Know Your Critic

Know Your Critic: Clarisse Loughrey, Chief Film Critic at The Independent

Loughrey talks theater-going, American Horror Story, and her favorite optimistic movie endings.

by | December 16, 2020 | Comments

Walt Disney Pictures and FX
(Photo by Walt Disney Pictures and FX)

Know Your Critic” is a column in which we interview Tomatometer-approved critics about their screening and reviewing habits, pet peeves, and personal favorites.

Clarisse Loughrey describes her approach to criticism as “open and inviting.” She favors exploratory viewing over required viewing. She sits front-row at the theater to be as close to the film as possible – no distractions from her fellow audience members, no popcorn-crunching, just her and the movie on a journey together.

“The thing I always encourage people to do is go on a little adventure with movies,” Loughrey said. “Go on Tumblr and try and find some film that no one else has watched, that you will absolutely fall in love with – it will be your new favorite film, and you’ll be obsessed with it forever.”

Like many movie and television fans, she likes to be challenged and appreciates authenticity. Her favorite Rotten movie is one she saw as a teenager and simply couldn’t shake: King Arthur, starring Keira Knightly and Clive Owen.

“It’s just all swords and sandals, and every line is ridiculous and over the top,” she said. “It’s all like, ‘Scatter my ashes to a strong west wind.’ I love it because it’s just trying so hard, and I appreciate that.”

Clarisse Loughrey is chief film critic at The Independent, appears on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review (BBC Radio), and co-hosts The Next Supremes podcast. Find her on Twitter: @clarisselou.


What have you been watching while sheltered-in-place?

I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of options now that I’m just home and I only have the internet – and the internet is filled with unlimited opportunities and every movie ever made on the planet is suddenly at my feet.

I’ve got a subscription to MUBI, and that’s been very helpful because MUBI can tell you each day what film to watch. They always have a film of the day, and I love having that choice made for me. Also, it’s been great to go outside of my comfort zone a little bit because they have such a really eclectic mix of films. I’ve been watching stuff I probably normally wouldn’t seek out.

What was the last film that you saw in a theater?

In the UK, we’ve had a bit of a going back and forth with the cinemas being open and the cinemas being closed. I think the last film I saw in a cinema was a preview showing of Pixar’s Soul, which was at the London Film Festival.

What is your preferred seat in a theater?

I love to be right at the front so that the screen is so huge, and it’s taking up my entire viewpoint I can’t see anything else but the movie. I can’t see other people. It’s just me alone with the film.

I love to feel small. I know that’s such a strange thing to say, but I love when you just feel like a little tiny speck in the universe. I love that movies do that sometimes, especially when you go see something epic and grand. To be right at the front going, “Oh, yeah. Nothing matters.” It’s great. It’s kind of freeing.


Warner Bros.
(Photo by Warner Bros.)

What is your personal record for the most movies you’ve watched in one day?

I’ve done some all-day marathons, so it probably would be one of those. I watched all the Harry Potter movies just at once. Even if you’re a huge fan, don’t do it. It’s not humanly possible.

I had a bad time around the point I got to the Half-Blood Prince. I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. Everything irritated me. Dumbledore irritated me. Hermione … Yeah. I feel like it was an experience, and I learned a lot from it. But, I’m now a “don’t try and cram a million movies in one day” kind of person.

I respect that. I’m in awe that you got to the sixth movie before being like, “All right. I’m done with you all.”

It’s when they do Dumbledore’s army. I was like, “This is annoying. Why can’t he just phone somebody? You are children. You’re children. You’re not going to beat Dumbledore.” … I don’t know. Get some adults. What is going on?

Do you have a favorite childhood film?

I was only shown Disney movies when I was a kid, which has been very strange in adulthood because people are so shocked that I haven’t seen Labyrinth. People are very angry that I haven’t seen Labyrinth, and I only saw Princess Bride recently because they were not Disney, so I was not shown them. It would have to be a Disney movie. I think the one I was most obsessed with was Hercules. I think it just came out at the right time, and I got so obsessed with it that I went to university to study ancient history.


Is there an under-the-radar director or screenwriter that you think more people should know about?

The first person I thought of was this director/actor/screenwriter called Gillian Wallace Horvat.

