Wednesday, August 11, 2021

OLD (M. Night Shyamalan, 2021)


If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you will understand that my first sentence encapsulates the film’s theme or some interesting plot-point in an oblique way usually involving a pun or other perceived witticism: it’s quite fun to write! But this film doesn’t deserve such attention as it fails on every creative and technical level of film making; in straight terms…it stinks! Luis Bunuel did it much better in THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL using an absurd premise as biting social commentary. Shyamalan’s intent seems to be in utilizing the germ of this hypothesis to allow us to consider the big question of ethics in scientific research and its utilitarian principles of the “greater good for the greatest number” by dehumanizing “Big Pharma”. But it’s a non-starter as the story isn’t tightly conceived to ponder such intricate ideals: I find my disbelief unsuspended as young PHD level researchers and medical doctors would murder hundreds of innocent people by sacrificing their Hippocratic Oath in such as fashion. A better script would have examined this moral conflict by focusing upon the researchers themselves, burdened with the moral conundrum of mass murder versus saving masses instead of fixating upon exploiting the victim’s suffering. However, the Nuremberg Code has already answered this medical moral question with finality.

The premise: a group of poorly sketched characters are trapped on a secluded beach and cannot leave. They begin to grow older by the minute and quickly age and physical and mentally deteriorate in 24 hours. Turns out, the mystical beach is used as a research laboratory to test the efficacy of drugs using these sickly human guinea pigs without consent. Time trials for experimental drugs which would normally takes years can be reduced to a few hours. But the inane script changes the rules as it goes so the magical aging effects aren’t consistent and terrifying. For example, they age approximately a year for every half-hour, but their hair and fingernails refuse to grow, fall out or turn gray. A character excuses this with exposition saying it must be because dead cells don’t age…but the biological process still does! It’s a purposeful fallacy perpetuated by such a dumb screenplay because if their hair grew quickly, it would be a dead giveaway and ‘spoil” the reveal. Script-writing at its manipulative worst. Also, I suggest that rapid growth of the children would require inordinate amounts of calories and we barely see them eating at all. Come to think of it, if all their biological processes are hyper-accelerated, they would all starve to death very quickly. Another WTF! inanity is the mention that this is the 73rd Test Group: so, we must believe that over the past few years hundreds of wealthy families disappeared from their environments and not a single one was traced back to this “resort”? There’s a nearly throwaway line of dialogue in the final act when a Tech says that all of the victim’s computers and phones were recovered and scrubbed…as if people didn’t tell friends and family about their vacation before leaving! It’s stupid at face value and becomes more so the longer one thinks about it. I won’t mention the tumor removal surgery which is so foolish it should be quickly forgotten. And the Deus Ex Machina in the form of a notebook in the film’s final moments is a shoddy and lazy plot device that is embarrassing.

But is the film scary? Well, if you suffer from petraphobia and/or aquaphobia you may find this terrifying. Otherwise, lingering shots of jagged rocks and crashing waves will leave you drowsy. Shyamalan confuses fear with violence and when the story slows down, he ramps up the action with a murderous and racist doctor who likes to stab everyone or a woman whose calcium deficiency leads to a laughably pretzelled demise. The tension should be in the buildup and the execution the shock: here he suffers to do either competently. I am now sufficiently convinced (as if THE HAPPENING didn’t already!) that Shyamalan is not a modern-day Hitchcock but more akin to the 21st century Ed Wood.

The actors seem to wrestle with their poorly written dialogue which is more exposition than conversation and fail to reflect the rapid and complex worsening of their mental, spiritual and emotional conditions. The cinematography is awful with bad CGI landscapes where the camera focuses upon rocks for much too long in order to create suspense or dread, I suppose. The CGI aging is also cringe-worthy and the plot points ridiculous. When the 6 year old children age to teenage years in the matter of a few hours and have sex resulting in a quick pregnancy and stillbirth, it was more hilarious than dreadful. The film is also amateurishly framed in 2:39:1 as medium-long shots occasionally cut-off the top of a speaker’s head or only capture someone’s nose at the edge of a composition. This may have been the fault of the projectionist which would make more sense as I can’t believe such inept camerawork could pass through undetected (or uncared for) by the DP.

One thing is certain, you will grow 148 minutes older while watching this film but it will feel like 148 years.

