As a moderate fan of the first, THE CONJURING 2 - though based on a debunked story - is utterly haunting, holding a high level of tension almost throughout the entire runtime. Be prepared.
The Conjuring. 2013. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Chad & Carey Hayes.
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Haley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins, Marion Guyot, Morganna May, & Amy Tipton. New Line Cinema/The Safran Company/Evergreen Media Group.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
People can argue to the contrary all they want: James Wan is a modern horror master. What’s more, he refuses to abandon the genre which made him such a big hit in Hollywood, leading him to the Fast & Furious franchise and the upcoming Aquaman DC film. Just now, the sequel to The Conjuring is in theatre making giant impressions on audiences, many (critics alike) claiming it’s one of the best horrors in a long time. So I hope that once he takes off even more with his DC adaptation that Wan won’t forget from where he came. Because from the revolutionary Saw (yes I called it that; the first one only which is of course the single one he directed) to the underrated Dead Silence and Death Sentence, to the first two Insidious films (love them to death), this is a director who proves, time and again, he understands horror. Not every film is perfect, nor should you expect that. But each one takes an excellent, gouging stab at the genre and more often than not gives us new and terrifying scenes that will go down as classics in the years to come.
The Conjuring didn’t actually impress me first time around. Funny how that works, considering now after watching it a couple more times recently I feel it’s destined to be a classic of the horror genre; it already is, just needs the time to pass for an official label. But some movies work like that. They don’t always get you right away. Sometimes you watch a movie on DVD or VOD, you’re sitting at home and the attention span isn’t perfect. Sometimes you don’t notice everything right off the bat. Either way, after seeing this a couple more times I’ve come to realise how perfectly old school this supernatural haunted house/paranormal story works. Better than that, we’ve got the backdrop of a true story concerning world famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, as well as one of their big cases from 1971 in Harrisville, Rhode Island where the Perron family came under siege by the terrifying spirit of a dead witch from the 1800s.
Wan does incredible work as director, along with solid performances from the likes of Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Ron Livingston, all in order to make this into a truly scary movie. So many people complain about the horror genre being stale these days, saying there aren’t any good offerings coming out. Well, drink this one in. It’s up there with the best of the haunted house movies, and certainly one of the greatest in terms of demonic possession. You can’t ask for more than an eerie story, chillingly based on real events, and top notch acting in a horror flick.
What I love about horror based on true stories, or supposedly true, is that I’m a real sceptic. I do indeed wish to believe, as Fox Mulder and his decorative poster both state in yearning. Absolutely. If there were some evidence of life beyond death, it might actually be comforting. Maybe it’d only be more difficult. Nevertheless, I do find myself hoping to come in contact with a ghost. On a couple occasions, I’ve questioned whether I actually did. Alas the scepticism goes on. The Conjuring does go for jump scares in quite a few scenes. What it does best is create this unsettling, dire atmosphere where the line between what is real and what is paranormal/supernatural becomes nearly eradicated.
A huge part of what makes this movie work is the dual look at and parallel between the difference between a family experiencing paranormal events v. a family standing as a physical dike against the mental anguish those other families faced. Though the Perrons find themselves completely torn apart by demonic influence, the Warrens are similarly troubled. They are essentially charged to withholding all the demons, the dead spirits, the poltergeists, whatever. They’ve got a ton of the possessed dolls and objects in their basement under lock and key, constantly threatening their own existence and their own family. So there’s a super interesting dynamic that happens between the two separate families, each tormented in their own right. This also allows for a lot of great acting between the two couples, both sets with their own issues and their different lives, so on. Other screenplays might have made this into a jumbled mess. Instead, Chad and Carey Hayes are able to use every last second of their 112 minutes appropriately, and expanding the characters, the plot with care without ignoring anything.
Lili Taylor is actually one of my first celebrity crushes, if we’re being honest. Being a young man on the furthest Eastern Coast of Canada, I grew up watching Showcase on Channel 34. I can’t remember which movie I’d seen her in first, either Girls Town or I Shot Andy Warhol, but her beauty and her talent struck me. She’s an engaging actor. I find that even without that teenage crush, her acting speaks for itself. Here, even before any of the wild stuff starts happening with her character Carolyn there’s an excellently fun quality to her. That’s what makes the rest of the plot involving her struggle so difficult to endure. In fact, immediately from the first moment we hear and see her there’s an admirable element to Carolyn, endearing, as she and her husband have a brief little laugh while getting out of the car at their new home. Just how she laughs at him, so natural. Great talent to so quickly enjoyable in a performance. This only increases as the film wears on. Her work in the latter portions, as Carolyn succumbs to a demonic possession of intense proportions, Taylor makes the horror far too real for comfort. Likewise, as much as I only enjoy Ron Livingston mostly while watching Office Space, he does well with the character of Roger. He’s the everyman-type American dad, out in the country taking his family into their new home, then dealing with the excessively sinister fallout that nobody ever could have predicted, not in a million year. There’s a complexity to the character. Even if I don’t think he was amazing, Livingston makes the character honest, likeable. Above all, he’s real. Both him and Taylor make the family dynamic play well, in turn selling the whole situation, as it’s them at the eye of the storm. Whereas I say Livingston wasn’t anything extraordinary, without his solid performance as the father and husband of the Perron family the whole personal, human drama would not work, only in a one-sided sense with Taylor doing the heavy lifting.
Both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great. The latter has even more work to do, being the more susceptible to the influence of the demons and the supernatural entities. Most of all they do stellar work portraying the Warrens, their relationship particularly one being under different strains than a lot of regular people. They make the Warrens into very genuine human beings. They don’t have any air of the kookish qualities many associate with modern day ghost hunters. These two allow Ed and Lorraine Warren to feel like warm, understanding, caring individuals. They’re not self-serving or narcissistic in their aims of ghost hunting. Of course that’s partly because of the real people and their efforts, but Farmiga and Wilson put their hearts into these performances. It shows in the natural way the Warrens come across. Along with Livingston and Taylor, they’re able to make the personal drama of the horror become so powerful.
Wan’s directing is beyond amazing. Many of his choices are perfect for the horror. On one hand, he knows when to employ the use of jump scares. He understands where they fit and how they ought to be used. On the other hand, Wan is also adept at building tension, making the atmosphere of his films drip with fear. Just as Insidious works nicely using the visuals and its score to create a thick, atmospheric creepiness, The Conjuring is a haunting mix of eerie-looking images and yet another set of fittingly horrifying pieces from Joseph Bishara (Insidious trilogy). All together, these elements work to unsettle the audience at every turn, never settling to be lukewarm scary, but always trying to find the heart of terror.
After letting this settle on me, The Conjuring is one of the best horrors in so many years. There’s never too much of anything, always the correct amount. Wan finds a balance between the jumps and the subtle creeps, as well as manages to find the appropriate performances in his cast to warrant the emotional ties necessary for the horror to hit home. There’s not a lot I can say against the power of this movie. Don’t always judge right on first viewing. Sometimes your opinion won’t change. Now and then, you’ll find you were wrong. And damn, was I ever sleeping on this one. Glad I’ve taken the time to watch it more because I’ve discovered I love it and its fun, classic scares.
Season 2, Episode 10: “Palindrome”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Noah Hawley
Here we are, the finale of Fargo‘s Season 2. You betcha.
So, ramblers – let’s get rambling!
“Palindrome” begins with a view of Rye’s body back in the Blumquist freezer, another look at a dead Otto Gerhardt shot at his kitchen table, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) dead on the floor in that little cabin, as well as Simone out in the woods, Floyd where Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) left her, and even in Bear (Angus Sampson) in the parking lot where Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) blew his brains out.
Then, the shot fades into Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) lying in bed with daughter Molly at her side. Apparently she had a bad reaction to the pills she was given, they were no good. Noreen Vanderslice (Emily Haine) is by the bed looking after Betsy, trying best to get her to follow doctor’s orders. We watch Betsy dream, seeing Molly grow up in the modern world – the world of Costco, one where Lou gets older by his daughter’s side, one without Betsy anymore. She sees into the future where we see the grown Molly (Allison Tolman), Lou (Keith Carradine) and the happy gang from Season 1. Quickly we cut back to Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) shot in the motel, Lou wrestling Bear, the face of “chaos” a.k.a Hanzee. All to “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath – so god damn fitting.
This whole intro starts with a split-screen, right at the beginning of last episode. It gave me chills with Sabbath playing over top. Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst) run off, as Hanzee follows, shooting anyone in his path. Lou boldly goes off after the renegade Native, while Ozzy, Iommi and the gang keep rocking. One of my favourite openings of the season, such a perfectly executed start to the episode. Especially once we find “War Pigs” playing in the vehicle with Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann), as they pull up at the Gerhardt ranch: “People of Earth – I‘m home,” says Milligan while walking in through the front door. The two settle in and hear nothing but silence in the big house. Of course, they saw some of the massacre at the motel, so I’m sure they didn’t expect much of a greeting.
