Jar City: icy Icelandic police thriller

Paul Lynch

Jar City (Mýrin)

(Baltasar Kormákur):

Ingvar E Sigurdsson, Agusta Eva Erlendsdottir, Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Atli Rafn Sigurdarson,

Running time: 93 minutes.HHHH

Shark meat, a delicacy in Iceland, is buried for months and stinks like hell. Not a patch, though, on this case facing Inspector Erlendur (Ingvar E Sigurdsson) which has the reek of a semi-preserved 35-year-old corpse. It begins with the death of a middle-aged man, ash-trayed in the head, and leads Erlendur back to the 1970s and indecorous Icelandic secrets. The story is based on crime writer Arnaldur Indridason's Inspector Erlendur. Sigurdsson turns him into a formidable, brooding presence: a chain-smoking, wolverine Reykjavik detective, tough-skinned but hiding tender feelings about his own wayward, drug-addled daughter. In a sense, it's an old-fashioned procedural, but at its heart is a modern plot about genetics and its misuses. Baltasar Kormákur's film (he directed 2000's Reykjavik 101) was a huge hit in Iceland. He steeps it in eerie atmosphere: icy cinematography; desolate motorway cut out of forsaken landscape; preserved human brains in jars and a fast food hatch that serves up sheep's head. Erlendur eats it up like chicken and is just as tough-stomached with the story's grotesque and gruesome elements.

Pineapple Express

(David Gordon Green):

Seth Rogen, James Franco, Danny R McBride, Kevin Corrigan, Craig Robinson.

Running time: 111 minutes. HH

Pineapple Express, co-written by and starring Seth Rogen (and produced by Judd Apatow), is a stoner-action-buddy-comedy hybrid, a déclassé take on The Big Lebowski. When it is funny, it is hilarious, but it indulges Rogen's stoner shtick to the point of tedium. And then there's that last reel, another 1980s action movie pastiche that doesn't know when to stop. Rogen's hapless stoner witnesses a drug-related murder and goes on the run with his dealer (James Franco). Rogen and Franco look like they went Method on this one: their brains seem genuinely cooked and they work up a dopey charm. There is enough violent slapstick to tickle, though their stoner humour probably works best if you have melted frontal lobes. Still, Rogen has star quality: on the surface he's a bumbler and a slob but he has a big heart and a keen intelligence. He's the kind of guy you love to watch get out of a self-inflicted fix.

Ben X

(Nic Balthazar):

Greg Timmermans, Marijke Pinoy, Laura Verlinden, Pol Goossen, Titus De Voogdt.

Running time: 93 minutes. HHH

"It's hard to explain," says Ben, the autistic hero of Belgian movie Ben X. "But I never tell a lie". Ben has Asperger's syndrome, and his life, in the immortal words of Dustin Hoffman, is not "very sparkly". He's bursting with intelligence and is an expert online gamer, but Ben's condition means he suffers cripping emotional isolation. School is ritual bullying and humiliation and he soon begins to think of suicide. Greg Timmermans looks like Tobey Maguire on uppers. He sweats anxiety from every pore. His mother (Marijke Pinoy) is a font of bottomless love and support. Director Nic Balthazar does a neat job taking us inside Ben's subjective world. It's a claustrophobic place, where intense isolation does daily battle with the need to express oneself. And he works up a vengeful but upbeat twist that makes up for the film's annoying resort to faux talking-heads and its decidedly educational tone. PL

Eden Lake

(James Watkins):

Michael Fassbender, Kelly Reilly, Bronson Webb.

Running time: 91 minutes. HHH

The horrors lying in wait for good-looking young couples on holiday are now so well known from the movies that "taking a break" is practically shorthand for inviting disaster. Still, James Watkins's Eden Lake is a grippingly unpleasant debut.

The film starts out with an implicit question. How far into the country do you have to go to escape the hell of other people – or, rather, other people's children? A couple on a weekend break seem to have found an Elysian wilderness in the woods by Lake Eden: as Steve (Michael Fassbender) tells his girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Reilly), the place is about to be invaded by a development of 50 "executive homes". But then it's invaded by a gang of teenage kids, who first give the couple a lesson in charmlessness and, later, ruthlessness. How bad does it get? Put it this way; Jenny and Steve will soon need tetanus jabs. Watkins, who co-scripted one of the decade's best thrillers in My Little Eye, builds the mood of threat nicely, tightening the noose around them in the woods. The stalk-and-chase scenes through the woods are nothing new, though Watkins gives us an occasional jolt with an aerial shot of the couple fleeing blindly through this unfriendly terrain. And it's formidably well-made.

Anthony Quinn