Awakenings: a spooky Gothic retelling of the classic Henry James story

Bhargav Saikia, “Awakenings” (2015)

Inspired by and closely based on Henry James’ famous novella “The Turn of the Screw”, this short film is conventional in its narration and is notable mainly for its spooky Gothic atmosphere, the growing sense of paranoia and the dissolution between the real world and the spirit world. Nearly all the action in the film takes place at night. Anannya (Prisha Dabas) is a nanny hired to babysit two children Ruhaan (Jairaj Dalwani) and Meera (Palomi Ghosh) in a large mansion. When we first meet Anannya, she is getting the children off to bed. Throughout the evening, while the children are asleep, or are supposed to be asleep, Anannya realises there are visitors to the house, and they are not of the material kind. These visitors exert a strange attraction on the boy Ruhaan and he is drawn out of bed to meet them. To Anannya’s horror, these visitors appear to be the children’s long-dead parents … and they seem intent on bringing Ruhaan into their world.

The dark, shadowy tone of the film, the labyrinthine nature of the mansion (in which Anannya appears to run around in circles and end up in same room where she started) and the constant suggestion that her misgivings and fears are all just a dream – cue the occasions in which Anannya suddenly wakes up in her chair – help to enliven a story that has been told many times before. Details in the film impart an extra of layer of meaning that may or may not be relevant to its story: Dalwani, playing Ruhaan, was in his early adolescence so the ghostly events around him may symbolise his awakening as an adult, leaving childhood and Anannya the nanny behind. The two children sleeping in the double bed may or may not suggest an unhealthy closeness that might have existed in their family before the parents died.

The constantly panning camera, following Anannya, induces nausea and a real sense of paranoia and fear. Dabas does good work in a role that could have been very histrionic and which has very little dialogue. The house is a significant character in the film with its many rooms, dark wooden floors and furniture, and passages linking rooms through which Anannya runs (with the camera close behind) to find the menace. Apart from this, the film does not add anything to the original Henry James story that other films haven’t already built on.

WeWork – The $47 Billion Disaster: a profile of a company and its founder peddling an unsustainable vision and business model

Dagogo Altraide, “WeWork – The $47 Billion Disaster” (ColdFusion,2019)

Some workers probably wish their employers would make their working lives fun for them by sending them to fun fairs once a week perhaps to ride on roller-coasters for free. Few of them would probably opt to work for a company that is a virtual roller-coaster all the time. This though has been the role of tech company WeWork in the last few years. Founded in 2010 by Israeli-American entrepreneur Adam Neumann, WeWork provides office space with a funky hipster atmosphere to pop-up and start-up ventures and freelancers, the aim being to foster a collective collaborative culture that will spark creativity and new ideas to pitch and market to target audiences. Over the next several years, the company grew very rapidly and expanded overseas to the point where it owned 840+ properties in over 120 cities around the globe and rented them out to up-and-coming entrepreneurial ventures. In 2017, Neumann met Masayoshi Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank, who was besotted with Neumann’s vision and plans for WeWork enough to commit billions in investment in WeWork. This enabled Neumann to set up and splash out mega-bucks on subsidiary firms like WeLive, a service that buys furnished residential property (usually following the then current fashion Zeitgeist) and leases it out, and an experimental school for preschoolers and kindergarteners – provided their parents can fork out the yearly equivalent in fees of a lower middle-class income.

