Review: ‘You Won’t Be Alone,’ starring Sara Klimoska, Anamaria Marinca, Alice Englert, Félix Maritaud, Carloto Cotta and Noomi Rapace

February 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jasmina Avramovica and Noomi Rapace in “You Won’t Be Alone” (Photo by Branko Starcevic/Focus Features)

“You Won’t Be Alone”

Directed by Goran Stolevski

Macedonian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed rural part of Macedonia in the 19th century, the horror film “You Won’t Be Alone” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman, who was cursed as a baby by an evil witch, wanders around taking different forms of life, while the evil witch keeps showing up to make sure that the woman remains unhappy and unable to experience love.

Culture Audience: “You Won’t Be Alone” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in artsy, European horror movies that aren’t always obvious and straightforward in their messaging.

Sara Klimoska and Anamaria Marinca in “You Won’t Be Alone” (Photo by Branko Starcevic/Focus Features)

Combining artsy existentialism and bloody horror doesn’t sound like a good match, but somehow “You Won’t Be Alone” does it well enough for viewers who have patience for a slow-paced movie with an impactful ending. Getting to that ending can be too much of a slog for people who don’t care for movies with a language that’s foreign to most viewers, or movies that have imagery and scenes that are almost like pieces to a puzzle. This “slow burn” film has tension, but it will not satisfy people looking for an action-packed thriller. For everyone else who wants to take on the challenge of watching “You Won’t Be Alone,” be prepared for a ride that’s like a ponderous fever dream about witchcraft. “You Won’t Be Alone” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Written and directed by Goran Stolevski, “You Won’t Be Alone” takes place in an unnamed rural part of Macedonia in the 19th century. (The movie was actually filmed in Serbia.) The story is about a cursed female who wanders around the area and is able to shapeshift/transform into anything or anyone she kills. She was cursed as a baby by an evil witch, who shows up from time to time to make sure that this cursed female remains unhappy and unable to stay in one place for too long.

The opening of “You Won’t Be Alone” shows how this curse happened. A woman named Yoana (played by Kamka Tocinovski) lives on a farm, and she has a baby daughter named Nevena. Inside a barn, Yoana is in distress because she and Nevena are in the presence of a witch called Maria (played by Anamaria Marinca), also known as Old Maid Maria. Maria looks like a stereotypical witch hag: Her hair is straggly and in patches on her head. She’s hunched over, and her face looks like it has severe burn scars.

“Have mercy,” Yoana begs Maria. “On my blood, I beg of you! Children are a burden. You don’t want the nuisance.” Maria hisses in response: “Are you a fool, woman? As if I want a child. A bit of blood is all. A fresh-born’s.”

Yoana pleads with Maria: “I’ll bring you other babies! Leave me my Nevena. It’s a daughter you want?” Maria replies, “Spend my one witching spit? On this runt?” Yoana continues to beg Maria not to curse Nevena as a baby and wait until Nevena is 16. This desperate mother takes a knife and cuts the inside of her own left forearm to offer the witch some blood.

However, Maria remains unmoved. “I think not,” Maria says. And then, Maria puts some blood on the baby’s mouth to enact the curse. Yoana is so ashamed of what has happened that she decides to pretend to everyone that Nevena has died. She runs outside and screams that a wolf has stolen her baby.

In actuality, Yoana has secretly hidden baby Nevena in a cave, where Yoana takes care of her. The movie then fast-forwards to a teenage Nevena (played by Sara Klimoska), who’s about 16 years old. She has been mute since being cursed by the witch, but Nevena’s inner thoughts can be heard in a voiceover. Nevena has never been outside of the cave until the Maria the witch comes back to pay a visit.

Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that Maria kills Yoana in the cave. And it’s the first time that Nevena sees how shapeshifting can work. Maria forces Nevena to go outside of the cave with her and begins to teach her how kill, shapeshift, and eventually live on her own. Maria is often cruel and impatient with Nevena, who is initially very reluctant to kill animals for food until she is taught by Maria that killing animals for food is a way to survive.

Nevena finds out that because of the curse, she is now a witch with the power to shapeshift into anyone or anything that she kills. In human form, Nevena has long dark nails that look like talons. Nevena can also self-heal from injuries and doesn’t feel pain. Nevena discovers she has these abilities when Maria burns her as a test. However, even when Nevena transforms into another human, she still doesn’t have the ability to talk.

