Movie reviews: Midnight Special, The Huntsman: Winter's War, My Name is Emily

Midnight Special 4/5

Movie reviews: Midnight Special, The Huntsman: Winter's War, My Name is Emily

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), Midnight Special (12A) opens with Roy (Michael Shannon) and his cop friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) abducting Roy’s eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) from a Texas ranch.

The trio are pursued by the authorities, with the FBI and NSA taking a particular interest, because Alton is a very special boy capable of miraculous feats: A creature of light made flesh, he may well be the new Messiah.

What transpires is a gripping blend of noir-ish road movie and sci-fi, as Nichols’ story incorporates elements of ET and Close Encounter of the Third Kind, but invests the fantastical tropes of messiahs and parallel dimensions with a gritty, lo-fi quality that ensures Midnight Special is a hard-edged thriller that thrives on an increasingly tense atmosphere.

Shannon and Edgerton are in excellent form here, two stolidly blue-collar guys whose backgrounds and prospects are starkly contrasted with those of the quirky, exotic Alton, a geek who wears blue swimming goggles and giggles helplessly whilst reading comic books, but who contains within his skinny frame an awesomely devastating power that he has not yet learned to harness.

The story loses some of its pounding drive when Nichols takes us into the parallel dimension Alton calls home, when some viewers might wonder why creatures composed of light would choose to live in cities of impressively futuristic but rather redundantly physical architecture, but otherwise Midnight Special is an inventive, intriguing, and thought-provoking thriller.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (12A), a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), opens by establishing Freya (Emily Blunt), sister to the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), as the Ice Queen of the North.

Betrayed by love, Freya has created a kingdom of cruelty, where love is forbidden and an army of stolen children are trained to become unfeeling huntsmen as she bids to extend her power over the known world.

Her plans are thrown into turmoil when two of her protégés — The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) — grow up and fall in love; killing one and banishing the other, Freya sets out to conquer Snow White’s kingdom to the south.

Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, The Huntsman: Winter’s War begins as a beautifully designed Gothic fable that brings to mind both Frozen and Game of Thrones — Freya’s winter world of the North is deliciously frigid and fabulously realised, and its reimagining of a particularly dark fairytale is chock-a-block with swordplay and derring-do.

The story begins to wobble out of true when the action switches to Snow White’s kingdom, however, and The Huntsman embarks on a quest with a pair of squabbling dwarves (Rob Brydon and Nick Frost), and the tale gets bogged down in what seems to be an unnecessary jumble of mythical treasure, murderous goblins and moments of knockabout farce that slow the pace and create an uneven tone, before gathering its wits again and racing towards an apocalyptic showdown between love and evil.

“If you hide from death, you hide from life,” says one of the characters in My Name is Emily (12A), summing up the theme of writer-director Simon Fitzmaurice’s feature-length debut.

Teenager Emily (Evanna Lynch) runs away from her foster home with Arden (George Webster), the pair taking to the road in a battered yellow Renault and heading north to find her beloved father, Robert (Michael Smiley), a writer who has been committed to a psychiatric institution.

It’s a digressive, meandering road trip (the trip north takes days on end), a narrative poem of a film that allows Emily plenty of time to explore her philosophy of life in a dreamy voiceover.

That philosophy appears to be, unsurprisingly, strongly autobiographical — five years ago, Simon Fitzmaurice was diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given four years to live (the film was directed via ‘eye-gaze’ technology).

Thus Emily is a free spirit who is being crushed by the conformity thrust upon her, particularly as her father was an advocate of living life to its fullest, and the story grows increasingly poignant the closer she comes to her objective, even if the performances (with the exception of Smiley, playing a writer who appears to revel in the offbeat and contradictory) are rather strait-jacketed by a script that often requires Lynch and Webster to trade in allusion and metaphor.

Nevertheless, the fact it was made at all renders it a remarkable feat of filmmaking, and it lingers long in the memory as an uplifting hymn to life and all its possibilities.

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