One of his best, Friedkin's BUG is an exploration of the toxicity in co-dependency, that darker side of romance.
Another a.k.a Mark of the Witch. 2014. Directed & Written by Jason Bognacki.
Starring Paulie Redding, David Landry, Lillian Pennypacker, Maria Olsen, Michael St. Michaels, & Nancy Wolfe. Full Frame Features.
Not Rated. 80 minutes.
Generally, I’m an internet critic whose standards aren’t overly picky. If you’ve ready more than a handful of my reviews you’ll probably notice I’ve given out more 5-star reviews than others might in their own. But I don’t necessarily mean a 5-star film is always perfect; part of my judgement, as any of our judgement is, comes from a subjective place. You can never get rid of subjectivity. However, even while I try to give certain films a break for little nitpicky things there is a limit to my understanding. I’m not going to give a shit film a great rating. I just try to cut filmmakers some slack; it isn’t easy to make a great movie.
When it comes to movies like Another, there’s only so far my sympathies extend. I’m a sucker for possession movies, or anything to do with Satan (mainly because I don’t believe in any deities or any of that stuff and I can just enjoy the darkness for what it is). There are plenty movies out there tackling demonic possession. A good many retread the same trodden area as the last, too many doing home to or straight copying from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The great horrors about supposed possessed people, and the entities possessing them, are few and far between. Another simply tries to mash too many things together, including too many changes in style, changes in tone, and the massive overuse of particular techniques that drive home the message that everything in this film tries too damn hard, paying off with nothing more than a couple fleeting moments worth watching.
A baby is carried by figures in black hoods and robes. A dark ceremony commences.
Cut to 18 years later. Jordyn (Paulie Redding) is celebrating her birthday with friends. Although, her Aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe) is being creepy. She brings up the fact Jordyn’s mother was at the same age as the daughter when she passed. Then Ruth goes ahead and stabs herself, screaming that “it‘s time.”
From that moment on, Jordyn finds her life changing. She spirals into a terrifying word of demonic possession, strange desire, and so much. Soon, Jordyn becomes aware that she may just be a relation of the devil himself.
The most grating thing about this movie is the fact half of it, at least, is filmed in slow-motion. Honestly, it is crazy. Never have I seen a technique so brutally beaten over the head of the viewer. At first before the slo-motion kicked in, I actually enjoyed the dark, sort of washed out look. But then it starts, and scene after scene is slowed down ridiculously, offering no sort of evidence it’s even used for a particular reason. Simply put, writer-director Jason Bognacki obviously couldn’t figure out a way to make it look unique, so he piled on the slow-motion. I hate to rag on a director so badly for something. It’s a really poor choice, though. The entire film drags on because of its overuse, and the repetition will just dull you to tears.
Even worse, there’s no practical work (re: effects) worth talking about. And I’m sorry to the filmmakers out there who may feel otherwise, but if you do a horror film especially and you have no practical makeup effects, instead opting to CGI things to death, then there’s no way I’m going to enjoy it. At least not to the point I’ll want to watch it again. Even if it’s half-and-half, I can dig that. In opposition to all that, Another goes for about 90% CGI and maybe, MAYBE, 10% practical. And those practical bits are so minute, I’m probably overselling it by saying there’s ten percent worth. Either way, even the CGI’d stuff looks bogus, including a terrible little showdown between two old women that could’ve been great yet comes off like some of the worst stuff from the 1980’s.
With a bunch of awful performances, a ton of terrible effects, as well as a story that meanders from one place to another trying to cram several sub-genres into one, Another a.k.a Mark of the Witch is one of the most unforgettable movies I’ve seen in ages. There was nothing I could find here worth the time it took to watch this dud. I’ve given it 1 single star, simply because I liked the beginning, the very end, and there’s a tiny scene after the credits which looks good. Other than that this is truly dreadful horror cinema. I never like to shit all over a film, but this one isn’t worth talking up in any sort of sense. Jason Bognacki tries his best, however, it’s almost as if he tried too hard, in too many different directions. Never does the film come together properly, which is a shame. As I said, I do love a good possession horror, or anything with the devil, witches, et cetera. This simply comes with nothing much for me to be impressed by, so I can’t push myself to try praising Bognacki, or anyone involved with the film. Want a better Mark of the Witch? Try the Mark of the Devil. Not at all the same, but whatever – better than wasting your time trying to slog through this unpolished bit of horror rubbish.
