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The Woodsman. 2004. Directed by Nicole Kassell. Screenplay by Kassell & Steven Fechter; based on the play by Fechter.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Eve, Mos Def, David Alan Grier, Michael Shannon, & Benjamin Bratt. Dash Films/Lee Daniels Entertainment.
Rated 14A. 87 minutes.
Films concerning the themes of child abuse and paedophilia can either sensationalize things too much, be far too graphic, or they can simply miss the mark on saying anything worthwhile on the subject. Recently, a Danish film called For My Brother went hard at the topic, and while it was a solid film there were times it cut to the bone, hard. There’s also Asia Argento’s feature film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, which wades into crazy territory, and perhaps touches a little too close to home at times for some to be completely comfortable watching.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is The Woodsman. On the outside what may appear as a star-laden cast, headed by the real life couple and wonderful actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, is actually on the inside a difficult and compelling work of cinema which attempts to cut through the stigma and the rhetoric concerning sex offenders, hoping to offer not a solution but a view into the world of one of these men.
And let’s get it straight – director Nicole Kassell, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Steven Fechter whose play serves as the basis for the film, is not attempting in any way to glorify sex crimes or child abuse, nor is it working towards painting paedophiles in a sympathetic light. However, the story tries to give us a view into the world of a truly repentant man, albeit one that is confused and still unsure of what his life means, what is his true purpose, how he’s finally able to break through the barrier and become a normal person; if that is even possible. No answers are given here, though questions are asked. In the end, the main question Kassell and Fechter bring up is about the nature of redemption, if that’s attainable for men like Walter (Bacon), as well as whether society – despite its laws and guise if wanting to rehabilitate criminals – really allows these people a second chance. The answers, as I mentioned, do not come in any concrete form, and we shouldn’t expect them to either. Most of all, The Woodsman points out there are flaws in the way we do things, as a society, as concerned citizens, as personal critics, co-workers, cops, bosses, every role in between. Although, never do Kassell and Fechter let the reality of these crimes escape us, even in the film’s most empathetic/sympathetic moments. For all these things, this is an honest and raw story.
The strength of this film is built on Bacon’s performance. This is the role which carries all of the thematic weight. Not an easy performance to undertake. Many actors would probably have an aversion to these types of characters. Again, the writing and the execution in unison do not try to humanize paedophiles. On the contrary, Walter is presented as someone with troubling issues stemming out of childhood, a man that may not necessarily be a true child molester but one whose early sexual experiences shaped his adult sexuality in a damaging way. He is not some career paedophile, yet still, he is guilty. He is culpable in full for his crime, and never does the character evade responsibility. In fact, Bacon brings out the self-hatred of Walter. The disgust he feels for himself and his thoughts is always prevalent, coming out at times to cause him difficulty. Better still, Bacon is able to present Walter with compassion that doesn’t fall into trying to make him likeable – simply, we watch his struggle, and we see how his past informs every last moment of his present. Without an actor like Bacon this character could easily feel as if it were pandering. Instead, his depth gives Walter life and in a tough movie, filled to the brim with tough ideas and characters and dialogue and themes, this sort of performance is ultra important to its success.
Around Walter are some other interesting characters, not the least of which is Vicki (Sedgwick). Her character is just as compelling as Walter. Her own personal history with abuse plays into part of him and his experiences. In part, Vicki represents a way forward for him. Walter starts to see some of the effects, later in life, on those people that experienced sexual abuse first hand, and in a sense this offers perspective. Also, Vicki is another sense of redemption, in that he finds a normal relationship (both emotionally and sexually) with her and sees some way out of the rut in which he sits. She is a sense of possibility.
On the other side is Sgt. Lucas (Mos Def). He embodies the often hypocritical aspect of law enforcement, which at once essentially says there’s a possibility of rehabilitation (the fact we sentence people then let them free after a certain point suggests we believe this is possible as a society), and in opposition automatically (and perpetually) condemns offenders. Police are meant to remain objective, which is part of how they’re meant to emotionally stand back from the crimes and serve justice, whatever that means from case to case. Lucas does nothing except believe he’s waiting for Walter to reoffend, to sexually abuse a young girl and go back to prison, right where he sees him as belonging. Lucas is an interesting character and Mos Def does solid work with his performance, both calling to mind our own prejudices and thoughts as concerned citizens, as well as pointing out how the law is not always impartial and justice sometimes has too big of an eyeball instead of remaining blind.
