Reviews: Thine Ears Shall Bleed

Thine Ears Shall Bleed,
Directed by Ben Bigelow,
Starring Andrew Hovelson, Hannah Cabell, Lea Zawada, Duke Huston, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe

This debut by director and writer Bigelow follows a family headed by the preacher Ezekiel Thatcher, heading through the vast American landscape in the mid 1800s in a covered wagon He and his family, wife Sarah (Hannah Cabel), daughter Abigail (Lea Zawada) and their blind son Luke (Duke Huston) are travelling across country to pick up, of all things, a pipe organ, to take back to Ezekiel’s church (he’s convinced this addition will bring in more worshippers to his church). As the deeply religious family travel slowly across the forested, hilly landscape, the road comes to a y-shaped fork, which isn’t on Ezekiel’s map; after some debate they decide since Jesus sits at God’s right hand, they will choose the right fork.

Unfortunately, after travelling this path between the trees for some time, they find the road simply peters out. Deciding it is too late to turn back to the fork now, they prepare to make camp there for the evening, planning to backtrack in the morning. Of course, as any self-respecting horror fan will likely suspect, when you take a road that isn’t marked on the map, into some remote, rural place, you can be fairly sure something is going to happen, and it does.

It starts slowly – the family hear strange noises in the night, which they try to shrug off as part of the natural world, but you just know whatever made those sounds is not natural. In the morning they find that both of their horses have somehow gotten loose from their ropes. Ezekiel tracks their hoof-prints through the forest until they just vanish by a swampy pond, with no sign of the animals. Stuck now in the wilderness with limited supplies, the mother, Sarah is concerned, but Ezekiel adopts the “the Lord will provide” approach, seemingly unconcerned.

When he hears the booming noise once more, he tracks it to a large canyon, the sound so loud it makes his ears bleed. He becomes increasingly obsessed with the sounds, believing it is a message from God, that he must transcribe into his journal and pass on, as if he is a prophet of old. Ezekiel is encouraged in this by young Luke, who likens the echoing, booming, roaring sound to the voices of angels from on high.

When Luke wakes one morning to discover his sight has been miraculously restored to him, he and Ezekiel take this as a further sign that this is a blessed place and they have been chosen, while Abigail and Sarah, although delighted at Luke’s miracle of sight, are far more sceptical – what if this isn’t God speaking to Ezekiel? What if it is something else? Finding a seemingly lost traveller (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe’s Woodrow) just adds more uncertainty to the mix – is he what he seems? Why couldn’t he leave this place and are they also stuck?

While far from perfect, I found Bigelow’s debut to be a very atmospheric chiller, with knowing nods both to the religious horror and to the folk horror genres (and I must confess to a particular soft spot for folk horror). Like Brit folk horror To Fire You Come At Last (reviewed here last year), this film knows it doesn’t have a lot of resources in terms of budget or effects, but it deploys atmosphere very well to cover this, and like that other film, it also uses a small cast, with remote location and night sequences to help suggest things rather than show outright, aided hugely by the score and the excellent soundscape.

The darkness of the forest night, with those noises, is wonderfully creepy, then the sudden flare of light from a burning torch, mysteriously planted right outside their wagon at night, casting shadows over the canvas of the wagon (was that a figure moving outside or not?), building that creepy atmosphere, as Ezekiel becomes more and more religiously deranged.

While not without its flaws, I thought this was an impressive debut, and I found the clever use of sound and darkness to slowly build an increasing sense of unease and an atmosphere that somehow, even surrounded by the nature of the great outdoors, there is something simply wrong, something unnatural about this place. A good one to watch late at night, with most of the lights out.

Thine Ears Shall Bleed will be available from Miracle Media on digital platforms from July 15th

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Scottish Summer Time

Even by Scottish standards we have had an exceptionally long run of wet weather this spring and so far this summer. A few hot, sunny days interspersed with heavy rain and skies as grey as battleships, then often days where we get both, one after the other, changing all throughout the day, so you are carrying both sunglasses and a brolly.

