And here they are—look upon them!
Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006. Directed & Written by Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Doug Jones, Ariadna Gil, Álex Angulo, Manolo Solo, César Vea, and Roger Casamajor. Estudios Picasso/Tequila Gang/Esperanto Filmoj/Sententia Entertainment/Telecinco/OMM. Rated 14A. 118 minutes.
Guillermo del Toro has one of the most consistently fascinating minds in film today. Ever since I saw his feature film debut Cronos – a unique take on vampire mythology – I knew he’d go on to do a lot more great work. Even the 1997 Mimic was fun, though marred by studio interference and the fact del Toro’s father was kidnapped during that time. He went on to do another fascinatingly original type of ghost story with The Devil’s Backbone in 2001, which really came back to his exciting from the first feature. Afterwards, he added a good entry to the Blade franchise with its second installment and then did a funny, engaging adaptation of the Hellboy comic in 2004.
Pan’s Labyrinth is most certainly one of del Toro’s best works to date. It is highly original, while at the same time having its roots in old folklore, fairy tales and fantastical stories such as Alice in Wonderland. Even further, there is a darkness which is present in other fantasy storytelling but becomes pronounced through del Toro as a writer and as director. Perhaps the best part of this film is how he so elegantly weaves dark fantasy through the real life drama at the heart of the story, creating a perfect hybrid between the main character’s reality and her dreamworld.
During 1944, the post-Spanish Civil War phase has begun. Although there are rebel troops still fighting in the mountainside against the Falangist army troops. Captain Vidal (Sergi López) orders his wife Carmen (Ariadna Gil) and stepdaughter Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) brought to live in a country mill within the forest. At first, Ofelia finds it hard to deal with her new life as the daughter of Vidal, whose fascist tendencies do not stop at his soldiers; rather his family is just as much a part of his rule as anything or anyone else.
Once a strange faun draws Ofelia into the labyrinth in the courtyard of the mill, she discovers a whole other magical world existing right under the surface of reality. When the faun tells Ofelia she is actually Princess Moanna, she is given several tasks to complete before the next full moon, which leads her into the other world adjacent to our own. However, it may not be enough for her to escape the hardships of the tragic reality in which she finds herself living with Vidal.
It’s no wonder Pan’s Labyrinth won Academy Awards – three of them. There is such an incredibly craftsmanship about the entire film. Certainly when you look at all the individual aspects, it’s hard to imagine anybody hating this film; sure, you can not be totally into it, but I’ll be damned to hell if you can’t admire this movie for all its efforts.
First, there’s the impeccable cinematography of Guillermo Navarro. Anyone who has read my blog before knows I’m a fan of Navarro. I knew him from his work with del Toro first and foremost. Though, when he directed a couple episodes of NBC’s Hannibal I was truly impressed – those episodes were titled “Coquilles“, “Trou Normand“, and “Rôti“. He captures the light and the dark in equal measures, the latter coming out beautifully in terms of shadow particularly. I think, above all, he and del Toro have very similar sensibilities, which helps in this case because though the story is awesome what I love most is the film’s look. What I imagine is that del Toro and Navarro, as director and cinematographer respectively, came together to find the visual presence of the film; effectively forming a dual director of photography. While del Toro no doubt had an entire aesthetic in mind, I can tell Navarro’s touch lands heavily on Pan’s Labyrinth because of watching his own directing on Hannibal, as well as in the two episodes of Narcos he helmed.
Almost better than the cinematography itself is the film’s intensely detailed art direction. From the look of the old mill, to the forest locations and the darkly fantastical settings inside the labyrinth with the Pale Man and Pan, there are too many different places where the art direction is on the level of a masterpiece. There’s such an effortless feel to the way del Toro and his team take us back to the mid-1940s in Spain. All the while, you know this movie took a ton of work to complete, it’s actually mind boggling at times when I think of it. Every location you see in Pan’s Labyrinth looks like it’s been pulled straight from a picture.
To make it all the more magical, the makeup in this film is just downright jaw dropping. The pinnacle, of course, has to be Vidal’s knife wound through the cheek. Absolutely raw and looks so natural! Its look is something out of a horror film and I found the makeup had a super visceral effect. I’m not normally a cringing sort – I watch a ridiculous amount of horror – however, the part when Vidal patches himself up, sewing the wound, then drinks a shot of liquor: it got me. But in the right sort of way. This part is only one amazing instance of excellent makeup work. Pan and the other creatures have such an innovative design about them, it’s some of the better makeup effects in fantasy over the past 20 years. Hands down. Without all these elements together, the fantasy of Pan’s Labyrinth wouldn’t juxtapose well enough with the reality-based drama in its script. The look – in cinematography, design and direction – is perfectly dark and simultaneously vibrant. Add to that the painstakingly created makeup/effects and del Toro’s genius comes alive – although he wrote the script and obviously came up with a massive amount of stuff to throw into its story, as evidenced by the plentiful notes and sketches he creates over the course of every production, such a vision does require an entire team able/willing to go the extra mile to make this what it was meant to be.
There’s no argument on my part, Guillermo del Toro has several masterpieces under his belt and Pan’s Labyrinth is no exception: a 5 star film, from start to finish. The screenplay itself is enough to warrant a full rating. With all the different and various elements of this film coming together, working in favour of one another, del Toro’s dark fairy tale is something you might imagine coming out of the great literature from history. Honestly, I truly believe if del Toro had written this as a novel it would’ve been just as well received and perhaps could’ve gone on to rank among some of the big works of fantasy in the literary world. That being said I’m glad he chose to make this as a film. The visual qualities added to the masterful storytelling of del Toro made this into one of the great fantasy epics that will ever be in cinematic history. If I’m alive 50 years from now I’ll still be raving, and hopefully my eyesight will have lasted me until then; hell, even if I’m blind I’ll still ask someone to throw this on so I can listen to its beautiful music, all the sweet sounding Spanish words and the overall magical sound design. If you’ve not seen this one, please, do yourself a huge favour and take this in soon. It’s a pleasure of a movie even with its bits of creepiness and tragedy.
* As of writing, this title is available on Canadian Netflix.*
Hellions. 2015. Directed by Bruce McDonald. Screenplay by Pascal Trottier.
Starring Chloe Rose, Robert Patrick, Rossi Sutherland, Rachel Wilson, Luke Bilyk, Peter DaCunha, Emir Hira Mokhtarieh, Nicholas Craig, Sydney Cross, Stephanie Fonceca, Joe Silvaggio, and Karlo William. Storyteller Pictures/Whizbang Films.
Rated 14A. 80 minutes.
