What happens when a normal man accidentally kills someone trying to rob his home? FELON answers the terrifying question.
The Firm (from BBC’s Screen Two). 1989. Directed by Alan Carke. Written by Al Ashton (as Al Hunter).
Starring Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, Andrew Wilde, Charles Lawson, William Vanderpuye, Jay Simpson, Patrick Murray, Robbie Gee, Terry Sue-Patt, Nick Dunning, Nicholas Hewetson, Steve McFadden, Steve Sweeney, & Hepburn Graham. British Broadcasting Corporation.
Rated 13+. 67 minutes.
There are many films on the subject of football hooliganism. Some, many, are utter trash. Others are a good time. I personally enjoy and love Rise of the Footsoldier, despite its flaws. And also The Football Factory, among some others. Then there’s something like Alan Clarke’s one hour (and seven minute) film The Firm. This was his final production before his tragic death at the hands of cancer only a year later in 1990.
For a shorter than usual bit of cinema Clarke works wonders. Of course Gary Oldman does a fantastic job in the lead role of football hardman Bex Bissell. But it’s success is in huge part due to the excellent little script from the pen of Al Ashton (credited here with the surname Hunter). In only 67 sleek minutes the characters are compelling, most of all Bex, and there’s enough action to keep us hooked with the story. What’s funny is the fact there isn’t much of a story, other than that two rival hooligan gangs go head-to-head in a bid for power, supremacy, the right to brandish their big balls or whatever. Still, Hunter’s script with the direction of the ever excellent/wise Clarke makes for entertainment. Not the type of entertainment a blockbuster summer movie provides. Rather the entertainment of real life, the kind that helps bring us closer to a subject. Not every moment is exciting because it’s easy to watch. In fact, there are moments to which you’ll find incredibly hard to relate. Clarke makes the working class, the lower class, the middle class, interesting to watch instead of feeling as if we’re watching day to day life. Even though we are.
It’s the way in which the subject is presented that makes Clarke and his work so good. I mean, who else could make a film about football hooligans without a frame of any actual professional football? This one is all about the lads that take football more serious than life; it is life. We see them play a bit, but never their club for which they fight so dutifully. It’s every bit about their lives, especially the ones they live outside the sport – insofar as their entire existence is determined and informed wholly by football.
Much as I enjoy some of his roles playing American characters, Oldman has a great natural accent. His British sounds delightful to me. I’m a fan of the British tongue, all the various dialectic sounds from the different regions. There’s something about his South London accent that is endearingly articulate and yet also can dip into that cockney everyman chat, the latter of which is perfect for Bexie’s particular sort of charm. What I enjoy is that Oldman is so often credited as acting with a very big style that’s full of flair. While a little of that is on display here, Oldman does well with his casual nature here. Yes, the angry and volatile attitude is still there. Totally. However, there’s an element about Bexie, specifically as he plays the well-spoken, well-tempered leader to his crew of hard bastards, that is so subdued. He keeps everything below the surface. That makes the contrast between his two lives – the one at home and the one with his hooligan crew – all the more drastic, in an intriguing way. Just seeing Oldman cross the threshold from the outside world into that locked room of his, the inner world of the hooligan, it’s fascinating.
Again, I love that there’s no professional football shown in the film. Clarke and Hunter are able to make the focus of these men’s lives become so clear. That is, like a man on a television program that Bex and his firm watch says, this is really not about teams or football pride at all. It is about compensating, about being lost and searching for an identity. “Why don‘t they just tell ‘em we like hitting people?” one of the boys crows while they watch television. They don’t even know what it is that drives them. Clarke’s film gets at the heart of the simple lives he shows us. Bex likes to hit people, sure. More than any of that he enjoys the control and the power it affords him. He has a place in the world, not just in the middle to lower class being torn apart by Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. All that really starts to crumble when Bex’s bloody, violent life comes literally knocking at the door of his own home. His child picks up one of his blades and just about cuts his lips off, which not only results in physical injury but the emotional rift between him and his wife. That’s the beginning of the end, really. Afterwards the control starts to slide, the power fades, and soon Bex is left with nothing much at all to call his own. Least of all a life of any kind. Without spoiling the end, it’s tragic. Only in the sense Clarke makes clear throughout the film there is another way out. Bex and guys like him just aren’t willing to see it, or even begin thinking about working towards it. “What‘s so wrong with being normal?” Bex’s wife pleads with him; that’s one of the only questions he just can’t seem to answer.
This is absolutely one of the best football hooligan pictures out there. Maybe the pinnacle, even. I can’t disagree with all the other reviews out there saying the same. The Firm is built on the power of Oldman and his acting talent, there’s no doubt about that. He sells every last frame where you see his face. At the very same time, both Clarke and Hunter make this a powerful work on the subject of hooligans. Clarke’s realism combines well with the script. We get a slice of life from the middle to lower class, out of a world where faux masculinity and pumped up heroes are commonplace. We look into the rough and tumble world of the uber violent hooligan gangs fighting for the pride of their club. Or is it really just a bunch of angry young men, raging against the world, against Margaret Thatcher and all the politicians like her? Isn’t it just a bunch of scared, powerless, testosterone-filled wannabe alpha males living a life into which they feel forced by the powers around them? Somewhere between all of it lies the truth. And Clarke does his damnedest to get to the beating, honest core.
CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 2: “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff
* For a review of Episode 1, “Arrangement in Grey & Black” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Nighthawks” – click here
Following the first episode, and a trend that runs through this mini-series, the second episode’s title comes from a series of paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, some of which you can see here. And now, we dive in…
This episode opens with Cam Hawthorne (Justin Chatwin) at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He talks about his recent slip up, but seems optimistic, or trying to be, about going clean. A friend there tries to help Cam get the dealer out of his life. Then the news about Papa Hawthorne hits. At home, Madeline (Virginia Madsen) sees the shaving kit of her husband then breaks down, keeping the guilt buried just below the surface. Downstairs, Alison (Juliet Rylance) and Tessa (Megan Ketch) are both grieving, though it seems the older of the two is most upset. Tessa immediately blames Cam, once he shows up, for not being there with their mother – y’know, when their father died. Oh, little do these ladies know about their own matriarch. “Everyone loved dad,” says Alison, so incredibly filled with literary irony that it almost chokes you. But while Alison is upset, Cam and Tessa are more concerned with determining who was the Silver Bells Killer after all. Was it their dad? We’ll see how he comes into play, either way.
Tessa’s husband Brady (Elliot Knight) is doing his best to take care of his police duties as much as he does with those of the family variety. I’m interested to find out how he comes up against the family. Because you just know that’s going to happen. Sooner or later. Right now, he and Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) head up the investigation with their new clue: the belt in the collapsed tunnel, linked to Hawthorne Concrete.
At the family table, Madeline weaves a story about her husband being disoriented, out in the garage, showing her the box with the Silver Bells inside. Supposedly, he’d gone into dementia and believed he was the murderer. Madeline clearly killed him, so does she know he was, know who really was, or is she merely trying to hold onto whatever power she can by offing her ill husband before he brought a whole wave of controversy their way? One thing’s for sure – Mama Hawthorne has things to hide. Dark things. Meanwhile, Garett (Antony Starr) arrives and says he wants to speak at his father’s funeral: “I have something to say,” he tells them. Although nobody is too thrilled with that. There’s still a shadow cast over him. Still a possibility he could be the killer. You never know.
Madeline gets a sketchy call – irregularities in the machines as her husband passed. Uh oh. Well, the Hawthorne kids are all busy warring with one another, anyway. Alison and Garrett talk about what her little daughter heard, apparently, when he’d leaned in to speak viciously to his ailing father. There’s lots of intrigue about Garrett and what exactly’s going on with him, what happened in the past, so on. I’m not sold on every aspect of the show. I am sold on a few characters; Garrett being chief in that stable.
Alison isn’t pleased that Garrett, essentially, wants to accuse her father after death of being the Silver Bells Killer. At the same time, mother Madeline doesn’t appear to be rocked by much of it. Those dark secrets will come out, eventually. At the very same time Brady’s faced with the Hawthorne patriarch being on the list of potential suspects. Cutter wants DNA, though he’s not so thrilled about barging in before the funeral to get a sample. So now we’re already seeing what’s about to pit Brady against the family into which he married.
Someone else I’m interested in is Cam’s little kid Jack (Gabriel Bateman), whose fascination with death is all too chilling. The only one who isn’t overly creeped out is Garrett: “The apple doesn‘t fall far from the tree, does it?” he quips to his slightly scared younger brother Cam. I feel bad for Cam in particular because he’s saddled with a damaged child, a mysterious family and older brother whose past is shrouded in fog, and then all this Silver Bells stuff on top. Sucks being a Hawthorne. In other news, Alison and her campaign manager obviously get closer and closer; have they been together yet, or is it just that they’ve flirted around it so long the whole thing’s become lusty? With everything else going on Alison is still drawn to her.
Gunther (Aidan Devine) cleans up around the Hawthorne place, as Tessa looks through pictures. He ends up recounting that he and her father played chess. Also, he lets slip that they played Thursday nights – only just last week, in fact. Gunther says his mind was sharp, right until the end. This makes Tessa wonder. And wonder she should. Her mother is over meeting with a woman at the hospital. She’s told there was possibly a “machine malfunction” and that it could look bad for them; ah, a sigh of relief for Madeline. Ah… except they want to do an autopsy, so that this won’t happen to anybody else. What a wrench. We know for sure the deviousness of Mrs. Hawthorne, sadly widowed, as immediately afterwards she calls to have the body cremated instead of sent over for an autopsy. Ooh wee, this is picking up steam.
At the Hawthorne place, Brady is sneaking around trying to find himself something with a bit of DNA on it. Instead he runs into his wife, whose stress levels are pretty god damn high. And she doesn’t even know how deep her husband is in, having to investigate her father. Funny – if he told her, maybe she’d be of some help seeing as how she and Cam found that eerie box. But good man, he respects his job. He ends up running around everywhere, trying to stop Papa Hawthorne from being cremated before he can get a sample, which does not turn out well for him. Then poor Cam, he starts succumbing to his old vices. He tracks down one of the caterers that likely has a stash. Not good. At the church, Cam’s estranged wife shows up to give her condolences, and instead of being awkward it actually becomes a nice moment for them.
Can’t forget about Garrett. He gets pulled over in his way over expired truck with a way over expired ID, and things look bleak. Brad gets the call for that one. Yikes.
Tessa confronts her mother at the funeral about her father having dementia. This begins driving a wedge between the mother and the children now. Madeline acts the victim, spinning more words to the people around her. She continually uses her husband as a type of scapegoat, without really letting him be the scapegoat. And now we’re gradually getting a peek behind the mask of the Hawthorne matriarch. She even goes so far this time to say her husband asked for her help in dying. Good one, Madeline. Alison and the rest go about their business, as mama keeps her secrets close to the chest. Garrett manages to get to the church and Alison looks highly surprised; did she call in to have him picked up? Oh yes. “Nice try,” Garrett mocks. Strange to be pulled over after 12 years of expired tags, all of a sudden on the day of their father’s funeral. Not very sly, Alison; not at all.