I remember watching this short that she did called “Kiss Kiss Fingerbang.” It had Anton Yelchin and Kate Lyn Sheil in it… It is really dark but really funny; it takes this very, very surreal, incredibly dark turn. I just love the way that it felt so outrageous, but the moment you started unpacking it, you go, “That’s cool.” It’s actually a weirdly great metaphor for ideas of closing and control, and what does abuse look like in a relationship? It really stuck with me. Years and years and years have passed since I watched it.

Since then, she’s directed her feature debut called I Blame Society, which just never arrived in the UK, so I haven’t been able to watch it. I’ve just been waiting. I’m like, “One day, she’s going to break out and do great things.”

Who’s an up-and-coming critic that you want people to check out?

The person that I have been reading the most at the moment is a critic and writer called Jack King (@jackarking), who is based in the UK. He writes a lot about queer cinema and especially the AIDS crisis and how that’s been depicted on film. He did these pieces on The Normal Heart and Boys in the Band that I found fantastic.

What I’m really into at the moment from criticism is people who can find that balance between personal passion and insight and also historical and social context, which is really hard to do. This guy Jack, he’s really good at doing it, where you come away from the pieces always feeling like, “I have a greater understanding of the world, but also of this writer.” That, to me, is just one of the most impressive things you can do.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about critics?

Oh, I think that critics are telling you what to watch or telling you what to like.

Every critic is just giving their opinion – and every opinion, I think, is informed by so many different things. It’s informed by your tastes, your perspective and your upbringing and your beliefs and a million things. And so, obviously, that’s why we see so many differences in what critics are writing, because they’re all coming from completely different places. That’s what I think is really cool about film criticism. You learn about the world as you read all these people’s opinions because you see where everyone’s coming from.

I love reading somebody who is coming from a completely different position from me and sees the film in a completely different way, and reading it, you go, “I never thought about it that way before.”

I think that’s what we should all be taking away from film criticism instead of looking at a review and going like, “Oh, this person told me that I should like this Star Wars movie.” That is not what we’re doing.


Walt Disney Pictures
(Photo by Walt Disney Pictures)

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I’m one of the guest critics on a BBC radio show here called Mark Kermode’s and Simon Mayo’s Film Review. It’s live radio.

My whole life, I have suffered from pretty bad anxiety and stage fright. I, at one point, wanted to be an actor, and I think the fear really stopped me from pursuing that properly. And so, being able to do that and go on live radio and speak to many, many people at the same time is terrifying but satisfying beyond words. It has been such an amazing, surreal experience. I just feel very proud of myself that I’m able to do that.

I’d imagine that, as a writer, you spend so much time delicately thinking over your words – to be live sounds terrifying.

Yeah. You can’t take it back, that’s the thing. If you write something and you hate it, you delete it. Radio, you say something, you can’t take it back. It’s totally terrifying.

What is the hardest review that you’ve ever written – or, if it was on the radio, delivered live?

The one I immediately thought of was just last year: I saw Cats and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – it was a double bill. My deadline for both of the reviews was the next morning. I really had to stay up all night writing about what, for me, were two incredibly surreal experiences.

Cats, on a very obvious level – I feel like everyone had a very strange experience with that. But, also, I am a huge, huge Star Wars fan, and so, Rise of Skywalker was like three Christmases at the same time. But, then, the film didn’t really do the things I was hoping it would do, so I was dealing with all the emotions of that. That was just a really strange night.


What’s your favorite classic film?

Wilder’s The Apartment, because there’s something I love about just semi-optimistic endings – because that also has that feeling of everything could be terrible.

You could be a loser and have nothing. You just feel like you’ve got nothing going on. But, there’s other people just like you, and maybe you’ll find them, and together you can be a little bit less of a loser. I don’t know why, but that, to me, is just like “yes.” That is how I want to see the world. That makes me feel great about everything.

Do you have advice for critics who are still finding their voice?

I think just try to be honest with yourself, because that’s what I find so hard about this industry.

This is the thing. You are on a weekly basis exposing yourself to the world – not exposing yourself, because that sounds really dodgy, but exposing your soul to the world every week. You have to be quite vulnerable to do that. It’s scary, especially when it’s a film that is about something very personal or something controversial, and you’re really having to make your stand with it.

