MULHOLLAND DR: Traumatic Hollywood Real Estate & Deconstructed Memories of Abuse

Mulholland Drive. 2001. Directed & Written by David Lynch.
Starring Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Jeanne Bates, Dan Birnbaum, Robert Forster, Brent Briscoe, Patrick Fischler, Bonnie Aarons, Michael J. Anderson, Ann Miller, Angelo Badalamenti, Dan Hedaya, & Justin Theroux.
Les Films Alain Sarde/Asymmetrical Productions/Babbo Inc.
Rated R. 147 minutes.

Mulholland Drive Red Lampshade (1)No secret if you follow me on Twitter or know me personally: I’m a stark raving mad fan of David Lynch. A fanatic, really. While I understand entirely the fact others either can’t stand his films or find them too strange to follow, his work speaks to me on a deep level. His status as an auteur comes not just from the way he manipulates sound and visuals to create a hypnotic vision of his concept of Americana. It also extends from the fact he’s one of the 20th century’s greatest surrealists, capable of deconstructing genre, even the concept of cinema itself.
In that very spirit of rearranging our preconceptions of film, he takes aim at the film business, and above all else Hollywood itself with Mulholland Dr.
The nightmarish psychic landscape of this Hollywood is partly Lynch’s own personal experience as an artist, a veritable auteur existing in a state of suffering at the hands of executives holding the purse strings, the power. Even the tale of this film itself, starting out at ABC as the hopeful pilot for a new Lynchia series, where it was then butchered into a product of which Lynch was not at all proud, can be seen in the meat and bones of the dreamy story he weaves through Mulholland Dr.
Most of all, the film is an allegory about the dark corners of Hollywood, what it does to the psyche of directors, actors, and actresses in particular who find themselves in pursuit of the classic American success story of making it big in the pictures.
Mulholland Drive Dead DianeLet’s start at the beginning.
The dancers, the various screens, then Watts’ Betty character with the two older people. Followed by a pillow, signifying a dream. However, as the twists and turns get more mystifying, it gets harder to tell what is dream, what is reality. But if we pay attention there are ample clues to what’s actually going on. It’s just the fact that Lynch is a deconstructionist, taking apart Hollywood, the hopes of aspiring artists and actresses, and showing us how the film business is, more often than not, built on the bones of broken dreams.
Right before we see Betty, for real, for the first time we see the red lampshade, and the telephone’s ringer echoes dreamily as she shows up at the airport. Significantly, she’s with an old woman and her husband, who see her off then grin creepily together while they leave in a limo. When does the red lampshade reappear? Following Watts’ 2nd character Diane’s failed orgasm. She hears the phone ring, then she’s invited out to the party on Mulholland Drive, taking her to where we first, earlier on, meet Rita (Laura Harring). Constantly, Lynch plays with the idea of the dual identity, a recurring theme over the course of his work in film.
One other key way to suss out the true identity of who Watts is playing in the ‘real life’ of Mulholland Dr‘s world are – you betcha – coffee cups! Damn fine addition. For instance, if you pay close attention to both Winkie’s Diner and Diane Selwin’s apartment there is a blatant clue in the open. Just so long as you’ve got coffee on the brain.
Mulholland Drive Coffee Cup #1Itll be just like in the movies. Well pretend to be someone else.”
Mulholland Drive Coffee Cup #2 (1)Identity is obviously a prominent theme. Hollywood fractures the identity of actors inherently, so in this vein then Mulholland Dr becomes the landscape of a true Hollywood nightmare, as we watch the destruction of the American dream of the sweet, young actress trying to make it big int eh movie business. Lynch’s deconstructionist method is in turning the American dream into a surreal, nightmarish circus of ethereal vignettes, pure existential dread.
Not only is Hollywood shown in a dark light in terms of its affect on personal, individual identity. Lynchian absurdity is rampant when it comes to the business’ mechanical processes themselves, too. The espresso scene, featuring none other than longtime musical collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, is wildly absurd. Points out the foolish excess, the bourgeois expectation of the backrooms in the movie industry. A cup of anything, even the most expensive liquor imaginable making or breaking a film production is hilarious, if not at its core desperately depressing.
Someone is in trouble.
Who are you?”
Mulholland Drive Blue KeyThere’s a strange space which Mulholland Dr occupies in terms of Lynch’s filmography, fitting right alongside both Twin Peaks and also Lost Highway. You might say these three films of his in particular fit together, existing in the same universe. One where electricity crackles, signifying a move between the world of the spiritual, the dreamworld, and that of the real world.
For instance, Winkie’s Diner. A place where nightmares seem to exist, play out, where elements of dreams come together, or perhaps where they fall apart.
Exhibit A: Dan (Patrick Fischler). He tells his friend about a terrifying dream, one in which a scary man appears from behind the diner’s dumpster. One of the many keys in the film is when he casually comments: “I hope that I never see that face, ever, outside of a dream.”
Exhibit B: The Nightmare Man, credited as Bum (and played by a woman, Bonnie Aarons). We see him out back of the diner early on when Dan tries confronting his dream in, supposedly, real life. The literal personification of a haggard nightmare. Later, we see him again at night, a red light flashing, where he sits behind the dumpster holding a blue box; the one into which Rita seems to disappear after opening it (a sign of Diane being the dreamer as we shift to her story once the box is opened, symbolic of our opening a door to understanding).
Most interesting is, this 2nd time, the Nightmare Man puts the box in a bag and drops it to the ground, out of which comes the old couple from before, the ones who saw Betty off from the airport (we’ll return to this afterwards). And finally, a shot of the Nightmare Man is dissolved into the blue light over the red curtains of the club Silencio just prior to the end credits.
Mulholland Drive Opening the Blue BoxThis final exhibit hinges on my belief that Diane is the real character, dreaming up Betty and Rita, et cetera. And from there it’ll lead into my final thoughts on the film.
Exhibit C: Silencio. This is a space existing in dreamworld, most definitely. Or rather, a nightmare world. Silence, in spiritual terms, is the gateway to enlightenment. Therefore, we can see the club as a place where the dreams/nightmares all come together, where their meaning is revealed.
At the same time, silence can be interpreted in wholly different terms if considered in conjunction with the concept that Diane, as it’s revealed through the presence of older debaucherous men in her life via the dreams of herself as Betty, was abused as a girl. The presence of the blue-haired woman (blue hair symbolising old age), especially seeing as how she speaks the word “SILENCIO” as the final line of dialogue, suggests that part of the plot, dug in deep, rests with an old woman’s silence. Leading many to understand this as a confirmation of Diane having been abused as a girl, receiving no help from either her aunt, or more than likely her grandmother. In that the blue-haired woman, whomever she represents, is confirming her silence when Diane was abused years before.
Speaking of grandmothers, this is where we jump back to the old couple from Betty’s arrival at the airport. After they’re released from the blue box in the Nightmare Man’s paper bag, they escape to Diane’s apartment where they terrorise her until she puts a bullet in her head. The idea that the old couple are the final terror of her life, the one that drives her to suicide, is the key. And just like the blue key to the blue box, this key is what unlocks the mystery of Diane and her rightfully fragile headspace. No mere coincidence then that the blue key is also the key to her apartment, right?
Mulholland Drive Nightmare Man + Blue BoxThere are still things to discuss, though here is where we’ll end. Let me know what you think; if I’m full of shit, or otherwise. All thought is welcome in the Lynchian universe.
My last words are these. That Mulholland Dr doesn’t merely look into the darkness of Hollywood through deconstruction and surrealist imagery, it – as Twin Peaks did, too – dives into the subconscious dreamworld of traumatised women, young women broken and butchered by men in power


