With government understanding of mental health arguably reaching a new low, the release of Mommy provides a powerful contribution to the debate. A subtle French-Canadian drama about the complex, raw relationship between a mother and son, it takes place in an alternate Canada (more interesting than it sounds, trust me!) and features excellent performances and striking photography. Opening with a car smash, the film pitches us squarely into the life of Die (Anne Dorval), who’s struggling to keep herself on track via her priority, maladjusted teenager Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). In some ways she’s as wayward as he is, and there’s a surprising amount of rapid fire, witty conversation as the pair arrive home after his stint in a correctional facility. One of the main strengths of the piece is that you like this pair, and the action cuts through their outward appearance to present a genuine portrait of a broken family – shattered following the death of Steve’s father, who left his loved ones in debt. It’s the inevitable moment when Steve’s behaviour tips over into violence and confusion that seriously pulls the rug out from under the viewer, showing that this is a very real balancing act for the drowning “Mommy”, who’s running out of money and options. The premise of the movie hinges on a fictional law change which directly addresses Die’s situation, and when these two elements collide toward the end if the story, an epic moral question is posed, one that writer/director Xavier Dolan leaves to the audience to pass judgment on. Dorval and Pilon make these layered central characters shine, which is no mean feat. Die and Steve are at once parent and child and a partnership. Giving good support is Suzanne Clément as Kyla, a teacher recovering during a unexplained but damaging sabbatical, who finds solace in the company of the pair when they move across the street from her. The most eye-catching element of the film is the way it’s been shot, with Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin opting for a 1:1 screen ratio. Initially this makes proceedings look like a giant YouTube video, but there’s a role this format plays in representing events, and on the odd occasions when the team widen the frame it creates freedom from the constraints the camera places on the players. In a strange way the narrow picture lets you focus on the image more and some sequences of Steve out on his skateboard are beautifully-handled. Noia‘s haunting soundtrack (American Beauty-like in tone) features some familiar tunes, from White Flag to Wonderwall, to evoke the boy’s inner world. This probably sounds like a bleak tale, and it is. However it’s also warm, funny and offers hope despite the crushing central message about the interaction of money, institution and the human spirit. And there’s perhaps no better way of summing this up than Dolan’s use of Lana Del Rey over the end credits. Formidable! This review appeared on The Hollywood News.
Spooky sequel The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death is out to buy this week. One of the noteworthy aspects on the disc is an interview with Jeremy Irvine, the film’s male lead and an up-and- comer who is being watched with great interest.
THN parted the ether for a chat with Jeremy about the world of Gothic horror, his surprising personal connection to the character and what it’s like to step through the infamous doors of Hammer Studios…!
THN: Tell us a bit about your character in the film.
Jeremy Irvine: I play Harry. He is, or he appears to be, an RAF bomber pilot… but like all the characters in the film he has his own ghosts and demons, and isn’t quite who he appears to be. At the beginning he’s like the archetypal young hero airman, but then all is not quite what it seems.
What was it about the project that drew you in?
The Woman In Black is a story that I’d grown up with, and haunted me I guess as a kid. I got offered the script, and like a lot of sequels you go into it thinking: ‘Is this going to be as good as the first one?’ Then I finished the last page and thought: ‘That’s fine!’ I was also a big fan of (director) Tom Harper… he’d worked on Peaky Blinders and stuff like that. The Woman In Black has now become part British literature and theatre – to be a part of that was really cool.
Did Tom Harper do anything to create a creepy atmosphere on set as you were working?
We worked with a lot of kids, and he wouldn’t tell them when the Woman In Black herself was on set. I never met the Woman in her make up, I met the actress playing her (Leanne Best). So that was kept very separate. He wanted the kids to be genuinely scared, and they were certainly in some creepy places. I was loving it, ‘cos I was with eight kids who were like little minions, and they were playing games and chilling out with Phoebe Fox (who plays lead character Eve) and stuff. They were trying to scare everyone else!
Sounds fun! Now, Hammer Films have been in the news recently due to the sad death of Sir Christopher Lee. What was it like entering that world, as it still seems to be a much-loved horror brand?
It’s an honour to be part of something like that. Again, they’re something that I grew up with. To get to be a Hammer Horror hero… yeah, it was a privilege! I think the success of it so far just goes to show it’s still very prevalent today.
I suppose some would see it as an old-fashioned sort of horror film compared to the more extreme examples you see now?
Yes, there’s something very British about the film. It’s not all blood and gore, and girls in bikinis running around getting their heads chopped off. There’s something a bit classier about their stuff.
Of course, girls in bikinis getting their heads chopped off has its place!
Would I rather have seen Phoebe Fox running round in a bikini? Yeah, of course! But you know, I didn’t have final approval on the script. (Laughs)
Are you a big fan of the horror genre?
I like anything where it’s doing more than just trying to scare you. The first time I saw The Sixth Sense it made me cry, and I think that’s beautiful. Where you can get a film that at the same time is very scary and very moving. And The Others for example, with Nicole Kidman… there’s something really incredible to me about the fact we all know how films are made, we all know they’re not real, but they can still make us feel such extreme emotions. That we have to turn off the TV, or hide behind the sofa. That’s why I love film in general, not just horror movies.
Your character as you mentioned was an RAF bomber pilot. Did you have to do much research for that side of the role?
I did, but it’s my hobby. I’ve always been interested in that period of history, I write about it in my spare time and collect Second World War, First World War bits and bobs. So it wasn’t really extra work to do that! It’s such a well-documented piece of history… there’s a wealth of stuff to draw on, and personal accounts.
What sort of writing do you do around the subject?
I’m working with two production companies at the moment on a couple of documentaries, which I can’t quite talk about yet! But it looks like they’re going ahead in the next few months. And I also wrote a little bit for one of Michael Morpurgo’s books about a First World War fighter pilot. (Irvine played the lead in the movie adaptation of the author’s War Horse.) It’s my little nerdy hobby in my spare time!
What have you got coming up next?
The next movie I’ve got coming out is called Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich, all about the gay rights revolution, which I’m very excited about. There’s another movie called Fallen, which is another one of these “Young Adult” movies, which is a slightly new direction for me. I saw the movie the other day, and it was pretty exciting! And I’m making a couple more films in England, which haven’t quite been announced yet. Two more in the UK… I haven’t actually worked in England since The Woman In Black, so it will be nice to be back on home soil!
The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death is out to own on Blu-ray and DVD.
This interview first appeared on The Hollywood News.