Monday, June 28, 2010

Let The Right One In (2009).

Beautiful and sweet. It almost feels a disservice calling it a horror film. Why should that be so? I feel like a traitor to my favourite genre, saying as much.

Yet it also shows what a great thing horror can be; that so much diversity can exist under the one name. The nastiness of Eden Lake and the innocence of this film can be bedfellows - or at least housemates.

Let The Right One In is still. Quiet. Slow. It's not that nothing happens, more a case of what does happen is calm, and measured. With simple storytelling and no histrionics, the film is riveting. The child actors are phenomenally good, giving subtle older-than-their-years performances in a film about growing up, love and survival.

Oskar is a lonely boy, regularly bullied at school. One night he meets Eli in a snowbound jungle gym. Wary of one another at first, their friendship grows over time until it blossoms tentatively into tender young love.

The only problem is that although Eli looks like a twelve year old girl, her innocent visage hides her true age, and darkness. She is a vampire.

Her "condition" is looked after initially by a helper in the form of an older gentleman. For the sake of appearances, he poses as her father. For the sake of Eli's survival, he commits murder.

In the book upon which the film is based, this man (by the name of Håkan) has paedophile tendencies, and that is why he becomes part of Eli's life; to be closer to her. This is downplayed in the adaptation; a decision I think was the right one. Not to say that his sinister intentions wouldn't have sat right, because they probably would have - sweet or not, Let The Right One In is cold and mean at times. For a sleeker narrative though, his story was expendable.

Håkan is nonetheless still portrayed as a mightily creepy fellow. Who, unable to deal with Eli finding a soulmate in Oskar (and possibly finally feeling the burden of his countless murders) disfigures himself with acid, then lets Eli drink from him.

It's a touching moment: this man who has given up years to serve her, to feed her, ultimately himself becomes a meal to her. His last act is to offer, and be taken.

Eli must then fend for herself. Oskar at first oblivious to her secret, then helplessly entwined and bewitched by it.

Moments of bloodshed in this movie come as a bit of a shock. Feeling as it does, a little highbrow (at least in relation to the normal cache of films a horror fan will watch) when this gets messy in its own restrained yet nasty way, it's genuinely startling.

Håkan's last breath.

The cinematography contributes to this too, as the carefully chosen background upon which the gore is smeared. The look of the film is cold, the colours muted; the red blood standing out against pale snow and skin. Like another movie I've reviewed, in fact.

If somehow the film doesn't appeal because of its plot, then see it just because it's so fucking pretty. Seriously. I could have capped nearly every shot to illustrate this.

I love that one in particular. It reminds me of studying graphic design and how much I used to love drawing things in two point perspective.

So carefully chosen and composed. The visuals are works of art, there's no denying it.

As much as I like hideous acts and depressing endings, horror when it is as beautiful and wonderful, heartbreaking and life-affirming as this... Well, it's a special thing indeed.

If you are late to view this like I was, rectify that immediately.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Donkey Punch (2008).

Peruse that and imagine the film it's for. Now don't bother seeing Donkey Punch. Because the flick you've just thought of is more than likely better.

How a kill involving an outboard motor can be disappointing I'll never know, but somehow this manages it.

I check out films like this because I know the characters will be detestable, disposable pricks. I enjoy seeing them set up, then offed.

This delivers on the pricks but fails on what it does with them. Cue dissatisfaction.

The sex scene, the hook upon which most of the publicity was hung, is indeed more graphic (and longer) than other films of this type. It's just a sex scene though, ultimately. A group of unlikeable characters fucking one another.

If you want sex, watch a porno. If you want a decent horror/thriller? Don't watch this.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Eden Lake (2008).

This one got under my skin.

It's nasty. The experience of watching this film is like hearing of a terrible thing happening to someone you went to school with: you take it in and think you deal with the information... but it just keeps resurfacing in your mind for days afterward.

Eden Lake concentrates on Jenny (Kelly Reilly) a white middle-class teacher. Jenny is pretty and wears pretty dresses. She and her boyfriend Steve head to the country for the weekend, to the shores of a lake surrounded by acres of forest and miles from the nearest town. He is going to propose, it seems, as he is carrying an engagement ring around with him. Oh dear, if there is ever a death knell for a couple in this genre, it's that.

All is dandy for a time. They aren't strictly meant to be on this land, but Steve is familiar with the area and they take their Land Rover cross-country, laughing at the sat-nav telling them to turn back. You just know this moment is weighted, despite their joviality. If only they had listened to that seemingly meaningless warning.