Furthermore, the side plot of Candy (Kevin Rice) is perhaps the most poignant aspect of the screenplay. While the other characters surrounding Walter allow us a window into how sex offenders rehabilitate amongst the community, family, how they manage (if they ever do) to connect with people, Candy is a perspective on self-hatred and how Walter abhors himself, his actions, his crimes. SPOILER AHEAD: for instance, when Walter tracks down Candy and beats him, for a split second you can see him punching his own face in place of Candy, showing the hate he has for himself inside. This doesn’t excuse Walter of ANYTHING. Not at all, he gets no free ride for his crimes. What it does is illustrate, in conjunction with his meeting the little girl in her red coat, how someone like Walter may actually feel remorse, despite their urges, and that SOME offenders like him genuinely want to change.
There are many tough things to swallow in The Woodsman, most significantly its overall premise. However, with the subtle performance of Bacon in the lead role and the writing of Kassell and Fechter, this film reaches its destination. It will never reach everybody, though those it does reach will be affected, in many ways. You will not be compelled to feel sorry for paedophiles. This is not the aim of this movie. Though, you will start to feel as if there are other perspectives, other views on the subject, and Bacon may even make you feel sorry for this particular character. Certainly not going to appeal to everyone, maybe a small minority of viewers with open enough minds to watch something out of their wheelhouse. The main thing I can promise is that this is not an explicit or graphic film. It is respectful, subdued. The Woodsman takes on its nearly impossible plots and main story with a grace that is not often seen with these types of movies. For that alone it deserves to be seen, and as far as I’m concerned, I’ll say this to my dying days, Bacon was robbed of a nomination at the Oscars (and all other awards) for his multi-faceted performance as Walter.
For Min Brors Skyld (English title: For My Brother). 2014. Directed & Written by Brian Bang.
Starring Elias Munk, Christopher Friis Jensen, Allan Karlsen, Frank Schiellerup, Oliver Bjørnholdt Spottag, Tina Nørby, Frederik Ingemann Brandt, Lara León, Marie Louise Lund Jensen, Kit Langberg Rasmussen, William Gaarde, Robin Koch, Oliver Skou, Dorte Evalyn Evon, & Tobias Hyttel. Bang Entertainment.
Not Rated. 117 minutes.
Before getting into this review, I have to state the following.
TRIGGER WARNING: this movie contains several graphic scenes of sexual abuse and rape, as well as implicit and explicitly implied situations of incest, et cetera. PLEASE, if you have an aversion to any of this, turn back. And certainly don’t watch the film.
First time writer-director Brian Bang (also serving as cinematographer, producer, locations scout, editor, casting director) has come on strong with his feature For Min Brors Skyld, which I’ll refer to from here on in by its English title, For My Brother.
This is an excruciating look at the life two young brothers live saddled only with their father, their mother having died seven years before. Their father is an abusive man, both physically and sexually, and he also allows a friend of his to molest his oldest son in return for money. The oldest boy takes care of the youngest, sheltering him from the life he’s been forced into by his father. Right from the start we’re aware of the abuse. Unlike an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or some typical drama tackling the subject, we’re never kept in the dark. And that’s part of why Bang’s feature is so brutally effective, even though it occasionally steps in too deep for its own good.
With a movie like this there’s often a headlong dive into sensationalism, as people become aware of the abuse and either revenge or justice starts to work its magic. However, Bang keeps us rooted in the experience of the boys, and this is what sets it apart from similar projects. Yes, it is often hard to watch, especially when the graphic qualities jump out at you during various scenes. Despite that, our immersion in the perspective of the older brother Aske (Elias Munk) particularly is how Bang manages to keep us interested and still watching after the plot turns nastier than nasty. There are a couple moments I’m not sure of, in the sense of morality and also writing. On the whole, For My Brother is a psychologically harrowing piece of cinema, and also with its reality takes upon itself the role of showing viewers just how hopeless, never ending, horrific the sexual abuse of children really is, never pulling any punches and never once keeping the gloves on.
