Categories
Books

All Simon Dillon Novels Currently Available

Gothic Mysteries

The Birds Began to Sing: An aspiring novelist enters a mysterious writing competition at a sinister mansion.

The Irresistible Summons: A television producer who debunks the supernatural encounters a genuine haunting in a London office block.

Phantom Audition: The grieving widow of a famous actor begins to suspect a supernatural hand at work in his apparent suicide, linked to his final acting role.

Spectre of Springwell Forest: A mother comes to believe her young daughter is cursed, after discovering a mysterious painting in her attic containing a gradually revealed figure, which only she can see.

The Thistlewood Curse: A detective and her paranormal consultant suspect supernaturally assisted murder after the sudden heart attack of a Lord’s son on Lundy Island.

Children’s Adventures

Uncle Flynn: A timid boy gradually overcomes fear and mollycoddling as he searches for hidden treasure on Dartmoor with his enigmatic uncle.

Dr Gribbles and the Beast of Blackthorn Lodge: A monster, a mad scientist, and a haunted house… That’s just the beginning for a boy who finds himself caught between spy factions near the end of the Cold War.

Echo and the White Howl: A exiled young wolf seeks revenge after his Alpha father is murdered by a pack rival.

Other Novels

Children of the Folded Valley: A man looks back on his past when he grew up in a mysterious cult cut off from the rest of the world.

Peaceful Quiet Lives: Forbidden lovers fall foul of laws in both nations that emerged following the Second American Civil War.

Love vs Honour: Teenage lovers pretend to convert to Islam and Christianity to appease each respective set of parents.

All titles are available from Amazon here (in the UK) and here (in the US). Some of the above titles are also available from Smashwords.

If you enjoy my novels and short stories, please consider supporting my writing on Patreon or Ko-fi. Thank you.

Categories
Books

Swear Fealty to the Dillon Empire: Support Me on Patreon

Me looking moody next to some of my novels, trying to hide how badly I need a haircut. Photo by author.

I have a new Patreon page, and I’d love you to take a look at it.

Why Patreon?

I’ve resisted having a Patreon page for some time, because of the begging bowl baggage with which I associate it. However, I believe I have found a way to give potential supporters back something of value. If I am serious about this full-time writer malarkey, especially with my ambition to land a mainstream publishing deal for my novels, I need to be realistic about the costs involved. My Patreon page is a means of (hopefully) addressing this reality. I lay out my writing goals over the next year in some detail, so potential supporters can see exactly what their contributions will fund.

What am I offering?

On my Patreon page, I offer various levels of monthly support (plus a link to a newly created Ko-fi account, for anyone who wishes to go the one-off donation route). Those who support me will get certain exclusives, including writing updates, video updates, film of the month recommendations, alternative cover imagery, interesting deleted segments, and early access to short story and novel chapter drafts (in some cases, a year or more ahead of official release). I’m going to serialise one (and possibly more) of my novel drafts, exclusively on Patreon, though my first literary preview will be for my upcoming ghost story, Vindicta (part 1 is already up).

I’m also offering the chance for Zoom interactions, either to offer my writing expertise (such as it is), or else to simply chat about books, films, and so forth.

Image by author (Cover design credits: Charles Bown, Yasmine Nuoraho, Denisa Trenkle, Simon Dillon).

Please do check out my Patreon page here and consider supporting me. If nothing else, have a good laugh at the video of me at the edge of Wistman’s wood on Dartmoor, in desperate need of a haircut.

(This is a shorter verison of an article originally published on Medium).

Categories
Books

Short Stories and Novellas Currently Available

Herewith an update on where you can read my currently available short stories and novellas. Most are online in Medium publications such as Fictions and Illumination, but I am also gradually releasing many of my short stories on new fiction specialising platform Simily. Here’s a link to my profile on that site.

Here are the stories currently available:

Novellas

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

Bloodmire (seven parts)

Fantasy. A Dark Ages knight undertaking a quest to rescue the young woman to whom he is betrothed. She has been captured by a mysterious Beast and taken into a mysterious and dangerous uncharted forest. On his quest, the knight encounters bandits, witches, and strange supernatural beings, journeying ever deeper into the forest, and ever deeper into himself.

