Sun, sea, sand and horror

Beachside dreams go sour in two gruesome tales

<strong>Pirates of the Caribbean: dead man's chest

Two films this week transport us to the Caribbean, though, in each case, sun, sea and sand come a distant second to horror. The villains in Pirates of the Caribbean: dead man's chest give us some idea of what Dr Frankenstein might have cooked up had he been a fishmonger. These undead buccaneers have crab claws in place of hands, barnacle-encrusted skin and writhing tentacles dangling from their faces. If you're going to a restaurant after the cinema, it might be wise to skip the calamari.

The main attraction in the sequel to the 2003 hit is Johnny Depp, who dons bandana, dreadlocks, beads, scarves and untold quantities of eyeliner to reprise his role as the flouncing, foppish Captain Jack Sparrow. This time, Jack is being pressured to settle a debt, having sold his soul some years earlier to Davy Jones, Ruler of the Ocean Depths, played by Bill Nighy from behind rubbery prosthetics. Davy grudgingly gives Jack a get-out clause - he will be off the hook if he can round up a hundred souls to sacrifice in lieu of his own.

Tangled up in this story are the blacksmith-turned-pirate Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his fiancée Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), whose wedding is disrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Beckett threatens Elizabeth with the gallows unless Will retrieves from Jack a magical compass that points to whatever the holder most desires. Meanwhile, Jack is searching for the key that unlocks a chest in which is hidden a gruesome trophy: the still-beating heart of Davy Jones.

Action fans will not want for spectacle. Particularly thrilling is the sequence in which Jack escapes from a tribe of cannibals, which boasts a delightful visual gag, in which Jack is the centrepiece in an oversized kebab, as well as a complicated stunt that ends with him unspooling at the end of a rope like a yo-yo. But at two and a half hours, the wit and freshness of the first film are thin on the ground. The chases and sword fights blur into one another, and even the close-ups of Depp looking wacky start to pall. The third instalment - due next summer - will need to find something new to do with him, and the franchise, before terminal sea-sickness sets in.

One idea would be to cast Charlotte Rampling as the villain. In Heading South, she's scarier than any giant octopus. This sombre drama is set in the late 1970s at a Haitian resort frequented by female sex tourists. Brenda (Karen Young), a Valium-popping divorcée, arrives there in search of the boy who brought her sexual fulfilment three years earlier. But Legba (Ménothy Cesar), who is now 18, has become the plaything of another tourist, the haughty literature professor Ellen (Rampling). The latter is so possessive of the young man that you feel she would throw her beach towel over him to claim his body if she could. However, despite being a more timid sort, Brenda isn't surrendering the object of her desire so easily.

Just when the film threatens to become little more than a simple tale of exploitation, the emphasis shifts to reveal Legba's delighted complicity. Two wealthy women are competing to shower him with gifts and money - what's not to like? Neither Ellen nor Brenda has any interest in the plight of Legba and his fellow gigolos under the corrupt regime of President "Baby Doc" Duvalier. But, eventually, the political strife that they have ignored eclipses their bitchfest, and their fantasies, in shocking fashion.

Unlike recent films, such as The Constant Gardener and Wah-Wah, Heading South doesn't view its black characters exclusively from a white perspective and we get a plausible sense of Legba's life away from the resort. My only reservation is the film's oppressive dourness. These women have spent vast amounts of money pursuing pleasure, yet the mood in the bedroom is funereal. A film that keeps its characters so downtrodden can easily make the audience feel the same way.

Pick of the week

Brick (15)
dir: Rian Johnson
This modern-day film noir, about a high-school gumshoe investigating a murder, is flashy but fun.

Dave Chappell's Block Party (15)
dir: Michel Gondry
An unbeatable combination of hip-hop and joie de vivre makes this documentary about a Brooklyn street party ideal summer viewing.

Forty Shades of Blue (15)
dir: Ira Sachs
A record producer, his young Russian girlfriend and his estranged son form an intense love triangle.

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