The rest of “You Won’t Be Alone” follows Nevena’s journey as she encounters other people and how they react to each other. Not everyone makes it out alive. And not everyone Nevena transforms into is a female or a human. Maria shows up from time to time because she doesn’t want Nevena to become too comfortable or happy.

One the people whom Nevena encounters during this often-bizarre story is a mother named Basilka (played by Noomi Rapace), who has recently given birth to a baby. Basilka is in a miserable marriage to a man who physically and emotionally abuses her, but Basilka is treated kindly by her mother-in-law (played by Jasmina Avramovica). Nevena becomes a part of Basilka’s world which consists of other women who are degraded and abused by their husbands, but they women find comfort in each other’s friendships.

Through observations of people around her, Nevena learns to imitate human emotions and what reactions and actions are considered appropriate and acceptable. She doesn’t pick up social cues right away, which leads to some awkward moments. Maria notices that the men in this farming community like to make the women cry. Since viewers can hear Nevena’s thoughts, she has a name for tears that come from crying: “eye water.”

She also makes this observation about people in Basilka’s world: “When a man is in the room, you are not a woman. You are the stew, the bread. Your place—it is inside his palm.” And she has this to say about the camaraderie that the women find with each other: “When the women [are] in the room, your mouth, it never stops opening … You are the looking glass … To the man, you are the water.”

Later on in the movie, which spans over several years, other characters play key roles in Nevena’s journey as a cursed witch. There’s a handsome ladies’ man named Boris (played by Carloto Cotta); a girl named Biliana (played by Anastasija Karanovich); and a boy named Yovan (played by Danilo Savic). As adults, Biliana (played by Alice Englert) and Yovan (played by Félix Maritaud) have life-changing transitions that affect Nevena.

“You Won’t Be Alone” is a movie that is not brimming with dialogue, but the cast members give admirable performances in expressing emotions in this very oppressive world. There are long stretches of the movie that are atmospheric shots where viewers are invited to soak up the scenery. However, amid the lush greenery of the forests and fields there’s bloody brutality, as well as the always-lurking threat that Maria will suddenly appear. Most of “You Won’t Be Alone” is very bleak, but the movie has a powerful message that doesn’t really emerge until the last 10 minutes. Because of this gripping conclusion, viewers who are patient enough to stick with the movie until the end will appreciate the story the most.

Focus Features will release “You Won’t Be Alone” in select U.S. cinemas on April 1, 2022. UPDATE: Peacock will premiere “You Won’t Be Alone” on May 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Lamb’ (2021), starring Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson

October 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Noomi Rapace in “Lamb” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Lamb” (2021) 

Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson

Icelandic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Iceland, the horror movie “Lamb” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A farmer wife and her husband, who live in a remote area, have a life-changing experience when an unusual lamb is born on their farm.

Culture Audience: “Lamb” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a “slow burn,” artistically made film that has subtle commentary about the consequences of trying to mess with Mother Nature.

Noomi Rapace in “Lamb” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“Lamb” is being marketed as a horror movie, but during the first two-thirds of the story, viewers might be wondering what’s so terrifying about this film. It isn’t until the last third of the movie that the horror elements kick into high gear and culminate in a memorable and impactful ending. Until then, “Lamb” is a very slow-paced film that can fool viewers into thinking that all they’re going to see is a movie about farmer couple taking care of a very unusual lamb.

“Lamb” is an impressive feature-film directorial debut from Valdimar Jóhannsson, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Sjón. The movie does a lot with very little. Not only is the landscape sparse where this movie takes place (on a sheep farm in rural Iceland), but “Lamb” also has a very small number of cast members. Only three actors in the movie have speaking roles. And there isn’t a lot of talking in this film.

Because the entire story revolves around this unusual lamb, it would be giving away too much spoiler information to say why this lamb is so unique. However, the movie trailer for “Lamb” does show glimpses that reveal why this is no ordinary lamb. It’s best to avoid watching the “Lamb” trailer before seeing the movie if you want to be completely surprised.

For people who don’t want any hints whatsoever, it’s enough to say this: When married farmer couple Maria (played by Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason) help the lamb’s mother give birth in the sheep barn, and they see this lamb’s unusual characteristics, instead of being horrified or confused, Maria and Ingvar are happy. Ingvar and Maria also exchange glances after seeing this newborn lamb, as if they were expecting this newborn to look this way.

