Saturday, August 9, 2014

THE BORDERLANDS (Elliot Goldner, 2013, UK)

A Vatican research team walks the twilight realm between modern faith and pagan superstition, attempting a skeptical analysis of religious miracles and paranormal activity. Director Elliot Goldner’s “found footage” narrative posits an interesting idea: hardcore Catholic apologists who seek to deny belief in the supernatural and expose frauds and magical thinking, yet hold fast to their 21st century faith. It soon becomes ironic that Deacon and Mark, ordained by the Catholic Church are the non-believers while Gray, the hired help, easily includes the supernatural into his worldview! 

Goldner utilizes the trite and now overcooked “found footage” style of photography by using mounted cameras at each location and POV shaky-cam headsets. He also limits the scope of the film and uses only two major locations: the church and a small rented house occupied by our three protagonists. At each of these sites the characters assemble and mount cameras in multiple corners to catch and hopefully expose the paranormal or trickery of the priest or townsfolk. It’s never explained why they would mount cameras in their cottage but it does serve a narrative function for exposition. The other locations are captured only through their POV headsets (with microphones) and this links together the narrative. Though obviously edited together to tell a story, it still realistically depicts some frightful and interesting events. 

Gray and Deacon arrive at a small cottage somewhere in rural England to investigate a miracle at a tiny and remote church. They meet with the young Priest and are allowed to view this miracle which was captured on video. It looks like an earthquake with a deep rumbling and items vibrating across the altar. Not impressed, they begin to examine the church’s historical archives for any other clues. Deacon discovers an ancient tome (shades of Abdul Alhazred perhaps?) and begins immersing himself in this grimoire. Gray continues to examine sound recordings. Soon, a burning sheep in their backyard reminds them that they’re outsiders in a small community and these villagers may be more hostile than they first seemed. As the Priest begins acting strangely, events at the church begin to peak until he throws himself from the church tower. Now it is a matter of life and death. 

The small church seems to be very old. It’s interesting that unexplained occurrences happen at random times in broad daylight: children weeping, ground shaking, or the guttural acoustics of some beast. Each event can be explained within the diegetics of the story and gives Mark reason to disbelieve this weak evidence.  Deacon comes to believe that something ancient may be haunting the church, and his behavior becomes more and more skewed and “sinful”. Gray realizes he is in over his head! When a Father Calvino is called in to exorcise the church in the final act, the truth is finally summoned. 

The investigators soon find themselves chasing one another through tunnels under the church, catacombs that predate not only the church but probably the village itself. They discover the gruesome sacrifice to this Elder god and the reason why an orphanage was built so close to the church (mentioned in the book): a large pile of children's bones.  As the tunnels close in (and we only see via POV cameras) Deacon and Gray chase Mark who always seems to be just around the next corner. The strange ceremony performed by Father Calvino now seems like it may have been a summoning ritual, bringing forth some dreaded demon instead of banishing it! Finally, they are crawling through rubble until the walls become a strange gluttonous mass and the tunnel closes behind them. They have crawled into the bowels of the Beast! As they are digested by this Lovecraftian horror we see their final images as they scream in pain in despair. For Deacon and Gray, Jesus may be fiction but the Elder god remains all too real. 

Final Grade: (C+) 

Friday, August 1, 2014

THX-1138 (George Lucas, 1971, revised 2004, USA)

In this backwards world, flesh and blood creatures that were once human, who felt deep love invade their very marrow, now willingly assemble their blank-faced Nazi superiors, their own emotions reduced to binary code in the great master computer circit-ulatory system. 

Like prisoners of the Nazi Death camps, this macro-society has no identity, their humanity wiped away: heads shaved and names replaced by the cruel indifference of numbers, the value of life discounted and discarded…the dead easily replaced by other soma modified drones. These physical beings have become simulacra, clacking away pre-programmed and disposable, their consciousness drugged and monitored by the State. But one woman breaks this chemical bondage and frees her mate, THX-1138: they revolt and begin to think on their own; they fall in love and resist reassignment: they have become the very essence of anarchy…. human beings. And they must be destroyed. 

Unfortunately, George Lucas redacted the original film and inserted new CGI effects that stand out in stark contrast to the minimalist nature of the film. There are some sublime visual compositions: the men lost in the white cell, tiny and insignificant as they become swallowed by nothingness; a crowded bustling corridor, a violent crushing sea of bodies; the point-of-view as the characters open their medicine cabinets, the ubiquitous overseers always watching; the automatic confessional where a docile voice repeats the same inane suggestions, the plastic Jesus frozen and expressionless; a pickled fetus, reassigned the number of his dead lover; or the Police Robots, reminiscent of the indestructible Gort, stalking the corridors with kind words and killing dissenters with their nightsticks. 

Lalo Schifrin’s score hits the right notes of subtly and mystery; it doesn’t overpower the narrative but accentuates the tension with perfect timing. Alas, the State must be kept in the red; THX-1138 is allowed to escape because the pursuit has put the project over-budget. As he climbs to the surface he is silhouetted against a setting sun, alive, free, and alone. 

Final Grade: (B)