Tessa and Garrett share a nice moment. She sees only the good in him, as it was Garrett that always calmed her down and helped with her anxious nature. At least he has one sibling ally. Then he gets up to give his semi-eulogy, whatever it is. “I hated my father“, he begins, launching into a short, biting speech before ending it quickly and sitting down. He lets Alison take the reins. A better hand at the public speaking, though another one stuck in the dark about her terrifying family with all their hideous roots coiling beneath their foundation. In the bathroom, Cam and his estranged wife Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) meet, but she isn’t happy to see him struggling and wanting to get high – “There are other ways,” she tells him and then starts taking off some clothes. Yowzahs what a funeral. The kicker? Their son gives his little speech and that turns out incredibly morbid. Garrett laughs; no one else does.
At home, Alison’s husband Tom (Dylan Bruce) gives her a gift, obviously unknowing of her passion for a woman – a woman whose hate seers when she sees the two together. What’s wildly intriguing is that Madeline seems to see and know everything, an omniscient matriarch above them all. She passes through and sees it all.
Madeline suggests to Cam her grandson needs therapy. Definitely does. Further than that, Brady still searches for something belonging to Papa Hawthorne. He ends up getting a call from Cutter; they’re most definitely looking for a man who “comes from money.” It’s then that he realises Hawthorne could be a genuine possibility. Also, Madeline tells Garrett he ought to leave. He retorts with a bit of a threat.
The big shocker is that Brady finds a picture of Papa Hawthorne with a young Cam, back in 2002 – Cam is wearing the very same belt they’ve found stuck in the cement, the one used in a Silver Bells Murder. This casts suspicion on both father and son. Yummy darkness.
Let’s stick together, those of us that enjoy a bit of the campy mysteriousness that American Gothic provides. Next episode is titled “Nighthawks” and those who are familiar with the famous painting will be thrilled, as I am. Stay with me and we’ll get to the bottom of the Hawthorne/Silver Bells mystery after all.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 2: “Barney Rubble Eyes”
Directed by Ron Underwood
Written by Ian Goldberg
* For a review of the first episode, “Patience” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Mix Tape” – click here
After a decently exciting first episode, Dead of Summer‘s second episode cleverly parodies “Bette Davis Eyes” (made popular by Kim Carnes) with “Barney Rubble Eyes” and I couldn’t be more intrigued to see how that plays out, even if it’s just a hilarious one-liner. I dig how they’re using ’80s songs – at least partly – for the titles in these first two episodes, something I hope continues on.
The second episode starts in the Soviet Union, during 1977, as a little boy named Alexi plays the piano and his family prepares to go to America. Before he heads out his grandfather warns that life needs to be taken, it won’t be given. He hands over a knife. In 1989, Alex Powell (Ronen Rubinstein) lives life as an American, even with all the anti-communist, anti-Russian rhetoric on the radio. He’s also very interested in freedom, naturally. Meanwhile, the campers have arrived – watching by the edge of the forest is The Tall Man (Tony Todd), waiting for his time to strike.
The camp life has started, the kids are rolling in. Alex, Jessie (Paulina Singer), Blotter (Zachary Gordon) and the rest receive them all. When Alex hears a little boy get referred to as a Commie, a Russian kid named Anton, he flashes back to being in America for the first time with his father working in a dry cleaning store. He hears his father get called a Commie. Then he goes on to change his own name to Alex Powell, something all the dumb, prejudiced people can pronounce. In his present time, Alex is a fairly charming, innovative guy. He’s certainly interested in newbie Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail). Then he makes things messy by calling her a “Commie sympathiser” because she doesn’t dig the way he talks about the little kid. Sad to see an immigrant come to feel that way about another immigrant, forced into hating himself and then in turn others like himself. A sad comment on American culture, in some respects. Afterwards, he sees Blotter with a sketchy guy, getting a bag of something off him. Hmm.
When Anton isn’t at dinner, Alex finds him in the woods talking to The Tall Man – no one’s there, of course, but that’s his imaginary friend. Oh this is a creepy little moment. Loved it. In his bed later the kid is attacked in the night, in a dream, by The Tall Man; he sees FIND ME branded on his arm, at least in the fog of a nightmare. At the same time, Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza) is plagued with trying to figure out what happened to Dave. His mother worries about him and how the case will affect his mind, though Garrett’s trying to tough it out alone. He’s got Satanism on the mind, as too many officers did in the ’80s when Satanic Panic became a devious bout of hysteria.
Turns out Blotter has that name for a reason – he digs acid, and has his hands on some liquid stuff. Well, Alex tells him: “Couple drops and you‘ll have Barney Rubble Eyes.” Ah, nice little line to go with the title. Then there’s Blair (Mark Indelicato), interested in Drew (Zelda Williams), whom he does not realise yet is a woman. Also, Jessie tries to urge Carolina (Amber Coney) into making “a move” on Alex. Seems the new girl is causing too much friction for a bunch of supposedly close friends. But that doesn’t matter, Alex still wants to get closer to Amy. He asks her out. Puts on some charm by showing how good he is with the kids. Yes, that lures her into a bit of a date in the staff lounge. C’mon, Amy. I mean, he seems like a nice dude. There’s something slippery about him. “He‘ll do anything to get what he wants,” Jessie warns Amy on the side; helping hand, or being a bitch? Cut to October of 1988. Alex goes back to the dry cleaning place where his father worked, trying to get a position there. He pretends not to know the owner. You can tell Alex is someone else behind his mask. In ’89, we’re still with Alex trying to figure out what Anton knows about The Tall Man; the boy has to find him, or else The Tall Man says somebody’s going to die. Uh oh.