But the couple aren't alone at Eden Lake, and the other occupants of this idyllic spot aren't hiding behind trees and stalking them in the dark, either.

They are a group of local teenagers who do not give one solitary shit about out-of-towners. They swear, spit, let their Rottweiler pester a sunbathing Jenny and generally make their obnoxious presence very, very known.

Now, this in and of itself is certainly annoying and rude behaviour to more civilised folk, shall we say. However, it doesn't just stop at one of the group taunting the couple and flashing his knob. Unfortunately for them - and fortunately for those who like their horror grim and realistic - it gets so much worse than that.

Eden Lake transforms from haven into battleground. The leader of the group, Brett (Jack O'Connell) has no moral barometer. At all. With threats and taunting he forces his friends to join him in committing appalling acts, demanding they be filmed on a mobile phone so that on every level everyone is implicated. Once they have all taken the first steps together, it's hard for any of them to break away from the spiraling violence. This is a tough watch (especially so with the wonderful Thomas Turgoose in one of the roles).

Making Jenny a teacher is a nice touch. We only see her teaching young children, they look about six or seven years old, but she's shown as a kind and caring person. When the couple visit a local pub and witness a mother disciplining her child, Jenny winces and looks entirely uncomfortable. Not preachy or disapproving even, just hurt by the child's hurt.

This woman deals with children as a career, a vocation. She, next to the parent, is meant to represent the ultimate in trustworthiness when it comes to youngsters.

But what about when pushed?

So, what a transformation she undertakes. By the end of the film, this woman has killed or seriously injured at least two young adults. In the film's most harrowing moment, she is responsible for a sweet and wholly innocent child being fucking set alight. His pleas turning to screams as she makes the terrible decision to save her own skin, rather than his.

Her character is pushed, pushed pushed. The increments are extremely important because if the leap is too large, the thread that keeps the viewer believing in this story, snaps. Yet here it's taken up one small notch, one awful incident at a time. Enough of these accumulate to eventually turn this woman feral.

No decision she was forced to make seemed wrong at the time, but under the cumulative weight of them she becomes, in the eyes of the parents of the youths involved and perhaps of the law too, the more guilty. Should she have known better, or acted differently, because "They're just kids"? Are there shades of grey where monstrous acts are involved?

The "civilised turning wild" theme is a path well trodden and yet Eden Lake doesn't suffer at all for this fact. It takes the idea cross country, forges a new path and feels terrible all over again.

Yes, of course including the death of the dog.

Stab a man's Rotty and live to regret it.

I don't know if it's because this is a British film, that it hit so hard. It deals with what are essentially "hoodies" (what the mother fuck that cartoon is there, I do not know) a special brand of disenfranchised British youth. Living as I do in South East London, I cross paths with kids who appear similar to the ones here, every single day. Angry, volatile and relishing how intimidating they are. It's never a pleasant experience.

Eden Lake isn't a nice film, but it is a very good one. Brutal without being over the top and not afraid to end on a massive fucking downer, you'll be left feeling hollow but mighty impressed with writer/director James Watkins' debut.

Monday, June 07, 2010

ladies ladies ladies. and Teeth (2007).

Women are are amazing creatures, right? No doubt about that. So I do enjoy movies which make us out to be even more great than we already are.

I do consider myself a feminist, but I'm still learning to feel equipped to discuss feminism in any depth (the curse of being the least eloquent about the things I care about the most!)... but I know what I like, and I like seeing strong females -  it makes me want to strive to be one myself.

From my experience so far, the French give good ladies. Rarely without flaws but just so incredible that be they hero, antihero or downright villain, they're a pleasure to watch (and develop a heap of girlcrushes on).

Having heard about a mooted Martyrs remake, I was recently mulling over my opinions of that film again. How, despite the real suffering being exclusively inflicted on women, which one might read as a Bad Thing; the justification of this is that young women are the strongest, most receptive and most likely to withstand the horrific, humiliating trials which will eventually lead to their martyrdom.

It's fucked up, no doubt. But I also find it, perversely, very empowering and that response fascinates me. The women in Martyrs aren't shown to be tortured on screen for titillation (though equally I've nothing against that in the genre, it has its place), they are simply the best vessel for us mortals to become part of something monumental and otherworldly. Rather like our ability to bear children, one could argue.

A woman's body is an incredible thing, built tough enough to withstand immense amounts of pain whilst simultaneously being full of beauty and WONDER.

If I might be allowed to make something of a sweeping generalisation, based only on my experiences thus far: a female protagonist in the horror genre, outside of the New French Extremism, often amounts to nothing more than a screaming set of tits and ass.

