Tagged 2005

Haneke’s Cache: White Colonial Guilt Under a Voyeurist Microscope

Caché. 2005. Directed & Written by Michael Haneke.
Starring Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Annie Girardot, Maurice Bénichou, Bernard Le Coq, Walid Afkir, Lester Makedonsky, Daniel Duval, Nathalie Richard, Denis Podalydès, & Aïssa Maïga. Les Films du Losange/Wega Film/Bavaria Film/BIM Distribuzione.
Rated 14A. 117 minutes.
Drama/Mystery/Thriller

★★★★★
POSTER
There is no other director like auteur Michael Haneke. His films, admittedly on his part deliberately, are resistant to giving us answers. Haneke has famously stated films aren’t meant to provide those answers, any answers, merely to be the questions. And when you consider his body of work as a whole, even in the movies where the plots are more intricate than others, all of it is impressively evasive. Not in a bad sense. I don’t walk away from a Haneke picture feeling cheated or falling off my enjoyment for his style. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I want to go back, sit down, and take in another viewing. I want to get to the bottom of what he’s trying to do, I want to figure him out.
When first I saw Caché, I wondered if maybe Haneke had seen David Lynch’s Lost Highway. But the premise of having videotapes anonymously sent to a house, showing only the outside of said house, goes somewhere completely different. This act sets off a series of events which simultaneously take the form of a mysterious thriller, and also form a labyrinthine, Hanekian tale touching on everything from the role of an audience in experiencing a film to white colonial guilt. To a certain point, I’m still not sure about what Haneke’s saying, or hoping to say, or asking. Or who knows. I have watched and re-watched this movie more than ANY other film out of the 4,200+ I’ve seen to date. I own a copy that’s been paused and rewound so many times that soon it may just evaporate into thin air or fry itself into a DVD doughnut.
Bottom line is, that if the trailer had you hoping Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche were starring together in a twisty little dramatic thriller, you’re sort of right. You’re also totally wrong.


Georges and Anne Laurent (Daniel Auteuil/Juliette Binoche) begin receiving videotapes on their doorstep, wrapped in a plastic bag, usually accompanied by a strange, crude drawing involving stick figures spitting out blood. Strangely, the tapes only show their house, even them leaving, coming. Yet they can’t figure out where the camera is taping from, nor can they determine who may be sending the tapes.
Once the drawings get stranger and the tapes change slowly, Georges finds himself drawn into the mystery, further, deeper. Eventually, it leads him back to a boy, now grown like himself, that he knew from childhood – an Argentinian man named Majid (Maurice Bénichou).
When the two men meet it changes Georges life completely. Not in the least for the better.
Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 11.19.38 PM
The film opens and closes on a moment of voyeurism. Long, uninterrupted takes make us a voyeur into the world of Haneke’s picture. Much like the voyeur behind those tapes stares into the life of Georges and his family. Above all else this sets up the viewer’s role in the story because the story is more than plot fodder for a film. Behind the characters and events of Caché lie intriguing bits of social issues, the concern about colonialism in relation to the 1961 massacre in Paris (re: FLN Algerians). It isn’t so hard to figure that out. But Haneke deflects, deflects, deflects. He passes us off onto the mystery of the tapes, so that we’re concerned with working out some thrilling aspect of the plot. And yes, the tapes are part of everything. Just not the most intricate, important part.
What matters most is the relationship between Georges and Majid. Only four years before this film did the city of Paris fully acknowledge the atrocities of the massacre forty years prior, and even then it’s only a commemorative plaque; even the highest of the high never took actually responsibility, so to say it’s an admission is generous. The childhood experiences of a young Georges and the little Algerian Majid who was nearly adopted by the former’s family frame a reference, a parallel to the Paris massacre. This film serves as an analogy – the past cannot stay hidden. Events from our past, our history will not, like Georges, crawl away under the covers, the only place they can be naked, and stay uncovered. And once everything comes out of the past and haunts Georges in the present, Haneke’s analogy is perfectly clear. An act by Majid can be seen as analogous to how many people feel about the Parisian response to the ’61 massacre – it may just take an outright brutal moment of clarity for any true, genuine response to those events. The most important piece to the relationship between Georges and Majid is that Georges, his actions, the guilt he feels for its repercussions, comes as a direct representation of white colonial guilt. Furthermore, when Georges talks with his wife about his past, he ends up saying: “What should I call it? A tragedy? Maybe it was a tragedy, I dont know. I dont feel responsible for it. Why should I?” If that isn’t a perfectly written line in regards to ideas about Parisian guilt over the Algerian deaths, then I don’t know what else is.


