Nuan

2003 / 109m - China
Romance
3.5*/5.0*
Nuan poster

A pleasant and gentle little romance. Jianqi Huo delivers a simple but endearing romance set in the Chinese countryside. The lovely setting, likable characters, and lack of strong drama make this an easy watch, but also a bit too safe and soft-voiced at times. Fans of the man's work won't be disappointed though.

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After 10 years, Jinghe returns to his hometown. He reconnects with Nuan, the girl he left behind all those years when he went off to study at a city college. Nuan is married and has a daughter, but it's clear that her feelings for Jinghe haven't subsided just yet. There's still a lot unsaid between the two.

The performances are nice, the score is gentle, and the Chinese countryside is idyllic. The film is quite predictable though and Huo has improved this very formula later on in his oeuvre, but the core of the romance works and that's more than enough to recommend this film to whoever is looking for a sweet and cute little romantic film.

Pearl

by Ti West
2022 / 103m - USA
Drama, Horror
1.5*/5.0*
Pearl poster

Eh. I wasn't a big fan of X, but at least that film had a clear goal. I didn't think it was a film that needed a franchise, the buzz and popularity clearly pulled it in a different direction. Now there's a surprisingly straight-faced prequel about the lead character. Ti West doing drama with a splash of horror. What could go wrong, right?

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Pearl is a young girl with big dreams, but she lives on a far where she helps out her mother while taking care of her ill father. She wants to be in the pictures as a dancer, but her mom keeps her on a short leash. Slowly, Pearl loses her sense of reality and she'll go all the way just to realize her dream.

Pearl isn't a very interesting character, the cinematography and 1918 setting felt cheap and underdeveloped and West is a terrible drama director. There are attempts at dark comedy that fail pretty hard and the horror is almost completely absent. At least Goth gave it the old college try, other than that, a complete bore.

The New Painted Skin

2022 / 91m - China
Romance, Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
The New Painted Skin poster

Dai Yilin is one of my discoveries of 2022. Not that he makes the greatest films, but his quality is consistent, his output is insane and practically all his films are prime genre filler. His take on the Painted Skin legend (quite popular in Chinese cinema this past decade) is exactly what I expected from it.

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General Yang is sent to Mirage City, where the Demon Lord resides. He is to win his trust first in order to defeat him, but the Demon Lord has plans of his own. He uses one of his subjects to confuse Yang by impersonating his wife. Meanwhile, the woman has fallen in love with Yang and has to choose between Yang and her master.

There isn't too much action here, instead the film focuses more on fantasy and romance. The costumes are lush, the sets are great and the little action there is in done well. CG is still subpar and the extra 20 minutes don't really add much, but I had a good time with this latest Painted Skin adaptation. Yilin is the man to look for if you want to breach Chinese streamer genre cinema.

Tin Can

2020 / 104m - Canada
Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
Tin Can poster

A mysterious sci-fi whose Canadian roots and love for body horror make for an easy Cronenberg reference. There is quite a bit of potential here and director Smith goes a long way on a tiny budget, but it never quite comes together and in the end, this felt like a lesser version of Beyond the Black Rainbow.

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Fret works in a research facility where she tries to find a cure for a particularly lethal fungus. One day she is assaulted, and when she wakes up she finds herself in a small tank, unable to get out. There are others who find themselves in a similar situation, and together they'll need to find a way to escape.

The film remains mysterious until the very end, the body horror is properly done and the small space is used well. The film still feels a little cheap though, better use of score and cinematography could've elevated Tin Can quite a bit. An interesting film alright, but it lacks the finishing touches to be great.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

W.R. - Misterije Organizma
1971 / 84m - Yugoslavia
Comedy, Fantasy
1.0*/5.0*
WR: Mysteries of the Organism poster

Wilhelm Reich is the central character of this film, but don't expect to learn too much about this man. An assistant of Freud, he had a couple of wild ideas of his own. This film tries its best to explore some of them, then adds a bunch of weirdness of its own. The result is a senseless mess.

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Trying to explain what it's all about is probably pointless. We get some documentary footage detailing Reich's procedures, there's also some documentary stock footage, stuff about communism, and all of that is alternated with some weird sex comedy bits. I lost my way about halfway through, but I guess that's not entirely abnormal.