This sort of stuff always hits close to home for me. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting through any sexual assault scenes, in any film. Funny enough, Irréversible is an amazing movie, as is the original Wes Craven The Last House on the Left. Yet I still have to fast forward through the former’s infamous scene, and take no pleasure in the latter’s either. However, when these types of scenes or themes involve children, that’s tough to take. Any person in their right mind would feel that way, especially if they’ve been close to abuse or have been abused themselves. Ultimately, I feel what Bang does here with his story is not exploitative. We do in fact see a few graphic moments, one sees a bunch of men holding Aske down as he’s blindfolded, taking turns raping him. In fact if you can make through the initial scene, you’re not likely to turn away. Bang opens with an event that’s traumatizing. There’s nothing aggressive happening, other than emotionally aggressive, yet the impact is lasting. You’ll be revolted so quick, so hard and fast that moving forward will certainly be questionable for many. Worse than that his mother dies after being hit by a car. Not only is it sad anyway, but she is the one lifeline that Aske had, now that’s gone. So you almost feel like you’re on the verge of Dante’s Inferno, rimming a Circle of Hell, as the mother dies and unwillingly must leave her son in the hands of his paedophile father. Horrifying to begin a film. If you hang after the first 15 minutes, the rest (mostly) isn’t as bad.
For My Brother expresses the inescapable feeling abused children feel, that they continue to feel. Often people wonder how someone, once they’re older, can go on letting things happen, or at the very least go on without telling of what’s already happened before. It’s because of the cycle, the systemic degradation and humiliation of a young person by the abuse. Here, it’s twofold, as Aske’s father Lasse (Allan Karlsen) has pimped him out to others since the boy was young, also taking his turn, too. So after years and years, especially as a male being raped by his own father, the desire to stay silent is stronger. Like any other behaviour, the sex in all forms is completely routine. In opposition, sex is also warped. Much as Aske wants to be with a girl he can’t seem to get the job done, at least not right away. A young girl flips on him for not immediately getting an erection, so worse now is the shame. At this point in the film, Aske tells his close friend in a rage. Not all victims will even tell anybody. Many only find their greatest shame discovered after people find out somehow, and if it’s an ongoing thing it could go on forever. That’s the unfortunate point Bang gets across as a writer.
Without spoiling the end, this movie is grim through and through. There are only slight glimmers of hope. These come when the brothers are together. This is why the film has its title. Aske not only tries to protect his brother (as in “I take the abuse for my brother”), he likewise keeps living because his brother is the sole bright spot in his life (as in “I only live but for my brother”). Moreover, the actor that plays Aske – Elias Munk – does a fantastic job. It’s hard to play a role like this, as it can easily descend into melodrama. Coupled with the ultra realistic style of Bang’s direction, Munk makes the character feel real. He is complex. He is tortured, but also has a light and foolish side that comes out with his brother. Seeing him deal with the brutal life his father forces upon him is emotional, you’ll probably find a tear or two ready to form, if they don’t full on fall. Similar to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance in Mysterious Skin, Munk plays this edgy, tough role with grace and power. I’ll definitely be seeking out other films he’s in to watch him again.
I have to mention Frank Schiellerup playing the hideous pervert Hans. Basically, he’s the villain of the movie. Alongside the father, of course. From the beginning he is a terrifying presence in Aske’s life. Once the boy’s mother dies you can almost feel the guy ready to crawl all over him like a serpent on its prey. There is something eerie about him and so I have to give credit to Schiellerup. He makes Hans into a proper monster.
This is not a movie I’ll recommend. If you’re brave enough, go ahead. It undeniably does have a message. Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s gratuitous for the sake of being harsh. For all its nastiness, it could easily have been nastier. Absolutely. There is a slight, if barely visible hint of restraint. Either way, For My Brother does not sugar coat any of its subject matter. It also doesn’t offer any hope. Not saying this is a requirement. Not all stories are the same. Though it’s notably admirable for a film to try spearheading a raw, honest depiction of child abuse. While there are plenty elements which could’ve been executed better (the score mainly did nothing except detract from the realistic style), Brian Bang does pretty good for his first feature, and again, commendable to take on such a controversial, difficult topic as he does. Here’s to more hard looks at the tough corners in life. Bang will hopefully do something else gritty next time, looking into a different pocket of our fucked up world.
