Tagged Religion

Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man: Fever Dream Memories of Christianity and Paganism

The Wicker Man. 1973. Directed by Robin Hardy. Screenplay by Anthony Shaffer; based on the novel Ritual by David Pinner.
Starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, Diane Cilento, Britt Ekland, Ingrid Pitt, Lindsay Kemp, Russell Water, Aubrey Morris, Irene Sunters, Walter Carr, Ian Campbell, & Roy Boyd. British Lion Film Corporation.
Rated R. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
POSTER
DISCLAIMER: as of this writing it’s been 43 years since the release of this classic, so if you haven’t see it I really don’t even need to tell you about any possible SPOILERS! Yet I do so anyway. This review is going to talk about the ending later. If you head on through expect for that to get talked of openly. This is your final warning.

Upon hearing Robin Hardy passed today, I was torn up. Honestly there’s nothing else he’s done that I’ve particularly been interested in. It’s the influence of his mysterious folk horror The Wicker Man that endeared me to him permanently. When I was young I remember catching this movie on some channel, whether it was Show Case here in Canada I can’t be sure; likely, but not positive. I remember how strange and dreamy the whole thing was, and the way in which its songs mixed into the creepy story to make something altogether different from anything else I’d ever seen at the time. So as an early teen Hardy influenced me greatly with a single hour and a half of film.
There are a few reasons for Hardy’s influential touch. First, it wasn’t until about age thirteen that I finally shed the influence of my Roman Catholic upbringing, after my parents were smart enough to give me a choice – church or not. I saw this movie around age eleven, maybe twelve at most. It was before that choice of mine to stop going to church and taking communion, all that. The religious elements at play in this film were incredibly interesting to me. Second off all, Hardy’s finale is one of the single most horrific sequences of all time. To me it is the epitome of folk horror, including the gradual build up to those moments. This is a successful horror movie that does not rely on an entirely physical element to make things scary. Rather, The Wicker Man pries up your skin and slithers beneath it, both disturbing you and even making you smile (or laugh) from time to time.
One thing’s for sure: imitators be damned, there is NOTHING like this one.
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Shaffer has done some good work other than this film, mainly FrenzySleuthMurder on the Orient Express come to mind. This is his crowning achievement. There’s of course the inclusion of David Pinner’s novel Ritual, but his work together with Hardy made for some terribly interesting story and characters. Forget the simple fact all that folk music thrown in is so unique and fun, Shaffer makes this paganism-styled religion out on the fictional Scottish island Summerisle partly unnerving and also an equal part intriguing. You want to know more, and as Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) discovers more then you sort of want to know less – in the best, mystery-horror hybrid kind of way. I love that there’s a great deal of attention paid to the Celtic traditions, paganism, as well as drops of history here and there. Shaffer uses all kinds of things, such as the Middle English folk tune “Sumer Is Icumen In” (you can find a proper copy of this in A Middle English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell) that you’ll find comes at a crucial moment. The song is a terrifying sound to hear when it’s sung. It is also very poignant for that scene, too. If you know a book called The Golden Bough by James Frazer then you can see how much Shaffer drew from when writing this script. What I love is that he creates a purely organic way for us to discover this Summerisle religion alongside Howie. Instead of feeling like a terrible load of exposition, while still being completely expository, the journey on which Howie goes to figure out what’s happening allows us to sift through the pagan island religion with interest. Other screenplays might make that feel boring. Shaffer manages to keep the pacing steady. Then you can also count the interesting musical pieces as a way to make everything feel compelling. Between the unique atmosphere, the songs and the dancing and the pagan-like rituals we witness, all the odd visuals (those first animal masks are horrifying), there’s enough to make this more than weird for weird’s sake.
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Some of the more enjoyable aspects stem from the theme of religion v. paganism, the centrepiece of the screenplay. Howie is a direct parallel to Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), whose hippy-like vision of religion appals the lawman, a staunch Christian. There are some genuine looks of horror courtesy of Woodward’s talented acting which really make you see how devastating the idea of pagan worship is to the straight laced, God fearing Christian worshipper. The awful irony is that Woodward’s Christianity leads him into curiousness and duty that is his downfall. That apprehension and judgement becomes a gateway into paranoia. In the end, this Christian paranoia re: heathenism alongside Howie’s dutiful police sensibilities combine in a lethal cocktail of curiosity. Something that’s worth noting is that on his way toward the finale, and his doom, Howie momentarily loses himself in the heathen pagan traditions: whilst wearing the disguise to follow Summerisle and his people, Howie sheds his Christian repression and slaps a few women on the ass gleefully. If only for a second he forgot his devout Christianity and let loose with the heathens. Probably all for the best, as the poor Scottish policeman isn’t long for this world, anyway.
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As I’ve mentioned, The Wicker Man is successfully filled with horror not because of any blood or gore, nor any jump scares. It isn’t due to anything typical. All the fun elements like the songs eventually transform into something treacherous and evil. By the final scene, singing is nothing but a vortex into madness. The masks and the pagan symbols are appealing early on, like the marks of island/small town charm. Later, as Howie discovers himself the ultimate fool – perfectly dressed just like Punch, eternal fool himself – those animal masks and all the nature imagery, it’s positively chilling. Christopher Lee gives a charismatic performance that set him so far apart from the typical Hammer Horror roles it’s amazing, and his determined attitude as Lord Summerisle is nothing if not psychopathic. Likewise, Woodward plays Howie perfectly, and for all his foolishness you truly pity him, especially once he sees the eponymous structure from which the film takes its name. Robin Hardy will always be remembered, fondly, for his weird and wild The Wicker Man. It is not merely a load of hype. It is a fantastic piece of folk horror and an unforgettably unique moment in cinematic history. Relish that. I do, every so often, and as damned often as I can.
We’ll miss you, Mr. Hardy. Thank you for your strange vision; it is forever a fever dream in my memory.