Also a note: have you noticed any of the interactions Georges has with anybody who’s non-white are always negative, filled with threats, confrontational? Could be that ugly white guilt rearing its head in aggressive ways after so much repression.
Back to the media theories. The cameras, the tapes, all the media and recording devices in this film almost serve as a representation of how the media treated the Paris massacre. Many American and British media sources stood by and watched, effectively making the Paris government out as not totally compliant in what had happened, trying to lessen the blow on their allies. If we consider this, Haneke’s inclusion of the cameras and his obsession with the act of voyeurism, it parallels the various media during ’61, and afterwards, who stood by, recording, letting the tapes run, but ultimately doing nothing except creating a documentation of events without meaning.
Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.32.57 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.43.41 AM
The performance by Daniel Auteuil is phenomenal and understated. He does everything at the right time, in the right manner. His acting is stellar most of the time, anyways. But everything from the more heated moments to the subtle scenes come off perfectly here. Auteuil brings out the repressed guilt and buried emotions of his Georges. There are a couple times he weeps by himself; most of the time I don’t get drawn into actors crying, unless it is really good. Here, his cries are unbelievably filled with impact – specifically, in one scene he tries to get a baguette and some butter, then breaks down before he can manage to even tear the bread. This might not have the same impact in another film, nor in the hands of another actor, but Auteuil makes this a heavy moment, and you feel for him. In fact, despite some of his faults the Georges character is highly sympathetic, though, he also feels stubborn, closed off, filled with the burden of repression and responsibility; all of which Auteuil presents in fine fashion.
Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.45.43 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-12 at 12.56.06 AM
Haneke’s writing gives life to the characters, yet its best quality is how we’re drawn into several different directions, all culminating in a film full of symbols and themes and analogy. It isn’t easy to write such intricate stuff and, on the outside, have it look like a typical mystery-thriller. Haneke weaves a tale of social issues through the eye of thriller mechanisms and creates a haunting piece of cinema that is not easy to forget. On top of that, the cinematography is spectacular. It is rich and beautiful to look at, even while plumbing the depths of some eerie subject matter. In general, Haneke has a solid eye as director for the composition of shots. A lot of times there are things in frame you may not realize are important or hold significance in any way. Others, the frame holds only the basics. In that way, Haneke crafts a measure of suspense and tension that’s able to cling to us, refusing to let go. Like the red herring or MacGuffin so well-executed by Alfred Hitchcock, the unease Haneke creates has a similar effect, and we’re always left pondering what exactly are his intentions.
Absolutely a 5-star bit of work. That finale wide shot is telling, as it holds pieces to the Algerian analogy, or maybe it has other significance that people can tell. Either way, the effects of Haneke are always the same, somehow always different, too. He leaves me filled with wonder, even in the darkest of moments. And he always, always keeps me questioning the content of a film’s frame, start to finish. His best qualities are not as a director, nor as a writer, but as a man asking questions about life, humanity, media, history, and everything in between.

Advertisements

The Devil and Daniel Johnston Highlights the Line Between Genius & Madness

The Devil and Daniel Johnston. 2005. Directed & Written by Jeff Feuerzeig.
Starring Daniel Johnston, Laurie Allen, Brian Beattie, Louis Black, David Fair, Jad Fair, Don Goede, Matt Groening, Gibby Haynes, Sally Johnston Reid, Bill Johnston, Dick Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Margie Johnston, and Ken Lieck. Complex Corporation/This Is That Productions.
Rated PG-13. 110 minutes.
Documentary/Biography/Music

