Friday, January 13, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Resurrecting The Street Walker (2009)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

James Parker (James Powell) is an aspiring filmmaker working as an unpaid serf aka "runner" for a shady little movie production company to get his foot in the door of professional film work by letting himself being exploited. This job and the fact that his dreams of becoming a filmmaker don't seem to lead anywhere  put quite a strain on him and the relationship with his family, who are the ones paying for his livelihood after all.

James' friend, the film student Marcus (Tom Shaw), films him in his attempts at making it, and what Marcus is shooting is the basis of the documentary Resurrecting The Street Walker purports to be. Intercut with Marcus' footage are interviews with Marcus himself and the other people in James' life hinting on something dreadful James seems to have done.

The bad times begin when James finds the reels of an unfinished black and white horror movie from the mid-80s called "The Street Walker". It's a film in the Maniac tradition, following a serial killer (Gwilym Lloyd) who pretends to be a director looking for actresses uncomfortably closely. The film stock the movie we are watching uses doesn't resemble that of a film of that decade too much, but the griminess and the vibe of seediness that is running through the material is exactly right for what Resurrecting is going for. The staging of the film inside the film - from camera placement to the disquieting feeling of authenticity that dominates horror films in the Maniac tradition - is done believably enough to make at least me squirm in my seat. The film's (actual) director Ozgur Uyanik is making good use of an experienced horror movie watcher's expectations here to build tension.

Not surprisingly given his personal obsessiveness when it comes to filmmaking, James grows even more obsessed with this particular film and tries his damndest to talk his boss at the production company into agreeing to a rather dubious plan to complete it. First it's only a question of editing, but after some time, James is convinced he needs to shoot a few scenes to give the film an actual ending.

Of course, everything (and everyone around him) seems to conspire to not let the young would-be director finish what he so desperately wants to. Of course, James slowly begins to unravel. At first, it's only minor things like a somewhat unhealthy fixation based on spurious hints on the idea that "The Street Walker" might be a snuff film, or at least that one of the victims might have accidentally died during the filming, but the more problems get into James' way, the more he begins to unravel, until he commits that final act Resurrecting The Street Walker doesn't show as gorily and directly as one would have expected.

This reserve at a point where other films would go all out on the violence points at how clever this film actually is, and how little it is satisfied with just doing the typical horror movie thing, even if the film's ending is obvious from very early on, which is of course part of its point.

Showing James' slow psychological break-down is more important to Uyanik than going the probably more marketable, yet also very boring, slasher route, and he's helped by an excellent and sympathetic performance by James Powell and a script that shows James as a likeable - if overly obsessive - guy slowly breaking through outside pressure and his own inability to admit defeat in an ambition of becoming a filmmaker that is the only thing his life has ever been about. In fact, one of the few gripes I have with the movie is that James is perhaps a bit too likeable, especially compared with the victim of his final act of violence whose only sympathetic character trait seems to be "being pregnant". Don't worry, the film does not directly argue that what James is doing is right or reasonable, or that his victim "deserved it", but I still would have wished for a victim that's as developed as the killer.

This is the sort of problem that only comes into play in a film with as high a standard as Resurrecting The Street Walker sets in the rest of the character department, so it's a sort of luxury problem caused by the film being really pretty fantastic at doing characterisation inside the fake documentary frame, a frame that all too often pushes filmmakers into not developing their characters too well, or even at all.

I especially liked how believable the "mockumentary" aspect of the film played out, deftly avoiding the "why are these people still filming?" problem that seems to annoy certain audiences (not me) about POV horror and fake documentaries so much. Resurrecting is believably structured like a real documentary, achieving a lot of its effect by building the feeling of authenticity (especially by using its directors own experiences as a runner for good effect) that this type of horror movie should live on. Although the film keeps quite a few things ambiguous, as they should be in any film that doesn't go for the gross-out, Uyanik makes great efforts to keep everything around those ambiguous elements believable and understandable, putting the lie to my beloved "naturalism is a dead end" mantra. Well, how about "naturalism is a dead end outside of fake documentary footage"?

Anyway, Resurrecting The Street Walker is another feather in the cap of (very, I suspect) low budget movies from the UK that are still interested in making horror films that go beyond fan service and succeed quite brilliantly.

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