Final Grade: (F)

Saturday, July 31, 2021

DEAD AND BURIED (Gary Sherman, 1981)


Sheriff Gillis seems a stranger in an unstrange town, his childhood haunt now full of a nihilistic dread of murdered tourists and the walking dead. Potter’s Bluff is an interesting name as the very town is a “Potter’s Field” for the intransigent and the Bluff is not a cliff but a rude deception! Gary Sherman’s deft direction and narrative structure reveals little clues one at a time, relying on foreshadowing events and not just talky exposition. Combined with Steven Poster’s languid cinematography and Stan Winston’s gruesome effects (needle in the fucking eye, holy shit) their talent elevates this from mere exploitation to classic horror.

The film begins with a photographer being seduced by a lovely woman who then participates in burning him to death while a ghastly group appears to watch and capture his torturous demise on super 8. As the film progresses more out-of-towners are gruesomely murdered by this barbarous bunch who appear at each scene like apparitions, materializing from the night and fog. Meanwhile Sheriff Gillis is trying to solve this murder mystery in which everyone seems tangentially implicated to included even his wife and co-workers. Director Gary Sherman allows this feeling of panic to develop slowly as the Sheriff discovers the identity of the unknown photographer (ID was burned) and sees him pumping gas in town or the results of the scientific analysis of decaying flesh left by a severed arm on his rusted Ford Bronco. Dobbs, the local Coroner/Mortician is a strange beast who seems a bit mad-scientist but could be just a grumpy old man obsessed with his handy-work. Everything is slightly off-kilter until the big reveal as the story crashes towards its EC Comics climax! The entire town seems aged and decomposing (like its inhabitants) such as Gillis’ rusted police 4×4 or the houses that seem empty and in disrepair: this subtly adds to the onerous anxiousness. One scene in the final act is horrifying: when Gillis’ wife realizes she’s one of the walking dead, she wanders to an open grave and begs her husband to bury her, to put an end to her un-life. It’s reminiscent of another 70’s horror classic Bob Clark’s DEATH DREAM when the young undead protagonist urges his mother to bury him, to allow him to finally find peace.

The acting is first-rate as everyone plays their part perfectly straight though Jack Albertson as Dobbs goes a bit campy in the final scenes. As he lays dying he is able to inject himself with the serum that will prolong his un-life yet why didn’t he do that years ago? I mean, he would never age and just have to touch himself up once in a while. Why wait until he has a heart attack or some other natural catastrophe or gets shot in the torso when he could have done it at his leisure? And how does Gillis not know he’s an undead? Does he shit and have normal bodily functions? You may ask yourself these questions and a few more (Did Dobb’s really wire his lab with a dozen projectors?) but the film is composed so well it makes sense within the confines of the narrative. Just go with it.

Here in Potter’s Bluff they let the dead bury the dead. Literally.

Final Grade: (B+)

Saturday, January 16, 2021

THE MUMMY'S GHOST (Reginald Le Borg, 1944, USA)


Amina’s body houses the ghost of Kharis’ lost love Ananka, a centuries old Egyptian taboo that is reincarnated into 20th century middle-class America where modern society has devolved into misogynistic social mores. It’s interesting to note that Ancient Egypt considered men and women as equal under the law yet here 4,000 years later in Mapleton, Massachusetts circa 1944 our heroine Amina is treated as nothing more than a victim, her Rights diminished and domestic choices preordained. Director Reginald Le Borg toys with the tropes of the horror genre but more importantly calls attention directly to the misogyny and hypocrisy of 20th century American male in the process.

The plot is fairly silly and routine for a B movie: an Egyptian High priest must call the mummy Kharis forth by burning nine tana leaves on the full moon then reunite him with his lost love Ananka whose mummified body is held in a museum in Mapleton. The twist comes when the physical body of Ananka crumbles when touched by Kharis and it’s revealed that her spirit must haunt some other fleshy abode nearby. Death and destruction ensue.

Amina is a college girl of Egyptian descent (though she has no physical characteristics that would ever lead one to believe it!) who is trying to finish her courses at the local college. She is dating the local hunk with the good old American name on Tom Hervey. Tom treats his intelligent and sometimes traumatized girlfriend (soon to be fiancĂ©) as a child by diminishing her needs by asserting his typical male bigotry. There is not a scintilla of chemistry between the two of them and she looks more distrustful of him than lovelorn. This may be the fault of the actors (Actress Ramsey Ames was a last minute replacement) but it fits the theme of the film very well. If you break down our heroine’s name Amina to its enunciated parts, a Mina is an ancient unit of weight and value equal to 1/60th of a Talent. So our protagonist is only 1/60th of a person…and she’s treated as such by the men in the story. Her fears and desires aren’t realistically considered by Tom and she’s often chided for being silly and superstitious.