Unfortunately this mix of generous investment funding and Neumann / WeWork has led to a very precipitous rise and equally steep fall in WeWork’s fortunes as documented by Cold Fusion TV, an Australian online media company helmed by founder Dagogo Altraide (who made the video under review and also provides voice-over narration), in a very calm and straightforward, rational way that makes following the ups and downs of WeWork’s recent history quite easy for viewers, even if the highs and lows are dizzying. The documentary makes clear that WeWork’s abstract business model is financially unsustainable and resembles an elaborate real estate Ponzi scheme, in that the people who rent space from WeWork essentially become the company’s employees as well as tenants. As long as WeWork provides a place for freelancers and contractors to work in, all is well for them; the moment WeWork decides to sell the property, these people have nowhere to go and become effectively unemployed. They could perhaps go to their local libraries or the Starbucks coffee shop to work as long as those places offer free WiFi but then they could have done that initially and not gone anywhere near WeWork. In addition, WeWork’s business model can only work if property prices are rising and interest rates are low, in a real estate environment where perhaps few people are able to afford their own homes because banks keep lowering interest rates to encourage property speculation and thus pump money into the economy, leading to a situation where people end up borrowing big. As one interviewee in the documentary says, the moment property prices start going down and interest rates start going up, WeWork’s business model starts to rack up huge debts quickly and alarmingly and the company starts sacking people.

What doesn’t help WeWork either is its founder Adam Neumann’s bizarre and narcissistic behaviour, verging on sociopathy, in the way he misuses the billions invested in WeWork by SoftBank, preferring to splash money on private jets and a luxurious and wasteful lifestyle. Meanwhile his employees must tolerate his abusive behaviour and tirades, his lies, his drinking and his frankly unhygienic habits. The documentary makes clear Neumann’s shabby treatment of WeWork employees and SoftBank’s trust and investment in WeWork.

The last part of the documentary is interesting in its demonstration of how WeWork’s failure and collapse without even having come as far as going public on the New York City Stock Exchange exposes the fragility and instability of the US financial system centred around Wall Street. Public confidence and trust in large investment banks doing the right thing by the bulk of their shareholders and by the public generally undergird the banking and finance industry; if confidence and trust are lacking, the banks potentially face failure and closure if companies they invest billions in fail and the banks are exposed. They would then have to call in their loans and other companies start to fail, setting off a contagion of runs and further losses of public confidence and trust in their operations.

The documentary is well made, relying on a mix of static photos and occasional moving picture videos. The pacing is steady and easy-going, and Altraide speaks with a reassuring air and confidence. If Altraide is furious at WeWork for peddling a false New Age / Age of Aquarius vision of people in offices wearing comfy casual clothes, quaffing coffee and sitting in colourful open-space settings while they work, his voice remains remarkably free of bitterness and anger. The story Altraide tells is structured in clearly defined segments, with perhaps the most interesting segment being about Neumann’s self-centred arrogance and sense of entitlement.

What the ColdFusion video ignores is why and how a company selling an abstract feel-good hippie vision and similar tech firms promoting a work culture of fun and supposed high ethical ideals end up being not only wasteful of investment money but also turn out to be deeply corrupt and hypocritical.

Wrong Number: a study of fear and anxiety and their projection into reality

Tiago Teixeira, “Wrong Number” (2018)

An odd little film with just two characters, “Wrong Number” is a study of anxiety and the tension that come from premonition, culminating in psychological, perhaps even spiritual projection. A woman (Ellie Woodruff-Bryant) wakes up early in the morning from a nightmare and is too frightened to go back to sleep. Her husband (Nicholas Anscombe) asks her what the dream was about and she replies that it was foretelling the immediate future in which something very bad has happened to them both. She eventually returns to bed anyway, he wants to know if she is in the mood for love-making but she declines.

Later in the morning he leaves for work and the rest of the day passes uneventfully. She texts him about work – he is working on a late shift – and he confirms he’ll be home when she has gone to bed. Sure enough, when she wakes again at 3 am in the morning, he’s beside her in bed and they have sex. Some time later she wakes up and finds herself covered in blood. Startled, she puts on her housecoat, walks into the lounge-room and sees a shadow in the vague shape of her husband standing in the corner.

