The Children Act (UK, 2017. Dir: Richard Eyre): Based on a novel by Ian McEwan, The Children Act is not only a thorough character piece about a judge whose rigidity renders her unable to deal with life’s curveballs. It’s also a fantastic showcase for Emma Thompson, too long stuck in supporting roles or as the love interest of some old fogey (often Dustin Hoffman).
Thompson is the Honorable Fiona Maye. Her specialty are medical cases that require an speedy process. Her job is fascinating but has taken a toll on her marriage to Jack (Stanley Tucci). The same week Jack announces his intention to have an affair, Fiona must rule on a case that pits the parents of a teen with leukemia against the hospital he is held at. Their religion forbids transfusions, even though the kid desperately needs one. Fiona’s job begins to bleed into her personal life and vice versa in unexpected ways.
Adapted to the screen by McEwan himself, The Children Act is predominantly a character study with a captivating plot lurking underneath. Dialogue and subtext are a delight, reminiscent of also superb 45 Years (heartbreak happens at every age). Tucci’s part is somewhat underwritten and the third act abandons the sobriety that makes the piece so compelling, but overall is a very relatable piece. Three and a half dogs. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.
The Ritual (UK, 2016. Dir: David Bruckner): Modeled after The Wicker Man and, to a lesser degree, The Blair Witch Project, The Ritual stands slightly above films with similar influences on the strength of the acting and psychological undertones.
Following the violent death of the leader of their pack, four friends decide to honor his wish of spending the holidays hiking the Northern Sweden highlands. The already harebrained idea (all four are city folk) becomes deathly when the group becomes the target of an unseen forest dweller.
The film is at its best when dealing with the unraveling psyche of the foursome. The main focus is on Luke (Rafe Spall, Roadies) who nurses a massive case of survivor’s guilt (their friend’s death was partially his fault). The Ritual is not nearly as effective when the force stalking them goes from abstract to all too real. Two and a half dogs. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.
Porcupine Lake (Canada, 2017. Dir: Ingrid Veninger): Ingrid Veninger’s most traditional film to date is a coming-of-age story that unfolds during the dog days of summer. City girl Bea (Charlotte Salisbury) is the dutiful daughter to a couple on the verge of breaking up. In dire need of a friend her own age, Bea connects with Kate (Lucinda Armstrong Hall), a townie with her fair share of issues at home.
The girls become fast friends and find solace on each other’s company, to the point of tentatively exploring their sexuality. It doesn’t reach Heavenly Creatures territory, but comes close.
Despite the stilted dialogue and some less than polished performances, Porcupine Lake is a charming flick that captures the hazy transition from childhood to puberty, as well as the horrifying realization that adulthood can be pretty ugly. Worth a look. Two and a half dogs. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.