Bruce McDonald has always had my stamp of approval for Highway 61 and more importantly Hard Core Logo, a film which personally shaped me as a young teenage Canadian punk rocker (or wannabe anyways). Not only that, it set me off for years on the idea that a mockumentary didn’t have to be mocking anything; it could do plenty serious business while also having a comedic edge. Either way, McDonald has done some real good films, even Dance Me Outside a forgotten gem of Canadian film. 2008’s Pontypool was a refreshing swing (and a hit) at the zombie sub-genre of horror and another reason why I’m glad to see McDonald again veer into horror with this film.
Hellions is, to me, a surprising and in ways a refreshing horror movie. It’s not like other horror movies. I don’t mean it completely subverts the genre, or that it comes with an entirely new and innovative story, however – the way McDonald comes at his themes and the plot is both fun andinteresting. A solid dose of horror, disturbing and also straight up, as well as a refreshingly visual style and creepy atmosphere makes Hellions one of my favourite horror movies of the last 5 years at least.
I could care less what other people say in their reviews. This is mine and I’ll cry if I want to. Shit, that’s not right, is it? Well this is my review and I think I’ve at least got a couple things to say about McDonald’s film, in terms of its horror and often exciting visual experimentation.
17-year old Dora Vogel (Chloe Rose) has a pretty standard teenage life. Her mother Kate (Rachel Wilson) tries to keep life going steadily for them all, which includes little brother Remi (Peter DaCunha).
Unfortunately, Dora misses class one day visiting the doctor and discovers she’s pregnant. As Halloween has rolled around, she finds herself home alone with the news all to herself. Even more unfortunate, far worse for Dora, some trick-or-treaters come knocking while her mother takes Remi out to stockpile candy.
And these are no ordinary little kids in costumes. First it’s a little kid with a creepy bag over his head. Then comes a similar little child with a bucket over theirs instead of a bag. One of them reaches out with a demon-like hand, touching Dora’s belly and says “Mama“…
This begins the hellish Halloween of Dora Vogel.
One thing I loved about Hellions, when it kicks into full Hell Night mode, is how McDonald used the infrared camera. There’s this almost Alice In Wonderland feel, or Wizard of Oz maybe (Dora – Dorothy?), after you can see the infrared begin – a pink hue sets in over almost everything in the frame. This brings a strange quality to a lot of the visuals which McDonald goes for over the course of the film. While I can’t speak for others obviously, it was an intriguing effect to me. It’s not something I’d want to see a bunch of movies use, however, with Hellions I think there’s supernatural horror happening big time and we get this heightened sense of atmosphere with the infrared camera making the whites and the greens so vibrant, as everything stays washed in the pink tones. Great, great stuff. Particularly I couldn’t get enough of how the trees look; the rich greens against the sort of faded pink over everything and the bright white colours throughout, it really is beautiful to look at.
Along with the look this film boasts an awesome, haunting score from Todor Kobakov and Ian LeFeuvre. There are times it has an undeniably 1980s style synth sound. At other moments the film’s score has this throbbing ambient darkness about it, which sort of lays underneath particular scenes and holds the tension tight, as well as snaps it hard to make that tension pay off. Also, there are some great strings thrown in and a terrifying choir singing/child chants alongside to make one dreamy scene beyond unnerving, on top of everything else actually happening in the scene itself. Honestly there are horrors which are made or broken by scores; I personally think this one does Hellions more than enough justice.
Both Chloe Rose and Robert Patrick do a great job with their characters. It’s easy for actors to get lost, their performances I mean, when the visual aspect of a film is so evident and in your face (though I mean that not in a bad way at all obviously). Contrary to that, these two are able to lift their characters above that in order to make them noticeable. The kids are memorable mostly because of the creepiness, the horrific acts they perpetrate and the weirdness involved; these two are memorable without masks, solely based on performance.
Of course Patrick isn’t around as much as Rose, but still, he’s a fun character actor to see in a horror film. Particularly near the end Patrick makes his character really pop out and leaves his mark.
Rose does fantastic work here. She’s got a tough, complex role. On one hand, Dora Vogel is a young, seventeen-year old girl worried about being pregnant. On the other hand, she’s also got to deal with the onslaught of monstrous, demonic children at her door, trick or treating. There’s a lot going on and I think many young actresses might not do so well with the character. She gives us a good deal of range from start to finish. A real solid performance.
Let’s talk horror.
First, we’ve got little kids in some of the creepiest masks I’ve ever witnessed. They’re starting at the door, eventually working their way inside. They make strange noises. They’re actually… demons? Who knows for sure. They’re awful either way, in the best possible sense. Horrific little creatures of the Halloween night.
Secondly come the dream sequences, the trippy little bits. One moment sees Dora trapped in a small shed where blood pours from between her legs, quickly filling up the room around her, as she almost drowns in the reddish waves. Amazingly creepy! This was a brief yet nasty scene, effective definitely. There are bunches of wild imagery going on, what with the infrared camera being used as a real technique in McDonald’s vision, but this was one that stuck with me because I thought it was a knockout.
Also, when Dora sees herself eating a little fetus on the end of a fork – just like she’d earlier done with a pickle – and throwing a bit of salt on top, crunching its little head, I was like “WOW”. That is some gnarly stuff. What a ballsy thing to throw into the movie. Are some people really bent on thinking this movie is pro-life? I would say it’s more pro-choice than anything, especially with imagery like that; this isn’t an informercial about the supposed terror of abortion, which is fucking bullshit anyways, THIS IS A HORROR. McDonald knew what he was doing with this nasty image and it’s not throwing himself into the pro-life camp.
I totally understand why some people might not, and do not/will not, dig this film. That’s fine. Me, I think this could be considered a masterpiece of modern horror. When the final 20 minutes arrive, Hellions plays out like one of the most nightmarish things I’ve ever seen; a fever dream of insanity, dark visions, and body horror. Absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star horror film. For me, anyways. I get it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Though I’ve got to say, I can’t get over the visuals, the score, and the terror Bruce McDonald brought forward from Pascal Trottier’s screenplay.
Give this is a chance when you’re able to see it; out now on iTunes, if I’m not mistaken. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Can’t wait until this is out on Blu ray because I’ll be combing through it more and more, over and over. There’s plenty of symbolism and imagery throughout the entirety of the film. Maybe it isn’t as concrete and “normal” as some might have wanted it to be. At the very least you’ve got to give it to McDonald; this is one innovative, weird little horror flick.
Danny Boyle's underrated film THE BEACH explores an isolated community on a secret island, & how it changes people.
Queen of Earth. 2015. Directed & Written by Alex Ross Perry.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, and Kate Lyn Sheil. Washington Square Films.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Opening with such a tightly framed shot of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine, Alex Ross Perry completely submerges us immediately into her world. Not to mention she’s in an absolute state of disarray and her temper is flaring, her makeup smeared and running. There are plenty of tight close-ups on Catherine moving on through the film, but it’s this almost shocking, jarring opener of her face, in our face, vulnerable and weeping, angry, emotional, which sets the tone of the film. Furthermore, I love how Perry has the title card come up in a hot pink colouring, as it sort of gives things an interesting little twist – as if everything’s fine on top, the pink like the makeup, yet underneath things are wrecked. A nice start to an oddly beautiful film.
