helter skelter

a collection of films with characters on a downward spiral, or a story that quickly loses control in all the not so fun ways
helps us feel like our lives are kinda on track

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
And I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
And I get to the bottom and I see you again

helter skelter – the beatles

(we’re choosing to ignore any charles manson / beatlemania referencing to the theme within the films) (i will still quote that song tho)

losing control in film

it is quite hard to narrowly define a film where something goes wrong and the central character loses some sense of control before the final scene, because that’s where most stories find depth. with this programme, we tried to find a collection of stories where the character loses control a little more than expected (against either our or their own expectations), or brings a bit too much chaos into their own life.

i recently watched a tiktok of script consultant jill chamberlain talking about how to tell a story. she pointed out that the most important thing to think about as a writer is your character within a situation. if you take this character out and replace it with another one, will the plot remain the same? it shouldn’t do, because each character has a world and perspectives and choices to make and that produces these outcomes. i bring this up because these films do a great job of telling stories that just keep spiralling out of control because of the characters in them and because for whatever reason, we enjoy watching these characters cause their own spirals. hey, if i was in the situation of jake gyllenhall’s character in NIGHTCRAWLER, my cameraman definitely wouldn’t have made for an interesting story.

there are a lot of contemporary films on this list, which i find quite interesting within itself. a lot of films that have become mainstream / popular have been exploring the loss of control in varying ways. speculation may say perhaps this ‘genre’ of story has become more favourable as that’s how a lot of us as audience members feel within our society – under the overall influence of something much greater than our own power ahhh maybe this is getting too philosophical for an introduction….

as usual, there is a longer list that you can find on our letterboxd account with more films that can’t be found as easily / legally online ()
one film i’d like to highlight especially is PERFECT BLUE (1997). i haven’t seen it but it looks and sounds superb and we can’t find it online anywhere in the uk. if you have a copy or if a big enough group* want to watch it, let’s put on a mini screening!

*dm us or drop us a message if you do, and any other films you’d add to this helter skelter list

dir. janicza bravo
taylour paige (ma rainey's black bottom)
riley keough (american honey) 
nicholas braun (sky high)
 odyssey cinema 23 September 2021


i'll update this once i've seen it with you guys at the cinema, but ngl i'm super excited. usually a film with a lot of hype doesn't live up to it, but i have high hopes for bravo's second feature: her ATLANTA episode is one the best in series one. 
ZOLA takes the idea of a trip spiralling to the max, with situations and choices that you wouldn't think would ever happen all in one go - but they did. here's the outline: zola follows stefani on a 'hoe' trip to florida to dance and make money and very swiftly everything is topsy turvy. stefani is definitely the chaotic friend; how much can zola take hold of her own story?? 
 from the trailer, from reading the twitter thread, from interviews with a'ziah king - the strength of the storytelling from all aspects suggests to make sure that this film won't be one to miss. c u there - book tickets now! ~ amy
dir. noah baumbach
greta gerwig (20th century women, mistress america)
adam driver (marriage story, annette)
rental for £3.5 on bfi player 


andy: so, what do you do? 
frances: it’s kinda hard to explain. 
andy: because what you do is complicated? 
frances: because i don’t really do it. 

i’ve seen a lot of films with chaotic and/or lost women at the helm, i suppose because it’s natural to gravitate towards art you see yourself in. i first watched FRANCES HA because a friend handed me the dvd with the words “this reminded me of you”. this worried me because he described frances as a “27-year old who doesn't really have an apartment and she apprentices for a dance company but she's not really a dancer”. however, what i found myself watching was a really refreshing reflection of a woman in emotional and literal transit, that avoided easy cliché traits like being reliant on other people, being unaware of their impact, being ‘ditsy’ etc etc. frances cares so much about the feelings of those around her and is consistently self-sufficient, refusing to ask for help as she moves from place to place. co-written by greta gerwig (who plays frances) and noah baumbach, FRANCES HA is full of perfect lines like “i’m not messy, i’m busy” and “i’m too tall to marry”, eyes meeting across rooms and a trip to paris that made me want to have a depression nap for a week… in a good way! in all honesty, i wish i could eat this film… or wear it? you know? ~ ro