Colonia is a Glazed Over Historical Thriller

Colonia. 2016. Directed by Florian Gallenberger. Screenplay by Gallenberger & Torsten Wenzel.
Starring Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist, Richenda Carey, Vicky Krieps, Jeanne Werner, Julian Ovenden, August Zirner, Martin Wuttke, Nicolás Barsoff, Steve Karier, Stefan Merki, Lucila Gandolfo, Johannes Allmayer, & Gilles Soeder. Majestic Filmproduktion/Iris Productions/Rat Pack Filmproduktion.
Rated 14A. 110 minutes.
Drama/History/Romance

★★★
POSTER The story of Colonia Dignidad – a.k.a Dignity Colony – and its enigmatic, terrifying leader Paul Schäfer is not a story many in the Western world know. Schäfer was German, escaping charges of child molestation and sexual assault, and founded the colony in 1961. Under Schäfer, the colony was immersed in eccentric religion, as well as an authoritarian rule by their leader himself. They were not allowed to see their loved ones, from parents to children to spouses. Above all else, Schäfer was a misogynist whose deep-seated issues with women is evident through how he ran his little cult. Even the Angel of Death hismelf, Josef Mengele, has been confirmed to have been at the colony during some point by both the Central Intelligence Agency, and also famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. So on top of the fact he was simply an abuser wrapped in the clothes of a father figure and a mentor, Schäfer further had ties with Nazi Germany and the SS, which only makes things more disturbing.
And so, with stories of people escaping, fleeing the brutal abuse and the authoritarianism, Colonia is based on true events. This is the story of one man whose disappearance at the hands of military men landed him in Colonia Dignidad, and whose wife never gave up looking for him. With a couple spectacular performances from Daniel Brühl, Emma Watson, and Michael Nyqvist, this is better than the average ‘Based On a True Story’ fare. Although, the film is not perfect. Whereas Schäfer was German, and many Germans were a part of the group, there feels to be a significant lack of Chilean actors and characters in general, outside of the military men and the brief appearances of General Augusto Pinochet. In a day and age where whitewashing films is all too common, and for a film that’s set in Chile, it’s hard to imagine why they didn’t include more of the Chilean people, as they were also very affected – not only by Schäfer, but by Pinochet, who used the colony as a secret camp for torture, murder, and much more.
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In 1973, Lena (Emma Watson) works as flight attendant, while her husband Daniel (Daniel Brühl) is a photographer and semi-activist. Joining protests in the streets against General Augusto Pinochet, Daniel gets abducted and separated from his wife by DINA, Pinochet’s secret police. He is whisked away to a secretive black site where they torture him relentlessly, at least until Paul Schäfer (Michael Nyqvist) comes to take him away after he’s almost been shocked into being mentally challenged. Schäfer takes Daniel to Colonia Dignidad, which is supposedly a charitable religious organization he runs. Only it is so much more. When Lena digs up the truth, she joins Colonia Dignidad. What she discovers ranges from sexual and physical abuse, to cult-like activities, as well as the fact Schäfer operates the colony as a black site where Pinochet brings various political prisoners for torture, and most often death. What follows is Lena’s desperate attempt to save her husband from Schäfer and the colony’s deadly grip.