From there, Queen of Earth descends into a spiral of broken friendship, jealousy, treacherous relationships, and a general atmosphere of dread and madness. For a movie that isn’t horror, it’s awfully scary. A lot of filmgoers seem to see this is as partly a comedy, though, for the life of me I cannot figure that one out. There’s nothing funny to me here. Not even in the darkly comic sense, which is the type of comedy I personally love most. Mostly this is full of terrifying reality, perched upon two vastly different but equally impressive performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Above all else Perry crafted an excellent and classic style thriller out of a mess of emotions and psychological torment.
A big problem I have is that I see so many people online bashing this movie because, supposedly, nothing happens. First of all, it troubles me how many of these same people also admitted they’d pirated it. So right away, I honestly have no regard for that opinion; you stole it, didn’t enjoy it, well fuck off. Honestly, if you can’t shell out a couple bucks to watch a movie online as opposed to going to theatre, which yes is damn expensive these days, well why should I care what your opinion is? It’s the same as if you start to heed the opinions of people who don’t actually pay to go to art galleries but rather they look at Polaroids of the artwork and then critique it. Regardless of what you thought about this film, a lot of people worked on it, just as you work at your job, and then people go ahead and pirate that hard work, giving nothing back, what does that say? It’s sad, whatever it says.
Secondly, I have to say that it’s fine if you don’t dig this type of film – the quiet, slow burning style that’s more focused on dialogue and character than action, whether big or small. Queen of Earth is more like a play, as we’re focused mainly on two characters – a couple others sort of in the wings in smaller supporting roles – and the bulk of the plot takes place in a single claustrophobic type of location. That’s part of what I love, as those who say “nothing happens” are SO WRONG. You really think nothing at all happens? Maybe you didn’t listen to all the fascinating dialogue between Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, or did you miss all the palpable tension going on during scenes with Moss and Patrick Fugit? I don’t know. Might do well with seeing the film again. Because for me, a ton happens in this movie and the plot pops right out of the frame, grips ahold of your neck, and refuses to let go until the very last shot. A movie doesn’t have to have a ton of action – by action, I don’t solely mean car crashes and explosions, I mean action as in big sequences – and I think Alex Ross Perry knows that, more than well. I’ve not actually seen any of his other films, but now I’m determined to go back and watch them. They’re surely not all like this, as there’s a genuine air of old school psychological thriller throughout Queen of Earth, but it’s obvious in this one film alone he knows how to focus in on character, as well as relationships between characters, and how to draw out the tension in normal, everyday type situations; so much of that happens here from beginning to end.
I’ll get to Elisabeth Moss and her performance as Catherine afterwards. I’d like to talk about Virginia to begin; the character wonderfully played by Katherine Waterston. While clearly, painfully obvious that Catherine has some deep issues, it seems to me certain filmgoers are ignoring altogether how damaged Virginia is in her own right. Starting out early on, within the first 15 minutes, there’s a flashback scene between Virginia and Catherine, the latter with her saccharinely sweet boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) around – they talk about codependency, needing the other person in a relationship and what would happen if there was a breakup, et cetera. This is very telling. What we come to see is that not only does Catherine seem to be highly codependent
One way we can see the already glaringly obvious parallel in the situations of Catherine and Virginia is the boyfriends. Though the Kentucker Audley and Patrick Fugit characters are vastly different, the obviousness lies in the women themselves. They’re like a figurative tennis match, each of them batting the ball with equal force, mirroring the charge of the other. For instance, at the beginning we see James (Audley) calling Virginia ‘Ginny’, which she continually says is what close friends call her and advises him not to; not long after, James again calls her Ginny, she once more chastises him for it. A year later, once the situations have been reversed, Rich (Fugit) does the exact same thing to Catherine that James did – he calls her ‘Kay’, over and over despite the fact she tells him not to. What’s most interesting is that it’s not something initiated by either of the women, it’s something springing organically from these people, as if Catherine and Virginia are somehow willing it out of the universe.
Or is it? I also wonder if Virginia provoked Rich into taunting Catherine with the ‘Kay’ nickname in retaliation for how she perceived her friend to have treated her that year before. Because something strikes me as highly childish about Virginia. Each of these women are somewhat spoiled in terms of money – both of them have/had parents you’d most likely classify as rich – and so I think they’ve got their individual tendencies. But what’s telling in terms of why I think Virginia is especially childish is a scene where she and her boyfriend Rich (Fugit) are laughing in their room – when Catherine comes up quietly towards the door, Virginia won’t look at her and Rich goes to the door, without a word, closing it in Catherine’s face. Virginia and Rich giggle behind the door like two children, as Catherine stands for a moment outside, hurt, confused, then walks away. I thought this moment spoke VOLUMES in regards to Virginia particularly.
Because essentially, we’re seeing a back and forth duel between these two, supposedly, best friends who wound one another like a violently psychological and emotionally unstable game of tag. Instead of standing together, they fall harder and harder apart as the scant 90 minute runtime of Queen of Earth rolls on. This relationship is what sets up so much of the incredible tension within. Bottom line it comes down to the fact these two women are more interested in boosting their own egos than helping each other, neither wanting to be the bigger person and instead tearing their friend apart even worse at the seams.
Not only is the perpetually depressed and anxious character of Catherine written well by Perry, the way in which Elisabeth Moss inhabits the character is out of this world. I’m not a fan of Mad Men. However, after I saw Moss in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, I became really impressed with her abilities as an actor. She has this very quiet and subtle presence about her, yet there are scenes where she has the ability to take hold of everything near, hauling the scenes down around her and just scorching the earth; I mean this, if it’s not clear, in a hugely positive way. I’ll say it: my top favourite performance of 2015. There is no doubt about it. Starting at the first frame, closed in tight on her weepy, angry face, I was utterly taken with Moss and her portrayal of Catherine. There’s a feeling going into this film you might be expecting something big, loud, brash, yet she surprises by keeping things low-key. Still, there is always a gripping sense of tone when she’s onscreen, whether she is being emotionally intense or quiet and withdrawn. I do love Waterston in this movie. There’s simply an undeniably awesome quality to Moss and her performance, throughout every last scene; not once did I find myself watching her and wanting more, or feeling there ought to be less, rather I continually felt impressed with everything she did.