When Joel (Eli Goree) goes looking for camp counsellor Deb (Elizabeth Mitchell), he finds himself in her cabin, snooping, and she catches him. I wonder how this quasi-sexual relationship is going to play out? Makes things unsettling almost. Out looking after the kids, Alex and Blotter keep one another’s secrets. We also zip back to ’88, as Alex works in the dry cleaning store. He shares a sad look with Nadia, a Russian woman working there, before heading out. When he heads back in he finds the owner having sex with Nadia, and he turns on the security tapes the owner had previously turned off, then leaves once more.
Back to ’89 – Alex and Amy have their date. A romantic little evening, it seems. Until they head out into a dark bit of woods to an old cabin. One with a piano. Ring any bells? Well speaking of The Tall Man, he lures the little Russian boy to the trees where they walk off, hand in hand.
Blotter and Carolina are getting close, too. Or Blotter wants to get close to her. He says he doesn’t believe the things written about her on the cabin walls, not realising what we know to be the truth: she’s written at least some of them herself. Out at the old cabin, Alex plays piano for Amy. On that damn creepy set of keys. That can’t be good, can it? The Tall Man’s already afoot. Playing his piano certainly won’t help anything. First, though, we get another flash to ’88 in the dry cleaning store. Alex puts a plan into motion with Nadia. Back to ’89, the spectre of his actions, his grandfather, it all lingers on him. Things finally get serious when Blotter alerts Alex that Anton is missing. All the while, Deb sits with Joel. She tells him she’s a private person. He thinks that means she harbours a secret. She responds coyly, but then they discover the news about the Russian boy. In the trees they hear a scream. The cops arrive later and then their search begins. Nobody’s certain what’s going on, only that a child is somewhere alone, possibly not safe. When Alex finds him he’s sitting in a strange place reminiscent of the drawing he’d been etching out earlier. Deb believes there’s a prowler. Alex and Amy saw him talking to nobody, an invisible friend. Jessie acts like a bitch. Ah, just the perfect stew for a slasher sub-genre trope of the botched investigation.
In ’88, Alex quits his job. He confronts the owner of the dry cleaning shop about having a sex tape with him on it. He’s gotten the job at camp, he wants to project an image of success for people, et cetera. Really, he’s a criminal getting over on another bad dude. A big load of extortion. So the guy we see, the one the people at camp think they see, it’s not who Alex is truly. He’s wearing that mask and it soon slips. Then he does a nasty little thing: he drops liquid acid into Blotter’s drink, all to manipulate his current situation. Oh, Alex. You’re becoming more unlikable by the minute.
Deputy Garrett confronts the guy from the diner, one he thinks may have Satanist aspirations, who’s trespassing on camp property. He decides the dude matches the description of a tall man from the Russian boy’s outing. Back at camp, Blotter is taking a harsh trip down the rabbit hole. He literally watches his own face melt, he sees Alex spew out a terrifying hand. The Russian boy rambles at him. You can see Alex already regrets this dumb, possibly fatal mistake. Out at those stones where the kid was found, Blotter digs up a set of bones: The Tall Man? Has he actually “found him“? When he brings Deb out to the site the bones are gone. All that’s left is Blotter holding the bag, for the drug dealer lurking around, for taking acid, so on. Another harsh move due to Alex’s nasty behaviour. In other news, the biker guy is let free, not held on any charges. And he’s the one now holding the bones of The Tall Man: “It has begun,” he gives as a prophecy to his crew. Maybe real Satanists, or some occult worshippers after all?
As Blotter leaves, to Amy he repeats what Jessie previously said: “He‘ll do anything to get what he wants.” This leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, particularly Amy. Yet Carolina’s happy to see that. Y’know, typical teenage camp sort of stuff.
Alex goes to see Anton. He speaks Russian, suggesting exactly what that owner told him long ago, to change his name. He’s becoming exactly who he didn’t want to be, or shouldn’t have become. No wonder the ghost of his grandfather is kicking around. Oh, and The Tall Man warns of things to come through Anton.
And before the finish, leaving camp Blotter comes in contact with The Tall Man, who points to something we can’t see. We end on Blotter, totally terrified by whatever is approaching, and then it cuts black while the terror unfolds in screams and rotten sounds. Deliciously horrific.
A nice follow-up episode to the first one. I honestly dig the show. Maybe not perfect and there are bits that could certainly be improved upon, though I find there’s enough to make it interesting, and surprisingly there’s a good bit of horror. Nothing crazy, but I think it’s lots of fun. Tame compared to anything wild. Still enjoyable and has lots of places to go from here. Look forward to the next episode titled “Disposable” – could it be named after the Bill Nelson song? Let’s hope, that’d fit perfectly with the atmosphere and tone of the series. Keep up with me if you’re into the show.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 1: “Patience”
Directed by Adam Horowitz
Written by Ian B. Goldberg, Adam Horowitz & Edward Kitsis
* For a review of the next episode, “Barney Rubble Eyes” – click here
I’ve anticipated this one. Good or bad, I’m rolling with the reviews for this season.
Our first episode opens in Stillwater, Wisconsin during 1871. The Tall Man (Tony Todd) plays a piano in candlelight, as a bunch of men come for him. They tie him. At the same time, there are flashes, visions of dead bodies floating in the water.
With that we’re transported to the summer of 1989, three days before Camp Stillwater opens up. There’s a camp reunion of people going back, though Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail) is a newcomer. The rest of the gang seem to know one another, from camcorder-wielding Joel Goodson (Eli Goree) to Blair Ramos (Mark Indelicato) and more. They’re all fairly welcoming. Although we can already see the archetypal slasher horror characters set up. That’s not a bad thing considering the writers are going for that type of atmosphere. I dig it. Later when everybody gathers with the head honcho at camp, Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell), another straggler appears – Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams). There’s a nice ’80s feel to everything so far, as well, and best part is that I don’t feel it’s forced. They don’t overdo it.
