Chingle Hall

Chingle Hall by Zowie Swan
Published 2021 by Safety Pin Publishing, UK

I don’t want to do anything that will spoil this superb story, so this review will be relatively short!

Living in Australia, (it’s almost Christmas and midsummer here) I’m always looking for books especially that transport me to other places and times and I love horror in all its forms best of all. This story spans generations and is told from the point of view of various women who live in the titular manor house across the years. It came as no surprise to me when researching for this review, that Chingle Hall is a real place and considered one of the most haunted places in the UK. Swan has given her characters tremendous depth and a believability that transcends the tonal shifts in narration.

Chingle Hall is a very well written supernatural thriller that gripped me from start to finish. It has a bittersweet edge that has stayed with me since I finished reading and I particularly appreciated the beautifully drawn and relatable female characters.

I was offered an E-Book by Safety Pin Publishing in return for an honest review and once again, they’ve come up with the goods. Highly recommended!


Titane (2021)
Directed and written by Julia Ducournau.

I watched this a week ago and I’ve been sitting on my review for days, tweaking words, trying to find the language to describe it without spoiling it. Seriously, this movie is difficult, demanding, utterly insane, at times hard to watch but it’s also blackly funny, deeply poignant but impossible to neglect and has stayed with me relentlessly all week.

Titane is Ducournau’s second feature and, in my opinion, a better, more interesting film than her debut, Raw (2017), which left me feeling distanced, at arm’s length from the story and the characters. Where Raw was clearly examining eating disorders and body image, Titane examines body image but particularly drills down into gender roles.

It’s also a film of two distinct halves, the ultra violent, hypersexualised first half, melancholic examination of belonging in the other. Body horror abounds throughout, so this film is not for everyone, certainly not for the faint hearted but unlike so many films that sit in the genre, none of the violence feels gratuitous.

Two riveting central performances ground the film. Comparative newcomer Agathe Rousselle is the tough and uncompromising Alexia, and French national treasure Vincent Lindon, the ageing firefighter trying to defy the march of time. Neither of them are particularly likeable (especially Alexia) but ultimately both are heartbreakingly relatable.

Ducournau is a wonderful “show, don’t tell” filmmaker and I can see where she was influenced by Hitchcock generally and Vertigo (1958) specifically, but Titane asks more questions than it answers and will haunt you all the while. I sincerely hope it is a huge success outside of its native France, where it won the Cannes Festival Palme D’Or earlier this year. But equally, I hope some producer with dollar signs in their eyes DOESN’T try and make an English language version – that would be exploitation!

Undoubtedly one of the most original films I’ve seen in ages, I think it’s a masterpiece that will stand the test of time. Titane is currently showing in select cinemas throughout Australia.

The Fylde Witch

The Fylde Witch by Chris Newton.
Published 2021 by Safety Pin Publishing, UK

This is the story of Meg Shelton, something of a legendary figure in Lancastrian folklore and Newton has woven a sometimes spooky, often sad but always entertaining story of one woman’s life. It is set in a time when to be different or outspoken was hard enough as a man but almost impossible as a woman. So, while Meg’s hardships are many, her triumphs are delicious!

While I live in Australia and haven’t any first hand knowledge of Lancashire, I have spent time in Cornwall, where some of my forbears were reputedly “cunning folk” and it isn’t difficult to see the level of research Newton has engaged to create this story.

It’s a well written book (the pacing is particularly good) and while not as scary or explicitly horror-laden as it could be, it is definitely Gothic and explores horror themes. While I as an adult thoroughly enjoyed it, it would be suitable for a YA audience too.

I was offered a E-Book by Safety Pin Publishing in return for an honest review, and if The Fylde Witch is indicative of the titles in their catalogue then they should become a very successful small publisher.

All in all, it’s a cracking read – well worth seeking out!

Dune (Part One)

Dune (2021)
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay by Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve (based on the novel by Frank Herbert).

Yesterday was my birthday, and I’m very pleased Warner Brothers got the memo and arranged to open Dune as part of my birthday shenanigans. It was almost as good as the year Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Jack Black (Tenacious D) decided to play a few tunes to celebrate my day.

I have to admit, I was quite trepidacious about this film. First published in 1965, Dune was one of my favourite sci-fi novels when I was young and I’ve been very disappointed by previous attempts to commit it to screen. The problem is Frank Herbert’s book is a personal story with lots of inner monologue and detail, but simultaneously, a sprawling political epic, requiring loads of exposition, alien (to us) technology and expansive exteriors. Hence, my concerns.

Fortunately, after the opening scenes and some slow-paced exposition, I felt myself start to relax a little. Looking to his previous work on Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Denis Villeneuve is the right director at the right time for this story, blending the enormity of the landscape, the political intrigues with the very personal journey of Paul Atreides. And Villeneuve is obviously prepared to take his time over the story, spreading it out over two films. Part Two is currently in pre-production and scheduled for release in 2023.

The cast are uniformly very good, there are too many supporting roles to mention but I did laugh at Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Harkonnen (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know what I mean). Timothée Chalamet really shines as Paul and thanks to careful styling, lighting and makeup his scenes with Oscar Isaac (who is excellent as Leto Atreides) really are convincing as father and son. Rebecca Ferguson has the difficult role of Jessica, who only expresses her doubts in the book as interior monologue, and Ferguson does well to occasionally let her strong facade slip. I was concerned that Villeneuve was falling into the “absent love interest” pit (remember Liv Tyler in Ad Astra (2019)?) but I feel there was enough depth to carry Zendaya’s Chani through this installment.

Technology is beautifully realised throughout, and similar to Villeneuve’s other work, machinery and spaceships are realistically depicted, having weight and substance – they feel like they belong there. Special effects are very well done uniformly and the blending from dreams to the real world is artfully done. Hats off to the special effects team! Similarly, the costuming is by turns lavish, practical and at times austere, all beautifully designed by Robert Morgan and Jacqueline West.

The fabulous work of DoP Greig Fraser is aided by some excellent editing by Joe Walker, bringing a strong sense of reality to the action set pieces and a David Lean sensibility to the desert vistas. As always, the score by Hans Zimmer draws all the threads together quite wonderfully, enriching the overall experience without getting in the way.

Dune is not a short film (running time 2h 35m) and it is certainly a slow burn but this is not just another bloated action sci-fi. It isn’t cowboys in space or superheroes saving everything in sight, but a dense, wide-ranging story of epic proportions. It is undoubtedly one of my cinema highlights of 2021. Now showing in cinemas in Australia.