HIDDEN: A Rural Norwegian Nightmare

Skjult (English title: Hidden). Directed & Written by Pål Øie.
Starring Kristoffer Joner, Karin Park, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Arthur Berning, Anders Danielsen, Marko Iversen Kanic, & Cecilie A. Mosli. Alligator Film/Film Fund FUZZ.
Rated R. 95 minutes.

posterPål Øie floored me with Villmark (a.k.a Dark Woods) in 2003. His first feature was creepy and genuinely well made, well acted. It took another 6 years to get more out of him. After Dark Horrorfest IV was a pretty good year, including a Clive Barker adaptation (Dread), a wildly unsettling Australian psychological horror called Lake Mungo, and of course, Øie’s Hidden.
This movie got to me because it’s intriguing horror, much of it cerebral-type madness. On top of that is the consistently wonderful action of Kristoffer Joner, whose headspace becomes a frightening aspect of the screenplay. What’s revealed over the course of the film’s plot is frightening enough, but getting into the head of Kai Koss (Joner) makes it all the more jarring. Doesn’t take long for the creepiness to seep in, yet still the story is a slow burn. While Kai figures things out, so do we, and the revelations come at that pace. Certain movies get ahead of themselves by letting the audience piece everything together before the characters. Alongside Kai, we’re plunged into the dark, treacherous space of his memories, which prove to be all too human. Perhaps if it were all supernatural, ghosts lurking in the shadows or fictional monsters then the psychological horror would be less intense. The emotional, human qualities of the film are what make it so damn effective.
Over blood and gore, over the avant garde, over many different types of horror, what gets me is something with a sense of old fashioned spookiness. It can be ghosts, zombies, serial killers, any sort of sub-genre within horror itself. Just so long as there’s a spooky feeling, something that clings to you. The atmosphere of some films alone is enough to make them worth watching. Hidden has such an atmosphere, a mood and tone which Øie cultivates impressively from the very first frame. Particularly, the scenes within Kai’s old house are relentless at times in the way suspense builds, getting more tense with every shadowy corner. By the time something pops out for a fright, or comes into frame, it doesn’t take much for Øie to get a scare. It isn’t only the scary stuff I dig. The cinematography of Sjur Aarthun makes certain moments look so rich, even as the colour palette of the film is faded and washed out; the contrasts when vibrant colours and patterns emerge in some shots make for a gorgeous viewing experience. Set in a rural area, the forest’s trees swallow all the exteriors up in luscious green while mist seems to sit over everything.
I’d first seen Joner in Øie’s Villmark. He was a solid actor then, only getting better with time. Naboer (a.k.a Next Door) is a truly trippy movie in which he does a fine job, as well. My favourite performance, even above Naboer, is here simply because the writing of the character is stellar. Kai is a damaged, frightened man even now as an adult. His mother ruined him for life with hideous abuse. Back in his old hometown, in his mother’s house, the terror of his childhood is nearly too much to bear. Watching him confront all the ghosts of his past, both in figurative and literal terms, is an intense experience. Joner gives a heartfelt performance and you can really get beneath the character’s surface with the way he plays him. What I’d call pensive, thoughtful acting. Certain actors seem to throw their whole body into it, too much sometimes. Joner, as Kai, keeps things calm and collected, he emotes well through the eyes, little expressions. He can play a lot of different roles, evidenced most recently with his turns in The Wave and The Revenant. Always, Kai Koss is going to stick with me. As tough as he finds it to let go of the past, letting go of this character is tougher.
There are too many genuinely eerie scenes to recount. A few of the best, to me, are as follows:
In the beginning when Kai goes to see his mother’s corpse in the morgue, he’s alone with her. Holding her hand, he ends up snapping off a finger. Initially we have no idea of the depth of abuse Kai’s experienced at the hands of his mother; so it’s at first sickly that he snaps a finger on her hand, then smiles. He hallucinates a second and sees her come alive, briefly, just long enough to freak him out. An effective shot, for whatever reason working better than the average jump scare.
During his first walk through the old house in years, Kai comes across a nice reference from The Changeling. He stands in a hallway, then from the dark watches as a bright red, rubber ball comes rolling out towards him. Spooky, spooky! A nice homage, too. If you’ve not seen the film I’m talking about, do yourself a favour this Halloween.
Several scenes give us jumpy frights when we’re seeing the mind of Kai go wild – his mother pops up everywhere to keep him terrified. What’s great is that after awhile he begins seeing someone in a red hooded sweatshirt. For a time, we’re not sure if that person is even real, or a figment of his imagination, as it gets worse when he sees himself out in the mist of the forest. Some real well done psychological horror, keeping us off balance for a long time.
If you’re not a fan of subtitles, you can always check out the dubbed version. But for my recommendation, Hidden is best and most effective in its original Norwegian. Even if you don’t dig subtitles, give this is a shot. So much of it is visual, you won’t find yourself tripping over words to try reading fast. Either way, Pål Øie directs a horrifically psychological thriller, one with brains, fortitude to deal with a heavy topic like a mother whose abuse shapes the lives of more than just her son, and a nice aesthetic throughout. You can do so much worse in terms of foreign horror, especially any horror concerning subjects such as those tackled here. Hidden‘s worth seeking out. I doubt you’ll regret it. If anything, Kristoffer Joner will keep your attention.

