All Girls Weekend

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“Why we don’t camp, #173.”

There’s something admirable about a film entirely cast with and directed by women, especially in such a generally male-dominated genre as horror. Unfortunately, all this effort really goes to prove, is that the fairer sex are every bit as capable of turning out uninteresting crap as any man. An ill-conceived cross between The Descent and The Blair Witch Project, this has four old school friends reuniting, along with the workmate of one of them, who tags along because… Well, as with so much in the movie, for no particularly good reason.  There’s friction between the friends, from the moment Nancy (Bernadette) shows up four hours late, forcing their departure to be pushed back.

But it’s when an innocent little pre-dinner hike is suggested that things truly go off the rails. For the workmate falls, and is impaled on… well, let’s be honest, and call it a twig. The party is unable to get out of the woods and find help, finding themselves perpetually going in circles. It’s almost as if the forest itself is trying to keep them from leaving. Turns out that’s exactly the case – not much of a spoiler this – for there was a mill there, which polluted the entire area, and unleashed a curse. Now, in order to regenerate, the earth spirit is now demanding blood sacrifices. So, before you can say, “Hang on – this doesn’t make much sense,” the party are being threatened in different, mostly fairly ludicrous ways. It’s almost like a live-action version of The Gashleycrumb Tinies: “N is for Nancy, pursued by a bear,” albeit where it’s abundantly apparent that Nancy and the bear were never simultaneously in the same zip-code.

Whoever designed the poster likely deserves some kind of award, for making the film look a hundred times more exciting than it is ever capable of delivering. The final 10 minutes can’t make up for the poor pacing and horribly talky nature of what has gone before, Simon appearing to have misheard the cardinal rule of cinema as, “Tell, don’t show.” Hence, we get an awful lot of scenes of exposition and unnecessary back-chat: I mean, do we really care that one of the girls used to be fat at high-school? Does it matter in the slightest? Meanwhile, seems like at least half the deaths take place off-screen, culminating in a staggering moment where it appears someone is found drowned in a pile of leaves. What? No, really: what? About the only positive to come out of this is Bernadette, who gives Nancy more of a character arc than everyone else in the film combined, her character turning a full 360-degrees over its course.

I guess we should at least be grateful that Simon did not make the obvious artistic decision and turn this into yet another “found footage” abomination. It’s one of the few things which would have made this more of a chore to watch.

Dir: Lou Simon
Star: Jamie Bernadette, Katie Carpenter, Gema Calero, Karishma Lakhani

The Ascent

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“Suffers from a mountain sense of disinterest.”

One year ago, the boyfriend of Emily Wilks (Davis) vanished, along with the mountaineering party he was taking on an ascent of the notoriously lethal Devil’s Peak summit. Emily is no mean climber herself, and still works as a trail guide on the mountain. But the group who have booked her services on this day have another motive: finding the legendary stash of gold they believe is hidden on the mountain, which they believe Emily knows the location. Unable to convince them it’s just a myth, she’s forced to lead the gang through the wilderness. Fortunately, it has many, many potential perils which can be used to thin the herd out.

The IMDb contains a (suspicious?) number of reviews touting the merit of the “director’s cut” of this movie, over the officially released version. But with the former apparently unavailable, we can only review the latter – and it’s severely underwhelming stuff. Davis isn’t the problem, however. The makers choose an actress who actually looks like she could be a climber, with well-defined upper body tone and decent muscles, rather than possessing the twig-like limbs, still seen rather too often. Emily exudes a no-nonsense confidence which also fits her character, and is smart enough to know when to use her physical strength, and when not to.

The problem is… Well, more like the problems are, for just about everything else misfires. First of all, the “mountaineering” scenes are almost entirely shot in super close-up, presumably because the participants were dangling no more than three feet off the ground. It is all completely unconvincing and the movie offers absolutely no sense of danger from the terrain, at any point; far from needing a guide, this mountain looks far more like a literal walk in the park. Large chunks of the plot don’t make much sense either, such as the fight with ice axes which takes place in a desert. [This is perhaps because the makers originally intended to shoot in Alaska, then relocated to Texas – apparently, without bothering to revise the script!] The actions of the villains also often appear to fall into the crevasse marked, “Dumbness necessary to the plot”.