Spring Deluge 01

Spring Deluge 02

I was walking through the Meadows recently, warm and dry, picked up some lunch from the van near the University Library and sat on a bench to enjoy it. Ten minutes after I finished and was walking away, it started to rain, then quickly turned up to torrential downpour. I sheltered under a friendly tree for a few moments – it passed pretty quickly and was back to dry soon enough – and decided while I waited I may as well grab some photos of the deluge.

Spring Deluge 03

Spring Deluge 04

Vid - Spring Deluge

Of course, it’s not all dreich weather, we’ve had days of sun and warmth too – I took this recent sunset across the city from the upper deck of a bus as it crossed North Bridge:

View From A Bus - Sunset Silhouettes

And a glorious summer evening at Holy Corner

Sunset And Shadows

La Belle Adventure – New European Graphic Novel Bookshop

A few weeks before Christmas, I went with my French chum to the Institut Francais D’Ecosse, on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile (right next to Saint Giles Cathedral in the heart of the historic Old Town). They were hosting a festive fayre, and among the various small businesses such as Chez Roger (a small but enticing French deli near my bookshop in Edinburgh’s Holy Corner) and makers (everything from hand-crafted jewellery to wonderful fabric creations) there was also a stall from La Belle Adventure, selling European graphic novels in both French and English.

Naturally this drew my attention, and I found a lot of titles and names I was familiar with from my own reading, and also from the old European Correspondent column that my Belgian friend Wim Lockefeer used to pen for us back in the Forbidden Planet Blog days. I got to chatting with the couple, Annabelle and Benoit, who were running this stall, and they told me they were also doing pop-up stalls regularly at the Leith street market and the Stockbridge market at weekends in Edinburgh, while searching for a location for a permanent home.

Considering there is only so much you can carry to these kinds of temporary venues, stock-wise, as I know from personal experience, having manned many a book table at various events over the years, they had picked out a nice, diverse array of titles, including a number I had read in English translation, such as the fabulous Blacksad series, and my personal favourite French comics creator, Jacques Tardi, with the range of translations of his work that Fantagraphics have put out. As I am still trying to improve my French, and as my reading comprehension is better than my spoken French (when reading I can take it at my own pace, in conversation I start off okay then it all gets too fast for me to follow!), I opted to buy a couple of hardback, French-language bande dessinee albums from them as a treat to myself.

Fast forward a few months, and La Belle Adventure has a permanent home now, in a small bookshop on Leith Walk, not far from the Out of the Blue Drill Hall venue (which has hosted some good comics fairs among many other events), handily close to the tram for easy access. This also puts them within short walking distance of the excellent independent bookshops, Argonaut Books and Typewronger in that part of the city, so that’s another win for readers, in a city that is satisfyingly provided for in terms of Indy bookshops

Our weather, even by Scottish standards, has been pretty dismal for the most part in recent weeks, and it was absolutely torrential on my day off, when I went to check out the new shop, then in only its second week. It was midweek and monsoon conditions outside, but I had a warm welcome from Annabelle and Benoit, and spent a very pleasant chunk of the afternoon chatting to them about the new librairie, and of course we talked a lot about both older and newer comics works we had enjoyed, while I had a good browse around the store.

The titles are in both English and French, with publishers from Europe, like Casterman, the UK – plenty of SelfMadeHero titles! – and North America (step up Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly), however the focus is on creators from Europe (including the UK). There were a lot of creators I was not only aware of, but many that grace my own, overloaded bookshelves – the aforementioned Tardi, naturally, the brilliant Bryan Talbot, Scotland’s own Metaphrog (highly appropriate given they comprise a Scottish and French creative duo!), classics many comics readers will be familiar with, such as the Metabarons, as well as manga, and works for younger readers (I smiled on seeing little figures of Lucky Luke and the dastardly Daltons on a shelf next to some of the albums).

