From Canadian Film Development Corporation

Suburban Parasitic Anxieties: David Cronenberg’s Shivers

Shivers. 1975. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Barry Baldaro, Camil Ducharme, Hanna Poznanska, Wally Martin, Vlasta Vrana, Silvie Debois, Charles Perley, & Al Rochman. Cinépix/DAL Productions/Canadian Film Development Corporation.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★
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Even if I love Alien to death and think it’s a masterpiece of cinema, the fact remains that Dan O’Bannon definitely saw David Cronenberg’s Shivers a.k.a They Came From Within. And not just that, he loved it. This was the original piece of dreadful science-fiction-horror that preyed upon an isolated environment, high up above everything else, a nearly self-contained atmosphere where a predator on the inside starts to take out the residents, one by one. Just like Weyland-Yutani were terraforming and the government or whoever were planning to use the Xenomorphs for sinister purpose, the creatures of Shivers were created for a purpose but then that purpose went terribly awry. Is it a coincidence then that the residential apartment complex where this film is set happens to be named Starliner? I’m not accusing O’Bannon of anything. He’s already been accused, anyways. I enjoy the little similarities because it shows the legacy and intrigue of Cronenberg. He is an important artist who dares to ask questions about human nature, the social effects of technology and medicine and more, as well as so many other things. Only his third feature, Shivers asks of us what the price of advancement is in terms of our social lives, as a whole in society. The more we isolate ourselves, jamming our life into smaller spaces so that we can cram more people in around us, the further at risk we put ourselves of becoming something entirely other. In that case, there is no progress, no evolution. We only evolve into something mindless, swallowed whole by a concern for economic and social status, consumed by our consumption. Through his trademark body horror Cronenberg explores the terrifying downfall of a society within society inside the Starliner apartment building, and much like J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, as well as the recent Ben Wheatley adaptation, this film depicts how a self-contained environment can eat itself alive
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The big horror here is Cronenberg’s use of phallic, slug-like creatures to represent an invasion of otherness. Again, it is man-made. But it is other, a parasite. What we know know as typical Cronenberg comes here through those slugs squirming their way into the human body. Of course it happens many ways. However, the most eerie and prominent in this screenplay is sexual intercourse. These parasites drive the hosts sex crazy. One of the first women we see infected attacks a man and yells, terrifyingly enough: “Im hungry. Hungry for love!” Later, the most disturbing moment for me is when a family of three that were earlier stuck in an elevator are now infected, and they tackle a man; the little girl kisses him on the lips with her bloody mouth. This one scene really gets to me, as it is creepy anyways, but then with the girl kissing the man, the blood on her, the family all gone raving mad. It’s a sight to behold. Otherwise, Cronenberg does give us a few graphically pukeworthy practical effects, as the slugs slip out of mouths, flop out onto clear umbrellas leaving yucky streaks, one even slips its way up from a bathtub drain and between the legs of an unsuspecting woman (precursor to Craven’s famous bathtub scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street). So many effective, bloody little moments.
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Amongst everything else, the symbolism of Cronenberg’s Shivers is what makes it a worthy and enduring piece of Canadian cinema. While there’s the invasion of otherness and becoming something else, there are more elements at play. The whole sexual angle of people just trying to ravish everyone, gone mental from lust, this comes to represent how the close proximity to the others in these buildings, jamming everybody together no matter if it’s high class suites or what is a recipe for social disaster. Essentially, it is the idea of assimilation, the conformity to a group norm and a way of life that’s accepted as singular. Because they’re not attacking each other like madmen and madwomen, they collectively seek out more people to pass the parasite onto. So it’s like this roaming group of social power, these parasitic citizens of the Starliner apartment complex gradually spreading their diseased love around until finally everybody has conformed, they all fit perfectly in their little boxed apartments(/compartments).
Also, if you want to go deeper, the idea of all these people living in a deluxe apartment complex sort of quarantined off from the rest of society can serve as a statement about how the upper class is sort of an incestuous group of people that perpetuate a system of disease amongst themselves by remaining sectioned away in their own little world. Not everybody here is big time rich or anything. But it’s a suburban residential building, so we’re certainly not talking about a rough neighbourhood. So the way these people descend into a madness of orgy and violence is a comment on how these people mingle only with their own kind, and anyone from outside – such as the man who worked with Dr. Hobbes, the original one guilt of scientific hubris by inventing the sex slugs – ends up killed. The new people, they’re simply indoctrinated and likewise infected with the parasitic, aphrodisiac slugs. So these types of cut-off suburban environments within societies only begets more isolation, in turn more madness.
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That climactic scene where the Starliner’s own doctor, Roger St. Luc, who’d been fighting against the parasitic invasion this whole time finds himself being crowded and mauled in the pool with all the residents is a doozy. It is the epitome of the anxieties of the suburban social life, closed and boxed in, stuck into the cookie cutter frame with all the other mindless, sex-crazed, consumerist zombies. Honestly, there are few scenes in a film which get to me as deeply and have resonated as long-lasting as this one did. From the first time I saw this film about 12 years ago or so, it stuck. And watching it again now, especially where the kiss lands on St. Luc, similar to how the frame slows down on it like with the little girl earlier, the impact is just as weighty.
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There are obviously flaws, as this is a low budget picture and also it was one of David Cronenberg’s first trio of feature films ever. With Shivers, he began to explore the physiological body horror that went on to become his trademark, and here his interest in the social life of humans started to really take off. In a disturbing, poignant fashion. Initially dismissed as completely useless, particularly after the CFDC and others were not happy about its content, Shivers has gone on to be better understood, also more appreciated by certain people. By no means perfect it has a unique charm. Moreover, it is effective body horror with plenty to please even some seasoned veterans of the genre.
Cronenberg is certainly king in the realm of body horror. Always. Forever.