★★★★★
POSTER
Documentaries are everywhere, on every sort of subject. Anything in the world you can think of, there’s probably a documentary on the subject. Certain documentary films interest me because of how I connect with them personally, others are just intriguing and interesting topics that will draw me in.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston is one of the former types. I’d never actually heard of Daniel Johnston before this movie. Other people I know had heard of him, but not me. Either way, I dove into this documentary because I knew that Johnston suffered from mental illness; that’s the single thing I knew of him. Identifying with him, as both a hopeful artist and a man trying to negotiate life with a severe form of depression, this film spoke to me. While I’m not a fan of all his songs, there are pieces of music here and there which really reach out to me. More than that, to see Johnston struggle through being an artist, growing up, living life, all the while battling manic depression desperately. There are moments you might find yourself grinding your teeth sitting there almost feeling the pain. Certain scenes are funny, lighthearted. A huge mixed bag here that collides into making one of the most personal, wrenching, devastatingly awesome documentaries about a musician you’re likely to ever see.
Pic1
The most fascinating part about Daniel Johnston is the fact of his own rawness, his real and unabashed open qualities concerning his personality. At one point, on MTV no less during 1985, he tells the camera: “This is my album Hi, How Are You? and I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” He says it in such a matter-of-fact way that it’s hard not admire, or laugh, or smile. In just about every last scene where he’s talking, you find him divulging the most personal, inner secrets about the darkest corner of his life. And coupled with that, the way Daniel performs is different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. You can witness both the intensity of his musical ability, as well as his wildly nervous personality. He is visibly nervous each time a performance comes up, from his younger days to his later shows. Always there’s this fear inside him, which is actually endearing a lot of the time.
So it’s no surprise when, later, Daniel ends up having an actual serious breakdown. He becomes violent and crazy after experimenting with acid/LSD, which first began at a Butthole Surfers show. Slowly things deteriorate, as Daniel starts to get arrested, the police have altercations with him, he even causes disturbances in his family. Then there are various struggles. There were people who worked for him/with him, re: his career, who all tried their best to help him, whether that was committing him to a mental institution or getting him shows to play or whatever else could’ve been done. All the while throughout the history of Johnston, we’re seeing edits of him talking in various recordings (from dubbed tapes he did himself to video shot of him by others). It’s a strange conglomeration of things coming together to present his life to us. Best of all, even in the most intense, scariest moments of discussing Daniel and his condition, director Jeff Feuerzeig preserves a sense of respect and delicacy that shelters us from looking at Johnston like a freak. He isn’t, especially considering how mental illness is becoming less and less stigmatized today; this is a raw and honest look at someone’s struggle. But again, it doesn’t come off as “Look at how fucked up Daniel is“. There is a tenderness about the way Feuerzeig offers up glimpses of Daniel and his difficult life.
Pic3Pic4
You’ll find it hard to deny the power of this documentary. No matter if you hate Johnston’s music, or if you think he’s a genius (I don’t think; I do find him an incredibly unique talent), if you have a heart beating in your chest and a soul deep down inside, this film will absolutely shake you. In the last 45 minutes or so, the devastating details come out. Such as the time Daniel thought he actually was Casper the Friendly Ghost, took the keys out of his father’s small plane in which they flying and tossed them out into the air, prompting his dad to make a crash landing. Luckily, they made it out of the situation with only minor injuries, but to think of what could’ve happened. It is a really frightening thought. That’s one of the turning points in the documentary, as not only do we realize the extent and depth of his illness, we also see a slight change in Daniel. Shortly afterwards, he starts to come down out of his religious fervor, his hallucinations and other similar delusions. He probably didn’t lose his faith. He just understood the gravity of his own condition. Today, he still struggles with issues of manic depression, but I feel after some of the more insane moments in his journey, there’s a part of him which accepts all of the ups and downs, in one big package. We go along that journey. Maybe in the end, the documentary’s biggest aspiration is to show people the mania inside music. Often people want the crazy, unstable musicians out there doing their thing and entertaining, but forget the human people inside these celebrities, inside the fame, deep down at the core. The humanity can’t ever be forgotten; this, if anything, is what Daniel Johnston and the film of his life has to teach.
Pic5
This is a 5 star, flawless documentary. One of my favourites ever made. Because despite what you may feel concerning Daniel Johnston’s music, you cannot watch this without feeling something. To understand the mania and depression of others it’s necessary for people to be open, honest, willing to expose themselves to the world. It just so happens Johnston is one of the people willing to open himself up, like a living cadaver, and through this film he allows us a window into the damaged soul inside him. There are so many depressed and mentally ill people who could benefit from people coming out, talking of their own illnesses, their own struggles. We see so much of the devastation of unchecked mental illness in The Devil and Daniel Johnston, but in a roundabout way Daniel lets us understand how severe depression (or other similar mental afflictions) can be conquered: through love, honesty, openness, understanding, and yes, a dose of medication. There’s nothing ever glorious about this documentary, perhaps something which sets it apart from a lot of other biographical movies about musicians. Just remember – it isn’t all about the music, it is about the man. That is a point this film makes, over and over again. You may want all the madness that goes into the music, but don’t forget the men and women behind the music, their lives, what brings them to their talent and what gives us the unforgettable songs they’ve made.