Most of the film takes place in the early hours of two mornings so it is very dark and viewers can just barely make out the actors’ faces and forms. The shadowy look of the film, its emphasis on blue and dark blue colouring, emphasises the nearness of death, the dissolution of the boundaries between the living and the dead, and the fear and dread that can be aroused when one has just awakened from a nightmare and is still in a twilight zone between being fully conscious and aware, and being sleepy with your mind and emotions open to external psychological phenomena. Woodruff-Bryant does good work as the woman quite literally caught between two worlds, one of the living and one of the dead, but the limited and narrow nature of the plot does not allow her to do a great deal more than worry or express fright.

While the acting and the atmosphere are good, and the film does give a good sense of the grey zone between the living and the dead, in which the living and the dead may actually meet (with very alarming results), the plot is so vague as to be confusing for viewers. Does a meeting really take place or is the woman projecting her fears about her husband into actual physical form? The film deliberately leaves this question open to viewers. It may be asking too much of them.

The Stylist: a beautifully made character study with a basic plot and sketchy psychology

Jill “Sixx” Gevargizian, “The Stylist” (2016)

Never did a psychotic serial killer look more fragile or seem so worthy of our compassion and sympathy as Claire (Najarra Townsend) working in a hairdressing salon and waiting for a late-running client. Claire appears a very helpful and kind hairdresser who doesn’t mind staying back and keeping the salon open for a special client. She offers a glass of wine to Mandy (Jennifer Plas), the late businesswoman client to help relax her while Claire washes, dries and brushes her hair for a special evening event that Mandy is hosting for her boss. Mandy hopes that this special favour she does will help elevate her career so she has to look “perfect”. Little does she realise when she sits down in the seat before the mirror that Claire has other ideas for Mandy … or rather, Mandy’s perfectly coiffed blonde hair …

The story is beautifully told with atmospheric, melancholy music and a cinematographic style that at times distances the two women, as Claire attends to Mandy’s hair, from the viewer at unusual angles, bird’s eye point-of-view among them. To some extent this mitigates the horror once Claire pulls out a pair of scissors to start working on Mandy once the customer has fallen unconscious. Some viewers may find the body horror quite gross and others may find it laughable. Special mention should be made of the climactic scene that takes place in Claire’s home which she shares with a pet chihuahua: the boudoir, lit by soft romantic candlelight, is furnished with an array of wigs of various colours sitting on model heads, and all of them with tell-tale brown lines around the edges. Donning her recent blonde acquisition, Claire stares at her reflection in the mirror, tries to imitate someone but fails, and begins to cry.

The character study of a shy lonely woman with deep-seated psychological issues, who finds refuge in work that is clearly unfulfilling, and who may even have a deep-seated hatred of apparently successful and wealthy women (even though these women also suffer in their work lives, simply because they are women and must work twice as hard as their male colleagues to prove their worth) is intriguing. Townsend was born to play Claire with her expressive face over which a thousand emotions flit and each and every one of those registers with the viewers. Unfortunately the film does not provide Claire with a motive or a background that would plausibly explain why she does what she does and how and why she works in hairdressing even though her heart is not really in that type of work. What is the anguish, the inner torment, that drives Claire to scalp her customers and take their hair for her own without compensating the women?

As it is, the film with the basic plot and sketchy characters can only offer hints of possible themes and motifs that should become clearer in a future movie feature in which Townsend will reprise her role under Gevargizian’s direction. Loneliness, the need to be accepted for what one is, the competition between women for love, success and recognition, the influence of the past on people’s present decisions and behaviours, obsessive actions, revenge and the fragility of one’s identity may be likely themes that will help to flesh out Claire and other characters, and to shape the plot.

Malacostraca: personal and career inadequacy, family breakdown and resentment leading to tragedy

Charles A Pieper, “Malacostraca” (2018)

Playing like a conventional creature-feature horror flick with all the inconsistencies the genre often attracts – how on earth does the mother manage to survive nine months being pregnant while the father descends into full-blown derangement without being endangered herself? – this film initially invites laughs at main character Chris (Charlie Pecoraro) as he sinks further into career crisis with his writer’s block and his paranoid suspicions about the baby his wife Sophie (Amber Marie Bollinger) brings into the world. Seen a second time, the tragedy that befalls the entire young family as a result of Chris’s derangement replaces the silly laughs. Fears about his own inadequacy as a writer, husband and father, the resulting isolation he falls into and draws around himself, the decreasing contact with reality: all take their toll on Chris’s emotional health and stability and he projects his fear and resentment onto his and Sophie’s baby.

