Tintorera

25/100
Susan George in a bikini flanked by two dudes in wetsuits

For what must be the majority of its running time, Tintorera is a sun-and-skin melodrama set in a Mexican resort village where the loitering Steven and Miguel (Hugo Stiglitz and Andrès Garcia) navigate the treacherous waters of a sexy threesome with an English tourist, Gabriella (Susan George), who declares that the only thing off-limits in their relationship … is love. By contrast, about a third of the film is a skeevy underwater adventure-cum-travelogue in which Steven, Miguel, and other local fisherman absolutely have their way with the aquatic kingdom, skewering barracudas and manta rays and using them as bait for larger fish, hanging sea tortoises off the side of boats and slashing them open for blood chum, and cutting open tiger sharks and letting them bleed out on the ocean floor. (Seriously, this movie never met a fish it didn’t want to stab in the face.) And then, for just a few fleeting moments at a time, Tintorera is one of the great killer-shark movies, with underdressed women and overconfident men getting torn apart in mid-swim before the shark flees the scene with a head or torso clutched in its jaws like a happy spaniel carrying a pheasant, entrails dragging behind and gallons of blood saturating the waters behind them.

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The Reckoning

44/100

Imagine a downbeat cross between historical romance, rape-revenge thriller and what’s become known as folk horror and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the overall mood of The Reckoning. Writer-director Neil Marshall, who made a splash as a genre director back in the early 2000s with Dog Soldiers (werewolves vs army men) and Sundance smash The Descent (CHUDs vs spelunkers), casts co-writer Charlotte Kirk as Grace Haverstock, a woman unjustly accused of witchcraft after the death of her husband during the English plague epidemic of 1665. After Grace rebuffs the advances of local squire, landlord and sex pest Pendleton (Steven Waddington), he helps convince the townspeople that she must be a witch, summoning Judge Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee, trying his best to crawl out from under Vincent Price’s indelible Witchfinder General performance) to elicit her confession of heresy.

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Knocking

75/100

A woman living alone in a drab apartment block may or may not be losing her mind in Knocking, the feature film debut of Swedish documentarian Frida Kempff. The details of the story are nothing new (it draws on sources as disparate as Persona, Repulsion, Mulholland Dr. and Requiem for a Dream) but Kempff’s own vision is unmistakeable. Distinguished by striking frame compositions and camera moves as well as a perfectly balanced lead performance by Cecilia Milocco, Knocking is a modest powerhouse — a threadbare narrative that’s gorgeously shot, beautifully performed and spooky as hell.

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Censor

54/100
A woman in a forest with a red background and streaks of blood drying on her face

For a roughly 20-year period beginning in the early 1980s, low-budget horror films were considered a primary threat to the safety of the British public. While reliably puritanical Americans were scandalized by the lyrics to “Darling Nikki,” their British counterparts were shocked and appalled by a slate of so-called “video nasties” — generally low-budget exploitation films that ranged from the ripe theatrics of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast to the grim sexual violence of The Last House on the Left and the Nazisploitation cycle that included such prosaic titles as Love Camp 7, Gestapo’s Last Orgy and The Beast in Heat. Following years of pressure from tabloids and special-interest groups who insisted these titles were corrupting the populace, the conservative government began applying stricter censorship standards to video releases, spurring the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) to demand that certain scenes be trimmed or eliminated from even adults-only titles (rated “18”) or denying certification altogether. Selling or renting unclassified videos became a criminal offense.

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Possessor

95/100

Possessor opens with a glossy murder sequence that seems to be the jumping-off point for a glossy techno-thriller. The killer is revealed to be an assassin who operates by taking over the minds of working-class stiffs who are in a position to be close enough to various VIPs to carry out quick hits. Each unlucky prole chews on a bullet as the possessor controlling their actions blinks out of the equation and returns to her own body. Having established the kind of killer premise that an enterprising show-runner could use as fodder for two, maybe three seasons of a Netflix original, the film gets restless and almost immediately veers into uncharted territory, as the apparently imperturbable killer Tasya Vos (tough, wiry and tender Andrea Riseborough) reveals herself to be distracted by concerns over her disintegrated family life–and perhaps unfit to fight back when one of her meat puppets, a rank-and-file big-tech employee named Colin (Christopher Abbott), manages to rebel against her control.

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Total Recall

75/100

Before watching Studiocanal’s new restoration of the 30-year-old science-fiction adventure Total Recall, I had only vague memories of seeing it on opening night. I mean, I remembered that I hated it, but I wasn’t sure why. I was already a Paul Verhoeven fan based on RoboCop, though I didn’t know anything else about his work. I know I was put off by the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger puts a bullet in a woman’s head and then yuks it up with one of his trademark murder jokes. Sure, the screenplay has taken pains to establish the character’s unforgivable duplicity, but that’s the problem: She’s disposable, and she’s a punchline. (No wonder Sharon Stone jumped at the chance to play a serial murderer of men in Verhoeven’s next film.) And I recall that I was annoyed beyond reason by the film’s climax, which involves a very sudden change to the environment on Mars. The science behind it struck me as insultingly preposterous. Still, I think what I really objected to, what actually offended me, was the light tone. After RoboCop, which struck me as an appropriately sick joke about fascist tendencies in American law enforcement (still in the news!), I guess I expected Verhoeven to treat Philip K. Dick’s epochal ruminations on human consciousness, thought, and identity with some gravity (cf. the similarly Dick-inspired Blade Runner) instead of turning them into a wildly overblown comic-book complete with an absurdly-ripped muscleman as the self-doubting superhero at the centre of the action. That’s on me; Looking back on Total Recall after three decades, I can see it more clearly. For Verhoeven, the cartoonishness is the point.

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Requiem for a Dream

68/100
A woman undergoes shock therapy in a scene from REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

Few films are anywhere near as well made–as fierce and committed–as Requiem for a Dream, which stands as a 20-year-old landmark in an especially fertile era of New York indie filmmaking and one of the most expertly executed feel-bad narratives in the history of popular culture. Darren Aronofsky is a hell of a director, but he’s always been a little, well, intense for my taste. He’s got vision and passion to spare, and he clearly inspires dedication and devotion from his actors, yet I always feel there’s something critical missing from the films themselves. If π is David Lynch without an angle on the truly bizarre and Black Swan is David Cronenberg without the painful psychological acuity, then Requiem for a Dream is John Waters without the sense of humor. I know Waters is friendly with Aronofsky, but imagining him watching this in a dark theatre and positively cackling at its most painfully outré gambits is what helps get me through its pitiless final act.

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