The Cave is a Bad, Guilty Pleasure

The Cave. 2005. Directed by Bruce Hunt. Screenplay by Michael Steinberg & Tegan West.
Starring Cole Hauser, Eddie Cibrian, Morris Chestnut, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo, Rick Ravanello, Daniel Dae Kim, Kieran Darcy-Smith, and Marcel Iures. Screen Gems/Cinerenta Medienbeteiligungs KG/Lakeshore Entertainment/City Productions/Cineblue Internationale Filmproduktionsgesellschaft.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Adventure/Horror/Thriller

★★
The-Cave-2005-Poster
Having recently reviewed Neil Marshall’s fabulously claustrophobic horror The Descent (which actually came out the exact same year this), I also decided on revisiting this guilty pleasure of mine. While I cannot, at all, say The Cave is a good movie, it’s not the worst I’ve seen, it’s – for me – on par with a lot of big budget popcorn flicks. And that was this is, a turn your brain off, have a snack and laugh with someone or even by yourself. Burn one down, throw this on. There are some laughable bits, absolutely. Are there some scary moments? For me, as someone who finds caves creepy, someone whose claustrophobia knows no bounds, and also as a person who loves the water/is terrified of it as well, there are definitely a handful of scenes where I found this movie really played hard on my fears.
The majority of The Cave‘s problem is the screenplay has one hell of an amazing plot and story, yet still this is squandered through bad dialogue, middle of the road acting, and effects which lack any sense of realism to help frighten us viscerally. Mostly, you could call this a creature feature, and though I find the creatures in this horror movie creepy, sort of intimidating at times, once you get more than the mysterious looks at it, hints of its size and power, the magic is lost. Regardless of its flaws – and there are a bunch – I’m still able to throw this on once every now and then, especially if I can’t think of anything else or if I know I want to turn my brain off a while to get some quasi-horror and a dose of action.
screenshot_2
Decades previous to the film’s events, a team of explosives experts are caved in while exploring a stone church built deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) arranges a team of scientists and cave divers to examine the ruins and the massive cave system which exists below the church itself. Two brothers, Jack (Cole Hauser) and Tyler McAllister (Eddie Cibrian), lead everyone into the caverns, travelling over its steep rock walls and its seemingly never ending pools of dark water, mapping territory no one else has ever set foot on.
Or perhaps someone has already.
Deeper and deeper into the cave system, Jack and the crew begin to discover there is in fact someone else who has been down in those caves before. Even worse than that, they never ever left. In fact, they got bigger… they got more vicious… and they adapted to a world underground, without light, in the cold, deep, dark waters.

The opening sequence is a lot of fun. Later, once the diving team are headed into the cave system there’s an excellent callback to the beginning, as we see what happened to those characters who went into the old mountain church, falling through the floor and into the murky depths of what lay below. I won’t ruin it for anyone who’s yet to see it, but I really dig that whole aspect. They could’ve easily done something different and less effective. This was a nice way to introduce the virus aspect of the creatures in the cave, all the while Cole Hauser’s character becomes a living representation of that. Although the screenplay is not solid, there are bits and pieces I do enjoy. Overall, it’s messy. I’m just glad certain sequences were written well enough that the entire film isn’t useless.
Many action moments come off decent, as well as scenes of intense horror. One part at which I always shudder: the crew are in one of the various underground lakes in the cave system, in two groups – Dr. Nicolai (Marcel Iures) is taken by one of the cave’s creatures, at which point Jack McAllister (Hauser) looks under the water only to see the monster disappearing further and further into the deep, dark waters below, fading into black. HONESTLY, this brief moment scared me as much as anything in Jaws, which is saying something because that is one film that always left an indelible mark on my psche (I love the ocean/am terrified by it). But, that being said, it’s only one scene. The rest of the movie is nowhere near up to par with Steven Spielberg’s classic. A few other creepy sequences exist in The Cave, though, nothing as wild and unsettling as this one I’ve mentioned. As far as action goes, I did like some of the rock climbing scenes; they brought intensity, as well as surprise in a few cases. So there’s enough action-adventure at times to keep you glued. Problem is, never enough to make you love the movie, or to get you past its myriad script/overall problems.