Obviously I wanted to continue to support this new venture, and I was looking to add some titles to my ever-expanding To Be Read pile (now grown so large I fear it may require planning permission from the local council). Since my own collection of translated works in English is already fairly well developed, and as I am continuing to try and practise my French skills, I had decided I would be buying titles in French. Since I have some of the classics by Tardi, Moebius et al already in English language editions, it seemed more sensible to pick up something completely new, so I sought some advice from Annabelle and Benoit on newer works, which hadn’t yet been translated, and which I could consider.

We looked through several, and I ended up opting for two very different hardback albums that were recommended to me. Jade Khoo’s Zoc, a gorgeous looking, colourful piece about a young woman who has water which flows from her hair, and which is clearly influenced by the wonderful Studio Ghibli, and, at the other end of the spectrum, La Route (The Road), a graphic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s famous post-Apocalypse novel, by Manu Larcenet which, despite the sombre colour palette (appropriate given the nature of the tale), uses some amazing comics artwork and some terrific variation in panel layout and perspective to draw in the visual eye.

Both of those titles were published by Dargaud, and join two Glenat publications I bought from them a few months back at the Institut Francais, Timothe le Boucher’s 47 Cordes, which was again recommended to me as an interesting recent work from a newer creator that I wasn’t familiar with, and Joe La Pirate (how could I resist a title like that?) by Hubert and Virginie Augustin. Of course, you are under no obligation only to read in French – La Belle Adventure has plenty of excellent European creators available in English, in all genres, adult and children’s books alike, and they are very happy to advise you on possible reading.

The duo remain involved in not only selling but promoting our beloved medium, being involved in drink and draws and other comics events in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In addition to helping organise the recent La Monde Sans Fin exhibition at the Institut Francais in Edinburgh (see our review here), Annabelle showed me the small back room to the bookshop, which they are planning to turn into a comics art exhibition space, which is also welcome news. When I visited it was only their second week of being in the shop, so they are still waiting on more titles to be delivered, and while they have carefully curated a diverse mix of works to start with, they will be looking to see what readers are most interested in and fine-tuning it in response.

It’s a terrific new venture, and I wish them every success, and commend any comics lover in, or visiting the city, to take a trip to visit and support them. You can follow La Belle Adventure on their Instagram page here, while the shop itself can be found at 225 Leith Walk, open Wednesday to Saturday, 10.30 to 6, and 1pm to 5 on Sundays.

This article was originally penned for Down The Tubes

Wildlife

I took a long walk along the Water of Leith at the weekend with a chum. It’s always a delightful stroll – the river runs through the city, quiet paths, trees, running water, birdsong – essentially it offers up a countryside walk right in the city.

Heron On The Water Of Leith 01

Heron On The Water Of Leith 04

This weekend’s stroll came with the added bonus of seeing a lordly heron, overseeing its kingdom, standing by the weir just below the back entrance to the Gallery of Modern Art. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to see a heron on the river before, they normally stand stock-still, just watching everything. This time, however, it started walking around, with that peculiar, long-legged gait, so I snapped more photos and some video (thankful again that my old but serviceable camera has a decent, big zoom lens to get a bit closer)

Heron On The Water Of Leith 05

Vid - Heron on the Water of Leith 1

Vid - Heron on the Water of Leith 2

Le Monde Sans Fin exhibition

Le Monde Sans Fin Exhibition
Institut Francais D’Ecosse, until 10th May (free)

I’m sure some readers even in the Anglosphere will be familiar with the name Christophe Blain,  the Angoulême-winning (for Isaac the Pirate, and, with Abel Lanzac, for Quai d’Orsay) French comics creator who has also created works with some of the greats of the Franco-Belgian bande dessinee scene, such as Lewis Trondheim and David B. For Le Monde Sans Fin (World Without End), published in 2021 by Dargaud, Bain collaborated with environmental scientist Jean-Marc Jancovici to explore one of the burning issues that hangs over the heads of every person on our planet, a Sword of Damocles of our own making – climate change, its impact, our own responsibility for it, the truths and distortions over the arguments made on climate change, and what we can potentially do to help decrease the serious consequences.