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In terms of directing, there’s nothing overly impressive other than a generally decent atmosphere and look to the film. What’s most impressive in this mediocre film is the acting. Both Daniel Brühl and Emma Watson are each excellent in their lead roles. Brühl’s role is technically smaller, even if his character’s situation drives the plot, but that doesn’t mean it comes as any less intense. Especially when DINA rushes him off to Pinochet’s secret spot in the colony, then we watch him get tortured into an almost regressive state of human behaviour. Even better, his character then puts on act to try and keep himself under the radar, which showcases Brühl’s ability to jump from one part of his range to another quickly. Most of all, it’s Watson who carries the cast. She is a happy-go-lucky-type at the start, but as Colonia wears on her demeanour is forced to change. Through the series of events that come down her character Lena becomes someone paranoid (and rightfully so), impossibly tough, and also hardened. I’ve always loved Watson since Harry Potter because she is charming and energetic, and like Brühl has an incredible amount of range. If anything, you’ll stick with the film strictly to watch her performance.
Also, I can’t go on without mentioning Michael Nyqvist. He is a huge talent. Of course most know him after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the whole Millenium trilogy alongside Noomi Rapace. Me, I’ve personally been a fan of his from the time of 2005’s horrifically psychological/Hitchcockian Norwegian thriller Naboer. First of all, Nyqvist actually sort of resembles the real life Paul Schäfer, which is always a plus for an actor playing a real life person; not always required if their performance can transcend appearance, but here it helps simply because Schäfer was an eerie sort of man. Nyqvist appears almost saviour-like in his first moments, then gradually we’re introduced to his other persona, the one which hides behind the big gates and the militarized border of Colonia Dignidad. Over the course of the film he becomes monstrous, so much so that even his presence onscreen is enough to unsettle you without requiring dialogue. If it weren’t for Nyqvist, Schäfer could’ve easily been a copy of a copy. Instead he is highly terrifying from one moment to the next, and the angry, misogynistic violence inside Schäfer can emerge explosively, unexpected with Nyqvist in the role.
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While director Florian Gallenberger doesn’t do anything wild in regards to directorial choices, he is successful at keeping Colonia extremely tense. Both Gallenberger and Torsten Wenzel have come up with a decent enough screenplay, despite not exploring the Chilean side of things/Pinochet enough for what the subject matter commands. Nevertheless, each scene is more tense than the last. And the finale is a particularly pulse-pounding experience, as you wonder whether the married couple will finally escape Chile, the colony, and above all Schäfer. But ultimately, Colonia is a 3-star film. If there were some better additions to the screenplay concerning the politics, the dark connections of Schäfer to people like the Nazis, Mengele, even Pinochet and DINA, then perhaps the story might’ve elevated things further. Yes, we do get bits and pieces of the Pinochet reign of power included, as the General comes for weapons, to check on those being tortured, so on, there just simply isn’t enough. Most of the story is focused on the day-to-day of the colony, and that’s fine. However, with a story that’s incredibly political, Gallenberger and Wenzel stick a little too closely to the smaller emotional story at its center. If you go in knowing this, expecting only a tight dramatic look at the married couple and their awful experience, then it may make the film better. There’s simply too much more in the real story that wasn’t told, and with only three solid actors to hold it up the film never reaches anything past being a decent historical drama with some romance and thrills mixed in for taste.

The Path – Season 1, Episode 3: “A Homecoming”

Hulu’s The Path
Season 1, Episode 3: “A Homecoming”
Directed by Michael Weaver
Written by Annie Weisman