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Better Call Saul – Season 2, Episode 6: “Bali Ha’i”

AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 2, Episode 6: “Bali Ha’i”
Directed by Michael Slovis
Written by Gennifer Hutchison

* For a review of the previous episode, “Rebecca” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Inflatable” – click here
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With the previous episode giving us more insight into the troubled relationship between the Brothers McGill – Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) – this week’s “Bali Ha’i” promises even more developments.
We start out with an image similar to where we saw Chuck in the last episode with his former wife. Except it’s Jimmy, in bed. Alone. Unable to sleep, Jimmy flicks through the channels from infomercials to C-Span to a Sand Piper commercial like the original one before he got his hands on it. Things aren’t looking so glamorous here for ole James McGill. He spends a bunch of the night throwing little decorative wicker balls around, in different ways, different made-up games. Until he can’t take it anymore. He heads over to the old spa, to the shifty backroom where he practiced law before Clifford Main (Ed Begley Jr) scooped him up, before Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) got right in the picture. Before all this. Back there, Jimmy can lay his head down and actually get some sleep. Almost heavy handed, yet love this opening sequence. Great writing, on the nose.

 


Meanwhile, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is just as interesting a character. Her whole life has been thrown for a whirlwind since Jimmy’s commercial fiasco. On her answering machine, she gets a message from Jimmy singing the titular song “Bali Ha’i” by South Pacific. He’s clearly in love, bad. Even though he screws up, even though he can’t keep from being criminal, he is charming.
Nothing is going too smooth for Jimmy right now. Not his life, not even fitting the coffee mug Kim gave him into the cupholder of his car. Back to Kim, though. She is trying to get a read of Howard now that she’s no longer banished to the boardrooms of nowhere sorting files. Howard upsets me; he’s like a robot, a soulless man who puts on a mask. Either way, they meet with Kevin Wachtell (Rex Linn) and Paige (Cara Pifko) on the new business.
Then there’s Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). He’s greeted at home by an associate of Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) named Arturo (Vincent Fuentes) who requires an answer re: the deal from last episode. “Respectfully Im gonna have to say no,” advises Mike. Afterwards, he literally lays a welcome mat on his front porch. Curious.
Kim’s in court doing her thing over the Sand Piper case. At the defense table is Rick Schweikart (Dennis Boutsikaris). He takes it upon himself to talk with Kim. “You went down swinging and I admire that,” says Schweikart. He ends up inviting her out for lunch, which might possibly lead to something better career wise for Kim. Let’s hope. She acts grateful to HHM, but you know there are some bad feelings on that part. He gives her a good pitch about the life of a lawyer, and offers her a position at his firm; including helping to pay off her student debt, et cetera, all the bells, the whistles, too. And still she is reluctant. Too loyal. Perhaps says something about the way she is with Jimmy, as well. Her loyalty brings her nothing in the end, sadly.