The score from Keegan DeWitt lays just beneath the surface, like a thin layer of skin beneath the outer edges. At times the pieces are genuinely unsettling, others it’s like a swell is happening and at any moment things might burst, shattering the world in Queen of Earth to pieces. Most of all, the music fits so well in every scene of the film. For me, it’s DeWitt who adds so much of the uneasiness and terrible feeling inherent in the atmosphere of the film, he gives the screenplay and Perry’s direction a dream-like and also nightmarish quality. It’s amazing, really. Even in one scene as Virginia is out running, faded into a scene of Catherine generally not taking care of herself (eating crackers/chips and drinking pop in the morning), there’s a haunting piece with a flute riff on top of some electronic style sounds which sucks you into a weird state and kind of sticks to your skin a while. Great, great score. I think my favourite bits are the extremely foreboding pieces – you’ll know which ones – full of the horns and low woodwinds, then undercut with these deep and growling electronic rumbles.
Music and cinematography can go together hand in hand as lovers if the work is done correctly. Queen of Earth has that with DeWitt’s compositions pairing together with the camerawork of Sean Price Williams. One thing I love in terms of Williams’ cinematography here is how the close-ups really pull the viewer directly into this world. In particular, there’s a great scene with Catherine and Virginia where they’re recounting past relationships, bad ones, and there’s this great profile-like set of shots of the two talking, listening; reminds me very much of an Ingmar Bergman film at times, honestly. These perfect shots, peppered everywhere throughout the film, make the emotional and psychological weight of the screenplay resonate long and wide. Without such gorgeous looking visuals, I don’t think the film would have near as much depth, so I’m glad the look of the movie fits so well with the screenplay and its themes.
One of the 5 star films of 2015 and one of my favourites. It’s hard to talk about Queen of Earth without giving away the ending, even though some will still bark “nothing happens”. To them I say, go watch something else. Lots happens, it’s just not full of big sequences where a ton of characters are jumping about, each spewing expository dialogue to further the story. Instead, Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is a deeply unnerving and raw snapshot of the nervous breakdown of one woman, as well as the breakdown of a long relationship between two old friends, accompanied by an astounding score composed by Keegan DeWitt and the lush visuals of Sean Price Williams.
If you’re not into slowly paced pieces of film with all its focus centred on character and emotionality, then I suggest to not even bother. Really. Because if not, you’re only going to find yourself bored. However, if you can handle a slower pace for 90 minutes, and you’re able to sit through the brutish reality of two friends falling to pieces, one far worse than the other, then this is for you! It can get tough to watch at times if you let the plot and story sink into you, but the rewards are well worth the effort. This film brought me back to some of Bergman’s work, even one of my favourite movies of all time Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and yet it’s a completely separate and unique masterpiece all on its own.
The ending has stuck with me. Even the entire final half hour is UNBELIEVABLE and at times intensely creepy, as well; that whole party sequence calls back to Polanski in a way which left me jaw dropped for a second or two. The last two shots, switching between an astounded Virginia and a scarily ecstatic, laughing Catherine, they’ve still not washed off me. I watched Queen of Earth, after picking it up through iTunes, twice in the matter of about 12 hours. Each time I was floored beyond belief and those final moments will not find their way out of my head.
Sightseers. 2012. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Screenplay by Alice Lowe & Chris Oram; additional material by Amy Jump.
Starring Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Roger Michael, Tony Way, Seamus O’Neill, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Aymen Hamdouchi, and Tom Meeten. BFI/Big Talk Productions/Film4/Rook Films/StudioCanal.
Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
I’m a hardcore fan of Ben Wheatley. Some say he’s the best thing to happen to British film in a while. I say he’s one of the best directors to come along in a while, period; not just British, but all over. I think there’s something I enjoy about Wheatley because all of his films are, at their core, fairly simple. Not meant in any way negatively. What I enjoy is that he can take those simple, smaller premises and turn them into something big and exciting.
Even in this case a couple’s week-long trip in caravan, under direction of Wheatley, becomes an intriguing and unexpected story. What could easily be something dull – and I’m sure there are detractors who say it is – turns into a tense and weird ride alongside an equally tense, weird two lovers. Not only is there tension happening, Sightseers is one hell of a riotous black comedy.
Until now I had no idea Edgar Wright was an executive producer on this film. Turns out the screenplay by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram had been turned down for years – too dark, they said – and Wright came along to greenlight the project. I think this fits so well with Wright’s own style as a director that it’s no surprise he was willing to get onboard.
With the purposefully awkward and tense atmosphere, dark laughs, added to excellent directorial choices, I really think this is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in the last 5 years. A highly underrated film, at least on this side of the pond. I’m sure the British film fans have been ALL over this already.
Little moments which make this so funny, often in a dark way, make the movie so memorable.
For instance, even right after they’ve cleared everything with the police following Chris running over a stranger by accident, killing him, Chris tells his girlfriend Tina “he’s ruined this trip for me“.
Later while Chris and Tina are having some fun, getting the caravan all setup at the campsite, they all of a sudden notice a bright splash of blood on one of the hubcaps, abruptly interrupting their laughs. It’s in the way Chris responds I get a kick, how casual and unassuming he is about the whole thing. Gets me every time.
Then there are the tensely awkward bits of which I can’t get enough. Like the first encounter Chris and Tina have with another couple out in their caravan. Right from the beginning it is so incredibly painful to watch, but in the right way – these two are socially inept, they’re both on the fringe of life in so many ways. However, as the caravan holiday wears on, Chris and Tina find themselves becoming less and less awkward, while becoming more and more sinister. The comedy coasts along with them, only it gets progressively darker and more unsettling; at the same time, it also gets foolish with great effect.
The whole bit of the film with Martin testing his mini-caravan is ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS! So awkward and weird and way too funny. Even from the first scene, as Chris leaves after talking with him and then Martin gets into the mini-caravan only to roll away down the hill chaotically; I burst laughing at this moment. There are a bunch of these great bits.
Something I love about Wheatley’s films are the way in which they’re edited. The are a couple other editors on this film, including Amy Jump and Robin Hill, aside from Wheatley. Hill and Wheatley have worked together ever since Down Terrace; the trio have edited together on Kill List, this film, and A Field in England. I totally dig how these three edit films. There are countless examples of how well they work.
WARNING! SPOILER AHEAD!
My favourite here, I believe, has to be the scene where Chris sneaks up on the writer he and Tina met; Vanilla Fudge’s excellent cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays, as Chris follows him along the highlands, creeping behind, then smashes him in the head with a rock. The great part is how it’s edited with cuts of both Tina, as well as the writer’s wife. In particular, the wife is interesting – she steps on a piece of broken plate, one Chris tipped over purposely earlier, then hauls it from her bleeding foot. I thought this was just a genius bit of editing, snapping between these quick cuts at times. Not sure what it means, other than Chris sort of hurting them both simultaneously – albeit one worse than the other; the writer husband more actively, the wife inadvertently. But either way, how the editing cuts here I find is extremely effective.
HERE ENDETH THE SPOILER!