Hard Candy. 2005. Directed by David Slade. Screenplay by Brian Nelson.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh, Odessa Rae, and G.J. Echternkamp. Vulcan Productions.
Rated R. 104 minutes.
Even while I don’t think 30 Days of Night is as great as some believe, there’s still good horror and blood in there. Always fun. That’s not even David Slade’s best work. The stuff he did on Hannibal (particularly these three specific episodes: “Savoureux“, “Ko No Mono“, & “Mizumono“) is masterful in so many ways, the best work he’s done.
As far as his films go, Hard Candy, his debut feature, is most certainly the best. It’s an engaging and definitely disturbing film. The subject matter is extremely edgy and a difficult one for many people to indulge, but I think with Slade’s direction and the screenplay from Brian Nelson the whole thing is handled in an incredible way. This could’ve easily strayed into an actual full on horror with certain directors and writers. Instead this is a tense, raw, thriller held up by two absolutely wonderful performances from Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson.
Hardy Candy begins with an online conversation, obviously between an older man and a younger girl. It’s flirtatious and slightly sexy, clearly very wrong. Afterwards, we watch as the fourteen-year old teenage girl named Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) meets with photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) at a coffee shop. They have casual conversation, though, immediately Jeff initiates physical contact: he wipes chocolate from her lip, licking it off his own fingers.
They go back to his place, where screwdrivers are had; Hayley makes them. She asks if he’ll take her picture, after conversation about his past with young models, but as he begins to shoot some film he becomes dizzy, passing out on the floor.
Once Jeff wakes up, he discovers himself bound to a chair and being interrogated by Hayley. What begins as a simple talk about his possible paedophilia, the fact he might have raped and murdered a young girl, soon boils down to something more vicious.
During a struggle Jeff is knocked out when Hayley chokes him out with plastic wrap across his face. Again he wakes up, bound, yet this time it’s to a table. And he’s got a bag of ice against his balls. Then Hayley explains she’s about to castrate him.
Surprisingly, and unfortunately for him, Jeff’s day and night of horror has only really just begun.
I’m always going online to see what people are saying about a film, whether I like it or not. When I review, I take into account the ideas of others. What I found interesting, mostly funny, is how so many MALE viewers are totally offended by this film. Especially how they’re threatened by the character of Hayley. I mean, there are men who stick up for the character of Jeff. Really? He full-on admits to at least being there while Donna Mauer – the girl we’re meant to suspect him of killing according to Hayley. It’s actually insane how many people – all men – I’ve seen defending him, saying he didn’t deserve what she’d done. She never ACTUALLY cut his balls off, she only psychologically tortured him. She never forced him to walk off that roof in the end, she merely presented him with all the possibilities.
So anyone who tries to say Hayley had no proof? I’m not sure if we watched the same film. Not saying vigilantism is the proper way to conduct our lives. We do need law and order at times. However, it’s hard not say “Fuck Jeff” because he’s, by all accounts, a paedophile and he may as well have been the killer. Standing there and watching anyone get killed is a shame. Not to mention the fact he clearly raped her or assaulted her in some sense. He admits to everything, and Hayley reveals to Jeff she already knows who the other half of the duo was concerning Donna’s death. So how can anybody defend this man? It boggles my mind.
Yes, for a certain amount of time it’s meant to be unclear whether or not Jeff is who Hayley claims. But by the finale, it’s pretty god damn clear who Jeff is behind the curtain. Anybody who says otherwise has NOT WATCHED IT. You either fell asleep, or you’re a moron. Sorry, but it’s clear. Jeff confesses – not just under stress of being psychologically tortured by Hayley, he admits with details and confirms everything she already knew.
Did people not SEE the finale? I mean, the whole kicker is she’s already gone through this with the other man involved in the death of Donna Mauer. If people can’t pay attention to films enough to figure out the clearly demarcated premise, then I don’t think they ought to be online or anywhere else criticizing the film for perceived faults. Again, yes, vigilantism is not right, I agree. However, it is a film. Are you really so against women that you’re siding with a FICTIONAL PAEDOPHILE? Oh my. What a world. Honestly, if you’re still against this when knowing Jeff confesses at the end, you are strange, sick, and
probably most fucking definitely a misogynist. You don’t have to think she should’ve done what she did, but Hayley is not the character to be disgusted with in the end. Jeff is the one who you owe disgust.