The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
There are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
This is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!
Insidious: Chapter 3. 2014. Directed & Written by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Michael Reid MacKay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
I’m a fan of the two previous Insidious films. Reason being, I think James Wan did a pretty damn good job, together with the script from Leigh Whannell, in conjuring up a tense, suspenseful, and eerie atmosphere. Above all, I love when a horror film can carry that sort of atmosphere and tone throughout its runtime. While they’re not perfect, the first two movies were scary; to me anyways. I dig a good haunted house story and Wan/Whannell provided that with Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2.
There was no surprise Blumhouse would try and pump out another one. I waited with baited breath to see exactly what might come out of it and I didn’t exactly expect that the third in the trilogy would live up to what the first two created. However, I was slightly surprised. It isn’t great, but Insidious: Chapter 3 has a good bit of that atmosphere and tone from the first two, as well as the fact Lin Shaye returns in another stellar performance as embattled demon seeker Elise Rainier. One thing I think that helps most is the fact Leigh Whannell not only writes this entry in the series, he makes his directorial debut with the third part, which extends much of the creepiness created by himself and Wan throughout the first two movies.
Taking place a long time after Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) helped a young Josh Lambert with his problems, and just before Josh’s own son Dalton went through the same trouble, Insidious: Chapter 3 begins with Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) going to see Elise Rainier unannounced. Her mother passed away and Quinn wants to contact her. Unfortunately, while trying to help Elise is clearly troubled; she advises Quinn find someone else who does the same thing and get them to help.
At home, Quinn’s single father Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney) tries to wrangle everything by himself. Between Quinn and her little brother Alex (Tate Berney), things are hectic.
An aspiring actress, Quinn heads to an audition. She’s looking to get into a good acting school for her post-secondary studies. Instead, out of nowhere, Quinn is hit by a car. This propels her, for the briefest of time, into The Further. After she comes back quickly, out of the darkness and back to reality, Quinn has clearly seen something inexplainable, something in another world. This sets off all the mysterious events which follow.
I thought the writing – especially the characters themselves – was fairly solid. Once again, the family is a centrepiece for all of what unfolds in terms of The Further (see my other reviews for Part 1/Part 2 if for some reason you’ve not watched the previous movies) coming into play. For instance, the teenage characters don’t come off as too forcibly written on Whannell’s part. What I mean is that they’re smart, obviously, but they don’t say these ridiculously eloquent, elaborate things NO highschooler would ever say; I can’t think of great examples off the top of my head, but you know the types, you’ve seen them before. So that’s one thing I thought Whannell did great with because too many screenwriters – especially male screenwriters trying to write female characters –
Some people say Insidious: Chapter 3 is not as scary as the others. Me, I say there’s definitely some nice, creepy stuff happening in this instalment. Even quickly off the bat, Quinn starts seeing a shadowy figure in the distance waving to her, almost calling out for Quinn to follow. First, the figure appears in the catwalk at the theatre where she’s auditioning. Then in the streets, right before she’s hit by a car, the figure – a man – waves at her from far off once more. These little bits help to make a similar dreadful atmosphere as Wan culled in the first two films. Although here it’s different, which isn’t a bad thing. Everything is still eerie, though, Whannell brings his own style to the mix.
I also liked the little quick jump-scare of the man’s face in close-up – when Quinn slips into The Further briefly while surgeons are working away on her after the car accident, the terrifying face flashes quickly. What I love most about this is how it reminds me of the quick flashes of the demon in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist; not sure if this was intentional, but it does bring that shot to my mind specifically. Also, this didn’t make me want to have a heart attack like certain jumps do. It was brief and very effective at the same time.