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Era of the Ladder” – click here
* For a review o the next episode, “The Future” – click here
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Further down the spiral we go, alongside Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul) as he wavers on the precipice of losing his faith in Meyersim, in Doc, in the far too enigmatic Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy).
After last episode when Eddie went in for his fourteen days, leaving behind son Hawk (Kyle Allen) and wife Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), we pick up in Peru.
In his bed lies Steven Meyers (Keir Dullea), net to him Cal. The Doc is not well, as we’ve already inferred. It’s becoming more and more Cal isn’t so much in it for their religion. He’s in it for the power.
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Back into the world, Eddie shares his experiences. Everything is renewed, everything is fine again. Then there’s Cal, pumping everyone up saying there was “light dancing” in Steven’s eyes when he was told about all their work. Capable of seeing both sides we’re able to stay wary of Cal and his wiles. How long can he keep the wool over everyone’s eyes?
Meanwhile, the whole Miranda Frank (Minka Kelly) situation is devolving. She apparently would not “unburden“, and therefore creates an entirely new pocket of troubles. Because how can Eddie explain himself if Miranda will not confess (to something she did not do)?
Most interesting so far is Cal going to see his previously briefly mentioned mother – Brenda Roberts (Kathleen Turner). One thing I have to mention, as I’ve said before: the score from Will Bates is phenomenal. As Cal goes into the apartment building to see his dear ole mom there is such a great piece of music that builds and builds, it has an unasy, warped feeling, and almost puts you directly into the mind and headspace of Cal.
Detective Abe Gaines (Rockmond Dunbar) is still pursuing the cult. He’s out at their camp talking with Richard (Clark Middleton), pretending to be someone else of course. Naturally, he’s trying to get a lead on what these people are all about.
Still meeting with Alison (Sarah Jones), Eddie tries to cut himself off from their previous incognito investigation. He’s drinking their “juice“, but believes he’s “living the truth“; something she will not buy.
In one of the locked rooms, Sarah goes to talk with Miranda, whose confusion only grows more by the second. Except Sarah is convinced of their affair. The layers only twist around one another, wrapping up in a pit of snakes that’s only bound to make things worse for everyone involved.
Back at his mother’s place, Cal tries to clean up. She’s more interested in trying to draw him back into her life. For a seemingly narcissistic man Cal appears concerned for his mother, her safety, her health and sanity, too.

 


Home in bed, the Lanes “connect” and try to get their energies flowing together. All of their Scientology-like teachings and beliefs make it right into the bedroom. So, like all other major religions, this cult is just like any other operation. They want to control life, they want to lock down personality, to crush individuality. And it’s obvious: Eddie and Sarah have a big Meyerist Eye hanging in their bedroom, right there in the place where they make love.
The sour relationship between Cal and his mother comes out further. She clearly has never had time for any of that cult religion bullshit, though, Cal’s dad entrenched his son in the workings of Meyerism. What’s interesting about their relationship is that there are guaranteed many people Cal’s age, in real life, whose families were torn apart by quasi-hippy nonsense like Meyerism during the 1960s and 1970s. A guy like Mr. Roberts took his son under his wing and immersed him into the cult, which had lasting repercussions on Cal, as well as the family overall. Yet, it’s still clear also that Cal cares deeply for his mother. He even has a drink for her.
Hawk is still trying to live a normal life. He explains the ways of his religion to his new sort-of girlfriend, Ashley (Amy Forsyth). Part of him comes off very abrasive, likely a result of his being raised in the cult of Meyerism. While Ashley doesn’t exactly understand, or dig, the whole religion thing, she does like Hawk a lot.
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Cal’s trying hard to get his mother into a care home. But she pushes and pushes and pushes, until he snaps on her in front of the people there. The rage in him is clear, even though she is on ragged, rough bitch. There’s a hatred in him which runs deep. It’s scary, actually.
At the same time, Eddie is dealing with being pushed, too. The stress of having to admit something he did not do grows around his shoulders. Everybody knows, everybody thinks that he’s “transgressed“, and it is a burden. No matter if he wants to make things right again. Likewise, Cal’s secret life with his mother, his drinking, it puts him in touch with Sarah. Funny, how Eddie never actually cheated, and yet Sarah and Cal have a strange, semi-emotional relationship with one another, very personal, private. I wonder if there are any other secrets of theirs we don’t know about yet. Because she’s already lying about why Cal called.
Further than that, Eddie finds Alison lurking around outside their house. He actually threatens to kill her if she comes around again: “You do not know where I come from,” he warns. It’s like a massive whirlwind of trouble brewing around their lives, ready to encompass everything nearby, everybody has something threatening the integrity of their cult, something about to crash down on top of their systematically structured universe.

 


Later when Eddie finds out that Miranda is at the compound, unwilling to admit to their non-existent affair, he is rocked. Now what will he do? Somehow this has to go away.
Over at his girlfriend’s house, Hawk does what he can to help Ashley and their family in harsh times. It’s intriguing to watch Hawk go against the wishes of his community because he knows what’s right, he knows to help someone is the ultimate goal, and yet the others around him, his own family, they’re falling way of the path in their own various ways. So to watch the kid be the one whose intentions are lining up true is sort of ironic, when the adults act as if they’ve got it all figured out.
And Cal, he knows exactly where he came from, unfortunately. His mother warns of trying to outrun his identity. That never ever goes the way it’s planned.

 


Brenda: “Wanting to be someone else never works. Just brings you right back here.”