We know the place closed down in ’84. That’s our first clue to something having happened there. I wonder what the eerie secret is?
Well we’ve got the new girl in town, Amy, so that’s a nice setup. She has to navigate high school and being new around the place, which is of course not always easy. At camp, she has a bit more of a safer place to be herself, as Deb preaches to them. Maybe she’ll be able to open up and have some fun instead of being judged constantly. Around the campfire they all start to immediately talk about creepy stories, so much so it gets a bit too real. We get the obligatory jump scare from one of the crew sneaking around in the dark. Further than that we get more of Amy. In the woods, she comes across Dave (Darren Moore) the gardener, who prophetically tells her that she needs to leave: “You don‘t know what this place is,” he bellows.
The next morning things get going, from camp activities to recounting giving handjobs at the age of thirteen; ahhhh, camp! A semi-sexual moment happens when Joel is filming with his camera and catches Deb in her window, only a bra on – she doesn’t close the window, smiling slightly, as Joel wonders what the hell’s going on. Yowzahs. This summer is definitely going to get wild.
When a couple of the girls find a gutted deer in the nearby woods everybody’s a little disturbed. Amy tells Deb about Dave’s scary warning the previous night. We’re cooking with gas now. Already the paranoid suspicions typical of the sub-genre have begun.
Flash to Amy back at school when first arriving. We get more of her personality. She isn’t the type to get roped into anything bad. But there’s always something sinister lurking, at high school or at camp. Back at Stillwater, they’re all doing some nighttime swimming. There’s a brief moment where we see a bit of Carolina Diaz (Amber Coney), how she doesn’t want to take her shirt off and go in a bra; will that lead to some character development? Either way, when Amy finally goes in her luck ends up with a discovery of a dead body: Dave.
Cops arrive at the camp. Deb doesn’t seem too put off, though is clearly concerned with the camp counsellors. Nobody’s overly beat up about Dave’s death. That night when Amy goes to get some water she runs into an off-duty Deputy Garrett Sykes (Alberto Frezza) who wants to have a better look at things in Dave’s old cabin. He walks Amy back to camp. He endears himself to her, talking about his “first everything” and so on. Could this guy have sinister intentions? You’ll never be sure. For now, he seems perfectly on the level. Yet even the very earth and the trees itself seem to drip with evil.
Amy and Garrett go into the gardener’s cabin – stupidly, a police officer brings someone in there, in the dark at that. Nevertheless, these are tropes of the sub-genre. And they do find some goodies – fermenting appendages, a skull, strange old photos including one of the Tall Man from a little over a century ago. Either Dave was up to some strange shit or somebody’s planted it to look like he was a Satanist, or something eerie. Then a fire breaks out, nearly trapping the pair. Amy gets out, managing to chop out some boards from the side of the cabin to get Garrett out. A-ha. There’s definitely SOMEONE pulling greasy tricks behind the scenes. The supposed claim is that the fire was electrical. Garrett knows better than that. Even better he managed to slip an old map out; it points to the centre of a beast-like shape where the camp is located. Back at the other cabins, everybody speculates as to what happened with Dave. And more creepy little moments happen – Drew sees a little girl with a red balloon outside, before she then disappears quickly. Inside, the crew talk about movies from Rosemary’s Baby to the original The Wicker Man. At least before some cattiness goes on, Jessie Tyler (Paulina Singer) leading the way, as usual. Poor Amy, yet again, is tasked with going out into the dark, always on the losing end of the teenage call of NOT IT. Well, she and Alex Powell (Ronen Rubinstein) kiss, anyway. Not sure if that’s a good or bad call. What I enjoy is the cutting between past and present, that helps expand Amy’s character. Right after that we’re shocked when she sees a ghostly presence behind her and Alex. Then she gets sucked into a closet where dead hands grab at her everywhere. A terrifying vision.
The morning after, Amy sits by the lake. She flashes back to her and Margot (Morgan Taylor Campbell), preparing for a party, prior to the latter’s mother freaking out; one of those uptight mothers wanting their child to go to a certain school. They’re sneaking out for a party: “Sometimes you have to do things that scare you,” being their mantra. Back to the lake and Amy is confronted by a faceless, dark shape in the night. It stalks her before she runs into Garrett. Only she can see what’s coming for her, and this automatically puts her at odds with reality. Unfortunate for her. Back to when she and Margot go to the party, Amy drinks, she dances, as her friend feeds her shots. This is a great instance of writing and editing put together, which goes from the party to the lake and back again. On a wharf she finds hands grabbing her; hands that aren’t there. At the party, police officers arrive at the house and Margot panics trying to get out, which results in her tumbling out the window and hitting the ground – the only thing left after Amy tries holding on is the charm bracelet she still wears at camp. This is what drives her psychosis in the present timeline. Garrett helps calm her then they talk a bit more about the Dave case, albeit cryptically. Then more nighttime swimming. Camp goes on, right? Jessie isn’t happy when she sees Amy close to Garrett. And then Guns N’ Roses plays, the titular “Patience” of this episode. Everyone swims, has fun.
Up in her cabin, Deb pulls out a little box from under her bed. She also finds Joel taping her again, except this time she shuts the blinds. Mysterious. We start getting a look behind the mask of all these characters, each and every one of them with their own secrets, their own pasts and mysteries. This begins filling things out for us, even within the first episode, so that hopefully the writing will build off this good stuff. Finally we get a look at Drew, who is actually a woman if anyone wasn’t able to tell. More of a look at Jessie, too, as she reveals herself to be the Braces to Garrett’s Townie. Ah, so that’s why she looked so bitchy.