For me, the greatest part of Sightseers is the juxtaposition of the comedy and its awkwardness with horrific murder at the hands of both Chris and Tina. Every excellently hilarious segment seems to come along with a heart dose of violence.
The best scene of murder, and in turn makeup effects, comes when Chris murders a man chastising Tina for leaving dog shit at a public historical site. Building up to the violence, there’s this funny moment when Chris and Tina sort of land on the same page; if only for a moment. Then Chris traipses up behind the man, who decides to walk away instead of pursue an argument with this manic couple, and proceeds to bash his skull in with a big, heavy walking stick. When we get slight glimpses of the leftover face, it is HEINOUS! In the best possible horror-ish sense.
But this leads me to another part of Sightseers I found interesting. There’s a strange sort of awakening in this scene, as Chris and Tina become closer. While Tina watches Chris bashing in the man’s head, though she appears to be slightly traumatized, not long after she seems to be totally in on it, willingly; a radio report they hear in the car prompts her, and Chris, to go mad with glee. Then later, Tina herself joins in on the murder without even being coaxed into by Chris (except for the dumb and thoughtless flirting he engages in). They become, tenuously, a murder couple.
So it’s this weirdly violent story undercut with a romantic tale. The ending is the ultimate undercutting of the romance, however, there’s still a love between Chris and Tina. It reminds me of the real life story of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who committed the Moors Murders – as in, if Tina had never gone on that caravan holiday with Chris, she’d probably never have killed a person in her life. Yet Chris and his personality, his actions, draw her into murder. It’s no secret Tina is a bit slow, in many ways, so I’d venture to bet she would probably have lived at home with her mother until the end of time had she not met him.
This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 star film. While at times it might seem there’s nothing going on, plenty happens under the surface and right in front of us. Dark comedy comes as immediately obvious, but underneath it all there’s the story of two damaged people. Chris and Tina are the victims of unfulfilled expectations – most of all, Chris hates himself and everyone around him who are either more competent or more successful than he is. This is where the violence originates from. However, it’s interesting to see how Tina latches onto Chris and sort of supports this vicious, animalistic side to him; for her, being a muse to his violence is equal to or even greater than being the muse to some writer. It’s only once Chris sort of messes it all up by shamelessly flirting that Tina turns against him, using her own violence to then turn the tables. Without ruining the ending, Tina gets a major last laugh that I’d not expected whatsoever, personally.
If you’re a fan of Ben Wheatley, then absolutely see this as soon as possible. Great black comedy, burnt like toast. As well as there’s a real horror aspect at times, between the violence and a trippy little dream sequence. I’m a huge fan of Kill List, as well as the vastly different A Field in England and Down Terrace. Ultimately, though, I’m beginning to think my favourite of his work is Sightseers. The performances from Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, also the screenwriters along with frequent Wheatley collaborator Amy Jump, are so unbelievable and it’s as if they’re being completely natural; so much so you’d almost have a hard time separating the actors from their characters’ personas. This has got a bit of everything, from a road trip-like feel of adventure, to awkward and dark comedy, and even a nice dash of horror for good measure.
What’s not to like?
If you’ve got any SENSIBLE and thoughtful comments about Wheatley’s film, drop one below and let’s chat!
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.
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.
Starting 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.
Something 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.
Being 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!
I 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!
The Innkeepers. 2011. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Sara Paxton, Pat Healy, Kelly McGillis, Alison Bartlett, Jake Ryan, Brenda Cooney, George Riddle, John Speredakos, and Lena Dunham. Glass Eye Pix.
Rated R. 101 minutes.
Every time I’ve got a particular bias going into a review, one that I can recognize, I always like to take a moment to recognize that. Such is the case with myself and Ti West. I love his work, even when others tell me personally they don’t like a movie of his I can’t help but find myself thinking “Why the hell not?”. I just love his movies. Years ago I got the chance to see The Roost, which I thought was a clever genre film and a gnarly creature feature horror movie. After that I had him on my radar, then as soon as I’d seen that out he came with The House of the Devil, and that one floored me; an overall amazing aesthetic, harkening back to the best of the 1980s, this is a slow burn horror with that Satanic Panic edge. After that I secured a copy of Trigger Man and, while much different than his other films, I enjoyed it. Even later, after he did this movie, his segment in the first V/H/S was probably my favourite – “Second Honeymoon” – his “M is for Miscarriage” out of The ABCs of Death was a saucy piece of raw, reality driven horror. Perhaps my favourite of all his work, The Sacrament is an obvious re-telling of the Jonestown Massacre yet using found footage and the VICE News name he makes it into so much more, something visceral and savage.
So, have you got an understanding of how much I’m a fan of Ti West? Maybe that paints my view of The Innkeepers a little too subjectively. Who knows. Either way, I think this is a fun little ghost story in a spooky location. It’s got a good atmosphere, something to which West is no stranger at pulling together. As well as the fact Pat Healy and Sara Paxton give good performances which are effective and at the same time quirky, but not so quirky you want to roll the eyes out of the back of your head. This film has charm, darkness, and even a few good old fashioned horror jump scares.
In the last few days before the Yankee Pedlar Inn closes down forever, two employees – Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) – attempt to find evidence of the ghost of a woman named Madeline O’Malley (Brenda Cooney) who supposedly haunts the halls. They’re amateur ghost hunters; Luke runs a website about Pedlar’s apparent hauntings, Claire just dropped out of college.
As the last few guests arrive for a stay at the Pedlar, Claire in particular gets closer and closer to the spirit of Madeline, whose story is a sad one; how and why she ended up trapped at the hotel in the afterlife. But once Claire gets a little too close, things may change – and definitely for the worse.
One unique little scene/shot I love is when Claire (Paxton) is using the recording equipment. The first moment is so cool, as the camera tracks along as if on a soundwave, moving slowly around almost wandering. The music and everything make this a creepy little bit, even with nothing creepy happening. I think this is the first scene where Ti West begins to set up a definitive atmosphere and tone for the scarier bits of the film.
The music gives way to more of a silence, a dim hum, some static, while watching Claire listening in another room than the one previous. This also leads into Claire discovering a presence in the big dining room, a piano playing softly amongst the hum of the static in her headphones. Nice little scene following her as she finds the piano itself around the lobby and watches it play by itself. Or rather it bangs the keys by itself. Spooky and an effective jump scare.
Really dig the score for The Innkeepers. Sure enough, when I looked up the composer it was Jeff Grace. For those who may not know, Grace has worked on some incredible stuff. Most recently he’s composed scores for Jim Mickle’s Cold in July and We Are What We Are, Night Moves, Mickle’s Stake Land, Meek’s Cutoff. Then he’s done other probably lesser known films – though they ought to be more recognized – such as Bitter Feast, The House of the Devil, The Last Winter, Joshua, and another of Ti West’s again The Roost.