Infestation (six parts)

Science Fiction/Horror. The near future. No one knows where the giant spider nests came from, but nations are adjusting to the challenge of living alongside dangerous oversized arachnids. A mercenary desperate for money to purchase medical treatments that can save his wife is hired by an influential businessman. His objective: Infiltrate a spider nest on a mission of vengeance.

Love and Other Punishments (four parts)

Dystopian Science Fiction/Romance. In a fascistic future London, a widowed salesman begins to suspect he has repressed memories when he encounters a mysterious woman.

Short Stories

Photo by Sergey “Merlin” Katyshkin from Pexels

Papercut

Romance/Fantasy. A lonely teenage boy living with his strict Jehovah’s Witness mother is visited in dreams by a mysterious paper girl.

Once in a Lifetime

Horror. After inexplicably awakening inside another home with a different wife, a man experiences an existential crisis, as new memories replace old.

Call the Number On Your Screen

Thriller/Satire. A corrupt televangelist takes ruthless steps to find his blackmailer.

Photo by Bubble Pop on Unsplash

Leave

Romance. Life takes an unexpected turn for a young wife desperately missing her royal marine husband during the Afghanistan War.

Trial Period

Drama. A former publisher and his subordinate form an unlikely friendship whilst working for a herbal remedy company.

Regression (in four parts)

Psychological/Supernatural Thriller/Horror. An English teacher is haunted by a terrible secret from his past.

Photo by Joyful on Unsplash

Spinner (in four parts)

Horror. A woman trapped in an abusive relationship during lockdown investigates a malevolent supernatural force in her basement.

Apocalypse 1983

Speculative fiction. In a parallel universe, A Soviet Air Force officer holds the fate of the world in his hands.

The Traffic Warden

A curious IT technician discovers the truth about traffic wardens in this surreal, sinister, rather silly conspiracy thriller.

The only short stories of mine currently available in paperback/e-book are those selected for Infestation: A Horror Anthology, which also features two short stories exclusive to that volume. Copies can be ordered here (in the UK) and here (in the US). Digital versions are also available from Smashwords here, as well as the various outlets to which they distribute (Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo, for instance).

Papercut and Once in a Lifetime were originally traditionally published by Dragon Soul Press for their First Love and All Dark Places anthologies respectively. These collections are now out of print, though copies can be obtained via sellers. Papercut is also available to read in both short story and adapted screenplay form on this blog, here.

Medium allow three free reads per month for non-subscribers, so for unrestricted access to my work and the work of every other writer on that site (including the many other articles I write, in addition to my fiction pieces), I’d recommend becoming a Medium subscriber for $4.99 per month. This will also give you the ability to write and publish your own articles, and make money doing so, should you wish to go that route. I benefit financially if you use this link to become a Medium subscriber, so if you wish to support my work, subscribing that way is a huge help.

Thank you very much for all your ongoing support.

Categories
Films Film Reviews

Film Review – Smile

Credit: Paramount Pictures

As the end credits rolled on Smile, I left the cinema with a sinking feeling. Having just seen a first-rate, unashamedly scary, gory horror film that delivered exactly what it promised from a nifty premise, I had a vision of the future: Smile 2, Smile 3, Smile 4, Smile: The Beginning, Smile the cinematic universe, featuring spin-offs including, Grin, Beam, and Smirk. A deluge of diminishing returns, exploring what was best left unanswered in the original. I almost want this film to bomb, so we’re spared the above. But horror audiences are all but guaranteed to turn up, and indeed they should (the screening I attended was packed). This means solid box office returns, and inevitably, sequels.