The film’s plot is predictable, the characters are not well developed and their house with its dark colours and blue hues tends to scream “creepy!” all the way through. The baby is always portrayed as a crustacean and it is only in the final frames of the film that its human nature becomes apparent. The look on Chris’s face as the awful realisation dawns on him that he has just killed his own child as the culmination of the story he has been writing to overcome his writer’s block is priceless.

The actors do their best with what they have been given and it is they, in the strident manner required of them, who give the film its heart and soul. The crustacean puppets that portray the baby – we see the pregnancy and the baby from Chris’s point of view – are not very realistic but are cute in their own way. Through Chris and Sophie’s interactions, we see that their marriage has lacked warmth and closeness for a long time, having been replaced by conflict. The state of their relationship finds a parallel in Chris’s writing, inspired by a dream he has about Sophie being impregnated by a yabby or giant shrimp, both miraculously reviving at about the same time. This perhaps might say something about the nature of creativity, that it needs an environment of love, warmth and connection to others in order to thrive.

At risk perhaps of being seen as derivative of Stanley Kubrick’s cult horror film “The Shining” which also deals with writer’s block and the delusion of a writer, this short horror piece could be stretched into a longer work lasting some 90 minutes with better character development and a deeper exploration of both Chris and Sophie’s motives and commitment to each other. Sophie would have to risk her life to save the child. A sub-plot involving either of the couple will be needed that draws out the film’s themes of parental anxiety, individual inadequacy, family breakdown and their consequences.

Locksmiths: a parable commenting on the decay and degeneration of Western society

James Kwon Lee, “Locksmiths” (2015)

Behind the laconic, even mundane title is a surprisingly taut and unbearably suspenseful story with a heartbreaking climax in which two parallel narratives collide with messy and tragic results. Two robbers (Jose Luis Munoz and Joe Fiske) masquerading as locksmiths checking people’s front doors and windows go from house to house in a rich neighbourhood in LA. One of the robbers is tired of scamming people and wants to lead a normal life fixing regular folks’ locks; the other fellow persuades him to do one last job before they retire permanently from a life of crime. They pull up at a mansion and enter the premises where they encounter the sole resident, Tadashi (Yuki Matsuzaki), a well-dressed and well-spoken gentleman, dragging behind a huge plastic garbage bag full of … hmm, dare I say … fresh human body parts …

From here on, chaos erupts and one of the robbers is brought down by the serial killer before he can reach the front door. Viewers can guess which robber got clobbered by the croquet mallet. The other robber calls the cops but the police have already been alerted by the robbers’ previous victims so when the constables arrive, they promptly taser the second robber and bundle him into their car. Just before the police officers leave, one of them (Garikayi Mutambirwa) gazes at the mansion with a long hard look as if his instinct might be telling him that behind the building’s doors and shuttered windows, horrific crimes are being committed.

Kwon Lee skilfully runs two stories together – the short actually begins with Tadashi measuring a victim’s face – to generate a high level of suspense and tension. The setting in an upper class neighbourhood where the robbers prey on wealthy socialites helps to highlight the class differences between the hucksters and the psychopath they unexpectedly run into, and viewers can quickly guess who the police will go after. The cinematography is superb in emphasising the emptiness behind the material wealth of the robbers’ victims and the lack of real warmth and humanity in Tadashi’s life and nature (reflected in the mansion’s furnishings) which may have driven his wife away initially, setting in train the tragedy that befell her and the subsequent trail of crimes Tadashi commits to reconstruct her face and body.

