The Mess Hall

» Death Row (2007, USA)

Death Row - Elias Castillo as The Killer

As far as low budget horror films go, this one by the Quiroz Brothers is not so bad. As far as low budget death row horror films go, it is not about a death row, per se, and the term ‘horror’ doesn’t exactly fit, either. But it is decidedly, indisputably, inescapably low budget. (more…)

Posted on February 18th, 2018 at 12:37 pm. Updated on February 18th, 2018 at 12:41 pm.

» Женская тюряга / Women’s Slammer (1991, USSR)

Women's Slammer - Venera Nigmatulina as Madina Galieva

This is the alternative title of the video (on YouTube) which translates literally, it seems, as something closer to ‘Women’s Scum’. Or sometimes, intriguingly, as ‘Women’s Jelly’. The film’s original title, Life is a Woman, doesn’t appear to have ever had much traction. (more…)

Posted on February 4th, 2018 at 3:40 pm. Updated on February 4th, 2018 at 3:40 pm.

» Carpinteros / Woodpeckers (2017, Dominican Republic)

Woodpeckers - Jean Jean as Julian Sosa

The Najayo Prison for men at San Cristóbal, about an hour out of Santo Domingo, is right next door to the Najayo Women’s Center of Correction and Rehabilitation. So close that the men in the old prison, if they can get to a high window on the upper storey, can pass messages to the women next door, and vice versa, by an elaborate, bespoke sign language. ‘Woodpecking’, they call it. “The thing is that when the woodpeckers drill their holes they grasp onto the tree - the same way that the guys climb to the windows and grab onto the rails so they can talk to us,” one of the women says. Or you can choose to make up your own explanation.

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Posted on January 28th, 2018 at 11:18 am. Updated on January 28th, 2018 at 11:18 am.

» Lucknow Central (2017, India)

Lucknow Central - Deepak Dobryal as Victor Chattopadhyay, Rajesh Sharma as Purushottam Madan Pandit, Farhan Akhtar as Kishen Mohan Girhotra, Inaamulhaq as Dikkat Ansari and Gippy Grewal as Parminder ('Pali') Singh Gill

I’m not the most ardent fan of modern Bollywood productions; most are too long for my liking (this one weighs in at just shy of 2½ hours) and I generally find the musical interludes grating and intrusive. But at least in Lucknow Central (and Qaidi Band, another just-released Indian film about the formation of a jail band) music is integral to the plot, and (despite what was an apparently poor reception from Indian filmgoers) it’s a far-from-disastrous prison film. (more…)

Posted on December 31st, 2017 at 9:07 pm. Updated on January 12th, 2018 at 8:35 pm.

» Despicable Me 3 (2017, USA)

Despicable Me 3 - the minions line up for their jail tattoos

You got me. This is filler. There is really no reason to include this film… Except that I saw the rushes which inferred, I thought, that much of the film was devoted to the minions in prison. It turns out that the prison scenes account for just on three minutes. They manage to pack a fair bit into those three minutes, but it’s three minutes. (more…)

Posted on December 1st, 2017 at 8:18 pm. Updated on December 1st, 2017 at 8:18 pm.

» беспредел / Bespredel (1989, USSR)

Bespredel - Andrei Tashkov as Yuri ('Kalgan') Kolganov

‘Bespredel’ in Russian would seem to mean ‘lawlessness’… but also ‘limitless’ or ‘anything goes’. “What is [bespredel]?” the prison’s top bespredelshchik and string-puller, The Prince, is asked. “[Bespredel] is a trap,” he replies. I hope that helps. (more…)

Posted on November 6th, 2017 at 9:13 pm. Updated on November 7th, 2017 at 4:35 pm.

» With Prisoners (2017, Hong Kong)

With Prisoners - Neo Yau Hawk-sau as Leung Yick Fan

Is it a good thing, ultimately, that this whistle-blowing film seems a little tame? That the boot camp abuses suffered by the juvenile offenders in Hong Kong’s Sha Tsui Detention Centre don’t seem to be as shocking as those in many other prison movies (which is not to say that gratuitous elbow strikes, and asking a detainee to clean a toilet with his fingers and then clean his teeth with the same fingers, and assorted other beatings and demeanings are not abusive). It’s a good thing for Hong Kong, isn’t it, if Sha Tsui (which caters for juveniles and young adults from 14 to 25) is not as rotten as some other prisons. Somehow, though, the film seems a little pallid and limp. (more…)

Posted on October 20th, 2017 at 5:08 pm. Updated on October 20th, 2017 at 5:08 pm.

» Pixote (1981, Brazil)

Pixote - Fernando Ramos da Silva as Pixote

Pixote: A Lei do Mais Fraco (’the law of the weakest’) is celebrated for (or rather enjoys a reputation for) its unrelenting grimness. And for good reason. If you looked in the dictionary and it said: grĭm a. harsh, joyless, pixotish - you probably wouldn’t baulk… provided that you didn’t know that Pixote is sometimes translated as PeeWee, which doesn’t sound quite so grim.

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Posted on October 5th, 2017 at 8:19 pm. Updated on October 5th, 2017 at 8:19 pm.

» Ozzy (2016, Spain / Canada)

Ozzy - Ozzy is led into the cellblock for the first time

Ozzy isn’t quite the new Toy Story 3 (2010); it lacks much of the cleverness and multi-dimensional appeal of the earlier animated feature. But as another heart-warming movie about discarded anthropomorphic beings longing to be reunited with their families, it happily shares something of the same vibe. (more…)

Posted on September 21st, 2017 at 9:56 pm. Updated on September 21st, 2017 at 9:56 pm.

» A Prayer Before Dawn (2017, France / UK)

A Prayer Before Dawn - Joe Cole as Billy Moore

‘Locked up in a Turkish prison’ has been the most reliable shorthand description of the horror of being a foreigner locked up abroad (or of any worst imaginable horror, really), probably since Midnight Express (1978). But the ordeal of Briton Billy Moore in A Prayer Before Dawn might have a few people viewing Thai prisons as the new high water mark. Or low water mark.

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Posted on August 12th, 2017 at 8:55 pm. Updated on August 12th, 2017 at 9:07 pm.