A huge aspect of why I enjoyed this third film is because we’re getting more out of the character Elise Rainier. Even in the slightest ways – she lays down in bed and says “Goodnight Jack” and hugs tight to what looks like a man’s sweater. So there’s depth to Elise, she isn’t merely a one-note psychic sort fo woman. And I love that, not just simply due to the fact Lin Shaye is a total badass and wonderful actress (even in her slovenly role as Landlady in Kingpin which still haunts me to this very day). Elise is a big part of why I loved both movies; I’m not huge on her sidekicks, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), but I think her alone is enough to keep anyone interested. Particularly, after we’re treated to the flashbacks showing a young Josh Lambert being plagued by demons in The Further and Elise coming to their aid, doesn’t it make you just want to know everything about her? Then there’s her relationship with Carl (Steve Coulter), who showed up in the last film, which I thought was an excellent inclusion. In this movie, we see a little more of Carl and so his character/story gets a little more broad than before.
Most of all, though, it’s Elise. She is what draws me to the franchise overall, as it’s her who has dealt most closely with demons and The Further, she knows all about it and she has all the senses. I love the scene here where she’s lying in bed, hugging her obviously late husband’s cardigan (we discover later for sure he committed suicide only a year before), and then out of nowhere she feels something, a presence, she scrambles for the light – nothing’s there, yet the air feels terrifying. Good stuff showing how sensitive Elise is to the other side opposite that of the living.
The overall aesthetic of Insidious as a franchise is something which keeps me interested. It’s the whole reason – aside from Lin Shaye – I ever bothered to go see this one.
I’m a huge fan of the score in these films. I’d not – to my shame – checked on who was the composer for the music in either of the films. So doing this review I wanted to see if it was the same person. Naturally, it was: Joseph Bishara. The reason I had to check is because, while there are plenty of similarities, Bishara does bring us some new work in the score for Chapter 3. A lot of those heavy, dreaded string bursts are still present, however, he also gives us some bright and beautiful sounding stuff such as in a few scenes with Elise. Either way, he is one part of why that finely tuned aesthetic from the series keeps going.
While the look in this film was handled by a different cinematographer, Brian Pearson, I do think he is up to snuff with how he crafts the scenes visually. Just to note, Pearson did some work as D.P on the fairly excellent series Masters of Horror, as well as a recent film I’m a big fan of – the savage and excellent American Mary. He does good stuff keeping many scenes draped in darkness, as the previous films looked. So even though it isn’t exactly the same carbon copy of style, there is a ton of similar atmosphere built up through how Pearson shoots each scene in a tone down, darkened manner.
Furthermore, the art director Jason Garner worked on the previous Chapter 2, so I think his clearly excellent work there extended to this film. For those who aren’t big on the job descriptions for film work, an art director helps to create the film’s vision in terms of locations, sets, and that in turn brings about a visual aesthetic for the film. The houses and everything which are new in this movie, they really fit in with the entire Insidious franchise world. If you watched these all simultaneously, I think they’d match up unbelievably well.
In regards to the plot, I like the character of Quinn and how she ended up in contact with The Further. Plus it plays into the whole subplot of her mother’s death, trying to reach her in the afterlife and such. It’s a great way to have spun things off from the central story of the first two Insidious films. A lot of these spin-offs can end up really spinning out of control, or just being nonsensical additions to a franchise simply for the sake of raking in money. With this movie, I don’t see it being that way. Sure – profit is the major concern of studios. However, I think especially with Leigh Whannell writing this instead of it being farmed out to writers/directors not already a part of the franchise, Insidious: Chapter 3 is able to hold up in quality near to its predecessors. It’s not as good, but I feel as if it’s pretty damn close.
Also thought it was great the way Whannell setup The Bride in Black as being an entity who actively wanted to kill Elise. This sort of explains their history, as well as why the Bride purposely got into Josh and then strangled Elise at the end of the first Insidious. Not as if there was a massive need to explain anything in detail there, I just find this movie’s script capitalized and added more depth to the other films.
