Talking Movies: Words on Bathroom Walls, Trial by Fire and Wesens

Spling reviews Words on Bathroom Walls, Trial by Fire and Wesens as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a dark coming-of-age romance drama, a biographical prison drama and a found-footage sci-fi mystery thriller.

Starting off with a film now on Netflix…


Diagnosed with a mental illness, a teen struggles to not be defined by his condition.

Director: Thor Freudenthal

Stars: Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell and Andy Garcia

– Following in the spirit of films like Donnie Darko and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, comes Words on Bathroom Walls.
– Journeying with a teenage protagonist who’s trying to make sense of his schizophrenia diagnosis, it’s a fresh take on your typical high school romance comedy drama.
– Going to some dark places quite literally, we get a cinematic impression of what it must be like to live with this condition.
– Manifesting supporting characters, hearing voices and trying to make sense of it all, Words on Bathroom Walls takes on horror elements to convey the frustration, torment and overwhelming sense of oppression.
– Artful, well-acted and using high school formula as stepping stones, this bold, multilayered and vivid drama moves at a good pace swathing you in Adam’s world.
– Dexterously moving from dark to light, curating its blend of genres with relative ease and even breaking the fourth wall in an ambiguous way, this novel adaptation has weight and emotive resonance.
– Compelled by two charming co-leads, some fine supporting acts and managing to straddle a hallucinatory dimension and the real world, it’s an emotionally engaging and thoughtful reworking of the classic doomed teen high school romance.
– Tipping the hat to Donnie Darko with a shared cast member and similar surreal imagery, it also revels in the realm and angst of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, only lacking the nostalgic ’80s soundtrack from both.

An excellent 8 on the splingometer!

Moving on to a film now on Netflix…


The tragic and controversial story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was sentenced to death in Texas for killing his three children.

Director: Edward Zwick

Stars: Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern and Emily Meade

– There have been a number of powerful biographical legal dramas such as Just Mercy, campaigning against the death penalty with just cause.
– Trial by Fire follows a similar trajectory, dealing with a man protesting his innocence whose bungled trial, biased investigation and prejudiced community leave the jury no choice but to sentence him to await execution on death row. XXXXX
– Starring Unbroken’s Jack O’Connell in an uncharacteristic performance, which eventually makes more sense, it plays like two chapters as the ever-dependable Laura Dern enters the fray as his last hope.
– Centred on a tragic true story, which sets the platform for the film’s title, Trial by Fire serves as a complex character portrait and unlikely quest for justice.
– Directed by Blood Diamond’s Zwick, the performances are impassioned and the curious edit presents a shattered mirror as multiple perspectives are retraced.
– As our view of the inmate softens with greater nuance and a fuller picture of the actual circumstances, O’Connell’s casting kicks in as an unusual friendship develops.
– While the agenda’s slant is felt and factual accuracy draws question marks, this dramatised legal turned investigative drama is competent, engaging and has heart and courage.
– Trial by Fire has an equal measure of wobbly and brilliant moments, taking you from the edge of full-blown contrivance to scenes that speak straight to your soul.
– It may not quite stick the landing but delivers on heartbreaking story and entertainment value, it did just enough to get…

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally a film on Showmax…


Four intelligence agents investigate an unidentified object that landed on a farm in the desolate Karoo landscape.

Writer-Director: Derick Muller

Stars: Pietie Beyers, Morne Visser and Albert Maritz

– Wesens is quite possibly South Africa’s first found footage feature film, which tells the story of a UFO crash site investigation.
– Set in 1967, we get a very different depiction of South Africa as a team of investigative officers and laboratory technicians make their way out to a farm.
– Creating the impression that the film was shot on Super 8 and 16mm cameras, the frame gives it an otherworldliness as do the uniforms, technology and historical context.
– From unusual shots to its candid feel, Wesens remains visually-captivating and grounded thanks to its alienating style and convincing performances.
– A modest sci-fi mystery thriller, the earthiness forces the filmmakers to leverage the power of imagination rather than relying on escalating visual effects in films like Chronicle.
– While a strength and weakness, there is something quaint and noble about the effort to keep things real much like Primer.
– Centred at one location, Wesens remains suspenseful and resourceful in its mercurial interpretation of the psychological, historical and social impact of the event.
– It’s a sharp, thoughtful and smart refresh on the found-footage genre, which will have more meaning for South Africans.
– While it’s true power and significance is felt in the third act, it’s also a make-or-break depending on your expectations and acceptance of the grand reveal.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

So just to wrap up…

WORDS ON BATHROOM WALLS… a smart refresh and Donnie Darko vibrations power this well-acted and immersive take on living with mental illness… An excellent 8!

TRIAL BY FIRE… a heartbreaking true story and engaging performances drive this bumpy dark legal drama and character portrait… A solid 7!

WESENS… a modest, stylish and thought-provoking found-footage sci-fi mystery thriller with a make-or-break twist… A solid 7!

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And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!