Tagged 2003

Patty Jenkins’ Monster: Forced to Kill, One Way or Another

Monster. 2003. Directed & Written by Patty Jenkins.
Starring Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Rus Blackwell, Tim Ware, Stephan Jones, Brett Rice, Kaitlin Riley, & Cree Ivey. Media 8 Entertainment/Newmarket Films/DEJ Productions.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
Biography/Crime/Drama

★★★★★
POSTER For those that don’t know the entire story, Aileen Wuornos was indeed a serial killer. She murdered men. She was a prostitute, one that had been abused, supposedly raped, tortured, and one who took emancipation from a life of sex as business into her own hands when there was nowhere else to turn. And that was the ultimate problem concerning Aileen’s long, tumultuous life. Starting from an early age she was frequently beaten, while naked, by her adoptive father. At the age of fourteen she got pregnant, later putting the boy up for adoption in 1971. She was actually married to a multimillionaire by age twenty, which later ended in a restraining order against her and an annulment. This was also around the time Lee started getting arrested, charged with assault and battery, among other things. When she finally wound up in Daytona, drinking in a gay bar, she met Tyria Moore who’d become the one big love of her life. It was in Daytona the trail of bodies behind Aileen – affectionately known as Lee to those close to her – started piling up.
And this is where director-writer Patty Jenkins’ Monster comes in.
Wuornos, by all accounts, had trouble with the truth. Most of all after her arrest in 1991. What Jenkins does is examine Wuornos in those days after meeting Moore – here named Selby – and the steady decline of her mental state from the time of her first murder onward. In a realistic style alongside a great script, Jenkins uses the fascinatingly honest, brutally true-to-life performance of Charlize Theron as the centerpiece of a discussion about everything from murder to prostitution, to how we judge prostitutes when they say they’ve been sexually assaulted, love, as well as so many other themes in between. This movie is a great film from the early 2000s containing one of the single best performances ever seen in the history of cinema.
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There’s some great editing in this film. When Selby and Aileen first stay together in the hotel, after she’s murdered her first victim, things are so light and lovely, which then switches quickly into the stone cold realities of this woman’s life: we cut fast to Aileen in her stolen car, spraying down the windshield and wiping off any of the last bloody remnants inside to make sure it’s not a rolling DNA lab. This is one of the most evident points where we see the division in Aileen’s life, between the woman she wants to be and the woman she is/has become. An instance of when good editing and writing come together to create a sorrowful look into the inner life of a character, especially heart wrenching due to the fact Aileen is a serial killer, as well as partly a very tragic case.
What is part serial killer picture is also part indictment of our general society, which chews people like Aileen Wuornos up and spits them out. Aside from her alleged rape (I only say alleged because Aileen was the only person left on Earth who knew the truth for sure about that particular event), one of the first truly sad scenes is the montage sequence where Aileen heads out looking for a job. First just seeing her dressed in a nice little outfit while looking terrifyingly rough is semi-comical, which might explain Jenkins once telling an interviewer the film was meant to be played as a lighthearted comedy with bits of the murders tossed in amongst everything else. Secondly, when Aileen then goes on to a law office where she hopes to get a secretarial job, the treatment she receives is downright appalling. Then when she freaks out, it’s as if she is being the unreasonable one, but the man provoked her into that behaviour, and furthermore we continue to see how the system is not designed for people like Aileen. One poignantly tragic moment is when Selby is being chastised about Aileen by her aunt, who basically says
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Basically, a long and ruined life led Aileen to where she ended up. Having been used and abused most of her lifetime she wound up doing all she was ever conditioned to do: prostitute herself and sell her body. The saddest part to me is that one way or another, Aileen was likely to become a killer. Because if she didn’t willingly start killing men that she felt were assaulting or raping her then there’s still a high probability she would’ve likely, at some point in life, contracted HIV and spread it. Aileen wasn’t some high class escort, she lived on the street going from one situation to the next in desperation, so there’s a huge chance HIV would’ve come along. But the biggest, saddest irony lies in the fact that if Aileen was telling the truth about the original john she killed in the beginning, it’s likely this rape and assault which pushed her into killing the others, even if they never assaulted her themselves. Not to excuse her crimes, they are horrific and inexcusable. It just begs attention paid to the systemic abuse of low class prostitutes that are living dangerous lives on the fringe of society, no protection, barely any mind paid to their situations and their struggles. Eventually the levee has to break, somehow, somewhere down the line. Aileen represents one of the most perfect cases of a woman pushed too far. People want to act like a prostitute gets what she deserves, whatever that means, as if selling her body to survive and get through life effectively relegates her to a life of rape, torture, and all around terror. As if she asked for that. But Aileen asked for none of the life she was given. The title of this film accurately describes Wuornos, yet it has more than just the surface meaning that she is a monstrous person. This title refers further to the monster which society made her, the serial killing creature into which society molded her.
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Obviously the most impressive piece of Monster is Theron. Not just the physical transformation, though that is perfect. She not only takes on the physical appearance of Wuornos, she also gets the mannerisms and the phrasing, everything, so dead on correct. If you’ve ever watched any of the documentary material on Aileen, specifically the films made by Nick Broomfield, you’ll find it undeniable how accurate Theron portrays this woman, from top the bottom. Emotionally, this role is heavy, and all the various traumas of Aileen are not easy to illustrate onscreen. Theron proves that empathy reigns supreme, as she crawls inside the skin of this woman, whose story is sad but still altogether scary to relate to. We do, though. We relate in the most unnerving of ways, and that isn’t solely on the writing by Jenkins, fleshing out many important moments in the later stages of Aileen’s days. Theron opens the door to that empathetic viewing, which ultimately makes Monster one of the more compelling films to look at a true story about a serial killer. Yes, there are graphic moments. Even those are tactfully written and handled with solid directorial choices on Jenkins’ part.
With Theron’s powerhouse acting talent this movie doesn’t have to linger totally on the murder, the blood, the rape, none of that. Instead those lie on the peripherals of the film, adding their touches lightly, as Jenkins chooses to focus on the emotional, sentimental aspects of Aileen’s life. In doing so, Theron is able to show off her skills, and the movie reaches a height many other biographical films concerning the hideous legacy of serial murderers often can’t manage to attain. This is a 5-star masterpiece of a crime film. Even better, it’s based in real life, the melodrama is almost non-existent. Not only is Monster one of the best films in the past 16 years, it is an excellent movie period. And Theron’s performance as Wuornos will forever go down in history as one of the greatest. She deserved and still deserves all the accolades heaped upon her for this role because it is tremendous. To make people care about someone who has killed, a bunch of people, is truly remarkable, and to bring forward some of the issues in this film is brave on both the part of Theron and writer-director Jenkins. Truly a phenomenal work of cinema.