The album has been an enormous best-seller in the French language for Dargaud, selling in excess of 800, 000 copies, a figure most of our friends in the English-language comics world can only dream of. The free exhibition is fairly small, just one room, but still very much well worth a visit if you are in Edinburgh (the Institut Francais is in the French Consulate, which is in a handsome building right next to historic Saint Giles Cathedral, right by the Royal Mile). It has been arranged quite cleverly – instead of just reproducing artwork from the pages, or presenting initial sketches next to finished works, we are taken around the room, broken into four sub-themes from the book, plus an introduction and conclusion:

Introduction – Le Monde sans fin

Thème 1 : L’énergie a façonné notre monde actuel (How energy has shaped our world)

Thème 2 : Le Climat : qu’est ce qui va arriver ? (Climate – what is going to happen?)

Thème 3 : Notre alimentation a un impact (Our food makes an impact)

Thème 4 : Sans avion, sans voiture, on va se déplacer comment ? (How can we get around without using planes and cars?)

Each of these section showcases panels with Jancovici explaining the issues and problems to Blain; Jancovici is shown in a more realistic fashion, while Blain depicts himself in a far more cartoony version, large-nosed, reminding me just a little of Dupuy and Berberian’s Monsieur Jean character. This continues in the discussion panels – while the text and illustrations convey serious information in an accessible manner, Blain lightens the mood a little (this is, after all, very heavy subject matter) with his own cartoon avatar with touches of visual humour here and there, which I appreciated (also some of those single panel images were just some damned nice cartooning, a single depiction of his character getting over several ideas from one picture in a way anyone would understand).

Walking through the various displays effectively takes us through a capsule version of the book, seeing the scientist and artist engaging in a conversation, Blain’s character our everyman stand-in, there to ask the needed questions that Jancovici tries to give him in a way that is understandable to anyone. Yes, it can be quite heavy, and of course it can easily lead to a certain fatalism and despair that I’m sure many of us have experienced when considering this issue, not least the feeling that governments in collusion with greedy giant corporations will obstruct changes we desperately need to stave off disaster for as long as they can make obscene levels of profits, consequences be damned.

But, as I said, Blain tries to temper this with some smile-inducing cartooning worked into the seriously heavyweight discussion, and there are are also hints in there that yes, we have made a mess, we’re still making it, but we’re an adaptable, clever species and if we put our collective minds and wills to it, we can change things. It’s one of the most important issues facing us globally today, and one which will impact generations to come even more, so it is important reading and no bad thing to invite informed contemplation of the issues. We were talking to a member of staff, who mentioned to us that the reactions children visiting had was very different to the adults – the children mostly looked at these issues then, with simple child logic, asked if we know these are the things going wrong, why don’t adults just fix them? A good question…

Le Monde sans fin by Jean-Marc Jancovici and Christophe Blain is published by Dargaud, with an English-language edition coming from Particular Books in September 2024. La Belle Adventure, who helped with the exhibition, are currently running pop-up stalls at the Leith street market and the Stockbridge street market in Edinburgh, while hoping to open a permanent shop selling French and English-language graphic novels (I was lucky enough to buy some French BD from them recently); meantime you can follow them on Instagram. My French is far from perfect, so apologies for anything I didn’t translate quite right here! While the exhibition itself is in French, there are also accompanying English-language translations.

This review was originally penned for Down the Tubes

Water Wheel

After so many days and weeks of mostly rain, interspersed with the odd day or two of nice weather (even by Scottish standards it has been remarkably wet for a long time), unsurprisingly the grassy parts of the Meadows are a bit waterlogged. While the paved paths were fine, the grass paths many like to stroll between lines of trees were filled with large puddles and mud, which did offer some nice reflections of the trees, though!