Meanwhile, Ed and Peggy stumble into a grocery store, shooing off an employee as Peggy tells him there’s “a bad man coming here“.
On the street, Hanzee is still lurking closer towards the Blumquists. Yet trusty Lou Solverson hasn’t given up on Dent, either. A few shots get popped off here and there. Out of nowhere, Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) shows up, almost getting a bullet from Lou out of surprise.
Ed and Peg end up hiding in a meat locker. Either way they’re out of the way of Hanzee and his warpath for the time being; only problem is Ed took a bullet on the way, and tells her “Peg… I don‘t think we‘re gonna make it.” She wants to fix everything, as Ed says, but some times things aren’t broken. They have a bit of down to earth conversation, even at such a rough and tumble time. But I can see why, Ed only wants to “get back” to what they had after being hauled into all this through the unstable actions of his wife. Will Hanzee find them, as they try and wait things out in the cooler?
At the Gerhardt ranch, Milligan and Kitchen find an old native woman cooking, obviously a housemaid for the Gerhardts. Then some lights pull up to the house, a car arrives. It’s Bear’s right-hand man Ricky G (Ryan O’Nan). He heads inside, ready to fleece the Gerhardts of anything he can take in a bag. But Milligan is still kicking around, and no one close to the Gerhardts is getting away too easy. A shotgun blast takes Ricky to meet his maker, staining the Gerhardt flag – suspiciously Nazi-esque – with a good deal of blood and gore. Nasty stuff.
Hanzee has found his way into the grocery store, the lights flickering and shadows everywhere. Ed and Peggy are still trying to survive. Then the door to the meat locker starts shaking. After the door won’t open, smoke starts seeping in through the fan near the ceiling. Hanzee sure knows how to track and hunt, that’s for sure. But Peggy starts remembering the movie she was watching, before Dodd untied himself, claiming it’s exactly like their own situation. Is she working towards something? Or is she wasting time? Ed’s gone unconscious in the meantime and Peggy can’t wake him up. With Hanzee right outside the door, buck knife in hand, how is Peggy going to escape? Knife sharpener against buck knife?
She pushes out the door and there is Lou Solverson, along with Ben Schmidt, guns drawn. Peggy is gone crazy. There’s no smoke or anything. Inside the cooler, Ed is seemingly dead. Yes, I think Peggy has finally lost it for good. Her husband is gone now, too. Even worse. For all her faults, I feel really bad for Peggy right now. I also feel bad for Lou, even Schmidt; Hank is in critical condition at the ICU, Schmidt’s boss is dead and gone, as well are a bunch more police officers due to the Sioux Falls Massacre.
Again, Noreen is reading Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus. Love all the philosophy worked into this season by Noah Hawley and the writers. Betsy is still in bed with Molly, Noreen watching over her. They have a bit of a morbid conversation on cancer and Betsy’s pain, though, she says there’s nothing bad yet. Best of all is how Betsy balks at the Camus philosophy, she has her own view on life. Excellent use of split-screen again, now with Betsy talking and her husband Lou riding along in his squad car, each in their own half of the screen. Nice, brief little bit.
Then we’re back to Peggy, in back of Lou’s car, musing on where she might like to serve her sentence. It’s amazing, though, how Peggy is fairly loopy, yet she can snap into being so sensible, practical, even if it’s still a bit crazy of her. I love her character and I think Kirsten Dunst has done such a wonderful job in the role, she was a great addition to this season. We get a nice conversation between Lou and Peggy, mostly as Lou tells her about being at war near the end; a sad story involving a helicopter pilot, and also a baby being dropped by his mother, but caught by a fellow soldier.
Peggy: “And when you can‘t they say it‘s you – you‘re faulty, like you‘re inferior somehow.”
Part of Lou plays into the Camus reference, and Sisyphus. Lou says protecting one’s family is like a a rock all men have to push. Lou, as it appears, is happy with pushing that rock. Part of the philosophy of Camus in regards to his reference of Sisyphus is that, instead of viewing Sisyphus as unhappy and tortured by pushing the rock constantly back up the hill each day, we must see him as happy, content with his lot in life, and as having embraced the absurdity of life. Therefore, Lou is like the ideal view of Sisyphus here.
In other news, Hanzee receives a new identity in the form of a Social Security Number and such. He also tells the man who brought it for him he needs a “face man“, in order to fix the damage, and possibly transform him into someone entirely new. Dent sees life as “kill and be killed“. He is still very ominous and very scary, I expected him to die but he did not at all. He becomes Moses Tripoli, leader of the Fargo mob in Season 1. Hanzee suggests facial reconstruction, and so now we know the past of Moses. Some say a bit of a stretch. Really? In the Fargo universe it’s perfect. Hanzee goes from an active, merciless killer, to a slovenly older man who dies like a punk later in life. Fitting end for a villain. Even further, the kids Hanzee heads to help out in the ball field last we see him are indeed the young Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, as evidenced by the use of sign language. Amazing, amazing. I can’t say it enough.
Then, director Adam Arkin shows up as a head of the Kansas City racket, slick and bald-headed. Milligan is being congratulated slightly, and the new “oversight” is being explained. Now, the gangster Mike Milligan is being given his own office, a 9 to 5 job, and so on. He goes from street level thug, in the blood and guts, to a guy who has to start wearing pinstripes, cut his hear, and get right of the whole “cowboy thing“. He doesn’t seem happy about it all. But the boss explains it’s all about money, “ones and zeroes“. There is nothing else anymore. Officially, Milligan is out of his element and in an entirely new world: the future, apparently.
Hank Larsson, thankfully, is okay. He’s back welcomed at the Solverson home where Betsy and little Molly are happy to have him back. They get a congratulatory beer each and some nice family time happens, after all that mayhem. Then we finally have a brief mention of the spacecraft at the motel; very brief, but still there. Lou mentions he’ll obviously leave it out of the report, “in subtext” says Hank. Finally some smiles are infecting them all, and Hank gives a beautiful quote quickly, trying not to heavy things up too much. A great scene with three excellent actors, all of whom seem to have good chemistry together.
Moreover, Betsy brings up the room she found at Hank’s place – the one with all the alien related stuff. Hank fesses up after his wife died, depression set in. When he took time off, the senseless and violence of life started to get to him, which Hank describes as due to “miscommunication“. He became interested in the “universal language of symbols” because “pictures are clearer to my mind than words“. Hank says he was sort of making up his own language, in a way. It started from there then grew into an obsession. But his daughter loves him, his son-in-law obviously cares a good deal, and it doesn’t matter. He isn’t crazy, just a man with “good intentions“, how he puts it himself.
Fittingly, the season ends on Betsy and Lou in bed, coming to rest. A great and spectacular end after all the wild madness which preceded it. Loved this finale. I’m very excited that Fargo will, of course, be coming back next year for an additional season. Apparently it’ll be modern day, too. So a change of pace is always fun, as it was for this season going back into a kind of prequel. Noah Hawley and the entire team are amazing, this is one of the best shows on television as of late. Season 2, for me, is even better than the first, but that is NOT knocking the first season at all. They’re both incredible.
Stay tuned with me for other reviews, and I’ll see you back around Minnesota somewhere next year, don’t ya know!
Season 2, Episode 7: “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!”
Directed by Keith Gordon (Mother Night, Waking the Dead)
Written by Noah Hawley/Ben Nedivi/Matt Wolpert
* For a review of the previous episode, “Rhinoceros” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Loplop” – click here
Well, shit is really goin’ down in Minnesota, no?
After the exciting “Rhinoceros”, this episode begins with some people being gunned down in an office building from a window cleaner’s basket. We quickly cut to Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) looking especially grim. Jethro Tull plays “Locomotive Breath” over a montage including the remaining Kitchen Brother garroting a man, as well as (some of) the Gerhardts laying Otto’s body to rest. Floyd (Jean Smart) has people in from Buffalo helping with all the chaos. Bear (Angus Sampson) gives her a little bad news, and young Simone (Rachel Keller) nudges her way into family business a little. More than anything, Floyd backhands her granddaughter and, I’m sure, this will drive her even further into the arms of Milligan.
Simone: “This family deserves the ground”
Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) and his new sort-of-partner Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) show up to take Mama Floyd in for some questions. Before they leave, though, there’s a brief back and forth between Lou and Bear. Just enough to show Bear/the Gerhardts have no time for the law, as well as the fact Lou has balls of steel and won’t back down from their force either. Love the dynamic between the big mafia-style Minnesota family and Solverson’s relentless will to serve the law.
Fucking Terry Kinney! He shows up as Chief Gibson, not impressed with having Floyd Gerhardt in his interrogation room. At the same time, he is not a bad guy, nor does he seem like a dummy. So Gibson and Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) hop in for a chat with ole Floyd, while the other two do their duties. There’s good conversation between Floyd and Hank specifically. Again, I’m not huge on Danson other than Cheers – here, he absolutely holds his own and does fine stuff with the character of Hank; he’s a great addition to the second season cast.