I’m reluctant to condemn completely a film which appears to have been the innocent victim of a tussle between the producer and director. But without access to any other version, the audience here are as much casualties as the movie. Who is responsible for the problems with the other elements, doesn’t matter much, in any final analysis from a neutral observer. You can sense where the writer-director wanted to go with this, and as noted above, I genuinely liked the lead. It isn’t enough, with the undercooked script and weak execution draining most of the film’s nascent promise.

Dir: S.J. Creazzo
Star: Josie Davis, William McNamara, Martin Kove, Martin Kove

Luana, the Girl Tarzan

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“Not the promised thrill adventure of a lifetime.”

luanaDespite a broad range of impressively kick-ass posters, in which renowned artists Frank Frazetta and Russ Manning had a hand, the heroine of the title (Chen) is much more of a supporting role than the star, and that’s a disappointment. While competently made, compared to others of the genre, its failure to deliver what the advertising promises, and indeed much jungle-girling at all, earns it a significant downgrade. The backstory is more or less the usual: a plane crash in darkest Africa leaves one survivor, the three-year-old daughter of a scientist and an Asian princess(!), who somehow survives in the rain-forest. She grows up to wander round her domain with a chimpanzee sidekick, wearing nothing but a loin-cloth and hair that magically affixes itself over her breasts, this being a firmly PG-13 rated jungle romp.

However, the real stars are the scientist’s other daughter, Isabel Donovan (Marandi), who is seeking answers to her father’s disappearance, and jungle guide George Barrett (Saxson). He knows of Luana, having been rescued by her after being attacked by savages on a previous trek into the jungle. Also along on the trip is her father’s partner, the somewhat creepy Norman (Tordi), who appears to have a more than guardian-like interest in Isabel. It soon becomes clear that “someone” – and let’s be honest, you deserve no prizes for guessing who, 30 seconds after they show up – doesn’t want the truth about the crash to be established. Meanwhile, Luana is lurking on the edge, saving her sister from a spider, stealing her clothes when Isabel takes a dip, etc.

It’s a definite shame there wasn’t more Luana, as her character possesses a sweet innocence which is quite endearing, and certainly more fun than watching the bland Isabel and George traipse through another section of faux-jungle or react to the usual stock footage [though this is integrated somewhat better than usual]. For example, witness the scene where Luana tries to figure out how to use a bra; it’s naively charming, and I’d have loved to have seen more of this angle. Indeed, the script itself is solid enough, with a number of sequences which clearly have potential. For example, there’s George arm-wrestling a tribesman, with scorpions set up on either side to greet the loser with their sting. The film also has a carnivorous plant. How can you go wrong with a carnivorous plant?

The answer appears to be director Infascelli, operating under a pseudonym, as he manages to suck the excitement out of every sequence, courtesy of pedestrian execution. But one final anecdote will sum up the overall ineptness here. When the film got US distribution, Ballantine Books commissioned Alan Dean Foster to write a novelization However, the only available copy of the script was in Italian, so Foster wrote a new novel based on the Frazetta poster. I can’t help thinking any film based on that would likely be rather better than the actual movie.

Dir: “Bob Raymond” (Roberto Infascelli)
Star: Glenn Saxson, Evi Marandi, Mei Chen, Pietro Tordi

Treasure of the Golden Cheetah, by Suzanne Arruda

Literary rating: starstarstarstarstar
Kick-butt quotient: action2

Warning –my review doesn’t contain any spoilers for this book, but it does divulge a major series plot development from the preceding book!

In the 10th century B.C., the kingdom of Sheba (or Saba –the S and Sh sounds were still fluid in the Semitic alphabets of that day) straddled the Arabic and African sides of the southern entrance to the Red Sea, and enjoyed considerable income from its control of that trade route. Both the Old Testament books of I Kings and II Chronicles record a state visit by the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Neither of these writers record her name (it varies in the legends, but the most common name given is Balkis or Belkis –English transliterations vary) or much about her, and written records from Sheba at this time have not survived; but she’s also mentioned in the Koran. Jewish, Arabic and Ethiopian legends (the latter written down in the ancient writing Kebra Negast, or “Glory of Kings”) some of which probably preserve actual handed-down oral history, greatly elaborate the story, and the latter makes Solomon out to be the father of her son and heir, Menelik. (The royal house of Ethiopia historically claimed descent from Solomon through Menelik.) The legends of the Masai and other African peoples south of Ethiopia also credit Menelik with a great (and obviously historically memorable) expedition through their territories. This real-life material provides the basis for Jade del Cameron’s fifth adventure.