 


A fire is lit under Gaines by the father of Mary Cox (Emma Greenwell). The detective is definitely going to start causing some issues for the Meyerists and their community. Coming up against the wrath of Cal, I wonder exactly how out of control things are about to get.
Once Cal gets back to the camp he meets with Sarah. He tells her about something “in Peru” about Doc Meyers. He claims the “next rungs” deal with “succession of leadership” and so on. Of course. No surprise there, right? Cal wants to install himself as the next leader of the Meyerist movement. “Its always been you,” Sarah even assures.
In the end, Eddie goes to see Miranda. And she’s unconscious, likely dead, having drank the juice she was brought earlier by Sarah, or at least that’s what it looks like. Whoa. Is it really the case?
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Let’s find out together. Next episode is titled “The Future” and more revelations are bound to expose themselves.

The Witch: Religious Madness and Persecution in Early America

The Witch. 2015. Directed & Written by Robert Eggers.
Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson, Bathsheba Garnett, Sarah Stephens, Julian Richings, & Wahab Chaudhry. Parts and Labor/RT Features/Rooks Nest Entertainment/Code Red Productions/Scythia Films/Maiden Voyage Pictures/Mott Street Pictures/Pulse Films/Special Projects.
Rated 14A. 93 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★★
POSTER
People will tell you that The Witch is overhyped, that critics are simply trying to sell Robert Eggers’ feature film debut  as something more than it really is, or rather that anyone calling the movie a modern horror masterpiece is, to put it plainly, full of shit. I’ll put my two cents in to say Eggers has made an impressive, unapologetic horror about witchcraft, religion, repression, and above all paranoia. Eggers’ talent is enormous as a director, not to mention he brings with him the further talents of cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who will no doubt see a spike in his being booked for future films), as well as a host of others who elevated this picture to its level of art. The quiet and subtle essence of the film is its strongest point. Around the edges of all the amazing cinematography and direction is a score from composer Mark Korven, which at times calls to mind classic horror films and at others brings its own feeling while keeping you on edge, engrossed in the moment and continually wondering what may come next. There are so many things to love about The Witch, from its look and entire atmosphere to the cast whose willingness to go all in on the characters makes each scene worth relishing.
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The year is 1630. In New England, William (Ralph Ineson) and his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) live as devout Christians, so much so that they do not fit in with the colony, and William’s refusal to conform with the church sends them out into the wild on their own with their children Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), Mercy (Ellie Grainger), Jonas (Lucas Dawson), as well as the newborn infant Samuel.
After settling into their new life, one day Thomasin plays with the baby. But out of nowhere, Samuel goes missing. They search for  aweek for the child, to no avail. While Katherine is distraught, blaming Thomasin for the disappearance, the children believe it is a witch hiding out in the forest, stealing and eating babies. William, steadfast in his religious ways, assures Katherine of their favour with God, that he is merely testing them. However, once Thomasin goes into the woods hunting with Caleb, and only she returns, the search is on once more. Only this time, even William begins to suspect his daughter may have been wed to the devil.
As religious paranoia and repression take hold, the family’s land becomes haunted. And the devil slowly but surely creeps his way into their hearts and minds.
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I’ll admit, maybe Eggers isn’t for all horror fans. My expectations, though they were huge and still paid off, were also subverted, completely. There were many times I expected things to happen, or the plot to go a certain way, yet Eggers defied me at nearly every turn. There isn’t anything particularly revolutionary in terms of plot here, but the way in which it plays out is lots of terrifying, horrific fun. The dialogue may be a problem for some, as I’m sure not every horror fan will enjoy the Early Modern English dialogue. But that’s part of why I love the screenplay, we truly feel in the time and part of what makes everything so scary is that the story feels real. So all the different elements to the movie make each aspect seem true to life. Part of what sometimes angers me in period pieces is that the characters don’t speak properly for