Published on April 14th, 2014 | by Brad0
The Double, The Quiet Ones & The Last Days on Mars – Film Reviews
Directed by Richard Ayoade. Written by Ayoade and Avi Korine.
Bit of an oddity, this one. Although if you’re in any way au fait with Richard Ayoade’s career to date, that shouldn’t surprise you any. Based on a Dostoevsky novella, The Double tells the story of Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg), a downtrodden, nigh-invisible office drone in an office that’s both 80s drab and sci-fi dystopia simultaneously. Simon seems to spend the entirety of the daylight hours in his office, dividing his evenings between sitting in his dingy bedsit watching copy girl Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) who lives across the way through his telescope and being abused by his mother and the denizens of her nursing home. Simon’s nebbish acquiescence to his poor circumstances smacks more of a Michael Cera character than Eisenberg’s typically snappier, more sarcastic persona, but he inhabits it very well. Ayoade’s direction creates a sense of crushing misery in this man’s life, which would be unbearable if it wasn’t so damn funny.
Into this grey, miserable world strolls James Simon (Eisenberg again), Simon’s exact doppelganger. Brash, charming, well-liked, outgoing and confident, he is everything Simon wishes he could be. Comparisons to a certain 1999 film directed by David Fincher may prove quite apt. At first, Simon tries to strike up a mutually beneficial partnership, with Simon helping James rise at the company, and James helping Simon get somewhere with Hannah. This quickly goes south, though, as James takes over Simon’s life almost completely, both at work and with Hannah. Eisenberg’s more typical persona shines through in James, who has shades of the great work the actor did in The Social Network. Don’t listen to the naysayers; he is going to knock it out of the park as Lex Luthor.
One of the great strengths of The Double is its world-building. In its gloomy offices, hellish cafes and the quirky souls who inhabit it, it smacks of the great Terry Gilliam, and the early sequences of Brazil and more recent effort The Zero Theorem. Ayoade directs with the skill and confidence of a master of his craft, rather than the sophomore filmmaker he is. Eisenberg’s dual-performance is superb, crafting two utterly distinct characters, immediately distinguishable by their very body language. It recalls Nicolas Cage in Adaptation, or Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers, and he’s every bit the match of that great work. Mia Wasikowska shines as Hannah, object of Simon’s affections. The Aussie gave my favourite female performance of last year in Stoker, and she’s a delight again here, bubbly surface charms masking something darker lurking underneath. There are a number of amusing cameos from old Ayoade cohorts, with Tim Key, Chris O’Dowd, Paddy Considine and Chris Morris standing out.
A star of British TV comedy for a number of years now, Ayoade’s first two films have marked him out as a director to follow. The Double is at times an almost hallucinatory experience, mixing cutting black comedy with a genuine heart. Ayoade’s direction and Eisenberg’s performance combine to make something extremely memorable. Well worth seeking out if it’s playing near you.
The Quiet Ones
Directed by John Pogue. Written by Pogue, Oren Moverman and Craig Rosenberg.
The return of Hammer Horror has been a bit of a disappointment, really. 2012’s The Woman in Black aside, the studio’s output has been characterised by dull, underwritten characters, clichéd scenarios, and worst of all, no bloody scares. The Quiet Ones, sadly, follows in that vein.
Allegedly based on a true story, this is set in Oxford, 1974. Jared Harris is charismatic professor Joseph Coupland, looking to prove that paranormal activity is simply the product of negative mental energy from the afflicted, and to find a cure. To this end, he is performing a long experiment on the disturbed Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), with the experiment chronicled by filmmaker Brian (Sam Claflin). These three committed performances just about carry us through, but it’s a tough sit.
The chief problem is that this just isn’t remotely scary. Director Pogue is trying to ape the style of James Wan (The Conjuring), but he hasn’t the skill or the timing for it. There are a couple of jumps, but they’re so few and far between it doesn’t help; there are so many failed attempts at jump scares between them, there were a few ironic cheers at my screening when one actually worked.
It is a shame for Jared Harris, who is absolutely brilliant as Coupland. Starting out charming, genial and composed, his façade gradually slips as they get deeper into the experiment, and his desperation and obsession are much scarier than any of the paranormal elements. Cooke and Claflin play their roles well enough, but ultimately the production is hampered by a boring screenplay and uninspired direction. Bog standard rubbish modern horror.
The Last Days on Mars
Directed by Ruairi Robinson. Written by Clive Dawson.
I liked the early sequences on this quite a bit. The Martian landscape looks suitably unforgiving, and the vast expanses of desert create a mood of isolation quite nicely. We get to know our ragtag cast quite well early on, with the film featuring reliably solid work from Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams and Johnny Harris. The story concerns the crew of a mining base on Mars, on the last day of their six-month assignment on the red planet. One of the team (Goran Kostic) discovers evidence of bacteria in one of their rock samples, and comes up with a ruse to go out and investigate without the knowledge of the team leader (Koteas). After an accident, he is infected with the bacteria, which changes him into a zombie-like creature.
It’s at this point that things go downhill. The idea of a zombie survival horror on an alien planet isn’t a new one, and this isn’t an especially good example of the subgenre. Robinson, making his feature debut after some success with short films and animations, doesn’t have the skill to make the attack sequences frightening. He shakes the camera around a lot in these scenes, which I suppose is meant to be disorienting, but just manages to be distracting and a touch nauseating. There’s some nice effects work with the space shuttle coming down to pick the crew up, unaware of the situation, and the performances are all good, but it’s very predictable, and quite shoddily directed. One to avoid.