Maria and Ingvar begin taking care of the female lamb as if it’s a human child, including having the lamb sleep underneath blankets in a portable tub that’s a makeshift crib. Eventually, the lamb gets its own real baby crib. Maria carries the lamb around as if it’s a human baby and uses a milk bottle to feed it. They name the lamb Ada and talk to the lamb as if the lamb is their own child.

Maria is very maternal and protective of this lamb, to the point where she becomes annoyed when she sees that the lamb’s mother has figured out that the lamb is living in the house. The lamb’s mother constantly makes noises as if she’s distressed that her child has been taken away from her. There are moments in the movie where viewers can tell that there are visual effects that give certain animals human-like expressions on their faces. It’s the first indication of the supernatural elements in the story.

Maria and Ingvar are happily married but they have a very isolated existence. They live far away from other people and don’t communicate with any other people besides each other. A lot of the movie’s screen time is showing Maria and Ingvar doing mundane tasks around the farm. They have a dog and a cat to keep them company, but their lives revolve around Ada.

It’s later revealed in the story why Maria and Ingvar have become so attached to this lamb and why they have named the lamb Ada. It’s the most obvious reason you can imagine. What isn’t obvious is how and why this lamb is so unusual. That reason becomes clearer as time goes on and viewers see that there are others who know about this lamb’s existence.

There’s a subplot in the movie where Maria and Ingvar’s isolation is interrupted when Ingvar’s older brother Pétur (played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) unexpectedly comes to visit. Pétur used to be in a semi-famous rock/pop band. But lately, he just seems to be a ne’er-do-well drifter who’s trying to avoid debt collectors.

Viewers first see Pétur when a car drives up on a road near Maria and Ingvar’s farm and two women and a man shove Pétur out of the car. It’s a scene that implies that Pétur has had some dealings that have gone wrong with some other shady people. And now, they’ve dumped Pétur in this isolated area.

Maria and Ingvar welcome Pétur into their home. He doesn’t tell them about the problems in his personal life, but they can sense that he’s temporarily homeless. Pétur’s first reaction to Ada is repulsion, but he eventually gets used to Ada’s uniqueness and grows fond of her.

In case it wasn’t obvious that Pétur has a sleazy side, he tries to make moves on Maria when they’re alone together. She rebuffs Pétur’s advances and makes it clear that she’s not sexually interested in him and that she won’t cheat on Ingvar. Pétur won’t take no for an answer though, so he continues with his sexual harassment of Maria. How she ultimately handles this problem is one of the few amusing moments in the movie.

Rapace gives an effective performance that is both endearing and chilling as an extremely devoted “mother” to Ada. “Lamb” is a movie that might be too creepy and slow-paced for some viewers, who might be expecting more action throughout most of the film. However, it’s worth it to keep watching, because the last 20 minutes pack a wallop. The movie’s ending is unsettling and bizarre, but it actually answers a lot of questions while leaving other questions deliberately unanswered.

A24 released “Lamb” in select U.S. cinemas on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Here Are the Young Men,’ starring Dean-Charles Chapman, Finn Cole, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Travis Fimmel

June 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dean-Charles Chapman, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Finn Cole in “Here Are the Young Men” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Here Are the Young Men”

Directed by Eoin Macken

Culture Representation: Taking place in Dublin from June to August 2003, the dramatic film “Here Are the Young Men” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three teenage hoodlum friends spend their first summer out of high school by making mischief and partying, but they are haunted by witnessing a car accident that killed a young girl, and their friendship will be tested by other issues.

Culture Audience: “Here Are the Young Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a coming-of-age film about rebellious youth, but the movie is ultimately a shallow exercise in glorifying criminal activities.

Finn Cole, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Dean-Charles Chapman and Anya Taylor-Joy in “Here Are the Young Men” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

Rebellious teens have been the subjects of countless movies, so audiences need to have a reason to care when yet another one of these stories is made into a movie. Unfortunately, “Here Are the Young Men” should have been titled “Here Are the Young Men Being Glorified for Getting Away With Serious Crimes.” The movie tries to be artsy with some psychedelic-like hallucinations throughout the film, and the cast members do the best that they can with the weak material that they’ve been given. But it’s not enough to save this very hollow film that tries to justify atrocious and violent crimes with the excuse that angry young men just need to let off some steam.

“Here Are the Young Men” was written and directed by Eoin Macken, who adapted the movie from Rob Doyle’s 2014 novel of the same name. And this movie, which attempts to be a gritty portrayal of working-class life in Dublin in 2003, actually comes across as a fantasy of what it would be like to be a teenage male hoodlum who gets away with everything. The movie gives very little thought to the victims who have been hurt by the increasingly despicable actions of one of the main characters. Instead, the movie puts all the sympathy on the trio of hooligans who are the cause of all the mayhem in the story.