More great music with The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” playing with Simone heading into a seedy hotel. Upstairs, Milligan is being talked to rather disrespectfully; due to the opening shooting we witnessed. Turns out Mike has an ultimatum – either take care of things, or the man on the phone says: “I’m sending the Undertaker“. Simone’s pissed her father Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) wasn’ killed, and rather grandpa got shot up. Milligan doesn’t care; he’d rather quote historical figures from Martin Luther King back to one of the King Louis. Then into the room bursts Lou Solverson alongside Ben Schmidt, guns drawn, knocking Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann) to the floor. Looks like trouble for Mike and his plans, right? Well, on the elevator down Schmidt has a bit of a… close encounter, with Simone. So trouble for Ben right away.
Simone: “I mean, sometimes a girl just wants to bust a nut, y’know.”
Downstairs, Bear picks up his niece in an intense scene. Upstairs, Lou reiterates to Milligan: “We’re not meant to need more than we can handle.” They talk about greed, “all or nothin’“. Very interesting little moment, especially with the abilities of Patrick Wilson as an actor versus Bokeem Woodbine who is equally amazing in this season. There’s something fun about the typical cop versus criminal turned into a more interesting, elegant, and at times comical situation. Instead of chase chase, bang bang, et cetera. For all Solverson’s efforts, Milligan believes the Gerhardts are the past, and “we are the future“.
Snap from the hotel to Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) who arrives home to suspicious boots in her porch. Immediately, and very smart, she goes for a shotgun in the closet and goes up to the kitchen. There stand Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) and Sonny Greer (Dan Beirne) cooking breakfast. Apparently her “lesser half” asked them to make sure she was doing all right and to look after her and Molly. Awesome little scene I thought fit in well among everything else happening during this episode.
Bear takes Simone on a ride in the truck. It’s tense, as Bear talks in a low, grumbling voice and appearing cold to his niece. She is rightfully nervous, having just before walked out of the hotel where Milligan was staying. Then Bear pulls over out in the woods, asking Simone to come – “You’re scaring me,” she tells him. He’s scaring me, too. Slowly he walks his niece out further into the trees, accusing her of “sleeping with the enemy” and talks about how women had their heads shaved for “bedding Germans“. The cinematography here is equally as eerie, it unsettled me to watch overhead as Bear basically – I assume – takes Simone on a death march. Plus, a few creepy handheld-like shots quivering together in a big, beautiful edited jumble. I really loved this whole bit, no matter how brutal it was beneath it all. Just an incredibly great sequence from visuals to performances. Added to all that, a serene and gorgeous rendition of “Danny Boy” is sung over top of a montage including Bear smashing the cast off his arm after leaving the woods alone, quick cuts of still alive Rye and Simone, and a shot of Dodd. An entirely unexpected 5 minutes, which work so perfectly. Another example of the quality work being put into this series, from the camerawork to the writing to all the choice music being used for such memorable scenes.
Simone: “We’re family”
Bear: “None of us are family anymore”
Back at the station, Floyd is trying to take everything on herself. Gibson and Larsson just want information from her, so they try and make a deal to not see any further bodies pile up. She gives them the low down on the Kansas City drug operation, the drugs hidden in tires, and so on. Is this going to come back and bite Floyd? Should she, in her ‘line of work’, be making deals with police? Of course, morality says yes. Although the criminal code doesn’t smile favourably on such nastiness. Excellent editing once more in this scene, as Floyd in the interrogation room is cut in split-screen shots with Milligan at his hotel.
And then Mike receives a phone call: “The Undertaker’s coming. You’re done.”
Betsy and Karl have a good, morbid talk together. She wants him to look out for Lou after she’s gone, already anticipating her own death; like any of us would, I’m sure. Then she goes over to feed her father’s cat, which leads to her finding a room full of all sorts of drawings, markings, strange things that LOOK like Hank is interested in aliens. Am I right? I saw something “…Of the Gods” on his desk, maybe – could be any number of texts. Either way, it appears he might be a little out there?!
Throughout an interesting and low-key, though briefly vicious episode, the best comes when The Undertaker arrives at the hotel. He comes to see Milligan in his room accompanied by two Asian men, who look bad ass, as well. Then Mike comes charging out to say hello, popping a tiny gun from his sleeve and shooting The Undertaker right in his face. The two Asians are done in fairly quick afterwards.
On the phone then calls Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons). He says “this is your lucky day: I’ve got Dodd Gerhardt in the trunk of my car, you want him?” WHOA! I anticipated something along these lines, yet not at all ni this way. So now we know where Dodd is. As does Hanzee apparently.
Very excited for the next episode, “Loplop”. I’m anticipating a wild one, but we may get another calm before the storm like this one. Who knows. Stay tuned, fellow fans!
Bone Tomahawk. 2015. Directed & Written by S. Craig Zahler.
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Sean Young, Lil Simmons, Zahn McClarnon, Matthew Fox, David Arquette, Kathryn Morris, and Sid Haig.
Caliber Media Company.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
★★★★★ This is a movie I’ve waited a long time to see. Ever since I even heard the name, it intrigued me. In fact, I believe writer-director S. Craig Zahler actually wrote the screenplay about 8 years ago or something crazy like that. So for those of us who follow projects from their early stages in development, this is one of those titles people like myself have eagerly awaited. Then, once Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson (and more) signed on, a year or more ago, the project had me beyond excited.
Westerns can be amazing, if treated properly. There are lots of them out there. Recently I discussed this very same thing while reviewing the Mads Mikkelsen-Jeffrey Dean Morgan Western The Salvation, a film I personally enjoyed. But so many sad, half-hearted Westerns come out, like horror. Part of why I loved Bone Tomahawk is in part because of the blend between horror and Western, two genres of which I’m a huge fan. I fell in love with horror through literature first, then film. Westerns I came to through my grandfather, whose membership to Columbia House and love for John Wayne/Gary Cooper shaped part of my early film viewing life. With a packed cast – including the god damn man Kurt Russell, the chameleon Richard Jenkins, and Patrick Wilson who has talent out the ass – Bone Tomahawk makes the most out of both its Western and horror elements, while not having to fall into every last trope from either genre.
It’s safe to say, this is another modern Western I’ll definitely be adding to my personal collection.
It’s hard to deny the nasty brutality of a movie like Bone Tomahawk. Particularly when the opening scene has David Arquette’s character cutting a man’s throat; not even efficiently, he slits once, slits another time. After all that, Buddy (Sid Haig) has to finish the man off, crushing his skull. The first two minutes set the tone perfectly. These two men are just killing and robbing, savagely murdering men for nothing more than some books, trinkets, who knows what else – nothing too great. Zahler conjures up a grim atmosphere immediately. Even in the sun baked landscapes Benji Bakshi (who also did the cinematography for the interesting indie Some Kind of Hate recently out) captures there is such an undeniable grimness, it lurks everywhere and casts over every little thing. Then there are the interiors, the Western sets captured in all their gorgeous grittiness.
The string score accompanying so many beautifully realized shots and sequences is fitting. One scene really catches me – as the group of four first depart, there’s a great shot of them all riding and the strings have such a heartbreaking feel. Seriously: this shot belongs in the hall of fame. I can’t shake it. Almost like it foreshadowed every bit of darkness and horror to follow later on, a foreboding moment in time. All the music is courtesy of multi-talented Zahler and Jeff Herriott, whose only feature film surprisingly is this one. Needless to say, they’ve done well. The music adds an extra layer to specific moments, which intensifies things perfectly when required; exactly what a proper score ought do.
Even further, I loved the set design itself, the look of everything. All the main characters were well costumed. I loved Matthew Fox and his get-up, especially one scene when he straightens himself out, putting on his cap then leaving the saloon; amazing. But just little things like the lamps in the bedrooms, the pictures on the walls, so many fine touches such as these made scenes eye-catching. Then the lighting, all around, is perfect. It’s easy for a Western to throw you off nowadays if modernity creeps in too much. Honestly, though, this movie does so well creating the late-1800s atmosphere – the low light of the lamps inside and out around the town, dust/sand battered windows, old bottles of medication and all the pictures, various items on the desks and bedside tables. Such good attention to detail.
Sheriff Hunt: “Ask me about horses again n’ I’ll slap you red”
I love the plot and story of Bone Tomahawk. It’s at times funny, not even darkly but just worthy of a chuckle. The characters are original without being forcibly quirky, also without falling too deep into Western cliche. Furthermore, there’s the aspect of the troglodytes; the fact Mrs. O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) is the doctor and not as it usually is in the genre a man; Zahn McClarnon plays a Native man whose status among the town isn’t of the lower sort (he wears an awesome suit); and so much more. The dialogue doesn’t come off as someone trying hard to create a Western. Lots of Westerns do fail because their entire style is forced, it doesn’t feel or sound natural when the dialogue is spoken. Yet Zahler writes this well, he’s someone I’ve enjoyed before: Asylum Blackout, to my mind, was a lot of fun and a nice dose of solid horror. Apparently he does well writing about the turn of the century in America, the slow tail end of the Wild West, so it’s easy to see where his talent lies watching this film.
