By BRUCE DENNILL
Catching Faith / Directed by John KD Graham / PG 2
Sink / Directed by Brett Michael Innes / 13L 7
Maggie / Directed by Henry Hobson / 13HV 6
Dark Places / Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner 6
Catching Faith is a drama following a family as they go through a complicated period in which they lose a gentle patriarch and then have to deal with their son’s underage drinking. Theoretically, it’s supposed to showcase a “normal” family, allowing viewers to identify with the characters and relate the on-screen happenings to their own experiences. But it’s so poorly made that learning anything from what goes on is nearly impossible because of the many distractions: horribly simplistic writing and acting to match, both of which contribute to the characters being so phoney and unlikeable that all the groups represented in the story lose out by association. This is particularly problematic in the case of the Christian community of which the central family are a part: if this is the only image of the church or believers in general that viewers are exposed to, it’ll be unfortunate at best or damaging at worst. Low on both integrity and entertainment value. Skip it.
Films do not need to be fast-paced to hold their audience’s attention and when the subject matter requires sensitivity and circumspection, as Sink does, unhurried, deliberate progress is what makes the most sense. Sink is adapted from his own book by director Brett Michael Innes, so it’s not surprising that it captures the nuances inherent in a simple but achingly sad story. The narrative concerns three people: Rachel (Shoki Mokgapa), a Mozambican woman working as a domestic helper in the Johannesburg home of Michelle (Anel Alexander) and Chris (Jacques Bessenger). Rachel’s young daughter dies while Michelle is supposed to be taking care of her, making the already complicated dynamic between employer and employee almost unbearably awkward – not least because Rachel is not in a financial position to give up her job, with other family still to support in her home country. The film is shot in shades of grey that reflect the mood, but Innes never allows things to become dour – thoughtful, yes, and even sorrowful, but not in such a way that you’d rather not watch. This is subject matter that resonates powerfully in South Africa, asking questions that many viewers will not want to answer because the solutions would inconvenience them. The book put these facets across well, but the film improves on that considerably.
Zombie and outbreak films are a dime a dozen, with very few offering something fresh to the genre. This film makes a decent stab at doing just that, having some of the large-scale drama that comes with authorities trying to impose martial law on communities as a way of keeping those not infected with the condition of the day healthy, but focusing mostly on the relationship between a kind, steady father (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his ailing daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin), who is slowly succumbing to the effects of an outbreak. Schwarzenegger, perhaps because he is older and more ragged-looking than he used to be, manages more easily than many will expect to portray a man who is physically capable of protecting his child but has to dig deep to contend with both her failing health and her increasing pariah status among the remaining community of which he is a part. He is, of course, willing to give her the benefit of the doubt whatever happens, but the well-intentioned actions of those charged with ensuring order on one hand and the encroaching threat of the outbreak and those it has already infected on the other continually force his hand as he monitors her progress and makes a succession of sacrifices to ensure her safety. The execution of this pathos-ridden scenario is not quite top-level stuff, but it’s a story that will have you really considering the emotional impact of such a situation, rather than just watching a slowly depleted group of survivors blowing the heads off stiff-limbed monsters.
Considering that this is another story from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, it’s not surprising that Dark Places is both an investigation of the black depths of human nature and possessed of a twist that changes the whole feel and direction of the piece. It’s centred on Libby Day (Charlize Theron), witness to an horrific attack in which her mother and sisters were killed. Libby testifies against her brother in the case that follows, but years later, a group of amateur investigators bring the case back into the spotlight, forcing Libby to revisit a painful time and confront some memories she struggles to process. The tone of the piece is severe and the pacing measured, so it’s not the easiest film to watch. Indeed, it requires a fair bit of patience, as it’s only really when the possibility that all is not as it seems start to emerge that it’s possible to properly engage with the protagonist – who she is and what she went through. As a psychological thriller and a look at the damage inflicted on a person by family-related trauma, Dark Places satisfies, even if it doesn’t excite viewers as much as many releases in the same niche.