The performances themselves are what drive Hard Candy.
First of all, Patrick Wilson does a nice job with such a difficult and unlikeable character, which is impressive. Like I said earlier, there is a time during the film where we’re not exactly sure if Jeff is who Hayley claims, so you’re actually wary of believing either of them. However, after Hayley finds the pictures in his safe – a line is drawn in the sand. Then he becomes this despicable guy because there’s obviously something terrible in the safe, from the reaction Hayley gives us. After that comes the very hateful part of his personality and instead of being completely done with this character, we still hang in and find ourselves interested.
Right up until the finale, it’s still not totally sure to what extent Jeff is culpable in the disappearance of Donna, so for such a while we’re on the edge, balancing between not liking him and being unsure what’s truly happening. Wilson does an amazing job with the character. He’s charming for awhile, then creepy. Mostly he works well with Page and acts appropriately terrified, vulnerable, and angered when necessary. One of his best, in my books. Up there with his performance in another excellent film Little Children.
Then there’s Ellen Page. What a sweet east coast Canadian treasure this lady is. I know she’s done some bigger stuff, such as Inception and more recently X-Men: Days of Future Past. All the same, I dig her most in the smaller indie films she’s been a part of like this and An American Crime. Even further, I loved when she was on the old Trailer Park Boys episodes as Jim Lahey’s daughter Treena.
She feels a lot like a more classically trained actor than some other young females in films these days. Not sure why that is, I don’t mean she’s necessarily got a stage-like presence, it’s just that even at seventeen (four years older than her character in the film) there’s an incredibly big life to her acting. This movie could have easily faltered because of the main performances. There aren’t many teenage actors I honestly find impressive; so sue me. In opposition to that, one or two come along now and then and really make me pay attention to a film. Page, particularly in this film, gives one of those performances. Holding her own next to Wilson throughout some savagely intense scenes, in a film concerning highly controversial subject matter, it’s a feat to enjoy. She pulls her weight every single step of the way and makes Hard Candy all the better for it.
With most of this movie taken up by dialogue, there’s not a huge amount of time dedicated to visuals. However, there are still neat visual aspects to the film. For instance, they went in after the fact and digitally altered some of the colouring. The iconic red hoodie was an afterthought, which was altered, as well as how the colours in the house and in the scenes often reacts to the emotions; such as when Hayley gets angry, colours deepen slightly at times. Very interesting stuff I’d not noticed until listening to some commentary on the DVD. Furthermore, I love that whole allusion to the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, in that Hayley is the girl who has turned the tables on the nasty wolf.
Another aspect I need to mention is the sound design and the score. What I mean is that there’s barely any score or soundtrack, save for a bit of music played momentarily at Jeff’s house. Most of the sound design is made up of heavy breathing noises and other ambient sounds. I always find it interesting when a film can cultivate a great mood and atmosphere with little to no music. Impressive, as I’m always partial to a good score composed with care. However, Hard Candy does well enough without. I feel in that sense it’s very much similar to a stage play in that it relies solely on the setting and the characters, as well as the people performing those characters and the script they work from. Successfully this film works with barely no music at all and effectively conveys a brilliant tone.
I’m most comfortable in saying this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. There’s a little missing, in the sense I could’ve used maybe a more visual storytelling than what we ended up with, but part of that comes from the simplistic script and the fact they kept the budget under $1-million in order to keep the studio out of big decisions. Either way, I think perhaps this could’ve used a little dialogue stripped for parts and some more of David Slade’s slick looking visuals in its place. I don’t know. I’m just a lowly writer.
Either way, I think this is a fantastic and gripping piece of work. Even without a ton of visual extravagance, which there’s at least a little of anyways, Hard Candy is a tense work of thriller cinema.
If you’re looking for something challenging and extremely limit testing, this is the one for you. Not only that, there are two near perfect performances from two talented actors.
See this soon when you’re in the mood for a psychological workout!
A man tracks down the one who brutally hurt his daughter.