As the story progresses and the mummy wreaks havoc upon small town USA, the townsfolk set up night watches and patrol the streets at all hours. But it begs the question: how far can a slow walking, limping foot-dragging mummy really go? But there are some nice flourishes. The local sheriff actually recruits the help of a college professor and they attempt to lure the mummy by secretly burning tana leaves (like the priest and another victim earlier). The posse digs a pit and camouflages it in an attempt to trap the mummy since it has superhuman strength. I suppose no one thought to just trip the creature and chop a leg off! But a rather good plan all things considered. Another scene has the museum’s night watchman listening to a murder program on the radio (“Someone will die tonight!”) and reading a lurid pulp.  It’s a bit of self-referential trope since we know the mummy is nearby and the guard is about to become one more victim.

But it’s the finale that really propels this B movie to a Grade A film! As Kharis kidnaps Amina whom he now realizes to be the reincarnated Ananka, Director Le Borg cross cuts with the confused posse, the forlorn lover Tom, the rascally dog Peanut who was given to her as protection, and the limping Mummy with his armful of flesh stumbling towards his hideout. It’s Peanut that is competent, the dog leading Tom to his mistress while all of the men of the town practically run around in circles carrying, not pitchforks and torches but lanterns and shotguns. Tom is decked by Kharis and tumbles unconscious into the bushes while Kharis gets away. Amina is slowly transforming into the spirit of Ananka: her hair which earlier had a white-streak (ala bride of Frankenstein?) is now snow white. Then we get close-ups of her hand growing veiny and decrepit as Kharis slowly approaches a swamp. Tom even regains consciousness and during the chase trips in the mud thus subverting the classic horror trope! The impotent men can do nothing to help Tom or Amina as we get one final look at her visage, now aged and mummified like Kharis, just before they are submerged in the brackish waters. The men pat Tom on the back in despair and walk away from the swamp but it’s only Peanut who sits faithfully by the water’s edge, waiting, watching, and hoping his mistress will come back to the shore.
The men have failed. Kharis has taken back his property. Amina is dead. The music swells and the End credits roll. This nihilistic ending must have shocked audiences at the time and, I suppose, can still shock audiences today.

Final Grade (A)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MARTIN (George Romero, 1977, USA)

A troubled young man is confounded by the anachronism of memory, juxtaposing sexual desire for bloodletting, his existence devoid of magic but ripe with superstition. George Romero propels the vampire myth into the 20th century as a tale of adolescent angst corrupted by archaic family values, where sex becomes violent penetration (a hypodermic as substitute for his manhood), a thirst slaked not only by blood...but the power to control.

The film opens with a brutal rape on a train, where an ordinary young man sneaks into a locked compartment and subdues a woman with a hypo full of sodium pentothal, has sex with her unconscious and unresponsive body, then cuts her wrists with a razor blade to drink the blood. He then arranges the room to make it seem like a suicide. As the camera follows the perpetrator from the train we soon realize that he is our subject, the story’s protagonist that has only earned our outrage. It is to Romero’s credit that Martin eventually becomes a sympathetic character, a victim of a family shame who treads precariously in the thorns of his uncle’s Old World. His vociferous uncle Cuda taunts Martin believing him to be “Nosferatu” and vows to destroy him but will save his soul first...unless Martin kills again. Cuda hangs garlic on the doors, crucifixes on the walls, and even has an Catholic priest perform a meek exorcism. Martin is profoundly disturbed and acts out these vampire tropes by mundane means: without the use of “magic”, he utilizes drugs to control his victims and a razor the cut their veins. Romero uses black and white scenes to portray either Martin’s distant past (he believes himself to be over 80 years old) or his fantasy world tainted by classic horror films: Martin has fulfilled his uncle’s prophecy.

The killings decline when Martin finally discovers a willing companion to satisfy his sexual urges, a depressed and drunken married woman, but her suicide is ironically pinned on him; or more precisely, pinned through him.

