Horror rites of passage

REFERENCING ‘spinning heads and pea soup’ is as good a way as any to get your exorcism movie compared with The Exorcist (1973), and while The Rite (US/16/113 mins) is no horror classic, it’s a solid retread of its more illustrious predecessor.

Struggling with a lack of faith, seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) is sent to Rome to take a course in the rite of exorcism. His scepticism earns him a visit to legendary exorcist Fr Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), with whom Michael debates the reality or otherwise of the Devil as the pair encounter a number of people who may or may not be suffering demonic possession.

Director Mikael Håfström largely succeeds in blending a psychological study with a cerebral thriller, even if few of the plot twists are hugely surprising. Most shocking of all is that O’Donoghue proves the scene-stealer in brooding intensity when going head-to-head with Hopkins.

“CROOKS always come undone, always, one way or another,” says in a voiceover early on in Animal Kingdom (Australia/15A/102 mins), thus imbuing this contemporary Australian crime flick with the requisite noir fatalism.

Orphaned by his mother’s heroin overdose, Josh is taken in by his grandmother, Janine (Jacki Weaver), matriarch to a dysfunctional brood of blaggers, thieves and junkies, a family who are firmly in sights of the Armed Robbery Squad, which is operating a shoot-to-kill policy. Josh’s brutal awakening to the grim realities of the criminal life forms the core of this rites-of-passage tale, which derives its tension from Josh’s divided loyalties when he first falls for local girl Nicky (Laura Wheelwright), and then when police detective Leckie (Guy Pearce) takes a personal interest in Josh’s affairs.

Weaver’s performance as a creepily tactile mother deservedly won her an Oscar nomination, but Frecheville is quietly persuasive in the lead role, his apparent passivity contrasting sharply with the sociopathic tendencies of his uncles, and particularly that of the gang’s leader, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). Director David Michôd maintains a sure grip, creating a fast-paced and gritty thriller drenched in paranoia and suspicion.

SET in 1975, three years on from the events of East is East (1999), West is West (UK/15A/102 mins) flips the main themes established in the original film, as George Khan (Om Puri) decides to take his Manchester-born teenage son Sajid (Aqib Khan) back to his homeland in Pakistan to steep the boy in his ancestors’ traditions.

Much of the drama and comedy that ensues spring from the culture clash between the ostensibly sophisticated British boy and his extended Pakistan family, although George has his own troubles. Having abandoned his first wife Basheera (Ila Arun) and his daughters 30 years previously, George must now face up to his responsibilities, in effect making West is West a movie that packs in two coming-of-age stories for the price of one.

Directed by Andy DeEmmony, the film is uneven in tone as it struggles to reconcile the more farcical elements with genuinely touching moments, most of which are embodied by Basheera, who is given a poignant reading by Arun. Puri is as compulsively watchable as always, however, and George as a character is less of a violent bully than in his previous outing. Between them, Arun and Puri provide just enough honest emotion to leaven the comedy, which is all too often implausibly staged and stiffly delivered.

BUSY with their respective careers, singletons Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) agree to a friends-with-benefits relationship in No Strings Attached (US/15A/107 mins). Naturally, the idyll can’t last, although director Ivan Reitman and writers Elizabeth Meriwether and Michael Samonek obviously believe that it’s a radical move to have Adam belie his apparent immaturity by demanding more in the way of an emotional connection.

In other words, No Strings Attached offers a conventional movie relationship, except — gasp! — it’s the man who is the needy, whiny one who wants a post-coital spoon. Women may well be used to being insulted by such simplifications, but the cliché is no less irritating when the genders are reversed, and matters are not helped by the fact that both Portman and Kutcher contribute characters who are so smugly self-satisfied that you’d wonder why either needed a partner in the first place.

JOHN (Alex Pettyfer) plays a teenage alien on the run on planet Earth in I Am Number Four (US/12A/109 mins), a golden child being hunted by other aliens determined to wipe out his species. A pacy tale full of thrills and spills helps to gloss over the many plot-holes, although the special effects are not sufficiently eye-catching to distract from a standard of acting inspired by ET.



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