The movie takes place from June to August 2003, the first summer after pals Matthew Connolly (played by Dean-Charles Chapman), Joseph Kearney (played by Finn Cole) and Rez (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) have left high school. Matthew and Rez have graduated, while Joseph (the most problematic one in the trio) was expelled. Viewers can assume these alcohol-guzzling pub-hoppers are all 18 years old, the minimum legal age to drink alcohol in Ireland. It’s one of the few legal things that these hoodlums do when they party.

The movie’s opening scene takes place at a funeral attended by Matthew. He says in a voiceover: “They say that the summer you finish school is the best time of your life because it’s your final summer of freedom and you become men. It’s important. I just didn’t realize how important it would be. This is a real story … I’m sorry for some of the choices we made.”

The funeral is shown again at the end of the film. But in between, the majority of the story is a flashback, told from Matthew’s perspective, of what happened during that fateful summer. Opening with the funeral scene was artistically a big mistake, because viewers will immediately know that a major character is going to die in this story. And it’s not going to be Matthew.

And so, there’s no real suspense or surprise when that death happens, because the tension builds to such a predictable point that it’s fairly easy to guess who’s going to die. The only real question is how will that person die? The cause of death is also easily predicted during a pivotal moment in the last third of the film.

The flashback begins with Matthew in a meeting with his school headmaster Mr. Landerton (played by Ralph Ineson), who is conducting an exit interview, as is the school’s custom with all graduating students. Matthew seems bored and reluctant to tell Mr. Landerton what Matthew’s plans are after high school, probably because Matthew doesn’t have any plans.

Matthew says, “If it makes you happy for your report, just write that I’ve improved as an individual, grown into a respectable young scholar—and it’s all because of you.” Mr. Landerton shakes Matthew hand and says that he knows that things have been difficult for Matthew. Mr. Landerton adds, “Be careful with your choices.”

What has been difficult for Matthew? It’s not fully explained in the movie, but Matthew’s father is no longer in the home. Based on the way that this absentee father is not discussed in Matthew’s household, it’s implied that his father isn’t dead but has abandoned the family. Matthew is an only child and he lives with mother Lynn Connolly (played by Susan Lynch), who seems to have a drinking problem because in the few times she’s seen, she’s holding an alcoholic drink and/or appears to be drunk.

Joseph also lives in a single-parent household, but with his father Mark Kearney (played by Conleth Hill), who pays more attention to what’s on television than he pays attention to Joseph. The movie doesn’t explain what happened to Joseph’s mother. Joseph has an older brother named Dwayne Kearney (played by Chris Newman), who lives in another household and appears in one of Joseph’s many hallucinations. Joseph is the angriest and most mentally disturbed of the three pals, as it becomes very clear later on in the story.

Rez is the friend who is the most mysterious. In other words, he’s the most underwritten of the three friends. He doesn’t even have a last name in the movie. Nothing is shown of Rez’s home life. All viewers know about Rez is that he likes to dress all in black, he does a lot of drugs, and he makes money by selling drugs. Rez is also a lot more sensitive than he’s willing to show most people. One of the few people he opens up to is another teenager named Julie (played by Lola Petticrew), who has a sexual relationship with Rez that can best be described as “friends with benefits.”

The graduation ceremony at the school is never shown. However, it isn’t long after Matthew and Rez get their “freedom” that Matthew, Rez and Joseph decide to go back to their school to vandalize it during the daytime when the school is on a summer break. They start by going to a local church, popping some pills and mocking the communion ritual, with Rez saying “Body of Christ,” before he swallows a pill.

Then, they head to the school and spraypaint graffiti on an instruction board. The graffiti they put on the board shows a penis and a stick figure with the words, “Luke, I am your father, but you are my god.” And because Joseph is the group’s biggest troublemaker, he throws a desk through a closed window, thereby shattering the window with no regard that someone could be hit by the desk or the broken glass on the street below. (Fortunately, no one gets injured.)

The mayhem continues when they go to the school’s parking garage. Joseph sees Mr. Landerton’s car and starts destroying it with a crowbar. During this vandalism, he has a rage-filled rant, as if he’s taking out all of his anger on Mr. Landerton, who expelled him from the school. After a while, Rez joins in on the destruction too.