Water Wheel 01

When I looked more closely at that scene, I noticed that some rotten bumbag had thrown away an old bicycle wheel, right there in the park. I mean why would you do that? To abandon this thing here, you would have to walk halfway through the park, passing bins closers to the entrances, but no, carry it right through the park then dump it right where people normally stroll. However, despicable as the lazy littering of a public park is, it did offer up a decent monochrome photo subject for my lens…

Water Wheel 02

Water Wheel 03

Reviews: Lovely, Dark and Deep

Lovely, Dark and Deep,
Directed by Teresa Sutherland,
Starring Georgina Campbell, Nick Blood, Wai Ching Ho

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
(Stopping by Woods on a Winter Evening, Robert Frost)

The directorial debut of Teresa Sutherland, who, among other things, was the writer on the excellent Western chiller The Wind (which I reviewed after it’s Edinburgh Film Festival screening in 2019 – see here), drawing inspiration from the Robert Frost poem quoted above, this is an intriguing, slow-burning horror which crafts an increasing atmosphere of unease right from the start. We have beautifully filmed landscapes of the vast American wilderness filling the screen, but soon that alluring wonder of nature starts to transform into something else, just with the simple device of changing angles, to something less normal, less natural.

Lennon (Georgina Campbell) is a newly-minted park ranger, on her way to her first posting, something she has fought for a long time to earn. As she drives through the countryside to a national park to take up her duties, she stops the car on the isolated road for a moment, noticing a cut in her fingertip (from a nervous habit of chewing on her nails). When she looks up, she realises a young deer has wandered onto the road. It raises its head curiously, looking through the windscreen at her, its eyes seeming unnaturally dark. Her car radio suddenly lets out a shriek of feedback, static and garbled voices, startling her. When she looks back up, the deer has vanished.

On arriving at the headquarters, she and the other rangers are briefed by their chief, Zhang (Wai Ching Ho), before being helicoptered out to their remote locations, each given a territory of the enormous national park to patrol, with a Spartan hut (without even electricity). She’s soon settled in, and out on her rounds, checking sites, there for any hikers who need help. On one of her walks her radio starts to play up, at one point it makes static noises very much like her car radio did earlier – despite the fact she had just taken the batteries out to check them…

 

She has to put this to the back of her mind, however, when a distraught hiker batters on the door of her hut for help, before fleeing into the dark of the night-time forest; on catching up to him she finds he is in a disturbed sense of mind, seeking his friend who vanished from their camp. She calls in the other rangers and a large-scale search and rescue operation swings into action. Lennon, with a foot injured while pursuing the distraught man earlier, is ordered to stay at her camp in case the lost person comes there, while the others go off, but she disobeys this order, and in the process finds the woman, who is in a strange state, asking Lennon if she is real.

At this point it starts to become even darker and more bizarre – I don’t want to spoil any of that here, the build-up to that point does an excellent job of introducing Lennon (and hinting that she has deeply personal reasons for wanting this job – she lost her younger sister in just such a forest long ago) and setting up her post, as well as casually mentioning that a large number of people go missing in national parks each year (a normal bit of data, but here it gives you a little shiver, because you know it is going to be related to something in the film, eventually).

As with The Wind, there’s a strong element of “is there something supernatural, or is it all in her head?” about Lovely, Dark and Deep, which I liked (I think later it comes down more on one side of that than the other, though), and then there are hints of ancient folklore and that there is some secret here, one the rangers may even be aware of, but how are they connected to it, what role do they play?

While there are small but excellent turns from others such as Ho as her boss, or Blood as a fellow ranger near her territory, the vast bulk of this movie rests on Campbell’s shoulders, and she does a great job, managing to convey someone who can be organised and efficient and confident, as you’d expect a trained ranger to be, but at the same time nervous, eaten by memories of her sister’s disappearance years before and also sensing there is more in the woods than any training can prepare her for. An excellent, moody, atmospheric, psychological flick, with elements of the folk-horror about it too, perhaps even a tiny nod to Parisian-set horror As Above, So Below and even a little touch of some of the wilderness-set X-Files tales .