It’s so easy to feel trapped by that and to feel scared, that you don’t want to be honest with yourself because you’re worried that, “Oh, that’s going to be different from how everyone else thinks. I’m going to go against the status quo. I’m going to stand out in a good way or a bad way.”

Just have the courage to be like, “This is my honest opinion. I stand by it. I am being true to myself. This is my voice.” Stick by it. If people are being mean, just block them on Twitter, and find nice people who will support you.

Is there someone in your life who isn’t a critic, whose opinion on movies you really admire?

I would say my best friend, because when I’m having those anxieties about a review – and I think that my opinion might be terrible and stupid, and everyone will make fun of me – I go to my best friend. I will describe my opinion, and even if he hasn’t seen the film, he’s so good at listening and giving his take. We have quite similar taste in films, but in the ways that they vary, I find really interesting. We’re always wanting to talk about that because we have quite similar personalities. But, it’s like, why do we have such different tastes on a handful of specific movies?


Paramount Home Media Distribution
(Photo by Paramount Home Media Distribution)

Is there an actor, director, or screenwriter whose work you always love?

I’m a very big fan of Taika Waititi. Boy is, well, I think, my favorite movie, period, because there is something about his outlook on the world that I find so comforting. I could be having the worst day, and I just watch one of his films, particularly Boy, and it’s not so much the feeling that “everything’s going to be all right, don’t worry.” It’s more the feeling of “you can handle this,” which I think all of his movies have that kind of ending.

Who are three people that you think everyone should follow on Twitter?

I quite obsessively follow an account called Dancer on Film (@DancerOnFilm). It’s just clips of scenes of dancing in movies… It’s so fascinating how this tiny human action is just universal across time, country, language, genre. You’re always just going to find scenes of people dancing. I just find that really comforting for some reason.

@TheFinalGirlsUK, which is run by my friend Anna Bogutskaya (@annabdemented). She is just my go-to expert for horror and feminism and those two things combined. She just runs an absolutely brilliant podcast, and also now expanding into a journal that explores those things. I always feel like I’m learning so much from her.

Grace Barber-Plentie (@GraceSimone). She is one of these brilliant, all-around, people. She does marketing. She does programming. She does writing. I find her insights really useful because I think, as a film critic, I just sit and watch movies. … Sometimes I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble. So, I just always find her insights fascinating, from somebody who’s seeing the industry from all angles.


What is the movie or show that you’ve seen more than anything else?

I have watched American Horror Story so many times.

When I mentioned my friend Anna [Bogutskaya], we have a podcast now about American Horror Story, where we’re now re-watching it from the beginning. We’re up to “Coven” at the moment.

We’re both just really obsessed with it because it’s so ridiculous. It always feels like Ryan Murphy is trying to mess with the audience or troll his audience. I just find that great. I love a show creator who has some weird disdain for his own audience, where it’s like “how can I just make you really angry?” But, also, you love it.

You’re angry, and you’re obsessed and in love with it. That, to me, is a Ryan Murphy show. If you have those two conflicting feelings, you’re watching a Ryan Murphy show. It’s kind of my comfort TV, but also my TV I like to yell at.

The new season is Mermaids, I think, and I’m so excited. I’m so excited. Mermaids. Mermaids.

He really knows how to deliver exactly what we want in exactly the way we don’t want it.

You nailed it. You want it, but you’re like, “Why are you doing it this way?”

Do you have a favorite season?

My favorite is “Hotel” because it’s the most ridiculous of them all.

The Rudolph Valentino storyline … I think he’s a fan of classic cinema. I nearly threw my laptop out of the window when I saw that. When it’s like, “It’s Rudolph Valentino here. Now he’s a vampire.” I can’t. I can’t with this show. What?

That entire season is … It feels like he’s laughing at us.

Yes, and I love it. I want to be laughed at. He’ll be like, “You are such a little, dumb person for tuning in every single week thinking that you’re going to get what you want, but you’re not going to.”


Clarisse Loughrey is chief film critic at The Independent, appears on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review (BBC Radio), and co-hosts The Next Supremes podcast. Find her on Twitter: @clarisselou.

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