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#TIFF16 Reviews: Free Fire, Werewolf, Green White Green and The Girl With All the Gifts

September 9, 2016

By John Corrado

free-fire-posterThe 2016 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival kicked off last night, and below are my thoughts on four more films that I had the opportunity to screen in advance.  Please come back tomorrow and throughout the rest of the festival for more capsule reviews, and you can find information on tickets and showtimes through the links in the film titles.  Enjoy!

Free Fire (Midnight Madness): Taking place in 1978, Free Fire follows Justine (Brie Larson), who is organizing a weapons sale between the IRA’s Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and gun dealers Ord (Armie Hammer) and Vernon (Sharlto Copley), who are selling a shipment of automatic rifles in an abandoned warehouse.  But when physical fights start to break out between the men, things quickly escalate into an increasingly bloody and relentless shootout.

Although Free Fire doesn’t have a ton of plot, aside from some question of where allegiances lie, this is a well executed action thriller that gets the job done with style to spare.  Directed by Ben Wheatley, and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the film is carried by a screenplay chock full of quippy one-liners, and has a fun ’70s vibe conveyed through the bad hair and pale coloured suits.  It’s all delivered by a game ensemble cast, including standout work from Brie Larson, and a great supporting role for an almost unrecognizable Jack Reynor.  Playing like an extended and impressively choreographed shootout that unfolds pretty much in real time, Free Fire is a lean and entertaining thriller, that delivers ample suspense and a pretty killer soundtrack.  It’s grisly fun, and the use of John Denver is inspired.

Werewolf (Discovery): Blaise (Andrew Gillis) and his girlfriend Nessa (Breagh MacNeil) are both struggling to overcome meth addictions in a small Nova Scotia town, surviving on controlled doses prescribed by their doctors, and trying to make money cutting grass with the beat up lawnmower they cart around with them.  But when Nessa starts moving forward, Blaise becomes increasingly cocky and starts to relapse, putting a strain on their already rocky relationship.  Framed mostly in tight, claustrophobic close ups, Werewolf is carried by naturalistic performances from Andrew Gillis and Breagh MacNeil, who elicit rugged sympathy as they commit themselves to even the most unflattering aspects of their roles.  This is a gritty and authentic portrait of young drug users struggling to break free from addiction and come clean, that represents a promising debut feature for director Ashley McKenzie.

Green White Green (City to City – Lagos): Uzema (Ifeanyi Dike) is a young painter in Lagos, Nigeria who dreams of having his work hang in a gallery, spending most of his days hanging out with his buddies, playing video games and engaging in insult competitions with a rival group.  When his movie buff friend Baba (Jamal Ibrahim) shares his dream to make a film, they set out to make a short film that will represent all of Nigeria, using whatever resources they have at their disposal.  Although Green White Green is a bit scrappy and rough around the edges, this is all part of its charm.  With a narrator explaining the history of Nigeria and the diverse cultures that make up the country, this is a vibrant, colourful and entertaining portrait of life in modern day Lagos.  The film also shows the emergence of a promising new talent in director Abba T. Makama, and is carried by a bright young cast who share the same “let’s make a movie” enthusiasm as their characters.

The Girl With All the Gifts (Midnight Madness): Melanie (Sennia Nanua) is a young girl who is kept locked up in a cell, being fed worms and strapped to a wheelchair so she can attend classes with her sympathetic teacher, Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arterton).  You see, human civilization has been all but destroyed by a zombie virus that turns people into cannibalistic “hungries,” and Melanie represents the next evolution of it, being kept alive so that she can be harvested by Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close), a clinical scientist who plans to use her organs to create a cure.  But when their safe military compound comes under attack, Melanie goes on the run with Ms. Justineau, Dr. Caldwell and a tough Sergeant (Paddy Considine), and starts to figure out her true place in this evolving world.

Although this might sound like a contradiction, The Girl With All the Gifts is a zombie film that has humanistic overtones, with the central moral question being if it’s right for the highly autonomous Melanie to sacrifice her own life in order to create a cure that could potentially save others.  You can take from this what you will in terms of real world allegories to animal testing.  Newcomer Sennia Nanua carries the film with impressive maturity, making us feel sympathetic towards Melanie, even as her zombie impulses threaten to take over.  Moving at a quick pace, and featuring some expectedly gory zombie kills and pulse-pounding set-pieces that are highlighted by haunting imagery in the climax, the film has enough suspense and interesting ideas to keep us watching, even if its impact is undercut slightly by a needless final scene.

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