Extra Ordinary – Netflix

Written & Directed by: Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman

If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, the last person you’d call is the driving instructor, right? Well, in quaint, middle-of-nowhere Ireland, this is precisely who to reach out to for all your ectoplasmic queries. Where other than rural Ireland could you stumble upon satanic rituals, pernickety ghouls, and humour in death? The perfect setting for Extra Ordinary, unassuming horror-comedy surrounding grief, regrets and farce.

Cult status, it’s a prize some deem worthy for a piece of cinema. One can’t shake the feeling, that this is what is instore for Extra Ordinary, at least in a minor sense. This unashamedly self-aware horror meets romantic-comedy knows precisely the story it wants to tell, and is only tumbling slightly in execution. Rose is a driving instructor in (very) rural Ireland, with one unique talent – Rose can communicate with the dead. A gift she shuns out of regret in having a part to play in her father’s death. That is, of course, until Martin Martin requests an exorcism.

There’s a surprising finesse in portraying banal – especially in a film which draws humour in the deceased. Martin Martin is now a widower with a teenage daughter to raise, his deceased wife Bonnie regularly haunting, possessing and generally being a pain in the arse, even in death. Barry Ward grounds the performance, which heightens the otherworldly aspects surrounding the character, but equally as capable in delivering hilarious physical comedy.

In the absolute reverse, Ahern and Loughman’s decision to cram a part of the narrative with, what they perceive, as twists and excess, costs the film an otherwise near-perfect package. At first, the doily coated Exorcist is a quaint, zany comedy, bolstering an oddly sweet gallery of characters, who plunge headfirst in foiling the antics of Will Forte as Satanist Christian Winter. Less a Faustian terror, more bumbling sitcom neighbour, the direction here fumbles as the comedy which put the fun in funeral, now seems intent on shoehorning tension, the over-the-top drama becoming more transparent than any supernatural creature.

Their saving grace, Maeve Higgins as Rose, carries such sincerity it’s easy to surrender to the lunacy of the script. The delivery plays into Extra Ordinary’s style, with its lashings of classic horror references, screwball moments and vintage VHS requiring a team able to ground the film, yet maintain momentum and world-building. No one excels at this better than Higgins, who captures an authentic sense of humour, concealing the loneliness she feels. This tenderness from Higgins demonstrates Ahern and Loughman’s written capability, marrying ludicrous comedy with fragility. Rose often identifies with the spectres she communicates with, unseen, unloved and alone, whilst Martin Martin’s throw-away line about “speaking with anyone, even a driving instructor, opens the doors to a frankness about death.

Visually, the set dressings and props reinforce an aesthetic, but cinematography limits itself to practicality. No reason to stretch for an art-house feel, there’s a distinct lack of manipulation or attempt at framing Extra Ordinary outside of medium or close-up shots. Instead, focus shifts to effects; notably the hazy, VHS 4:3 aspect segments which break-up the acts of the film, complete with title cards and choppy audio. They’re excellent visual gags, which hark back to those cassettes all shelves had, but with no origins materialising from nowhere.

Ahern and Loughman’s Extra Ordinary conjures those wicked nostalgia demons of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. There’s more than a fleeting similarity to the spirit of Edgar Wright or Stephen Volk, but Ahren and Loughman’s film is certainly of their conception, a determined pastiche with as much life as it has love for both horror and comedy. 

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/extra-ordinary/

Extra Ordinary is availale for streaming now on Netflix

Trojan Horse – Traverse Theare

Written by Helen Monks & Matt Woodhead

Directed by Matt Woodhead

Re-writing history is a debate worth extending, clarification, however, is a necessity – particularly when evidence comes to light which demonstrates political obsession to pervert the public opinion, using education as a vulnerable tool to stoke hatred. In 2014, Trojan Horse was the term thrown around for the ‘reports’ of the radical promotion of Islamist propaganda in three of Birmingham’s high-performing schools. LUNG theatre, in association with Leeds Playhouse, taps our shoulder to gently remind us that fake news is old news and that we still haven’t caught on to government’s brand of scape-goating propaganda.

Intense, Trojan Horse has little time in handholding the audience through the too-recent history for Muslim families, teachers and students within British communities. Translating over two-hundred hours of interviews, numerous public documents and accounts of public hearings into an attention-grabbing full-length production are far from an easy task. Across the classroom and whirling to the courts, the trials and secrets of those involved are looked at through an artistic lens, with a dose of healthy humour thrown in. 

Who can blame them at pop-shots at Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education? There’s quite a queue. At the heart of it all is a vendetta, a pursuit of truth and opportunity to expand on what has been a headline led story. Restraining overflowing aggression, Trojan Horse reflects on the events of 2014 through playfulness, brief movement direction and storytelling mechanics, rippled with fact. While appealing to our displeasure in the treatment of Muslim teachers in the community, it avoids pandering and leaping on the all too easy option of offence. The key strength of Trojan Horse is that it doesn’t feel the need to exaggerate or lie.

