart characters, such as The Maltese Falcon‘s Sam Spade and The Big Sleep‘s Philip Marlowe, going down those famously mean streets, except that Bogie was always watchable and poor Leo, despite Skarsgård’s best efforts, is not. While the idea of a technophobic protagonist having to navigate a high tech/low life setting must have appealed to somebody as an elevator pitch, in the end we’re left with a guy we don’t know doing things he doesn’t understand for reasons that remain purposefully obscure for most of the film.

Jones actually knows this, which is why the story bifurcates, spending as much time with Duck and Cactus Bill, two ex-military medics who make money sewing up mob soldiers, as they just kind of hang out doing stuff until the time ploddingly comes for them to intersect with Leo’s plot in a meaningful (sort of) way. A moment of Pavlovian satisfaction may come when you realise that Rudd and Theroux are doing a riff on Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in Robert Altman’s original M*A*S*H*, the pros from Dover re-imagined as two amoral pansexual hedonists on a tear through future noir Berlin instead of Korean War-era Japan. Then again, it may not.

So what’s it all about? About 40 minutes too long. That aside, It’s a sophomoric work whose symbols aren’t actually attached to any internal system of meaning, but whose pretentious contempt for narrative action means it relies heavily on those same undernourished symbols. It’s a scornful film that seems far too pleased with its own anaemic artfulness, standing on the shoulders of older, better works, yet somehow failing to see any further – or, indeed, as far. It’s a cipher that defies easy analysis not because its language is too complex, but because it’s too haphazard and bereft of meaning altogether. It’s a mess is what it is, and one destined to fester in the depths of the Netflix Originals vault, only recalled when the recommendations algorithm occasionally churns it to the surface to a chorus of “Oh yeah, that fucking thing” from users who, if they value their time at all, should click elsewhere.

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Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 3

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Ash vs Evil Dead is, for fans, a kind of pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming experience. A continuation of the beloved cult classic Evil Dead trilogy originally directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell), and starring the mighty Bruce Campbell (My Name is Bruce, Bubba Ho-Tep) as the titular Ash Williams; the series overflows with goofy charm, graphic violence and absurdly cathartic humour.

AVED has now hit its third season and FilmInk managed to catch the first five episodes (of ten) and can happily report that watching Campbell and company shred deadites and chew scenery has lost none of its lustre. In fact if anything season 3 seems a little more focused than previous entries, possibly because the action remains mostly localised to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan (actually located in New Zealand – where fellow AVED superfan, Travis Johnson, recently visited).

Ash now runs his dad’s old hardware store – adding dildos to the shop’s inventory and shooting cheesy TV ads for publicity – and basks in the fame of being a small town hero instead of “Ashy Slashy” the murderous pariah. Of course shit goes bad quickly and Ash is forced to re-team with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to face down evil in the form of returning Dark One, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and deal the additional burden of fatherhood, as he meets the daughter-he-didn’t-know-about, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neil).

If that all sounds like kind of a lot – especially for a show whose episodes run under half an hour a piece – you’re not wrong. In fact the premiere episode, “Family”, groans under the weight of the heavy plot load and skews the comedy a little too close to weightless slapstick at times. Happily this appears to be the exception and not the rule, as second episode “Booth Three” features an emphasis on mood building before everything kicks off, and showcases an inspired semen gag that rivals season 2’s gross-out episode, “The Morgue”.

The following three episodes “Apparently Dead”, “Unfinished Business” and “Baby Proof” bring the series barrelling towards an epic confrontation that, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch yet – but if the first half of the season is anything to go by, it’s going to be a big one.

AVED season 3 gives you more of what you want, but also takes the time to ruminate, however briefly, on themes of parenthood and legacy. Bruce Campbell is, as always, majestic playing the role that made him famous but the supporting cast are also strong, now comfortable in their roles, with Ray Santiago in particular giving Pablo nuance, elevating him above mere sidekick status.

Ultimately Ash vs Evil Dead is a gleefully loopy fever dream, a hugely entertaining adventure and a love letter to the fans. That letter is bound in human flesh and inked in blood, naturally, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Everything Sucks!

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They say high school is the best time of your life – except for when you’re living it. As the title of Netflix’s new high school ten-episode series suggests, Everything Sucks!, set in the mid-‘90s in Boring, Oregon, follows freshman student Luke O’Neil (Jahi Di’Allo Winston – Proud Mary, The Upside) and his AV club friends as they join forces with the drama club to make a movie. It’s nostalgic, it’s all that and a bag of chips, and it sets out to answer the question: has high school always sucked this much?

