• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (17/4/2020)

(Reviews of A Guide to Second Date Sex; Cuck; The Host; and Dreamland)


Cinemas may be closed during these dismal days. But there are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release over the next few weeks and months. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation. A GUIDE TO SECOND DATE SEX. A number of familiar spring screen events have fallen victim to the ongoing crisis, with the Kinoteka Polish Film Festival and the Human Rights Watch Film Festival among the most notable. Also fallen by the wayside is Flare, the BFI's enduringly popular showcase for LGBTQ+ titles. A couple of features have been lodged on the BFI Player, however. We covered Tom Cullen's The Pink Wall in the In Cinemas column on 13/12/2019. So we can devote out full attention here to Rachel Hirons's debut feature, A Guide to Second Date Sex, which she has adapted from her own play. Last Friday, Ryan (George McKay) and Laura (Alexandra Roach) met by chance at the bar of a nightclub after her friend stood her up. They got along famously and chatted about dead pets after he had made a faux pas in trying to crack a joke about the long line of women that won't sleep with him. Now, today, they are about to embark upon their second date. But doubts and nerves are already setting in, as they debate what to wear and what signals their outfits will send. Caught between her mother, Val (Gillian Elisa), and her best friend, Bianca (Holli Dempsey), Laura is in a right state before being led astray by the direction finder on her phone. Ryan has also been wound up by his housemate, Dan (Michael Socha), and spends precious moments trimming his pubic hair and feng-shuiing his room to ensure he makes the right impression. But he hasn't planned a greeting line and the pair stand tongue-tied on the doorstep before Ryan invites Laura inside. An excruciating tour of the house is followed by the delivery of a port and Irn Bru in a tea mug and the discovery that third roomie, Adam (Tom Bell), is soaking his feet in the front room. They try to ditch him by gong into the garden, where they have to keep waving their arms to activate the motion sensor light. But he follows them for a smoke and Laura is puzzled when Ryan suggests that they stay in rather than going out for the arranged Indian supper. They agree to watch a film in Ryan's room and settle on Roger Kumble's Cruel Intentions (1999) after an attempt to find something on Netflix is kyboshed by a pornographic image of Pikachu on his laptop. They shuffle awkwardly up the bed to sit next to each other and peer at the TV screen while wondering what to do with their hands. Bianca had advised Laura to slip off her bracelet and gauge Ryan's intentions by his response. But he had merely been confused and slipped it over the top of his lava lamp before overcompensating by putting a clumsy arm around Laura's shoulder. Having decided the movie was a bad idea, Laura suggests they go for a meal and is taken aback when Ryan declares he is agoraphobic. In a panic, he dashes down to the kitchen for more drinks and calls Dan, who is out clubbing. He orders him to turn the conversation around to sex and be a man, while Bianca advises Laura to dip her breasts in cold water to make them look bigger and shave her pubes. Using a razor in Ryan's en suite bathroom, Laura manages to nick herself and has trouble buttoning up her tight jeans. When she returns, she finds Ryan lounging on the bed with a couple of shirt buttons undone. He comments on the amount of sex in the film, but loses his nerve and Laura decides to take the initiative by touching his knee. By the time he resolves to move in for a kiss, however, she has turned away to gulp down some more port and Irn Bru. The alcohol emboldens her and she kisses him on the mouth. At this point, their inner voices take over, as Ryan tries to control his terror and Laura regrets busting into some Shakira dance moves. While they try to reassures themselves that things are going to plan, Ryan makes a gauche grab for Laura's breasts and she responds by straddling him and ripping open his shirt. However, when he tries to reciprocate, he pulls too hard and yanks Laura off the bed. He helps her up and she undoes the straps of her top, while he slips off his trousers. Knowing her jeans are skintight, Laura flops forward on to her tummy and allows Ryan to pull them over her calves. They dive under the covers, but Laura feels she should be showing willing and slithers down the duvet to fellate an anxious Ryan, who wonders if he should have masturbated first to prolong things. As each frets about how long to let this go on, Laura emerges from the depths, only for Ryan to disappear in