The end of the episode reveals, through the camcorder, an entity standing in the background while everybody swam earlier – is that The Tall Man? Or someone else equally as ominous?
Let’s find out together. Next episode is titled “Barney Rubble Eyes” and you can expect a recap/review very soon. Digging this first episode. There are silly moments, but I’m almost assuming those are meant to feel typical to the slasher sub-genre. Still, I’m willing to keep giving this a shot. I liked their first episode. Here’s to hoping the writers and directors can keep up the pace, the excitement, all tinged with some blood and horror. Who knows what’ll happen.
Green Room. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeremy Saulnier.
Starring Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart, Joe Cole, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner, David W. Thompson, Mark Webber, Macon Blair, Eric Edelstein, Michael Draper, Andy Copeland, Brent Werzner, Lj Klink, Kasey Brown, Taylor Tunes, & Imogen Poots.
Film Science/Broad Green Pictures.
Rated 14A. 95 minutes.
Jeremy Saulnier blew the majority of us away wildly with his downhome revenge flick Blue Ruin, a story that takes revenge out of the hands of men with particular sets of skills and an almost invincible superheroness before placing it in the hands of regular people, those who aren’t skilled or experienced with weapons, murder, or anything of the like. The whole thing was an exercise in spectacular acting, directing, and writing, all combining to make Saulnier’s talent undeniable.
Going with another contained, small plot, Saulnier now gives us Green Room – the story of a punk band named The Ain’t Rights, consisting of Pat (Anton Yelchin), Reece (Joe Cole), Sam (Alia Shawkat), and Tiger (Callum Turner), who end up trapped in a backwoods music venue after one of them witnesses a horrific killing and at the mercy of a gang of neo-Nazis led by the quietly explosive Darcy (Patrick Stewart). Similar to his previous directorial effort, Saulnier shows us a slice of real life. For all its wild elements, Green Room feels honest. It gives us the world of a punk band and juxtaposes their freedom/fun loving lifestyle with that of some real, serious, scary dudes whose lifestyle is anything but loving, in any way.
But perhaps my favourite element? While the friends in the band, as well as club regular Amber (Imogen Poots), all band together in unity, the supposedly strong group of white nationalists does the opposite and starts crumbling within. Amongst all the suspense and tension, in between the bloody bits of horror and the deepening criminal aspects of the screenplay, there’s a great comment on the nature of these neo-Nazi groups, how they’re only bound together by a collective feeling of being lost and that there’s nothing really keeping them glued. And that their ideology, for some, is a thin veil. Once the blood starts flowing, for some of these guys, the less committed to their ’cause’, all bets are off.
Something I love is that Saulnier is able to capture the life of the band so well. From the gig posters to the slumming on the road to the sticky situations they find themselves in. Even the little jokes amongst the band and their respective personalities all make these characters feel genuine. I’ve played in bands since I was about 13 years old. Never went on a tour, though we did travel a few times throughout the years with a couple of the different ones I was in, both singing and playing guitar, sometimes only one or the other. And the feel of this band is super honest. They remind me of myself, of people I knew while playing, of promoters and fellow musicians and the people out of the community. So when they first step into the world of the neo-Nazi group and their club it’s more than just culture shock, you feel a palpable air of danger. You feel afraid for these people. More than that they have the balls to play a song by the Dead Kennedys with a chorus that goes something like this: “Nazi punks, nazi punks, nazi punks fuck off!” So further than feeling any fear, you also get the idea that these are immature young people colliding with a world of which they have no real clue. Much like many of us would say these white nationalist types are a bunch of idiots, likely inbred and whatever else, this band doesn’t respect the fact these are serious, dangerous people. The writing of the characters and the setup of the burgeoning intensity of what they’re about to experience is what makes the film so strong immediately. Within twenty minutes you’re not simply interested in the characters, their band, as well as the creepy neo-Nazis circling around them, you also land right in the boiling pot and sitting in the hot seat with our reluctant protagonists.
A little bit I loved – when the band and Amber decide to try fighting their way out, before they do everyone recounts their truthful Desert Island Band: Reece says Prince, Sam says Simon & Garfunkel, Tiger sticks with The Misfits (good lad), Pat still can’t answer, and Amber joins in with Madonna and Slayer. Awesome moment that was so well placed, so well written. An amazing, brief scene.
All the way through I enjoyed the cinematography, courtesy of Sean Porter. In the early scenes there are some moments of beautiful Malick-like nature shots, particularly when the band is pushing their van out of the field into which it ploughed the night before. But all the interior stuff is great, too. When we move into the various locations the band moves through on their journey there’s a dark and edgy quality that makes you feel as if you’re gradually being sucked into oblivion. Inside the white nationalist punk club there’s a fog-like, hazy atmosphere that you can almost smell and touch. It makes you feel as if you’ve walked right into hell. For instance, as The Ain’t Rights play away, rocking out, there’s a horde of white supremacists moshing, their symbols and insignia waving around like banners in the crowd, and it’s a simultaneously gorgeous and eerie sight to those few moments.
