Sunday, April 29, 2018

Maigret Sets a Trap (1958)

Original title: Maigret tend un piège

aka Woman-Bait

aka Maigret Lays a Trap

aka Inspector Maigret

A serial killer stalks the streets of Paris during a very hot summer, killing women regularly, always right about sunset. The killer clearly knows all of the classics, so he summons his probable nemesis, Chief Inspector Maigret (Jean Gabin), to one of the killings via an emergency call, and seems right proud of his job. Maigret, pretty tired and frustrated after twenty years of police work, has the guy pegged as a show-off right quick, so he decides on various methods to goad him, starting out with a fake public arrest of an acquainted crook, and putting a small army of police secretaries (apparently there were no other women in the French police at the time) of the physical type he’s going for on the street as honey traps.

Eventually, investigative work and a bit of luck lead Maigret to a rather curious bourgeois couple, Marcel (Jean Desailly) and Yvonne (Annie Girardot) Maurin. Something’s clearly not right with the husband, but it will take the Inspector some time and quite a bit of interview work to get his man.

When you’re like me, you’re used to the way US cinema of the late 50s had to treat elements of the human existence like sexuality, the way it could only ever suggest the facts of the lives of quite a few people without rubbing the censors wrong. In that case, the first of two adaptations of some of the immensely popular (and often rather excellent) Maigret novels of Georges Simenon might just come as quite of a culture shock, for in the French version of the 50s, the existence of gigolos is normal, the sort of thing our protagonist takes without even raising and eyebrow, and you can even use the fact that a woman is still a virgin after five years of marriage as a perfectly spelled out plot point.

These are only some of the elements that make Jean Delannoy’s film sometimes feel strangely modern. Its idea of how serial killers work is at least in part surprisingly close to the more codified interpretations of the matter that became popular knowledge years later. The film emphasizes the importance of the appearance of the killer’s victims, the connection of this to his messed up past; Maigret understands the shortening length of time between killings as meaningful, and so on and so forth. Now, these ideas weren’t completely new for crime film and literature – or psychology - at the time, of course, but they weren’t yet set in stone as pop cultural base-line knowledge about these things, nor, as far as I know, in real life. Less modern in this regard is the film blaming the killer’s mother for his problems by basically not letting him become manly enough, but you can’t have everything, I suppose.

Maigret’s interview methods are a lot closer to more modern ideas of how this sort of thing works, too, his sometimes threatening, sometimes ingratiating manner combined with psychological insight de-emphasizing the search for practical clues and replacing it with one for motive. Particularly the interrogation scenes work as well as they do because of a combination of sometimes – let’s ignore the whole blaming the mother bit – incisive and insightful writing and a fantastic performance by Gabin that starts from the actor’s trade-mark phlegmatic air but can shift emotion and meaning lightning quick. Gabin’s even good enough to help one overlook the lack of subtlety and substance in Desailly’s performance as the killer Marcel, who’s really doing too much of a rote crazy person bit for the kind of film this is. The rest of the cast is thankfully as good as Gabin.

Delannoy’s direction of all this is elegant, sleek, and stylish, without the noirish shadows one might expect (or hope for), but still creating a sense of intimacy for a film that, is all about character psychology and twisted kinds of love.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: Fall under her spell into the depths of terror.

Deep Trap aka Exchange (2015): Kwon Hyeong-jin’s film is your typical South Korean backwoods thriller, less interested in cannibalism than in sexually loaded violence, and therefore generally a bit nastier than its US counterparts today. It’s not a particularly impressive entry into the genre though: sure, the direction is slick, the acting good, and the script tight, so I can’t imagine anyone being bored by this, but the film lacks a bit in substance, not going through with some elements the basic set-up suggests and not digging as deeply into the subtext than I would have wished, turning to the standard tropes of its genre without need when it has a way to more interesting (and possibly even more unpleasant) pastures right in front of its nose. It’s perfectly fine entertainment, though, at least if you can be entertained by a film with stuff like rape and semi-realistic violence.

The Boy (2015): By all rights, I should like this one quite a bit more than I actually did, what with the fake English Gothic setting (including Rupert Evans as the poshest grocery delivery guy you could imagine), the pleasant production design, and the good old call of the creepy doll at its centre. However, for most of the time, this plays out like a best of of scenes from other creepy doll movies, adds a sprinkling of crawlspace horror and tries to tie everything up through an in theory damaged protagonist as given by Lauren Cohan.

The whole thing just doesn’t work very well: William Brent Bell’s direction is strangely reticent, lacking the gothic conviction the sets deserve and never getting intense enough to make one forget the very silly set-up (not to speak of the even sillier third act). Cohan never convinced me of being someone who has gone through some heavy shit in her recent past, either.