the same direction. Clearly, he is something of a novice and he flounders around to Laura's growing embarrassment before she wiggles her hips to signal she's had more than enough. He fumbles around with a condom and, having failed to make a dignified entrance, loses his momentum and beats a sheepish retreat to the bathroom, where he lies face down on the floor and whimpers. A cut takes us to the foot of the stairs, where Laura is buttoning up her jacket. Ryan wraps her in a humiliated hug before she leaves and the sting of the night air takes her back to the first date when they had gone for chips and he had given her a piggyback ride because her high heels were hurting. The memory of that connection prompts Ryan to rush after her and they wait at the bus stop together. He tells her about catching Beth (Emma Rigby), his girlfriend of two years, with her old flame, James (Tom Palmer), and being unable to get angry because he had fixed their dodgy central heating. This opening up persuades Laura to return to the house, where she makes Ryan ask questions about the recent break-up of her own relationship to the man she was due to marry that weekend. Finding the Q&A rubric tricky, Ryan is relieved when Laura discloses that her ex had come out as bisexual and then gay in a matter of days and she had been forced to move back to her mother's in Wales. Just as they are beginning to edge towards a normal conversation, there's a knock at the door and Ryan is appalled to find Beth on the doorstep. She has been crying because she has broken up with James and declares undying love in asking him to take her back. Fibbing to Laura that he is having to deal with his distraught father, Ryan tries to get rid of Beth. But she's in no mood to leave and tries to seduce him. When he ushers her to the door, she asks to use the loo and winds up peeing in the sink when he lies about the toilet being broken. As Ryan tries to get rid of Tufts, Adam carelessly opens the door to the front room and Laura recognises the friend who had left her in the lurch in the club on the night she met Ryan. She also realises that he is the bed-wetting boyfriend that Beth used to complain about. She tries to leave, but Beth insists she stays because Ryan has moved on, even though he has bombarded her with `take me back' emails since they split up. At that moment, Dan rocks up with Tali (Kae Alexander), who had dismissed him as a Neanderthal in the club while giving Ryan some phone advice. She is highly amused by the situation and looks on as Beth and Laura argue over Ryan, who knows who he would much rather be dating. But Beth has no intention of being dumped twice in a day and she shames Laura into leaving. This provokes Ryan into standing up for himself and he order Beth to leave. Incredulously, she wanders down the path and bumps into Laura, whose phone guidance is playing up again. When Beth insults her, Laura slaps her across the face and allows herself to be talked back inside, while Adam, Dan and Tali cheer on from the doorstep. They open Beth's bottle of champagne and Ryan carries Laura up to his room, making way for a retreating Tali, who has decided she would rather spend the night with Adam than Dan. Suddenly as relaxed as they were when they first met, Laura and Ryan tumble into bed and laugh off the fact that he lasts less than a minute. A montage shows them experimenting before they settle into the mundane routines of coupledom and him checking out Pikachu on his laptop when he thinks she's asleep. As this witty and cannily observed romcom unfolds, it's difficult to avoid speculating on how certain scenes might have played out on stage. The centrepiece bed sequence, is a case in point, with its interior monologues and undercover squirmings. Good though George MacKay is, as he hums and haws, blushes and fumbles, Alexandra Roach (playing a character who shares a name with Hirons's sister) steals the scene with her fantastic facial expressions and the wonderful physical shtick, as she falls off the mattress before plonking down on it face first with her jeans around her ankles. She doesn't quite take the crown for Best British Female Pratfall from Julia Sawalha in Kenneth Branagh's In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), but her slapstick skills may surprise those who know her as DS Jo Frears in No Offence (2015-18) or Diana Parker in Sanditon (2019). This isn't MacKay and Roach's first pairing, of course, as they played Tommy and Molly in Pat O'Connor's adaptation of Michael Murpurgo's Private Peaceful (2012). The secondary characterisation there was much stronger, as Hirons struggles to flesh out Dan and Beth. However, she makes deft use of Adam to prod the plot along at pivotal moments, while the farcical