And then in walks Teeth.

This is another film that although in places it's entirely uncomfortable to watch, by its end there's a distinct sense of female empowerment. Not as intense as the French horror referenced above, but still it deals with some heavy topics, such as sexual repression and assault.

The vagina dentata myth makes me laugh, I have to admit. Presumably because as a woman, I wouldn't be on the receiving end. I'd be the "monster" in question and that's kinda cool. There's no denying that a woman's sexual potency can be a dangerous thing, but this myth suggests that what we have between our legs could be so powerful as to actually be lethal - a source of genuine fear to others. And again, as a woman, I chuckle at the thought.

In Teeth, two high school pussyhounds are severely punished for their selfish desire of just plain wanting to put their cock in this girl; never mind her pledge of abstinence or her screams for him to stop.

Yes, the first instance of Dawn's (Jess Weixler) "power" as an adult comes about as a result of being assaulted by someone she believed herself to be falling for. How the film juggles the light and the dark is expert: one moment showing a sexual attack and seconds later, making the viewer splutter with disbelief and chortle at the outcome.

That's... gonna hurt in the morning.

From the intensely creepy gynecologist intoning: "My, you're tight..." whilst using his un-gloved hand on (in) her. To said hand being grabbed from the inside and Dawn momentarily being a kind of shrieking glove puppet, as he thrashes to save his fingers (he doesn't).

Weixler rightly won an award at Sundance for her performance here. Embarking on the story as a wholesome, naive girl and traveling through the stages - as defined by director Mitchell Lichtenstein in the making of documentary - of denial, fear, horror and ultimately an embrace of her gift. Dawn emerges as something of a superhero by the end of the movie. Her journey to this point is an exceptionally enjoyable one.

One of my favourite moments, is the scene where she removes the sticker from her textbook that is censoring a diagram of a vagina. This is after her first attack/retaliation and she is searching for answers as to what the hell is going on down there.

The range of emotions we see her go through as she gazes upon this picture is fantastic. Shock into fascination and then an expression almost of peace. It's kind of beautiful; that this young woman is giving up her willful ignorance of sexuality and finally starting to want to understand her own body. The entire scene has no dialogue, it's all played out on Weixler's face. Superb.

Attempting to recommend this film usually results in scrunched up faces in return. At least from my experience. Yet it is well, well worth a look. The perfect balance of gruesome, funny and sweet - perhaps easier for a lady to watch due to some rather... explicit male genital mutilation at times!

The marketing for Teeth deserves a swift mention, purely for how confused it appears to have been. Granted, how does one pitch a vagina dentata movie to the masses? However some of the artwork I've uncovered is so far off the mark it's unreal.

Let's start with the decent stuff.

Might be my favourite. That T-shirt is one she actually wears in the film, which as you will see, is a rarity. This leans more toward the comedy than horror themes, but it's just so darn cute and fun.

The Region 2 DVD release. It does the job nicely, even if the humour of the flick isn't really conveyed. Still, it's striking.

One of the posters used for theatrical release. Simple, mysterious. Again not making any deal of the blackly comic side of the movie.

Then things start to go awry.

It's a bit much, I think. Those knees are Photoshopped in and not massively well. The original image is this one:

Why add the knees? Well, in order to make the rose imagery absolutely obvious, it needed to be in between her legs, I guess. I don't like it.

Speaking of that rose...

Right, I think this one works. The rose jumps out at you, it looks cool. The little Dawn wasn't needed though, she lessens the impact.

This representation of Dawn actually really irks me. You can't see it clearly in the above poster as she's too small, yet on the back of the Region 2 DVD case, that image is the main one. It's an oddly rendered photo-realistic painting of her; and strangely she's wearing underwear and heels. This is at total odds with anything we ever see her wearing, or likely to wear in the film itself.

She's also shown in a classic "vulnerable victim" foetal pose. Sure, given that she is a victim in the film for the most part, this makes sense. However the combination of this and the attire she's presented in gives an entirely false impression of the film being an exploitation piece.

Which brings me to:

How many times can I say "no"? Because even then, it wouldn't be enough.

What the hell? Why is a virginal character all fuck-hair and jutting hip? What's with the sex/blood red colour scheme and general grindhouse-y filter they've used? What the fuck are they talking about Juno for?! It's just wrong on every level.

For a film so gender-interesting, there's a heap of mistakes with how it was marketed. Sex sells, of course. Just not sex with a tooth-lined vaginal maw, I suppose is the lesson here.