I urge you to enjoy this while it remains unsullied by said sequels, because whilst Smile delivers the genre goods, it is also a film that would be so much better as a standalone. It understands that the more you explain the inexplicable evil at the heart of the film, the less terrifying it becomes. Said evil manifests in the opening scene, when therapist Dr Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) meets with one of her patients, Laura (Caitlin Stasey). She believes she is being stalked by a malevolent entity that manifests itself through smiling individuals that only she can see. Said entity has told her she is going to die. Rose tries to explain this is in her head and that she’s suffering trauma, but to no avail. Laura gruesomely commits suicide before her eyes a moment later, wearing a hideous smile. Subsequently, Rose starts to see the smiling entity. She comes to believe this smile curse has been passed on to her, and that is likewise doomed unless she can find a way to break free of it.

Bacon does a convincingly traumatised job in the lead. She’s supported by a clutch of decent performances, including Jessie T Usher as Rose’s unsupportive fiancé, Gillian Zinzer as her uptight sister, Robin Weigert as her intrusive therapist, and Kyle Gallner as her former boyfriend; a cop, who helps her investigate the mysterious curse, uncovering a chain of inexplicable suicides.

Writer/director Parker Finn does an excellent job with his debut feature. Expanding on his own short Laura Hasn’t Slept, he delivers old-school tricks such as demonic figures lurking in dark spaces, behind-you moments, and, of course, jump scares. But unlike so many contemporary horror films, he deploys them well (for the most part). They aren’t simply “cattle-prod cinema” (as critic Mark Kermode calls it) but moments of thrilling release in between sustained periods of anxiety. Finn understands the masochistic pleasures of a horror film involve keeping the audience on edge, testing their nerves to the limit, and terrorising them with ruthless shocks. Unsettling “upside down” images may be an obvious steal from one shot early in Ari Aster’s Midsommar, but again, they work well in this context.

It isn’t perfect. Some of the investigative segments drag a little, and as mentioned above, the scare hit ratio isn’t one hundred percent, with a handful coming off as cheap tricks. But such false notes are few compared with those that do land, especially in the finale. The sound design — a key component in horror films — is deftly constructed, and the clever score (Cristobal Tapia De Veer) fits the imagery like a glove.

I’ve seen some criticism of this film, accusing it of trivialising and demonising people with mental health problems — wrongly, in my view. This is a film about a curse in the vein of Ringu or It Follows, so the malevolence does not come from people with mental health problems. Furthermore, this is clearly marketed as a horror film, has an 18 certificate (R in the US), and like many other horror films (including The Exorcist), it features characters looking for medical answers before reluctantly acknowledging the presence of a supernatural force. If you don’t care for such films, then obviously don’t go and see this. Personally, I find it odd that people have chosen to pick on this film. Given horror history, it is hardly setting a precedent in its use of psychiatry as an initial go-to answer for the characters. If you’re going to complain about poor depictions of people with mental health problems, you may as well start with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari or Psycho.

Leaving aside such matters, for horror fans, Smile is a well-crafted treat; an uncompromising work that I suspect will have many sleeping with the lights on afterwards. Destined to change the course of cinema? Massively original? No. But still hugely satisfying, and (I confidently predict) a lot more satisfying than the impending sequels.

UK Certificate: 18

US Certificate: R

Content Warnings: Strong bloody violence, swearing, scary scenes.

Categories
Books

Opening Chapters: The Irresistible Summons

This month on Medium, I’m showcasing some of the opening chapters from my novels. These will be primarily from my gothic mysteries, though there may be one or two others. This week I feature the first part of horror-thriller The Irresistible Summons.

This opening comes directly after a short prologue touching on a tragic and mysterious incident in protagonist Naomi Levinson’s teenage past. Naomi has gone on to become a TV producer making documentaries that debunk the supernatural, but she and her TV crew are in for a nasty surprise when they interview a supposedly demon-possessed murderer in a prison. Here’s are the first three paragraphs.

Naomi Levinson sat in the driver’s seat of the company Citroen Berlingo, watching light drizzle splatter on the windscreen. She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, staring at the walls of Holloway prison. Judging by the silence among her colleagues, she wasn’t the only one feeling on edge.

They had interviewed prisoners before, including the worst kinds of rapists, child molesters, and murderers, but on this occasion, there was something particularly chilling about the individual they had come to film.