Part of any great horror, in my opinion, is a solid score to help with the atmosphere. Grace’s excellent music feels very haunted house worthy. This is, essentially, a haunted house horror movie. Instead of a house, we’re getting the Yankee Pedlar Inn, which is just as creepy in the end. Grace does a good job with ambient noise, strings, and some electronic sounds in aiding the direction of West to supply a nice feeling from start to finish. At times it grabs us, gripping hold and not letting go, other times it lulls us into a spooky mood or a false sense of security before a nice scare; proper horror score.
Aside from the lead characters played by Healy and Paxton, I couldn’t get enough of the fact West included Kelly McGillis in the cast. What a wonderful surprise. Most known for her work in the ’80s like Witness, Top Gun, and The Accused, in the past few years she’s been a part of the indie horror revival. Particularly, after being cast in Stake Land by Jim Mickle, McGillis put in a performance here, as well as in the remake of We Are What We Are again from Mickle. So I love that she’s been a part of these films. She adds a great air of authenticity, I’m not sure what it is, but there’s an elegant quality to her; no matter the character. One of those classy older women with a lot of grace, at the same time there’s something sassy and fun about her, too. Here her turn as an actress turned psychic is a good show, wonderful addition and she works great opposite Paxton.
Which leads me to Pat Healy and Sara Paxton. They’ve got real good chemistry in their scenes, reminding me of employee-employee relationships I’ve had at jobs in the past. What I love is that they aren’t two characters of the same age, like two young people. Having the character of Luke (Healy) as a bit of an older guy compared to Claire (Paxton) made for a more interesting relationship between the two, in opposition to so many horror movies featuring all young, teenage-ish characters with the same attitudes, same inflections in their voice, same problems and lives. Not saying it’s some revolutionary tactic, but I do think it was a smart writing move on the part of West, who could’ve easily strayed into complete typicalness. Rather, here he gives us two fun, weird characters who’ve got an equally fun, weird relationship.
Paxton is my favourite, though. Because so often horror movies have characters that do not feel real. Claire, on the other hand, feels real to me, she’s a new college dropout, she works at an old school hotel that’s shutting down after one last weekend. There’s a sort of angst built up inside Claire that I understand; a lot of people could understand her. Yet she isn’t some snotty young girl or anything, merely she gives me that sense of being a woman who is straddling the edge of being young – a woman, maybe not totally prepared to become one.
Most likely the greatest part of The Innkeepers is how Ti West shot it on film. I mean, I don’t have anything against digital, not in the slightest. That being said, there’s something to be said for movies still shot on film. There’s a depth to it, perhaps that’s the best way I can describe it – a fullness – that isn’t always present when shooting on digital. I don’t know, I could be talking out my ass. My love for the look of film has to do with a richness, a broader spectrum of what it can capture. This provides West the opportunity here to frame so many wonderful shots and catch every last bit of it in lush, dark detail. Makes a haunted house horror movie creepier. Honestly, I think that’s part of why so many found footage horrors ultimately fall flat is because on digital the exposure issues end up blocking out so much of a frame that, at times, this renders much of what’s in the frame not as creepy as it might have been had the movie been shot with film. With this movie, it helps West insisted on using film because there are a lot of wonderfully constructed shots here which pull their style from out of every corner of the frame.
I think some of the complaints about The Innkeepers seem to revolve around the fact there’s not a HUGE amount of ghost activity or full-on horror. However, I’d say to those detractors that it isn’t mean to be that sort of film. If you want that type of haunted house horror, stick with even something more like Insidious – West works more here at mood and tone than anything else, and I think that’s totally fine. There are most CERTAINLY a few classic horror movie scares, both of the jumpy variety and real tense, suspenseful moments. They don’t come in spades, it’s a slow burn film. Regardless, to me the all-out scary stuff here pays off because West does a good job slowly cultivating a spooky atmosphere.
With a slow and deliberate style – aided by great editing – a creepy backstory that isn’t served up for us like a prequel within the movie itself but rather alluded to appropriately, and good writing/directing, Ti West’s The Innkeepers is a pretty solid haunted house horror. 4.5 out of 5 stars on this one, all the way. Again, as I started out in this review, I could be biased towards West and his films because I’m such a hardcore fan of his. I don’t think so, though, because there’s just something special about his filmmaking to me. He has old school sensibilities while also bringing a modern, fresh edge to his subjects at the same time.
If you haven’t yet seen anything by West, I suggest starting with The Roost if you can find a DVD copy; worth it. Afterwards, move on to this, The House of the Devil, The Sacrament, and see if there’s anything about him you’ll agree with me on. I know others who feel he’s decent but nothing special. Me? I think he’s one of the new hopes for horror cinema and genre filmmaking, right alongside Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die).
Martyrs. 2008. Directed & Written by Pascal Laugier.
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin, Robert Toupin, Patricia Tulasne, Juliette Gosselin, Xavier Dolan, Louise Boisvert, and Jean-Marie Moncelet. Canal+.
Rated R. 99 minutes.
Martyrs is most definitely a bloody, gory, savage film from beginning to end. Of course those bits alternate, as well as the fact Pascal Laugier builds up tension very nicely at so many points. But there’s no doubt about the savagery contained within this horror movie.
There have been many gory movies in the history of horror film. From Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast and Wizard of Gore, among others, to stuff like Saw, then classic horror such as many of Fulci’s films and Dead Alive from Peter Jackson. So there are many ways in which gore can play a part in a horror movie. It can either be so-called “torture porn” (those who’ve read my reviews before know my stance on this dumb label; I only use it for ease), or it can serve a purpose of some sort. What I’m saying is that gore need not be useless, just some element thrown in to make a horror more scary, more effective. It can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end in and of itself.
To me, Martyrs is one of those films with all the blood and gore to satisfy even the most desensitized horror hounds, but even further it has heart, character, and a ton of interesting, complex story to boot. Laugier has a masterpiece of horror here and I think that the writing helps to elevate this from simply another gore picture, to a profound horror which leaves its visceral, bloody mark on the viewer long after the credits stop rolling.
The movie starts with a quick scene of a young Lucie running in a tanktop and underwear down the street, screaming for help. She’s brought to an orphanage where she comes to bond with a girl named Anna.
Years later, grown up Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) goes back to the little house from which she’d escaped years earlier, running away bloodied and in a frenzy, then kills the mother, father, and the kids inside. Calling Anna (Morjana Alaoui), the two women then begin to try and pick up the pieces. Only Lucie seems to be having trouble with something inside the house. After the unthinkable happens, Anna is left to try and figure out how to proceed from then on. Only, the house hides more secrets, things Anna couldn’t possibly anticipate. As she goes down into the basement, discovering what amounts to a whole complex underneath its foundation, things are revealed which will shake her world and her beliefs forever.