last act complications are smoothly done in the grand tradition of an Alan Ayckbourn or Ray Cooney farce. She's also well served by production designer Olivia Young. Indeed, the writing is superior to the direction, which tends to be a bit perfunctory. However, in returning to familiar territory after the 2015 short, Worst First Date, Hirons wisely avoids indulging in debutorial tics in trusting in the pith of her dialogue and the impeccable timing of her leads. But she remains fearless in her discussion of sexual mores and it's evident that the Warringtonian is from the same neck of the Cheshire woods that spawned Susan Nickson's Runcorn-set Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps (2001-11). Thus, while this may not be as scabrous as MJ Delaney's Powder Room (2013) - which Hirons adapted from her own play, When Women Wee - or her BBC3 sitcom pilot, The Vodka Diaries (2014), it still provokes several winces of recognition and the odd snigger of regret. Even so, it's not quite clear how one passing reference to an off-screen character qualifies this for a LGBT+ festival. CUCK. Anyone needing to see a movie that draws inspiration from Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976), while treading much the same road as Todd Phiillips's Joker (2019), won't want to miss Rob Lambert's debut feature, Cuck. Everyone else should take a detour. Following a caption containing Immanuel Kant's contention that a man who makes himself a worm shouldn't complain when he is trodden on, a series of drone shots over the Van Nuys district of Los Angeles zone in on the house that Ronnie Palicki (Zachary Ray Sherman) shares with his ailing widowed mother (Sally Kirkland). The son of a Gulf War casualty (David Lyell), Ronnie is awaiting news of his application to the military and tries on his father's uniform while listening to a vodcast by alt-right icon Chance Dalman (Travis Hammer) that blames everyone but Ronnie and his ilk for America's ills. When not watching propaganda or porn, Ronnie fires his BB gun at a dangling rat target and hangs out with his racist mechanic buddy Larry (Hugo Armstrong). Incapable of talking to the opposite sex, he insults a woman (Cammie York) who tries to ignore him at a bus stop and bawls at his mother when she nags him about getting a job to keep his probation officer off his back. However, he is just as rude to the local pawnbroker (Sevan Aliksanian) and the 7/11 shopkeeper, Abbas (David Diann) and his son, Reza (Adam Eishar). Yet, when his mother calls African-American cop Officer Dixon (Parick Malone) after he smashes her TV remote in a tantrum after her car breaks down, Ronnie meekly has to accept a reprimand and a reminder that he will be punished if he so much as lays a finger on his mother. Convinced that no one listens to him, Ronnie channels his rage into a shirtless rant into his computer camera. He curses the illegals and `libtards' who run the country and make it impossible for white men to have a say. He posts it to his TruePatriot89 account and dreams that the diatribe goes viral and makes him a hero. When he checks his page, however, he has only received 41 hits and the comments are evenly split between the supportive and the condemnatory. Firing off an angry riposte, he slams his laptop shut and stews on the fact that he has been rejected by the service because of his criminal record and his psychiatric state. Needing work, Ronnie takes a job mopping floors and stacking shelves for Abbas and gets overexcited when Candy (Monique Parent) flirts with him while he's loading up her car. Larry promises him that women will fall at his feet if he just can conquer his inferiority complex. But, just as Ronnie gets chatting to Melanie (Jessica Jade Andres) on a dating site, his mother calls him to come and bathe her and he bases his next misogynist tirade on the reasons why women will always be the weaker sex. Unsurprisingly, when the coffee shop date with Melanie goes badly, he posts a fume about college-educated `feminazis' who look down on real men as if they were superior. As he searches for some consoling porn, however, Ronnie discovers that Candy has her own kinky website. When he gets fired for picking a fight with a trio of African-American youths, Ronnie offers to do yardwork for Candy and her husband, Bill (Timothy V. Murphy). She flirts with him as he plants flowers in a front garden bed and lures him into participating in a sex video that she assures him is solely for private use. Using the money from the first session to upgrade his camera, Ronnie delivers another fulmination after viewing a range of white supremacist sites and feels good about himself, as he vows to prevent migrants taking over America on his watch. He has misgivings