 


At his place, Mike reveals the trick to his mat – underneath is a sheet of paper, helping him figure out there’s been people at the door. He checks everything carefully, rubbing the door frame, the knob, checking for any sign of people entering his home. He heads inside, gun drawn. All I keep thinking is, despite whatever’s happened since, Mike must’ve made an impressive cop once upon a time. He isn’t perfect, though, the way he does things is so methodical. And it doesn’t feel contrived as a character, like the writers are almost visible there crafting him in front of us. His character comes off as organic, especially considering how Jonathan Banks plays him.
He ends up getting the jump on two guys waiting for him. It’s Arturo and another man. “Whats the message?” asks Mike. They were only trying to “scare” him. Nonetheless, the older man wins out, then washes the blood of his hands and gun in the sink. You can tell he doesn’t want to live this life. More than that, his hands are shaking, it’s giving him pause about all of the things he’s forced to do; all out of necessity. Even further, his granddaughter and daughter-in-law are stuck at the motel. Everything is pressing down on Mike.
The worst yet? He spies two men watching him – another Breaking Bad reference, as the Cartel brothers Marco (Luis Moncada) and Leonel (Daniel Moncada) loom in the distance. Trouble; big fucking trouble. And Mike don’t like that. Not when it involves his family. What I like is that he’s still tender with his granddaughter while stressed to the maximum, he doesn’t freak out and haul her away like a madman. The writing of his character is excellent and nuanced.

 


Kim does consider the offer she got earlier, sticking around the restaurant bar after Schweikart leaves. Then a man tries picking her up, which she seems to dig. At least a little. All of a sudden, she calls Jimmy: “Ive got a live one on the hook.” So that hook up on the verge of happening wasn’t exactly one after all. More so it’s Kim realizing she may be more like Jimmy than she’d ever imagined. They start running a con on her target. Jimmy reels out a big story about their dot-com company maybe going public, drawing out the big fish in him. Looks like Jimmy and Kim are a couple again. Momentarily, anyways.
At a groceteria, Nacho (Michael Mando) receives Mike. There, he meets with Hector, the Cartel Brothers and Arturo along as protection. Hector wants Mike to go to the D.A, to get Tuco (Raymond Cruz) off the hook for the gun possession. No more cash, either. “How about the payment is you get to leave?” Hector asks, and warns all at once. Everything starts getting tangly, with Mike reaching for his gun, starting to make everyone nervous. Seems for now a deal is struck. $50,000 and Mike takes the rap for the gun.

 


Hector (to Mike): “How you managed to live so long with a mouth like that, hmm?”

 


Luckily, Mike does have Nacho on his side. Not that it makes things better for Nacho. But Mike offers up half of the money to him; payment for a job completely improperly.
On the other side of town, Jimmy and Kim are waking up together. They pulled a fast one on their friend at the restaurant, coming out of it with free drinks, dinner, and a nice “souvenir” cheque made out to Ice Station Zebra Associates. Amazing. Also, Kim is wobbling between wanting to leave HHM, and not knowing what’s best for her. Just like her situation as a lover to Jimmy – maybe not the best thing for her, and she keeps on keeping on like an addiction. The cup she gave him not fitting in the holder is symbolic of their lives together; they do not fit. So in the end Jimmy uses a tire iron to smash the holder apart. He makes the cup fit. A perfect parallel to the relationship with Kim. They don’t fit, but he is determined to make his life fit the required structure. No matter what the consequence or price.