(if you like this, watch MICROHABITAT by jeon go-woon - we couldn't find it online but maybe you can...)
dir. nicolas winding refn
elle fanning (the beguiled, 20th century women)
jena malone (donnie darko, inherent vice)
 amazon prime for £1.99 rental


from the director of DRIVE and ONLY GOD FORGIVES comes an equally pink and blue film. this visually very hot feature starring the always good elle fanning follows jesse as she leaves the farm and escapes to the big city to become a supermodel - i know, very america's next top model. however, things get a bit twisted as violence seems to follow jesse everywhere: her peers hate her potential and men are pervs. she gradually transforms from fresh-face-and-free to powerful-and-knows-it. and maybe she gets too powerful... renf has made a bloody horror that, much like the met gala, looks really good but constantly compels the question - what the fuck is happening?? ~ amy 

dir. dan gilroy
jake gyllenhaal (donnie darko, brokeback mountain)
riz ahmed (sound of metal, four lions)


this film always hits. lou (gyllenhaal) is broke thief, who stumbles across a violent accident that attracts a number of stringers (freelance photojournalists). lou learns the money you can make selling these violent videos to news stations. he gets a bit obsessed with it - trying to meet the supply and demand and hacking into police radio signals to get to a crime scene early. a great character to look at in comparison to zola in ZOLA is riz ahmed's rick. he's broke and desperate, and takes an opportunity presented by lou that really pushes himself and his morals beyond anything he'd expected. this is an intense and very very well written story (oscar nom'd for best original screenplay) with brilliant acting and a great analysis in what the capitalist society will encourage people to do in order to survive. there is no good guy in this film because that's what the hunger of survival and success does to you. 
(if you like this, try ACE IN THE HOLE starring kirk douglas)
 dir. gaspar noé
sofia boutella (kingsman, atomic blonde)
rent for £3.5 on bfi player


my trip to viewing this film was a helter skelter of it's own - i thought i was watching this at the odyssey when actually it was the new SUSPIRIA and i hate witches and it was a nightmare. i ended up watching CLIMAX sadly not at the cinema, but on my computer in lockdown a year later. 
i'm glad i did because it was exactly what i wanted and more. dance and love and selfishness and confusion and fear and terror and chaos that uses lighting and sound to the max to tell a story of collective loss of control. the camera takes you everywhere and leaves you behind at the same time. 
all you need to know is that after a day of rehearsing a dance troop blow off some steam with a party that quickly becomes a horror story because someone spiked the sangria. 
i honestly can't recommend this film enough - every actor and dancer commits beyond measure and you are in that building with them. i'm keen to watch gasper noe's catalogue of films and if you like this theme of chaos looming, then i recommend u do the same. let me know what u think - i think i'll watch it again now... ~ amy 
dir. the safdie brothers
adam sandler (punch-drunk love, the meyerowitz stories)
lakeith stanfield (get out, sorry to both you)
idina menzel (frozen, rent)


don't worry, it's not another adam sandler movie. but you knew that. howard ratner (sandler) is a non-stop quick-talking new york jewels dealer, and he has debts. big debts and a lot of them. to get out of this hole of money he's digging, howard sources a valuable gem and a potential buyer to match! but his confidence leads him from dodgy deal to dodgy deal in a helter skelter of chaos and promises (oi! they said the name of the programme!). sandler's performance is incredible and this film will make you sweat - a good excuse to bunk off that workout. non-stop and overlapping dialogue spins you through the story and will leave your heart pounding. also i had no idea that was idina menzel! bit rogue coming from frozen, but she's great ~ dunc
dir. danny boyle
ewan mcgreggor (moulin rouge!)
ewen bremner (avp: alien vs. predator)
jonny lee miller (mindhunters)