There Are No Answers for Evil in HOME MOVIE

Home Movie. 2008. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Adrian Pasdar, Cady McClain, Amber Joy Williams, Austin Williams, Lucian Maisel, & River O’Neal.
Rated R. 80 minutes.

posterThe theme of evil is a prevalent one in the horror genre. Whether through a lens of science or organised religion, there are many films that tackle the nature of evil; from where it originates, what makes a person evil and drives them to do evil to others. It’s hard to ever know, but horror movies do their best to give us all the scenarios for our sick enjoyment.
Christopher Denham gives us Home Movie – a suspenseful, eerie addition to the found footage sub-genre. Using the story of two parents – David and Clare Poe (Adrian Pasdar & Cady McClain) – who are having trouble with their young, strange children, Denham explores the idea of evil. The main plot has to do with the mother (works in psychology) and the father (a pastor) having opposite worldviews, so they’ve come to different conclusions on what is making their children act like two budding serial killers.
What makes it all so effective is attention to sticking with the found footage format, generally keeping close to making it feel like this footage was actually FOUND instead of edited together. Furthermore, Pasdar and McClain are a natural couple with positive chemistry for the roles, alongside Amber Joy Williams & Austin Williams as Jack and Emily who act beyond their years with an ability to creep you out that needs to be seen to be believed.
Trust me. If ever creepy kids were creepy as hell, Home Movie is the flick.
pic2Opening the film with dead animals being wrapped in plastic bags, put in a kid’s wagon, then quickly cutting to David flicking through the camera starting to film some nice family moments is a masterful juxtaposition. This sets the film’s tone fast. A disgusting moment juxtaposed against the innocuous, typical dad-like activity is like a thesis: we are about to witness a (semi)normal family descend into macabre madness.
There’s a lot of dragon imagery throughout the story. We see the dragon puppet the kids have, and then dad tells his children a story called “The Dragon and The Paper Bag” that concerns a dragon who disguises himself to fit in amongst boys and girls only to eat them up in a dastardly plan. Notice it’s a two-headed dragon. So, quite swiftly Denham sets up a symbolic parallel between the two-headed beast and the two Poe kids. Just as the dragon walked and talked like a child but was only pretending, we eventually come to see how the Poe kids also pretend to be children while they’re so much more in the most sinister of ways.
Our first big indication of a serious problem, as well as the kids’ affront to their parents respective fields (a conscious effort on their part), is the crucified cat. On Christmas Day, no less. They don’t just kill a cat, they don’t simply nail him to a piece of wood: they crucify him. This is their initial dig at God. Worse still, it’s likely the kids who set into motion the mistaken assumption on their mother’s part that David is abusing them. He gets drunk on New Years and ends up laying in bed with his kids; they wake up with bites all over them, deep and hard. Earlier in the movie we hear Clare tell David to stop biting her. And so the kids – who are known to be watching the tapes – bite each other. They manipulate Clare into thinking that her field of science is the one able to provide an explanation: David, as it turns out, was abused as a boy, and so statistics show many abused kids grow up to abuse their own offspring. More and more, little Jack and Emily set their parents against one another, all in the name of completing their evil without being bothered too much.
pic3So many message boards for this movie have thrived on the idea that there’s actually a chance the kids were possessed. Not true, at all. Not in any way. The children aren’t possessed, nor can psychology and all the science of the world properly diagnose and explain their evil behaviour. Just like the most famous serial killers in history, these kids are psychopaths. They’ve gone from nailing down worms to beheading dogs, crucifying cats, to first harming another child to likely murdering their own parents. The whole point of the film is that evil has NO explanation. There’s no one solitary answer. Even the FBI with their checklist of factors which lead to someone becoming a serial killer readily admit there’s no right combination; each person, and consequently their personal brand of evil, is different.
What’s positively evident at all times is the creepiness. Pasdar’s charm as the family patriarch lulls us into a complacent feeling, like these are real people, as does the relationship between him and McClain. Set against the parents, Jack and Emily are terrifying, two near emotionless children, manipulative and worrisome at every turn. The family dynamic overall is so natural that once the horror gets going full force you’re swept away by each following event. Calling back to the dragon, the kids don paper bags when committing ghastly acts, such as preparing a friend from school to eat – they don’t get to do it, but close enough. Later when they have their parents tied up, they once more put on their paper bags. Again, their likeness to the dragon is brought to the front. We see the kids for who they are: monsters. They even wear Japanese-style masks, reminiscent of dragons, as they lay siege to their parents before the climactic moments. Love the imagery that repeats, getting stronger with each appearance, until the horror is unbearable.
pic3-1This is a great found footage horror. Near the end, the kids start setting up for “The Jack and Emily Show” and it’s as if Kevin McCallister and his younger sister teamed up as killers to make his wish of never seeing his family again come true; the found footage edition of Home Alone. Most of the sub-genre is adhered to, although a couple times a bit of choice editing works its way. I can forgive some of that because Denham really makes the whole thing look like we’re seeing home movies, some messed up and static-filled, bits merging together having been taped over time and time again.
Above anything else, Home Movie unnervingly looks into the nature of evil, positing that between science and religion there are no full explanations. Try though people might we will never find an exact definition or idea of evil. When it comes to the subject of killer children, or those kids who may go on to be serial killers at a later age, there’s often no way to clue everything up in a nice package for people to say “Oh this is evil” like a coordinate on a map. No. Just as the Poe children show us, there are no ways to understand evil, and certainly not in such young people. Evil is fluid, it comes in many forms and all too often inexplicably.

CHAINED: The Tale of a Journeyman Killer’s Reluctant Apprentice

Chained. 2012. Directed by Jennifer Lynch. Screenplay by Damian O’Donnell & Lynch.
Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Eamon Farren, Evan Bird, Julia Ormond, Conor Leslie, Jake Weber, Gina Philips, Daniel Maslany, Michael Maslany, & Alexander Doerksen. Envision Media Arts/RGB Productions.
Rated 18A. 94 minutes.