Infusing a school construct in design, Rana Fadavi’s set is clean, five wheeled desks serving as a variety of locations. The production is keen to promote those listening in Urdu, the video projection of Will Monk’s blackboard aiding with the production’s accessibility and breaks up the ‘chapters’. Detracting momentarily, the projection is occasionally over-used, bloating the stage when the performances and writing are considerable enough to hold attention without flashing text.

For really, as tight as Monks & Woodhead’s script is, it is the cast and Woodhead’s direction which compact Trojan Horse’s emotion into a direct pin-point assault. This is the form of production where emotional outrage, while justified, could easily tip the scale, but a balance is achieved. Points are put across by characters in an assortment of means, taking on multiple roles as students, teachers, parents and the occasional version of real0life councillors or committee members involved, particularly Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood for their accents, physical transformation and capability of conveying class-attitude with minor touches.

Then Mustafa Chaudhry offers a solidifying moment for Trojan Horse, a point of humanity which tests the audience. Refraining from hushing a character’s thought on LGBTQI+ communities, Chaudhry controls the audience to still connect with the role, even if the revelation of his intolerance would otherwise remove our sympathy. It’s a testament to the writing, and the relationship Woodhead has with his cast, but it speaks especially of Chaudhry’s talent. 

The manipulation of media is nothing new, but the indoctrination of division within small family communities has been a growing concern. Monks & Woodhead demonstrate that the tactic is a readily used one, it’s only now the tactics are becoming apparent, no sense of fear or punishment for those perpetrating, but with catastrophic changes for those in the firing line.

Photo credit – Ant Robling

Corpus Christi – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Jan Komasa

Written by Mateusz Pacewicz

Taking inspiration from real events, Corpus Christi, named after the Christian feast the film builds towards, centres around the spiritual awakening Daniel receives while serving time in a Polish detention centre for youths. Upon release, Daniel wishes to repent; in search of absolution, he desires to become a priest but is unable to do so due to his criminal record. Unwilling to work in a sawmill for the rest of his days and stumbling upon a chance encounter with an ailing vicar, Daniel takes on the name of the prison chaplain, performing sacramental rights in the vicar’s absence and he begins to find a sense of forgiveness in a village suffering from a tragedy.

As fragile and unsettling as he is charming, Bartosz Bielenia carries Corpus Christi, there is no question about this. Side characters play their part, but all receive a lift in scenes they share with Bielenia. Closer to the start of his career than the end, Bielenia commands a measure of emotions which is enviable to even seasoned experts. Using a concoction of troubled confusion, anxiety and lashings of aggression, he still achieves Pacewichz’s humour in the script in a natural way with co-star Eliza Rycembel.

The film is a rare piece which communicates much by saying little; few issues are drawn out or laid bare to the audience. The symbolic struggle of political over religious influence or power is not spelt out, but rather proffered up for our interpretation. A crucial idea is that no matter the influence office possesses, only one form of authority can force the other to, quite literally, bend the knee. Power-play, particularly masculine, is intrinsic to the plotline. In recognising Daniel’s influence over the community, Leszek Lichota’s Mayor of the town gives a subdued performance, resonating with Komasa’s stringent realism in direction. There are multiple opportunities for melodrama, for exaggeration and outright antagonists, but thankfully we never fall into these pitfalls.

With reverence, even while acknowledging the declining faith in Europe and that many churchgoers do so out of habit rather than belief, Mateusz Pacewichz’s script refrains from petty jabs at religion. Instead, it allows commentary of the church’s apparent confusion over redemption, confession and forgiveness. Sexton for the vicarage – Aleksandra Konieczna as Lidia – is the representative of the judgement which dictates these communities, with a sense of self-conflicting authority, which hinders future generations’ opportunities to grow in this brutal coming-of-age drama.

Corpus Christi is a quiet film, unafraid of holding both the moment and indeed the shot. It paces itself to the beat of the audience’s breath, stilling in the poignant moments of death or reflection, with cuts occurring in quick succession via the introduction of club-anthems, drug abuse and strobe lighting. Piotr Sobocinski Jr’s cinematography works, but struggles to find a reflective vision for the film, unsure of how to stylise the aesthetic. In aiming for realism, the film has choice moments of spectacle, usually at the hand of effects, lighting or performance, rather than editing or camera work. There’s a blur, which complements interior shots of smoke or incense, but one can’t help feel the hollow coldness of the blues and greys aren’t being used to full effect, excluding, of course, an uncomfortably brutal climax.

Viscerally, the conclusion absconds from the perverse silence which has set the pace before it. A gut-punch, this finale is a shattering of the illusory happy ending, a reminder of the film’s subcutaneous message that the young are the ones paying for the attitudes of established communities. Following his previous feature film Warsaw 44, Corpus Christi is principal evidence of Jan Komasa’s spectacular ability as a filmmaker, in and outside of Poland. The elements are there, and further collaboration with Bartosz Bielenia is hopefully on the cards as the two evolve together.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/corpus-christi/