FilmSpace: Kong: Skull Island; Elle; The Love Witch - reviews

CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment

WONDERING what’s good at the movies this week? Look no further: we’ve already sent out reviewer Scott Wilson to take a look and bring back his verdicts.

Kong: Skull Island - ★★★☆☆

Entry number two in Legendary’s MonsterVerse series (beginning with 2014’s Godzilla), Kong: Skull Island is a more entertaining romp, trading environmental worries for big monsters punching other big monsters in the face.

Into the belly of the beast go a ragtag bunch consisting of army specialists, explorers, a conspiracy theorist, and an anti-war photographer. Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly know exactly what to do here – both are so colourfully over the top. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are the movie’s moral compass, yet neither have a chance to flex their remarkable acting chops. 
Hiddleston is endlessly cool wielding a samurai sword, and Larson traverses the jungle like she was raised there, and that’s cool too.

Kong himself appears remarkably early. Audiences have been conditioned to expect a surveying of widespread carnage, a monstrous howl from the distance, a glimpse of a limb, before finally earning a close-up an hour deep into the film. 

It’s tonally incoherent, often from one scene to the next. But it never fails to be effortlessly cool.

Kong is devoted to his home, and shows up right on cue as Jackson’s squad blows Skull Island to bits in the hopes of intimidating anything that might consider hurting them.

Comparing Hiddleston and Larson with Reilly and Jackson is key to the film’s rewards and pitfalls. If Kong is an entertaining, fun, funny spectacle, hamming it up pays dividends. If it seeks to continue the serious tone of Godzilla, then Reilly and Jackson undermine any real threat, turning a terrifying situation into a comical boy scout camping trip interspersed with Skullcrawlers eating people. 

It’s tonally incoherent, often from one scene to the next. But it never fails to be effortlessly cool. Kong’s silhouette against the setting sun, the climactic battle between two behemoths, and Brie Larson shooting a monster in the damn face – cool. 

It might take a few more entries in the MonsterVerse to know if Kong got it right, but it deserves to be seen on the big screen, has a fair few laughs, and if nothing else, just how it combines political satire with Samuel L Jackson blowing things up while making you care about a massive ape is both confusing and a delight.

Elle - ★★★★☆

At the heart of Elle’s challenging and provocative story is Isabelle Huppert. Nominated for an Oscar for this performance, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else taking on the role of Michèle, the head of a video game company who is raped during a home invasion. 

She is this bewildering and strong character who acts completely against type and against any sensible recommendations. Huppert herself has described the film as post-feminist, and it’s for the audience to dissect what that means.

Michèle is blasé about what has happened, casually informing some friends over dinner. She tightens her home security and buys weapons. Threatening messages confirm she knows her attacker, turning this into a game of cat and mouse.

The gravitational pull of a story centring on rape is such that what stays with you is how horrifying it is in its violence, and in its dismissal of the story that we feel ought to be told.

On the surface, a revenge fantasy is the type of cathartic thriller that sells. Elle is distinctly not that kind of film. Everyone in Michèle’s life is either spiteful, dependent, weak, or corrupt – these characters are given real depth leading to understandable actions, even when your morality abhors what is happening.

Elle will be known for two things: just how un-PC and surprising its plot is, and Huppert’s performance. Having such loud talking points does a disservice to how fine-tuned everything else is. 

Michèle’s childhood informs her present, and her relationships with family members are so nuanced this could easily be a family drama. Some have called it a black comedy – and it is very funny. The gravitational pull of a story centring on rape is such that what stays with you is how horrifying it is in its violence, and in its dismissal of the story that we feel ought to be told.

An adult film in every sense of the word, Elle is relentless, unforgiving, and trying. The laughs come more than you expect, and they’re neighbours with physical and emotional violence. At its heart is a performer at the top of her game.

The Love Witch - ★★★☆☆

Witchcraft is in. Having been an excuse in the past to hang and burn women, the 21st century has decided to revisit the occult through 2016’s The Witch and this, the similarly titled but much less terrifying, The Love Witch. 

Both re-examine the feminine and its ties to witchcraft, with The Witch’s hysteria stemming from a patriarchal source pointing a finger at a seductress, whether real or imagined. 

The Love Witch is silly and playful, but its heroine, Samantha Robinson’s Elaine, is a mover and shaker in gender politics. She knows men, and knows what they want. She aggressively gives it to them, combined with a dose of sex magic, hoping to weed out the weak and find someone to love her for who she is. 

Freeing men of their inhibitions, they become overwhelmed by what is bottled up inside of them. Unable to cope, it’s down to Elaine to clean up the mess.

The Love Witch is silly and playful, but its heroine, Samantha Robinson’s Elaine, is a mover and shaker in gender politics.

It has this late-60s aesthetic, soft hues and over-acting and all. Each line is forcefully delivered, and the pauses between dialogue are deliberately awkward. Soft pinks and a hippy approach to sexuality make The Love Witch slightly erotic, but mostly it’s a bewitching insight into opposing opinions on gender discourse. 

Elaine’s friends don’t agree with her methods, telling her she’s been brainwashed by the patriarchy. She would disagree, rolling her eyes at the men unfit to deal with their own emotions, knowing full well which gender fuelled that repression.

It’s utterly charming and carefree, but it takes a long time to convey one idea, and it more than meanders for the sake of style over substance. It is clever and memorable, sharp and witty, but would greatly benefit from tighter editing. 

It’s no crime to enjoy your own indulgence when it’s this different, but brevity would have benefited the final product. Still, it remains a rewarding watch since there really isn’t anything quite like it.

Picture courtesy of Scott Wilson

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