Film reviews: Origin outclasses the stuffed bear in Imaginary horror

Playing at both Cineworld Broad Street and Odeon Broadway Plaza, this week’s lead film Origin offers a nod to the impact of slavery on modern society – a subject which cinema goers can see permanently referenced in the heart of Westside.

On the Broad Street / Symphony Hall corner of Centenary Square opposite the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the ‘Golden Boys’ statue of Industrial Revolution pioneers William Murdoch, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, was given an explanatory plaque a week before the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games opened two years ago this July.

The plaque says: “(They) contributed to what we now call the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ – but in reality 18th century society was far from enlightened.”

A QR code offers a direct link to wider reading. There is also a website called www.blackheritagewalksnetwork.com

ORIGIN (12A, 141 mins)

Thirty years after Isabel Wilkerson became the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Feature Writing, this is a biographical film based on her 2020 bestseller Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Isabel was born in 1961 and is played here by King Richard Oscar-nominee Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor.

As well as dealing with personal tragedies, Isabel travels across the US, Germany and India to research the history of each country’s caste system – ie. the enduring social hierarchy of society and families – in a bid to understand if bigotry is exclusive to race.

How, in Germany for example, does the subjugation of slaves compare with the Holocaust (extermination)?

Origin has been written and directed by Ava Marie DuVernay (Selma).

The verdict: ****

For a film about the seeds of hatred and racism etc, there’s a lot to love about Origin, especially at a time when the world has never been more divided for decades.

Well acted and beautifully shot, it’s a cautionary tale about opening your eyes to understand what’s actually in front of you beyond lazy assumptions.

Origin has been criticised in some quarters for not being a documentary. Which is also another way of saying it’s not a full-blown drama either.

Perhaps that, and its length, means it is falling between two stools in terms of audience numbers on both sides of the Atlantic. But as the ‘Golden Boys’ plaque makes clear, a film like Origin should not be overlooked in a city like Birmingham.

The multi-layered storytelling style is actually very clever without being at all showy and the performances are spot on.

In 2006, the Paul Haggis film Crash, about racial and social tensions in LA, controversially beat the ‘gay western’ Brokeback Mountain to become the Best Picture Oscar winner.

In contrast, Origin has been ignored by this week’s 2024 Academy Awards. But, like Shawshank Redemption, it might well one day be much more revered for being a film which dared to tackle universal themes across international boundaries in such a relatable way.

IMAGINARY (15, 104 mins)

Jessica (DeWanda Wise) returns to her childhood home with two stepdaughters – whom she will soon have to protect from the imaginary friend that she left behind.

The verdict: **

The latest film from genre specialists Blumhouse (Five Nights at Freddy’s / Megan) is a typical modern horror thriller relying on salt ’n’ vinegar ingredients to whet your appetite for the oh-so familiar haunted house taste packed with E-numbers.

For a period, it tries to be a proper drama, thanks to young Alice (Pyper Braun) playing with a stuffed bear given the annoying name of Chauncey.

But, by the end, the plot has long been through a shredder and the inevitable, growing reliance on ‘jump scares’ completely undermines an earlier scene with a medic trying to understand what’s going on with Alice (Pyper’s diction is commendably clear for such a junior).

For a time, I really hoped there would be a half-decent film looming inside of Imaginary, but I concluded that was just a figment of my own imagination. On this form, Kick-Ass 2 director Jeff Wadlow couldn’t burst a paper bag.

DIARY DATES FOR HORROR LOVERS

Key releases in 2024 include: 1 March – Lisa Frankenstein; 8 March – Imaginary; 22 March – Immaculate; 4 April – The First Omen; 28 June – A Quiet Place: Day One; TBC date – Longlegs; 16 August – Untitled Alien movie; 6 September – Beetlejuice 2; 18 October – Smile 2.

Picture credits:

Origin / Black Bear
Imaginary / Lionsgate
The Golden Boys / Graham Young

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