Director Bruce Hunt, by all accounts, should’ve done better. Perhaps I expect too much of a man whose career as a Second/Third Unit Director has been fairly impressive: Dark City (director – additional second unit + miniatures & visual effects director), The Matrix (second unit director), The Matrix Reloaded (third unit director: Australia), The Matrix Revolutions (third unit director), as well as Australia (director – splinter unit), and the nice looking but less than stellar Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (second unit director – splinter unit). Sadly, none of his previous work comes to bear on this project. For a man who had a part in the effects of Dark City especially, I expected something more. Nevertheless, many of the special effects here are brutal, and it’s only when the cave monsters are relatively still that they look good. In other scenes where they’re flying around or attacking the diving team, they look terribly cheesy and underdeveloped, patched together with bad CGI. If more practical work could’ve been done, The Cave and its creatures could easily have raised above mediocre to forgettable. Instead, we’re left with not only a poor screenplay, but also too many visuals lacking the proper effectiveness a monster movie must have in order to be successful.
Non_trailer_1-1784x892
This is, at best, a 2(out of 5)-star film. The story itself is intriguing enough, as well as the film’s opening sequence and the return to it later in the plot. But an interesting plot does not a proper movie make. The acting isn’t anywhere near what it should be, considering everything else falls so flat. If there were a few better elements the film could’ve passed for half decent. Instead, it is less than mediocre and forgettable. All the same, I still watch it from time to time as a guilty pleasure.

The Descent: Female Driven Psychological Horror

The Descent. 2005. Directed & Written by Neil Marshall.
Starring Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone, Oliver Milburn, Molly Kayll, Craig Conway, and Leslie Simpson. Celador Films/Northmen Productions/Pathé.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Adventure/Horror