Lovely, Dark and Deep is available on streaming services from Blue Finch from March 25th

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

The Twilight Zone

Dusk Fades Softly Into Night 01

Walking home along the Union Canal at Fountainbridge – as March moves on the sunset is a little later each evening, so as I have been heading home from work I’ve caught the extended dusk, the tail end of Blue Hour, when the streetlights have come on, the eastern sky is already darkening, but the western sky still holds some pale blue light and hints of reds and purples from the sun that has just dipped below the horizon.

Dusk Fades Softly Into Night 03

Evening Classes

I took these using the little mini-tripod, the type with the bendy legs. It’s only 3 inches high, and obviously doesn’t give the scope my main tripod can, but unlike that one, this fits into my satchel! Handy when I want to catch low-light or night shots but not have to carry the big tripod around town. Being to tiny I have to use other things to try and raise the height on it, so sitting it on the side of the bridge, or on a bench by the canal. It doesn’t replace my big tripod, but it is a very handy wee addition.

Ghosts Pass Under The Bridge Of Night

I always love the “ghost” effect caused by moving people when making a long exposure!

Colourful Dusk

This last one wasn’t taken with the main camera and the mini tripod – this was actually taken with my phone camera, as I walked home. I didn’t really expect it to come out, but thought I would try – I set the timer mode, and then steadied it as best I could, sitting the phone on the edge of the bridge. Quite suprised by the result.

Reviews: Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World

Do Not Expect Too Much From The End Of The World,
Directed by Radu Jude,
Starring Ilinca Manolache, Nina Hoss, Uwe Boll, László Miske, Dorina Lazar

The Golden Bear award-winning Radu Jude returns with an incredibly ambitious – not to mention lengthy, at a hefty two hours and forty three minutes – piece, which happily pays homage and also subverts elements of Goddard and the French New Wave with very modern, of-the-moment elements (not least digital tech, online social media) and filters it all through the appalling, endless grind of trying to make ends meet in the gig economy, cross-cut frequently with vintage film from the early 1980s of a woman taxi driver (a rarity back then), who share both a name – Angela – with our protagonist (played by Ilinca Manolache, who carries so much of this film) and, despite the decades between them, also share many similarities in their life and work demands.

Modern-day Angela is filmed mostly in her car, constantly driving from one task to the next for her wealthy employers (who naturally expect her to work incredibly long hours for a pittance, while they make far more money themselves), and the camera work here lends an almost video-blogging aspect to the film, as if the many scenes of a tired, grumpy Angela endlessly driving from job to job start to look like they should be part of her social media. Meanwhile she uses digital filters to appear as a bald-headed, mono-browed joke of a man, the sort who worships misogynistic hate-mongers like Tate (who she references in this persona), which she intends as a sort of joke, but which obviously also allow the put-upon Angela to indulge in some much-needed angry venting, and perhaps also a way of purging some of that same bigotry she encounters herself in her daily grind. That she’s running from job to job to record interviews with workers for a multi-national company who were injured in the job (for a work safety film!), while she herself is so overworked she falls asleep at the wheel, just adds to a relentless sense of a treadmill and little changing for most people, always at the mercy of the whims of the rich and powerful employers.

Jude employs an incredible array of visual styles and flourishes – from a sharply contrasted, documentary black and white to the washed out colours of older film stock for the 1980s Angela, to the artificial filters of the social media segments, making great use of cuts and jumps, but also unafraid to sometimes lock the camera into one view for a very long scene (one of the injured workers telling his story, then again, then again, multiple takes so the company can then edit his words to suit themselves, not the truth), making it a visual smorgasbord of cinema and modern multimedia.

