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Posts Tagged ‘psychological drama’

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Lily Riser was kidnapped at the age of sixteen and held captive for eight years. This story opens with the day she makes her escape, when her captor makes a mistake which enables her and daughter Sky to run away. However, when Lily is reunited with her family and begins the painful process of trying to move on from her ordeal she realises that escaping was just the beginning…

I thought the premise of this book was really intriguing. Rather than focusing on the kidnap and ‘whodunnit’, instead we are told pretty much straight away who took Lily and the chapters, although told in the third person, then alternate between the points of view of Lily; her twin sister Abby who has been in mourning for her sister for the last eight years; their mother Eve, whose life has fallen to pieces; and Rick, Lily’s teacher who kidnapped her and is almost immediately arrested for the crime.

However, while I was really looking forward to reading this book, I found it disappointing. I finished it and it’s certainly a quick, undemanding read but to use one of my favourite analogies, it was like eating cheap chocolate – you know it’s not much good, but it’s not bad enough to not enjoy it. I spotted a mistaken in the timeline on page 2, which didn’t bode well, and things didn’t particularly improve. None of the characters seemed believable or particularly well drawn to me – indeed all of them behaved in a way which seemed entirely unrealistic, and potential plot points are dangled and then abandoned (such as Lily’s feelings towards high school boyfriend Wes). Rick is little more than a caricature, and it’s hard to believe that such a resourceful and intelligent (albeit completely evil) man would make such an obvious mistake as he did at the beginning of the book or entertain other plans which he did throughout the story. Also the writing seemed over-wrought and melodramatic, almost like watching one of those cheap made for tv suspense films.

As has become the norm for almost any psychological thriller in the last couple of years, this book has been compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. This should have rung alarm bells for me because I thought that both of those books were completely over-rated, but beware – even if you loved those novels, this one is nothing like them.

So overall, I would give five out of five for the idea behind the story, but probably only 1.5 out of 5 for the execution. Disappointing.

 

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In 2004, during a weekend away for her father Sean’s 50th birthday celebrations, three year old Coco Jackson disappears – apparently taken from the house where she slept with her twin sister Ruby and other children in the middle of the night. A huge media campaign follows but Coco is never found.

Twelve years later, following the sudden death of Sean Jackson, the truth about what really happened on that weekend is slowly revealed as his family and friends prepare for his funeral.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Psychological thrillers are a favourite genre of mine but they can also be a real let-down when they venture into the realms of the ridiculous. However, this book seemed actually plausible and I think that may have been due to the writing. And, sadly, possibly also due to the fact that there have been some high profile disappearances of children over the years. Alex Marwood is a journalist and I can’t help wondering if this case was at least inspired by one particularly famous child disappearance.

There is a dual storyline – the first part set in 2004 and told from the point of view of various characters. The truth of what happened is drip-fed bit by bit. The second part is set in 2016 and is narrated by Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first of four marriages. As Mila reconnects with Ruby, the twin sister of Coco, she revisits her own past and deals with her feelings about her father and the fragile ties that can bind a family together.

In any event, it’s an absorbing read. Sean Jackson is a deeply unlikeable, narcissistic and selfish character and indeed most of the adult characters in this story are the same. Pity the children who had the misfortune to be part of their families. Speaking of those children though, I did love Mila and enjoyed her character development. I also adored Ruby, who was entirely believable as both a typical teenager and a young girl who had had to live with survivor’s guilt her whole life.

As mentioned earlier, I did think that the final twist was pretty predictable, but there were still a few surprises along the way, and the writing was great and kept me reading on and on.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by Alex Marwood.

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Eight strangers enter a room to take an exam, which will determine which one of them gets a highly desirable job. The invigilator gives them a list of rules which they must follow, and if they break any of the rules they will be automatically disqualified. They are all confused when they turn over their exam papers and realise there is nothing on them…and as tension mounts, it becomes clear that some people will stop at nothing to get the job of their dreams.

This film has everything that I enjoy – it takes place in real time, it’s dystopian by nature (we are told that it is set ‘soon’), it has a small cast, and it all takes place in one location. I was already onto a winner before I even started watching this, and it didn’t let me down! It’s a low-budget British film with a largely unknown cast (Colin Salmon plays the invigilator and Jimi Mistry plays one of the candidates, and they are the two best known names in the cast), which is in no way a criticism. I don’t know why I love films that are set in one small location, but I really do enjoy them – I suspect that it’s the claustrophobic atmosphere – a theme which is really played on in this movie.