Big favourite of mine here, character-wise, is absolutely John Brooder, played so finely by Matthew Fox; his charm is undeniable, even at times when you’re unsure whether or not he’s being too brutal. The scene with his horse, you’ll know the one – among all the other viciousness of the movie, this actually gets to me emotionally. To see Brooder, uncaring about anyone else other than those around him to which he’s loyal, so upset over the horse is that from which Western heroes are made. And Brooder isn’t the only good character, he’s simply my personal pick. They’re all awesome. Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson in their own respects are also serving the film well here. Wilson’s character is so sympathetic, to watch him try and make it over the rough terrain out to find his wife, all too often hobbling far behind his companions, it’s actually devastating at times. Russell is, as usual, a hard yet smart tough guy, and his facial hair is fucking out of this world. He plays the Wild West sheriff role with plenty of smirky goodness, as well as with the aforementioned tough exterior.
I’ve got to at least make small mention of Richard Jenkins. He gives an interesting performance as the dim-witted but staunchly loyal sidekick to Russell’s Sheriff Hunt. Even the voice Jenkins puts on, it’s much different from many of his other previous roles. Quality acting all around for this movie.
Sheriff Hunt: “What time is it?”
Chicory: “It’s about nine. But it feels like next week.”
On top of everything else I love so much here, the horror is supremely vicious. In the best sort of sense. Right off the bat with that scene including Haig and Arquette, there’s so much visceral horror happening. For a while, this stuff almost leaves your mind. There are a few ugly bits on the way to the last 40 minutes, such as Arthur O’Dwyer and his leg, the few shootings and a bit of stabbing. But it’s only once the four men on their journey come across the troglodytes and their cannibalism when things get awfully bloody, gory, and downright savage in its bestial nature. Great stuff, in terms of intense horror. Plus, it’s not a CGI-laden piece of work. Zahler doesn’t opt for a bunch of fake looking blood. Instead there’s a wealth of nice practical work here. Also consider that the movie’s budget is estimated under $2-million, so that’s actually truly impressive, like crazily impressive. When so many horrors, and lots of other genre films, fall into the trappings of computer generated boredom, there’s something to be said for a well crafted film crossing Westerns with horror that sticks to practicality.
Sheriff Hunt: “We’ll make sure all this has value”
5 star film. To the bone.
It’s not often these days with newer films, other than maybe a couple handfuls every year, I find myself glued to the screen. But finally having the chance to watch Bone Tomahawk, my attention was captivated from the opening sequence right to the final frames. There is everything here – the tried and true Western feel, a gritty sense of the Wild West, cannibalism, the at times scariness of horror movies, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox in finest form among a cast including other solid performances from Patrick Wilson and Kurt Russell. The adrenaline begins to flow full-on around when the last 43 minutes start descending upon you. Everything prior sets up all the atmosphere and tone necessary for the story to thrive. Everything that follows will keep you reeling, long after the credits roll. See this, or miss out on an innovative Western. Another I can easily say is one of the best in the genre I’ve seen over the past decade or more since the last big, great Westerns like Unforgiven and Tombstone.
Season 2, Episode 6: “Rhinoceros”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Gift of the Magi” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” – click here
After the last episode, we come right back to Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). In the finale of “The Gift of the Magi”, cop lights and sirens were blaring, swinging around out front of their house. Now we start with Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) taking Ed out to the car in cuffs. Behind him, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) tries his best to calm Peggy down. We’re about to see ole Ed, the poor soul, dragged down the rabbit hole. Even the look on Plemons’ face spells it all, as Lou drives him to the station. Very grim, very sombre mood. The tone here starting off the top is solid.
At the station, worry wort Betsy (Cristin Milioti) came to check on her husband, despite her own sickly disposition. Then there’s Charlie Gerhardt (Allan Dobrescu) – he gets his one call from jail.
But before we get any of that, Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson) sits with his ill father, Otto (Michael Hogan). They have a deep little one-sided chat, about the family. Right before Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) shows up, looking – as always – confrontational.
Simone (Rachel Keller) calls Bear inside to talk to Charlie on the phone. Dodd doesn’t have any respect for his daughter, talking to her like trash. Then out comes Bear – he’s pissed, he finally figured out Charlie was drawn into the family shit by Uncle Dodd. They have a small fight, before Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) cocks the shotgun on Bear. Dodd gives him a choice of punishment: “Strap or the buckle.” Bad ass Bear chooses the buckle, but before that goes down Mama Floyd (Jean Smart) interrupts it all. She wants her grandson back, she doesn’t want any trouble with the brothers. I’m just waiting, though, to see if Floyd will eventually have to put down her son Dodd; it’s as if I can feel the thunder rumbling already, just waiting for the storm to hit.
With Floyd wanting blood from the butcher, as well as Charlie out of lockup, Simone calls Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). She lets him in on the Gerhardt plan as it stands, telling him they’re on their way to Luverne. Some might think Simone is petty, childish, vindictive. I don’t. I think she’s a person who has had too much abuse pushed in her face, been treated awfully by her family. Now she’s dropping vengeance on them, big time. Will it play out that way?
Milligan sends us intro a strange atmosphere with a partial reading of “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. Some split-screen action shows us him in the car, last Kitchen Brother (Brad Mann) in tow, juxtaposed with Hanzee, Bear and Dodd on their own respective journey towards Luverne.
Hank Larsson is trying to keep Peggy on lockdown at home. She clearly does not understand the situation. Either that, or dear Peg is being purposefully oblivious. I think she’s beyond nervous. She rambles and runs on talking to Hank, about the modern woman and dreams and all their plans. But Hank continually tries to get through to her: these people were coming to KILL ED. They want him dead. We know that. Hank and Lou both know that. Hell, I’m sure even Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) up at Fargo P.D. knows what’s going on. Finally, Hank breaks it all down simply – he even knows now she sold the car to the mechanic over at the garage.
We cut from Peggy, on a knife’s edge, to the police station. Ed is sitting across from Lou, they’re getting down to the nitty gritty. Obviously, Ed was planning on taking off. Yet the timing fucked them; hard. Or better yet, Peggy fucked them; real hard. He even talks about Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus; the futility of pushing that damn rock up the fucking hill, every day, one after another. Yet somehow, among the absurdity of Camus’ philosophy, Ed turns it into – “I’ll take care of what’s mine“.
Peggy: “You say it like these things happen in a vacuum. Like it’s a test – check A or B. But it’s like, decisions you make in a dream, y’know? I’ll tell ya what, if it was me and we had to run, I wouldn’t look back.”
Outside the Blumquist house, all of a sudden, Dodd Gerhardt and crew show up. Sheriff Larsson steps outside, telling Peggy to go hide someplace. Hank stands there talking with Dodd, trying to smooth things over. Although, he doesn’t let himself look like a guy who messes around, dropping an insult in with it all. The look in the eyes of Ted Danson are what great characterization is made of, he does such a perfect job showing it all in his face. But then Hanzee knocks him out, letting Dodd inside with the cattle prod. The crew has a look around in the basement, which doesn’t do much except produce a casualty of their own: Dodd kills one of his henchmen after hearing a noise and popping a shot off. Then Dodd makes the dumb mistake of dropping his cattle prod, not bothering to pick up. Peggy grabs hold and nearly prods the life out of Dodd. Dig it!
At the Gerhardt ranch, as Floyd tries to talk with her granddaughter Simone, Milligan and his own gang show up, blowing the windows out and firing until they hear a click. The fan is spinning again and the shit has stained everything. There’s going to be an absolute war now. With only four episode left after this, I can only imagine what is about to happen.
However, the most insane thing yet begins when lawyer Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) stumbles in to help his new client, Ed Blumquist. When he makes his way out of the police station, Bear and his crew stand firm with shotguns in hand. Arriving to take back his son Charlie.
The big stand off starts. Lou Solverson comes out to meet the armed hands. Meanwhile, Hanzee is sneaking around the side trying to get a shot at Ed inside the interrogation room. Bear tries to scare Lou down, but as we know: Lou’s kind of a bad motherfucker. He goes back in and gets things real tight – smashed lightbulbs under the windows, barricades around the doors, and so on. Plus, he recruits half-drunk Karl to try and talk sense into Bear/the armed henchmen. The music here is so excellent, the score has a military drum-style sound which goes so well with how things are setting up around this big showdown at the station.
Larsson finally wakes up on the Blumquist porch and figures out what’s going on. But will he or any reinforcements arrive before things get nasty? Karl slinks back out to talk with Bear, as Lou attempts sneaking Ed out a window in the rear of the building. Such a tense few minutes. Hanzee is still heading around the perimeter, trying to get a shot. Although, Lou manages to get Ed out to the woods, keeping them safe. For the moment.
Continuously, Karl is talking Bear down with legal mumbo jumbo. He actually appeals to the loving father in Bear, the one who never wanted Charlie in the family business, and defuses the ticking Gerhardt time bomb.
Once Larsson picks Lou up on the side of the road, Ed runs out into the dark horizon. They let him go because they know where he’s headed. Except right behind Lou, out of the forest, comes Hanzee once they’re gone. He then silently walks out towards where Ed was going.