 


This is such a great season. Very excited to see next week’s episode, “Inflatable”, so stick with me as we cruise through Season 2 together.

Breaking Bad – Season 1, Episode 6: “Crazy Handful of Nothin'”

AMC’s Breaking Bad
Season 1, Episode 6: “Crazy Handful of Nothin'”
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Written by George Mastras

* For a review of the previous episode, “Gray Matter” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” – click here
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The start of this episode opens as Walt (Bryan Cranston) returns to Jesse (Aaron Paul), ready to cook in the Winnebago. But as he proclaims “no more violence“, we also get cuts of a new Walt, a shaved head. He walks across a parking lot with a ton of people bewildered by him. He’s bleeding slightly and toting a large bag, no doubt filled with money. The irony is not lost.
Cut back to a time before this coming incident. Walt does his chemotherapy, as Skyler (Anna Gunn) sits next to him, supportive and loving. She asks again about Elliott Schwartz and his paying of the bills. Turns out, Walt is continually lying. The mountain of lies has already begun. How big will it grow? Awful damn high, I bet. For the time being, Walter writes out thousands of dollars in cheques to the treatment center and goes about his daily life, trying to hide the burgeoning meth business under his chemistry teacher facade. At school, he’s discovering the side effects of the chemotherapy coming down on him; Walt sneaks away from class after struggling a little, vomiting hard into the school toilet. “The faster they undergo change the more violent the explosion,” he tells his class while discussing chemical compounds, but really – he’s talking about himself. In the bathroom, a janitor named Hugo helps Walter out after he makes a bit of a mess. So sad to see an independent guy like Walt having to deal with this brutal illness.
Then there’s Skyler, Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) and Walt Sr at a meeting, some support group for cancer patients and their families. His wife asks about where he disappears from time to time, which pushes Walt into one of the first few lies he’s been trafficking in. Walt says he needs alone time, so that gets him out of the house and away from the family a bit.


And now we’re back in the Winnebago with Walt, cooking up their product. He’s having trouble, though. The chemicals make him woozy and eventually send him flying out the door, into the desert. Jesse ends up noticing some marks on Mr. White after he unzips the protective suit he’s wearing. Pinkman knows about the cancer, due to his aunt having a similar dot on her chest, the targeting for radiation. Turns out Jesse is a little pissed about not being told, them being partners and all. Above all, he now understands exactly why Mr. White wanted to get into the meth business: he’ll likely be checking out, soon enough.
Too ill to get the batch done, Walt has Jesse finish up where he started.
In the city, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) and his parnter Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) meet up. They’ve identified the gas mask in the desert: it came from the high school where Walt teaches. Uh oh? Nah. Hank would never ever suspect Walt has anything to do with it. He was almost floored when finding out Walt smoked a bit of pot, so naturally Mr. White is too inconspicuous for anybody to ever assume he’s cooking drugs.
Taking over on all fronts, Jesse is out about town selling off their new excellent product, from gas stations to laundromats to silver-grilled gangsters hanging in parking lots. Only the money he brings back to Walt isn’t what the man was expecting. He wants to move to the big time, he doesn’t want Jesse selling it in small amounts. Although, the younger of the two points out: “You dont know jack about slingindope.”
They start to talk about who took Krazy-8’s place in the meth food chain. A man named Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) has taken over the business. He is very high up the chain, which Jesse makes clear. So they need to have some sort of in-road to the big man. Walt yells at his partner – “Just grow some fucking balls” – but is that going to be good for Jesse? Will being forced into talking with this Tuco make things any better, or is it going to spiral them downward into more criminality, more murder, more madness?