Turns out, it has. Everything Sucks! is full of first-relationship drama, coming-out drama, over-dramatic drama students – basically, all the drama you remember from high school and could want from a teen show. And while much of this makes you cringe, it’s surprisingly not in an overdramatic, Riverdale-esque way; rather, it’s so realistic that it takes you back to the days when you were sitting at the lunch tables, cringing at the drama yourself. Things are kept light, however, by our absolute gem of a main character: Luke O’Neil is serious, yet joyful; funny, but dramatic, and is somehow the only teenage character within our traditional band of misfits and losers with his feet somewhat planted on the ground, even as he tackles first loves and first heartbreaks.

But the others have got nothing but drama on their mind. Quiet principal’s daughter Kate (Peyton Kennedy) is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality; Emaline and Oliver (Sydney Sweeney and Elijah Stevenson) are the Shakespearean leaders of the drama club who have hit puberty way sooner than everyone else, McQuaid (Rio Mangini) is nothing but a pessimist, and Tyler (Quinn Liebling) is the most awkward, Showgirls-loving high school boy you’ve ever seen. Put all of these people in a room and make them work on a highly ambitious student film together, and you’re sure to butt heads and change lives.

With relatable characters and interesting-enough drama, Everything Sucks! is worth the watch – its short episode length is a saving grace, too; any longer would be too much. The only problem may be figuring out who this is for: packed full of Tamagotchis, Hi-C and VHSes, Everything Sucks! is chock full of nostalgia that may not always translate or come across as relatable to a younger, high-school aged audience. Yet the show is neither deep nor adult enough to draw a wide older audience, being written much more like a young adult’s show. Hopefully the show will find its audience along the way – after all, high school is all about figuring out who you’re meant to be.

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The Ritual

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Four friends on a hiking trip in the wilds of northern Sweden are haunted by the death of a fifth in a convenience store robbery some six months back. Luke (Rafe Spall) is particularly troubled; he was there at the time, and froze up when he could have interceded and perhaps saved the now late Rob (Paul Reed).

The quartet face more immediate concerns after one of them, Dom (Sam Troughton) manages to injure himself, and they decide to take a shortcut back to civilisation through a nearby woods. This turns out to be a Very Bad Idea, as mysterious runes carved into trees, a gutted deer corpse dangling from a branch, and then a rundown cabin containing a strange and disturbing human effigy made of wicker and wood indicate that they have wandered off the map and into Folk Horror territory. Things only get worse from there – or better, if you’re a fan of well-made horror movies, which The Ritual most certainly is.

You’re better off as a viewer discovering The Ritual‘s gruesome pleasures for yourself, so if it already sounds like your cup of tea, hie thee to Netflix now and read no further. Starting off in Blair Witch country before detouring into The Wicker Man, the film impresses with the way it deftly weaves together different horror tropes to excellent effect. Is it a spooky lo-fi suspense flick? A meditation on the psychological burden of guilt and remorse? An eerie folk horror tale? A gory creature feature? Yes, yes it is – all these.

Director David Bruckner (The Signal, V/H/S) shows some impressive visual flair here. Luke is haunted by the convenience store robbery that led to Rob’s death, and the film interweaves the cold neon-and-tile environment of the shop with the forbidding darkness of the woods, leaving us unsure if we’re seeing a literal visual hallucination or a representation of Luke’s inner emotional turmoil. We also get a really, really great, grotesque monster design once The Ritual stops teasing and commits to going full bore supernatural horror. The film keeps the critter off stage for much of the running time –  generally a good idea – but when it is revealed, it’s an all timer – a genuinely disturbing amalgamation of animal and human physical forms that is worth the price of admission alone.

It’s also refreshing to see a folk horror film that, as is revealed later in the proceedings, mines Norse mythology rather than the rather generic Western European paganism that is usually the default setting for this sort of thing (it’s all Margaret Murray’s fault). This doesn’t have any concrete narrative effects, but lends the film a subtly different flavour from its genre-mates – besides, Norse myth really is rather creepy and bloody-minded, despite what the folks at Marvel would have us believe.

The Ritual isn’t a game-changer – it’s just very good – a solid, mature, well-constructed horror tale with a fair shake of originality and an admirably grim and unsettling mood that carries us through to a tense and terrifying conclusion. What more could you ask for?

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Star Trek: Discovery S1E15: “Will You Take My Hand?”