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The Last Horror Movie: Genuinely Chilling Found Footage Horror

The Last Horror Movie. 2003. Directed by Julian Richards; screenplay by James Handel from an idea by Julian Richards.
Starring Kevin Howarth, Mark Stevenson, Antonia Beamish, Christabel Muir, Jonathan Coote, Rita Davies, Joe Hurley, Jamie Langthorne, John Berlyne, and Mandy Gordon. Prolific Films/Snakehair Productions.
Rated R. 75 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★1/2
lasthorrormoviethe2.0 I’ve talked a lot in my reviews about found footage. It’s a sub-genre which I happen to love, though, there are certainly tons of bad ones out there. Having said that, are there really any more than bad horror, drama, comedy, thriller, et cetera? Nope, not at all. It’s merely the fact that, after The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity later, this sub-genre was reinvigorated after cult classics such as Cannibal Holocaust or The McPherson Tape, and naturally when a type of movie gets popular there are always other filmmakers looking to capitalize. Maybe this brings about more dreck than needed, but it also brings out quite a few excellent films in the lot which are more than worth the time to sit through.
The Last Horror Movie takes found footage, even a concept which we’ve seen before, and uses it to create a chilling, horrific bit of film. Certainly the, as I see it, overrated Man Bites Dog has stomped through the territory Julian Richards takes us into. However, it’s in the charisma and energy of the lead actor Kevin Howarth, playing a savage, voyeuristic serial killer, where the true horror of this movie lies and it is him, through every last scene, that will terrify you endlessly.
IMG_1982Using a cheesy horror video rental, naughty serial killer Max Parry (Kevin Howarth) tapes over the bad film on a VHS tape and lets other unsuspecting people rent it from the store. He’s even recruited an unnamed assistant (Mark Stevenson) to record all his murders and assaults on videotape.
Max goes on killing and doing terrible things, as the assistant films on. At one point he even attempts to involve the young, naive assistant in his work, putting a knife directly in his hands in order to experience the thrill of the kill.
Will Max Parry keep killing? Will he be caught? Can he successfully indoctrinate his assistant into a world of serial killing and depravity? With the tape wearing on, Max and his assistant find themselves in a scary, voyeuristic world where it almost feels as if the camera’s red light is our own eye, Max’s eye; and even scarier, we may come to discover that Max is not unlike a great many of us, terrifying and unsettling as the thought may be.
IMG_1988There are several amazingly chilling moments which deserve to go down in the horror history hall of fame. Honestly, there’s a wealth of horror in this short feature. I’ll discuss a few I think are particularly awesome and which deserve recognition.
The first happens very early, around 15 minutes in, as Max (Howarth) goes by a school, picking up a young boy. My heart started pumping as we watch Max, his video assistant taping the whole time, as he goes over to the boy, talks to him – you’d never suspect it was his nephew. There’s an undeniably pulse pounding lead up to this, until you see him at a door with the boy; his mother, Max’s sister, opens up and the terror is finished for the moment. But heading into this, even on a second viewing – and beyond – I’m consistently terrified by this part, though I know the outcome. Still gets me because the tension is there.
Other excellent, similar scenes happen as we often forget Max has an assistant following him with a video camera. Such as when we see a woman getting into her car in a parking garage, I actually lapsed and forgot Max wasn’t actually filming his own murders: then we see the woman in the car get strangled from behind, as Max sits in the backseat and his assistant films outside the car. Little bits like this make the tension and suspense of The Last Horror Movie draw out and last nearly the entire, scant 75-minute runtime.
IMG_1990 IMG_1991What scares me most about the character of Max is how he, through this film and his own film within a film taped onto another film, sort of confronts us with madness, murder, and violence in order to make us confront the concept of voyeurism. How much should you watch? How much will you watch?