Final Grade: (B+)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

IT COMES AT NIGHT ((Trey Edward Shults, 2017, USA)

A family of three despairs of what waits beyond the red door, fearing plague and those driven to their most base impulses who will murder for a drink of fresh water. But when gazing into the doorway…the doorway also gazes back. Director/Writer Trey Edward Shults tells a minimalist survival tale mostly set within a boarded-up rural house; a chamber piece of nightmares and secrets.
The plot is fairly straightforward but Shults doesn’t give us much exposition; we have to piece together the images and fragments of nightmares to come to any satisfactory conclusion.
The film begins with a gruesome sight: a zombie-like man gasping for breath surrounded by people in gas masks. This man is obviously sick and dying. He is lifted into a wheelbarrow and taken out into the woods and shot through the head. His body is burned. We soon learn he was the Patriarch of a small family that now includes 17 year old son Travis and his mother and father. This is a bi-racial family yet the story makes no mention of this fact, it is not a plot device to make some bold statement: refreshingly, it just is. We then settle into the daily routine of survival and grieving without much explanation. However, this triptych is much like the Renaissance lithograph that hangs in the house (Hieronymus Bosch?)  that alludes to a world and society decimated by plague. If the painting seems contrived as a way to offer information elliptically then it makes a bit more sense later in the film when Travis’ father explains his pre-apocalypse vocation: History Teacher. The next day a stranger is caught breaking into the house and after a brutal struggle he is knocked unconscious and tied to a tree outside (in case he’s infected).  This stranger soon brings his family of three (wife and six year old son) into the fold as the six of them try to survive in their wilderness abode. But this stranger is later caught in a seemingly prosaic half-truth.
Shults’ taught direction is mostly relegated to indoors: both metaphorically and physically. He films in 2:35 with mostly tight middle-shots but I thought this film would have benefitted from the Academy ratio to be more claustrophobic. The tension seems more imagined or paranoid between the families than forthright: this lends a very realistic quality to their dilemma. When your very survival is at stake can you truly trust anyone…even family? But Shults isn’t just interested in the mundane activities of survival; he’s more interested in the psychological toll upon Travis. Shults takes us on a few dream-journeys that belong to Travis’ point-of-view and we soon discover that imagination and reality have some crossover point.  Using POV fade-outs from Travis’ perspective, we experience some nightmarish images and possible recollections that haunt his traumatized mind. This would make an excellent double-feature with Michael Haneke’s TIME OF THE WOLF.
The focal point of the story is the red door: it is the only way into or out of the house as all other doors/windows have been boarded over. This door is always locked at night and they never go at after dark. The climax of the film and its violent third act concerns the mystery of the unlocked door after dark and the return of the Travis’ dog. This causes panic in the household as the dog carries the plague. Travis discovered the unlocked door but swears he didn’t open it. Could the six year old have opened it? Is the disease (dis-ease) already in the house? Shults shows this from Travis’ POV but alludes to the explanation a few minutes later. We have already seen into Travis’ nightmares and his nighttime wanderings and his decisions to disobey his father (like leaving the room when they’re supposed to be locked down). It’s peripherally explained that Travis, in a nightmare fugue, left the house at night and went looking for his lost dog. He brought the dog back to the house because there is no other explanation for how it entered the initial threshold. So what does come at night? I believe it’s fairly evident from the depiction of Travis’ traumatized consciousness that it’s the nightmares and sleepwalking that comes at night. And this is the fatal revelation that leads to the final Act.
The third and final Act has the two families split and locked down in their separate bedrooms. It’s already been explained that the plague appears within 24 hours so the tension is cranked up to 11. Travis sneaks out of the room (not following directions) and hears the little boy crying. This leads to a final and brutal confrontation where the other family tries to leave the house but won’t reveal if their child has symptoms of the plague. A shootout ensues and the other family is killed. We suddenly cut to black and see Travis in bed with the plague, death mere hours away. The film ends with his mother and father covered in blood, emptied of all humanity and severely traumatized, starring at one another across the kitchen table.
Travis will die of the plague. But did his parents contract it? If they survive, is life still worth living? They shot and killed an entire family of three (like their own) to survive. Where they morally justified? And was it indeed Travis who brought all of this on unwittingly? None of these questions is answered by the film’s conclusion. We are left like our protagonists in limbo and doubt.
Final Grade: (B+)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

IT: CHAPTER ONE (Andy Muschietti, 2017, USA)