POSTER Jennifer Lynch has an even more grim style than her father, whose weirdness pervades each of his works. Her films focus on the macabre aspects of life in a more visceral way than the often existentially eerie style of his approach. With Surveillance, she gave us the story of a bunch of lives intersecting; two of those lives belonging to serial killers.
In Chained there’s more serial killing – a cab-driving serial killer named Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) – and more disturbing still is the fact he’s killed a woman then abducted her son, in order to make him into a slave, to serve and help him while he lives out a life of terror. Up front is the strong performance of D’Onofrio, paired with Eamon Farren who plays an older version of the boy Bob kidnapped. Their growing relationship is the centrepiece of the plot and what makes everything so disturbing, as the boy unwillingly becomes a greater part of Bob’s life and eventually finds himself at a crossroads: to choose getting free, somehow, or becoming an apprentice serial killer.
There’s an excellent, devilish twist which comes late in the game, and changes everything. Only to tumble us further down into the darkness. Such is the name of the game when Jennifer Lynch is at the helm. And that ending? There’s a savage wallop to its impact.
Pic3 One of the most chilling scenes to me is the drivers license moment. Bob and Rabbit (Farren) sit together, using the licenses like playing cards. They read the names, as the other must guess information about them. Of course they’re all victims, obviously. And that’s the chilliness. The way Bob gets excited to play, calling for “just one round” and his furthering excitement when Rabbit makes correct guesses; so unnerving.
There are a lot of creepy scenes. Like Bob trying to sleep on his bed, rolling around, remembering the ugly abuse and forced incest he was made to endure at the hands of his father.
Another part that bothered me, for whatever reason, was the one willing woman who walks into Bob’s house gets lured into a scary little room then dispatched casually, her throat slit. I thought there was something else about to happen, so that nasty patch of gore came as a great surprise. Can’t forget part of the finale, either. A few gruesome bits there, too.
Pic1 D’Onofrio is, hands down, one of the most underrated actors working in film today. People always tout his early work in Full Metal Jacket, then seem to ignore all the rest of his quality performances along the way. I mean, if it’s not obvious here, I’m not sure where else you can understand it. For instance, the quiet way he watches the man and his son in the backseat of his cab, flinching at the memories of abuse and incest coming back to him simultaneously, it is heavy. He makes you feel every last inch of those nightmares in his head. Plus, he’s physically imposing, not just due to his size. His commanding presence is part of what’s creepy, and terrifying during other moments.
He never goes overboard, as some tend to do when they’re portraying someone as crazy as Bob. D’Onofrio teeters on the edge. He seethes. The frustration of this man, with himself and his predilections, with Rabbit, with the world, it’s so evident in how the character comes across. All without resorting to hammy acting. Say what you want about the rest of the film, he provides its entire worth on the performance alone.
There’s also Farren, as the older Rabbit still stuck chained to Bob both figuratively and literally. He makes us feel for the kid, as well as keeps the audience chained to his feeling of despair. Rabbit is lost, he’s scared, angry. There are a bunch of emotions inside him. The helplessness of the character is so tragic. Because you see the younger version, played by Evan Bird, whose resilience is undeniable. Gradually, he’s broken down. Once Farren takes over as Rabbit in his late teens, he is all but a dog on a leash. There’s a shot where he finds himself on the floor after a bit of rumble with Bob, he stares over the top of the dinner table at his captor; the emotion in his eyes, the stare of hatred locked deep in his heart. I can’t get over that one shot. Farren earns his keep alongside D’Onofrio with that scene, among others. I honestly can’t remember seeing this guy in anything else, but he’s definitely got talent.
Pic4 The way Lynch directs her film is beautifully dark. Even little moments like HELP across the cab door are kept secretive until characters discover it themselves. Certainly the twist is under wraps until the last 15 minutes, which explode across the screen in all their brutal glory. There’s a great feeling of a twist, yes. What works most for me is the way Lynch presents it, cutting from what we thought we’ve seen to what’s actually happened, then to what happens as a result of secrets uncovered. You’ll definitely be floored by what comes out in the end. A moment right before the credits has you wondering exactly who Rabbit will end up becoming after all he’s endured.
A 5-star horror experience for me. D’Onofrio and Farren are a powerful pair. They each have their own strengths: D’Onofrio is scary in a subtle way yet it’s always clear; Farren is a wounded animal who must discover a strength in himself that may or may not be there. Together they alternate you between fear, repulsion, empathy, disgust. Their performances take you to an uneasy emotional space. Proper show for an effective horror.
Another reason why I think, for her few missteps, Jennifer Lynch is a great director to have around in the modern horror genre. This and The Cell make me also want more D’Onofrio in horror, he is downright menacing; if anything you’ll be attracted to his darkness.

True Detective – Season 1, Episode 3: “The Locked Room”

HBO’s True Detective
Season 1, Episode 3: “The Locked Room”
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Written by Nic Pizzolatto

* For a review of the previous episode, “Seeing Things” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Who Goes There” – click here
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With new leads in 1995, Detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) have gotten themselves to a travelling preacher named Joel Theriot (Shea Whigham). The church they tracked down at the end of last episode had the mysterious antlered woman painted inside on one of its walls. More than we’ve seen already Cohle lets us into his anti-religious worldview. Not that he’s wrong, but part of what Cohle represents is the complete parallel of the people who are on their high horse of religion; same condescending way he stands above the religious, judging everyone who worships. Part of him is incredibly right, he just dives too deep into his own head sometimes. But indeed, his lament for the “fairy tales” of the supposed greater good is one many of us harbour in ourselves. I do.
Cohle and Hart talk with Theriot, whose fan club includes a man named Burt (Douglas M. Griffin) that seems a bit suspicious to some. At least until they figure out, all but surely, they’re looking in the wrong direction; he can’t even come close to another person without defecating all over himself, plus he had his balls cut off in prison. This only leads them further down the rabbit hole. In 2012, Cohle ominously confirms: “Nothing is ever over.”
One interesting bit from ’95 – Dora Lange was seen with a “tall man” who had a “strange faceshiny around his jaw” sort of like someone who survived a fire.
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The further divide between Rust and Marty opens with every episode. What’s interesting is the exemplification of the series’ title, True Detective: despite any and all of their faults as men, Rust and Marty are incredible detectives. Although the serial killer they chased in ’95 eluded them, even up to the point where Dts. Gilbough and Papania (Michael Potts/Tory Kittles) interviewed them in 2012, they are true detectives. Our first inkling of what truly tore these guys apart down the line starts in ’95, as Marty comes home to his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan) chatting with ole Rust. Turns out the trusty partner came over to mow his buddy’s lawn. And Marty does not like that, nor does he appreciate any of the effort. It’s ironic because there’s nothing to suggest Cohle is trying to do anything untoward here. Yet the way his partner acts might have put that whole situation on an entirely different trajectory; check back on that once you’ve seen the whole first season, as it’s intriguing to watch these episodes over with the knowledge of what happens later.
At the Hart house Papa Marty has to talk with his girls about something difficult. Young Audrey’s been drawing things – sexual things – that got her in trouble. Where did she learn that? Perhaps it’s harmless. This is just one of the red herrings we find amongst the first season. The dolls, the drawings – little pieces of character which come in later episodes, set in 2012 – these lead many to believe there’s something else going on other than the crimes. Like Marty should be paying more attention to what’s going on within his own family. You might start wondering if there’s a culture of abuse happening in their city.