It’s often in your face, rude and crude in places, and the feeling that between the 1980s and modern-day Angela’s world very little has changed, that if anything life has just become grimmer and harder for many more can be overwhelming (especially given the very long running time), yet it is leavened with a lot of dark humour and satire. In some places it is examining the way a lot of people have to live and work now, holding up a mirror in a way many social-realist directors would recognise, but in other moments it is holding up a dark, twisted, Funhouse distorting mirror, as much satire as it is commentary. It’s clearly not a movie for everyone, but many cinephiles will find this highly unusual and fascinating work.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Reviews: animation & artistic creation collide in Stopmotion

Stopmotion,
Directed by Robert Morgan,
Starring Aisling Franciosi, Stella Gonet, Tom York, Caoilinn Springall, James Swanton

I have been eager to see this film since Phil posted the trailer here on LFF; a lifelong love of animation (especially stop-motion work), and of horror, this film was calling to me. I’m delighted to report that I was not disappointed – this is one of the more unusual British horrors of recent years, delving into psychology, family ties versus our own urge to create our own path, and the lengths an artist will go to when creating something. Just how much of yourself can you pour into your creation without endangering your sense of self and the real world around you?

Ella (Aisling Franciosi) is a young animation artist, but instead of forging her own path, she’s spinning her wheels, helping her mother Suzanne (Stella Gonet) with her work. Her mother is a revered figure in the world of animated film – one friend comments how her work was required viewing at art college – but age and progressive illness have robbed her hands of their once finely tuned skills, so Ella is effectively now her hands, painstakingly setting up each frame of her mother’s final stop-motion film, millimetre by millimetre.

It’s work which requires a huge investment of time and attention, time she should be spending carving out her own artistic identity and work (as it opens the two women are even dressed alike), so Ella is chafing, and it doesn’t help that her mother is overbearing and seems quite uncaring about the demands she is making on her daughter, which increases her resentment. Interestingly Franciosi and Morgan opted to show this simmering resentment not through explosive anger, but through a far more nuanced and subtle performance. Just like the demanding art she works at,

Ella is good at keeping herself relatively still, emotionally as well as physical, instead allowing only small changes in expression and body language to hint as the growing tempest within her; it’s a damned fine bit of acting craft on her part. When illness puts her mother in the hospital, at first Ella considers finishing her film for her, but she really wants to create her own, and realises this is her chance at last. Her boyfriend arranges for her to borrow an empty apartment in an almost deserted block of flats to use as a nice, quiet studio space, and she sets herself up to… Realise that now she has the time, she’s not sure what story she wants to tell (I’m sure many of us who have created works have experienced that phenomenon, our best ideas seem to come when we don’t have time to work on them!).

It’s at this point she meets the only other person she ever seems to see in the building, Caoilinn Springall’s unnamed young girl, who with a child’s curiosity asks what she is doing and if she can look. And with that lack of filters that kids have she is quite blunt in telling Ella that her ideas aren’t good, and instead proposing some story ideas of her own. Slowly she starts to make a new story, a quite disturbing-looking one, about the figure of a woman in fear, fleeing through a forest, being pursued by a slow but relentless being, the Ash Man.

As the girl encourages her not just to change the story, but to start using, shall we say “unusual” material for creations, including raw meat, or organic items instead of the usual metal armature skeleton inside her figures. And it is at this point that Ella’s imagination and work and the real world start to overlap one another – the stress and resentment of looking after her ailing mother, of carrying out work for an ungrateful person, of feeling her own life has been left behind, finally starts to seep out from this seemingly quiet, centred woman.

This is a beautifully made film, and it is quite clear Morgan and his crew have gone to great lengths to craft each scene to be just so. Even at the opening of the film this is obvious – we see Ella in a nightclub, lit by flickering strobe lights, their periodic bursts making the dancers around her appear to be almost stop-motion figures themselves, while with each flash of the strobes Ella’s facial expressions change. It was a statement of intent made right at the start of the film, and one I felt they adhered to throughout.

