Thursday, March 17, 2016

Another (2014)

aka Mark of the Witch

Starting with her 18th birthday, the life of Jordyn (Paulie Rojas) becomes a walking nightmare. Her aunt Ruth (Nancy Wolfe) – who raised the young woman after the death of her mother at the age of eighteen – rambling about something starting and ramming a knife into her own chest (something the good woman survives rather well) is just the beginning of a truly terrible time. Before she knows it, Jordyn is followed and watched by a decidedly creepy woman (Maria Olsen), suffers from weird distortions of her quotidian reality, and begins having blackouts.

Jordyn seems to be losing herself, thinking thoughts that aren’t her own, and doing things she doesn’t actually want to do, the power threatening her destroying the relationships that ground her and eroding her personality. And that’s not even going to be the worst, or the weirdest, of it all.

A little warning before I start raving about director/writer/director of photography/producer/editor Jason Bognacki’s fantastic Another: if you need your movies to be narrative-driven, dislike the European greats of individual weirdo horror like Jess Franco or even Dario Argento (particularly the latter’s Inferno), and can’t cope with non-naturalistic acting approaches, this is not going to be the film for you; and I won’t have it said about me that I cruelly try to push my imaginary readers into watching stuff that’ll make their (imaginary) toes fall off.

Having gotten that out of the way, I of course can’t help but love a film that has Franco and Argento (and to my eyes Rollin, too, making this pretty much the perfect movie) as so obvious influences, or rather, a film that uses techniques of the digital world that make this sort of thing affordable for very low budget projects to effects very much in the spirit of Franco and Argento without falling into the trap of mere imitation. This is very much a film inspired by visual and narrative ideas and tics of continental European horror to become its own thing, instead of just “inspired by”.

Its own thing in this case means a film that I find highly difficult to not describe as “trippy”, something that more often than not follows the logic and the feel of dreams much closer than real life; which is of course quite an appropriate style for a film about a girl first getting pulled away from mainstream reality and then starting to lose her personality, too. As a consequence Another’s approach to character psychology is decidedly non-naturalistic, not so much showing its audience what happens to Jordyn but pushing it into sharing her experience and state of mind. Even the distancing acting approaches of Rojas – who often seems to be all beautiful, frightened eyes - and Wolfe and Olsen take make absolute sense in this regard, emphasising the wrongness of the proceedings even more. And please, don’t let anyone tell you this film features “bad acting”; it just features acting that’s purposefully different, because it is aiming to depict psychological states that don’t actually exist in reality (unless your reality features body-stealing witches, of course). This approach does of course also echo the basic weirdness of the English dubs for European art horror of the 70s, keeping very much with the movie’s inspirations while also making absolute sense in the new context. 

Because that’s still not enough to make me quite this excited about a film, Bognacki also throws in some inventive mythology all his own, some simple yet extremely memorable cultist outfits, and the best use of western classical music I’ve heard in a genre movie in a long time. Chopin, it turns out, can become rather unnerving when used in the right manner. All this taken together, you end up with a film that’s completely of one piece, or as much of one piece as dreams and nightmares ever are, a film I found myself hypnotized and appropriately bewitched by.

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