Nice little cut between the credits of Karl Weathers talking more smack. Can’t wait for the next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!“. Promises to be an incredible episode after what’s gone down in this chapter. Stay tuned for another one!
Season 2, Episode 5: “The Gift of the Magi”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert
* For a review of the previous episode, “Fear and Trembling” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Rhinoceros” – click here
The beginning of this episode begins with an excellent voice-over. I’ve awaited this moment. A bus flies by with REAGAN across it, all the while there’s Bruce Campbell giving a speech as the ole Gipper. Brief, but amazing.
Then, out in the middle of nowhere, Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) and Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), alongside the Kitchen Brothers and a bunch of other men. Are they going out hunting? Looks like it. But hunting what? Bulo and a hunting guide of sorts head out to hunt, shoot skeet, whatever.
More of the excellent editing here. The splitscreen technique takes us between Reagan, back on, speaking to a crowd including Lou and Betsy Solverson (Patrick Wilson/Cristin Milioti), Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) and a ton of others – to Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) driving back to the Gerhardt Ranch. There, he gives Rye’s belt buckle back to the clan. Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) and Bear (Angus Sampson) are not happy, neither is Mama Floyd (Jean Smart). Naturally.
Out in the woods, a massive shitstorm comes crashing down on Bulo. There are guns firing. People are shot, chaos descends. The Kitchen Brothers come out blazing, too. Then out of nowhere comes Hanzee – he annihilates the two shotgun wielding brothers with a huge knife. Incredibly wild. Especially afterwards, once Bulo comes shambling out of the woods to find Hanzee waiting for him by the cars. All the while we’re still hearing Campbell’s Reagan giving a speech. There are some parallels between Reagan and the sort of stuff happening in the small little Minnesota town. I expect the whole Reagan angle to make a nice overarching theme once the season is done.
Then we’re back to the troubles of Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). Poor Ed is having nightmares of Rye, the night of his death, all that. Even worse, Peggy is trying to convince her husband to take off. Lou really put the spook in her last episode. But Ed doesn’t want any part of that. He wanted such a normal, quaint life, and with Peggy’s mistakes – her massive blunders – it’s really all her that’s put them in such a terrifying position. I feel bad for Peggy, I mean, she’s sympathetic. Yet Ed is where my sympathies truly lie.
The Gerhardt youngsters are each their own type of fucked up. First there’s Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) who wants to pull the trigger, to avenge Rye, as he believes it has to be a Gerhardt to do the job on the butcher. To which Dodd agrees.
And then there’s Simone (Rachel Keller). She takes off from her father, out to see Milligan. Surprisingly, one Kitchen Brother remains; I thought he was also dead (“I see Thing 1, where’s Thing 2?” asks Simone). Things get damn tense. Milligan has a box with the head of Joe Bulo in it. He’s not completely convinced of Simone and her allegiance, whether it still lies with her family or with him, as her new lover: “If you want me to take you seriously, you have to be a serious person.” And he essentially gives her an ultimatum, to tell him everything before the Gerhardts even move on a plan, or else she can “die with the rest of ’em“.
Lou Solverson’s new contact in Fargo P.D., Bed Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell), gives him a call over the radio. He’s got the mess in the woods to deal with, the Bulo situation and all those puzzle pieces. Looks as if those two are going to have their hands full. Another trip to the Gerhardt Ranch is on the schedule. Can’t wait.
Noreen: “Camus says knowin’ we’re all gonna die makes life a joke”
Ed: “So what, you just give up?”
Noreen: “You could just kill yerself. Get it over with.”
Ed: “C’mon ya gotta try”
Ed: “You go to school, you get a job, start a family.”
Noreen: “You die”
One of Fargo‘s incredible strengths comes through how the tension plays out, the suspense and the technique of drawing it out. Great sequence here where Charlie heads into the butcher shop in order to kill the butcher. There’s a very tense lead up, then a funny little exchange between Charlie and Noreen concerning the Camus book she’s reading, which really breaks the tension. Yet still, this tension switches back once Ed shows up through the door from out back – we get a split-second view, from Charlie’s P.O.V, as Ed looks mean and full of blood. Then it snaps to the natural, friendly Ed. So, as we all predicated, Charlie only walks away with some cuts of beef. No dead Ed.
At the Blomquist home, it appears Peggy has plain ideas about what she wants to do. She’s packing suitcases, though, it looks as if they’re only her own. Cut to: Peggy leaving a bus, suitcases in hand. She’s headed to the garage for the car. Awkwardly, she gets it back and fumbles through a conversation with the mechanic. This is the problem with Peggy: she is fundamentally a person without sense. She never does anything with a plan. But to my huge surprise, silly Peg goes to the garage instead of running. She takes a cold $700 from the mechanic for the car, seemingly intent on putting that towards buying the butcher shop. Is this a good thing? Will this help bring her and Ed closer back together, at least on the same page again? Hopefully so.
Bear: “How’d it go this mornin’?”
Hanzee: “Killed a few, lost a few.”
There’s a ton of further tension in the Gerhardt family. We see a brief encounter between Bear and Hanzee. Then a worse one between Dodd and Bear – the latter is proud to serve with his mother as the head of their racket, the former has no time for “taking orders from a woman“. We’re going to see some serious fallout between the brothers, I think. First, there’s the fact of this confrontation. Then there’s also Dodd sending Charlie out to do a terrible thing; even though he didn’t do it, a good uncle would never involve a nephew like that.
Great meeting between State Trooper Solverson and Ronald Reagan in a washroom. Over a piss, Reagan relates a (partial) tale of some war picture he’d been in. Afterwards, Lou babbles on about the “sickness of this world” possibly being inside his wife, giving her cancer, as if he brought some of it back from serving in a nasty war. I feel for him. No doubt he has his demons. Although, Reagan isn’t anyone to try and assuage any fears. His only response once Lou asks an important question is to squeeze Lou’s shoulders, smile, then head off. Amazing, Campbell is such a perfect vision of Reagan that it baffles me. I couldn’t see how it was going to work when I first heard the casting news ages ago. Now, I kick myself to have thought anything other than: fucking awesome.
Lots of family relationships, good ones, in this show. Between the different Gerhardt dynamics – Dodd/Bear, Dodd/Charlie, Dodd/Simone, & Dodd/Floyd (a pattern emerges) – and the Solversons, I’m loving every minute of the scenes involving any of their characters.
Particularly, I love Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and his daughter Betsy Solverson. They’re great together. I’m not usually even a fan of Danson’s, but there is a finesse and subtlety with which he plays the role I can’t deny. Especially in this episode, as he tries consoling his terminally ill daughter; there’s a point you could almost cry, he’s so tender and gentle and silly. Great few moments here.
Then we fall back to Charlie. He wants to go back to school, trying to call his father on the phone. But the man who Dodd sent with the boy wants to settle things. Thanks to Noreen, Charlie misses Ed. Then a massive fight breaks out between the Gerhardt henchman and Ed, a fire ignites after Charlie pumps a shot in the wrong direction.
Yet Ed proves to be almost superhero-like. He whacks the guy with a meat cleaver, plants a butcher’s knife in the henchman’s head, then gets Noreen + Charlie out to safety (even though the young Gerhardt took a bullet – maybe just a stray grazing or something). Then, instead of sticking around, Ed takes off. No doubt to make sure Peggy is okay. Or is he now convinced leaving town is best?
Dodd: “Bein’ grown’s got a price”
Ed flies back in the door trying to tell Peggy they need to pack and leave. Worst timing ever, right? They’re destined to never be on the same page. She’s already sold the car, changed her mind. Now, everything has changed in the blink of an eye. The shop burned up, anyways. MAN, OH, MAN! I feel so terrible for the Blumquists. There’s a nasty irony to everything happening in their lives. Tragedy lurks around each and every corner they come to.
The shit really hits the fan spinning when Ed and Peggy hear sirens, the reds and blues flashing around outside their door. Harsh and darkly comedic moment, as they both stare out towards the front door, seeing it all. We return to Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun”, which played in an earlier episode – it plays as the credits roll. Quality finish to a solid episode.
Excited to see/review “Rhinoceros”. Stay tuned for the next episode’s rundown!
Season 2, Episode 4: “Fear and Trembling”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Steve Blackman
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Gift of the Magi” – click here
This episode begins with a flash to 1951 – Moonbase Freedom starring Ronald Reagan (not an actual film) plays in a small movie theatre. On the way there, a boy and his father rattle along in a truck. Over top of the scene Count Basie plays, “Topsy”. A man named Kellerman (Kai Lennox) sits waiting for the father. Ends up with dear ole dad about to be shot in the back of the head, but then the young boy ends up knifing Kellerman in the back of the skull. Turns out, this is little Dodd and papa Otto back in the day.
