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London Film Festival Review: Gemini – “Thrilling, suffocating, and moody”

Gemini starts with a black screen, then cuts to a girl holding an iPhone in a car, moonlight catching her face, as psychedelic electronica kicks in. Immediately discomfiting, the viewer already doubting whether what is happening is as innocuous as it looks. An opening which sets the scene for this darkly comic take on the paranoia and privilege of celebrity.

Set entirely in Hollywood, writer-director Aaron Katz crafts a modern detective story full of intrigue. If Rian Johnson invented Neo-Noir with Brick, then Katz, heavily-influenced by Nicolas Winding Refn, has created Gemini as a Neon-Noir.

Gemini also nestles within the ‘personal assistant’ sub-genre (who knew this would be a thing?), alongside The Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper. But even without Kristen Stewart, Gemini benefits from its well-chosen female cast.

Lola Kirke, plays Jill, the eyes and ears of the viewer until her reliability as a narrator is called in to question. Jill is Personal Assistant to a Hollywood star known only as Heather (Zoe Kravitz), and she earns her keep as Heather’s body-woman, negotiating awkward meetings with screen writers and publicists about a movie reshoot that Heather refuses to do. Jill and Heather come into contact wth various players during a night in LA: a super-fan, Heather’s possible girlfriend Tracy (Greta Lee) and a number of paparazzo, to name a few. Then Chekov’s Gun (in the form if an actual gun) appears as the haunting score rises, heightening the tension while we wait for it to go off.

What follows is mostly a detective story set between the pages of Architectural Digest. The viewer doesn’t know what’s going on, jarred – as Jill is – by the blasé reactions of her colleagues when a serious crime is committed. As Jill tries to figure out what’s going on, Gemini exposes the interplay between trust and paranoia in the film industry. Gemini might be attempting to garner sympathy for the mega-famous, and yet Katz also emphasises how far removed these people are from reality – in word and in deed.

Kirke is highly watchable, even when Jill makes bafflingly stupid decisions in her attempts to solve the crime. And Kravitz is so good that it’s easy to think that Heather may be quite close to home. The supporting cast are also fantastic, Lee, is a mystery, and Nelson Franklin as a hacked-off scriptwriter, delivers the movie’s laugh-out-loud moment. John Cho makes a welcome appearance, playing a creepy detective, a jarring move when Gemini is crying out for someone to be taking events seriously.

This is a stylistic product, Katz demonstrating skill with words and cinematography, recreating the blue mood of Mulholland Drive and it could even be elevated to a five-star film if Katz is knowingly taking the piss out of Hollywood. His characters try to solve the crime as if it is a crossword puzzle and not a reality, using Hollywood in-jokes, an amusing sequence that further distances the viewer from Jill and her problems. But if Katz is realistically depicting events, then this is cause for concern.

Gemini is so stylish (shout out to the stunning work from the lighting crew and Keegan De Witt’s score) that the characters become the dead-eyed, emotionless wanderers of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. This might just be a brilliant satire of modern America, or it might be the moment that Bret Easton Ellis’s worst nightmares become the new normal.

Whichever is true, Katz should give up comedy and move directly into making dramas because there is real talent here. Thrilling, suffocating, and moody, Gemini deserves an audience wider than those in the media, let’s hope it gets it.

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