When Max kills two people separately in the same room – turning the camera away for the actual murder – he then asks if we’re waiting to SEE THE VIOLENCE – curious about what happened, hoping to have seen the savagery up-close (edited with quick cuts briefly of the stabbings full-on). What he says afterwards chills me entirely to the very core of my being: “If not… then why are you still watching?
It begs the question, for the supposed person actually watching the VHS tape which Max has recorded over with his murderous rampage, why would you continue watching if you know what he’s doing is real/wrong? If that person, us the viewer, waited through those stabbings, we were waiting in order to see some bit of the blood and gore, to see the effects, the “realism” that apparently we’re craving terribly. The overall theme of this film is set in stone through this scene, as Max basically gives us his manifesto RIGHT HERE. Not only effective in making his actions and intentions known, it is downright fucking creepy and horrifies me each and every time I watch this scene.
IMG_1984 IMG_1985 IMG_1987I think there are obvious comparisons to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which I do believe are warranted. However, while there are certainly similarities I believe The Last Horror Movie goes further in certain aspects. There’s a similarly disturbing angle concerning video cameras: here we have Max; with John McNaughton’s cult classic, Henry and Otis use a video camera to record some of their nasty doings. There’s the whole essence of voyeurism and how the audience relates to what they’re seeing, whether it’s CNN news footage showing war and death or serial killers like these guys traipsing around, killing, savaging people and capturing everything on video.
Max Parry goes further than Henry and Otis in the sense of recording every last killing. They, often times, would do lots of terribleness outside of the camera’s frame. Not Max, though. He and his assistant carry the camera everywhere, anywhere, to get each single solitary moment of pain and torture recorded for the unsuspecting next viewer of the VHS rental. Max strangles, stabs, bludgeons, and even lights people on fire! His methods are completely barbaric. Whereas Henry and Otis in Henry videotape in order to get their rocks off later – sort of a substitution for having to physically revisit the scene of a crime like many serial killers do – Max records his murders in order to make the person SEEING THEM respond in a visceral way; they are either disgusted, or they find themselves drawn in (for any number of reasons). Either way, Max shows us this absolutely frightening display of serial murder and makes us accept the fact we are voyeurs – as citizens in a media dominated world and also as viewers, as an audience, sitting and watching the horror of a “realistic” movie. This is what rocks me so hard about The Last Horror Movie.
IMG_1980This is one of my favourite found footage horror movies. Absolutely at the top of the list, there aren’t many others which find themselves above this one; 4.5 out of 5 stars on my radar. Some may say it’s boring, that there’s nothing happening: to those people I say, are you serious? There’s a ton happening, as well as the fact The Last Horror Movie boasts a great deal of commentary on how we relate to horror/watch it and the voyeuristic tendencies which come along with seeing videotaped murder (doesn’t stop at fiction; think of the beheadings which have been filmed, the supposed tape of Saddam being hung, and tons of other real life death captured in realtime on video).
If you’ve not had a chance, do see this film as soon as you can. It’s not even that long, either. Both an excellent example of modern British film, British horror to be exact, as well as just a plain ol’ heavy horror film. If you’re a big fan of found footage done correctly, as I am, then you HAVE to see it! Necessary viewing for those who love this sub-genre. If you have any comments or theories of your own concerning Max, the film, then leave a comment and put in your two cents. Always love a good civil discussion or debate.