The acting is excellent with Matsuzaki playing the elegant killer as the highlight in his smooth and exact movements as he measures his victims’ faces, his sudden moments of aggression as he lashes out with the croquet mallet (that most genteel of murder weapons) and the changes of expression in his face as he picks up his wife (is she dead or alive?) to dance with her. The banter between the robbers and their subsequent actions when they realise they have met a serial killer delineate how very different they are from each other, one of them a fellow with a conscience and the other who literally leaves him for dead.

In this short film, we see a parable on the society the United States and other Western nations have become, where material wealth and surface gloss hide decay, degeneration and criminal predation, and where those institutions and people who should protect the innocent and vulnerable from evil forces instead serve those forces.

Redacted Tonight (Season 4, Episode #271): covering the most under-reported news stories of 2018 – 2019

Redacted Tonight (Season 4, Episode #271)” (RT America, 14 December 2019)

In this episode, Redacted Tonight host Lee Camp runs through several stories picked up by Project Censored’s annual Top 25 Censored Stories that were ignored by the United States news media in 2019 in his usual shouty and sarcastic style. Project Censored is a venture based at Sonoma State University in northern California that for over 40 years has been tracking down the most under-reported news stories in each 12-month period from July one year to June the next year and reporting them in book format. Astonishingly Camp’s voice is still strong and strident and the show’s style of presentation is brisk, mixing fact with barbs aimed at the US government (in particular, US President Donald Trump’s administration) and global corporations. This is one news / current affairs program that keeps viewers wide-eyed and on their toes, not least for the humour as well as actual news items that the mainstream corporate news media ignores if such stories don’t conform with a neoconservative political / economic / social agenda.

Among the more interesting and sobering stories include Facebook reinventing itself as a tool of United States foreign policy by partnering with US-based NATO think-tank The Atlantic Council and other US government or non-government organisations; the targeting and monitoring of journalists and their work by the US Justice Department; the health problems and issues raised by 5G technology; the spread of slavery throughout the world; the growth of programs connecting school children with farms in their communities which lead to the creation of jobs within those communities and the improved health of students; the influence of the Israeli lobby and its allies in US Federal politics as revealed by a suppressed Al Jazeera documentary; and the continued investment of US oil and gas corporations in projects that are forecast to release 120 billion tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere . Some of these stories are mentioned in passing by Camp and others get much more detail; one story on global pharmaceutical companies’ failure to develop two-thirds of urgently needed medical treatments in Third World companies gets a fuller development in a separate segment by Redacted Tonight regular reporter Natalie McGill.

Of course the half-hour format did not allow Camp to cover all 25 stories that Project Censored selected as the most neglected important stories (though halfway through the show Camp did go off on a tangent to woffle about something vaguely related to a previous issue) and perhaps the segment presented by Anders Lee on a climate change conference in Spain could have been tacked onto a different Redacted Tonight episode. A general theme running through most stories that Camp / Redacted Tonight chose to highlight was how they represent different aspects of the global trend towards corporatisation of global societies and natural environments for the benefit and self-interest of a few corporations and a few individuals. So even stories of a heartwarming nature, such as US public schools’ campaign to bring children and farms closer, or moves by indigenous organisations around the world to protect the Amazon tropical rainforest region are censored because they represent moves by communities to spurn the values and neoliberal agendas of globalisation and privatisation. Stories that did not get a mention were often those particular to the United States: stories such as police neglect of sexual assault cases in which immigrant children were the victims, or women in anti-abortion states facing criminal charges leading to imprisonment if they miscarried or gave birth to stillborn children; or stories that were similar to ones Camp had already mentioned.

In some respects, I was disappointed that Camp didn’t list all the top 25 censored stories found by Project Censored and that some that were mentioned were over and done with in less than one or two minutes. I’m sure the program could have easily expanded to an hour with more breaks if he had done so, though perhaps he’d have to sit down a bit and gulp some water throughout. The episode best serves as an introduction to the work that the Project Censored people do and to the censored stories themselves, the details of which can be found at the Project Censored website.