Matthew shows some restraint and seems reluctant to participate in this senseless act of violence. Just then, Mr. Landerton shows up with some police officers. And this is where the movie starts to go downhill with a very unrealistic scene. Instead of the cops immediately arresting these young punks, Mr. Landerton just stands there and tries to reason with these vandals.

First, the headmaster asks Matthew if he really wants to be a part of this criminal activity. In defiance, Matthew chooses to side with his pals, so he bashes one of the car’s outside mirrors. Matthew, Joseph and Rez then climb out a nearby window and run away, with two or three cops in pursuit.

The chase continues through some streets and an alley, but the cops are out of shape and can’t keep with these teenagers. The last cop to keep the chase going eventually gives up in frustration. But here’s the thing that’s so ridiculous about this movie: Matthew, Joseph and Rez don’t face any consequences.

They are never arrested for the vandalism, even though Mr. Landerton knows where they live and could easily send the cops to the teens’ homes to arrest them. But that never happens. Viewers have to assume that Mr. Landerton might have decided not to press charges, but what kind of school headmaster would let anyone get away with all that damage on the school property when the perpetrators were caught in the act?

It’s just one of many plot holes of stupidity that plague this movie, which is really just a showcase to make it look like just because someone is a working-class teen, it’s enough to feel angst and justify committing crimes. We won’t even get into the racial inequalities of what kinds of punishments these teens would experience if they weren’t white. It’s a privileged blind spot that this movie has because its only concern is making it look like these lazy cretins are just going through a rebellious rite of passage.

The reality is that these teens are not “oppressed” in any way and have no good reason for committing any crimes. They might not come from rich families, but they’re not homeless and not scrounging for food. They don’t experience racism, sexism or other forms of discrimination. They have other people (their parents) paying their bills and providing them with a place to live. Rez’s home life isn’t shown, but it’s implied that he doesn’t have to worry about paying rent.

And apparently, even their school headmaster is willing to look the other way and not hold them accountable for their crimes. There’s no logical reason for why this headmaster would be an enabler, when his job would be at stake for letting these destructive teens get away with the vandalism they committed on school property. These are not wealthy kids who can buy their way out of trouble, but there’s an air of bratty entitlement that this movie has that’s just so annoying.

Later in the movie, Matthew gets a job at an auto tire shop. It’s one of the few mature and responsible things that he does in the story. But then, there’s a scene where Matthew deliberately sets the shop on fire. And yet, the movie never shows him facing any consequences and never mentions what happened as a result of the fire. In fact, the rest of the movie acts like the fire never even happened. It’s all just sloppy screenwriting.

One thing that the movie constantly brings up is how a certain car accident affected these three troublemaking friends. Shortly after they get away with the vandalism at their school, Matthew, Joseph and Rez are on a busy commercial street when they witness a fatal car accident. The driver hit and killed a girl who was about 7 or 8 years because she suddenly ran out on the street. The girl’s mother rushed to her side and wailed for help.

On the surface, the three buddies all try to get on with their lives and continue their partying and mischief making. But seeing someone die right before their eyes is something that has a psychological effect on them. Matthew tries to “clean up” his life a little bit by getting a job at the tire shop. (It’s all for nothing though, because Matthew ends up setting the shop on fire.) Rez falls into a deep depression. Joseph develops a macabre obsession to see someone else die in front of him.

Joseph drops many hints that after seeing someone die, he now has a desire to become a murderer. When he tries to talk about it with his friends, they give him strange looks and he says he’s just joking. Joseph’s increasingly twisted mindset is manifested in a series of hallucinations centered on a TV talk show that Joseph’s father Mark likes to watch.

The program is called “Big Show,” and it’s hosted by a black-haired unnamed man (played by Travis Fimmel) who is styled to look like a menacing satanic figure, but without devil horns. His has a pointy beard and long sideburns and a constant sinister smirk. In the hallucinations about “Big Show,” this TV host brings on certain guests to taunt them, humiliate them and test their endurance.

At various points in the movie, Joseph and Matthew imagine themselves as guests on “Big Show.” Much of the program revolves around the TV presenter talking about masculinity and what it means to be a real man. In one “episode,” the presenter has a woman called Angel Dust (played by Noomi Rapace, in a cameo) on stage and ends up sexually groping her without consent, as the all-male audience cheers.