It’s delightfully disturbing and unsettling viewing, the psychological elements, the stop-motion moments, the clever cinematography and use of sound and music (the soundscape is superb and compliments the visuals perfectly) all work together, while the creepy nature of inert items being brought to life is mined well, making nods to creators like the great Jan Švankmajer (“Prague’s alchemist of film”) and the Brothers Quay among others. Slowly building horror, disturbing, atmospheric, visually and aurally beautiful, this one is highly recommended.

Stopmotion from IFC is released in cinemas from February 23d, and on streaming from March 15th

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Reviews: Someone You Can Build a Nest In

Someone You Can Build a Nest In,
John Wiswell,
Published Jo Fletcher Books,
Hardback, Published April 2024
ISBN 9781529431339

I’ve heard of Nebula-winning John Wiswell before, but not actually had a chance to read him, until Jo Fletcher books spotted me talking about another book and sendt me an advance copy, thinking if I liked that one I might like this. They were correct, and I am delighted that they sent it to me out of the blue like that, as this was one of those rather lovely reads that you don’t just enjoy for good story and characters, but come away sporting a big smile and a warm feeling inside.

It’s your classic love story – monster is feared and hunted by locals, convinced she is devouring people (well, okay, she does sometimes, mostly bad people, or people trying to hurt her though, to be fair), hides in ruins in a remote, dank area (shades of Shrek’s swamp home) where she can have privacy and safety, and also because, although she can shape-shift into human form, she hates having to talk to people and doesn’t quite understand how interpersonal relationships work. And then, injured in her human guise, she is found and tended to by Homily, one of those kind-hearted people who tries to help others.

This has never happened before, and Shesheshen – going under the name Siobhan here – finds herself at first alarmed and wondering what is going on, preparing to defend herself, then slowly realising that Homily helps because, well, that’s just who she is. And as she finds out more about Homily, how her good nature is a reaction to the awful behaviour of most of her family, and how they treat her, the more Shesheshen, still not understanding fully these relationships, finds herself becoming very attached to Homily, and protective of her, in a way a monster really shouldn’t with a human…

As I said, it is the old love story – monster falls for kind-hearted human, who doesn’t know they are really a monster, both have their vulnerabilities and foibles that they share, as they slowly fall for each other in a queer, cross-species fantasy romance, but will it survive when the truth is revealed? Romeo and Juliet, but with monster hunters, people eating and psychotic, aristocratic relatives. And running through it, a delicious sense of dark humour – Shesheshen, hearing monster hunters mutter that they should have brought priests with them thinks, oh, yes, I like priests, they taste so righteous, or having warm memories of being an infant monster, kept warm in the next by being surrounded by her late father’s intestines (he was a very good father, she thinks nostalgically).

It’s about identity, not fitting in, but sometimes finding there are others you can not fit in with in a way you never expected, and how that can really change your life in the most unexpected of ways (although still with people eating – a monster girl has to eat, after all). An absolute delight.

If you are ordering this book, please buy from your local, Indy bookshop if you can – Jeff Bezos does not need more of your money! If you don’t live near a local bookshop, you can order directly from the website of many of them, or go through Bookshop Dot Org, which allows you to support independent bookshops of your choice.

This review was originally penned for The Shoreline of Infinity, Scotland’s leading journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Taking the night tram

I rarely use the trams in Edinburgh, as the nearest stop is almost twenty minutes from my apartment (and I can walk to Princes Street in twenty-five). However, the redesign of Leith Walk and the big roundabout at the top at Picardy Place has made road traffic a horrible, slow, frustrating mess – I can get a bus from right by my flat, right down to Leith, but that bottleneck is so frustrating that on the return I decided since a tram stop was right outside the venue I was in, I would get it back, dismount at Haymarket and walk the twenty minutes, as it was still better than the almost direct bus that gets screwed up by the council’s Escher-like designs for the road traffic system around the top of the Walk.

Night Tram 01

And of course, since I was down there, I decided to take some night shots, because where I go, the camera goes too!

Vid - Night Tram

Tram Stop At Night 01

Tram Stop At Night 03