Seven children take the first tentative steps towards adulthood as they must not only face the idea of a world of random unjust violence but conquer it as well. Stephen King’s IT is once again adapted for the screen (this time the silver one) and Director Andy Muschietti gets more right than he does wrong…though there are a plethora of missed opportunities and missteps.
First of all, the structure of the film has been streamlined from the source material and previous mini-series. Gone are the cross-cutting and flashbacks that introduce each character and tie the children and adult actors together into a whole character. The mini-series did a wonderful job of introducing the adult or child and giving them a unique quirk such as an unconscious impulse to pull one’s ear when stressed, or put a hand over one’s mouth in revulsion, Bev’s hair of January embers or Bill’s recurring stutter. These visual cues work perfectly so there is no doubt which child actor grows into the adult playing the same character’s role. In this film version of IT, Muschietti eschews this structure for telling the childhood story (now set in 1989 instead of 1957) which allows this world of corrupted innocence more room to breathe and thrive. We are able to spend more time in direct contact with the children’s world and experience it almost exclusively from their perspective. Like the Peanuts cartoon, there are very few adults and the ones allowed any significant screen time are tainted (though it’s never overtly stated) by the alien presence that will soon taunt our pubescent protagonists. The film is already two hours long and trying to shoehorn in any flash forwards for seven characters would have stretched the film too thin. Bottom line, this structure works well for this film. Time will tell if the second Chapter is as coherent and cohesive as the first.
Next I’ll discuss the film’s overall style to include editing, framing, score and soundtrack, set design, and special effects/CGI. Editing is where the film stumbles and becomes rather prosaic. Let me give you an example (with Spoilers, of course. So read on at your own risk). The opening credit sequence introduces us to Bill Denbrough and his soon to be dismembered little brother Georgie as they make a paper boat coated with paraffin wax. When the boat races into the storm drain we get our first look at Pennywise the Dancing Clown. But Muschietti fails to give this BIG REVEAL any narrative weight. Though the killer clown and his Cheshire grin are creepy, the shot sequence fails to build any suspense; that is, it doesn’t really put us into Georgie’s shoes. Frustratingly, he cuts away to an old woman and a placid cat in the middle of this sequence thus allaying any inherent fear he’s built thus far. Cut back to Georgie talking into the drain with the glib Pennywise. As he reaches into the storm drain to get his paper boat from his new friend the suspense builds once again but is already compromised. The clown changes and bites Georgie’s arm off then drags him into the sewer. Cut back to the old lady and her cat that sees only a dark stain like muddy water near the curb. The missed opportunity is relevant: Muschietti cuts away at a dramatic moment for no narrative reason at all. If the old lady/cat was a reaction shot that added something to the scene then it’s desirable….especially a deliberate non-reaction shot. If the cat hissed or became violently freaked-out while the lady sees Georgie get pulled into the drain then this is a powerful statement for the adults turning a blind-eye to the murders and disappearances. The revelation later that Pennywise may have an influence over the entire population becomes foreshadowed.  But here, it just impedes the suspense of the scene and gives us a confusing series of shots away from the main action. Not the way to introduce one of the most important monsters in recent film history! And the CGI looks rather rushed and unfinished. Why not have the actor actually dragged into the drain (safely, of course) or use prosthetics for the close-ups. As it stands (Stephen King pun intended) the first five-plus minutes looks a bit forced and visually awkward. Fortunately, the film mostly recovers.
Continuing to discuss the style, the whiff of nostalgia works well enough for those of us who grew up (or continued to) in the late 80s as the film’s set designs are beautifully rendered and well-conceived. This was my favorite part of the film! A Replacements poster on Bev’s bedroom wall! Kudos. The soundtrack blasts The Cult’s Love Removal Machine to introduce Beverley (nice touch) and XTC’s atheistic anthem Dear God in the third act (another nice touch). The use of period music isn’t overblown and hackneyed but the film’s score is, like the framing and editing, rather mundane. I couldn’t discern any style or Vision (with a capital “V”) that Muschietti imprinted upon the work. Like any recent Marvel film IT is workman-like and banal but gets the job done. Part of this problem was most likely the liberal use of CGI so framing/shot selection gets a bit limited. At least there were no Zach Snyder god-awful slow-motion battles and reaction shots! This is a shame because the DP is Chung Chung-hoon who lensed a few of the most beautiful thriller/horror films in recent memory for the (nearly) legendary (and one of my favorite contemporary Directors) Park