Movie Reviews: Zoolander 2, The Survivalist, A Bigger Splash

If you like your movies to be enormously silly, you’re going to adore Zoolander 2 (12). 

Once the world’s most famous male supermodel, Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) is in self-imposed exile as this sequel opens, mourning the death of his wife and the fact that his son Derek Jnr (Cyrus Arnold) has been taken away from him.

The plot finds Derek teaming up again with fellow model Hansel (Owen Wilson) to discover who is killing the world’s pop stars, the pair aided and abetted by Valentina (Penelope Cruz), who heads up Interpol’s Department of Fashion, although ‘plot’ is a rather strong word for the gossamer web of improbability Derek and Hansel weave as Derek attempts to reconcile with Derek Jnr.

Stiller, who also directs, visibly revels in the ridiculousness of it all, opening proceedings with a very funny sequence in which Justin Bieber, his life under threat from an assassin, runs to Sting’s house in the hope of being saved.

With the tone set, matters only get more ludicrous, and there are plenty of belly-laughs to be had courtesy of the unlikely celebrities who pop up in cameo roles — Kim Kardashian, Macaulay Culkin, Willie Nelson and Benedict Cumberbatch, to name just a few.

The big joke, of course, is that Stiller is mocking the self-involved excess taken for granted in the rarefied echelons of the supermodel world, and while some of the gags in that respect fall flat, mainly because that world is largely beyond parody, Zoolander 2 has an infectious energy.

Way over at the other end of the spectrum lies The Survivalist (18s), a post-apocalyptic tale in which the eponymous anti-hero, played by Martin McCann, lives an austere life alone in the woods.

Constantly on the alert for threats, husbanding his meagre resources and living off the land, his lonely existence is disturbed when Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth) arrive at his cabin.

Starving, the pair offer to exchange sexual favours for food — but their stark bargain gradually evolves into a more complex relationship as the survivalist allows them to stay. Written and directed by Stephen Fingleton, The Survivalist is a fascinating character study of human beings living on the brink of extinction.

The setting is pastoral, certainly, given that the Survivalist’s cabin sits in a wooded clearing, but the tone is almost unremittingly bleak. 

Emphasising the smallness of the trio’s world, Fingleton confines the story almost exclusively to the cabin’s interior and its immediate surroundings, in the process ratcheting up the tension that comes with three suspicious people circling one another in a claustrophobic environment.

The performances are excellent, with McCann channelling the young Daniel Day-Lewis in his turn as the self-sufficient, lethal but oddly vulnerable survivalist, and Fouere commanding as the weathered Kathryn, who looks like she was carved from bog oak and has the moral scruples of a stump of wood. 

A gripping drama, The Survivalist is all the more impressive given Fingleton is making his feature-length debut.

A Bigger Splash (15A) opens with rock star Marianne (Tilda Swinton) recovering from an operation to save her voice on a remote Italian island (ravishingly shot by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux) with her partner Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts). 

The peace of their idyllic retreat is shattered when her irascible ex-manager and ex-lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) invites himself to stay, dragging along his daughter Pen (Dakota Johnson) for the experience.

Soon Harry is getting under everyone’s skin and picking the scabs off his shared history with Marianne and Paul, although it’s difficult for anyone to get annoyed with Harry for long – as played here by Fiennes.

Harry is a riotous force of nature, an upbeat character who carries all before him through sheer force of personality (the scene in which Harry dances to the Rolling Stones, looking a lot like a broken-legged flamingo, is the film’s comic highlight).

Swinton, Schoenaerts and Johnson play quieter, characters, who feed off Harry’s energy and convert it into something more malign, although the director, Luca Guadagnino, doesn’t really seem sure what it is he wants to achieve with the dark currents that swirl beneath the group’s fixed smiles and manic refusal to confront the sexual chemistry simmering beneath the surface.

However, all four main players turn in striking performances, and A Bigger Splash grows increasingly absorbing until the latter stages, when the tone of intrigue in a minor key suddenly lurches into a major tragedy that doesn’t fully convince.

Zoolander 2 3/5

The Survivalist 4/5

A Bigger Splash 3/5


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