Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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Citadel

Director: Ciaran Foy
Stars: James Cosmo, Aneurin Barnard, Wunmi Mosaku, Amy Shiels

Like Bram Stoker’s legendary Count craves blood, horror fans fiend for original ideas, which is, ultimately, a mostly thankless approach to one’s entertainment choices. But every now and then, a little genre flick comes along offers fresh ideas while cleverly tweaking classic tropes; at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, that movie is the Irish adrenaline rush called Citadel.

Inspired by his own battles with intense agoraphobia, Irish writer-director Ciaran Foy’s taut creepshow centers on Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), an afraid-of-everything, single, widowed father who’s been traumatized after an attack by a gang of hoodie-wearing kids; turns out, the youngsters aren’t all that young, but, rather, feral, zombie-like ghouls that can only see fear. Which, naturally, sucks for an agoraphobic guy, especially when his infant daughter’s been abducted by the hooded villains.

Citadel jumps right into the macabre, showcasing the badass creature-like antagonists right away and never leaving them in the shadows; clearly confident about his self-conceived horror, Foy generates a slew of wicked set-pieces, the best of which turns a public bus into a bloodbath. He’s a genre filmmaker to watch.
Grade: A-

Girls Against Boys

Director: Austin Chick
Stars: Danielle Panabaker, Nicole LaLiberte, Michael Stahl-David, Liam Aiken, Raul Casso

Nothing says “female empowerment” like firing a bullet into a man’s derriere as he’s cuffed to a bedpost—right? That’s part of the conundrum surrounding Girls Against Boys, a fascinating look at a once-well-meaning college student’s (Danielle Panabaker) descent into vengeful man-killing. Equal parts gruesome horror picture and psychological thriller, writer-director Austin Chick’s midnight movie doesn’t play by any rules but its own, and, though its motivations aren’t always easy to digest, Girls Against Boys makes quite a few lofty statements about a woman’s scorn.

Panabaker’s character, Shay, starts off getting dumped by her older, married boyfriend and ends up getting raped by a dude she meets in a club—all within the film’s first 30 minutes. There to push her toward revenge is co-worker LuLu (Nicole LaLiberte), a sociopathic vixen who treats homicide with a blasé disposition. Together, the blood-lusting ladies go on an all-male-victim murder spree, going so far as to lop one guy’s feet off with a power drill.

Near the film’s third act, Girls Against Boys shifts its narrative toward a familiar angle seen in female-centric genre fare like Single White Female and its rip-off The Roommate. Chick, handling his characters with subtle ambiguity, sprinkles clues that hint at a deeper meaning to it all, and in its closing seconds Girls Against Boys all but asks to be watched again. Sign us up.
Grade: B+

Intruders

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Stars: Clive Owen, Carice van Houten, Daniel Bruhl, Ella Purnell, Izan Corchero

A promising concept lies deep within Intruders, the latest horror film from 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Positioning two plotlines against one another, the film, scripted by Nicolas Casariego and Jaime Marques, re-imagines the timeless Boogeyman idea—that of a creepy figure prowling around kids’ room as the little ones slumber—as the byproduct of fiction storytelling; think Stephen King being stalked by It’s Pennywise.

As Intruders dully proves, though, clever ideas don’t automatically make for great movies. With cheesy-looking CGI baddies and a plot twist that falls rather flat, Fresnadillo’s disappointing effort far too often dips into convoluted narrative developments when it should be scaring viewers, something it barely ever does.
Grade: C

Funeral Kings

Director: Kevin and Matthew McManus
Stars: Alex Maizus, Dylan Hartigan, Jordan Puzzo, Dan Perrault, Eric Rollins, PJ McCabe, Kevin Corrigan

On the surface, Funeral Kings, the feature film debut from brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus, rings several familiar bells, bringing to mind coming-of-age teen comedies like Superbad. And aside from stealing a bunch of XXX rated DVDs, the young protagonists here carry out actions similar to McLovin and his boys—they spend an entire house party’s duration trying to get laid, and they even shoot a gun.

Except in Funeral Kings, the weapon leads to an accidental death, and the 14-year-old characters have more going on than the genre’s stereotypical underage horndogs. Andy (Dylan Hartigan) and Charlie (a fantastic Alex Maizus) attend private school and assist their priest as altar boys, though they’re more concerned with using mass as a way of getting out of class than praying. Unhappy with their social standings, the boys spend every waking day looking to prove that they’re tougher, cooler, and more sexually proficient than everyone else thinks.

And that’s about as intricate as the film’s plot gets. Funeral Kings is a slice of life, following a pack of foul-mouthed, trouble-seeking friends as they figure out their roles in life. Performed with easygoing naturalism by its ace cast, the McManus siblings’ edgy comedy simply lets the characters be, and the finished product is all the more interesting for it.
Grade: B+

Dollhouse

Director: Kristen Sheridan
Stars: Seana Kerslake, Johnny Ward, Kate Stanley Brennan, Shane Curry, Ciaran McCabe, Jack Reynor

So far at SXSW, we’ve seen an equestrian demon, a winged creature with nice breasts, and a woman who leaks black ink, yet none of those films in question match the sheer bewilderment caused by Kristen Sheridan’s beguiling Dollhouse. For the first two-thirds of the film, Dollhouse plays like a more stylized spin on Larry Clark’s youth-gone-bad movies (Kids, Bully), but, out of nowhere, Sheridan’s script veers into multiple unforeseen directions all at once. The end result is deliriously exhilarating.

Set entirely in one Irish location, Dollhouse shows what happens when five young hoodlums break into a fancy waterside house, trash every room, guzzle excessive amounts of alcohol, and pop pills like they were Tic Tac breath mints. As the night goes on, and the kids get even more fucked up, the film gradually reveals characters’ secrets and lets its steady undercurrent of hostility boil over into puddles of darkness.

All of that happens way before Dollhouse’s befuddling climax, which alters an already enthralling look at despicable teenagers into a bizarrely redemptive affair. The fact that we’re still processing it speaks volumes about Sheridan’s talents.
Grade: A-

Reviews by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

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