by Jason Osiason

SANCTUARY: This brilliant film takes on the classic cat-and-mouse thriller genre but combines gripping direction and a hard-hitting script and completely births a new cinematic voice. Margaret Qualley plays Rebecca, a-role playing dominatrix opposite her client, played by Christopher Abbott. She proves she’s growing into our most excellent living actress with her extremely chaotic performance providing a new take on the unreliable narrator narrative trope. On the other hand, Abbott is given his best role in years as an overprivileged nepotism baby whose career is being threatened by his repressed kinks that leave both panicked and incredibly turned on. Filmmaker Zachary Wigon and writer Michael Bloomberg stand out as exciting and fresh original talents. Micah Bloomberg also delivers hard-hitting, well-written, and acerbic writing paired with intoxicating visuals and complemented by an unforgettable soundtrack that hasn’t stunned me since Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds back at Sundance in 2016. The direction also takes clear inspiration from Punch Drunk Love’s hypnotic visuals and spectacular musical score (featuring Shiva Baby composer Ariel Max, a rising talent). The film is twisted and dark, and the chemistry between Abbott and Qualley is second to none. Sanctuary will be long remembered as one of the great debuts of this year’s TIFF. [A]

SICK: With a story credit by Scream’s Kevin Williamson comes an extremely well-directed pandemic commentary on the home-invasion slasher trope. Like Scream, the writing brings a treasure list of slasher tropes delivering genuine thrills and well-written characters from the start. The pandemic elements are smartly implemented into the plot and delivered in equally surprising ways with brilliant, gore-heavy kills and impressive directorial moments, including one particularly long shot that adds a much-needed visual intensity that sets it apart from other slash fares. The newcomers leading the movie do outstanding work. Still, the moment Jane Adams comes on screen, she delivers unmatched psychotic sadistic fare as a mother torn by familial trauma that I best not spoil, but it’s a very well-earned payoff for audiences. It also brings the most refreshing execution of an overdone genre since You’re Next which I saw at my first Toronto International Film Festival. Director John Hyams is one to keep a close eye on. [B+]  

THE BANSHEES INISHERIN: Martin Mcdonagh follows up Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri with another profound yet comedic tale about friendship, abandonment, and rejection. The film centers on Colin Ferrell’s character falling out with Brendan Gleeson’s character Colm, his sister, played wonderfully by Kerry Condon, searching for meaning in her life, and Barry Keoghan being the town’s laughing stock town idiot. Everyone in this fictional town in Ireland is slowly losing their wits and heads, and it’s a superb delight and features probably Colin Farell’s greatest performance to date. Also, Martin McDonagh’s directorial style is some of his most gorgeous and sweeping yet, and much of the cinematography work utilizes the grand Irish landscapes to its fullest extent. [B+]

PEARL: As his last feature, X, was a love letter to the gritty slashers of the 1970s we grew up with, T.I West surprises with a character study in prequel form featuring the villain character Pearl that is a sweeping feat of vision and craftsmanship. It also is an homage to old Hollywood and the great technicolor movies of the classic moviegoing era. Mia Goth once again plays Pearl without the old-age makeup this time. She stuns with a performance fixating on her fraught psychological and emotional state and her sexual awakening while her husband is off at war and wants to conquer her dreams of becoming a world-famous dancer. It’s one of the year’s most unforgettable films and features an ending credits crawl for the ages. I’m excited to see where T.I. West’s trilogy goes next. [A-]

THE SON: Seeing your child suffer is a harrowing experience for any parent. Florian Zeller captures it to devastatingly real results in adapting his famous Off-Broadway play. Some emotions may ring too saccharine, and newcomer Zen McGrath is a woodenly miscast. Still, there are spectacular performances featuring a powerfully devastating performance by Hugh Jackman in the father role and an equally great one by Vanessa Kirby as his young second wife is forced to take on an easily provoked teen dealing with spiraling depression. It took me 20 mins to compose again from my sobbing. All the parental conversations couldn’t have been more dead-on, and I say this from personal experience. [B+]

EMPIRE OF LIGHT: Sam Mendes’ Mendes’ follow-up to 1917 is reliably handsomely made, but it’s ultimately a directionless story set in the 1980s of a woman played Olivia Colman, plagued with schizophrenia managing a movie theater in England during the heart of radical racism. Colman pours her soul into a woman maddened with mental illness, and those emotional beats ring truest because they are based on Mendes’ mother. Still, despite being a potently personal story, he tackles way too much topical fare with no tale to balanced narrative support and felt like he wrote himself as Michael Ward to tackle the topic of race. [C]


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