Wednesday 30 March 2022

What I'm Watching: More March 2022

More highlights from my month in movies, media and streaming, featuring the British indie film Boiling Point, erotic thriller Deep Water, Apple series Severance and Sundance success story, Fresh.

Boiling Point (VOD)

Man, what a film. This is terrific stuff from beginning to end. A one-shot film set in a posh London restaurant, Boiling Point centres on Stephen Graham's head chef Andy and his staff as they struggle through a busy Friday night before Christmas.

Andy has mounting pressures in every facet of his life; he's battling money struggles, alcohol and drug abuse, a fractious relationship with his ex-wife and an explosive working environment where everyone – from his sous chef to his business partner and his front-of-house manager – are at his throat all night long.

Setting aside the one-shot technique for a second, and Boiling Point would still be a sublime exercise in building tension and crafting conflict. But then you through the technical achievement of coordinating and choreographing a 90-minute film with dozens of characters, interlocking storylines and lots of harried movement through a bustling kitchen environment, and the impressive nature of this film starts to sink in.

Sometimes the 'one-shot' thing can be a gimmick or half-assed through some nifty editing, but here it's as natural and immersive as you can get. And I haven't even touched on the performances, which are brilliant across the board, particularly Graham in the lead role and Vinette Robinson as sous chef Carly.

Seek it out and settle in for the tensest 90 minutes of film you'll see this year.

Severance (Apple TV+)

Adam Scott, Britt Lower, Patricia Arquette and John Turturro star in this slick science-fiction series that has sort of flown under the radar on Apple TV+. The show centres around a strange workplace where employees opt into a medical procedure that severs their work memories from their non-work memories, meaning they don't remember anything about their workday when they're at home and visa versa.

Of course, sitting at the heart of the story is a conspiracy – something heinous that warrants such secrecy. The fun of Severance is seeing all the jigsaw pieces click together. We see the world through the eyes of Scott's character, Mark, who is grieving the death of his wife and Lower's new starter Helly, who is struggling to understand why her 'outie' (which is the term the characters use for their non-work self) would choose to undergo the severance procedure.

The meticulous and otherworldly production design – which mixes eerie open-plan corporate design with clunky CRT monitors and some retro-futurist technology – looks like it costs a packet to produce, and really sets this show apart from your run-of-the-mill mystery box thriller. The plot is a bit of a slow burn, I'm not sure it really had to be as long as it is, but otherwise there's a lot to like here.

There's still two episodes to air of Severance, so I'm eager to see where it goes – and if it leaves the door open for a season two.

Deep Water (Prime Video)

On paper, Deep Water has a lot going for it; Adrian Lyne, the master of the erotic thriller, returning to the fold with a new film starring Ben Affleck, a man who can play a self-aware sad sack in his sleep, and Ana de Armas, one of the sexiest actresses on the planet.

From the outside, Vic (Affleck) and Melinda (de Armas) are a picture-perfect pair, with a young daughter, a nice place and a special sizzle that some spouses would for for. But their social circle are all keyed into the worst kept secret in town; that Melinda likes to sleep around in full view of her husband.

So like I said, Deep Water has a lot going for it. A sexy cast, a saucy hook, some credential behind the camera. It's also a rare breed nowadays, in that it's a film aimed at adults starring A-list actors with a decent budget behind it.

But the execution here is wide of the mark, with a limp plot and lazy writing. Somewhere between terrifically trashy and just plain trash, the film's saving grace is Affleck and de Armas, who went on to knock boots IRL after shooting the movie. There's definitely a strange, uncertain energy between the two, hovering between horniness, toxicity, attraction and pure unadulterated anger. If only Lyne got to the point sooner; clocking in at two hours, much of Deep Water's runtime feels instead like treading water, with the catharsis coming much too late for anyone to truly care.

Fresh (Disney+)

Fresh outta Sundance, Fresh pairs a luckless in love young woman called Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) with an insatiable bachelor called Steve (Sebastian Stan).

Noa is tired of the dating scene, so when she meets Steve at the grocery store, she's instantly smitten with someone who seemingly doesn't stoop to unsolicited dick pics and sloppy Tinder hookups.

However, an impromptu weekend away reveals Steve is harbouring a dark secret - something that Noa couldn't have seen coming from a mile away.

Fresh is one of those films that you should go into a 'fresh' as possible, if you'll pardon the pun. Offbeat, quirky and unexpected doesn't quite cover it – there's a lot of creative choices that come out of left field, and I'm not just talking about the title card and opening credits dropping about 30 minutes in.

Truth be told, it was all a bit much for me. I like both Edgar-Jones and Stan, they're charismatic and attractive actors, but the narrative thrust of this film, which I won't spoil, just left me feeling queasy and unpleasant. It's trying to have fun with it, but what 'it' is just isn't for me. I found myself sitting through the second half with one eye on something else, just so my stomach wouldn't churn too much.

I'm sure there's an audience out there for Fresh – it's success at Sundance and being fast-tracked to Disney+ suggests as much. I'm not it though.

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