All in all, I think this was a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It wasn’t perfect. My biggest complaint about Insidious: Chapter 3 is that there’s more unfunny comedy with Specs/Tucker – something I didn’t like about the others but here it’s even more unbearable with such forced comedy on behalf of the Tucker character. Very lame. Then, I also thought there was something missing about the possession angle involving Quinn. While I found Josh Lambert’s possession in the others excellent, plus Patrick Wilson played him well, I didn’t like the way they did Quinn’s possessed state. It was too similar to the rip-offs of Japanese horror in American movies. I liked lots of the stuff involving Josh being possessed, it just didn’t seem to carry over here.
The finale of the film was decent. Honestly, though, I prefer the first half to three-quarters of the film because I like the build up, the character development and a view into the already established character of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Mostly the last quarter of the movie I found wasn’t as effective as the scariness of the previous two Insidious entries. It isn’t bad, just doesn’t pack the punch you’d expect. If there was a stronger final 25 minutes I’d be more impressed.
Still, this is not bad at all. There’s room for improvement, yet I think Leigh Whannell did a decent enough job keeping up with the other films to make this a pretty good trilogy. I recommend seeing this, though, I’ll still always enjoy the first two more.
My personal favourite is Insidious: Chapter 2. How about you? Let me know in the comments.
Cruising. 1980. Directed & Written by William Friedkin; adapted from the novel by Gerald Walker.
Starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen, Richard Cox, Don Scardino, and Joe Spinell. Warner Brothers.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
★★★1/2 (DVD release)
Cruising came about for William Friedkin in a number of ways: through his own observations about the gay bar scene, Gerald Walker’s novel, and his own link to a man convicted of murder (an extra from The Exorcist during the medical scenes). Listening to him talk during one of the featurettes on the making of Cruising, Friedkin really found something to connect with in the story. There is a sense he had a real interest in the whole social scene of the gay bars, as well as a grasp on the danger a lot of these men were in during those times being susceptible to abuse from all sides – not to mention the onset of the AIDS epidemic.
Cruising is about a young police detective, Steve Burns (Pacino), who is recruited by a police captain (Sorvino) to go undercover into the gay clubs of New York City, specifically the underground S&M clubs where some wild stuff goes down. There is a serial killer out cutting up young gay men and dumping their body parts into the river. Fairly on his own both as a cop and mentally, unable to tell his own significant other exactly what he’s doing undercover, Burns starts to find the assignment wearing and tearing down his psyche; he starts to change.
We watch as Burns goes into the underground of gay New York, the hardcore clubs, and we watch as the work starts to infringe on his personal life. It’s a great character study wrapped up in a murder mystery, and with slightly subdued horror undertones. For instance, in one of the first scenes we actually see a really vicious knifing; it plays out tense and mysterious, and then quickly becomes brutal with some brief shots of blood spilling all over the place. I love how Friedkin sort of weaves between genres, mixing them up together into a single, great pot.
Some of the moments we see here with the killer are really the stuff of amazing psychological horror. Yet there’s something very real about it all, too. Friedkin has a great sense for things which horrify us, and yet even though he has made one of the greatest horrors of all time I still wouldn’t classify him whatsoever as a horror filmmaker. He is most of all great with personal drama; the study of characters. Even in The Exorcist, one of the best things about that story is Ellen Burstyn’s character and her own personal journey amongst all the terror she and her daughter experience. Here in Cruising, for all the interesting bits in the creepy parts of this story, the main meat of what’s here is the character study of police officer Steve Burns, and what the work he’s participating in is doing to him. The murder mystery elements are simply a great backdrop for all of this character work to take place.
There is a lot to enjoy visually in this movie. Friedkin used a lot of dull tones, in the sense there isn’t much colour in the film. I like that because it makes things sort of blend together. This works together with one of the themes being transformation; from one place to the next, all the locations almost feel as if they bleed into the next. Just as we start to wonder who the killer really is, over and over at times (another trick Friedkin used was multiple actors playing the actual killer – the DVD lays it out very well which points out how much work went into the red herring effect they achieved here), and certain characters feel as if they bleed into one another, so does the look and the colour of the film. It’s really excellent. Also works to make things feel more grim and gritty.