about playing the cuckold in a video involving Candy and a black man, but he does what he's told and takes the money, which far exceeds what he could hope to afford in a 9 to 5 position. Spending his days at a shooting gallery, Ronnie comes to see himself as a trainee vigilante and allows Candy to talk him into increasingly humiliating scenarios in which his manhood is mocked. However, he reacts badly to having his heterosexuality compromised and Candy has to spend a poolside afternoon winning back his confidence by taking his virginity. She feels a pang of pity for him as he whispers that he loves her. But she's a businesswoman and knows that she has to keep him onside because his schlubby looks and hangdog demeanour strike a chord with many of her punters. When he wakes, however, Ronnie finds Bill at the foot of the bed and he charges him $200 for the privilege of sleeping with his wife. Ronnie takes out his shame on the targets at the range, where he is further humiliated when a customer questions his right to wear his father's camouflage jacket. That night, he brandishes a .38 at his camera and warns the liberals who tried to steal his Second Amendment that they won't be entitled to the defence he can provide when the infiltrators try to take over. Much to his delight, Ronnie is friended by Dalman and he makes plans to meet his hero at a forthcoming Trump rally at the civic centre in Anaheim. Having spent the day filming the crowds and posting live to his site, Ronnie is delighted to accept a dinner invitation from Dalman, who asks how far he is prepared to go in the battle to keep America pure. While he's away, however, his mother discovers that he has been using her cheque book and she is dismayed to learn that he has made a payment to Candy. On the train back, Ronnie also receives a shock, when he finds that Candy has been posting the videos on her site and he is knocked flat by Bill when he tries to demand sexual compensation. Worse follows when his mother reports him to Dixon for forging her signature on cheques and his eyes well with tears, as he is driven away in the patrol car. Larry collects him when he's released and he urges Ronnie to keep riding the punches and getting up whenever he's knocked down. However, there's no way back from being exposed as a cuck on Dalman's website and, despite having the image of his despairing father in his mind's eye, Ronnie throttles his mother after smashing up his room. Donning camouflage paint and buttoning on his father's tunic, he exacts his revenge on Bill and Candy (executing her after discovering her blonde tresses are a wig) before shooting at random groups of kids on the street corners leading up to the Magnolia Market. Having wounded Abbas, however, Ronnie drops his box of bullets and the mention of the word `son' triggers a memory of his own father shooting himself in the head while holding him as a baby. Deciding against taking the coward's way out, Ronnie reloads and takes aim at the cops cornering him in the car park and he falls in a hail of bullets. Shots of his victims (with his mother being draped in the Stars and Stripes) presage footage of the message that Ronnie recorded on the beach at Anaheim. He is so full of hope for his relationship with Candy and so proud that Chance has taken the trouble to listen and accept him for who he is. Ronnie wishes his fellow patriots the same kind of happiness and implores them to keep up the fight before he runs towards the sea, pausing to shed his pants before he belly flops into the sunlit waves. With a title deriving from both a genre of online pornography and an Alt-Right slang term for a lily-livered liberal, this resistibly smug exposé of the festering underbelly of Donald J. Trump's America follows a template established by Cecil B. DeMille over a century ago of wallowing in the very sins it seeks to rail against. However, Lambert lacks CB's wit and finesse and, consequently, his denunciation of the marginalised Americans who are dismissively branded as `incels' and `red pillers' is too calculated to have any credibility. Co-written by Joe Varkle, this treatise on impotent white male rage is stuffed with contrivances and caricatures. The self-sabotaging coffee shop assignation and the hosepipe fight with the African-American trio ring particularly hollow, while Ronnie's probation rap is left unexplained and the revelation about the tragedy involving his post-combat stressed father is left too late and is unpardonably archly depicted. Moreover, the narrative crawls along and spends far too long in Monique Parent's boudoir. She still manages to make Candy a compelling character, as she shifts between the traits that make up her cynically manufactured persona. Sally Kirkland proves