I love films that put characters in situations that bring out either their best or worst natures and this certainly does that. Leaders emerge, people’s strengths and weaknesses are revealed, alliances are forged and broken, and people have to make life or death decisions.

As a viewer, we never get to know too much about any of the candidates. Their real names are never revealed; instead they give each other nicknames. In a few cases we may learn a little about their personal lives, but they remain as much a mystery to the viewer as they do to each other.

This film reminded me somewhat of films like Cube or Unknown – the premise is the same …a group of strangers find themselves in a situation and have to work out how to get out of it (or in this case, how to win the coveted prize). Like those films, I enjoyed every moment and it held my attention from beginning to end. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers I would highly recommend this.

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Year of release: 2009

Director: Stuart Hazeldine

Writer: Stuart Hazeldine

Main cast: Colin Salmon, Jimi Mistry, Adar Beck, Gemma Chan, Nathalie Cox, John Lloyd Fillingham, Chukwudi Iwuji, Pollyanna McIntosh, Luke Mably, Chris Carey

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I’ve read novels by Emily Barr in the past and always enjoyed them. However, it had been a few years since I’d tried one, so when I picked The Sisterhood off my shelf (where it had been languishing for SEVEN years!) I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it – after all, tastes change and I know that mine have. My fear was unfounded however – after a slow start due to my own time constraints, I rattled through this book and found it hard to put down. Without giving too much away, the premise is as follows:

London: Liz Greene’s relationship has just fallen apart in a horrible and irrevocable manner. Depressed and lonely she has a one night stand and becomes pregnant.

Bordeaux: Helen Labenne and her brother Tom have just discovered that their mother had a child years before they were born. Bored with her privileged lifestyle, Helen decides to go to London to track down her sister Elizabeth Greene…

The book may start off in almost a chick-lit style, but it becomes apparent early on (and should already be apparent to anyone who has read Emily Barr before) that this is a much darker story, with sinister undertones and plenty of tension. It’s clear from the beginning that Helen has some issues, and an unconventional way of looking at things, but as she begins to insinuate herself more and more into Liz’s life, it gets twistier and creepier.

Unfortunately I can’t say much more without giving away spoilers, and spoilers can really ruin a book like this. However, I can say that the book is told from both Helen and Liz’s points of view – they take alternating chapters – and later, Helen’s mother Mary also narrates some ‘flashback’ chapters.

As the story builds to its climax, there are some huge twists – including one which I definitely saw coming, and one which I most definitely did not!

Overall, a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend to fans of psychological thrillers. My only niggling complaint is that the prologue does kind of give something away unnecessarily, but other than that I liked this book a lot.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Leila is a lonely woman in her early 20s.  She is smart and resourceful, but when it comes to social skills, or any kind of a social life, she is sorely lacking.  Her mother has recently died due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis, and it is clear that she and Leila had a close, almost suffocating relationship.  Leila finds solace in an internet site called Red Pill – a forum for philosophical debate and discussion, run by Adrian Dervish.  Leila is flattered when Adrian contacts her directly and asks for her help in an unusual project.  He has a friend called Tess, who is desperate to commit suicide, but wants to spare her family and friends the pain of dealing with it, so the idea is that Leila will learn all about Tess’s life, history and relationships, and after Tess “checks out,” Leila will maintain an online presence as Tess (updating her Facebook, answering her emails etc.) to keep the truth of Tess’s death from those who know her.

The story is told in flashback, with Leila narrating.  Some time has passed since Project Tess (as Leila refers to it), and Leila is now at a commune in Spain, trying to work out what happened to Tess.  However, the main bulk of the story revolves around Project Tess, and I don’t want to say too much about the specifics, for fear of revealing spoilers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was really drawn into the story.  Naturally the idea behind Project Tess seemed ludicrous – how on earth was it going to work long-term?  Surely her family would want or expect to see Tess at some point?  However, as the story is told from Leila’s point of view, her own solutions for dealing with such problems are explained.

Leila was very well drawn, and I alternated from feeling sympathetic towards her, to being frustrated, and at times incredulous – not at the storyline, but at Leila herself.  She is a mass of contradictions – being so naive in some ways, but in other ways perfectly describing situations and people with cringe-inducing bluntness.  And she did make me wince, literally so in one particular scene in a bar in Shoreditch, in which I felt totally embarrassed for her.