Maggie: “Girls always know before boys
Marty: “Why is that?”
Maggie: “Because they have to

I dig the title of this episode, “The Locked Room”, as it takes on a few meanings. For one, you’ve got the idea of a locked-room mystery, a sub-genre of detective fiction. Then we’ve also got the idea of the detectives themselves, in that they spend much of their time in locked rooms interrogating suspects. In particular, Cohle is a great “box man” who knows all about the locked room – another usage being the mind, itself a room locked away from everyone else except the person with the key.
Searching out more about the scars and the tall man, Cohle and Hart find a lot of dead ends. Mostly, they get deeper and deeper into the case. For Marty, it’s easy to shake off, though he uses it as an excuse to cheat on his wife, to skip out on his family when he wants. For Rust, it weighs on him. He finds it hard to live life, unlike his partner. He can’t be normal like everyone else, it actually affects him. Because ultimately he feels too much. He knows the pain of being human – the existential one – better than most. While Maggie tries setting Cohle up with a woman, Marty’s busy still flirting around Lisa Tragnetti (Alexandra Daddario). Marty is jealous; out with his wife, Cohle and his blind date, he sees Lisa with another man and that violently enrages him. Oh, the hypocrisy. It’s deafening. We also discover more of Maggie and Cohle talking, subtly, innocently leading either towards more trouble or towards a resolution for the Hart family troubles. You’ll have to let that play out and see.
Also something worth noticing is that in 2012, while talking away endlessly to the detectives, Cohle starts carving up his Lone Star beer cans into men. In the following episodes you’ll notice it’s very similar to the circle of men surrounding a young Dora in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s place in “Seeing Things” where they’re on horseback, sporting odd costumes. Keep that in mind, these five men. It’s a reoccurring symbol.
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Marty: “You ever wonder if you’re a bad man?”
Rust: “No, I dont wonderThe world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”

In ’95, Cohle eventually stumbles across another possible victim of their serial killer – Rianne Olivier. She was found washed up onshore by a river, deemed accidental death. Except she has a spiral tattoo, same as Dora. The connections slowly fall into place, but there’s still so much ground to cover, both figuratively and literally. When Rust and Marty start figuring out more about this latest victim, they find out she was with a man named Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford), a real piece of work, a bad seed. They also make the connection of Rianne going to Light of the Way; another way to piece this all together, as it links into the Tuttle family.
At the Light of the Way school, a gardener cuts the lawn. Cohle asks him a few questions, seeing as how he covers a few of the properties belonging to the church. He doesn’t have much to say to Rust, other than the basics. Marty gets a call about Ledoux; his cellmate in jail as of late is Charlie Lange (Brad Carter). More of a bridge to all the other avenues in play. Well, there’s more to it than that. Out in the fields somewhere, cooking meth, Ledoux wanders with a gas mask on, machete in hand, and in 2012 Marty mentions a “gunfight” to the eager detectives interviewing him. Lots of things to come. Lots of dangerous, interesting, terrifying things: “Like a lot of dreams theres a monster at the end of it.”
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Another solid episode. The final shot is one of intense magnitude. I remember when it first aired I was dying to see the next chapter, so perfect to end on.
The whole season is spectacular. Next up is “Who Goes There” – one of the best episodes of all containing the single greatest tracking shot in television history. Thank you, HBO! And thank you Fukunaga/Pizzolatto; a fantastic collaboration.

Revenge is The Gift that Keeps on Giving

The Gift. 2015. Directed & Written by Joel Edgerton.
Starring Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, & Susan May Pratt. STX Entertainment/Huayi Brothers Pictures/Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 108 minutes.

Joel Edgerton is a triple threat – he can act, write, and direct. The first thing I’d seen him do as a writer was the exciting film The Square. That same year, he put in a stellar acting performance as Ian Wright in the underrated dark thriller Acolytes. Next, he was spot on Barry ‘Baz’ Brown in David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and another solid screenplay in 2014 for director Michôd’s The Rover. So to see him in The Gift with all three barrels blasting, starring on top of directing and writing together, it is truly phenomenal.
While this movie wasn’t exactly as great as the hype suggests, Edgerton does craft a very deep, at times highly disturbing thriller with lots of human drama and intrigue, weaving the story of two men together in adulthood concerning a terrible secret from when they were children. Most of all, Edgerton explores how we never really know people. Not fully, not all of them. Some hide things, unnerving and even awful things. And this is a story about when those secrets in the past crawl their way into the lives of people in the present. Often with horrific consequences.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) are a well put together married couple. They eventually want to have children, but other than that everything is wonderful. Until along comes Gordon ‘Gordo’ Moseley (Joel Edgerton), an old high school acquaintance of Simon. He starts showing up unexpected at their home, usually bearing a gift. Except this continues and continues to an odd length. Soon, Simon feels he has to tell Gordo to back off.
However, the past is tricky. Not everyone, even those married and close to one another, knows the people around them completely. Everybody has a secret. It just so happens some are worse than others. And the secret Simon’s been hiding is certainly worse. As the presence of Gordo in their lives starts to threaten their plain, enjoyable existence, Simon and Robyn are confronted with how the past can taint the present forever.
Aside from Edgerton, whom I dig, Jason Bateman is part of why I immediately found myself drawn to The Gift. He’s someone how has impeccable comedic timing and delivery, so to see him in something darkly serious is interesting. He does a good job with the character of Simon. What’s fun is that the character begins at one end of the spectrum, commanding our empathy for the situation in which he finds himself, as well as the fact his wife is inadvertently drawn into his past. Then by the end of the movie we’re questioning exactly where the loyalties lie as viewers. He is no longer worthy of our empathy, but at the same time we’re left to question how much punishment he actually deserves. One thing’s for sure, the true colours show and we finally see who Simon was all those years ago.
There’s also Rebecca Hall, she is a treat as usual. Here she gets a better role than most of the other films I’ve seen her in, as the character of Robyn is complex, endearing, and of course once the movie has run its course there is so much more involved. She plays the role well and she definitely has chemistry with Bateman, even Edgerton, too.
And Edgerton, he does a fine bit of work. Gordo is a nerve wracking character who’ll make you nervous almost every last second his face is onscreen. Whereas Edgerton often has a fairly built physique, or a manly build, whatever you want to call it, Gordo is more sheepish. He isn’t lost of confidence, not at all. But physically he isn’t imposing, he is sort of odd, awkward, and that makes him even more menacing in a way.
The sad and smiley faces are something that warn you right away. Gordo’s stuck as a young boy, one used to writing notes across the class with pretty girls, smiley faces and all. This is an immediate clue, even from the first smiley, that something is amiss. Of course he’s a bit creepy all the time. There’s something about the notes, the smiley and later sad faces drawn on, which bring your attention to something traumatic. People who go through various kinds of trauma at a young age can often find themselves stuck in that age, often times for the rest of their lives. So later, once things are uncovered more and more, we’re clued into the fact that these little droplets of character actually mean something. It’s weird from the start, but gains further eerie significance after more story details fall into our laps. That’s part of why Edgerton’s script is really enjoyable. Despite being a fairly slow burn for most of its run there are so many moments to hook you in, keep you glued to what’s happening.
Spoiler Alert
: if you’ve not seen the film, do not go on. I’m about to discuss & spoil the ending.
Personally, I don’t think Gordo raped Robyn. To me he doesn’t seem like that type, no matter if he’s a creep. And above all, because he didn’t need to do that. All he required was the seed of doubt. Plant that in Simon’s head once and it’ll never go away. Simon would spend the rest of his life wondering, likely afraid to say anything about but all the while allowing it to consume him. That’s the greater revenge, in my opinion. Now there are some people I saw complaining about the rape angle being used here as a plot device, and I identify as a male feminist, so I understand there are films which really do exploit these types of situations and events. The Gift is first and foremost about the specter of abuse, rape, sexual assault. Because going back to the original events which spurred Gordo on, they were fictitious. So why not give Simon a taste of his own medicine? That’s what it all hinges on, in my opinion. Gordo wanted Simon to experience exactly what he did. Right down to a big fake-out.
Ultimately, this is definitely a 4-star dramatic thriller with a good dose of mystery. Joel Edgerton’s done a fantastic job crafting a tense story. With the stellar main trio of performances this script comes alive. Sure, it is slow and at times moves with a snail’s pace. But that’s never a bad thing if the plot is compelling. And The Gift is absolutely compelling, if anything. It engages you with a highly adult story that stems from childhood, making you question how people change, can they actually change, is it possible to shake off the devastation of the past, among many other questions begging for an answer. The finale might shake many people. Even as a seasoned horror veteran, the end of the film is still shocking in its own right. Regardless, the whole ride is worth taking. Hopefully Edgerton takes on some more films soon as director because he’s got incredible sensibilities for directing in terms of shot composition, pacing, all the necessary elements. Only a few flaws to be found, but otherwise this is a taut, suspenseful piece of cinema.