★★★★1/2
affiche-the-descent-2005-2
Personally I’ve enjoyed Neil Marshall from his debut, Dog Soldiers, and then he came on with this film and it all but cemented him as a solid horror filmmaker; hell, filmmaker in general. Since then he’s done two underrated movies – Doomsday and Centurion, neither of which are amazing, though, they are better than their reputations – a couple episodes of Black SailsGame of Thrones, and one whopper of a Hannibal episode in the 3rd season “The Great Red Dragon“. He’s also got a segment titled “Bad Seed” in the upcoming Tales of Halloween I cannot wait to see!
What I enjoy about Marshall is that he’s not just a director with a neat way of looking at things, he’s also, what I think is, a pretty wonderful director in terms of form; he simply films things in an interesting way. There’s nothing boring about his films or the episodes of television series’ he has directed. The reason so many filmmakers, particularly in the horror genre I must say, fail to really get over with their work is because their style is either a) too bland in terms of story/character/et cetera, b) too flashy (with no substance), or c) it’s just not overly enjoyable to experience visually. With Marshall, and I’ll single The Descent out from his work as the best example, he doesn’t opt so much to jump scare you here in order to create that feeling of action, or horror (or whatever he happens to be going for at the moment). His visual style helps to keep you rooted and then everything else just builds on – the drama, the horror, the suspense and tension. In this film, there’s plenty of imagery, a good lot of horror, and the characters help make things fun (even in the grim sense). Marshall’s movie can easily be considered as one of my top 10 horror movies since 2000, I’ll say that without hesitation.
vlcsnap-2012-10-15-17h08m59s91A trio of friends – Sarah (Shauna Macdonald), Beth (Alex Reid), and Juno (Natalie Mendoza) go rafting on the river; their idea of vacationing. On the way home, Sarah sits in the passenger seat of a vehicle while her husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) drives, and their daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll) sits in the backseat. All of sudden, though, they meet head-on with another vehicle – Sarah survives, but Paul and Jessica are horribly killed.
One year later, Sarah, Beth, and Juno, along with a bunch of other adventure seeking women, go on an expedition to a cave system in the Appalachians, somewhere in the U.S. Deep in the woods they eventually find their cave, making their way in. However, after a little while things start to get dicey. First, their climb starts to go wrong little by little. But then soon enough it’s apparent to the women they aren’t alone in the caves.
Deep underground, stuck beneath the vast and reaching Appalachians, the group of friends find themselves in a fight for their lives against terrifying, human eating monsters, adapted to their environments below the earth. They’ll have to fight hard in order to make it out alive; if that’s even possible.
the-descent-cavethe-descent-claustrophobiaSo for me, and no doubt many others, what makes The Descent so incredibly effective is the sense of isolation and claustrophobia almost built into the setting. Furthermore, once the women get trapped after a tunnel caves in, this gets even worse as – plot point – Juno (Mendoza) has taken them all into an unknown cave, not in the correct system they’d all planned on, and so essentially even without any outside forces these women might have never made it out of the caves regardless. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts about this film is that you could easily have seen this as simply a dramatic thriller about a bunch of women heading into the caves, including the dynamics between Sarah (Macdonald) and Juno, in terms of what happened to the former and her family and how it connects with the latter.
Instead of being simple and dark, Neil Marshall has written a fantastic screenplay. Whereas a movie like The Cave (which I honestly enjoy as a popcorn flick even though it isn’t great) is lower common denominator for horror, more like a Michael Bay equivalent in the genre, The Descent opts to be more cerebral, and in turn when the visuals and the horror get thick things become pretty visceral, too. The characters here are complex, they aren’t one-dimensional type women. Which is another point, that Marshall has given us a bunch of excellent female characters and the man character, dare I say the heroine, she’s an ass-kicker. I like that it’s not the typical formulaic horror including women, such as the male dominated film with a “Final Girl”. Even though, yes, Sarah can be considered that “Final Girl”, it’s not the overused scenario, the same tired place where we’ve expected the plot to develop. Marshall brings all these women together, each different, and doesn’t need any men in order to instigate the horror, or any of the action. The faceless/featureless crawlers in the cave only bring further terror. Even while that whole KILLER V. VICTIM dynamic is playing out, as it usually does in one shape or another throughout the horror genre, I like that these female characters can inhabit a filmic space where these featureless monsters are the attackers, not some slasher, a deranged male who hates women; rather they’re simply the horror beneath, the unknown below.
More than that, these creatures also represent a symbolic sort of theme. Clearly the buried secrets between Juno and Sarah, concerning the former’s relationship with the deceased Paul (Milburn), are being unearthed; it’s possible without their predicament, the descent into the cave and into madness, this might never have come out. So in a way, these crawlers down in the cave are the literal, material embodiment of the ideas surrounding those buried secrets. They say secrets can eat you alive, right? Well in The Descent, this sentiment comes alive, in a brutally literal sense with secrets making their way out of the realm of ideas and into reality.
1200x1000px-LL-9b3ed840_ScreenShot2013-11-25at9.17.40PMThere are a few wonderful bits of imagery in this film, both in terms of symbolic/dreamy images and straight up horror visuals.