It’s now the autumn of 1920, and an American silent film company is in Nairobi, preparing to journey south (into what is today the country of Tanzania) to fabled Mount Kilimanjaro, there to film a movie, set partly in ancient and partly in modern times, based on a supposed legend of Emperor Menelik having climbed the mountain to die and be buried near the summit with his treasure. Ever ready to visit other African locales to do an article and photo shoot for “The Traveler” magazine –based on the real-life magazine of that era “Travel”, as Arruda mentions in her fascinating-as-always Author’s Notes– Jade’s agreed to go along as second-in-command (with primary responsibility for looking after the expedition’s female members) to the group’s guide –though she’s less than delighted to learn that the guide is Harry Hascombe, whom series readers have met before. The trip will also give her a chance to think seriously about, and hopefully finally sort out her mixed feelings, about her beau Sam Featherstone’s marriage proposal. But shortly before departure, things get off to an ominous start with a strange murder-suicide just outside Nairobi’s Muthaiga Club.

Much that I’ve said in my reviews of previous books in the series applies to this one, too. All the things that attract its fans are here: a strong, tough heroine with admirable character and with the guts and physical conditioning to handle dangerous challenges (yes, that knife in her boot on the cover picture is going to have to come out of its sheath!), well-drawn and sometimes likeable supporting characters, adventure and danger in a well-realized exotic setting, chaste romance, good writing with bad language kept to a minimum and no explicit sex, an undercurrent of supernaturalism and mystery that never turns the book into supernatural fiction but that adds a dash of that flavor. But I can say that this is one of the strongest books in the series, and presents one of the best constructed mystery plots –in several of the books, I fingered the culprit early on (and twice in the first chapter!), but I didn’t here! This one kept me guessing (wrongly) almost down to the wire. The behind-the-scenes look at the film industry of the 1920s enhanced the book; and though I didn’t recognize the tie-in to Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (never having read that story) until the Author’s Notes explained it, I can recognize now that it was masterfully done. I also appreciated the personal growth here of Jade’s young Kikiyu friend, Jelani.

There are only (so far) two more books in this series; Barb and I have already started reading the sixth installment, The Crocodile’s Last Embrace. I’m hopeful Arruda will eventually write more of them; Jade’s a heroine we both want to keep on spending time with!

Author: Suzanne Arruda
Publisher: New American Library (Obsidian imprint), available through Amazon, both for Kindle and as a printed book.

A version of this review previously appeared on Goodreads.

The Monster

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“Less would be more.”

monsterThere is a time when a film-maker needs to fall out of love with their script, and approach the resulting movie with a cold, critical eye, analyzing every scene with a single question in mind: Is it essential to the story being told? And if the answer isn’t “Yes”, then the scene needs to be ruthlessly excised. If you don’t, then what results is this film, where a good idea, which could have been lean, mean survival horror at its most stripped-down, becomes instead a cumbersome exercise in social drama.

Single mother Kathy (Kazan) is driving teenage daughter Lizzy (Ballentine) to her father, when they hit a wolf that has run out into the middle of the road on a remote country stretch of highway. While injuries are relatively minor, the car is unable to continue, and they have to hang out and wait for a repair truck to show up. However, when it does, and the mechanic is at work beneath their vehicle, the wolf’s corpse vanishes. Lizzy tracks it down in the woods, only to discover it shows signs of having been eaten, leaving her and her mother to wonder: what was bad enough that it could make a wolf run? They’re about to meet the answer.

It’s all the film needs, and when it concentrates on this, Bertino (who directed above-average home-invasion film, The Strangers) crafts a taut, effective work, as mother and daughter have to put aside their differences in the name of fending off the creature. The problem is the film’s insistence on inserting entirely unnecessary flashback scenes. They’re unnecessary because the dysfunctional nature of Kathy is established perfectly well before they have even left the house; everything thereafter is superfluous, and had me suppressing an urge to yell, “Enough, already! We get it!” at the screen.

I also get that the creature is intended to be a metaphor – though whether it’s intended to represent Kathy’s addiction-affected personality or Lizzy’s issues with trust and abandonment, is likely open to discussion. Either way, the mother is the monster in this interpretation; but again, it’s the kind of thing which works best when left for the audience to figure out or not, offering bonus depth if you want it. Here, Bertino seems to prefer whacking the viewer over the head with his subtext, to the point I had to undergo concussion tests.