Naomi recalled Tanya Sutton’s mug shots from the television news, along with footage of her walking calmly to and from the court during her trial. Elegant and attractive, Tanya Sutton came from a wealthy background. She had founded what promised to be a very successful cosmetics business. During the trial she had been softly spoken, never once raising her voice. Somehow that had made her appalling crime, and the reasons behind it, all the more frightening.

From The Irresistible Summons by Simon Dillon

You can read the whole of the chapter here, and read my companion piece article on this series here. Alternatively, to purchase a copy of The Irresisitible Summons (ebook or paperback) click here (for the UK), here (for the US), or here, if you wish to purchase via Smashwords.

Categories
Film Reviews Films

Film Review – Moonage Daydream

Credit: Universal

The word “kaleidoscopic” crops up a lot in discussions about Moonage Daydream, so much so that it feels like a cliché to use it here. But I struggle to find a better word to describe this stream-of-consciousness celebration of David Bowie’s life, music, art, and philosophy. Bowie’s extraordinary achievements are well-documented, but Brett Morgen’s exquisite film (I hesitate to call it a documentary) is a mesmerising experience, and a work of art in its own right, despite being culled from multiple existing sources.

Made with the blessing of the Bowie estate, Morgen has been granted unprecedented access to rarely seen and never-before-seen concert footage and backstage material. Much of this comes from the Ziggy Stardust and Diamond Dogs tours of the 1970s, as well as the Serious Moonlight tour in 1983. These years are the main focus, at the expense of quite a bit of later Bowie material, though the film does open with the stunning Pet Shop Boys remix of Hallo Spaceboy. We get the original version later, along with strong live renditions of classics from Life on Mars to Space Oddity, Heroes, and Let’s Dance. Many other favourites appear throughout (including Ashes to Ashes, one of my personal favourites), though there are omissions too (no Young Americans, for instance).

Beyond the music, the film’s eccentric exploration of all things Bowie comes together in rapidly edited fragments. These include snippets of his early life, his androgynous appeal through performance art versions of himself, the formative influence of his half-brother (tragically diagnosed with schizophrenia), his experimental paintings, sculptures, and video art, his acting career, and his many travels (often undertaken to deliberately uncomfortable places he thought would inspire greater music). The film is also a spiritual journey of sorts, through Bowie’s many musings on the nature of time, the possibility of God, and the human condition in relation to such a higher power (a power he didn’t ever wish to put a name to).

Spliced into all this, pop video-style, are striking daubs of orange, purple, and red, as well as images from many films. These aren’t just Bowie-starring pictures such as Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, The Hunger, and Labyrinth, but titles as eclectic as Nosferatu, Metropolis, The Wizard of Oz, The War of the Worlds, This Island Earth, The Red Shoes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and In the Realm of the Senses; works of cinematic art with a strangeness or singularity akin to Bowie’s own unique, iconic output. It’s worth adding Morgen also collaborated with Bowie’s long-time producer Tony Visconti, who helped with the audio construction of the musical fragments heard outside the major live renditions.

Ultimately, this is a visual and sonic joy, inherently shot through with Bowie’s inspiring admonition concerning life (“It’s what you do in life that’s important, not how much time you have”). There is a niggling sense that certain aspects of his life have been airbrushed due to the involvement of the Bowie estate. However, it’s a minor concern, easily overlooked in the face of Bowie’s own frank assessment of himself, especially in his later embarrassment concerning earlier statements he made about love and commitment being an impediment to the artistic process.

A must for fans and an intriguing journey for casual viewers, Moonage Daydream is an inspired, surreal, heartfelt cinematic tribute to an enigmatic pop legend.

UK Certificate: 15

US Certificate: PG-13

Categories
Film Reviews Films

Film Review – The Lost King

Credit: Warner Brothers/Pathe/BBC

From the moment the opening credits rolled, I knew I was going to love The Lost King. Stephen Frears’s dramatisation of how, in 2012, King Richard III’s body was discovered buried under a Leicester car park, opens with a Hitchcock pastiche title sequence deliberately aping Psycho and North by Northwest. Composer Alexandre Desplat is naturally in on the joke, contributing Bernard Herrmann-esque strings for the sequence, and a fine score for the rest of the film.

