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Directors: Maeve O’Boyle, Lucy Kennedy and Aideen Kane Running Time: 95 minutes
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The Galway Film Fleadh opened last night with the world premiere of Irish documentary The 8th. With subject matter so closely tied to the recent national psyche of the country, going as it does through the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment which constitutionally banned abortion in the Republic, it can be difficult to assess Maeve O’Boyle, Lucy Kennedy and Aideen Kane’s documentary on it’s own merits. Functioning similarly Linda Cullen and Vanessa Gildea’s Marriage Referendum doc The 34th, the film plays out as a matter of historical record, but the filmmakers do allow the heavy emotions of the time their rightful place, elevating The 8th beyond the newsreel footage.

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Director: Neasa Hardiman  Starring: Hermione Corfield, Connie Nielsen, Dougray Scott Running Time: 89 minutes

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From the visceral threat of Jaws to the unnerving nightmares of H.P. Lovecraft, the sea has always been a fertile breeding ground for horror. To cast characters adrift into vast, unexplored and uncaring waters means that they are exposed to one essential real-life fears – the instinctual anxiety that kicks in when a human is fundamentally and literally not on their home turf. Start adding freaky monsters into the mix and you can really start turning the screw, just as Irish director Neasa Hardiman has done in Sea Fever. Set aboard a small Irish fishing boat that becomes infested with aquatic parasites, the isolated ship mates become their own vessels and are as much at risk from each other as they are the horrors of the deep. What the film lacks in originality, knowingly but practically taking inspiration from classics like Alien and The Thing, it has gained considerably in timeliness. Let’s hope we don’t start seeing every movie through an “of-the-moment” lens, but if the lifejacket fits…

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Director: Philippa Lowthorpe Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jessie Buckley, Keira Knightly, Greg Kinnear, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans Running time: 106 mins

Misbehaviour benefits from the pedigree of a strong cast, a compelling story and a seasoned director at the helm; Philippa Lowthorpe was the first woman to win Best Director at the Baftas, and she’s won twice. The costuming, make up, hair and set design all evoke the new era being born and really ground the story in a time and place which feels fully realised. Misbehaviour has all the ingredients to make it a hit but unfortunately it falls down on building layered and sympathetic characters and it’s difficult to stay on board, especially when the plot holds no surprises (which isn’t the film’s fault necessarily because you can’t have spoilers for history!)

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Director: Lorcan Finnegan Starring: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris Running Time: 97 minutes

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Even as news reports were starting to darken and arrive ever closer to our doors, while sitting in the sold out screening for the Opening Gala of VMDIFF 2020 it was difficult to imagine just how real Vivarium would become. Or how quickly the energy of a film premiere, glamorous stars ; a room packed full of people eagerly anticipating the uncertainty and possibilities of the immediate future, would feel like a bittersweet memory of oohhh, a billion years ago.

If Vivarium is a horror, it’s a horror about the domestic drudgery, a blunt jab at how social constructs can be so narrowly confined, widely expected and hellish to navigate that they can feel like a trap from which there is no escape. The fact that we all have to stay indoors right now with unknown and deadly consequences lurking ominously over us all the time has made the film’s blunt, exaggerated parody of suburbia very real in ways that director Lorcan Finnegan and writer Garret Shanley (who paired previously on Without Name) might never have anticipated when putting this story together, and it would be hard to blame the average viewer for running a mile from its ideas at the moment. The black joke has gotten a few shades darker, but the film is so committed to the bit, so giddily weird, it manages to pull off the delivery.

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Director: Céline Sciamma Starring: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami, Valeria Golino Running Time: 120 minutes

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“Do all lovers feel like they’re inventing something?”

So whispers the besotted Héloïse in a fit of passion in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The exploration of that spark, that fierce and intense rush of feeling is central to the latest feature by Céline Sciamma, her own work continuing to evolve and innovate in exhilarating fashion here following the “accidental trilogy of youth” that was Water Lilies, Tomboy and Girlhood. Love as shown here between painter Marianne and her subject Héloïse has that feeling of invention, the sudden arrival of something entirely new and brilliant and unique and though what emerges between these two can’t hope to last in the way that they would prefer, the depth of emotion and ideas brought to light by Sciamma and her excellent crew lifts Portrait into so much more than the typical Forbidden Romance.

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Director: Leigh Whannell Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen Running Time: 124 minutes

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Leigh Whannell is in the director’s seat for this modern adaptation of the 1897 sci-fi horror tale by H.G Wells. Whannell has had plenty of horror experience on screen, as a long time collaborator with James Wan. He’s also dipped his feat into directing with some impressive results. Insidious 3 was arguably the second best film of the series, and 2018’s Upgrade was well received by critics.

 

At a time when Ireland has just seen its first conviction for coercive control handed down in February of this year, it would be an understatement to say that the timing is appropriate to clear up narrow misconceptions about domestic abuse. It’s not always about physical abuse, nor is it exclusively about sexual harassment. Often, it’s a sociopathic lust for control. This is an aspect that The Invisible Man attempts to tap into, with limited success.

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Director: Bong Joon-ho Starring: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Jung-eun, Chang Hyae-jin Running Time: 132 minutes

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The long anticipated Parasite from acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho has arrived on Irish big screens right at the end of what has turned out to be an incredible run of Oscar contenders. While in many ways the Academy Awards could well be regarded as an over inflated industry award, it is difficult not to get caught up in all of the fuss surrounding what is unquestionably the most notable event of the year in film. Similarly, while it might make more sense to maintain objectivity when reviewing films, it’s often challenging to suspend your own excitement for films that you’ve been personally routing for. On it’s own merit, I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Parasite for months. As someone who was first introduced to the now well-established perceptive craft of Bong Joon-ho since The Host in 2006, I was even more delighted that his latest work seemed to be getting the level of international traction that many South Korean films in the last year have undeservedly lacked. Casting memory back through the last couple of years, there seems to have been at least one highly impressive hit coming out of the country every year. In 2016 there was Train to Busan, a frantic and kinetic zombie movie tracking the desperation of a father and daughter to escape a lethal viral outbreak. In 2017 there was Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, a stylish period thriller that picked up the BAFTA for Best Film Not In The English Language. Then there was Lee Chang-dong’s Burning in 2018, a slow burning psychological mystery. All of these features could more than match the weight of any Oscar winning Hollywood films in recent years, but many were regrettably limited to selected art house screenings.

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