On the plus side, Ballentine makes for an engaging young heroine, and the monster was laudably done with practical effects rather than CGI; given the relatively small budget, it looks decent enough. If you liked The Babadook – and I wasn’t particularly impressed with that either – then you might look more kindly on this attempt to merge the cerebral and the visceral. Only the latter half worked for me, the former providing more of an annoying distraction than offering any enhancement to the story.

Dir: Bryan Bertino
Star: Zoe Kazan, Ella Ballentine

Seven Vengeful Women

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“The good, the bad and the pretty.”

7-mujeresA wagon train on its way West to California is besieged by multiple waves of Apaches. Between attacks, the seven women among the settlers are hidden in a nearby cave, but the next assault proves terminal, and the women are left, alone and deep in enemy territory. The only hope for this band of largely unprepared women, is to strike out across a hostile landscape. They’ll need to cross 100 miles between them and the nearest settlement, Fort Lafayette, while fending off further native attacks.

This 1966 film is an early example of a “Europudding,” being a co-production between Spain, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein(!). There are three directors credited, though Parolini’s name appears to have been simply to get Italian funding, and Pink was apparently the main man behind the camera. The results are only sporadically effective, being hampered by characters and actions which are often little more than clichés, on all sides. They actually use the line, “Never turn your back on an Indian,” and I literally LOL’d when the settlers formed their wagons into a circle, since I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done in a film, except as a parody.

The star is former Oscar-winner Baxter, who plays Mary-Anne, the de facto leader of the group, and delivers a solid performance. Though as action-heroines, I was probably more impressed with the Grimaldi Sisters, a circus act (played by Como and Adriana Ambesi) whose skills help save the group on multiple occasions – there’s a running joke about these abilities inevitably being obtained from previous sideshow boyfriends. Most of the rest don’t make much impression, and while trying to avoid spoilers, the mortality rate is so low that the Apaches don’t present much of a threat. While there are some dark hints about the women being wanted alive, this was the mid-sixties, so hints are all you’ll get, and the whole thing is rather too gentle for its own good.

That said, the women develop a harder edge over the course of proceedings. The first time they repel an Indian attack, the victim they capture is kept alive, at least until he escapes. By the end, they’re ruthlessly clubbing natives to death with their rifles, in the closest the film goes to a genuinely disturbing sequence [Look, I saw Bone Tomahawk recently. My “genuinely disturbing” scale got entirely re-calibrated, as far as the Western genre goes] Second spot likely goes to the Apache victim whose body is found, mostly for Mary-Anne’s stern instruction that nobody should look under her clothes.

But this is the kind of film where the heroines start off their hundred-mile trek in long skirts. Even for the time, that seems a stretch, and is an unfortunate precursor to the rest of the movie. It’s not a bad idea, and the leads are fine too; the problem here is a script which hasn’t aged well

Dir: Gianfranco Parolini, Rudolf Zehetgruber, Sidney W. Pink
Star: Anne Baxter, Maria Perschy, Gustavo Rojo, Rossella Como
a.k.a. The Tall Women

Unsullied

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“Tumblr in action-movies”

unsulliedIf you’re looking for unsubtle social commentary, you’re in the right place, because this take on The Most Dangerous Game ticks off the trifecta of -isms:

  • Sexism: men abusing women
  • Classism: the 1% versus the 99%
  • Racism: the main protagonist is black, all the antagonists are white.

Heroine Reagan (Gray) is a track star on her way to a college meet, when her car breaks down in a remote area of Louisiana. Unfortunately for her, this leads her into the grasp of Noah Evans (Joiner, looking very much like Brad Pitt’s stunt double) and Mason Hicks (Gaudison), two stockbrokers with a fondness for kidnapping and hunting down young women. They have the deep pockets to ensure that just about everyone in the local area looks the other way, so Reagan is on her own. However, might her athletic ability make her survival changes rather better than the previous victims?

I was kinda hoping this might be some kind of Game of Thrones spin-off – if you don’t watch the show, the title is shared with one of the fiercest warrior armies there. Unfortunately, Reagan’s main skill is, as you might surmise from the synopsis, running away rather than combat, so there’s a lot of jogging here. And swimming, too, for some reason. You also get copious flashbacks of back-story, since Reagan’s sister mysteriously vanished some time previously. You don’t exactly need to be a psychic to figure out where that plot-thread is going to lead, in a remarkable piece of happenstance which will likely stretch disbelief for even the most credulous of viewers.