The soundtrack of Cruising is spectacular. Pairs nicely with the look and feel of the film. Especially the stuff in the gay bars – really rocking soundtrack. Then there’s the score behind a lot of the scenes, which helps to set the mood along with all the colour palette choices. Very good instance of a lot of different aspects working together to create a fuller portrait of a film.
Al Pacino, as he is in many films, is really great here. He does a lot of interesting and subtle work here. Many people seem to often play into the idea that Pacino only does the loud and brash dialogue, or over-the-top type characters. I couldn’t disagree more on the whole, but in Cruising he absolutely shows his chops. Yes, there are times here when he does go into a rage; one moment in particular is a real outburst. Though, it works. The disintegration of this character’s psyche really starts to show in the way Pacino looks, as well as how he starts to treat those around him. He did an amazing job, and his performance is one of those in his filmography people really overlook time and time again. That may have more to do with the controversial nature of the entire film more than with his acting on this occasion, but regardless people shouldn’t skip this over so much. Awesome performance by one of the best actors in film.
Many people probably see too much controversy in this movie to enjoy it. Or at least I can see how some people, specifically in the gay community, might misunderstand William Friedkin’s intentions here – it could be seen as making the gay community, certainly the earlier communities in the late 70s & 80s, look bad. But that is certainly not what he means to do. This is an exploration of a murder mystery, as well as a character study. Friedkin himself says, in the audio commentary & the special features, the gay scene (et cetera) is all about backdrop; he says it was “an interesting background” in which to set this specific story. Add in the novel, as well as Friedkin’s own visit to meet the extra from The Exorcist who bludgeoned a man to death, and you can see why he just found all of this interesting. I absolutely understand how certain people might take this film the wrong way, however, if you really give it a chance, and look at what it’s all about underneath, Cruising is an amazing thriller with horror and mystery elements thrown in for good measure. This is one of Friedkin’s most underrated movies, in my mind. It’s my favourite of his films.|
Both the DVD and film are great. Though, I wish the DVD had more features, it’s still a great release. Certainly for a film that had so much trouble getting released, and after its release. I would love to see this on Blu ray, packed with as many extras and additional cut footage Friedkin could drum up. For now, this DVD will do.
Incredible film. See it when you can, and check out this DVD if you find yourself becoming a fan of this lesser known, amazingly executed film.
The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The Exorcist, Sorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook… it will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.
Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.
The plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.
I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
Or maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be. Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.
Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:
– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for Snowtown, Dead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
Overall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.
The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.
The Exorcist. 1973. Dir. William Friedkin. Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.
Rated 18A. 132 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it. Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realises what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism. This is the plot of the film. From there, the wild bits begin.What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features. The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist.” This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound – explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed – and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew. It’s amazing.
One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things. First, is a moment where Reagan (Blair) attacks a man. Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s POV. This is brilliance right here. Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit. We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot— it’s the best thing ever. Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film. I should’ve known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways. Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting. At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom— for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots. It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman (D.P.) talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it’s an absolute treat! These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.
Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes. Wild. I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, to actually see it and watch the process is something special. Roizman has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set, which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time, are great to hear. These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it. Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies. William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative. Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film. He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it, I understood anyways, though it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason,” and having it match up with what you thought. Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of the U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality. Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home. The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point. Burstyn’s one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests. Not many could pull of such a horror role. Burstyn’s so wonderfully natural here.
Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl. Incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did. On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her. Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing. You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role. Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect. So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that. You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist. I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 (the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!). It is really worth it if you enjoy the film. You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade. Those alone are worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.
Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now. If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this. When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old. It didn’t really affect me at the time. However, I still enjoyed it a lot. Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it. For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke. I couldn’t shake it. Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world. The performances and the effects, it all got to me. It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.
And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?” then you know what? Check your pulse. Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.
A look back at an underrated William Friedkin film.