Watching this again for the dozenth time or so now, I forgot how awesome the music was during the moments with the ‘thing’, as it first encounters Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï). It has this almost heavy metal, ominous, pounding rhythm. Very intense. Then the rest of the film there’s also more nicely composed score. Alex & Willie Cortés do the music in this film. They also did music for an interesting independent film called Eden Log, also worth checking out. This was the first time I’d noticed any of their work, and other than the aforementioned film I haven’t seen anything else with which they’ve been involved. Doesn’t matter; their work here speaks for itself. I thought it worked well with so many of the tense scenes. A good bit of music helps to increase the mood, which Laugier helps set through dreary atmosphere and even a bit of the unexpected in there, too.
For the first half an hour when I saw Martyrs initially, I had no real clue what was going on. While I knew roughly that something obviously happened between Lucie and the family she slaughters, when the ‘thing’, the terrifying and hideous woman first showed up I couldn’t figure out what the hell was beginning to come out.
We get bits and pieces, slowly, then finally the plot starts to filter out. This is ultimately the greatest part about the film. Laugier puts the gore together with an innovative, refreshing story, and this makes the entire gorefest so much more worth it for the thoughtfulness on Laugier’s part.
And in the meantime, the gore and the effects are incredible! The first woman, the ‘thing’, looks out of this world. As if her outer layer of skin had literally been peeled off. I mean, kudos for that. Then comes the woman whom Anna later finds in the basement; when she’s trying to take the metal blinder thing off the woman’s skull, it actually made me cringe once or twice. I’ve seen a ton and that still got to me. Gnarly!
Perfect work in terms of special makeup effects. I have to mention Benoît Lestang – other work includes: The City of Lost Children, Brotherhood of the Wolf, and Amen. Then there’s also Adrien Morot whose credits range from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s upcoming film The Revenant, to Noah, X-Men: Days of Future Past, to smaller work on indies like Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Canadian television series Durham County starring Hugh Dillon. In Martyrs, these two artists come together to make some truly effective, disturbing, and nasty work. Wonderfully macabre business!
I don’t think there’s any possible way two actresses other than Morjana Alaoui and Mylène Jampanoï who could’ve done a better job with these two characters. There’s a true, evident connection between the two women. Even though there’s not a particularly massive amount of character development, nor do we get to know either of the women overly well, the deepened relationship between Anna and Lucie is clear, as they’re both there for one another. Particularly the fact Anna obviously loves Lucie, maybe more than just a friend. Yet either way, she did so much for Lucie, to try and help her get past whatever it was that happened to her as a young girl in that awful house. So with a small amount of time, Laugier is able to setup a perfectly believable and emotional relationship between the two women while not having to focus too directly on any expository dialogue, or even flashbacks of any sort.
This leads to another aspect I loved – the backstory for what is going on in the house. There’s so much more going on than I’d ever imagined from the start of the story. Once things kick in, as Anna is left behind following Lucie’s tragic death, they really take hold of the jugular.
After a while, the story comes out that these people were a part of some larger, obviously heavily funded, operation in which people were essentially being groomed into martyrdom. This is martyr in the sense of being “witness”, or bearing witness; in this film, it is bearing witness to what lies beyond death in the afterlife. Like a sick type of experiment – well, not like, that’s exactly what it is: an experiment. They take humans – especially girls apparently because they’re even more resistant to the pain overall; tougher and built for martyrdom – then they subject the human body to everything, to and beyond the limits of what a person can handle. I think I found all the pictures of the previous martyrs especially chilling! First, we see them almost meaninglessly as Anna walks through the newly discovered, sterile-like environment in the basement. Then later on, it’s all explained, and the gorefest which preceded everything begins to truly mean something.
Now, whether or not you think that something is a load of crap or not, that’s another story. I thought it was twisted and depraved and perfectly suitable. In a way, it subverts our expectations of horror films that get labelled stupidly as “torture porn”. We expect this is all just sick pleasures and people getting off by torturing others. Yet the deeper Anna takes us into the house and its catacombs beneath, the chambers and labs and rooms below, there seems to be more and more to this supposed torture. I thought the script was an excellently refreshing horror on Laugier’s part and it’s nice to see something with all the earmarks of a typical gory horror, which ends up being more than a sum of bleeding and dripping parts.
There are a bunch of ways you can look at the film, if you want to dig deep into as a metaphor or analogy of some sort. Whatever way you cut it, I think there’s a lot to offer in the story of Martyrs. You can look at it as ultimately the story of what lengths some people, under the guise of “faith” will go to figure out if there is anything beyond the pale of death. You can also look at this as how society, many groups in particular, heap all the weight and harshness of the world onto women; as the villainous lady in the film says herself, women are better at taking the pain, they have a higher threshold and tolerance for it, therefore they make the perfect candidates for this imposed and supposed martyrdom. We’re able to digest Laugier’s work in any number of ways, but regardless it’s stellar. I think you can take from it what you will – at face value, or something with a little more value under the skin.
This a masterpiece of horror, as I’ve said before. Absolutely 5 stars. Pascal Laugier has an incredibly twisted eye for horror and I think he brought all this forward in Martyrs. Truly great horror movie. It has everything from an interesting backstory, well-written characters, great performances, and on top of all that there is a near non-stop gore machine pumping out the wonderfully macabre and nasty makeup effects.
If you’re a horror fan, you need to see this honestly. I think if you take the time to let the plot sink in, take the ride for the first 20 minutes to half an hour, this will really get under your skin. Plus, if you watch it on Blu ray the sound and visual quality is extraordinary. Couldn’t get enough.
There’s a good deal of interesting work here that doesn’t often come along in horror anymore. One of the best modern horrors I’ve seen. Period.
Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.
Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.
Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.
The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
It’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.
When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.
There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
In the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.
I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.
Leslie Jones and I had beef. Now it's squashed.
UPDATE: I received a wonderful message via Twitter from Leslie Jones. After you’ve read this post, please go see the follow-up.
I’d like to take a time out from my regular format. Usually it’s film, film, film reviews.
But something happened this evening on Twitter, it really pissed me off. To no end. Now, I gave up social media until the middle of last year, I’d given it up almost 2 years. Reason being because I’m an emotional, invested man. Though I am sensible, I tend to let things just hound me until they run me ragged. Often it’s mainly for a good cause – these things latch onto me mostly due to people being ignorant, the hateful things you can see over the internet and how nobody seems to want to just be friends, be friendly, to talk and discuss and even debate things in a sensible and friendly manner.
Today, however, something different went down.