that period in time (we see much of this similarly in films that have people supposedly Russian or German speaking English only with the respective accents; another piss off we sometimes have to endure for Hollywood to make the stories they want). The Witch brushes that off by having the dialogue all in Early Modern English, which drives home, along with so much of the natural-looking cinematography, the authenticity. Furthermore, I love the way Eggers keeps us guessing. Without revealing too much of any actual plot detail, other than the obvious, what intrigued me most is that we’re never quite sure whether or not what we see is reality, if everything in each scene is truly taking place. At least not until the plot develops more and certain events (see: Caleb and the apples) force us to realize exactly what is happening. Again, not an overly fresh idea as a whole, but certainly Eggers takes it and puts his spin on it, absolutely providing us with a fresh take on an old tale. And the fact there was lots of research put into the writing in terms of looking at actual records (et cetera) from the period that still remain, folktales and other bits of writing as well, only makes the movie more enjoyable for its attempts at getting things right.
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The dark beauty of the film is very much a result of Eggers’ direction, Jarin Blaschke on duty as cinematographer, and Mark Korven creating a tense, moody score to compliment their work. Even shots of the forest itself seem ominous, as it stands tall and shadowy in the midst of day, the stands of trees casting a deep sorrow within the woods. Putting Korven’s score on top, Eggers shows us ominous, foreboding frames of the vast wilderness, which itself almost becomes as terrifying as the witch out there. The natural lighting of the interior scenes, inside the family’s small barn or its main house, casts everything in long shadows, flickering on the walls and on the faces of the characters; again, this technique amplifies the authentic feeling of the entire film. The rich texture of the movie’s look makes things feel perfect, as if you’re right there in the trees watching them go by, right next to William as he chops wood, or in the field with the children playing.
Best of all, though, are the brief and unsettling scenes where we see the witch herself. Barely do we ever get a straight look at her, but still, she is a devilish presence. Very early on we’re treated to a scene where she mashes up what we’re to believe is a baby, smearing its blood all over her body, all over a large thin tree, and every last bit of this is covered in shadow, so that there’s barely much you can see. What you do see is disturbing. It sets the tone for everything to come. Another aspect of the film I dig, that Eggers gets the macabre atmosphere going almost from the start, within very little time. So much so there is rarely a moment without tension, not many moments where you’ll feel able to breathe a sigh of relief. Just another reason this film is a modern work of horror art.
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Aside from the technical aspects, The Witch is dominated by powerful acting. Each of the actors brings their role to life, even the young kids who add their own authenticity to the scenes. Particularly, both Ralph Ineson and Anya Taylor-Joy are magic here, as they are both faithful, religious people in their own rights, but who end up walking down quite different paths. Taylor-Joy does spectacular work with the character of Thomasin, which isn’t easy, and especially once the finale arrives I found myself hooked on her eyes; watching just her face in those last few minutes will chill any warm heart. Ineson is perfection as William, a man trying to keep his faith and family together as one, and a father confronted with the ultimate evil at his doorstep, invading his home; his delivery of lines will keep you glued, even if Early Modern English troubles you, as he can reel you in with just a look, a motion. Two excellent performances heading an already solid cast.
5 stars go to Robert Eggers and . Everyone in the theatre with me today seemed transfixed, whether they liked it or not. Certainly this isn’t a film for everyone, and those looking for a modern horror with all the modern cliches will be disappointed. Likewise, don’t go in expecting the same thing as It Follows or The Babadook, two other notable modern horror movies that did well recently. The Witch is entirely its own brand, despite taking on a timeworn sub-genre in witchcraft. This creeped me out royally at many points and I’m liable to see this again someday soon, as the atmosphere and the entire production itself really hit the spot, I’d love to experience it another time around. Until it hits Blu ray; then I’ll watch it to death, whether I die or the disc dies first remains to be seen.