And then there’s the violence. Oh boy. I’ve seen some nasty, gory shit in my time; 4,200 films deep, about 1/3 of those horror. But Green Room‘s brand of violent, criminal horror is exciting because there are two elements at play: the band (though punks they represent pacifists who are only inclined to defend themselves against violence) v. the white supremacists (these guys use violence for fun and to subdue those they feel are threats or obviously are different than them). So what I find great is that the band, these mostly peaceful people who just want to rage onstage with their music, is put in a position where they’re forced to go a violent route in order to save themselves, and literally to save their lives. Instead of some kind of revenge-style thriller where we see a bunch of people do violence against neo-Nazis, Saulnier allows us to indulge in the revenge movie tropes without having this sort of preachy element where he’s saying “Look how these white people are better than the hateful ones” and effectively allows us to indulge in that scenario without pandering too much to the saviour in us moviegoers. Furthermore, it’s funny I’ve seen a review state that while the movie has good backwoods horror elements that are actually well executed, there’s a lack of human element within the screenplay. I found exactly the opposite. Quickly, we almost feel like the 5th member of The Ain’t Rights, and once that first act of violence (we actually only see the aftermath of that one) comes down there’s a terrible sense of watching people we care for already in a terrifying situation.
Some bloody highlights: Pat gets his arm torn apart while trying to hold the door closed in the greem room, looking like an actual wound from an ER photo; the arm break on Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) looks so nastily real before Amber opens him up like a deer, also awfully realistic. Later when the band starts escaping and they’re each subjected to different methods of violence, there are a number of gritty scenes that come down and shock you; not because of the blood or gore, but rather these moments are cloaked in darkness, the ugliness concealed just beneath. In their distinct ways every scene containing bloody action comes off with an awe all its own.
My favourite? When Daniel (Mark Webber) is behind the bar, that entire sequence is absolute insanity – that’s all I’ll say, for those who’ve not yet seen the film.
Green Room is a fantastic dose of crime-thriller mixed with backwoods horror, on top of that using minimal locations – mainly the punk club – to bring maximum suspense and tension to the forefront. There’s a great screenplay, first and foremost, which Saulnier crafts wonderfully. Though the band is the focus of everything, the disintegration of the white supremacists is key to the plot. Because, as I said in the intro, The Ain’t Rights and Amber, and Daniel later, come together as one, a unified whole; without any extremist ideology backing them, but only the desire to survive against extremists. On the opposite side are the white nationalists, led by Darcy, who are dishonest with one another, hiding secrets and true intention, and eventually they come to a point where their own ranks disintegrate because of their lack of unity. So, yes, this is an enjoyable piece of nasty horror that plays well in the world of genre film, but it also has things to say, it isn’t all about extreme violence and the ugly world of neo-Nazis.
Under everything, Green Room is a taut and exciting thriller that feels different than most of the other similar films out there. Saulnier proves once again he’s able to take something familiar, turn it into his own vision, and keep us interested in the underbelly of American culture – that one where bloodshed, violence, murder plays out in forgotten places, where human life is disposable, where the will to survive is only trumped by the gruesome passion to kill. Moreover, Saulnier exposes the brotherhood of white supremacy, not by making fun or mocking. He opens up the idea of white nationalism and its idea of brotherhood and unity by showing how easily it falls apart under pressure; where you’re only as good as your last murder, otherwise you’re only taking up space. Up against a group of punk rockers inexperienced in the ways of violence, these neo-Nazis discover music keeps people together far better than any right-wing (or ultra-left) ideology ever could. At the same time, those same rockers ultimately must become just like those violent extremists in order to make it out alive.
Season 1, Episode 4: “A Wrath Unseen”
Directed by Julius Ramsay
Written by Robert Kirkman
* For a review of the previous episode, “All Alone Now” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Road Before Us” – click here
Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) presides over a very small funeral for poor Norville, after Kyle (Patrick Fugit) found him bloody and murdered at the end of last episode. And then Sidney (Brent Spiner) shows up, claiming himself as a “friend” and claiming Norville must have been distraught over the loss of his wife. Sidney says he’s in town to take care of Norville’s affairs, all that stuff. What a god damn liar. Although I can’t wait to see more of his character. He’s sinister, as we know it was him to have done the need. Or at least it’s highly likely, anyway. So I want to know his full deal. I suspect he’s a demon, but won’t jump to say anything. I’ve never read the source material, I wouldn’t know where this is headed. I can only judge by what we’re given. And I dig the slow burn nature of the plots coming together.
Anderson is an interesting character, too. He has a bunch of keepsakes at home. Little trinkets he keeps from the exorcism work he performs. When he touches them the memories come flooding back, of the demonic possession he’s seen, the victims of said demons. Tragic life to live. In other parts of town, Mark and Megan Holter (David Denman/Wrenn Schmidt) are happy. At least they seem to be, even if she’s got other things happening in her life that he doesn’t know about – Donnie Hamel (Scott Porter) kicking around town and all. He actually shows up while they’re out at dinner. He brings up awkward conversation and while Mark does his best to be polite, his wife is rocked by his presence. There’s a very aggressive element to his presence. More plot and character development/history to come out. I’m sure there’s something deep lying behind their relationship.
Then we get more of Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey), this time at home with his wife and friends, Mr and Mrs. Ogden (Peter Burris & Debra Christofferson). When they’re alone, Giles passes the gold watch over to his buddy. With that, this plot thickens.
At a bar, Kyle runs into Donnie. The whole family clearly has a connection to him. That comes up quick and violent after Kyle attacks him right off before they’re both tossed out of the bar. They fight some more outside. Mostly, Kyle gets his ass beat down. “Always playing the guardian angel,” Donnie smirks above him: “Haven‘t you figured out they don‘t exist?” Next morning Kyle calls his sister. He’s not willing to “ignore” whatever it is that’s happening(/has happened) between them. For the time being he promises not to do anything too drastic. Something big is behind all this and I’m intrigued as hell.
