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Top 8 Alternative Films from London Film Festival
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Top 8 Alternative Films from London Film Festival

Picture of Samantha White
Updated: 5 January 2017
London Film Festival is more than just the first few opening nights, premiering anticipated blockbusters featuring big budgets & big names. It is an opportunity to celebrate the diversity & range of the cinematic universe. As awards season approaches, classically “big” films fight for the most opportune release dates. However, for the relatable, touching and thought-provoking voices of alternative cinema, LFF has plenty of unconventional gems lined up ready to share and most definitely inspire this season.

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“You may be the best at that one thing, but that doesn’t mean you’re the best in general.” This statement sparks an obsession between six men, with the ultimate goal of proving which among them really IS the “the best in general”. On follow a series of random and quite absurd competitions – who has the largest morning erection” The best sleeping position” The biggest fish” etc. Based on a point system where the men addictively analyse every quirk of themselves to prove the alpha among them. Set against a humble Greek harbour, the ludicrousness of the men’s need for validation seems as futile as it does childish. Through a wonderful use of comic subtlety, director Tsangari, examines the male ego and innate need to feel special no matter how mundane the challenge. Certainly food for thought in the debate of insecurity vs. self-acceptance.

Parrabellum

In an alternative-style holiday spa, a bleak and awkward selection of strangers must train preparation for the doom on an impending apocalypse. First-time feature director Lukas Valenta Rinner, builds a world where life and survival seems almost as grim and desolate as the eventual fate of his unlikely group of cadets. Similar to that of Gareth Edwards 2010 feature, Monsters, radio reports repeatedly assure us of an unknown terror occurring close-by, however, the formulaic and organized concept of the retreat – where lessons in camouflage and self-defence are broken up between relaxing pool-side sessions- gives the film an edge and unique sense of structure, especially towards that of the typical “end of the world” movie genre. Haunting, memorable and in a strange way relatable, especially for any misfit whose considered their own actions given a similar situation. A fantastic experimental debut from Rinner. Watch this space.

The chosen ones

Ofia, 14, and her teenage lover, Ulises, open the film with their soft embraces, similar to that of any tale depicting young-love. However, little does she know, in the innocence of her beloved’s intentions, Ulises has been charged with the duty to seduce and trap Sofia into his “family business”, a brothel that thrives on the selling of girls Sofia’s age. The ultimate tale of innocence lost. Trapped within his own guilt and heartbreak, Ulises attempts to save Sofia from her seemingly everlasting fate but only manages to crush any hope of lasting love between the two of them. The film attacks your every sense, as all sexual activity is heard and not seen, thereby forcing us to visualise the nature of the scene ourselves, be it brutal or loving. Director David Pablos brings the chilling aspect of the film to a whole new level as the impacting vision creates a very neutral and unfeeling tone towards the emotional weight of the subject matter. The lack of feeling and care in the portrayal of Sofia’s ordeal highlights that of the detachment her captors maintain, ours in reaction is that of only devastating sorrow for the poor girl. Pablo gives us a bare and brutally “real” abuse story without apology however the result is incredible.

Goosebumps

Amazingly popular gruesome-tale series Goosebumps has finally been brought to life and to the big screen. Teenage Zach reluctantly moves from the big city to a small town and befriends beautiful neighbour Hannah – who also happens to be the daughter of the mysterious author R. L. Steine. The creator of the Goosebumps series. However, not before long Steine’s peculiar and weird behaviour is revealed to be the result of a dreadful secret. Steine’s imagination has enslaved him. The monsters and ghouls of his books have come to life, Steine himself must try and keep control of them, locked away within their pages in order to keep everyone else safe. Zach, mistakenly unleashes the fictitious beasts from their bond and forces himself, Hannah and her father to find and retrieve the monsters before they cause total chaos. Director Rob Letterman manifests the dark humour that the books so wonderfully captured & manages to maintain their thrill without alienating a family-friendly audience.

Observance

Following the recent death of his young son and subsequent breakdown of his marriage, the grief stricken Parker reluctantly attempts to pull his life back together. Taking on an unusual surveillance job that entails the observation of a single woman living in the abandoned apartment opposite without knowing why or to what end. As he witnesses strange incidents occurring around the woman, Parker soon becomes concerned for her safety but must also battle his own health that gradually begins to decline. More questions arise than seem to be answered in Joseph Sims-Dennett’s abstract-horror-drama. Undefined by a single genre, the tense, weird and gripping pace of the film results in something altogether quite unique to London Film Festival.

The boy

A boy preoccupied with the concept of death, residing in an empty rural motel with his distant father becomes fascinated and truly enthralled by the presence of a strange drifter at the motel following a mysterious car accident. Ultimately left alone to experiment and develop his disturbing hobbies in the harsh, bleak wilderness, nine-year-old Ted proves early on to be beyond your average little boy, but one who’s fragile and curious mind favours darker impulses. Naturally, the premise suggests a similarity to Hitchcock’s Psycho, however this debut feature from Craig William Macneill focuses more on the development of Ted’s psychological frame, suggesting it is his curiosity without boundaries that is more the cause of trouble that his unsettling fascinations per say. A glacial paced, unnerving horror “The Boy” births something most sinister whilst maintaining a sincere sense of innocence.

Victoria

“One city, one night, one take” is the tagline for Sebastian Schipper’s vibrant, non-stop, kick-ass piece of visual entertainment. The film, much like recent box-office favourite Birdman, Victoria, is filmed in one take as it follows a young woman on holiday in Berlin – getting high, falling in love before unintentionally being thrown into the fold of a criminal debt, forcing her to contribute towards a bank robbery. Racing between locations and situations that dramatically contrast whilst following the cast as they physically battle through the 140 minutes in raw authenticity of the wild-urban-heaving-jungle. Anxiety, heat, tension, tenderness and freedom are compacted within the film and the effect is quite spectacular.

Beasts of no nation

Cary Fukunaga of True Detective fame – whose work including Jane Eyre and Sin Nombre prove the director’s talent for story-telling, regardless of theme and genre – now helms the film adaptation of 2005 novel by Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts Of No Nation. The story follows Agu, a young boy whose unknown African province currently faces the terror of a bloody and brutal civil conflict. Agu’s father and brother are mercilessly executed before him, forcing him to flee, only to then be discovered and recruited by rebel soldiers. The Commandant (Idris Elba) who governs the young soldiers to physical and psychological extremes, exposes them to almost every conceivable type of pain, drug and labour. Fearless, captivating and provocative, Fukunaga condenses Iweala’s themes, ideas and characters and somehow manages to create something beyond the story before us, but creates a bold reminder that such experiences occur beyond this setting.