Declan Burke reviews the latest cinema releases.
Spider-Man: Homecoming 4/5, It Comes at Night 4/5, Sanctuary 5/5
Desperate to prove himself worthy of joining the Avengers as Spider-Man: Homecoming (12A) opens, aspiring superhero Peter Parker (Tom Holland) sets out to clean up the mean streets of, erm, Queens.
Focusing his attention on Vulture (Michael Keaton), an arms dealer who appears to have access to some highly unusual ordnance, the impatient Spider-Man refuses to listen to Ironman’s (Robert Downey Jnr) advice, with disastrous consequences.
Tom Holland made a brief appearance as Spider-Man in last year’s Captain America: Civil War, and much of this movie’s charm is derived from the wide-eyed innocence Holland displayed during that cameo — the filmmakers never forget that Peter Parker is a loveable geek, a 15-year-old High School kid who lives at home, suffers from unrequited love and still plays with Lego.
Peppered throughout with self-deprecating humour (due to the excessive efforts of the Avengers, for example, the US government has had to establish a Department of Damage Control) and happy to poke fun at the Marvel universe, the story thrives on Peter’s vain attempts to prove himself to his mentor, Tony Stark, as Spider-Man repeatedly bites off more than he can chew in going head-to-head with the bad guys.
The movie also bucks the recent trend in which superheroes have become more technologically advanced, a pleasingly retro development that delivers the most emotionally engaging superhero in years.
Essentially, young Peter Parker is, as most teenagers are, flailing about in search of his true identity; as directed by Jon Watts, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a surprisingly affecting coming-of-age tale, in which the central character just so happens to wear a Lycra superhero costume.
It Comes at Night (15A) opens in the wake of a devastating plague, with Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jnr) holed up in the deep forest.
Scavenging for food and water for his own wife and child, Will (Christopher Abbott) throws himself on Paul’s mercy — but in a post-apocalyptic world, one false move could be fatal. Written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, It Comes at Night is billed as a horror, but while there are certain tropes employed here we might associate with the horror genre, the movie is effectively a stripped-down thriller.
Mutual trust is the bedrock of civilisation, but Paul and Will can’t afford to trust one another — who knows what dark thoughts are brewing in the mind of a stranger who will stop at nothing to ensure his family’s survival? — and a scenario already fraught with distrust is further intensified by the group’s collective fear of unspecified threats lurking in the trees beyond.
Trey Edward Shults deftly ups the ante by employing natural lighting (in the absence of electricity, lanterns provide atmospheric illumination) to enhance the creeping sense of dread. Edgerton is in fine form as the brutally pragmatic Paul, a gruff character struggling to retain his humanity despite the necessity for savagery, and he gets strong support from Carmen Ejogo and particularly Kelvin Harrison, playing the naïve teenager through whose eyes we see the story unfold.
Pessimistic about human nature, It Comes at Night is a thriller that packs an emotional wallop.
Sanctuary (15A) revolves around Larry’s (Keiran Coppinger) plan to seduce his girlfriend Sophie (Charlene Kelly) in a Galway hotel.
A pretty straightforward plot, until we factor in Larry’s Down syndrome and Sophie’s epilepsy, conditions that mean the physical aspect of their romance is proscribed by law. Written by Christian O’Reilly and directed by Len Collin, Sanctuary is simultaneously the most heart-breaking and heart-warming movie you’ll see all year.
It’s also very funny: as care-giver Tom (Robert Doherty) does his best to facilitate Larry and Sophie’s plan during an outing to the cinema, the rest of his party scatter to the four winds, winding up ‘on a pound-shop shopping skite’, getting drunk in pubs and smoking dope in the park.
The cast is drawn from the Blue Teapot Theatre Company, an outreach programme for people with intellectual disabilities, and while performances are strong across the board, Keiran Coppinger and Charlene Kelly are revelatory in the lead roles.
For all that it is a charming tale of fumbling first love, however, Sanctuary doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker elements of Larry and Sophie’s predicament: Larry’s outrage at learning that it is illegal for him to have sex might have been comic in a different context, but here serves as a call to arms to legislators to deal with a complex situation.
A nuanced, gripping blend of black comedy, farce and hard-hitting social commentary, Sanctuary already has a strong claim on Irish Movie of the Year.
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