Like her Emily Dickinson biopic A Quiet Passion, Terence Davies’ latest film Blessing uses the life of a poet to take a withered, nostalgia-free journey into a past shaped by war. That past is Britain during and after World War I and the poet is gay writer Siegfried Sassoon, a decorated soldier who became a prominent critic of the conflict.
Played as a young man by Jack Lowden and in old age by Peter Capaldi, Sassoon’s disdain for the trappings of convention can’t drag him out of the life of regret he seems destined to achieve, something Davies alludes to. at first by equating Sassoon’s inability to come to terms with the horrors of war with his complex feelings about his own sexuality. He begins to confront the latter while being consigned to a psychiatric hospital in Craiglockhart, Edinburgh, where he meets the soon-to-be famous war poet Wilfred Owen, about Sassoon’s life and short career, but whose success, the frontline courage and death will eat away at him as he drifts through the post-war years, searching in vain for happiness among the Bright Young Things who seem content to live the kind of frivolous, half-open lives that he can’t afford to enjoy.
Lowden gets the lion’s share of screen time here and Davies’ preference for tableau-like compositions gives him plenty of room to unravel the self-loathing contained in Davies’ acidic script. But as the film progresses in time, the shock of Capaldi’s bitter performance as an aged Sassoon standing up against a modern world adds to the ultimate tragedy of a man who understands all about himself, except how to find peace.
Despite sharing a title, Norwegian horror Innocents is not a remake of the 1961 adaptation of the Henry James ghost story The Turn of the Nut. It is, however, an equally frightening and psychologically nuanced portrait of the traumas and terrors of adolescence, though it also echoes Stephen King in the uncompromising and dark way in which its preteen protagonists confront and deal with inexplicable powers.
Set in a Norwegian housing estate where seven-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her severely autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) have recently moved to, the film initially bases its most fantastical elements on their rocky relationship with young Ida. . engaging in occasional acts of cruelty against Anna to vent his frustration at having to spend the summer holidays watching over her for her busy parents. Gradually, however, writer/director Eskil Vogt (recently Oscar-nominated for co-writing Joachim Trier’s Worst Person in the World) is shifting the debate into the realm of the weird. Ida befriends fellow countryman Ben (Sam Ashraf), who appears to have telekinetic powers, while a shut-in Anna forms a psychic bond with Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a kinder child with an ability telepathic to feel what she feels.
Vogt never falls into the trap of explaining these strange occurrences; instead, it gives us clues to the specifics of each child’s individual home life, diligently crafting a visual language that captures the perspective of its young characters (all played by beginners, all excellent) while alluding to something mysterious and sinister in the alienating, isolating nature of their high-rise apartment complex.
Set against the backdrop of World War I, a potentially hard-hitting tale of sexual assault on the Isle of Lewis turns into soapy melodrama in The road dance. Adapted from John MacKay’s novel by American writer/director Richie Adams, the film opts for an eerily twee view of the Hebrides, with sweeping drone shots of the coast, an authoritative score and stilted dialogue offering a picturesque and nostalgic view. of the island. a life that seems at odds with the trauma its central character, Kirsty (played by Hermione Corfield), must endure after being knocked out, raped and impregnated the night before the young men around her depart for the Western Front. Left to reenact the attack and forced to keep her condition a secret, her ordeal feels diminished by the film’s old-school approach, which seems determined to deliver a kind of sadly rendered mystery filled with red herrings and a false happy ending. Morven Christie and Mark Gatiss co-star.
In Emergency A raucous campus comedy takes a serious detour into the precarious state of race relations in America as a pre-graduation blast for a trio of college friends is derailed by the discovery of a drunken white girl passed out on the floor of their pupil lodge. Panicked that it will come to the authorities if two black college students and their stoned Latino roommate call him, the more worldly Sean (RJ Tyler) convinces his right-handed best friend Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) to get the girl’s unconscious body out of their home safely – a terrible decision that quickly escalates the seriousness of their situation. As morally questionable and wrong as their actions are, however, they’re also fueled by a very real fear that their own lives have been endangered – a point director Carey Williams cleverly underscores using the structure of rites of passage movies. . like Superbad and Booksmart to examine how white privilege can impact something as simple as trying to have a good time with your friends.
Benediction and The Road Dance are on general release from May 20; The Innocents is on select release and digital on-demand starting May 20; Emergency is in select release starting May 20 and streaming on Prime Video starting May 27.