Why spoof Hitchcock? I’ve no idea, but it put a big smile on my face. An even bigger smile followed, as we’re introduced to the woman whose research led to the dig, Phillipa Langley (the always wonderful Sally Hawkins), and her supportive ex-husband John (Steve Coogan). Their banter throughout the film provides more laughs than many alleged comedies. Phillipa works a soul-sucking telesales job under a corporate tool boss given to promoting prettiness over experience (he unfairly cites her chronic fatigue affliction as the reason Phillipa isn’t promoted, despite it not impacting her deadlines). With the film taking pot shots at ghastly call centre culture and eye-rolling HR platitudes, I was entirely won over barely five minutes in. But the best was still to come.

After viewing a theatrical production of Richard III, Phillipa starts to experience hallucinations of the notorious Plantagenet king (wonderfully played by Harry Lloyd). The ghostly presence triggers an interest in finding his body, giving him a proper burial, and rebutting history’s judgement of him as a usurping monarch. She (and members of the Edinburgh branch of the Richard III society) claim Shakespeare and the Tudors conspired to smear his name and repaint him as a villain, to the chagrin of pompous, condescending academics, archaeologists, and bureaucrats alike. Thankfully, one archaeologist, Dr Richard Buckley (Mark Addy) at the University of Leicester, eventually listens to her proposal.

This is very much an underdog story, with Hawkins’s brilliant performance holding the film together. Some of the challenges she faces feel a little contrived, as she encounters sexism, snobbery, and complacency. Indeed, some at the University of Leicester are unhappy at the way the film casts them as villains for the sake of a dramatic story; an irony considering the film is all about trying to restore the reputation of a monarch believed to be unjustly maligned by Tudor propaganda. In real life, they were (they claim) a lot more supportive. 

Still, I can understand why Frears and co-screenwriter Jeff Pope took a little dramatic licence. The remarkable, unlikely events at the centre of the narrative remain true, and a fascinating footnote in the history of the British monarchy. Even the hallucination device used in the film is a reflection of the peculiar, downright spooky premonitions the real-life Phillipa experienced during the whole business.

Beyond that, the film’s emotional core doesn’t just come from the aforementioned underdog elements, but from Phillipa’s supportive family (Coogan contributes an admirably understated performance as John). There’s also Phillipa’s emotional identification with Richard as being someone misjudged by gossip. She encounters this at her workplace, because of her medical condition. On top of this, the timing of the film’s release so soon after the funeral of the Queen provides added resonance, particularly in the finale (which cuts in news footage from the ultimate upshot of Phillipa’s endeavours). I found the whole thing strangely moving.

It isn’t perfect. In addition to the contrivances I’ve already mentioned, the film violates a Dillon Empire precept when, after seeing it in the cinema, one of Phillipa’s children excitedly blurts out a major spoiler for the ending of James Bond film Skyfall, thus ruining it for Phillipa (and for anyone else watching who hasn’t seen it). But despite such shortcomings, I can only reiterate I loved this film. It’s eccentric, funny, and poignant, and I confess it struck a chord with me on a number of personal levels. I’m surprised by some of the sniffier responses from other critics.

The Lost King also explores what happens when lies are repeated loudly and often, causing them to fester into “fact”; a notion all too relevant in the age of TwitTok. Shakespeare may have got Richard III correct dramatically, but history is another matter. Myth and propaganda must be separated from fact, or the result can be grave injustice. This vital lesson is understated but clear, and as such provides another compelling reason to go and see the film.

UK Certificate: 12A

US Certificate: PG-13

Categories
Films Film Reviews

Film Review – Ticket to Paradise

Credit: Universal

Common objections to my criticisms of substandard romantic comedies include 1) “It’s just a bit of entertaining escapist fluff”, 2) “But I love X-lead actor”, and 3) “Rom-coms just aren’t your thing”. I declare that to be male cattle excrement on all three fronts. 1) Entertaining escapist fluff can be magnificent, so it is entirely valid to criticise a film of this kind when it fails to meet high standards. 2) Beloved movie stars are only as good as the material they are given. 3) Romantic comedies absolutely and emphatically are my thing, as this article proves. But I don’t play genre favourites. I have high standards across the board.