The Devastating Motherhood of Room

Room. 2015. Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Screenplay by Emma Donoghue, based on her novel of the same name.
Starring Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, Wendy Crewson, Amanda Brugel, Joe Pingue, William H. Macy, Randal Edwards, & Justin Mader. A24/Element Pictures/No Trace Camping/TG4 Films.
Rated PG. 118 minutes.

I’ve not yet seen director Lenny Abrahamson’s 2014 film Frank, but awhile back I had the chance to see his earlier film What Richard Did and found it incredibly thought provoking, as well as intense and visceral. Abrahamson certainly has a knack for tackling darkness, and from the looks of Frank he also traffics in weirdness, too. Which is great because his latest directorial effort, a screen adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room, is equal parts odd, heartwarming, and boasts a heap of darkness (though not in a horror-ish sense). With a true story serving as the jumping-off point for Donoghue, her story tackles the life affirming relationship between a mother and her son, despite all odds. And yet, as I’ve said, the dark aspects of the plot are constantly worming in and out of the story as it goes. I’ve never read the novel, but I hear great things. If it’s even half as good as the film (luckily the author adapted the screenplay herself; usually a plus), the book is bound to make me run the gamut of my emotions. With a sparse yet engaging style, Abrahamson takes us through this whirlwind story, finding aid in an incredible pairing of Brie Larson and child actor Jacob Tremblay. If you’ve heard lots of hype about the film there is a reason for it. The hype is very real and every last bit is well deserved.
Loosely inspired by the real life case of Josef Fritzl, Room tells the story of Ma (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who live together in a small ten-by-ten room; a shed, essentially. Inside, they live out life one day at a time. They have the basics: a place to use the bathroom, to cook, to wash dishes, a place to sleep, too. That’s about all, though. Their keeper, a man they simply call Old Nick (Sean Bridgers) – the one who kidnapped Ma and brought her to Room – comes down from time to time to sexually abuse Ma, as Jack hides in the closet. Occasionally, when needed, Nick brings supplies like food and other things to the family of two. It is a bare, horrible existence. Jack doesn’t know anything of the outside world, except what he sees on television.
After he turns five-years-old, Jack begins to learn about the world outside Room. But he doesn’t exactly like what he hears, as it breaks down his preconceived notions of what the world is, being the four walls around him. As Ma tries her best to help Jack understand, she also formulates a plan. She wants her boy to help trick Old Nick.
Thus begins the hopeful escape of Ma and Jack. And it’s only the beginning.
One impressively tragic moment early on is when Jack tells his mother “next week when Im 6” she’d better get real candles. She has to correct him that he means next year. Right then and there we understand how blatantly obvious the damage done to him is, as in he’s unable to determine between a week, a month, a year. Because in Room, time is nothing, it is a measure of something the child can’t begin to comprehend. Outside, time goes by, but in there they’re stuck living the same day, over and over. Only minor changes happen. I love that within such a short frame of time we’re already able to understand the isolation.
Later, when Ma has to explain to her boy about the outside world it is intense and sad. It hurts to see Jack unable to get “what the world is.” He thinks it’s all a part of an awful process called growing up. He doesn’t get that the world is out there, they’ve simply been shut off from it by the hideous man known only as Old Nick.
My heart officially broke, yet opened wide, as Jack finds himself for the first time in the outside world beyond Room. Laying in the pan of a pickup truck, he looks directly into the sky and watches as the vast blue ocean above him passes by. It is one of the most emotionally intense scenes I’ve watched in awhile. At once, you’ll be so happy and simultaneously you’ll feel everything shatter. Honestly, it’s rare a drama gets to me so thoroughly and deeply. The way Abrahamson shoots this sequence is so powerful; it plays with your emotions, though, not in a way which tricks you. It is a pure and raw scene filled with beauty of the deepest kind.
The writing is incredible. I’m sure the novel is a powerhouse, because Donoghue adapts it well for the screen. One part I enjoyed so much is the narration by Jack, especially after they make it out of Room and into the world. He talks about being “in the world for 37 hours“, as if he was never actually in the world locked in that shed, which of course he really wasn’t, I suppose. But the way Tremblay talks, his way of expression, the inflection of his voice, it is so crazy to imagine he’s a child. It’s as if a grown man is inside him acting. And Donoghue’s words shine through him. The way she explains things via the Jack character is exposition, but it doesn’t feel that way. We really get life from his perspective, as it would likely be if a kid was hidden away for his entire first six years then suddenly released into the outdoors. Even the way we literally see shots from Jack’s perspective, it holds the excitement and wonder of a little kid, something we all can remember looking back on the early years. So combine Donoghue and her writing with Abrahamson’s directing style, and everything converges into such a perfect mix. The screenplay’s basic and honest storytelling is complimented by the way Abrahamson pushes things forward with an equally honest, compelling view into the life of all these people affected by tragedy. It is not an easy story to tell, in any sense, yet these two artists, along with a great team, make Room into one of the best movies of 2015.
A flawless 5-star film. Perhaps it isn’t everyone else’s cup of tea. Maybe others may expect more outright darkness, but that’s just not this movie. Room tackles a difficult story, one loosely based in real events. It tackles the difficulty with grace, subtlety. The main actors, Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay, knock their characters out of the park; their chemistry is unreal at every moment, in every last scene, and you’d swear they lived together for a year before filming. All cylinders pump from the moment Room begins, to the minute the credits roll. Not often am I visibly affected by a drama, though, every now and then one comes along that captivates me, takes me to another place emotionally, mentally. Room is one of those very films. It won’t be soon that I forget it, either. Neither will you, I suspect.