Sometimes, in Joseph’s “Big Show” hallucinations, his brother Dwayne is in the audience too. It’s supposed to represent Joseph’s conscious or subconscious desire to get his brother Dwayne’s approval. The more violent crimes that Joseph commits, the more he seems to get approval from the “Big Show” host, until it reaches the point where Joseph struts around as if he’s the star of the show.

Matthew’s “Big Show” hallucinations show him as a more hesitant guest, since in real life, he’s the only one out of the three friends who seems to be a little uncomfortable with violent crimes, and he tries to make an honest living. Joseph is never seen doing any work (legal or illegal) in this story, but early on in the movie he mentions that he wants to be a video game developer. Joseph says he has an idea for an Irish Republican Army video game that he wants to call “The Provos.”

Someone who occasionally hangs out with these troublemakers is a fellow teen named Jen (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), who was in the same graduating class as Matthew and Rez. Jen is smart and level-headed. Matthew has a big crush on her, and the feeling might be mutual. They have typical flirty banter where they try to pretend that they aren’t as attracted to each other as they really are.

Jen wants to leave Dublin as soon as she can. Her dream is to live in the United States and become an entertainer or a fashion designer. In the meantime, she sings at a local nightclub. (In one of these nightclub scenes, she performs a cover version of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control.”) Taylor-Joy is a good singer, but the scenes of her on stage don’t add much to the story, except to show Matthew ogling Jen. The movie’s soundtrack, which has several songs by Magnets & Ghosts, is mostly alternative rock and some electronica.

Joseph also wants to go to America, and he gets a chance to take a trip to visit the U.S. at one point in the movie. (“Here Are the Young Men” director Macken has a quick cameo as an unnamed homeless man who has an unfortunate encounter with Joseph.) Joseph is never actually seen in America, but he’s made videos of his trip. Some of those videos are shown in the movie.

When Joseph comes back to Dublin, he reveals certain things about himself that show he’s gone beyond vandalism to committing crimes that are even more violent and disturbing. Matthew, Rez and Jen are all affected by Joseph’s increasingly unhinged, out-of-control behavior. And in a predictable teen movie like this one, that means it’s all going to culiminate with some heavy melodrama.

“Here Are the Young Men” takes a very disappointing approach of having mayhem for mayhem’s sake. The hallucinatory “Big Show” scenes aren’t very clever. And the movie’s best and most authentic-looking scene isn’t even about the boys’ friendship but it’s a scene where Matthew and Jen have a big argument over something that happened at a party.

It’s a scene that affects Matthew and Jen’s relationship and brings up very realistic issues about how perceptions are affected by intoxication from alcohol and drugs, which can impair the ability to give consent in sexual situations. The scene also candidly addresses gender roles and expectations in dating relationships. And it’s where Matthew gets some awareness of how the toxic masculinity that he participates in and enables can hit closer to home than he expected.

Unfortunately, this awareness comes so late in the story that it’s questionable how much Matthew might have really learned to become a better person when he makes a certain decision in reaction to something that upset him. Ironically, for a movie called “Here Are the Young Men,” the character of Jen is the most fascinating and has the most interesting things to say. However, she is written as a secondary character.

The scenes with Jen and Matthew have a familiar “will they or won’t they get together” arc that’s often seen in teen dramas. However, Taylor-Joy (who’s an award-winning actress on the rise) and Chapman (who was quite memorable in his role as a young British soldier in the World War I movie “1917”) are good-enough in their roles to bring believable emotions to characters that wouldn’t be as watchable if portrayed by less-talented actors. Jen is about the same age as Matthew, Rez and Joseph, but she’s much more emotionally mature than they are.

The characters of Joseph and Rez both struggle with personal demons more than Matthew does. Joseph’s anger is explosive and mostly directed at other people, while Rez tends to be more introverted and self-destructive. Cole and Ferdia-Peelo give convincing but not particularly outstanding performances of how Joseph and Rez mentally unravel in their own ways. All the parental/authority figures are essentially just background characters who don’t have much influence in what these teens say or do.

The main problem with “Here Are the Young Men” isn’t the cast members’ performances but in the way that writer/director Macken seems more concerned with showing how much worse the criminal chaos can get for these teen delinquents, rather than any true character development. There’s a tone throughout the movie that’s seems to say, “You thought what so-and-so did was bad, just wait until you see what this person does next.” After a while, it feels very hollow and lacking in suspense, since apparently the movie is intent on making it look like Dublin law enforcement is incompetent and that these three law-breaking jerks are untouchable.