With the above in mind, I can state quite objectively that Ticket to Paradise is a substandard romantic comedy. Yes, it’s intended to be entertaining escapist fluff. Yes, it stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts, both of whom I like a great deal. And yes, it is a cynically lazy piece of work that manages to waste the potential of both big stars.

The plot is a variation on the renewed-romantic-fireworks-between-divorced-couple trope that used to be deployed during the Hollywood Production Code era to circumvent the prohibition on depictions of adultery (the leads would invariably have other potential romantic partners waiting in the wings). In this case, the couple in question are architect David (Clooney) and art dealer Georgia (Roberts), who have been divorced for years and can’t stand the sight of each other. A temporary alliance is formed when their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) impulsively decides to marry Gede (Maxime Bouttier), a young man she met in Bali. They conspire to prevent her from making the same mistake they think they made years previously.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a romantic comedy being predictable, at least in outcomes. But how they arrive at that point is what makes them fun. In this case, this all-important process fails to satisfy. The screenplay by Daniel Pipski and Ol Parker is strictly by-the-numbers stuff. Parker also directs; solidly enough, even though the film looks like a glossy holiday brochure.

Yes, occasionally the Clooney/Roberts bickering is amusing, but this is a far cry from the wit and joy of screwball romance greats of yesteryear. As for the young lovers, they are laughable cliches. Lily’s feelings for the handsome Gede seem based on his at-one-with-nature New Age platitudes, blithering about balance amid his seaweed farming endeavours. I also can’t swallow that someone as supposedly brainy as Lily, a recent law graduate, would be stupid enough to fail to spot that the boat that took her and her best friend Wren (Billie Lourd) swimming off the coast has suddenly left them behind (naturally precipitating a contrived rescue from Gede).

The film has a few minor perks. Lucas Bravo plays Georgia’s amusingly inept French airline pilot lover Paul, who proves as clumsy with marriage proposals as he does with flying a plane. But such incidental pleasures are few and far between, and serve as little more than tasty starters with a seriously undercooked main course. Drunken dancing to 1990s dance music and farcical jokes about yoga pants isn’t material worthy of the leads. If you really need a Clooney or Roberts fix, I suggest checking out the much stronger material in their respective back catalogues.

UK Certificate: 12A

US Certificate: PG-13

Categories
Film Reviews Films

Film Review – Don’t Worry Darling

Credit: Warner Brothers

Don’t Worry Darling arrives in cinemas clutching a plethora of eye-rolling celebrity gossip baggage, some of which has itched my irritation to horsefly bite levels. The most rage-inducing gnat in my single malt whisky is the idiotic sexist assertion that Olivia Wilde is somehow a bad director due to the aforementioned alleged on-set antics; a notion that makes me want to batter those responsible with a wet kipper. No one calls Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, or Werner Herzog bad directors for their notorious behaviour (respectively, drunkenness, deliberately terrorising cast members in pursuit of good performances, and almost escalating a physical fight with a lead actor into a gunfight). Do I condone any of that? No. But as to their directorial prowess, they should be judged on one thing alone: Their films.

With all that irksomeness in mind, I gave myself a stern talking-to as I went to see Don’t Worry Darling. I would dismiss all the stories surrounding the film from my mind and undertake this reviewing assignment objectively and professionally, as always; even though I had the foolish urge to declare Olivia Wilde’s film as a masterpiece, just to spite those disseminating the double standards drivel mentioned above. Therefore, I must report, much as I’d like to say otherwise, on the basis of this film and her strong debut Booksmart, Wilde is not yet a director on a par with the revered names mentioned earlier.