Chan-wook. Chung-hoon was DP on STOKER, OLDBOY and the visually stunning THE HANDMAIDEN. Muschietti just doesn’t allow him to utilize his abilities to their potential! Frustrating! Establishing shots also seemed a bit confusing because the film was cut from a longer run time in post-production. Two scenes stand out. The first is the scene when Ed’s mother shows up at the dilapidated house after the group’s first battle with IT. There is no explanation on how she arrived (the kids never told anyone) at the exact moment they come running out. Another occurs later in the film when Bev is practically sexually assaulted by her father: Bill is first seen riding his bike by the Standpipe (which features prominently in the book but is never mentioned in this film) then is suddenly in her apartment calling her name. Maybe a Director’s Cut will help explain these bizarre transitions?
The Monster: Pennywise the Dancing Clown. But it’s (or IT’S) not really a clown …is it? This is a shape-shifting creature of nearly unlimited potential that lures children into its lair to feed upon their fear and flesh. So IT is something that pretends to be a clown, like a fishing lure, but can’t help to reveal its true intentions. Bill Skarsgard imbues the creature with this otherworldly intenseness while still retaining a bit of its assumed inhumanity: that is, he makes this one creepy fucking antagonist! Though I liked Tim Curry’s predatory interpretation here Skarsgard makes us believe that this is indeed a monster from some other realm or reality. Curry’s Pennywise could have been the creepy uncle who is never invited to family reunions! This makes his performance terrifyingly humane in the original mini-series. Which do I prefer? I think Curry’s is genuinely frightening because of its rationality but Skarsgard’s doppelganger works well within the confines of this story. I’ll give the nod to Curry because he’s not slathered in CGI. But the fault with this reincarnation is that Pennywise seems to be anywhere at any given time: he seems powerfully ubiquitous. Since the Barrens as an important reservoir of his power is removed from the plot he seems like a Deus Ex Machina plot development. Story slows down, just throw in the clown! The rules for his preternatural powers are not delineated enough to wholly build credible suspense. On the other hand (or claw), I like the fact that the film doesn’t spend much time on exposition. Even as Pennywise is attacked and subsequently vanquished (for another 27 years, at least) we are shown the reason as opposed to being told over and over: the love and bond between true friends! As they act together and stick up for one another this group of Losers becomes more powerful than this demented pariah. This isn’t THE GOONIES awful melodrama, thankfully!
The children are particularly wonderful and propel the story towards its inevitable climax. We get to know Bill and Beverly more than any other character but they’re all perfectly cast. Some criticism has been directed at the child who plays Stan Uris (or “Urine” as he’s called in the book) as being to stand-offish and stone-faced but I believe this is intentional: Stan in the book is the uber-rational one who eventually can’t withstand the penetration of the irrational into his rigid worldview. This will probably be better explained in Chapter 2. I think his acting was perfectly in-line with Stan’s characterization from the novel. One scene in particular captures the essence of the children’s (especially Bill’s) trauma:  the condemned house when they decide to confront Pennywise. As the group seems about to fracture Bill walks towards the front door and speaks about a different kind of ghost, that of his little brother, which haunts his parent’s home: the ghost of PTSD. He’s alluding to a reality that awaits him every day when he goes home, and we can see in our mind’s eye his parents shuffling about empty rooms struggling with memories that are more real that the tangible world. Bill looks towards this house that squats like a Lovecraftian horror and says, “I’d rather go in there than go home”. His friends immediately understand and rally around him: the bond cannot now be broken by pain or fear or suffering…because they have already faced the worst that a random universe can throw at them. It’s called Life.
I hesitate to mention subtext because I believe it’s hidden in plain sight: Beverly’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father. Her dominating father “You’re still MY girl, aren’t you Bevy? I worry about you a lot” and his perverse ownership of his daughter is one of the most troubling and frightening aspects of the entire film. When Pennywise wears the face of her father to instill debilitating fear she grabs a phallic symbol (spear) and shoves it down IT’s throat. Again, the metaphor is worn on her sleeve: she violently forces something down his throat, for once.
IT is a coming of age film that thankfully is quite unlike Spielberg’s or Zemeckis’ childish sentimentality. Instead of caricatures coming together to play-fight, we experience children suffering adult trauma discovering that in friendship and companionship this burden becomes a bit easier to bear. Muschietti elevates this to a child-like wonder and awe and doesn’t get mired in the morass of faux melodrama. He has made an adult horror film with children.
Final Grade: (B)