Director Rice is actually a former NFL defensive end, which I think is a first. I’ve seen a few go on to be actors, such as Fred Williamson and O.J. Simpson, but not direct. Save for a couple of flashy “Go Pro”-esque shots, he takes a workmanlike approach in his debut feature, which is likely wise. Gray is proficient enough too, putting over strength and resolve which is appealing. The problems here are largely in a script which concentrates on the duller aspects, to the exclusion of potentially more interesting ones, such as the apparent way the hunters have bought the connivance of the entire town. Yet even this doesn’t make sense, with them randomly killing someone who appears to be entirely on their side. Because they’re bad people, that’s why. Hey, they’re bored and rich, young white men. What else would you expect?

That may be the core here: an almost total lack of motivation for everyone in the cast, from the moment Reagan blithely decides to get in her abductors’ truck – minutes after cautiously spurning a single man who tries to help. Thereafter, the film relies too much on mutual idiocy. For every moment where Reagan, say, decides to start a fire for no particular reason, there’s one where a captor doesn’t bother to tie her up. The number of times I rolled my eyes was likely exceeeded only by the number of derisive snorts.

Dir: Simeon Rice
Star: Murray Gray, Rusty Joiner, James Gaudioso, Erin Boyes

Black Rock

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“Naked and afraid”

black rockMaybe I’m getting old and deaf. Or maybe it’s just not a good idea to have dialogue that appears to consist largely of characters yelling (or whispering) over the top of each other. Either way, probably a negative the muddy audio is the main thing I remember about this survival horror film. Childhood friends Sarah (Bosworth), Abby (Aselton) and Lou (Bell) re-unite for a weekend on an island near where they grew up. There’s some reluctance here, Abby and Lou not having been on speaking terms for some years, due to the latter having slept with the former’s boyfriend years previously. The island is supposedly deserted, so they’re surprised to encounter three men hunting there, one of whom is known to Lou. A drink leads to another, and before you know it, Abby has fended off advances, in lethal fashion. The two survivors don’t take kindly to this, and begin hunting the trio to take revenge for their friend.

A credible alternative title for this one would be Stupid Decisions, Volume I. For if you’re not yelling more sensible choices at the screen, almost as soon as the action here kicks off, you are simply not paying attention. Indeed, even earlier, such as when one of the women here lies about having cancer – always a great way to build sympathy. Perhaps the nadir is the shouting match while they are supposedly trying to sneak across the beach: another wise idea. Fortunately for them, this is strictly equal-opportunity in terms of idiocy, since the men are no better equipped in the smarts department. Supposedly ex-soldiers recently returned from deployment in the Middle East after being “dishonourably discharged” [hello, giant red flag!], one suspects they wouldn’t have made it through basic training, based on the competence level they display here. The wisest approach to surviving would be to hole up and wait for the guys’ to shoot themselves in the head. It could only be a matter of time.

The film presents an awkward mix of empowering feminism and shallow exploitation. One moment, “No” means “I’m going to bash your head in with a large rock.” The next, the women are stripping out of their wet clothes for an extended sequence of running around the woods naked, after one of their many ill-advised choices, in this case a midnight swim out to a boat moored offshore. It seems equally unsure about whether it wants to destroy the tropes of the horror genre, or simply imitate them. Either way, it doesn’t do an effective job. There are only a couple of moments that pack any wallop, and you have a trio of lead characters that rarely manage to rise above irritating. Lou manages to come out the best, at least relatively: 90 minutes of her battling for survival on her own, without all the girlie chit-chat, would likely have improved this considerably.

Dir: Katie Aselton
Star: Lake Bell, Katie Aselton, Kate Bosworth, Jay Paulson

2320 Days in the Jungle

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“[Crosses Colombia off holiday list]”

2320daysIn February 2002, Ingrid Betancourt was travelling through a rural area of Colombia, as part of her campaign in the presidential election for the Green Party. She was stopped at a road-block run by the Marxist rebel organization, FARC, and when they realized who they had, she and her assistant, Clara Rojas, were kidnapped. Betancourt would spent more than six years of jungle captivity with the guerillas, until she was rescued, in a startling piece of deception, by Colombian military forces. This documentary film tells her story, through archive footage and interviews with Betancourt, Rojas, other kidnappees and some of the FARC members.