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN’s Religious Parable

Nothing Bad Can Happen. 2014. Directed & Written by Katrin Gebbe.
Starring Julius Feldmeier, Sascha Alexander Gersak, and Annika Kuhl. Celluloid Dreams.
Not Rated. 110 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★1/2

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While I usually try not to go too deep into personal theories of a movie, if it appears to me as metaphorical, Nothing Bad Can Happen feels very much to me like a film meant to be taken as metaphor, and with that, I feel like this review will mostly focus on my subjective interpretation.

The film follows a young man named Tore (Julius Feldmeier) in Hamburg who attempts to build a new life in a religious group, The Jesus Freaks. After having a seizure during a rock band’s performance, a man named Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) helps him out, and brings him to safety at his home. There, he begins a relationship with Benno and his family. Eventually Tore even moves into a small guest area at Benno’s home. However, things soon become darker, more sinister for Tore than he could have ever anticipated. A battle of wits begin, as Benno begins to mentally and physically torture Tore. Though the young man clings to his faith, Benno becomes more sadistic as time goes by, ultimately inflicting some of worst punishment possible on Tore.
Toretanzt_JuliusFeldmeier_SwantjeKohlhof_TORE_SANNYThis is apparently based on a news article director/writer Katrin Gebbe read. While I have not searched out the article in question, I still believe Gebbe uses the, at times brutal, story as a way to discuss religion. In particular, she looks at how those who are constantly, and consistently, abused over and over by their religious institutions still keep their faith – often going so far as to excuse the abuse. Furthermore, the actions of Benno as the movie progresses make you realize he was initially trolling for weaker prey when first meeting Tore – once he saw the younger man seizure, he knew this was his victim. Also, you can obviously realize after some time Benno is not Christian any sense whatsoever – much how I feel about those who abuse their power to rape and abuse those without it using their religious position to conceal their actions (those people do not truly believe in anything – religion or otherwise).
23_Toretanzt_0026652_ASTRID-AnnikaKuhl_TORE_JuliusFeldmeier_BENNO_SaschaGersakThis method Benno uses is exactly how the abusers, using religion as their cover, choose which person to subject to their torturous desires. Much like the rapists using the Roman Catholic Church to cover up their heinous sexual assaults on countless, seemingly never ending boys and girls. And still, the abuse reigns on as people continue to bow at the altar of these corrupt churches. Without ruining the ending, there is very little optimism in the finale of Nothing Bad Can Happen – there is a half and half, bittersweet sort of finish. One side speaks to us so that we can learn from all these abuses, and hopefully some who face this abuse also can get away eventually. On the other side, we see how faith can get someone through terrible, horrifying trauma, and yet at the same time could really destroy one’s self altogether. As much as Gebbe based this on supposed true events, I really do believe this is meant to be a metaphor of the larger-scale abuse going on throughout many religions – not simply the Catholics, as I mentioned (I was personally brought up Roman Catholic due to my mom and I living with my grandparents for the first 8 years of my life & when finally given the chance by my mother and father a few years later I gave up church for the rest of my life). Every religion has, and is capable of, abuses, and this almost says to me alone that religion is not as wonderful and miraculous as those who practice their individual religions regularly would have you believe. Nothing Bad Can Happen explores all these things, and more, through a very dramatic film while also incorporating real savage moments of psychological horror.
14_Toretanzt_IMG_9721_TORE_JuliusFeldmeierThe absolute best part of the film is its central performance. Julius Feldmeier plays Tore brilliantly. The whole film is quite subdued and what I call “quiet” – there isn’t any action, it’s all based around the drama of the script.  In these “quiet” films (I’m not generalizing – just stating for the purpose of this review), I find actors often get to really get into the scenes more, in terms of character. Sure, action stars can really get into their own characters, but in films like Nothing Bad Can Happen where the plot does involve or incorporate any big set pieces, special effects, or other things et cetera et cetera, actors have nothing else except for the dramatics of their character and the scenes to focus on. All of the subject matter here is very heavy, and Feldmeier gives a great performance as a young man who is determined to find his way through life, and everything that comes with it, through his belief in Jesus Christ. As somebody who does not take part in organized religion, an actor has to do some serious work for me to empathize with a character who is almost blinded by his faith. Regardless, Feldmeier does such a good job as Tore it was impossible not to feel for his character. With every degrading act Benno unleashes on Torre, both the determination and pain coming through in Feldmeier’s performance tightened the tension of the film, as well extended my empathy tenfold for the character. Really great stuff. I believe this is the first feature film Feldmeier has been a part of, and I do hope to see him again soon after this one.
303541.jpg-r_640_600-b_1_D6D6D6-f_jpg-q_x-xxyxxNothing Bad Can Happen didn’t reach Canada until 2014. Because of this, it is absolutely one of the best films I had the pleasure of seeing this past year. I’ve included it on Fathersonholygore’s Best of 2014 List. There’s something about this film which captivates me, and I believe most of that is due to the fact Katrin Gebbe gives us a dose of reality while also spinning the story into a much larger fabric representing the universal abuse of the weak, and possibly gullible, followers by their own religious institutions.
NOTHING-BAD-CAN-HAPPEN-excluisve-620x400The film itself is a real great work of drama with thriller elements, and a healthy dose of horror, to my mind anyways. This is absolutely a 4.5 out of 5 stars for me. I can’t wait to get a copy on Blu ray because there are no doubt bits and pieces I missed when I first had the privilege of seeing the film. Highly recommended. Keep an open mind – an inquisitive, free mind – and think about the bigger implications of Nothing Bad Can Happen. A real powerful work from Katrin Gebbe – someone who I again hope to see more from in the near future.

