Sunday, October 9, 2011

Chicago Film Festival - "Wild Bill" - "The Whisperer in Darkness"

Two capsule reviews of films to play at the Chicago International Film Festival: Wild Bill and The Whisperer in Darkness.

Wild Bill - director: Dexter Fletcher (UK) - This little film has a big heart along with some clever writing, sincere performances and plenty of amusing moments. It may be a little uneven at times, but I think it's entertaining and funny enough to find a good-sized audience.

Set in London's West End, the film is about a character named Bill Hayward, who is being released on parole after serving eight years on drug-related charges. He's got two sons at home, 16 year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11 year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) who are not exactly warm with their welcome. Their mother abandoned them, so they haven't exactly had a wonderful family life.

Bill doesn't think he has to do much when he returns home, but child support has other ideas. Will Bill turn his life around and create a good environment for his two sons? It turns out he not only has to clean his living quarters, but also win over the love of his older son as well as rid his younger son's drug-running occupation.

Wild Bill is the first film directed by British actor Dexter Fletcher (he also co-wrote the screenplay) and he's chosen a quirky tone, constantly shifting back and forth between the myriad of little stories lived by all the film's characters. It is a bit unsettling at first, but give it a chance, as the major plot lines clear up and the film becomes not only much easier to follow, but also becomes quite funny and charming.

And how can you not like a film with the Eddy Grant song "Do You Feel My Love" playing under the closing credits?

Wild Bill will be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival on Tuesday, October 11 at 8:15 PM and on Wednesday, October 12 at 6:10 PM.


 The Whisperer in Darkness - director: Sean Branney (USA) - Neat poster, eh? Well, this is the only thing I like about this film, which is dreadful on just about every level. 

Based on a 1931 short story by H.P. Lovecraft, Whisperer is about extra terrestrials that have landed on a farm in a small town in Vermont (are there any big towns in Vermont)? The news is reported at a prestigious, but mythical Eastern university named Miskatonic. A folklore professor named Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer) doubts this matter, so heads to the farm in Vermont to investigate this situation. Believe it or not, strange things happen once he gets there!

The filmmakers wanted to create the feel of the 1930s horror films here, but they have failed miserably. Hey, just because you film it in black and white, that doesn't mean it has much in common with classics such as Frankenstein or Dracula, two films the creators here clearly love. Everything is thrown in our face and director Branney underlines everything. He really has no concern for the audience's intellect, as he explains everything in his direction - just in case you couldn't figure it out from the overwrought script, co-authored by Branney and Andrew Leman.

The acting across the board is second and third-rate, with the worst performance given by Foyer, who has at most two or three facial expressions; most of the time it's one, a stupid scowl of disapproval. Other actors speak verrrry slowly and often use pregnant pauses when delivering a line, such as "his mail has been... interfered with." It's all overdone - all the time.

Then there's the musical score by Troy Sterling Nies, which is a blatant ripoff of the great Bernard Herrmann, who though best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock, also wrote some of the finest scores ever composed for sc-fi or horror films (Fahrenheit 451, The Day the Earth Stood Still, et al). I'm sure Nies thinks he's created an hommage here, but his work is not as complex or as clever as Herrmann's. So we get the brooding strings and ominous French horns and cellos that signal danger at many moments in the film. Make that just about every moment in the film, as this is wall-to-wall music that becomes irritating from almost the first frame.

I'm guessing that the filmmakers wanted to create a camp classic with Whisperer, but this isn't entertaining enough to classify as camp. It is instead pompous, poorly executed and lacking in any wit whatsoever. As I had to review this, I watched the entire film, but believe me, there's nothing worth sticking around for- this is a truly bad film.

The Whisperer in Darkness will be shown at the Chicago International Film Festival on Tuesday, October 11 at 10:15 PM and on Wednesday, October 12 at 9:45 PM.


  1. Hi Tom. Nice to see another blogger on the CIFF beat. I saw The Whisperer in Darkness and didn't think it was as good as this creative team's maiden voyage Call of Cthulhu. This is their style, and I enjoyed seeing the creative use of cheap materials for the sets yet again. Yet, like this earlier film, I think Whisperer might have been better as a silent. I enjoyed the film, but thought they were, as you say, too derivative and not nearly as charming as they are capable of.

  2. Marilyn:

    Thanks for your insightful comment. I like your idea of "Whisperer" as a silent film- I think that might have worked very well. That would have been more of a campy, fun film.

  3. Eye of the beholder I suppose because I saw Whisperer on Wed and thought it was a great homeage and throwback to the 1930s. The directing, writing, performances, and music all had me believing I was watching a film from that period of time. I just don't get your level of negativity considering how into the film the entire audience was. It was a really stylistic flick, with a lot of attention paid to making it feel authentic and to me seemed really well crafted.

  4. Ricoman:

    Thanks for your comment. Yes, eye of the beholder, indeed! I think this is a film that either captures you from the start or it doesn't, which is another way of saying you'll love it or hate it.

    I have no doubt the filmmakers meant well and went for a tribute to old horror films, but I thought it had none of the style or creativity of those works. I thought every point was hammered home and underlined. I just didn't care for it.

    I guess we have to agree to disagree.