The term “you couldn’t make this stuff up” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s probably apt here. The clearest example is the end, and the way Betancourt and her colleagues were freed. The authorities tapped into FARC’s communications channels and inserted an order that a humanitarian group would be transporting the hostages to meet the rebels’ leader. Except, the alleged group were actually soldiers pretending to be aid workers and journalists. They arrived, landing in a coca field with their helicopters, collected the prisoners and a couple of FARC officers, then took off, before taking the officers into custody and telling the kidnap victims, “We are the Colombian army. You are free.” [This deception was likely wise, since there had been a number of disastrous attempts to liberate other hostages by military means, ending in their death]

Many other facets also defy belief, from Betancourt’s multiple unsuccessful escape attempts through to Rojas getting pregnant by one of the guards, and being given a Caesarean section in the middle of the jungle.  It has to have been a hellish existence, the hostages being moved from place to place through the rain-forest to avoid being located by the authorities who were hunting for them – at one point, they were marched 40 days, for up to 12 hours a day. Her captors also deliberately attempted to spread dissension among their captives, in order to stop them from trusting each other and formulating escape plans. And it seems to have worked: even after his release, one of those held with Betancourt heavily criticized her, saying she was “the most disgusting human being I’ve ever encountered.” It’s always the way with documentaries; you’re never sure if you’re getting the whole story.

There’s certainly evidence of tension between Betancourt and Rojas. The former seems more actively inclined to try and escape, while the latter appears to be trying to avoid doing anything that could inflame their situation. During one of her breaks for freedom, Betancourt was spotted by a young female FARC fighter and tried to convince her they should leave together. The rebel said she understood, and that she also had a child in the outside world – but if she left, FARC would hunt them down and kill them both. I’d like to have heard more about these attempts, rather than hostage infighting, but this is still a chilling and effective story, which would make one hell of a movie.

Dir: Angus Macqueen
Star: Ingrid Betancourt, Clara Rojas, Luis Eladio Perez, Marc Gonsalves
a.k.a. Hostage in the Jungle

Heatstroke

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“Hyenas: yes. Laughing? Not so much.”

heatstrokeWildlife researcher Paul (Dorff) is looking forward to a trip to South Africa with his new girlfriend, Tally (Metkina), when he gets The Call from his ex-wife, informing them their daughter, Josie (Williams) has been arrested, and is generally hanging out with a bad crowd. Paul brings the highly-reluctant Josie on the trip, in the hopes the experience will enlighten her. Doesn’t work: she spends the time on her iPad, headphones on, sulking and being grumpy. Finally, they’ve all had enough, and Paul leaves, to take Josie back to civilization. When he doesn’t return, Tally goes to look for him, only to find the jeep crashed, Paul shot dead and Josie injured. Turns out they ran across a couple of minions belonging to Mallick (Stormare), a smuggler with a very strong interest in keeping his operation under wraps. Tally and Josie are now a pair of unacceptable loose ends that need to be tidied up – but Tally is not going to let that happen without a fight.

If some of the DVD sleeves promise rather more heroic, gun-wielding Dorff than the film delivers, I’m perfectly fine with that, as watching Tally take over things is likely more entertaining – there’s something a little Ripley-esque about the way she’s prepared to go to bat for a kid that isn’t her own. And go to bat fiercely: “Guess we’re not dealing with a f____ housewife,” says Mallick, after she has disposed of one particularly nasty henchman. The sequence leading up to that is likely the best in the film, Tally using guile to lure her target in before trying to strangle him; it’s credible in terms of strength and exudes a true sense of danger. Shame the rest doesn’t have such a well-considered approach; indeed, the ending relies on a change of heart by one character that’s a great deal more convenient than it’s convincing.

In between bursts of action, you can admire the South African scenery and some fairly impressive work with hyenas in apparent close proximity to the cast. Williams also does fairly well with a role that could have been utterly unsympathetic – we have had our share of bratty teenagers, and don’t exactly need to experience them dramatically – even if I had to keep suppressing a strange urge to yell “Stick ’em with the pointy end!” [I’d better explain: Williams has a major role in Game of Thrones, and that quote was tactical swordfighting advice given her at one point]. Stormare is his usual good value, and despite its flaws, there’s enough going on here to make for a passable slab of entertainment on a wet Saturday afternoon.

Dir: Evelyn Purcell
Star: Svetlana Metkina, Maisie Williams, Stephen Dorff, Peter Stormare