I didn't really care for Reich's ideas, the film is weird but never compelling, and the technical qualities are poor. At least the film is rather short, even so, I lost interest about halfway through. Maybe people with a soft spot for experimental 70s cinema will find more to like here, this just didn't do it for me.

Piggy

Cerdita
2022 / 90m - Spain
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Piggy poster

A somewhat atypical Spanish horror film. This one is much rawer than their usual horror output, not so much guided by plot and twists, but by anguish and emotional torture. It starts off promising enough, but when the film gets close to its finale things start to cave little by little.

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Sara, the daughter of a butcher, is an outcast in a small Spanish town. She is overweight and she looks messy, making her an easy target for bullying. When three girls gang up on her at the pool, she feels betrayed, so much in fact that she doesn't choose to help them when she notices that a shady figure kidnaps them.

The setup of the film is strong and Laura Galán does a great job as the lead character. The horror elements aren't quite as strong though, the 4:3 ratio is silly and pointless, and the finale is underwhelming. Still, there's enough potential here for Carlota Pereda to deserve a retry.

Zillion

2022 / 135m - Belgium
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Zillion poster

I was hoping for more. With Pront's history and Govaerts' H4Z4RD still fresh in my mind, there seemed to be strong potential for this film. It's a place I've frequented quite often in my younger years, and the setting is perfect for a banging mood piece, but somehow it didn't translate very well.

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Frank Verstraeten is a small and insignificant guy from a tiny town in Belgium. Having been teased all his life, he wants to take revenge on everyone that ever looked down on him. He bluffs his way through life and makes some powerful friends along the way, which puts him in the position to open the biggest and fanciest discotheque in Belgium.

The soundtrack was always going to be key here, and they really botched it up. The selection of tracks is okay, but the sound design is just terribly disappointing. The cinematography isn't quite there either, the plot is a bit too sensationalist for my taste, and the runtime is a tad excessive. This could've been awesome, but Zillion ended up being merely passable.

Orphan: First Kill

2022 / 99m - USA
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Orphan: First Kill poster

A very messy prequel. I wasn't a big fan of the first film, but Bell isn't the worst horror director, so I was willing to give this one a fair shot. Crazy plot twists aside, it's the premise that never really worked for me. Fuhrman is 25 now, and somehow she still has to pass for an 11-year-old girl? A tough sell.

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Leena escapes from a mental institution and cons her way into an American family, posing as Esther, their long-lost daughter. She adapts quickly, but not everybody is buying her story. What Leena doesn't know is that the family has a few secrets of their own, and she doesn't fit into them.

Fuhrman is a complete miscast, the plot is pretty ridiculous and the horror elements are dull. The film isn't all that tense either and the dim cinematography is a bit of a downer, but there are a few enlightened moments that give First Kill a little extra flair. Not enough to save it, but at least it's something.

Jibaro

2022 / 17m - USA
Fantasy, Animation
5.0*/5.0*
Jibaro poster

Many have commented on this film's incredible animation, but it's the direction itself that is absolutely mindblowing. Pacing, editing, and sound design complement the visuals and combine to make something surreal and indescribable. It feels like watching the future of cinema, something so lush and fresh that it won't be easy going back to regular, run-of-the-mill films. Just give this man a budget to make a feature-length film.

The third season or anthology (however you want to coin it) in the Love, Death + Robots franchise. This one is famous for Fincher finally directing an episode himself, though his short is completely overshadowed by some of the more adventurous films here, most notably Alberto Mielgo's Jibaro.

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The anthology starts off with some of the weaker entries, not surprisingly those are also the more humorous ones. Three Robots is the only big failure, so at least it's good to have that out of the way quickly. Fincher's short film lacks originality and a point of view, whereas Kill Team Kill suffers from a terrible art style and a mediocre dub.

There are a fair few solid filler shorts on top of that and three real stand-outs. Emily Dean's The Very Pulse of the Machine is a lushly animated sci-fi mood piece, Night of the Mini Dead is as cute as it is hilarious and over-the-top, but it's Mielgo's Jibaro that propels itself as the big star of the film. Many have commented on its incredible animation, but it's the direction itself that is absolutely mindblowing. Pacing, editing, and sound design complement the visuals and combine to make something surreal and indescribable. Just give this man a budget to make a feature-length film.