equally effective, despite her face being dominated by a nasal cannula, as she strives to manipulate her son by guilt-tripping or castigating him. But the picture is dominated by Zachary Ray Sherman, who gained 45lbs to play the dysfunctional misfit whose warping seemingly began on his father's knee. Far too much happens to such an unregenerate loser for Ronnie to be a plausible character (but, then, is Arthur Fleck in Joker?) and Lambert and Varkle make the mistake of lavishing unwarranted pathos on him. Nevertheless, this is a bold and committed performance that is capably captured by Nick Matthew's camera on sets knowingly designed by Prerna Chawla. The unsettling electronic score composed by Room8 duo Nicholas Johns and Ezra Reich is also well judged, as is the unexpected, if ironic sound of Tracey Ullman's `They Don't Know' over the closing credits. If only the core elements had been approached with such ingenuity. THE HOST. There's a simple rule of thumb for novice directors. If you're going to pay homage to an old movie, it isn't always wise to knock off a classic. First-timer Andy Newbery has set his sights high by basing a sizeable chunk of The Host on Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Beside the blatant plot borrowings, however, this witless amalgam of other people's ideas and images has little to recommend it, even during a film shortage caused by a pandemic lockdown. Invited to tell his story from the beginning by psychiatrist Dr Hobson (Derek Jacobi), London banker Robert Atkinsonn (Mick Beckingham) recalls being dumped after a session of afternoon delight with Sarah (Margo Stilley), an American who just happens to be married to his boss, Benjamin (Dominic Keating). He asks Robert to place £50,000 in a safety deposit box. But Sarah's suggestion that she would leave her husband if Robert had more money tempts him into stealing the sum to stake him at a casino, where Ruby Turner provides the cabaret. Ignoring the warnings of his brother, Steve (Dougie Poynter), Robert blows the lot at the card table and winds up owing a £12,000 marker to a menacing Chinese stranger. Fortunately, the kindly Lau Hoi Ho (Togo Igawa) offers to give Robert the money if he flies to Amsterdam and substitutes one locked briefcase for another. No sooner does he find the luggage on the plane, however, than he is joined by Herbert Summers (Nigel Barber) from the Drug Enforcement Agency, who reveals to him that the case is full of counterfeit money and carries a Triad symbol and that Lau is the leader of the infamous 14K gang. Having been promised protection and a pardon if he co-operates and testifies in court, Robert agrees to make the drop and collect the heroin for delivery back in London. However, he finds that burger bar owner Gerrie (Reinout Bussemaker) has double-booked his Airbnb room and he upgrades him to a stay at the canalside townhouse owned by the father of Vera Tribbe (Maryam Hassouni). Lau's snoops, Jun Hui (Suan-Li Ong) and Yong (Tom Wu), note the change of address. During the night, Robert is woken by the sound of raised voices, as Vera is admonished by her father. She knocks at his door for some solace and offers him a supper of bread, cheese and potatoes. Needing a phone adapter, Robert is relieved when Gerrie promises to bring one round and slips out into the garden for a smoke, Vera explains that her father isn't always so rude, but does intimate that she has had an incestuous relationship with him. Having been beaten by his own father, Robert urges her to leave home. But Vera is affronted and snaps at him to mind his own business. When Robert makes his excuses to return to his room, Vera shows him an indoor swimming pool and provides him with a pair of trunks. She also gives him a drugged glass of wine and chains him to a table in the basement. Just as inflicting a few cuts to the flesh, Vera is disturbed by her Uncle Albert (Daniël Boissevain), who is just checking she is okay. More annoyingly, she is in the process of fitting a curved blade over Robet's throat when Yong knocks at the door. He is pushed down the stairs into the basement and has a front-row view as Vera decapitates her overnight guest and grinds his torso into one of the buckets she had handed over to Gerrie when Robert first arrived. Realising something sinister has happened, Jun calls her handler and returns to her hotel, where she has a flashback to witnessing Lau execute her father. She turns out to be in cahoots with Summers, who promises that they will still nail Lau, even if Yong and Robert have disappeared. The latter's fate also concerns Steve, who learns from Benjamin that his sibling has stolen a large sum and from Sarah that he is in Amsterdam. However, he also runs into Lau, who threatens