Monday, June 26, 2017

AUDITION (Takashi Miike, 2000, Japan)

A widower begins to surreptitiously audition attractive young women for a new role: potential spouse. But who is interviewing whom? Director Takashi Miike turns the horror convention upside down by delivering a deliberately paced psychological drama that walks the razor wire’s edge.
Shigeharu is a successful businessman and a lonely single dad who loves his teenage son; both are well-adjusted and bright individuals. Miike begins his masterpiece of sadistic horror by developing our protagonist as an empathetic and complex person; he refuses to allow clichĂ©d melodrama to intrude upon the narrative. Though Shigeharu’s methods are morally questionable, his intentions are quite sincere. His mistake is in wanting to be a savior instead of seeking an equal partner, falling victim to his own male egocentrism which becomes a violent condemnation of Patriarchal mores.  He is intrigued by one specific applicant because of her honesty about her traumatic past, her triumph over adversity, and he focuses his attention upon the beautiful and seemingly delicate Asami. But he is being manipulated from the very first word, being reeled in like a prize-catch by a tormented young lady who is victim…and victimizer.
Miike holds our suspense hostage in a burlap sack while revealing subtle clues that question our heroine’s virtue. He utilizes flashbacks and flash-forwards to startling effect, not as a slick gimmick but to engulf us in existential dread, to feel the dark chill of the abyss nipping at our nose…and under our eyes…and tongue…fingers, ears, and feet. Asami plays her role perfectly as Shigeharu becomes the final act and the bloody stage her world. Yet, through the sadism, this cruel confusion of love and pain, we sense her victimization and can connect on some primal level to her suffering, a deep spiritual malaise that has habilitated her into a gruesome torturer. This should not alleviate Asami’s guilt but Miike isn’t concerned with questioning her motives; he wants us to experience her pain vicariously through Shigeharu, to confuse our emotional loyalties and discard easy personal judgments.
AUDITION is about power and control, the absolute authority that one human being can wield over another. Asami’s final breath exhales the delicate and fermenting vapor of the tomb, a genial acquittal, an unburdening of all responsibility, and we wonder if Shigeharu can ever bring himself to hate her. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

THIRST (Park Chan-wook, 2009, South Korea)

Sang-hyun has fled the flaming light of religiosity and discarded his anemic beliefs, victim of a desire that burns deep in his veins. He is a priest who tires of the vapid ritual of death, a man who wishes to help others who suffer needlessly: he trades the invisible Sacraments for physical sacrifice. He offers his body as a tool to cure the dreaded Emmanuel Virus: a tongue-in-cheek name evoking the lascivious soft-core film, as the pleasures of the body will lead to his downfall. 

Sang-hyun suffers the torment of the damned and dies with righteous intentions but is mysteriously resurrected. He is the only survivor out of 500 patients and is anointed savior, as true believers flock to his side awaiting his healing touch. Director Park Chan-wook finally does to Catholic, Inc. what the Church has repeatedly done to its own congregation. Park purposely plays with the standard vampire conventions by showing Sang-hyun reflected in mirrors and not averse to the cross, but then shows him hanging like a bat, peeping into the human world of lust, searching for his own garden of Eden. The film is darkly humorous, depicting a man without faith and a woman who never acquired it, and their mutual decline into an egocentric world of violence and ever-thirsting passion. 

THIRST is a morality tale, as the seductive Tae-ju pretends to be abused by her husband and convinces Sang-hyun to murder him: the road to heaven is paved with bad intentions. When he learns of the deceit, he again murders but this time reanimates their affair, as she imbibes his bloody Communion. Tae-ju sees a world full of sheep to quench her appetite but a final vestige of morality still infuses Sang-hyun and he fights these urges, promising never to kill for sustenance…but he’s already a killer. The ex-Priest must extinguish this mortal craving for a flesh and blood redeemer so he molests a young girl, destroying the misplaced hope of his followers: it is both a grim and perverted scene. Tae-ju’s nihilism versus his lapsed Catholicism leads them to a lonely cliff, the ocean beating its own life affirming rhythm against the rocks, and all becomes ashes to ashes, dust to dust. 

Final Grade: (B+)