Amenábar’s Regression: Bland, Dull Creeps & Cults

Regression. 2015. Directed & Written by Alejandro Amenábar.
Starring Emma Watson, Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, Devon Bostick, Aaron Ashmore, Dale Dickey, David Dencik, Lothaire Bluteau, Kristian Bruun, Adam Butcher, and Aaron Abrams. Mod Producciones/First Generation Films/FilmNation Entertainment/Himenóptero/Telefonica Studios.
Rated 14A. 106 minutes.

POSTERAlejandro Amenábar’s first feature Thesis blew me away. Later, a different sort of film, Abre los ojos, was equally stunning. Then I truly adored The Others, as a modern classic of the haunted house sub-genre; an all around impressive picture. He has great qualities as a filmmaker, both his writing and directing full of talent. Proving himself on various ends of the spectrum, he doesn’t always have to be creepy. But when he goes for horror, or stories with scary/horror elements, Amenábar can really dig the hooks in. Perhaps that’s why this film let me down.
While I admit Regression has a nice mood and atmosphere, along with a couple solid horror visuals that creeped me out over and over, the whole movie is disappointing. If it weren’t for Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson I don’t know but I would’ve turned this movie off halfway through. Perhaps it has to do with how I’m painfully aware of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s and early 1990s. Or maybe Amenábar didn’t write a good enough script. One way or another I find this movie tedious. Sure, the few dreamy horror bits in the film are intense, and totally worth it. But otherwise there isn’t enough to justify a 106-minute romp through territory I, and so many others, have already read, watched, et cetera.
In Minnesota during 1990, Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) is assigned to the case of John Gray (David Dencik) whose seventeen-year-old daughter Angela (Emma Watson) is accusing him of sexual abuse. Although, the problem is John admits it must be true if his daughter claims the abuse happened, but doesn’t recall any of it ever taking place. Even worse, the further Angela regains her memory, with the help of regression therapy by Professor Kenneth Raines (David Thewlis), dark and sinister details come out about the abuse. Worse than incest, worse than rape, it comes to stand Angela says there were Satanic rituals performed. The whole family involved. Babies stabbed to death, their blood drank. An entire town of Satanists throbbing right below the surface.
And as Kenner further tracks down the details, he slowly imagines the devious world beneath everything bubbling up, coming for him. His mind crosses from hard reality to the dreamy fog of illusion.
Is Angela telling the truth? Is everyone beginning to remember what truly happens in their small Minnesota town? Does a Satanic cult really operate under the radar? Kenner has to figure it out. One way or another.
I still can’t exactly point to the one single thing that makes this movie a bummer for me. There are a few reasons I suspect this is the case. First, the weird energy of the film builds up then the resulting finale comes off as anti-climactic. Possibly no other way to end the film, but found it a bore in the end. Second, the acting talent of Emma Watson is wasted; her role is large, yet it’s as if we spend most of our time seeing her in one way when the end of the film, her character at that point is the side of her we wanted to, needed to, see more of ultimately. My suggestion? The screenplay ought to have been slightly longer, and maybe the big reveal placed earlier, so as to draw out more of the excellent characterization of Watson’s character. Would have made the climactic portion seem better. Finally, anyone who has ever heard of the Satanic Panic craze could draw a roadmap almost immediately where Regression was headed. Right away I knew what would happen with Watson and her character. I kept holding on, further and further, hoping Amenábar was right around the corner from dazzling me with some interesting twist, a surprising turn. That never came. Most of the film felt exciting and horrific at certain moments, even in the stagnant pieces. But there was no pay off. Nothing at the end, no pot of gold or anything.
And that leaves us with the acting. As I said, Watson is underused and not given enough time to do anything more than play a sad, tragic girl who seems to be caught up in a terrifying world. Outside of the crying and the withdrawn nature of that character there’s nothing much else happening; once more, I say, sad and missed opportunity. So really it’s the Ethan Hawke show – even David Thewlis doesn’t get enough screentime to make his character worth it. Hawke is a talented guy, whose work shows well in the character of Kenner. He is a man who wants to believe in something bigger, something more beautiful and full than the broken lives of the people he sees, being a detective and all. Except he can’t believe in anything more. With the case here, he becomes involved in a deep good vs. evil type mindset. The ending throws him for a loop altogether. Watching Hawke take us through this guy’s rollercoaster head trip it is a blast, as he gives us many solid moments, sucking us into the madness Kenner falls into like we’re right in the same boat.
Also, I’ve got to mention Dale Dickey as Rose Gray, the grandmother. She is an amazing character actor who pops up in everything, from Breaking Bad to Winter’s Bone and everything in between. Her intensity, her face full of expression and rocky wisdom, it all proves an important piece to the film. The scenes with her, every one, are interesting and definitely full of excitement. She is a treasure and a wonderful addition to this cast.
Quality acting cannot fully save a film. Even with creepy images thrown in, horror among all the mystery and thriller storytelling, Alejandro Amenábar does not come anywhere near his previous directorial/written efforts so far with Regression. Not all bad, the film overall just seems like a massive swing and miss. There were places this could’ve went that it did not. There were other ways the story and plot could’ve been structured, yet Amenábar stuck with this and things feel flat for such a large portion of the movie. While I still find it good enough for 3 stars, so many things need improving. It’s too bad because Amenábar is a fabulous filmmaker, an intriguing writer. He simply fell short on this. Luckily, there’s enough of the creep factor here and several nice performances, so the whole thing is not a waste. Don’t expect anything overly impressive. I went in hoping for so much more. Now, I wish I’d curbed those expectations a fair deal more.