to kill his wife and kids unless Steve brings Robert and the briefcase back to the casino. Met at the airport by Jun, Steve is swept off to a meeting with Summers, who is frustrated that Chief Vanderbilt (Fabien Jansen) won't let him search the Tribbe house because they are the most powerful family in the city. Unknowingly chowing down on human burgers, they discuss Robert's plight and how Steve can help him. He agrees to request a room at the Tribbe place with Jun posing as his girlfriend. They stage a row, while Vera is talking to her father, and Steve apologises for Jun storming out. In fact, she is creeping around the upper rooms and sending Summers a phone photo of the decayed corpse of Meneer Tribbe that enables him to persuade Albert into coming to the house to reason with his niece. She has baseball batted Jun unconscious and is in the process of cutting off Steve's ear with a pair of scissors when her visitors arrive. Stung when Albert tells her that he knows what she did to her father, Vera explains that she had become his wife after her mother had died. But her devotion ended when he drowned their child in the canal and she surrenders meekly to Vanderbilt's cops, while Summers rescues Jun and Steve. The latter agrees to courier the heroin back to Lau so that Summers can nail him and Jun can exact her revenge. They thank him for his efforts before Hobson ends his consultation by urging Steve to forgive his family and himself for everything that has happened. However, the story doesn't end there, as we cut back to Amsterdam in time to see Vera opening the door to Gerrie and Albert, who have brought her the latest lamb to the slaughter. So screamingly obvious is their debt to Psycho that writers Finola Geraghty, Brendan Bishop and Laurence Lamers should be ashamed of themselves for failing to make any on-screen reference to either Robert Bloch's original story or Joseph Stefano's screenplay for Hitchcock's game-changing 1960 chiller. They might also have acknowledged the influence of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street whose dealings with Mrs Lovett's pie shop were first outlined in the penny dreadful series, The String of Pearls (1846-47), which was published in 18 weekly parts in Edward Lloyd's The People's Periodical and Family Library. Rather than leave the stolen money solely as a MacGuffin, however, the trio shoehorn it into their own hugely derivative drug-smuggling sub-plot, which wouldn't have looked out of place in any BritCrime movie made over the last 25 years. The dialogue is pretty much of the same calibre, although this doesn't prove much of a hindrance to a cast - which includes Simon Pegg's brother and a member of McFly - whose calcified performances aren't likely to feature on their showreels. At least Jeroen Krabbé got away without having to show his face in voicing Vera's father, while Derek Jacobi can take solace from only having to appear in the bookends. To be fair, however, Maryam Hassouni does manage to be quietly unsettling, although she is given too little scope to display the kind of tics that made Anthony Perkins's Norman Bates so indelibly disturbing. Technically, the picture is largely proficient. Production designer Felix Coles wisely opted against trying to compete with the spooky house overlooking the Bates Motel. But Newbery fails to invest the townhouse with any sense of menace and only Father's deceptively cosy, book-lined room generates any semblance of atmosphere. While adept, Oona Menges's camerawork is bereft of the looming movements that would have lured the viewer into the heart of the action, while the editing of Julien Leloup and Ot Louw is too pedestrian either to build any suspense or to create the odd heart-stopping jolt. However, Newbery (who has a wealth of episode TV experience) has to shoulder the bulk of the blame for his debut feature's shortcomings, as his direction lacks the intensity, finesse or wit to disguise the echoic gimcrackery of the entire enterpris DREAMLAND. Despite having made one of the landmarks of recent Canadian cinema with Hard Core Logo (1998), Bruce McDonald is still something of a cult director in this country. Those who admired Pontypool (2008) will have been frustrated by how few of his subsequent features have been shown in this country outside the specialist festival circuit. But the lockdown has given viewers the chance to touch base with Dreamland, which couldn't be any more different from his recent small-screen assignment directing six episodes of the BBC's adaptation of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers. Posing as a chauffeur, hitman Johnny Deadeyes (Stephen McHattie) collects and kills a wheelchair-bound target and his entourage. He works for Hercules (Henry Rollins), a seedy operator in an unnamed European town, who traffics the young girls he keeps sedated and dressed in white nightgowns in his basement. This bothers Johnny, who is plagued by disturbing visions of the innocents covered in blood in a woodland clearing. Even more disconcerting is the discovery that he has a doppelgänger, Trumpet Player (also McHattie), who has pawned his horn to feed his heroin addiction. He is due to play at a wedding that Countess (Juliette Lewis) has arranged for her brother, Vampire (Tómas Lemarquis), but he needs a fix and his instrument back and he is thwarted in a bid to hold up Chesney the pawnbroker (Sam Louwyck) by his shotgun-toting wife, Vera (Stéphane Bissot). Bumping into Johnny outside, Trumpet Player accompanies him to a café, where he learns that Hercules wants his little finger cut off. However, Johnny offers to cut him a deal if he does a favour in return. Having promised the tweenage Dario (Morgan Csarno-Peklar) that he will rescue his sister Olivia (Thémis Pauwels) from Hercules, Johnny persuades a homeless drunk (Julian Nest) to let him hack off his pinkie so he can claim he has maimed the Trumpet Player. He asks for Vampire's 14 year-old bride-to-be in return for completing his mission, but Hercules knows his intended victim has a black fingernail and lurches at Johnny for trying to deceive him. However, the hitman is too quick and he impales Hercules to the wall with a knife through his palm and absconds with Olivia. While Countess gives hotel concierge Fegelein (Guillaume Kerbusch) some pre-wedding orders, Vampire goes to Hercules's nightclub to collect his bride. He refuses to believe that she has mysteriously died and Hercules dispatches sidekick Sugar (Astrid Roos) to find Johnny and retrieve the girl. She intercepts Lisa (Lisa Houle), who has gone to collect Dario, and guns Johnny down in the street - at precisely the same moment that Trumpet Player appears to overdose from shooting up. However, both survive after Johnny is found by the pawnbroker, as he is leaving for the hotel to bring Trumpet Player's horn, and Vera gives him a blood transfusion. Johnny poses as Chesney to deliver the trumpet to the Palace Hotel and knocks out Fegelein once he shows him to the Player's room. He refuses to wear a bloodied bandage over his pinkie, however, and this makes life difficult for Johnny after he delivers the severed digit to Hercules at the reception. Having noticed girls being passed around among the guests, Johnny tries to work out how to free them all from their ordeal. When Hercules notices that Trumpet Player has all eight fingers and causes a commotion, Johnny starts winging the security guards from below the top table and a crossfiring shootout erupts that leaves bodies strewn all over the floor. Undaunted, Trumpet Player croons `I Saved the World Today' and looks on as Vampire bites into his sister's neck and Olivia produces a machine-gun to stun Hercules so that Johnny can finish him off with a bullet to the forehead. As the freed girls walk in a procession towards the stage with a tiara on a cushion, Lisa helps Johnny guide Olivia and Dario to safety. However, during the motorboat ride to their new island home, Johnny loses consciousness, as the screen cuts to black. Despite McDonald's reunion with Tony Burgess - who wrote the novel Pontypool Changes Everything and shares the scripting duties with Patrick Whistler - this falls some way short of the standard set by Pontypool. A gurning vampire proves no substitute for rampaging zombies, while there's something unnecessarily sordid about the child-smuggling operation (even though it has earned the picture somewhat flattering comparisons with Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here, 2017). But, with its echoes of the Euro horrors produced by the likes of Jean Rollin, this is not without interest, as dream logic dictates the flow of the action and McDonald and cinematographer Richard Van Oosterhout play perplexing games with exposures and distortions, while also making the most of the Luxembourgian locations. Stephen McHattie's dual performance also fixes the attention, in a way that the over-the-top contributions of Juliette Lewis and Henry Rollins do not. While Trumpet Player has an air of Chet Baker (in a manner that recalls Ethan Hawke's turn in Robert Budreau's Born to Be Blue, 2015), Johnny has a shambolic, melancholic commitment that is rooted in the classical traditions of film noir. Yet, despite the wisps of bleak wit, this lacks the complexity to compel and always feels convolutedly quirky. Jonathan Goldsmith's deliciously jarring jazz score means that cult status almost certainly beckons, though.

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