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Thursday, August 22, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: SHADOW DANCER (2013) and ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY (2013)


SHADOW DANCER
(UK/Ireland/France - 2012; 2013 US release)

Some good performances help prod this dawdling IRA drama along to a legitimately unexpected finish, but until the last five minutes, it's pretty by-the-numbers.  Scripted by Tom Bradby (based on his novel) and directed by James Marsh (MAN ON WIRE, RED RIDING: 1980), SHADOW DANCER takes place in 1993 as Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a member of a prominent IRA family in a working-class Belfast neighborhood, is nabbed by MI5 operatives after attempting to plant a bomb in a London subway station.  MI-5 official Mac (Clive Owen) offers her a chance to become an informant by reminding her that she'll otherwise go to prison and never see her young son again.  Upon returning to Belfast, she keeps her eyes and ears open for any plans her brothers (Aiden Gillan, Domhnall Gleeson) might be cooking up and finds herself hounded by a suspicious IRA goon (David Wilmot), while living in constant conflict over the well-being of her son and longstanding loyalty to her family and the cause.  Meanwhile, something isn't sitting right with Mac, the kind of rumpled, stubbled, chain-smoking agent with a perpetually-loosened tie and a wrinkled suit that he's likely worn several days in a row since he probably sleeps in his office.  Mac thinks his boss (Gillian Anderson) might be hanging Collette out to dry and starts to fear for his informant's safety.


Marsh and cinematographer Rob Hardy shoot SHADOW DANCER in a kind-of gray, dreary way that recalls the vintage kitchen sink dramas of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh (or, more recently, Andrea Arnold).  That and the performances, especially by the busy Riseborough (also seen this year in WELCOME TO THE PUNCH and OBLIVION), are fine but SHADOW DANCER unfortunately just seems content to coast on clich├ęs.  Whether the focus is on the IRA as it is here or say, a terrorist in the Middle East, or even mobsters in NYC in other movies, this feels just like any number of other informant dramas that have come before it.  There's a template to these kinds of films and until the very end, SHADOW DANCER steadfastly refuses to deviate from it.  How many of these have we seen where the person under the gun is inherently good but drawn into bad things because of misguided family loyalty?  Or the good cop/agent who's looking out for the person whose ass is on the line, even if it means uncovering some dirty secrets that go up the chain of command?  Or when that good cop/agent shows up uninvited at his unscrupulous boss' home to confront them about what they've found out (on the weekend, no less, because of course he's working all through the weekend)?  Or when that unscrupulous boss insists they have nothing to worry about.  Or when the honest cop and the informant find they have more in common than they think, and when they're the opposite sex, you can even throw in some brief, awkward romantic overtures.  SHADOW DANCER isn't bad--you've just seen it at least a hundred times before, though to give credit where it's due, the finale, specifically the fate of one major character, is a gut-punch and almost convinces you that you saw a better movie than you did.  (R, 102 mins)



ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY
(Germany/US/Australia - 2013)

There's a strong Canadian influence to this bleak horror film directed and co-written by Eron Sheean, who also shared a screenplay credit on Xavier Gens' repugnant post-apocalyptic misfire THE DIVIDE (2012).  Given the extreme nature of that film and its sole focus being on shock value, ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY is surprisingly restrained and well-made, with solid performances (unlike THE DIVIDE, where most of the cast seemed to be in a heated contest to see who could turn in the most overwrought performance) and a strong sense of atmosphere, with good use of snowy Dresden locations and most scenes taking place in cold, empty medical labs and long hallways in office buildings.  THE DIVIDE co-star Michael Eklund takes a break from establishing himself as today's go-to horror/thriller genre psycho (he's best known as the kidnapper in Halle Berry's recent hit THE CALL) as Dr. Geoff Burton, an introverted American geneticist setting up a cancer research study at a high-tech facility in Dresden, Germany.  He's been brought there by Dr. Rebekka Fiedler (Karoline Herfurth), a former student with whom he once had a fling.  The divorced Burton is still haunted by the death of his infant son four years earlier from a rare genetic disorder that caused exterior tumors and the shutdown of all of his internal organs.  Burton immediately clashes with the creepily ambitious Jarek Novak (Tomas Lemarquis), who's conducting secret and unethical trials of a regenerative tissue drug on lab rats as the head of the research facility (DROP DEAD FRED's Rik Mayall, looking a lot like David Hemmings as he gets older) looks the other way.  Burton is bitten by one of Novak's rats and starts undergoing a transformation alarmingly similar to what happened to his son.


For most of the film, ERRORS is on somewhat similar ground as the recent ANTIVIRAL, insofar as its owing a tremendous debt to the "body horror" of vintage David Cronenberg.  ANTIVIRAL has loftier aspirations than ERRORS, which essentially just wants to be an effective slow burn chiller with a feel-bad finale straight out of the Atom Egoyan playbook that makes the ending of THE MIST look uplifting.  And it mostly succeeds.  Eklund almost channels Anthony Perkins in his edgy, nervous performance, mostly mired in melancholy grief that's constantly threatening to boil over into rage.  If you've seen Eklund turn up in as many bad movies as I have (in addition to THE DIVIDE, he's also a veteran of several Uwe Boll joints), it's nice to see him underplaying for once, though Sheean does give him some opportunities to get his Eklund on once he gets exposed to whatever virus Novak has injected into the lab rat.  The third act twist is genuinely surprising, though it does more or less write out a major character in a bit of clumsy fashion by just disappearing from the film, but overall, ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY is a much better work than Sheean's and most of Eklund's previous IMDb credits would lead you to believe, though be warned:  even for a Cronenberg-influenced "body horror" homage shot in a wintry Dresden in buildings with all the warmth and humanity of Fassbinder's WORLD ON A WIRE, this one's gonna bum you out.  (Unrated, 102 mins, also available on Netflix streaming)

1 comment:

  1. I paid $13 to see SHADOW DANCER. Needless to say, I was kinda furious at having to pay so much for something so unoriginal and TV movie-like. The romantic angle felt forced and ridiculous (audience members actually audibly groaned during a kissing scene), and while the ending is unexpected, it did not stop me from forgetting the movie a mere two days later.

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