Right after the opening sequence, where Sarah’s husband/daughter die, there’s the beginning of a dreamy moment which crops up over and over, though not to overkill. Sarah has these short visions of a birthday cake with her daughter’s name on it, the candles lit up – I love the way these shots come to us, brief, really dark with what looks like natural lighting, and it has this eerie quality to it. What I enjoy is that these dreamy bits don’t feel particularly happy, more like the morbid remembrance of a dead child instead of anything happy. So there’s this really melancholy feeling I find struck in the character of Sarah without even much effort from Macdonald as an actor, although she’s great in spite of that making the role better for it. This is a striking visual Marshall uses a few times throughout the film, and while I say it’s melancholy there’s still part of it which sort of drives Sarah at the same time. Great, great stuff.
When it comes to the horror of Marshall’s film, several scenes and moments stick out ahead of the pack. I love how Marshall includes the first very close-up view of a crawler through the perspective of a camera in night vision. Why do I love it? He doesn’t use the camera as a gimmick other than, really, two or three times in the entire movie. It comes into play organically, with purpose, instead of simply being a way for Marshall to creep us out without doing the legwork. In opposition, the choice uses of the night vision camera shots make things creepy, knocking us off balance and in the case of the first time it’s used the effect amps the film’s pace up to a roar. The next couple times, again it’s not forced into the plot and works well. If the night vision was being used more frequently, as is the case in many found footage efforts trying to capture The Blair Witch Project magic in a bottle, there’d be a case for saying it was gimmicky, that it served no purpose and got jammed in for lack of ideas. Instead, Marshall uses this technique to his advantage and creates tension with how the handheld camera captures the monsters in the dark and the creepy environment of the cave. Plus, this is a director who doesn’t need any kind of trickery, he does well enough with his own sensibilities in terms of shot composition and overall visuals without having to settle for cheap scares.
descent-2005-09-gOnce the crawlers are out in the open, being seen full-on by both characters and viewers alike, there are some almost trippy visuals happening. There’s one incredibly tense scene where two of the women are hiding together, a crawler moving along by them, and their watch eventually goes off – all the while Juno is wandering alone, calling out to the others – and there’s this green filter over the two women/crawler (not really a filter; they’re using a huge glow stick), then for a few seconds we cut to Juno whose shot is bathed in a red light. There’s something about this which raises the tension. Not only that, the angles at which Marshall has things framed specifically while the two women hide from the crawler, it’s an unsettling, unstable sort of feeling it draws out; literally, the frame is askew, we’re off-kilter, not balanced, and the crawler coming at them sort of feels like he’s coming right at the viewer.
Furthermore, I have to say the effects – blood and gore, the monsters, et cetera – were at times really subtle, and other times (think: pool of blood scene) totally gnarly and in-your-face. My favourite honestly is the scene where Sarah finds herself in the blood pool, fighting off the crawler and stabbing it in the eye. Not only is it just wildly savage and bloody, the low lighting and the blood casts everything again in that red glow, so you’ve got two types of imagery – very visual in the sense of colour and visual in the way of actual physical nastiness, the blood and kills.
Overall, though, it’s the way Marshall manages to use the darkness to his advantage and he doesn’t make it dizzying. While some horror, mostly found footage these days, has your head swirling with the darkness too often being used to cover up a project’s low budget (or lack thereof), unless used correctly, Marshall manages to make things claustrophobic but doesn’t annoy us with how he accomplishes this feeling. It’s because, even when shots are frantic and full of chaos, he’s not making it seem so by having the camera itself being shaky, only the characters, their lights in the dark create the effect. He keeps in tight to the characters, putting us with them and in their perspective as much as possible without, for instance, putting us right in their video camera’s view while they run from the crawlers. Again this comes back to Marshall using that video camera perspective sparsely, when a lesser director may have exploited it too much to try and immerse the viewer. The way this film plays out in the dark and uses it appropriately is a big part of its effectiveness as a tensely frightening modern horror movie.
thedescent1With truck loads of horror, both blood/gore and emotional terror, an impressive visual style, a solid script with real and well-written female characters, Neil Marshall’s The Descent is pound for pound a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There’s very little to say, in my mind, against this movie. There are so many other horror movies out there in the post-2000 landscape of film which go for bargain basement plots, silly characters with even sillier and less thought out dialogue, cheap jump scares and pointless (as well as badly done) gore. Marshall doesn’t do anything typically here, he crafts a genuinely scary, emotionally testing and at various points traumatizing horror. There’s a feeling in me each time I watch this, for a little while afterwards, as if I’ve been through an ordeal. It’s one of the closest experiences I’ve personally had to the one I have when viewing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which is still my pick for scariest horror movie ever made, and pretty much my top favourite.
So if you’ve not yet seen The Descent, do yourself a favour and search it out soon because it’s worth your while to experience its dread and tension, its inescapable horror and wild plot. I also thought the sequel was an all right movie, though, it’s not near as amazing as this one.