The book does obviously touch on the subject of someone’s right to die, but is more detailed in its exploration of how people behave online.  Near the beginning of the story, Leila talks about how people she went to school with behave on Facebook, and many of things she notes are amusingly familiar.  The question of whether it is right to assist, either directly or indirectly, someone who wants to kill themselves, is an obvious theme, although Leila does not question herself with regard to her own beliefs.

I thought the book was beautifully written, and flowed easily.  As well as Leila, Tess was also a very believable character, and was brought to life (no pun intended) by both the author, and Leila, posing as Tess.  If you like psychological dramas, and don’t mind reading about a cast of largely unlikeable people, then I would definitely recommend this book.  It gets five stars from me for sheer enjoyment, and as this is Lottie Moggach’s debut novel, I look forward to reading more by her in future.

 

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I’ll preface this review by saying that after watching this film, I read several other reviews of it, and it seems that the film was widely panned (for it’s storyline, not for the acting, which was impressive throughout). Julianne Moore plays Telly Paretta (yes, you read that right, her name is Telly), a woman grieving for her son Sam, who died in a plane accident 14 months earlier. But her husband Jim (Anthony Edwards) and her psychiatrist Dr Munce (Gary Sinise) both tell her that Sam never existed and that she has created years worth of memories about a child she never had. Is Telly delusional – or is the she only person who isn’t? She meets Ash (Dominic West), who she says also lost a child in the same plane crash that Sam was in, and although he is initially sceptical, he ends up helping her – but the search for the truth will take them to places they never could have imagined.

I’ll be honest – I only watched this film because Dominic West was in it, but I’m glad I did. It starts out as a psychological drama, and then takes a sharp turn into sci-fi territory. Sci-fi is not a favourite genre of mine, but I liked this, because it wasn’t all about spaceships, UFOs and little green men. There was a sense of menace to the whole sci-fi element, precisely because of what you don’t see.

The acting was great – with a cast like the aforementioned Moore, West and Sinise, and support from Alfre Woodward, how could it be anything else? Telly’s character was well developed – is she imagining or remembering her son – and if she is remembering him, why can’t anybody else?

There were a couple of moments which genuinely made me jump in shock, and the storyline was pacy enough to keep my interest throughout. I’m at a loss to understand the slating it has had in other reviews, but I accept that the ending was somewhat incongruous, and left some plot holes. Nonetheless, this was an enjoyable thriller, and I would certainly watch it again at some point in the future.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Joseph Ruben

Producers: Bruce Cohen, Todd Garner, Dan Jinks, Steve Nicolaides, Joe Roth

Writer: Gerald Di Pego

Main cast: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Alfre Woodward

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Lantana is an Australian movie, made in 2001.  Its a psychological thriller, but lacks the tension of most films in this genre.

It is about four marriages, which are all connected in some way, even though not all the members of the respective marriages realise this. It seems that each marriage has it’s secrets and problems, and when a woman goes missing, everyone involved is affected in one way or another. Anthony LaPaglia is the main character in the movie; he plays a police officer named Leon Zat, who is tasked with finding the missing woman. I found him to be an entirely unsympathetic and unlikeable character, although that is not to say that I didn’t think the character was well drawn.

This movie is actually less about finding out what happened to the missing woman, and more about exploring the relationships, and what is really going on within them.

The first 45 minutes or so of this film did drag somewhat and I thought I might get bored by it (it seemed little more than a mediocre made-for-television movie), but it did pick up and I found myself really interested in the second half of the movie.

The acting was very good all round.  Anthony LaPaglia breathed life into his role as Leon – I didn’t like the character, and it was clear that Leon didn’t always like himself either.  Geoffrey Rush and Barbara Hershey were also both extremely good in their respective roles.

I believe that the title of the movie is a reference to the plant of the same name. There is a hedge of this plant growing outside some of the characters houses – it is a very tangled plant, and my belief is that it represents the tangled relationships of the characters, although I could be entirely wrong about this.

Overall, I would give this film 3 out of 5 – slow start, but did pick up.

Year of release: 2001

Director: Ray Lawrene

Writer: Andrew Bovell

Main cast: Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, Barbara Hershey, Rachael Blake, Kerry Armstrong

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