Tyrannosaur; a.k.a What is Redemption?

Tyrannosaur. 2011. Directed & Written by Paddy Considine.
Starring Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman, Eddie Marsan, Paul Popplewell, Samuel Bottomley, Sian Breckin, Ned Dennehy, Sally Carman, Julia Mallam and Natalia Carta.
Warp X/Inflammable Films/Film4/UK Film Council/Screen Yorkshire/EM Media/Optimum Releasing.
Not Rated. 92 minutes.

tyrannosaur-poster01 Paddy Considine is a great artist, in terms of writing and directing. He proves it here, fully. I already enjoyed his talents as an actor. However, the promise he shows in the dual role of writer-director with Tyrannosaur is astounding. Because it’s a grounded, raw and real piece of work. There’s no doubt. Every inch of this film speaks to the core of the lower middle class, hell, anyone who isn’t on the bourgeoisie scale. This movie is about the common man, its heart is in the common people. Considine writes as if he knows each of these characters, from Peter Mullan’s agonisingly truthful/equally painful Joseph to Hannah and her heartbreaking faith in the face of all hardship played perfectly by Olivia Colman. While there is truly a ton to love about Considine’s debut feature (his first work as director was the short film which turned into this: Dog Altogether), the best of everything is the fact that, among an industry almost obsessed with keeping to fads and follow along with trends, this movie touches on real issues and struggles, shockingly true to life situations and all the horrifically honest bits of life people often don’t want to acknowledge exist. At times this is a film you may want to look away from, even if its little speckles of violence aren’t explicit and graphically shown. But trust me, it’s worth the effort to get through because Tyrannosaur has a message beneath it all.
A career alcoholic and a man with constant burning rage in his heart, Joseph (Peter Mullan) has only acquaintances. His one friend, his dog, gets beaten to death one night. By his own hand. After this event, Joseph goes down the bottle even further. Between fighting people at his favourite hole in the wall bar to arguing with an idiot neighbour, something always seems to be following Joseph, to be eating him alive. After taking refuge in a store, he meets Hannah (Olivia Colman) and they form a nice yet tenuous bond. She has her own problems. At home, Hannah’s husband James (Eddie Marsan), a fairly bad drunk himself , abuses her; he urinates on her after she won’t wake up when he’s home from the pub, he later beats her up. When the lives of Hannah and Joseph intersect more intensely, things begin to change for both of them. Although, for one of the two it may not turn out as perfectly as they had imagined. And soon an act transpires which can’t be changed.
On top of the raw, gritty realism of Considine’s writing, his directorial style plays just as well to the story and its themes. There is nothing fancy about the way he presents his subject. In fact, that’s what works. I find there’s a tendency for films with tough subject to often lean into trying too hard for an aesthetic which matches it, in terms of it becoming fabricated. Whereas there are films like this one and something like Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy which use a very simple look, and it suits the raw feeling of the plot and story. Mostly, Considine puts us directly with both Joseph and Hannah. He finds a way to simply let the viewer watch these characters, as well as sit right in on their situation alongside them. We get great looks at the landscape around these characters, such as the lower class housing where Joseph lives and the little pubs and all that. At the same time, we’re closed in with good tight frames on the faces of Joseph and Hannah respectively. We’re as close to in their heads as possible, sort of floating along in their life. Not to say Considine doesn’t do anything interesting. He does. But it’s the way he does it so simply which makes it work flawless, it is understated film making; less is more, in a wonderfully bleak way.
Adding to the realism of the way in which Considine writes and presents his subject/themes, the two big central performances of Tyrannosaur are towering as the beast from which it takes its name.
Peter Mullan is an actor I’ve always loved. The first time I actually took notice of him personally was Trainspotting and then Session 9, but after that I went back and found all sorts of amazing performances. Here, he spreads his wings and flies. It’s utterly amazing. And crazy enough, from the first moments we see the character Joseph when he kicks his beloved dog to death, there’s somehow part of us wanting to connect. Even after seeing such a devastating and senseless, heartless act, there was something in Joseph I couldn’t shake. It’s a repulsive act to begin a film, but that’s part of the redemptive process. Mullan takes us through all the motions with Joseph, working from a despicable moment in time to the finale where surprisingly he makes it through, somehow. Part of why Joseph is able to hold onto us, or me anyways as a viewer, is because of the way Mullan plays him. There are sensitive scenes where Joseph actually appears naked and raw to us with his inner self, a man who wants to be someone else other than what he’s become. Those scenes are juxtaposed with the raging animal inside him, clawing to get out; and sometimes, it does. Mullan was and is the only man to play Joseph. Can’t see him as anyone else. The intensity of this character comes off perfect with Mullan in the role, as does the inner struggle without Considine having to write in a ton of expository back story.
No way can Olivia Colman be left out of the acting conversation. The role of Hannah is not an easy one, nor is it an uncommon life; sadly too many women suffer in disgusting relationships such as the one she and her husband have together. Colman brings a humanity to the role. Many female characters who are abuse/rape victims, such as Hannah, seem to get written wildly one-dimensional. With Hannah, Considine gives us a woman who is religious and at the same time is confronting all these things – alcoholism, physical and mental abuse, rape, et cetera – which directly contradict the heart of true religion. Colman shows us the core of a woman whose faith is holding on so hard to her heart and her mind, yet at the same time she is a woman who can only take so much. At times, I teared up, all due to Colman and her performance. It’s an excellent pairing with the powerhouse abilities of Mullan on display.
Tyrannosaur is a 5-star film. All the way. I love every last second of it, even if it is a grim watch at most points. Paddy Considine proves his worth as a writer-director. He knows how to present the grittiness of real life in a welcomed perspective. While there is an over abundance of the mental and physical violence inherent in many lives around the world, Considine also brings us into a space where redemption is possible. On one hand, the character of Joseph begins driving towards oblivion head-on and even Hannah gets caught up in this whirlwind of rage. On the other hand, both of these characters show us that, no matter what, in the end redemption can be possible. Even someone like Joseph, whose first scenes would have most people believing it would never happen. Maybe it never does, fully. But the faith in humanity, not that of religion, is what triumphs. Underneath the rough exterior, Tyrannosaur has a clear and true heart filled with the dreams of possibility.