Thicker Than Water: a touching film about a mother’s love and care

Seung Yeob Lee, “Thicker Than Water” (2015)

Modern South Korean families, in particular the relationship of mothers with their sons and the extremes the mothers will go to, to get the very best for their male offspring who all too often fail to appreciate what sacrifices Mama makes for them, come under the spotlight in this short film about a couple whose son is a vampire. Mum (Ahmi Jeong) wants son Sungyong (Kiha Kwon) to be a normal kid with high academic aspirations in spite of the fact that he’d rather leave high school because school hours take place during the day when he must wear layers of sunblock and thick clothing even in the summer and his restricted diet of the red liquid stuff leaves him with bad breath and alienates other kids who can’t share their lunches with him. Kissing girls carries an extra risk for the young ladies. In spite of all that Mum does for Sungyong – even organising home deliveries from local blood banks and attending blood auctions to get some special fresh stuff – she gets no support from Sungyong’s father (Seongdeok Hong) who all but disowns the boy. One bad day, Mum fails to get anything at the daily auctions, the blood banks are short on blood and Dad comes home grumpy again and demands dinner on the table. Exasperated, Mum stands in the kitchen and a couple of sharp knives standing in the wash-rack catch her attention …

It is actually a very touching film about a mother’s love and care for her special son, told with dark humour. The characters and the dialogue push the hilarious plot at a crisp pace. Jeong is completely absorbed into her character who will do anything and sacrifice anything – even Dad and herself if necessary – for Sungyong. Sungyong for his part is wimpish and spoilt for a teenage vampire.

The relationships within the family may reflect something of the pressures of modern South Korean society on families generally. Mothers may lavish all their love and attention on their children, especially their sons, if fathers are forced to spend so much time at work by employers that they have little time and energy for their families. Estrangement between parents, and between fathers and children, may be the result. Traditional cultural expectations of the roles of men and women within families may clash with modern-day reality in which women also have to go out to work in addition to caring for husbands and children. No wonder at the end of the day Sungyong’s mother is left with little option other than murder if she is to get fresh blood for her son.

The final frames of the film may come as a shock to viewers, suggesting an incestuous aspect to the suffocatingly close relationship between mother and son. The film is very well done though I don’t see that the plot can sustain a feature-length movie or a television series. Still, stranger and sketchier ideas have been made into successful movies and TV shows.

The big surprise for viewers is that for a vampire film, the vampire doesn’t kill anyone – it’s the human familiar who does this for him.

Vladivostok 2020: portrait of a very Russian city on the edge of the Pacific Ocean

Graham Phillips, “Vladivostok 2020” (2020)

In this 20-minute showcase of the glories of Vladivostok, the famed Pacific Ocean gateway to Russia, investigative British journalist lists what he calls his Magnificent Seven features of the city, the Magnificent Seven part being a reference to Vladivostok’s most famous export, Yul Brynner, who was one of the stars of the Hollywood Western classic based on the Japanese film “The Seven Samurai”. And these seven features are indeed amazing, not just magnificent: the two major bridges alone spanning the bay on which the city straddles, Russian Bridge and Golden Bridge, are breathtaking in their scale and architectural beauty; the city’s port is still a working port through which Russia exports and imports goods to and from nations around the Pacific Rim; the city’s emblem, the Siberian tiger, adorns Vladivostok in sculptures and in the city’s popular culture; and most amazing of all, Vladivostok is the only major Russian city in which most people drive right-handed cars, an anomaly from the chaotic years in the 1990s when manufacturing in Russia nearly all but ceased and Russians in the nation’s Far East regions imported cars from Japan to drive and sell.