This movie starts to look very unrealistic when these known hoodlums, who commit their crimes out in the open, never seem to be at any real risk of beng arrested. The movie becomes a repetitive series of crimes and drug-induced hallucinations that ultimately serve no purpose except to show these characters getting away with these crimes. The movie didn’t need to have any moralistic preaching to be improved. By the end of the film, viewers just won’t care about these self-absorbed troublemakers who are so bored with their lives that they create damaging problems for themselves and other people.

Well Go USA released “Here Are the Young Men” on digital and VOD on April 27, 2021.

Review: ‘The Secrets We Keep,’ starring Noomi Rapace, Chris Messina, Joel Kinnaman and Amy Seimetz

September 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Joel Kinnaman and Noomi Rapace in “The Secrets We Keep” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“The Secrets We Keep”

Directed by Yuval Adler

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1959 in a fictional U.S. city called Spruce, the dramatic film “The Secrets That We Keep” features an all-white cast of characters (most of them are American, and a few are European immigrants) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Romanian immigrant living in America kidnaps a man she suspects was the German Nazi who brutally assaulted her and killed her sister during World War II.

Culture Audience: “The Secrets We Keep” will appeal primarily to people who like crime thrillers or stories about Holocaust survivors.

Chris Messina and Noomi Rapace in “The Secrets We Keep” (Photo by Patti Perret/Bleecker Street)

Getting revenge on a suspected World War II Nazi who’s changed his identity is a concept that’s been done before in movies such as 1998’s “Apt Pupil,” 2011’s “The Debt” (which was a British remake of the 2007 Israeli film “Ha-Hov”) and 2016’s “Remember.” The competent but not particularly outstanding thriller “The Secrets We Keep” is another movie to add to the list. Directed by Yuval Adler, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ryan Covington, “The Secrets We Keep” greatly benefits from the above-average acting from the main stars of the cast, because the movie’s plot wears very thin after a while.

In “The Secrets We Keep,” it’s 1959 in a U.S. suburban city named Spruce, where people live on quiet, tree-lined streets in middle-class neighborhoods. One of the city residents is Maja (played by Noomi Rapace), a Romanian immigrant who is married to a compassionate American doctor named Lewis (played by Chris Messina), whose patients include several workers at a local refinery. The refinery is one of the biggest employers in the city.

Maja and Lewis have a polite and adorable son named Patrick (played by Jackson Dean Vincent), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Lewis has a private practice, and Maja works part-time as an assistant in his office. They met when Lewis worked at a U.S. Army hospital in Greece in 1946, during the post-World War II Reconstruction.

It’s shown early on in the movie that Lewis is more open-hearted and trusting than Maja is. For example, during an appointment with disabled patient named Eddie (played by Frank Monteleone), who lost both of his legs in World War II, Lewis invites unmarried and childless Eddie over to have dinner sometime with Lewis and Maja. Later, while Maja and Lewis are having a private conversation in their home, Maja expresses discomfort over the dinner invitation.

Maja comments to Lewis about Eddie: “He doesn’t need your pity. You made him feel awkward.” Lewis replies, “No, I didn’t.” Maja, “Yes you did.” This back-and-forth continues for another minute or two, but it’s clear that Maja and Lewis have different ways of handling emotionally sensitive situations. This conflicting style causes much of the tension during what happens later in the story.

Lewis, Maja and Patrick have a tranquil and fairly uneventful life until Maja, just by chance, sees a man (played by Joel Kinnaman) whom she thinks she has encountered in the past. Maja sees him while she’s spending some time in a local park with Patrick. She intently stares at the stranger and starts to follow him until he gets into a car and drives away. The next time she sees this man, they are both in a locksmith store. This time, Maja follows the man all the way to his home and sees that he has a wife and two children: a daughter who’s about 5 or 6 years old and a baby boy.

Maja trespasses into their backyard and overhears him talking to his wife about his job at the refinery. He has a European accent and his wife is American. Maja is almost caught when the family’s dog start barking at her. The way that Maja looks at this man, it’s clear that she has a lot of animosity and suspicion toward him.

The next time Maja sees the man, it’s outside of the refinery, where she’s parked her car. She approaches him and tells him that she has car trouble and needs help. When he goes over to her car, she hits him on the head with a hammer and pushes him into the car trunk.

Maja then ties him up and drives to a shallow grave. When she opens the car trunk, she’s pointing a gun at the man’s head. He shouts something very quickly (which gives away something that happens toward the end of the film) and pleads for his life. “What do you want?” he frantically asks Maja.