What she has done, however, is craft a strong, solid, well-directed piece of work that’s far better than many are giving it credit for. Don’t Worry Darling is a psychological sci-fi thriller set in an isolated, idyllic 1950s desert community called the “Victory project”, the brainchild of enigmatic visionary Frank (Chris Pine), whose controlling behaviour screams cult leader. Bathed in pastel colours and glowing sunlight, the Victory project looks like a 1950s commercial, with Stepford Wives-ish young women waving their young, ambitious husbands off to their mysterious work. Is it top-secret weapons research akin to something like the Manhattan project? Or something else entirely? The wives know they must not, under any circumstances, enter the forbidden areas surrounding a mysterious compound atop a nearby hill. This our aptly named protagonist Alice (Florence Pugh) adheres to, obediently homemaking whilst hubby Jack (Harry Styles) goes off to a workplace he isn’t allowed to discuss.

Naturally, there’s trouble in paradise when one of the other wives, Margaret (KiKi Layne), starts “going through a tough time”, as Frank delicately puts it. Alice becomes curious as to why, triggering her own, Truman Show-eque journey of discovery, since naturally, all is not what it seems in the Victory project. But just how much is her husband complicit?

This is all very familiar territory. Anyone who has seen The Stepford Wives, The Truman Show, The Matrix, Inception, Pleasantville, and Open Your Eyes (or the American remake Vanilla Sky), not to mention countless episodes of Black Mirror or The Twilight Zone, will stand a good chance at predicting the upshot. I arrived at the correct conclusion early on, as the film also brought to mind a particular M Night Shyamalan film that I won’t name, for fear of spoilers. But despite such predictability, Don’t Worry Darling holds the attention throughout, mostly due to Florence Pugh’s outstanding performance. She is by far the most compelling reason to see this film.

By contrast, Styles is adequate but unremarkable, though Pine is suitably magnetic and menacing. Some of the other women in the cast — including Wilde, Gemma Chan, and Sydney Chandler — also contribute chilling performances. Visually it all looks great, with fine cinematography from Matthew Libatique, and John Powell adds a fine music score.

The film does somewhat unravel under the weight of its own ambitions, often failing to fully capitalise on the intriguing themes. Most obviously, Wilde and screenwriter Katie Silberman (working from a story by Carey and Shane Van Dyke) explore patriarchal coercion, including the complicity of other women in this process. But they fail to really scratch the surface of what radicalises individuals, causing them to listen to dangerous advice from self-appointed revolutionaries (a theme all the more potent in the internet age). Nor is this an incisive critique of capitalism and the nuclear family, another idea the film flirts with.

All that said, I am very partial to this kind of story. Don’t Worry Darling deserves credit for being consistently gripping and engaging, and most emphatically for Florence Pugh. The ending may be slightly unsatisfying in its lack of a proper final confrontation, but overall, this is an entertaining, interesting piece of work and well worth a look, despite its flaws. Do yourself a favour: Ignore the gossip and give the film itself a go.

UK Certificate: 15

US Certificate: R

Content Warnings: Violence, strong language, domestic abuse, sex.

Categories
Books

Opening Chapters: The Birds Began to Sing

This month on Medium, I’m showcasing some of the opening chapters from my novels. These will be primarily from my gothic mysteries, though there may be one or two others. This week I feature the first part of gothic psychological thriller The Birds Began to Sing.

I wrote this novel back in 2012, and in all honesty, I think if I were writing it today, I’d open the book differently. Yes, I have a bit of satirical fun with the publishing industry, but I fear it comes off as a little petulant. Still, I love the book overall, and am proud of it. Here are the opening paragraphs.

Rejection is normal. Everyone experiences rejection at some time in their life, so there is no point getting upset about it. Don’t give up. Just move on. Tomorrow might be better.