Initially Phillips sets out to counter and debunk a BBC documentary featuring narrator Simon Reeve who travelled through the city. Apparently Reeve made much of Vladivostok’s geographic proximity to the Chinese border with the insinuation that Chinese investors and migrants would soon overtake the city and turn it into a Chinese city. Although Phillips does an excellent job of refuting Reeve and the BBC to the extent of grinding the Britons into fine powder beneath his feet, the camera lets the city do most of the talking: statues and memorials to famous figures and events of Russian and Soviet history dot public spaces, Orthodox cathedrals vie for tourists’ attention with their onion domes, distinctive crosses and flamboyant colour schemes, and ordinary citizens uphold quaint and eccentric Russian customs and traditions such as going commando in cold water in the middle of winter. Astonishingly Phillips also comments on the rise in shark attacks (!) along the Pacific coast near Vladivostok and accordingly the city authorities have set up shark nets along the coast so residents can indulge in another distinctive Russian custom: going to the beach, swimming and sunning themselves even when the day temperature is barely into the early 20s Centigrade.

Without doubt the best parts of the film are those parts where the camera pans around the cityscape as Phillips walks around or drives across the two bridges. Special mention must be made of a lighthouse whose keeper Phillips visits for tea and sugar, and of a famous submarine whose crews participated in major feats of heroism against the Japanese navy during the Second World War. While Phillips strolls about, one can’t help but notice how clean and tidy the streets are, how wealthy it and its citizens look, and the confidence they have. City panoramas show a gleaming, prosperous urban landscape dominated by cars, cars and more cars, many of them actually being right-hand drive cars imported from Japan. Phillips’ film is sure to have many viewers putting Vladivostok on their bucket lists of cities to visit.

Corrections: a tale of obsession, extreme control, psychological projection and denial

Nicholas Tucker, “Corrections” (2017)

A tale of obsession and extreme control in a future dystopian society, this short film is completely character and dialogue-driven, revolving around a parole officer and a sociopathic inmate who is immune to reform. In the near future, a prison uses simulations to rehabilitate and evaluate prisoners on their moral resolve in private, intimate scenarios for reduced sentences, early parole and possible early release. One prisoner, Alice Luna (Sarah Phillips), seems clearly uninterested in reforming herself and conforming to prison directives, and seems keen only on seducing her parole officer, Cyrus Williams (Luke Pennington). Most of the film focuses on the various simulation scenarios that Williams sets up for Luna but she is intent on following her dreams which turn out to be quite sinister and involve domination and control.

There is a late twist in the plot which completely overthrows the narrative and raises the issue of how a system of surveillance and complete control – one in which prisoners are coerced into total conformity and prevented from developing their own ethical values, however ideal or not these may be – can be subverted by other malevolent actors and institutions for their own purposes. This raises an issue of how societies of control and surveillance encourage the development of humans who remain eternal infants all their lives and who end up vulnerable to other systems of control and brainwashing.

Phillips’ acting is superb in this very taut and quite intense little thriller. Her large-eyed, baby-faced looks are very effective in conveying a very bland, matter-of-fact expression behind which strange and uncomfortable thoughts may be lurking. At the end of the film, Phillips presents a completely different appearance as a bland bureaucrat, so much so she might have been someone else playing the part. Pennington is no less admirable in the way he plays his role and his weary features as he presses on with a recalcitrant problem child are sure to make quite an impression on viewers. The film’s cinematography is excellent, especially in an apparent dream sequence, and the general look and feel of the film is very minimal and sparse.

Perhaps the twist at the end might subvert most viewers’ perceptions of what the film’s themes are but the notion of obsession is backed up by what becomes obvious as psychological projection and denial in the narrative that has led up to the twist. A larger theme that our society projects its obsessions and hatreds (and also admiration, even hero-worship) onto psychopathic / sociopathic individuals, and makes them the scapegoats for behaviours and actions we both abhor and nurse in secret, is present. At the same time that we try to force individuals to adhere to external codes of morality, which in themselves may be dubious, we undermine those codes ourselves in our cultures and our actions, especially in our actions towards outsiders and people in distant lands. We proclaim that we believe in peace and sustainability but at the same time invade other nations if they insist on following their own paths of political and economic development, and continue to dump waste on Third World nations and pursue domination of them to force them to yield their natural resources to us.