choose life. choose great film. choose watching this at home while stuffing junk food into your mouth. choose reading this in an edinburgh accent. choose getting some pleasure, from other people's leisure. choose danny boyle and ewan mcgreggor. choose 175 uses of "f**k", 19 uses of "c**t", pervasive use of "s**t", and "p**s" (i copied and pasted that from imdb). choose diving head first into a disgusting story of heroin addiction and crime... or a toilet full of faeces. choose not glorifying the horrifying effects of addiction on the lives of not only users, but the people around them. choose TRAINSPOTTING. choose ewan mcgreggor in a crop top. ~ dunc
dir. darren aronofsky
ellen burstyn (the exorcist)
jared leto (dallas buyers club, suicide squad)
jennifer connelly (labyrinth)
marlon wayans (white chicks)
amazon prime for £2.49 rental 



this is not one for everyone, and we recommend being in a decent headspace when watching it. aronofsky's second feature is based on a poetic novel by hubert selby jr. that 'ruined [the producer's] vacation' when he read it. it's a tale of addiction that follows four characters, sara (burstyn), her son harry (leto), his girlfriend marion (connelly) and his friend tyrone (wayans). sara is obsessed with tv gameshows and diet pills, whilst her son and his peers have fallen for amphetamines and heroin. the opening has us watching the gameshow as it shouts join us in creating excitement as audiences scream and yell in desperation to win and that undertone carries through every character in their attempts to feel exhilaration and hope for one moment. the film is desperate and harsh and you might not sleep afterwards. but on the lighter side, the soundtrack (particularly the song lux aeterna by clint mansell) transformed film scores of the future - it was adapted to bring LOTR THE TWO TOWERS alive with drama. you're welcome when that comes up in a pub quiz ~ amy
dir. jeremy saulnier
patrick stewart (star trek original series, x-men series)
 anton yelchin (star trek series, thoroughbreds)
alia shawkat (animals, 20th century women)
 amazon for £3.49 rental


GREEN ROOM is an american horror-thriller film, written and directed by jeremy saulnier. the film focuses on a punk band who find themselves attacked by neo-nazi skinheads after witnessing a murder at a remote venue in this creepy rural area of north west america. “you’re trapped – that’s not a threat, just a fact,” darcy tells the terrified protagonists (a collection of young up n coming 2k15 actors from both the uk and us, all pretty cool and sexy, some in a more "next door" type attractive). saulnier had apparently always wanted to do a thriller set in a green room and you can see weirdly how it does lend itself to that genre; windowless, claustrophobic, usually with a whole lot of building to cut through if you wanna escape a sticky sitch. patrick stewart, starring as the manager of this underground nazi organisation, apparently had to lock his study door whilst reading this script from the creeps he got just flicking through the pages! ringing endorsement if you ask me. x ~ max 
dir. boots riley
lakeith stanfield (get out, judas and the black messiah)
tessa thompson (annihilation, thor ragnarok)
bbc iplayer 


boots riley’s directorial debut is a twisted dark comedy set in an alternative reality of present day oakland, california. cassius green (pronounced ‘cash is green’) is young, black, broke and living in his uncle's garage with his aspiring conceptual artist girlfriend, detroit. finally, an opportunity to earn some money presents itself when cassius gets a job at a call centre – the 21st-century equivalent of the workhouse – confined to his grim little booth with his phone headset, desperately trying to make cold-call sales. something in his phone manner appears to be deterring potential customers until the grey-haired salesman in the booth beside him advises him to use his “white voice”. what unfolds is a modern-day rags to riches story that asks what the cost of success is for a person of colour in a white man’s world, and if it’s really possible, or worth having, at all. starring: lakeith stanfield, tessa thompson, jermaine fowler, omari hardwick, terry crews, kate berlant, danny glover and steven yeun. it’s sure to get under your skin (and tbh… bother you!!) but that’s all the more reason to watch. ~ ro