LFF16 Cult & Dare reviews: “The Handmaiden”, “Wild”, “Scarred Hearts”, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, “Blue Velvet Revisited” and 11 others…


Films reviewed: “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, “Blue Velvet Revisited”, “Christine”, “The Death of Louis XIV”, “The Handmaiden”, “I Am Not a Serial Killer”, “Into the Forest”, “King Cobra”, “Lake Bodom”, “Noonday Witch”, “Personal Shopper”, “Planetarium”, “Scarred Hearts” and “Wild” (pictured above).

London Film Festival 2015 was split into strands including Debate, Documentary, First Feature, Galas, Journey, Laugh, Love, Official Competition and Thrill. Here are the Cult and Dare reviews.

Follow @halfacanyon for more.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe
– 5.5/10

Director: André Øvredal
Writers: Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Brian Cox, Ophelia Lovibond
Strand: Cult gala
UK release: TBC
US release: 21 December 2016
“We’re trapped down here. Please…!”


Some light genre fun is to be had in Øvredal’s underground horror about a father/son duo trapped in the basement of a morgue. The pair, ably brought to life by Cox and Hirsch, are haunted to some extent by their family’s missing mother figure, but the more literal terror seems to stem from a corpse delivered on a rainy night.

Still, there isn’t enough slicing and dicing through predictable twists to amount to anything substantial, particularly as the emotional core is deader than Jane Doe herself. That said, the location (in the Q&A, a producer said it’s all shot in Bromley-by-Bow!) is sufficiently creepy – a power cut and a malfunctioning lift amp up the claustrophobia. And a bell-related gag remains entertaining throughout the more tedious passages.

Blue Velvet Revisited
– 7/10

Director/Writer: Peter Braatz
Starring: David Lynch, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper
Strand: Cult
UK/US release: TBC
“It should work when it goes together, but I don’t know yet.”


This behind-the-scenes doc is a collection of footage Braatz took on set, occasionally interrupted by interviews and quotes like: “Radiation, to me, is very boring, because you don’t see anything… Smoke is something you see. I like steel mills and smoke.” It’ll send most people to sleep, but at least their nightmares will be colourful. For me, it’s a potential DVD extra elevated by a magical atmosphere generated on set. BVR may be second-hand smoke, in that sense, but I’ll take it.

– 7.5/10

Director: Antonio Campos
Writers: Craig Shilowich
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts
Strand: Dare
UK release: TBC
US release: Out now
“If it bleeds, it leads.”


With Christine, one of the more intense propositions at this year’s London Film Festival, the headline is a real incident dating back to 1974: the televised suicide of news anchor Christine Chubbuck. Directed by Antonio Campos, the intricate character study explores the final days before Christine blew her brains out on a live broadcast. For Rebecca Hall, it’s a career-defining performance that’s effectively a ticking time bomb about to dramatically explode.

My full 600-word review of Christine can be read here.

The Death of Louis XIV
– 3.5/10

Original title: La Mort de Louis XIV
Director: Albert Serra
Writers: Thierry Lounas, Albert Serra
Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Patrick d’Assumçao, Marc Susini
Strand: Dare
UK/US release: TBC
“Donkey milk is the correct remedy.”


The surfaces are lush and the morbid humour might please fans of The Death of Mr Lazarescu, but the elongated exhalation of Léaud’s final breath is torturously slow and like watching very expensive wallpaper stay dry. In a way, it’s admirable: you’re either with Serra, or you’re not. And I was not. Team Scarred Hearts!

The Handmaiden
– 8/10

Original title: Agassi
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook, Sarah Waters (novel)
Strand: Dare gala
UK release: 17 February 2017
US release: Out now
“Men use the word ‘mesmerising’ when they wish to touch a lady’s breasts.”


Around two hours into The Handmaiden, a character smokes three cigarettes at once. Of course, he does – it’s a Chan-wook movie. In the Korean director’s lavishly furnished period love story, he goes big with the violence, set designs, twists and sordid excursions – but also the romance. Where Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance were visual delights lacking in heart, The Handmaiden uses its lengthy running time to develop the passion between its two female leads. It’s his finest achievement in a long time.