That’s what Alice Darnell kept telling herself. Yet having her writing rejected again and again by agents and publishers was beginning to feel worse than getting dumped by a boyfriend. She had just received another rejection letter from a literary agency through the post, and every time she read one it felt like something inside her died. Her bedroom now had an entire wall plastered with rejection letters of one kind or another, all of them saying more or less the same thing:

Dear Alice,

Thank you for your sample chapters and synopsis which we read with interest. Unfortunately we don’t feel this is one for us, but we wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

Kind regards

The Publisher/Agent

Alice thought a more honest summary might read as follows:

Dear Alice,

I’m not sure why you bothered to send us your sample chapters and synopsis, as you are not an established author. Obviously, we didn’t bother reading it. You might want to try elsewhere and see if anyone is foolhardy enough to take on an unknown author, but don’t count on success.

Indifferent regards

The Publisher/Agent

Alice pinned the most recent rejection letter alongside the others, and glanced at the alarm clock at the side of her bed. Almost half past nine. She had a cold, and had already called in sick so wouldn’t be going to work. That meant a day alone trying to rest, recuperate and watch daytime television whilst trying not to feel too depressed.

From The Birds Began to Sing by Simon Dillon.

You can read the whole of the chapter here, and read my companion piece article on this series here. Alternatively, to purchase a copy of The Birds Began to Sing (ebook or paperback) click here (for the UK), here (for the US), or here, if you wish to purchase via Smashwords.

Categories
Film Reviews Films

Film Review – The Woman King

Credit: Sony

There’s been a fair bit of controversy around The Woman King. This Braveheart-ish story of an all-female warrior army from the African Kingdom of Dahomey during the early 19th Century, has been accused of glossing over Dahomey’s involvement in the slave trade. With tedious predictability, some on TwitTok are calling for a boycott. I know very little about this part of history, so can’t pass comment from that perspective. But from a cinematic perspective, I can tell you the film is pretty good.

The Woman King is an old-fashioned Hollywood adventure epic of the kind that used to be greenlit before big budgets of that kind only went to superhero universes, or films with a stellar prefix. It has the slick, high production values of a Braveheart, Spartacus, or The Last of the Mohicans, and features some fine performances.

Viola Davis is a particular standout, playing General Nanisca, leader of the aforementioned all-female unit, the Agojie. She advises the polygamous King Ghezo (John Boyega), who greatly respects her, arousing the jealousy of his various wives and concubines. Nanisca also begins to take an interest in young recruit Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a strong-willed girl who defied her father by refusing to marry a man who would beat her.

Nawi struggles to adapt to the fierce training, but is encouraged by Izogie (Lashana Lynch), a veteran Agojie. The plot thickens with the arrival of Portuguese slavers led by Santo Ferreira (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), with whom Ghezo initially reluctantly acquiesces for economic reasons, despite Nanisca’s urging for no further compromise on complicity in the slave trade. Ferreira has an alliance with Dahomey’s neighbouring enemies, the Oyo, who are led by General Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya); a man against whom Nanisca seeks vengeance, given their bitter personal history. Complicating matters further is Nawi’s attraction to Ferreira’s companion Malik (Jordan Bolger), who disapproves of the slave trade (#notallportuguese, presumably, though he’s also half-Dahomean).

All of this plays out agreeably enough, but the film kicks into blood-pumping high gear during the exciting battle scenes. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood handles these solidly, though perhaps without the flair of say, a Mel Gibson or Ridley Scott. Outside the combat, screenwriter Dana Stevens (who wrote the story with Maria Bello) works in a few big dramatic reveals, and the film has heart and spirit to spare.

Does The Woman King play up mythology at the expense of history? I daresay it does. Then again, that’s what movies of this kind are for. I view Spartacus or Braveheart not as historic documents (the latter is particularly laughable in that respect), but as myth presented amid a certain amount of bloody, battle-scarred realism. Does that make them dangerous propaganda? Arguably, in the case of Braveheart, but I certainly wouldn’t (and didn’t) boycott the film. I think boycotting The Woman King is equally pointless. I reiterate I am no expert on this part of history, but in any event, I don’t think the film entirely glosses over Dahomey’s involvement in slaving.

Is The Woman King destined to be remembered as a great film? Perhaps not. But it’s certainly a good one, well worth watching and celebrating.

UK Certificate: 15

US Certificate: PG-13

Content Warnings: Violence, injury detail, sexual violence.