Otto: “Like the heads of Easter Island”
Otto: “Not a sound”
Back in their current timeline, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is teaching his nephew Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) the ways of the Gerhardt clan. They end up at a restaurant where Dodd tasers a man violently, getting Charlie to join in on the action with a few punches. Nice bonding. Surely Bear (Angus Sampson) is going to be REAL happy with his brother showing his son – someone he wanted to be away from the family business – the dirty, gritty ropes. Not just that, we get a bit of Devo’s “Too Much Paranoias” to boot. Jam.
At the same time Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) accompanies his wife Betsy (Cristin Milioti) to the doctor where they have an extremely frustrating conversation. Essentially, she’s asked to be part of a trial for an experimental drug, but naturally there’s no guarantees she’ll get anything real. Possibly just a placebo, like “a Smartie – you know, a Smartie.”
Then there’s Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst) who are trying to go about their lives. In fact, among all the madness they’ve become involved with – re: Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) – they seem to be gunning for a baby. Or at least Ed is, anyways. Their problems are plenty, and it’s not as if they’re going away any time soon.
Ed: “Today’s the first day of the rest of our lives”
Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) is more and more a character I’m interested in. At first, he seems like the typical bad guy, the silent man waiting in the wings to do crazy things. But then we see him at the crime scene, we watch him check out tire tracks and look into the sky like a clairvoyant. Though, he isn’t. Just a smart man who has obviously spent his life around these types of nasty situations. Clearly we’ve seen this already last episode in “The Myth of Sisyphus“. We’re just expanding further. He tracks down the Blomquist car at a garage, where a very Coen-ish type mechanic character gives up a little too much information about Ed.
Then we get a glimpse of Hanzee’s character. Is it true? He talks about being a Tunnel Rat during Vietnam, after the mechanic mentions being in the war himself. Very brief, before Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) interrupts and shoes Dent off.
Mr. Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) has ended up in bed with Simone Gerhardt (Rachel Keller). Shit. That can’t be a good idea, can it? She’s clearly not too worried about her family, especially not daddy Dodd whose fists are a little too liberal around the house. But still, Milligan certainly isn’t making things easy for himself. Then again he doesn’t feel like the type of guy who cares about things being easy; in short, he’s a bad motherfucker. Or, at the very least, one cool cucumber.
Lou heads over to the garage where Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) is on the scene. They get the scoop on Hanzee, though, you can be sure Lou doesn’t exactly feel right about any of it. He has a brief flash to his run-in with Ed at the shop recently, which will come to bear later on.
The Gerhardts, lead by mama Floyd (Jean Smart), head to a big meeting with Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett); Milligan is curiously missing, no doubt held up by Simone. Then Floyd lays it all out on the table – they will not be backing down: “Partnership, not a sale,” she tells Joe. But it’s evident Floyd is one tough lady. She tells Bulo a little bit about her hardships, then makes clear: “We’ll fight to keep what’s ours ’till the last man.”
However, as we could’ve already assumed, Bulo isn’t too keen on taking the offer straight up. He wants assurance the Gerhardt boys will follow mom’s orders. Floyd tries her best to assure Bulo this will be the case, though, Dodd makes a scene. We’ll see how things go from here.
As if Otto Gerhardt (Michael Hogan) hadn’t been through enough with his stroke, Milligan had to go and make things worse. He wasn’t still with Simone. While Floyd met with Bulo, Mike and the Kitchen Brothers killed the men transporting Otto around. I thought they were actually going to kill Otto off, but Mike simply gave him a Godfather homage: “Joe Bulo says hello.” Then at the table, word reaches Bulo and the counter offer is rejected. Things are about to get even more dark and violent than ever before.
More Blomquist drama. Poor Ed. He wants to buy the shop so bad, the meat shop where he works, but Peggy’s been less than upfront with her unsuspecting husband. He’s trying his best to get things straight with her. Peggy went and dipped in when Ed thought they were clear on the money situation – even worse, Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) pushes her into being an independent woman, which is great, but Ed isn’t even being a bad guy. She’s basically fucked them and Ed only wants to buy the shop so they can be better off – instead, Constance is telling her what to do while trying to make it appear as if Peggy is living free.
Then in the background, Hanzee rolls by giving them the eye; Ed meets his gaze briefly, you can almost see it shake him.
A little later Mr. Dent strolls into the Blomquist garage, alone, quiet. He knows the ways of murder. He rubs the floor, smells it, and then looks up to find bleach on a shelf nearby. There’s an amazing presence Zahn McClarnon displays, as Hanzee walks around the house and examines everything, flicking his Zippo open to have a look here and there, even finding what looks like Rye’s belt buckle in the fireplace among the ashes. Over top of the scene plays “Song of the Earth” played by the Philharmonic Orchestra, a piece by Gustav Mahler.
Perhaps the most tense of all comes when State Trooper Solverson goes to see the Blomquists. They feed him a nervous, awkward story about what happened with the car – and Ed happens to spy, out the corner of his eye, the fireplace has been moved around a bit. Uh oh.
Yet Lou seems to want to help. At least in the sense he gives them the benefit of the doubt. He goes into a story about war, the look in a boy’s eyes after he’s been shot – the sort of unaware sense, not realizing yet what has happened. Lou’s identified that look in Ed and Peggy. He straight up knows, even bluntly stating who the man was they hit. All the same, the Blomquists keep up the charade. A very great moment comes when Ed looks up at a painting on the wall – a picturesque landscape of a farm, the ideal, the dream they hope to attain – and you can see he’s just not willing to let go of the hope that they can get out of this without admitting to what they’ve done. But Lou knows, and he tries telling them to be careful anyways.
At Ranch Gerhardt, the boys are wondering what mama Floyd wants to do about Bulo and the coming onslaught. “It’s war,” she tells them defiantly.
But what I love most about this moment is how they cut from one strong woman to another: Betsy. She’s sitting at the kitchen table staring down her experimental drugs, about to go to war herself. Nice little shift. Plus, there’s a good little scene between her and Lou when she goes out to find him on the lawn. He laments about how “we used to know right from wrong” – we, the society. It’s strange because we don’t often get such a strong and righteous type of character like Lou. Yet in the Fargo universe, we do get those characters. They come into such incredible contrast with the darker, more malevolent characters at play. So, to see Lou dealing with his wife fighting cancer, as well as watching the world he knew and loved slipping away bit by bit, now with seemingly normal and moral people like the Blomquists covering up murders, it’s a tragically exciting situation character-wise.
Every week I’m left craving more. One of the best shows on television, ever. Next episode is “The Gift of the Magi”, directed by Jeffrey Reiner.
Stay tuned for another one. Looking forward to it!
Season 2, Episode 3: “The Myth of Sisyphus”
Directed by Michael Uppendahl
Written by Bob DeLaurentis
Starting with the last episode, “Before the Law“, Noah Hawley & Co. have been instilling this season with a great bit of existentialism. For those who may not know, “Before the Law” is a story told to K in Kafka’s The Trial. So immediately with the name of that episode came other implications. Now, with this 3rd episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” moves slightly from strictly existentialism to Albert Camus and absurdism; the name of this episode is one of Camus greatest essays.
Keep thinking back to certain moments. Particularly I’m reminded of the previous episode when Sheriff Larsson (Ted Danson) sits talking with Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), how they talk about the war coming home with them, as if searching for meaning, some reason why violence – terrifying violence – is right at their doorstep. And this is where Camus certainly comes in: there’s an absurd aspect to the human want and need to define life’s meaning, to find something they can point to and say “THIS IS IT!”, because life merely unfolds however it wants and there’s nothing else to change or stop it. Life just happens.
This episode opens with a strange moment. Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) pets a rabbit while remembering seeing a magician as a young boy, pulling one out of a hat. Then he snaps its neck off-screen, walking back towards the Gerhardt house. “Yama Yama” by Yamasuki begins to play, which is pretty great. Another montage to start things.
Then the Gerhardts have some visitors. They’re “talking about the Kansas City Mafia“, Floyd (Jean Smart) tries to lay things out as the matriarch in charge while her husband sits near catatonic after a stroke. Her son Bear (Angus Sampson) continually backs her up, while constantly eating. Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) wants to go warring, but Floyd does not. Their visitors agree if any trouble comes the Gerhardt way, they’ll “cut the god damn nose off their face“.
At a small restaurant of some sort, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) is late for a meeting with Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett). They have a quirky conversation about hair, soft water, and Agree shampoo. They also talk about whether or not the Gerhardts will be killed, or whether they’ll be offered more money. They’re still looking for Rye (Kieran Culkin). Good luck.
Over in Luverne, Minnesota, trusty Lou Solverson (Wilson) chats over radio with Sheriff Hank Larsson (Danson). Their chemistry is continually awesome. A new dynamic comes into play for Lou in this episode. Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) is working the case on the other end. This fella doesn’t seem quite right. He’s askew in some sort of way. Not sure how yet, but definitely sketchy. Either way, he and Lou end up together for a little while throughout “The Myth of Sisyphus”.
Hank: “Over and out… I guess.”
Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) finds herself sweating it out at the salon where she works. Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) is coiffing Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti), as father-in-law Hank walks in with a wanted poster for – you betcha – Rye Gerhardt. Then Betsy reminds Hank of the shoe in the tree at the diner, they talk about a hit-and-run situation after the shooting. But slyly, and maybe a bit too ballsy, Peggy jumps in to say “that just don’t make sense“. Somehow, the do-goody Dudley Do-Right in Hank agrees, assuming no good citizen would just run a man down then drive home “with a Gerhardt in the your windshield and cook dinner“. So darkly, hilariously ironic. The absurdity of it all.
Naturally, Peggy rushes to take husband Ed (Jesse Plemons) home from work. It’s almost nerve wracking to watch her stumble around, so close to getting them caught.
Skip Sprang (Mike Bradecich) – former partner on the down-low of Rye – ends up running into Solverson and Schmidt. He’s more than obvious about being nervous; Lou points out he’s a “squirrelly little fella“. In fact, Lou spied him heading over to the office of the judge who Rye killed at the diner. So, this is another man unaccustomed to crime, just as the Blomquists, who will eventually run himself into trouble all because of his own sloppy nature.
Skip runs straight to Rye’s apartment. Instead of Rye – obviously – he finds Simone Gerhardt (Rachel Keller), who is a bit of a problem child for her father Dodd. Hanzee looks after her a little, but Mr. Dent is definitely slightly psychotic. He is way too comfortable with blood all over his hands. I love his presence, though. Hanzee is a mysterious type of character.
But it’s bad news for Skip. He ends up getting taken back to Papa Dodd and the clan.
Simone: “Whaddya say, red man – should we have some fun?”
Hanzee: “You betcha”
Peggy drags out to the woods with their beat up car. She uses a plan one of her uncles came up with after smashing his car while drunk. After the car is taken care of, Rye is already ground up, Peggy believes they’ll be “free“. Nothing goes as planned, but eventually ole Ed gets it right. I feel so bad for him. He’s been pulled into such a mess by Peggy, who continually leads him down the path she thinks is best. Yet at the same time, Ed simply goes along because he loves her. To death.
Lots of other stuff happening at the Gerhardt house. Young Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) wants to have more of a hand in things, but Bear would rather him go back to school and stay out of what’s about to go down. So it isn’t just Dodd who has trouble with his children.
At the same time, Solverson and Schmidt show up at the Gerhardt ranch. This is an amazing scene. Patrick Wilson brings out the inner badass of Lou – “Am I the only here who’s clear on the concept of law enforcement?” But it becomes clear quickly Ben Schmidt knows the Gerhardts a little too well; Floyd comes out and even asks about his mother. After things start to get slightly tense, Lou has to lay down the law and stand his ground. Dodd shows up to toss more fuel on the fire, but Lou does not back down. Not in the slightest. Great, great tension here. I honestly didn’t know how things would turn out! Clearly we all know Solverson doesn’t die – he was already in the first season as an older man. But still, that’s the master strokes of this show and its power: you can already know something, or think you know, and it will find a way to surprise you.
But wait – there’s more Lou Solverson badassery.
He goes to check in on Skip, the squirrelly typewriter salesman. Rather than finding him, he comes across Mike Milligan, accompanied by none other than the Kitchen brothers, Gale and Wayne (Brad & Todd Mann). There’s a bit of a stand-off. Except in the Minnesota plain speak style. Another quality scene, almost better than the previous with the Gerhardts. Won’t spoil too much more here. Though obviously, Lou does make it out. A tense scene with lots of style.
Milligan: “So, where’d you say you saw old Skip?”
Lou: “At your mother’s house. I think goin’ in the back door.”
A chilling end to this episode, definitely the most disturbing bit since the opening shooting at the diner. Dodd and Hanzee put Skip in a dug out hole, making him lie down. Then they back up a dump truck full of asphalt with which to bury him alive. Although it seems like Dodd’s about to let him live, once Skip reveals Milligan was looking for Rye, there’s no hope ultimately. The asphalt covers him, he’s dead. Now it’s clear Dodd is taking the reigns, ordering Hanzee to kill anyone who gets in their way.
Very excited for the next episode, “Fear and Trembling” – another philosophy title. This time from Soren Kierkegaard’s text of the same name, a great read for anyone interested in philosophical thought.
Stay tuned, Fargo fiends! We’ll be back for more next week.
Season 2, Episode 2: “Before the Law”
Directed by Noah Hawley
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “Waiting for Dutch” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus” – click here
After the incredible opening episode, Fargo moves further into Season 2 with “Before the Law”.
This episode begins with more of the stylistically awesome editing, loving the splits-screen and how they use it at various intervals. Nice montage to start with Bobbie Gentry’s “Reunion” playing over top. We see glimpses of almost all the characters here and I thought it was a good way to start things off.
Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart) is dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s stroke. A Gerhardt nephew, Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) – whose father is Bear (Angus Sampson) – helps his grandma out with “the bank“. Out in the barn, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is viciously interrogating some poor guy with his partner in crime Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Meanwhile, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) have also come in from Kansas City to see the Gerhardt clan.
Plenty of things happening. Seems there are troubles within the family, let alone anything else outside of their ranks. Dodd wants to be the boss of the family now that patriarch Otto (Michael Hogan) is temporarily – and most likely permanently – out of the picture as figurehead. However, even his brother Bear believes their mother is the proper candidate. A tense little scene where we see how there’s not much real love in the Gerhardt family, it’s all about politics and hierarchical structure. Not saying they don’t love one another, but more that their family is built around an empire. It’s more a business than anything.
Dodd Gerhardt – with his right hand man Hanzee – is not letting his mother’s newly found leadership get in the way. They’re plotting something, planning. We’ll see exactly what that is sooner than later.
Floyd: “That’s what an empire is – it’s bigger than any son, or daughter.”
One big pot of jumbo going on here. So many complexities happening. I haven’t even mentioned the fact of Rye (Kieran Culkin) having been killed in the last episode by Ed and Peggy Blomquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). The rest of Rye’s clan think he’s off either getting laid or doing something else just as trivial, in their eyes. I keep wondering how this is all going to come together, a big SNAFU of epic criminal proportions.
Heading away from the Gerhardt home, Bulo and Milligan have a conversation about their job. Seems they’re going to try divide and conquer among the Gerhardt boys. The first suggestion from Milligan, Rye, is obviously not going to work out.
Usually I find Ted Danson sort of… tedious. I’m already loving him in this season of Fargo. This character has a good deal of depth off the bat. Hank Larsson (Danson) and Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) are very believable together as father-in-law/son-in-law buddy cops. Added into that situation is Lou’s wife, daughter of Hank, Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti). I think the three-way dynamic between these actors and their characters is beginning very strong. Look forward to seeing more of them with each passing episode.
I feel bad for Ed Blomquist. Peggy really did him dirty with the whole accident and not telling him. What did she think would happen? What was Peggy planning on doing? Very clear Ed loves his wife, if not he wouldn’t stick by her so closely. Her transgression has really put them both in a terrifying place. Not only that, Ed has to deal simply with the fact he took another man’s life. Regardless of how it happened, what went down, he still killed someone. Cannot be easy to live with.
Really, though, I’m sure Peggy will be the downfall of them both. At least in terms of public image. She is so nervous looking and her disposition is totally off when around others, so I can almost see it coming right now. She’s too edgy while Ed appears level headed and focused on making sure they don’t get caught.
Milligan pays a visit to the shop where Rye had previously been conducting his business with Skip Watson (Mike Bradecich). He’s tracking down the youngest Gerhardt. A real great scene here, which shows the solid acting abilities of Bokeem Woodbine; an underrated actor. He pulls Watson’s tie into one of the IBM typewriters, looking for information on the Judge killed over at the diner in “Waiting for Dutch“, then follows up with a little story about writing a letter to General Electric and some questions. It’s such an expertly written scene, something I’m coming to expect from Hawley.
Jesse Plemons is someone I think is also underrated. After his turn on Breaking Bad, playing a very unlikeable character (though he played him well), here he gets a bigger role, as well as one with even more under the surface. Watching him clean up the mess his wife made, first the car and bleaching the garage floor then in his underwear burning bloody clothes at the fireplace, you can tell he’s even come a long way just since Breaking Bad. The Blomquists story is a part of this season I’m already super invested in personally and I’m sure there are going to be more little tragedies for them the further we go.
One of my favourite scenes of the season already comes when Lou Solverson goes over to the diner. He heads inside to have a look at the nasty crime scene. Outside, his daughter and wife play in the snow. Then when the little one picks up a deflated balloon, Betsy ends up finding the shiny silver revolver Rye used in the murders. Sort of a bittersweet moment because it’s awesome she found the gun, also sort of darkly funny the way Lou was inside with all the blood and death, as his wife and daughter are just outside, having fun in the angelic white snow. Perfect sort of Fargo moment of juxtaposition.
Right afterwards there’s an intense scene. Milligan and his henchmen are pulled over by Larsson. There’s a bit of messing about, with Milligan playing games briefly. Honestly, I was completely on edge from the moment Larsson stood in the road and their car showed up. Ted Danson has such an outstanding degree of suspense in his own eyes, such a burning stare throughout the confrontation, you’ll find it very hard not to fall in with how tense things feel. I actually let my breath out slightly once the scene faded into the next. Wow.