With a spirally score and glossy surfaces that deserve to be seen on a big screen, Chan-wook’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ Victorian era-set novel is also a sensuous affair, incorporating taste and smell into the emotional narrative. There’s also the director’s typically mischievous side, though less gratuitous than normal, incorporating some finely placed gore and a cameo from everyone’s favourite Oldboy character. Mesmerising.

I Am Not a Serial Killer
– 7/10

Director: Billy O’Brien
Writers: Billy O’Brien, Christopher Hyde, Dan Wells (novel)
Starring: Max Records, Christopher Lloyd, Laura Fraser
Strand: Cult
UK release: 9 December 2016
US release: Out now
“It’s such a beautiful day. It makes you glad to be alive.”


“Two bodies in a week? That’s money in the bag!” John (Records), a sociopath working in a morgue, isn’t a serial killer. In fact, he’s a sweet kid who employs psychological tricks to ensure a taste for blood never develops, and his gory after-school gig is to support his mother.

So for the most part, O’Brien’s coming-of-ager is a warm yarn, despite the icy setting, and the corpses that pop up around town are semi-comic – it’s not a typical slasher movie, at least not in execution. Still, stealing the show is Christopher Lloyd as the mysterious neighbour. At the Q&A, Lloyd confessed he has a “tendency to overact”, and thus O’Brien’s advice was to drain the emotion. The subdued result, both fragile and chilling, adds emotional layers to the kill-a-thon.

Into the Forest
– 4/10

Original title: Dans la forêt
Director: Gilles Marchand
Writers: Gilles Marchand, Dominik Moll
Starring: Jéémie Elkaïm, Timothé Vom Dorp, Théo Van de Voorde
Strand: Cult
UK/US release: TBC
“Sending a text would be better.”


Not to be confused with the Ellen Page/Evan Rachel Wood creeper of the same, the French edition of Into the Forest is largely what you imagine: a few people get isolated in the woods and discover the trees are possessed. Well, not exactly, but the actual plot is too dumb to explain.

Marchand and Moll, who together wrote so-so thriller With a Friend Like Harry, deliver dollops of suspense that ultimately go nowhere. The scares, if you can call them that, border on laughable.

King Cobra
– 6/10

Director: Justin Kelly
Writers: Justin Kelly, D. Madison Savage (story)
Starring: James Franco, Christian Slater, Garrett Clayton, Keegan Allen, Alicia Silverstone, Molly Ringwald
Strand: Dare
UK release: TBC
US release: Out now
“I’m willing to give you $25,000 for one video.”


Justin Kelly knows how to get the best out of Franco. They’ve reunited for King Cobra, a true-to-life story about gay porn, murder and unpaid bills. The undoubted reason to see it is Franco on electric form – much closer to Spring Breakers than the usual sleepwalking he does in about 10 other films per years.

The story itself is… fine. The extreme details and stylist flourishes are fun/dramatic, but then it gets a bit too plotty. Special shout out to Sliverstone who’s in it for two minutes but steals her two scenes anyway.

Lake Bodom
– 5/10

Original title: Bodom
Director: Taneli Mustonen
Writers: Taneli Mustonen, Aleksi Hyvärinen
Starring: Nelly Hirst-Gee, Mimosa William, Mikael Gabriel
Strand: Cult
UK/US release: TBC
“Hey, why did you say that, with us bible thumpers, everything’s about sex?”


You think it’s going to be one type of boring horror, then it turns out to be a slightly more diverting thriller. So, it could be worse, I guess.

The Noonday Witch
– 5/10

Original title: Polednice
Director: Jiří Sádek
Writer: Michal Samir
Starring: Anna Geislerová, Karolína Lipowská, Daniela Kolářová
Strand: Cult
UK/US release: TBC
“Give that child here.”


A mother won’t explain her husband’s absence to their daughter, and she makes things worse by dragging her to a cornfield where guilt/grief/whatever manifests itself as something that operates in jump scares and visual metaphors. While it does look rather handsome and a daytime horror is a neat twist, there’s not enough to justify the ill logic.