The Roost: Ti West’s Zombie Bats Are Coming for You!

The Roost. 2005. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Tom Noonan, Karl Jacob, Vanessa Horneff, Sean Reid, Wil Horneff, Barbara Wilhide, Richard Little, John Speredakos, and Larry Fessenden. Glass Eye Pix.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
rstsxswdwnld
In my recent review of Ti West’s The Innkeepers, I mentioned being a huge fan of him generally. So just keep that in mind. Maybe I’m biased; I still try to be a little objective when considering how others might look at the same film I’m looking at.
I don’t think this is a perfect movie, but it’s honestly one of my favourite horror feature debuts from a filmmaker in the genre. There’s a criminally low rating for this movie on IMDB – though, I personally don’t care about the ratings on any sites, let alone that one. While I spend a fair amount of time on there trying to even out the scores as best I can with my own, what I believe to be decent, ratings, I still don’t give much heed to it overall; mostly it’s a good database. You’ll see a lot of West’s films, most of them, have an underrated presence on IMDB. Because those people are sleeping, man. This guy is one of the greatest in horror today. He moves out from simple concepts, usually incorporating very personal relationships or at least characters who are relatable to an audience, then the horror takes hold. Basically, any horror writer – whether screenwriter or novelist or short story writer, et cetera – would tell you that’s part of what scares them: taking things to a personal level, the bringing on the horror. Many other horror filmmakers, particularly of the indie variety, try to do this, it’s no big secret. I believe, however, Ti West is simply better than the herd at making those types of excellent horror films.
While there’s a ton of old school sensibility in him elsewhere, I think so much of his 1970s/1980s influence comes through with The Roost simply because of the way there’s a frame narrative with the old school horror show on cable access and it leads into the real film itself. Right from then on, it feels like you’re watching an old school horror movie. That gives the movie a different style, something not entirely common these days, and within that I find it all pretty damn charming. Y’know, in that creepy horror charm sort of sense.
the-roost-movie-tom-noonan-horror-hostStarting with a late night horror t.v program on a local cable station, the host (Tom Noonan) introduces us to The Roost, the latest film playing on Cable 13.
A group of friends are on their way to see some friends get married. While heading along the road, they end up stranded. At a lonely farm out in the middle of nowhere, cornfields and the whole nine yards, the lost group end up coming face to face with what lays in the darkness of the farm’s barn.
Inside the old structure there are terrifying creatures of the night. Now, they seem to be waking up, and as night falls they’re looking for something on which to feed.
4503431_l2Something I love is how Ti West does these awesome edits with both visuals and sound. First, we get a SCREAM which happens during a transition from the barn out to the car, where and older woman is waiting for her husband to come back; it’s on the radio, but the way West crosses over to that bit is excellent. For a split second I honestly was waiting for someone to come running, or something. Effective, brief moment. Secondly another comes when the old woman wanders into the dark of the barn, then this sound starts to come that you almost feel is coming out of the shadows, yet it cuts to one of the friends standing behind the now broken down car revving, brake lights shining red in his face, and the sound has actually been the car the whole time. These are little simple bits people often don’t think of, however, when they’re used appropriately to put the audience on a tense edge, waiting for something, anything to happen, it’s a killer move. West uses these in a way other horror filmmakers might use jump scares – instead of frightening us, it simply ratchets up the tension and creates an unsettling, edgy mood.
the roost 2Being his first feature, I think West does a wonderful job creating atmosphere in The Roost. It’s something I find pervades all his films, even when he switched it up most recently in The Sacrament with found footage style. He’s great with setting up tension and executing suspenseful sequences in order to build up that atmosphere, setting an evident tone. Each of his movies have it, which is partly why I think he’s one of those important filmmakers in horror today; more than that, genre filmmaking in general.
Also, there’s a degree of playfulness at times I think is essential in certain horror movies. Creature features being one of them. I always love when a movie featuring killer-somethings (in this case BATS) has a good dose of dark humour. One little scene I love is when one of the guys sneaks up behind the girl, about to scare her, but he stops short as if disappointed she didn’t even turn around like she couldn’t hear him coming; then he lightly taps her, scaring her anyways. It made me cackle for a second. Good bit.
Moreover, the guy is a pretty good writer. In my opinion, anyways. As a fellow writer, I like the way he writes characters because I find them personable. I’ve seen a lot of people say his movies have all these “hipster” characters, this and that, but whatever man. I don’t see that at all. The way I perceive most of his characters is that they’re real people, genuine; not characters in that sense really, rather actual people. Not to sound cheesy. There are a lot of writers capable of doing this, he’s just one. It’s something I love in horror, though, as a believable character in a film is more likely to draw me into their emotions, the plot, and the overall story. Here in The Roost we get those inescapable dynamics of friendship, particularly it’s amplified with the upcoming wedding to which they’re all headed, and even further compounded by the fact the car breaks down and they find themselves stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Probably one thing I dig so much about the script and the writing, I think West sets up a great situation with which he can play around in with the characters before introducing the creatures and the HORROR and the BLOOD!
roostI personally dig the whole vampire bats turning people into zombie-like reanimated corpses. Some online seem to suggest it’s no good. Me, on the other hand, I thought it worked very well. Creepy stuff at times. One scene shows the old woman from early in the movie, now obviously bitten by the bats and taken over, just behind a character in the window. It’s a nice little moment where you dread what may be coming next.
This whole aspect also makes it more than a mere creature feature. The creatures are affecting the humans and then the whole friendship dynamic is tested, as they all try not to succumb to the murderous infectious bats flying all around the farm’s property.
Even better than that, Ti West treats us to a good helping portion of makeup effects. Lots of nice practical work here, as the effects fall in line with everything else old school-feeling about The Roost. Love the blood and gory stuff because it really does feel like an ’80s movie. The effects are good, they just bring me back to the older horror where most everything was practical and we didn’t have to suffer through movies made up of CGI blood and CGI green-screen’d stuff constantly. West does well with taking things back to a more simple time in several ways here, this being one of them.

Finally, I love the narrative framing device of the horror show. Tom Noonan is amazing, as always. Very unsettling and creepy. Simultaneously, he’s hilarious. I didn’t exactly like the end of this part either at the finale, however, the whole thing is good fun. Real nice way to showcase an indie horror adding in this cable access style show.

All in, I think this is definitely a 4 out of 5 star horror movie. While I don’t particularly care for the last shot, and not every actor was the greatest. there’s enough here in Ti West’s feature debut that I can say it’s a solid outing. The writing holds up, as well as the fact he relies on an atmosphere of tension and practical effects to sell the horror.
You can do A LOT worse when it comes to horror, certainly when it comes down to the creature feature sub-genre. This is a great modern creature horror movie. See it if you can; the DVD is pretty damn awesome. Love the look and feel of this film, and dig the horror it dishes out!