Still, I’m most interested in Ed and Peggy. More so Ed, though, as he’s carrying the major brunt of the entire situation on his shoulders. Just watching him smolder alone in his car, at the meat shop, at home, it’s almost unnerving. Because you don’t know how regular, everyday people will be affected by murder. It can lead certain people into a dark descent. Will Ed be one of those? Will he crack under the pressure, or keep it all together in order to protect himself, his wife, his potential family down the road? One thing I know is that it’s totally fun watching the dark drama play out in front of us. The spirit of the Coen Brothers Fargo is continuously alive and well.
Feeling like a broken record, again there is trouble for the Blomquists. Co-worker Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) ends up finding the stolen toilet paper she’d mentioned earlier, to Peggy – in Peggy’s house. The smallest sort of thing, but in these murder cover-up situations, aren’t the smallest details almost most important? Even worse, now more people – Constance – are seeing the car, the damage, so their dirty secrets are starting to filter out. In a small Minnesota town, secrets like theirs, or any secrets for that matter can easily make their rounds through the locals. The more I see Peggy onscreen, the more I feel she’s going to do something even more stupid than she originally did and the secrets will start flowing like waterfalls.
Larsson and Solverson have a nice little conversation nearing the episode’s end. Not only are the idiosyncrasies of these two characters revealed a little more, their talk about “convergence” and “callback” is important. Fargo is a show based around those ideas, that one situation will remind you of another, that things come back to bear on all things relevant; ultimately, the bad keeps repeating, calling back to other bad things, and so on. There’s more to their conversation, mostly concerning the diner crime scene. However, I think a good deal of their dialogue lent itself to the idea of history repeating itself, at least in part.
Larsson: “Sometimes I wonder if you boys didn’t bring that war home with ya.”
Ed Blomquist finally finds himself in a tight situation. About time, really, in terms of this season’s plot; may as well get things going full steam. As Ed chops and grinds the body of Rye Gerhardt at the shop, putting it through the machinery like he might a bunch of sausages, et cetera. Amazing shot where he chops fingers off, they roll to the floor and one slips under the door out into the shop! I couldn’t believe it, such a gnarly moment. Plus, the suspense goes up with Lou Solverson out at the door, knocking away. Extremely tense – Lou wants bacon (get it?) for when Betsy wakes up, so naturally Ed invites him in while he cuts off a few pieces. Two excellent actors here bouncing off one another. Great writing. This is typical – and awesome – Fargo type fare, with the music really riling things up, the acting on point and a hairy situation playing out. Kept me on edge for the entire few minutes of the scene.
“The Eve of the War” by Jeff Wayne begins to play over the final shots. So fitting and beautiful and dark at once.
Cannot WAIT to see and review the next episode, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Stay tuned, fellow Fargo-ites!
Season 2, Episode 1: “Waiting for Dutch”
Directed by Randall Einhorn & Michael Uppendahl
Written by Noah Hawley * For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Morton’s Fork” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Before the Law” – click here Another show I loved in its first season, I’ve decided to review Fargo going forward (I’ll retroactively go back and do Season 1 soon). All new characters – some of them, anyways. All new situations, locations, and more!
Season 2 opens with the old school MGM lion and logo. Furthermore, there’s a black-and-white clip from Massacre at Sioux Falls, and an awkward exchange between actor and director of the picture. Awesome beginning – “Look I’m a Jew, so believe me, I know tribulation.” – I was laughing so god damn hard. Plus mentions of Reagan (his nickname = Dutch), as well. Dig it, and I’m super curious where this Reagan stuff is going to head. Perhaps we’re going to see some parallels with Reaganism and crime, some kind of other similar comparison, I don’t know. Either way, the writing is pulling me in right from the start.
Now we move into an old clip of President Jimmy Carter giving a speech from the Oval Office, mixed with cuts of some new characters and even other news pieces on John Wayne Gacy and Jim Jones. There’s not only great selection of news pieces and shots of a few new characters – including those played by Kieran Culkin, Jeffrey Donova, Bokeem Woodbine and more – the editing here is downright stellar. Gives things a chaotic tone from the start.
Heading off from there, Dodd Gerhardt (Jeffrey Donovan) and his associate Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) meet in an alley with Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), putting the fear of violence in him. Rye is under the thumb of his brother meant to be collecting money. Obviously the Gerhardt clan is into nefarious shit, though, poor little Rye feels left out of the race for the throne. They’ve got another brother, Bear (Angus Sampson), but I guess Rye is the one wearing “the short pants” until he proves he’s a man and can handle the family’s business properly. Seems like the young brother might be an underachiever, in terms of organized crime.
Back at the Gerhardt house, mama Floyd (Jean Smart) alerts papa Otto (Michael Hogan) there’s a little money short at the moment. But during their talk, Otto has what looks to be a stroke, gripping the table before falling to the floor.
Out on a run for collections, Rye obviously has things going on the side. Apparently he’s going in on IBM electric typewriters with a business partner. All it involves is forgetting debt owed to Rye’s family and tailing a judge (Ann Cusack).
There’s a great use of the split-screen in this episode with lots of nice cuts between Rye and his family, all doing their own thing. Over that Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun” plays. Then we’re right back with Rye alone, he’s followed the judge into a diner after taking a bump of coke in his car. Slick, Rye. He slides into the table across from her. He tries convincing her to change her mind about a case, to which she reels off a big story about Satan and the Biblical Job. Bit ridiculous, but no in terms of writing – I think it shows how cocky a woman this judge is. Then she sprays bug spray in Rye’s eyes, so he blasts her away. Whoa. He kills a cook and a waitress afterwards simply out of fear and surprise. The judge isn’t all dead yet, she stabs him in the back before getting another bullet. I’ve ruined enough, so I won’t fully spoil the rest… this sequence is a rough doozy.
Safe to say there’ll be a bit of nasty trouble gearing up for the Gerhardt family?
Game changer comes quick when Rye wanders into the snow packed road looking at lights in the sky and gets smashed by it car. It only drives away with him adorning the hood like an ornament.
Now we’re back with a young Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) – previously played in Season 1 by Keith Carradine – and his wife Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) tucking their child into bed. Lou gets called into work, naturally because of the shooting at the small diner. This is one of the immediate things – aside from this series’ amazing overall aesthetic – I love starting into Season 2, how we’re getting a link to the first with Solverson and this crime. Not just that, Patrick Wilson is a solid actor in my book, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does with this character.
Added to Wilson, he gets to play off Ted Danson who features as another police officer, from the state, Hank Larsson. They each do great Minnesota accents and their chemistry is actually incredible. Would never have imagined these two together. Their relationship actually, for whatever reason, reminds me of the cops from the Fargo film. Such non-chalance and oddly humorous chemistry.
Hank: “That’s a shoe, all right.”
Lou heads down to Bingo with a couple of his buddies, including Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman). I loved this bit because Offerman is usually a certain type of character, here he’s a sort of anti-government conspiracy theorist yet not totally mad or anything just super serious really. Lou’s wife Betsy recently started chemotherapy, so it’s even worse now with this recent shooting – guaranteed he’ll be away a bit working while she’s trying to deal with her illness. Or is Lou the solid type he seems? Will he put aside work and be there as much as she needs? We’ll see, it’s a tough situation for them both, a devastating disease for Betsy to fight.
Meanwhile we’re also introduced to Ed Blomquist (Jesse Plemons) and his wife Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst) who have a fairly regular life. Ed works down at a butcher shop, bringing home some meat that was paid for but not picked up. Peggy cooks up a nice meal in their cute little kitchen, then they sit down together for a bite. Only there’s a little tension between husband and wife – babies, sex, all that stuff.
The kicker being Peggy was the one driving the car that hit Rye after his shooting. She tries to explain it away the accident by saying it was a deer. Except it might’ve worked if Rye weren’t still alive in the garage, barely, and trying to stab Ed. Luckily, Ed fends him off but ends up stabbing him to death. His wife really did him bad on this one. A nasty chain of events is about to start unfolding and I can only imagine all its repercussions. The Gerhardt family, regardless of their disappointment with Rye, are going to be pretty torn up about this when it comes to light, which obviously means Ed and Peggy Blomquist are going to find themselves in a sticky situation. In addition, the cops make this a vicious triangle. So many things that can, and no doubt will, go terribly wrong.
End of the episode was good with a cut from the Gerhardts all surrounding Otto, now lying quite still in bed and the sounds of when he first stroked, to a shot of Ed and Peggy tossing Rye into their deep freeze.
Nice quick intro to Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) who briefs a team of people on the Gerhardt family’s business. Apparently the family is poised to be absorbed by a larger corporation. This whole thing is pretty shady and ominous in ways, love the very last couple shots and the music kicking in, solid finisher.
Stay tuned for the next episode with me – “Before the Law”. Loving this season already, I hope many of you are, as well!
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!