Personal Shopper
– 8.5/10

Director/Writer: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz
Strand: Dare
UK release: 3 March 2017
US release: 10 March 2017
“Lewis, is it you or is it me?”


Probably the spookiest text messaging ever committed to film. It’s ace. You can read my thoughts and my interview with Olivier Assayas in March next year.

– 4/10 or 8/10

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Writers: Rebecca Zlotowski, Robin Campillo
Starring: Natalie Portman, Lily-Rose Depp, Emmanuel Salinger
UK/US release: TBC
Strand: Dare


This film is either spectacular or a spectacular mess. There’s so much going on, it needs a second viewing.

Scarred Hearts
– 8/10

Original title: Inimi cicatrizate
Director: Radu Jude
Writers: Radu Jude, Max Blecher
Starring: Lucian Teodor Rus, Ivana Mladenović, Ilinca Harnut
Strand: Dare
UK/US release: TBC
“We’re so ill, Isa, that worrying about bourgeois morals is disgusting.”


“Some people have to do great things to get a statue,” a doctor jokingly tells 20-year-old Emanuel (Rus). “With you, you just have to be a little ill.” It’s 1937 when the youngster is diagnosed with tuberculosis in his spine, and thus he’s confined to a hospital with a cast around his chest. As the Academy square ratio emphasises, his environment’s about to get claustrophobic.

Though Emanuel spends most of Jude’s thoughtful drama completely bedridden (yes, this nearly three-hour film focuses on someone who can rarely sit up or look into the camera), he still makes the most of his life. As do his fellow patients. By definition, there’s sadness involved, but it’s often funny and occasionally even bawdy (a love triangle develops). Above all, it’s rich in contemplation, with the writings of author Max Blecher appearing on screen every few minutes.

The long fixed shots won’t be to everyone’s tastes, especially given the immobility of its characters, but the nostalgic, often poignant drama is a 35mm gem if you let it sink in. (Incidentally, Maren Ade is one of the producers.)

– 7.5/10

Director/Writer: Nicolette Krebitz
Starring: Lilith Stangenberg, Georg Friedrich, Silke Bodenbender
Strand: Dare
UK/US release: TBC
“But I don’t want to be the way that I was.”


Wild – hopefully it’ll get a new name before release – is the kind of bold, absurd indie that will draw a physical response from viewers, whether they love it or not. For me, it’s brilliantly ludicrous, with a sharp eye for gender politics. But, admittedly, many will see the occasionally graphic “girl meets wolf” romance as too cartoonish for its own good. That’s OK – people are wrong all the time.

Stangenberg plays Ania, a young IT assistant whose lonely life gets lonelier following the death of her father. Finding solace in a stray wolf in a forest, she develops an owner/pet relationship that involves a few scratches, some cunnilingus and what is presumably plenty of computer trickery. The up-and-coming actress pulls off this deeply physical role (there’s minimal dialogue) with grace and humour, taking her character’s animalistic tendencies into intriguing emotional territory.

Despite her scratches, Ania is camouflage in the office. She brings her male boss coffee and asks “no stupid questions”, thus establishing herself as his favourite employee. A smile and a beverage, it turns out, is all that’s required. So when her howling instincts kick in, her burst of confidence disrupts the office – and you’ll have to watch it to find out what happens next.

Even if the far-fetched climax gave me paws for thought, I left with admiration for Klebitz’s twisted vision and Stangenberg’s viscerally wolfy performance. They don’t hold back, and the bizarre premise reaches a satisfying conclusion.

Follow @halfacanyon for more. Unfollow @halfacanyon for less.

About Nick Chen

26-year-old journalist who's written for places like Total Film, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies, Complex, SFX Magazine, Dazed and Confused, Grolsch Film Works, London Calling, Vice, and a bunch of other places. Why pencils have razors. Based on a book. Screenwriter. Buzz word. London. Twitter: @halfacanyon. Lesser known Olsen brother. Multiple instances of words misused contemporaneously.
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8 Responses to LFF16 Cult & Dare reviews: “The Handmaiden”, “Wild”, “Scarred Hearts”, “The Autopsy of Jane Doe”, “Blue Velvet Revisited” and 11 others…

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  8. Billy says:

    Thank you for tthis

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