Later on Kyle goes to see Anderson, who’s busy cleaning up the cemetery, picking up trash. The Rev lays it on his younger friend, saying that to get into this whole thing and help people, to fight those demons while using that gift of his there’s a need for people to trust him. They don’t right now. Lots of talk, then his dust up with Donnie. No matter what’s going on there is a good bond between these two. Because really, they’re the only two who know for sure that there’s something dark going on, that the devil is more real than many are willing to believe. And it’s no big religious thing, at least not to Kyle. It’s merely a stand between good and evil. Well the exorcist duo head over to another house, the door has a German “Willkommen” on the door. Inside Anderson sees a few ceramic boys on the window ledge and starts to have flashes of what he’d thought of earlier while touching the trinkets he keeps as souvenirs. Meanwhile, Kyle goes in to see Mildred (Grace Zabriskie). She knows all about Kyle. She alludes to him beating his wife, and in general having a problem with violence. Mildred has trouble sitting down, but when Kyle goes to help her it all but sears her skin. The whole thing is incredibly unsettling, which sends Kyle out fast. We discover more about Mildred, how she’d supposedly been exorcised. And Anderson says she’s been in church for the past couple years, singing, praising Jesus. Could he maybe be a bit too naive? Perhaps the fresh eyes of Kyle Barnes are really needed to figure out exactly how devious the devil can get in his work.
Out on his own, Giles is suited with rifle in tow for a trek in the woods. He’s back at that dirty old trailer trying to find out more about what’s going on out there.
Poor Megan is twisted up over the appearance of Donnie in her life again. Her husband’s worried, and their life is being affected. She can’t even think of anything related to Donnie without getting upset. Then we get a flashback from Megan, she peeks through a bathroom door before running to her room, towel on, and then who I can only assume is a young Donnie corners her, crushing the tail of her white stallion toy on the floor. In the present, Megan takes out a gun and holds it with a look of intent in her eyes.
On the street Mark picks up his brother-in-law Kyle, who reluctantly gets in the cruiser. They go for a beer. Mark wants to talk about Donnie. Right away you can see the look on Kyle’s face change, his entire body language and demeanour becomes more tense. “Is that him?” asks Mark. He obviously knows about whatever happened, just not who did it. We find out Donnie was a foster kid that their family took in and he abused Megan. Yowzah. Lots of explosive stuff about to happen. Disgusting that Mark had to figure it all out this way. Furthermore, Kyle tells Mark about how when he found out what Donnie was doing, he started sleeping on the floor of Megan’s room. So more and more he’s painted as less of a bad guy, and even Mark comes to see him a bit differently, even after all the stuff with Kyle, his wife, his child – something we still have yet to fully discover ourselves.
At the hotel, Megan confronts Donnie. She wants him to leave and he tries saying that he’s changed, that he was a “fucked up kid” and nothing like that anymore. Not sure how this will all play out. I’d like him to get shot, Megan definitely has her gun. Though I doubt she’ll do that.
Anderson is back to visit with Mildred. After the incident with Kyle he wanted to be sure she was all right. Truthfully, he’s doubting his own work. He believes Kyle may be right, underneath it all. He questions Mildred about her grandchildren, the fact she doesn’t want to be around them these days. This is a truly eerie scene. I love it. “What if we like who we become?” Mildred ponders out loud to the Reverend. It becomes clearer by the second there is still something demonic, something evil lurking inside that woman, and it’s obviously gotten better at concealing itself beneath her skin. The Rev finally admits to Kyle he didn’t get the job done on Mildred. Off they go on their merry way, exorcism kit in hand and ready to fend off evil once more. Only Mildred’s daughter won’t allow them in, she knows what Anderson did to try and get the devil out of the old woman before – the demon tells lies, of course.
In the woods, Giles sees his old pal Ogden throw a load of gas over the trailer then proceed to burn it down. Ah, more developments.
Out on the highway Mark pulls Donnie over. He orders the man out of his car, and you can feel the tension fatten up, so thick you could cut it with a knife. And in this day and age you can be sure the dash cam catches Mark beating the hell out of Donnie, throwing him to the roadside, laying into him. At home later that night, Mark gets a call from the Chief to run all that evidence he collected previously down at the trailer. But now Mark has to deal with his own morality, he has to live with himself. No doubt Donnie deserves all he gets, though this whole thing has definitely damaged Mark’s moral core.
The worry in Kyle for the mistakes Anderson has made mounts. He worries now for his own wife Allison (Kate Lyn Sheil), even if she’s got a restraining order on him. What if the Rev has failed to exorcise many demons, not just Mildred? Might mean a ton of dark souls are out there waiting to be saved, or trying hard not to be.
In the trees somewhere, Megan sets up a bunch of glass. She smashes it with a hammer taking out her rage in the privacy of the forest. The pain inside her has to come out, and luckily she isn’t doing anything nuts. I thought she’d have killed Donnie, or maybe she was heading down to do some target practice in preparation. However, I think what we’re seeing is that she is a good person, she’s been degraded and abused terribly yet she chooses to take out her aggression without hurting anyone, putting her in juxtaposition with her husband. Here, the person that was abused isn’t the one wanting the revenge, or at least she isn’t taking it herself. The man always has to step up and make it about his own feelings and his own rage. At the same time there’s a division between people willing to step over the line when necessary and those who will never step over it on principle. Mark is a good man, but this episode sets up a big duality between those who choose to take care of evil firsthand and those who would simply rather try to get past it, however they can.
A great episode. Love this series so much already. Some think it’s too slow, I find the pace extraordinary. It sets things up well and gives us a chance to speculate, before the plots and the characters develop. Lots of surprises, lots of creepiness. Can’t wait for the next episode!