It turns out that Maja thinks that this man is a German Nazi named Karl who, 15 years ago, murdered her sister and beat and raped Maja and left her for dead among some other murdered Romanians. The movie shows Maja’s memories of this vicious attack, which involved a group of Nazis, but Maja believes this man was the cruelest one in the group of attackers. The assaults and murders happened outside at night, but Maja says she will never forget Karl’s eyes.

The man whom Maja has abducted swears that he doesn’t know what Maja is talking about. He says he is a Swiss immigrant named Thomas and that he was never in Romania during the time that she described. Instead of shooting him and burying him in the shallow grave, Maja takes him home and tells a shocked Lewis what happened. It’s revealed later in the movie that Maja doesn’t want to kill this man until he confesses to the crimes she believes that he committed.

By bringing this kidnapped man into her home, Maja has to reveal to Lewis that she has a secret past as a Holocaust survivor. For the first time in her marriage, she also confesses to Lewis that she also lied about her family background. Instead of coming from a middle-class family, she actually came from a family of poor Gypsies. And she also tells Lewis for the first time that she was never an only child but she had a sister who was murdered.

Lewis’ first instinct is to call the police with the explanation that the kidnapping was a misunderstanding, but Maja persuades him not to do that because she says that the police will consider Lewis to be an accomplice in the kidnapping. Lewis reluctantly agrees to keep Joseph locked in their basement for one night. Of course, as soon as Lewis says this, viewers can easily guess that this kidnapping is going to last longer than one night.

The rest of the movie is a big guessing game: Is Thomas really who he says he is? How long can Lewis and Maja hold him captive in their basement without anyone finding out? And will Thomas try to escape? All of these questions are answered in the film, which has a lot of suspenseful scenes. But then, there are other scenes where the only suspense is when viewers have to suspend their disbelief at some of aspects of the story.

For example, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lot of what happens in the house during the kidnapping would be difficult to hide from an inquisitive child such as Patrick. Let’s just say that the basement isn’t 100% soundproof. The sounds of Maja torturing Thomas (which happens more than once in the movie) or Thomas being yelled at by his kidnappers result in some close calls with some people who don’t live in the home but go to the home to find out if anything out of the ordinary has been going on. But strangely and unrealistically, the child who lives in the house and would be able to hear these loud and disturbing noises never seems to hear anything.

And there’s a scene where Maja and Lewis foolishly forget to take their loaded gun with them when they leave Thomas alone in the basement. The gun is left right in plain view on a table within reach of Thomas. Even though he’s tied to a chair, he can still move his chair over to the table. And you can guess what might happen after that.

Maja also decides to try to befriend Thomas’ distraught wife Rachel (played by Amy Seimetz) and finds out that Rachel is Jewish. There’s also some information that comes out about Maja’s mental-health history that will make viewers wonder how credible her story is or if her mind is playing tricks on her. Lewis also does some investigating on his own to look into Thomas’ background.

“The Secrets We Keep” has some good acting by Rapace, Messina, Kinnaman and Seimetz. Rapace and Kinnaman also had solid performances when they co-starred together in the 2015 mystery thriller “Child 44,” another movie whose acting was better than the screenplay. However, parts of “The Secrets That We Keep” become repetitive with the “he said/she said” stalemate between Thomas and Maja.

On the plus side, some of the questionable aspects of the story can be explained. For example, it’s possible that a petite woman like Maja could overpower Thomas (who’s a tall man) if he’s injured. It’s also possible that a respected doctor and his wife wouldn’t fall under suspicion for Thomas’ disappearance, especially when there was no proof that Lewis and Maja had contact with Thomas before he disappeared. Maja took a big risk by kidnapping Thomas outside of his workplace, but this is in 1959, before video surveillance cameras existed.

For all of Maja’s explosive anger toward Thomas, she’s not as tough as she’d like to come across to the person she’s kidnapped. Her emotional vulnerability is apparent because it seems that it’s more important for her that Lewis believe that she’s not crazy rather than for her to immediately kill the man she keeps threatening to murder. The ending of “The Secrets We Keep” isn’t much of a shock. Although it’s a realistic conclusion (stranger things have happened in real life), it will probably leave a lot of viewers feeling emotionally disconnected from everyone in the story.

Bleecker Street released “The Secrets We Keep” in select U.S. cinemas on September 16, 2020. The movie’s VOD release date is October 16, 2020.

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