Now, Hank is over at the high school to talk with Walt. He’s tracking down the gas mask, and it brings him to chemistry teacher Mr. White. At the same time, the obvious answer is not obvious. Hank never once assumes Walter to be the culprit, but merely sees him as a bit of a dough-head chemistry teacher who doesn’t take care of his equipment, or keep track of it. We almost sweat alongside Walt, as he wonders what is about to come next. He further finds out that Krazy-8 was a snitch for police agencies, which definitely is interesting to him. But the conversation goes on a little, and the more we stress with Walt, the more dark comedy comes into the situation. Because whereas Hank is definitely a good, solid DEA agent, this is his blindspot. Walter is easily underestimated, so can you blame him? Regardless, Occam’s razor presents itself and Hank doesn’t go for it. Why would he? There’s no reason to suspect ole Walt. At this point.
Meanwhile, Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) says he and Tuco are like “two nuts in a ballsack, yo“, and so he brings Jesse up to see the man in charge. Apparently Pete and Tuco were cellmates at one point. This puts Pinkman in a meeting with the new dangerous man in charge of Albuquerque’s meth game. And he certainly is dangerous – a meth sniffing, knife wielding, psychotic business sporting a telltale teardrop tattoo. Jesse presents the meth, which Tuco samples quickly and also give him a taste, to ensure they’re all on the same criminal level. The meth impresses, to say the least. Things become tense when Tuco doesn’t hand over the $35,000 for the bag of drugs immediately, saying “youll get it“. Afterwards, when Jesse tries taking the bag and running he ends up on the bad side of Tuco and his temper; and boy, does he ever have a mean, nasty one.


Because Walt isn’t suspected, poor Hugo the janitor gets pinched for the stolen meth making supplies. Hank and Gomez show up to arrest Hugo, which obviously makes Walt feel terrible. Yet not terrible enough to clear up the whole mess. At home, things aren’t much better. Walt hasn’t yet heard from Jesse about their latest venture, clearly worrying him. Playing cards together the whole family is at the White house, with Hank and Marie (Betsy Brandt) present for a bit of fun. Furthermore, talk of Hugo comes up and burrows the guilt deeper into Walt, as Hank talks of Hugo’s previous criminal record, a “big fat” joint in his truck, so obviously he must’ve been skipping over to meth, right? No. But still, Walt has to let another man take the fall. “You hidinsomething?” Hank asks, referring to the poker game at hand but it calls Walt’s new business to mind; amazing writing, as usual. In fact, the whole poker situation speaks incredibly to the overarching plot and themes happening. The titular handful of nothing comes to describe Walt’s poker hand, and it also leads us into the opening situation of the episode, which we see in the finale shortly.
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Walt tries to reach Jesse, then finds out he’s in the hospital. Skinny Pete watches on faithfully, as Pinkman lays there in a neck brace, busted ribs, and more. Tuco went wild on him. But no longer can Walt let others get hurt because of him: first Hugo, now this. It can only get worse as time goes on. So Walt decides there must be retribution, both for Jesse and for them to get their money back.
The new and improved Walter White comes to us now. Pissing out rusty coloured liquid, losing his hair, taking pill after pill, he makes the choice to shave his head. Before the chemo can take it. Everything about Walt is him trying to get ahead – of the illness, of the debt. And shaving his head is a way Walt can step out in front of everything, on his own terms. His family is a little taken aback first seeing him completely bald. Though, while Skyler is almost mortified, Walt Jr (RJ Mitte) calls it “bad ass“.
We arrive to the finale. Walt heads up to see Tuco, shaved head, bag of drugs on him. A new side to the chemistry teacher. Beginning with the poker game, Walt is going all in. On everything. He no longer has much fear with the cancer creeping up on him, inside him, every single day. Further and further. When he gets in to see Tuco, though, things become decidedly different. Walt declares his name as “Heisenberg“, a reference to Werner Heisenberg (the Uncertainty Principle). A new man is born. Walt also asks for money to make up for Jesse’s hospital visit, plus money for the methamphetamine. Except it isn’t meth in the bag Walt brought. It is an explosive.
He tosses a crystal at the floor. Outside, the top floor of the building blows up. Heisenberg holds the back above his head threatening to blow everything sky high. And this is how the episode opens, after Walt walks out with money in hand, bleeding slightly, as well as with a deal in tact to make Tuco more meth. Amazing. Down in his car, Walt celebrates by himself, yelling, touching the money. Is this the birth of a new man completely?


Next episode is the last of the season, titled “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal”. Stay with me for the finale.