5 Indie Movies You May Have Missed in 2015
Last year saw a bunch of great indie movies that found a wide audience – It Follows (a bona fide horror classic), Z For Zachariah (based on the novel by Robert C. O’Brien) and the story of Brian Wilson as told through dual time periods in Love & Mercy. Not to mention Alex Garland’s much lauded Ex Machina.
But here are five little indie movies that slipped past the gaze of movie audiences in 2015, as they gawked at the big-budget spectacles of Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens.
Following the death of her father, a prominent artist, and the subsequent breakdown of her relationship, Catherine meets at the family lakehouse of her best friend Viginia for some quiet time to reflect and adjust. The women slowly realize that they perhaps never had anything in common, and as Catherine’s mental state deteriorates, Viginia is unable to provide the support her friend desperately needs. Queen Of Earth features two of the strongest performances of last year, courtesy of Elisabeth Moss (best known as Peggy from Mad Men) and Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam). Moss is devastatingly powerful as Catherine, and Waterston (also seen last year in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs) is just as strong in more subtle ways. Indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry has a great eye for simple, intimate compositions and his narrative constantly toys with perception. This ambiguous movie was also one of the best of last year.
A horror-western? It’s tough to define a genre for writer/director S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, which follows the travail of four men hunting down the native tribe of self-mutilators responsible for kidnapping white townsfolk. For the majority of its length we follow the journey across the badlands of Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), his ageing deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) whose wife has been abducted, and the arrogant rake John Brooder (Matthew Fox). They bicker and muse, collaborate and separate, speaking dialogue that is equally Tarantino-lite and old-timey frontier-speak. All four actors are excellent, with Jenkins the stand-out as the talkative and ruffled Chicory. Quiet and quirky (Wilson hobbles around on crutches for almost the entire film), with dashes of gruesome violence towards the end (in particular one act of brutal gore that will have every male viewer wincing), Bone Tomahawk is a period curio with the potential for cult status.
Writer/director/editor/actor Joel Potrykus re-teams with the bug-eyed actor Joshua Burge for his rage rant Buzzard, the second film in his ‘Animal Trilogy’. Burge has a face for cinema, sporting some kind of internal grin as though he’s in on a joke we’re not privy to; he’s a natural and interesting actor (recently given a small role in Innaritu’s The Revenant) and as Marty Jackitansky, a human version of the titular bird, he’s amusingly intense. Marty works in the office of a bank, where he scams refunds from ordering excess stock on his bosses’ account. In fact, Marty will do anything to take advantage of society’s freebies. His latest scam, signing returned bank cheques over to himself, seems to quickly unravel. As his paranoid mind goes into overdrive, he takes it on the proverbial lam, which includes crashing in a work colleague’s basement (uproariously known as the ‘party zone’), blowing $200 on a swanky hotel for a night, sharpening the claws of his Freddy Krueger glove, and talking to his mother on a pay phone. At times there is a purposeful amateurism in Potrykus’s direction; often the camera seems set up static on a tripod with the actors performing in and out of the frame; a sort of home movie quality. Other times his framing is inspired, and his set-up shots alternately surprising in this genuinely odd, hilarious and slightly disturbing film.
You may know Leland Orser’s face if you don’t know his name. He was typecast through the 90’s as the atypical weakling, being the horrified john strapping the dildo-blade in Fincher’s Se7en, and the terrified crew member with a gestating xenomorph in his chest in Alien Resurrection. He had a co-starring role in the later seasons of ER, appeared in Taken with Liam Neeson, but he has rarely (if ever?) been given a starring role in a feature. In Faults, Orser is Ansel Roth, a washed-up writer and expert on cults, lecturing to tiny crowds in second-rate hotels. He is approached by the parents of a woman under the influence of a cult named ‘Faults’, and they employ him to bust her out and re-condition her. But not all is quite as it seems. Set almost entirely in a motel room, and weighted by the fine performances of Orser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the seemingly brainwashed Claire, Faults is an intimate and tense and also often very funny little thriller.
Russian filmmaker Alexei German began work on Hard To Be A God around 1999, with the on-off shoot lasting approximately six years. The director passed away in 2013 before post-production was complete and so it fell into the hands of his son to finish it. The result is perhaps one of the most unique films you may ever see. At three hours long, Hard To Be A God is not an easy watch; it is unrelentingly grim and visceral, steeped in mud and shit and the disgusting people slopping through it, and it will leave you feeling dirty. But it is also unforgettable, no matter if you love or hate it. The story follows a group of scientists who have landed on a planet populated by humans, whose civilization has never seen the Renaissance; it is the purpose of the scientists to not interfere, simply observe. But of course, it’s hard to be a god. Based on the book of the same name by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and shot in molasses black and white, Hard To Be A God is more an experience than a film.