Mesmeric from the get-go, ‘Evil Does Not Exist’ is a lyrical arthouse gem; Anthony Hopkins shines in ‘Freud’s Last Session’; Sports rom-com ‘Challengers’ is a dirge; ‘Jeanne du Barry’ is pleasant French period eye candy; ‘Horror tale ‘Abigail’ delivers the gore fans crave

A developer threatens to upset the balance of a small village in ‘Evil Does Not Exist’.

EVIL DOES NOT EXIST **** (106 minutes; subtitled) PG
An oddly beautiful, lyrical film you can really lose yourself in, Evil Does Not Exist is an ode to the encroachment by a profit-driven developer into a tranquil community from writer/director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, who gave us the marvellous Drive My Car.

The residents of a remote, snow-kissed village where life moves at a gentle, unhurried pace receive a visit from young representatives of a company who propose to a crowded town hall a plan to build a glamping site in their midst.

There’s a glossy powerpoint presentation and a corporate video but the locals are skeptical, not because they resent the idea outright, but because the plan lacks detail, thought and consultation.

The reps seem too young and naive, lacking the research to keep them from getting tripped up on probing questions about the proposed septic tank and subsewuent pollution of the pure fresh waters of the local creek.

Clearly one of the most intriguing and imaginative directors today, Hamaguchi brings an exacting yet unobtrusive eye to this carefully honed conflict, exploring the themes of balance and intrusion with dramatic subtlety and some outstanding, immersive camerawork.

His deep love of holding shots – an art largely lost to Hollywood – is matched by an intuitive understanding of the power of sudden cuts to the next scene.

In one remarkable segment, a long take from the back seat of a car capturing the conversation between two co-workers jumps to shots of busy traffic, then the circular approach to a remote homestead. It’s cinematography at its naturalistic best.

Sedate and alluring, Evil Does Not Exist is an arthouse gem designed to draw you in from its haunting opening to its cryptic closing image, presenting a beguiling riddle to tie off a totally mesmeric tale.

Quality talkfest: Anthony Hopkins in ‘Freud’s Last Session’.

FREUD’S LAST SESSION *** (109 minutes) M
Another acting masterclass from the peerless Anthony Hopkins who here sports a goatie and a slight Austrian accent to inhabit pioneer head shrinker Sigmund Freud. It’s a few days after the start of World War 2 and Freud is in his London chambers locked in a good-natured verbal stoush with author C.S Lewis (a very good Matthew Goode) over why he insists on the existence of God, along with a few asides.

Based on the play by Mark St. Germain, who co-wrote with director Matthew Brown, the collision of ideas produces verbal fireworks as Freud laments his cancer diagnosis in this fictitious encounter. Liv Lisa Fries adds solid support as Freud’s famous daughter, Anna.

CHALLENGERS * (131 minutes) M
A largely tepid lurch at a sports-based romantic comedy, Challengers sets up a romantic triangle between tennis coach Tashi (Zendaya), and two lads, Art (Mike Faist) and Patrick (Josh O’Connor).

With the timeline flipping all over the place from present day to the trio’s formative encounters 13 years ago (among other spots) the film is disjointed and dull, with director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name; Suspiria) eliciting cardboard performances from his unquestionably attractive cast, rendering the film’s romance element passionless and not the least bit sexy. That’s some achievement.

Movie history tells us that the whole point of romantic triangles is that the three people involved should at least be interesting, somewhat charming and perhaps a bit funny. Nothing like that here.

Featuring an annoying techno soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that tends to blare up in the middle of inane dialogue exchanges, Challengers joins that long list of recent films that does not have a sufficiently strong story to justify its inordinate length.

That the film has thus far received raves from all quarters is, to put it mildly, mystifying. Perhaps Guadagnino’s alleged genius is a quality elusive to some.

ABIGAIL *** (109 minutes) MA
Another week, another spookfest. Proving that horror fans are the best serviced movie demo right now comes Abigail, a very satisfying, semi-comic ditty about a group of low-IQ, ransom-seeking crims who kidnap the daughter of a billionaire, hoping to shake him down.

Their big mistake is assuming that Abigail (Alisha Weir, who we just saw in Wicked Little Letters) is a normal teenager and not, indeed, a vampiress with a plan, a notable hunger and a formidable set of incisors.

There some good jokes as a spot of ballet weaved into an otherwise off-the-shelf offering that delivers the requisite quota of gore, blood and projectile vomiting. A nifty bit of fun with loads of fan-pleasing gross-outs.

Cautionary note: Given the horrid events in Sydney this week, it is hard not to register all the stabbing scenes differently than we normally do when witnessing heightened fantasy horror violence on screen.

Understandably, some might be sensitive to such scenes at the moment, so should approach the film with an added degree of caution. The proximity to real events might make these moments especially uncomfortable, so be warned.

JEANNE DU BARRY *** (117 minutes; subtitled) M
The sumptuous production and period eye candy provided by all those magnificent heritage-listed French palaces and gardens help make up for the lack of any real plot in Jeanne du Barry. Director Maiwenn plays the beautiful commoner who, history tells us, worked her way into the eyeline of skirt-loving King Louis XV (Johnny Depp, speaking French) who adopted her as a favourite concubine.

There are some nice dashes of humour amidst all the costumes and royal protocols, with Maiwenn (also a producer and co-writer) making a good fist as a middle-aged ingenue. Dramatically there’s not all that much to the proceedings, but the thing is gorgeous to look at and Depp is a pleasant presence as he powers into his post-Amber period.