Music Heals All in Metalhead

Málmhaus (English title: Metalhead). 2013. Directed & Written by Ragnar Bragason.
Starring Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Thora Bjorg Helga, Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson, and Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson.
Unrated. 97 minutes.
Drama

★★★★1/2

Hera, as a young girl on her family’s farm, witnesses her older brother Baldur die in a freak accident while riding a tractor. Later, as a teenager, Hera gets into the heavy metal lifestyle and music Baldur enjoyed. She lives in a tiny community where her newfound choices don’t exactly go over well. Her father and mother struggle with the motions she goes through. They attend church, while she only rebels against it. Hera not only picks up heavy metal, both listening to it and playing it, she also takes to more violent, destructive behaviour; this all culminates in a very serious act of vandalism and arson. She is at odds with the people and place where she lives. Everything feels too ordinary and small for Hera, and so her rebellion grows large.
Metalhead
The whole film is essentially about Hera’s struggle, however, we also get an eye of what her parents go through in their own struggle to deal with death. Aside from the family there is also the great character of Janus, a new priest in the town. He is secretly a very cool guy underneath the black clothes and the collar; in a very suggestive scene, or at least it is at the start, Janus takes off his shirt to reveal to Hera a tattoo. He then proceeds to tell her he loves Iron Maiden, Venom, Celtic Frost, among others. His taste in music transcends the priestly garb, and he even gives a line similar to “don’t judge a book by its cover” (or maybe it was exactly that – I can’t remember now).

I really like that the film included Janus as a character because this shows the multiple lives a person can live; they are not defined by their occupation, nor are they defined by the music they listen to. However, Janus gives off signals Hera misinterprets. Their relationship isn’t what she thought, and it sets her off further against God; this being one of the threads running through Metalhead.
MetalheadAny drama truly thrives on its performances. Above story, above mood or setting or plot, the actors and actresses of a film (or any performance truly whether it’s onscreen or onstage) really carry things; if they do a bad job, the film can fall flat. On the other hand, if they do even a mediocre job a film that might not have been any good without them becomes really worthwhile. In Metalhead, the performances give even more punch to a great story. Thora Bjorg Helga, as Hera, really does a spectacular job portraying a young woman trying to find herself while also mourning the loss of someone whom she loved very much.
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The film does a good job of illustrating, to those who don’t already know, how music can both destroy as well as heal; it has both of these capabilities, whether people like it or not. Hera clings to music as a means of identifying herself. She also immerses herself into music because it helps her still keep Baldur with her in spirit. There are beautiful scenes where we get to watch Hera go through intense emotion while she puts the dark soul in her inside the music she plays.

There are some other solid performances in Metalhead to round the film out. Such as Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson as Janus, the heavy metal rocker priest, and also Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson who portrays Hera’s equally trouble father Karl. Although Helga herself is the main focus of the film, and a strong female lead, these two male leads also provide great non-typical characterizations of familiar characters.
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Later in the film, after Hera has almost fully abandoned music in her life; it has gone away, and she resigns herself to a life that is simply available to her instead of one she actively seeks out and wants. Then when three men show up looking for Hera, having heard some of the demo tapes she made while deeply mourning her brother, music comes back into her life. What follows in the finale of the film is absolutely beautiful.
There is a final moment of catharsis in the moments before credits roll on Metalhead which almost made me cry. I couldn’t believe it. The whole time you watch the film there are moments where you actually hope for a good end to everything. Most times, even while watching a terrifying film like a horror or maybe a thriller, I find myself looking for a grim ending because honestly, in my opinion, those are more interesting film-wise. Happy endings don’t usually jive with me because they are too heavy handed, too smug. On the contrary, the moments closing out this film are absolutely perfect, not only for the plot, but also tonally. It just, simply put, works; damn well. The tragic and heavy tone throughout much of Metalhead, including what I feel are some excellent moments of dark comedy, all play well with the end. Some endings can take the tone and throw it out, however, this one hits its mark, and strikes a fair balance where everything comes out slick.
metalhead_01-thumb-630xauto-41451I have to give the movie a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. I have one small problem with Metalhead. I felt they could have used a little more time on female relationships. They explored the mother slightly because there were some fascinating shots and bits of scenes where we really got to see her almost in the same light as Hera.  But they didn’t get enough of it in there. With the inclusion of Janus and Hera’s father Karl, it felt as if there was a lack of more female presence in movie. It isn’t necessarily something that detracts from how beautiful or successful in its goal Metalhead is in the end. Personally, it’s just something that would’ve made this a little stronger overall. There is a lot of ground left to be covered concerning Hera’s mother that I wish they could have, or would have, covered. I recommend anyone who loves a good drama to check out Metalhead once they can.

I believe Raven Banner is handling the Canadian distribution across all media. This is really great film. Not only for those who are fans of metal (there are some musical treats within, no doubt!), but those who enjoy heavy, personal dramas. There are some big, great aspirations here concerning faith, music, forgiveness, and other themes. I think Metalhead delivers on most levels. It is worth the money and time to see something not typical of most dramas: a middle-ground view of ideas about death, love, heavy metal, and religion.