Capsule reviews for Aug. 17

The Awakening

There’s more than an ominous atmosphere that conjures up modest frights in this deliberately paced British horror tale, which takes place at a posh London boarding school during the 1920s. That’s where a teacher (Dominic West) reports the mysterious death of a student whose ghost his classmates claim has been haunting the school, so he brings in a skeptical author (Rebecca Hall) to help investigate. There are some ghost story conventions within the script from director Nick Murphy, but he also manages some effectively creepy imagery along with a few clever plot twists. The narrative tends to meander, yet the overall effect is mildly chilling. (Rated R, 107 minutes).

 

Chicken with Plums

Iranian filmmaker Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) makes her live-action feature debut with this uneven blend of whimsy and surrealism that’s visually compelling but narratively flat. It centers on a violinist (Mathieu Amalric) in 1950s Tehran who breaks his beloved instrument and cannot find a replacement, which leaves him despondent and suicidal. Most of the film involves dreamlike flashbacks to his brighter days, told by Satrapi and co-director Vincent Paronnaud using a variety of visual tricks and styles that ultimately feels too disjointed and emotionally distant. There are enough effective moments of humor and melancholy amid the episodic structure, however, which make the film difficult to dismiss. (Rated PG-13, 93 minutes).

 

Compliance

This riveting and unsettling low-budget thriller from director Craig Zobel (Great World of Sound) is remarkably based on true events as it chronicles the manager of a fast-food restaurant (Ann Dowd) whose young employee (Dreama Walker) is accused of stealing from a customer during a bizarre call from police. The interrogation takes some odd and compelling turns from there, as both women comply with instructions under the most uncomfortable of circumstances. The film is a darkly comic study of blind trust, fear of authority, sexual provocation and power struggles between genders and generations. Meanwhile, the intimate setting ratchets up the suspense without turning exploitative. (Rated R, 90 minutes).

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