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The Federation-Klingon War is nearing its end, as Klingon battlecruiser zero in on the planet Earth. The Federation’s only hope? The USS Discovery, enacting a plan for a surprise victory under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). When the price of victory proves too high, however, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may be forced to betray her captain a second time.

Star Trek: Discovery comes to a temporary conclusion with this first season finale, although fans will be comforted by the show-stopping cliffhanger that promises a second in the future. The season-long story arc is by-and-large brought to a tidy conclusion that should mostly please most viewers; anybody left not enjoying it at this point likely didn’t enjoy the entire series. Sure, there are problems with the episode, but they are relatively minor in contrast to the satisfying way the story comes to an end. The series’ strongest asset from episode 1 has been Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as Michael Burnham, and she gets plenty of strong material with which to work. Discovery has played with conventions of Star Trek quite a lot, and while I’ve chafed with some the decision to base the series almost exclusively from Burnham’s point of view has delivered tremendous dividends.

If one overlooks the slightly preposterous cliffhanger that led into this episode, there’s a remarkable amount of pulp fun to be had here. Fans of Michelle Yeoh will have an absolute ball, as will fans of the inexperienced and enthusiastic Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman). It occasionally over-steps its mark – there’s a string of rather sleazy moments in a Klingon nightclub that the episode could really do without – but ultimately this feels like a very traditional episode of Star Trek. More than that, it feels like a franchise statement of purpose; it just feels a little weird that it took 15 episodes for the series to get there. There is even a beautiful little cameo for the longer-term Star Trek fans in the shape of Clint Howard, who as a child actor played the alien threatening the original Enterprise in 1966’s “The Corbomite Maneuver”.

In the end, Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery finishes on a much firmer footing than when it began. You can see the traditional Star Trek ensemble beginning to form, although I hope Season 2 spends a little bit of time fleshing out Lieutenant Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Lieutenant Commander Airiam (Sara Mitich). Both characters have been there on the bridge and in the crew mess hall since the beginning and seem ripe for interesting stories and characters. I also hope we are done with the Klingon Empire for now: the redesign was poorly thought-out, and their ongoing civil drama during the series’ early episodes really worked to drag things down.

Discovery has carved itself a worthy place alongside its fellow Star Trek series, despite what felt like some very poor and uneven episodes during the first half of its run. Its gradual improvement – the story shifting to more interesting places, and its characters finding some consistency – has been wonderful to see. Anyone who abandoned the series last year should absolutely give it a second viewing. Anyone who’s enjoyed the whole ride needs no such encouragement. They’re probably rewatching the first episode already.

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When We First Met

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It’s two classic Hollywood romance conceits folded into one: the unrequited love of a best friend, and the use of time travel in order to win them over and make the day right. It’s My Best Friend’s Wedding meets Big; When Harry Met Sally meets Groundhog Day; and even though When We First Met isn’t destined to be a classic like any of those films, it’s different enough to set itself apart from the pack.

After meeting Avery (Alexandra Daddario – Baywatch, The Choice), the girl of his dreams on one perfect Halloween night, Noah (Adam Devine – Pitch Perfect, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) doesn’t end up getting the girl, instead becoming one of her best friends. Yet the story of his unrequited love takes a turn on the night of Avery’s engagement party to the perfect Ethan (Robbie Amell), when an old photo booth sends him back in time to that fateful Halloween night, so that he can re-do events and make Avery fall in love with him.

With an overly-familiar premise, the first half of When We First Met trots out like every other time travel-infused romantic comedy, with Noah fumbling his way through an evening he knows backwards and forwards as he tries different ways to make Avery love him, ultimately changing the future for the worse every time. It’s predictable, but certainly not cheesy – instead, it’s witty and likeable, as are our core five characters, especially Noah, and Avery’s cynical best friend Carrie (Shelley Hennig). Writer John Whittington (The LEGO Batman Movie) has created characters that are not only well cast but change organically through the story; there are no big corny dialogue rom-com turning points, and the characters develop gradually, you know, like normal humans do.

You slowly begin to realise that there’s no traditional happy endings on the horizon, and it becomes unpredictable, a fresh, exciting turn that (ironically) you don’t expect from a film like this. It’s still happy, don’t worry, but it’s different, a new take on the friend-zone romance concept that’s both outdated and exhausted. It might come as a bit too much of a surprise – at only 97 minutes, the film’s short runtime does leave its more interesting themes underdeveloped by the time they become more apparent – but When We First Met is still a pleasant surprise populated with refreshing characters, made interesting by nice twists and turns, that is worth the slow burn that it takes to get there.