I consider myself a happy supporter of equal rights. I’ve always been that way because my parents raised me to be respectful of others, the differences between us, and all that. So naturally, when the new Ghostbusters film directed by Paul Feig was announced, and the cast happened to be all female, I thought it was great. Not to mention the fact Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, and Kristen Wiig were then announced as the actual Ghostbusters themselves. I love all these ladies, especially McKinnon and Wiig. Recently I caught Leslie Jones’ stand-up show on Netflix, Problem Child, and it was downright fucking hilarious; she has tons of charisma, she’s funny, and has a lot of presence onstage. Then I went back to watch some SNL bits I missed, or didn’t pay enough attention to originally, and realized not only was Leslie Jones great at stand-up, she is even better with improv and live comedy.
Then came all the backlash. Continually, all you see now are fanboys whining and crying about their latest franchises being ruined. Worst part is half of the time they’re not even waiting for a trailer, barely even pictures from the set, yet still they trash it and try to blast their biased opinions all over the internet. And sure, we all have the right to an opinion, just some opinions aren’t worth shit when it comes down to the bottom line.
With the new Ghostbusters, it’s a little different. When I said fanboys are ruining things on the internet before films are even out with a trailer, film critic Scott Weinberg made the intelligent point of noting these aren’t fanboys – these people don’t like women.
And he’s right.
He made another point on his Twitter feed around the same time, or afterwards, and basically said if you don’t know anything about a film other than a cast is female and you still hate it then there may be important questions you need to ask yourself. Or rather, they probably know.
Some men just don’t want to accept the fact they’re misogynists, or they know and they don’t care what anyone else thinks of that.
Make no mistake – the people out ragging on this movie, making extremely bold and idiotic statements such as the preemptive “this movie will bomb trust me” and other foolishness, these people are misogynistic and they are the same types of people who fall in with Disney douchebag Michael Eisner with his assertion that there aren’t many funny, good-looking women.
It just doesn’t matter – if you’re talking about being funny, or acting, or whatever – if someone is a woman or not.
If you can’t relate to films or enjoy them just because the characters in them are female, then you have problems. Yes, that’s right, you’ve got problems, and you need to reevaluate your way of thinking because that’s total madness.
However, I digress. To the point.
I was on Twitter earlier today, and I was reading all the hatefulness users were tweeting out to/about the cast of the new Ghostbusters movie. I nearly boiled over with anger, most of it was absolute stupidity. That didn’t surprise, but as I said – I’m a little emotional, even if it’s only Twitter.
So I decided to tweet out a little support. Only a pebble in the digital sea, but whatever. I’ve had contact with people like Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead (directors of the fantastic horror-romance Spring), and even director William Friedkin who graciously followed my account/retweeted a retrospective review I did on his movie The Hunted. So I figured, why not? Even if no one involved with the movie sees it, who cares? I just wanted to put my positive two cents in and be a supporter. I couldn’t wait to see these ladies in action as the Ghostbusters team! Plus, Paul Feig created Freaks and Geeks, so I’m always up to see what he’s doing.
To my surprise, Leslie Jones saw what I’d tweeted. In fact, she saw it, and hated it, and proceeded to insult me (insinuating I do nothing except probably flip burgers), then block me on Twitter.
What did I say? Well, why don’t you have a read, along with Leslie’s “appropriate” response.
Notice, if you actually take the time to read unlike Ms. Jones, that I was supportive. What I essentially said (if you can’t read it for some unknown reason – just like Ms. Jones) is that I think they’re hilarious, all four of them – and notice I didn’t even say funny women? I said funny people. Because I don’t care if you’re a woman, I don’t care if you’re a man, or transgendered, I don’t care if you’re old, or young – if you’re funny, you are a funny person.
So, I got other tweets back saying “give her a break – she’s seeing a lot of negative things lately”, and I understand that. Totally, I get she and the other ladies cast in Ghostbusters are seeing a wave of negativity from the internet. However, there are plenty of positive people.
And furthermore, is really that confusing what I said? If I said, “Kristen Wii is not funny. Melissa McCarthy is not funny. Neither are Leslie Jones or Kate McKinnon. Whatever the fuck ever” then I could understand her thinking I was being negative; it would be obvious. But it’s painfully clear what I was saying is in no way bashing them. Yet Ms. Jones proceeds to not just block me – her “Order up” implies that I’m just doing nothing except working at a fast food joint or something (because I guess they aren’t real jobs? Hmmm maybe tell that to the people who serve you next time you’re out for a burger…). Regardless, I’m at the tail end of my B.A.H, currently getting ready to write an Honours Thesis essay in the winter, as well as writing a novel, and also editing the novel of a well-known Canadian author Earl Pilgrim. So, yeah, Leslie Jones – I’m not doing ANYTHING worthwhile over here.
In the end, I just want to thank Ms. Jones.
Thanks for making me not want to watch Ghostbusters. Not because its cast is all female – I don’t want to see it now because you were rude, as well as ignorant, you were presumptuous about my life and who I am because you thought I was being negative when I was trying to dispel the idea you aren’t funny by saying YOU ARE INDEED HILARIOUS, and you jumped the gun, treating me like some asshole who is hateful. I don’t get on the internet and spew hatred. Despite all the reviews I do and the time I spend online, I have a life – a great one. I’m a film lover/reviewer, a writer, an editor, and I’m also a proud man who doesn’t take shit from people when I don’t deserve it.
So I’m not trying to shame anybody here, but I’m pissed off.
I know it’s not like Leslie Jones will see this, nor do I really intend her to either. But I had to get this off my chest.
There’s tons of negativity on the internet, but why don’t we all take the time to read? Don’t get hot under the collar without reading something carefully, make sure you know what it’s saying and what you’re meant to get out of it – don’t jump all over people immediately without understanding what it is they are saying to you.
Because Leslie Jones lost a fan today, and I couldn’t be bothered to ever watch anything she’s in again. Too bad – super funny, lots of talent. Hopefully she won’t drive too many people away like this, I’m sure she won’t. In the long run I make no difference as an individual. I just think it’s sad and disappointing to see someone whose talent you admire act like a complete knobhead.
Not to mention, I was trying to support the idea of the female version of this film. I could care less about their being female, but if people are trying to act like that’s the only reason this movie will do bad then this movie needs support from all the fans out there! I don’t expect a medal, but I don’t expect to be treated like some idiot who is out trolling on the internet about a female remake of an older movie. I don’t expect to be insulted by anybody for not “doing anything with my life” when that person doesn’t even know me, and I wasn’t even trying to bash on anybody. I mean – do I need to keep repeating that part?
Ghostbusters will, no doubt, make a great profit. Even if people don’t think it now, it will, and most of the naysayers will still go to the theatres just to see it – regardless if they like it – and contribute to its success.
But, even if I am just one dude, they’ll have to make their money without me. I don’t care if it gets the best reviews and it breaks box-office records, or any of that, because one actor’s nonsense can really sour things. I couldn’t care any less now who hates this and who doesn’t – fuck the Ghostbusters.