Feed Me

2022 / 96m - UK
Comedy, Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Feed Me poster

A very weird mix of various horror styles. At times funny, often unpleasant, sometimes dramatic, and consistently gory. Feed Me is a film that defies explanation, and that's always a plus in my book. Nothing everything works all the time, but there is plenty that stands out, which makes for a very memorable film.

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Jed is heartbroken when his girlfriend dies. So much in fact that he wants to die himself. Right then he meets a strange guy who makes him a unique offer. In return for killing Jed, the man wants to eat him. Jed somewhat reluctantly agrees, which marks the start of a very uncomfortable agreement.

The gore is plentiful, the cinematography is slick and the score is moody. Performances are solid too, though more than a little over-the-top. The best thing about Feed Me though is that it has no clear direction in which the story unfolds, meaning it's a film that keeps you on your toes at all times. I'm looking forward to their next project already.

Nice View

Qi ji · Ben Xiao Hai
2022 / 106m - China
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Nice View poster

China cinema has latched onto sentimentally, and the formula seems to be working for them. The big Chinese blockbusters nowadays are all feel-good, mushy dramas. There is some quality there, but cheesy conclusions and overly obvious morality really make them difficult to love.

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Jing Hao is forced to take care of his little sister, who urgently needs surgery. One day he hits the jackpot when he can buy up a shipment of faulty phones, but right then the Chinese government cracks down on refurbished hardware. Hao won't give up though, and powers on through to get the money he needs to make his sister better.

The drama is decent, but the feelgood is pretty cringe-worthy. The finale in particular (when everybody helps out and Hao overcomes all his problems) is just terrible and takes away from the drama built up during the middle part. It works for Hollywood though, and now China seems hooked too. Maybe some cultural differences aren't that huge after all.

Dreams in the Witch House

2022 / 62m - USA
Fantasy, Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Dreams in the Witch House poster

The writer/director of the Twilight series takes on Lovecraft. It's no big surprise then that the result sways a bit more into dark fantasy territory, but that's not really such a bad thing when adapting Lovecraft. As long as you don't expect full-on horror here, you're bound to have a good time.

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When Walter's twin sister dies, he sees her ghostly form taken away into another dimension. Walter joins a paranormal society but has trouble finding someone who can show him the way. Until he finds a bar where they sell a special potion, that allows people to travel to the realm of lost ghosts.

There is no lack of horror elements here, it's just that they're not all that scary. Hardwicke goes for atmosphere rather than thrills, and that fits the setup nicely. It's certainly not the most original of the Cabinet of Curiosities shorts (then again, it's a well-known Lovecraft story, so what did you expect), but it's executed with a lot of flair and grandeur. Fun.

Barbarian

2022 / 102m - USA
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Barbarian poster

Not quite deserving of all the hype, but a solid and fun horror film regardless. Like most films that reset themselves halfway through Barbarian has a little trouble starting up again, but once it's clear where Justin Long's story is going, there's more than enough time left to build up toward a tense finale.

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When Tess arrives at her shabby b&b in one of the doubtier neighborhoods in Detroit, she finds the house is already rented out to another guest. Tess decides to spend the night as no other accommodations seem to be available, what they don't know is that they're not the only ones inside the house.

There are some fun and surprising twists, the thing is that they don't really lead anywhere original. The effects are a bit basic and the horror elements are actually quite limited, the soundtrack and cinematography on the other hand make up for that. Prime horror filler, Cregger did well.

Pickman's Model

2022 / 64m - USA
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Pickman's Model poster

A straight-up Lovecraft adaption from the hands of Keith Thomas. It's certainly not the most original premise (art as a gateway into darkness), but the execution is on point. This could be said about most of these Cabinet of Curiosities entries, to be fair. If you're looking for moody horror with some nice creature effects, del Toro got you covered.

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Thurber is a rising star in the art world, but his world is turned upside down when he meets Pickman. Pickman's a rebellious artist who looks for darkness hiding behind the beauty. His paintings are very powerful, so overwhelming in fact that they take over the minds of the people who lay eyes on them.

It was fun seeing Crispin Glover again, the Lovecraftian elements get plenty of room to shine and the finale delivers. The build-up is a tad slow maybe and Pickman's art isn't quite as insane-looking as the story needed it to be, but these are minor qualms that don't take too much away from the film. Good fun.