Paranormal Sex Tape aka Sex Tape Horror (2014/16): This is a bit more interesting than the title suggests, seeing as it isn’t a desperate attempt at a “sexy” found footage movie but rather an amateurish one at making some sort of erotic horror movie by throwing all the digital effects, filters and avantgarde movie tricks it can muster at its audience in between the sex scenes. There’s nearly no location sound, little dialogue (and what there is of it is dubbed in afterwards and sounds atrocious), and a plot that regularly breaks down into five minute bits of psychedelic filter mania or repetitions of scenes we’ve already seen. Sometimes, this approach does even induce the mood of dream-like irreality the film probably is going for; there are even a moment or three in here I found vaguely disquieting.

Of course, the other eighty percent of the film are a bit of a boring slog that could have used some judicious cutting down from a seventy minute sort of feature to a thirty minute short film, but at the very least, director Dick Van Dark’s (winner of this week’s prize for the silliest nom de plum in a movie) film fails attempting something somewhat interesting.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Past Misdeeds: Die Farbe (2010)

aka The Colour Out of Space

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

The 70s. The father (Patrick Pierce) of Arkham academic Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) disappears while retracing his own steps during and shortly after World War II in rural Swabia. Jonathan, deeply concerned, follows him, only armed with a pack of old photos.

At first, Jonathan seems to be completely out of luck in his mission. Nobody in the small village he traces his father to seems to have seen him, but at last one of the villagers, a certain Armin Pierske (Michael Kausch), recognizes the elder Davis not on the contemporary photo but at least from a thirty year old army picture.

Pierske tells Jonathan a weird story about how he met the elder Davis when he himself came home from the front, and tried to warn Davis and his men off of visiting a neighbouring farm for reasons Pierske then goes on to explain to Jonathan by way of flashing back to a time shortly before the War.

A meteorite crashed down on the farm of Pierske's (in the flashbacks played by Marco Leibnitz) neighbours, the Gärteners (Erik Rastetter, Marah Schneider, Leon Schröder, Philipp Jacobs, Jonas Zumdohme). The scientists coming to investigate were confused by the thing's curious properties: meteorites don't, after all, generally shrink over time, nor do they have properties strangely at odds with what we know about physics. Shortly before the meteorite disappeared forever during a lightning storm, the scientists found some sort of capsule inside of it, setting free an unearthly colour when trying to take a sample.

With no physical evidence at all anymore after the disappearance of the meteorite, the scientists left. However, strange things began to happen on the Gärteners' farm. Fruit (and later some animals) started to grow freakishly large, but they also developed a foul taste that made them unsalable; the trees in the family's orchard took on disquieting properties, moving when there wasn't any wind to move them. And slowly, one by one, the family members began to change, growing unstable, mad, and ill through the agency of something not of this Earth.

Of course, the Gärtener's farm is the one Jonathan's father was visiting after the War; and it might just be that something he saw there has now called him back in some way.

Huan Vu's (whom you might know as the director of the Warhammer 40K fan film Damnatus that was killed by the angry lawyer brigades of Games Workshop) Die Farbe is a very fine adaptation of one of my favourite Lovecraft stories, the wonderful "The Colour Out of Space". At first, I was rather sceptical concerning the story's relocation from New England to Southern Germany, but for the most part, this change of location is to the film's advantage. Sure, a viewer has to make a bit of an effort to accept the actors speaking English with clear (yet not very heavy) German accents in the film's beginning as Americans, and then, once the film's narrative has relocated to Germany, Ingo Heise's Jonathan speaking German with a fake American accent, but the alternatives would surely have ruined what is after all an independent low budget production. Trying to pretend Germany is New England would have either robbed the film of its often impressive and mood building outside location shots, or threatened to make unintentionally funny what desperately needs to be earnest. A bit of accent trouble is much preferable.

This is especially the case because Vu uses the individuality of rural Swabia so well, giving the film the all-important sense of place that - as I can't help but repeat again and again in write-ups - is one of the most effective ways for a low budget movie to gain a character all its own; competing with high budget films - European or American - on their own terrain generally means ignoring the advantages this kind of production has over them. Plus, the Swabian-Franconian Forest can be - filmed in the right way like it is here - an excellently creepy place, just the kind of locality where the intrusion of the Weird seems believable.

Die Farbe not only manages to evoke a place, but also specific times, through simple yet effective tools. Initially, I thought the three time levels of the narrative were unnecessarily complicated, however, it soon became clear that the nested flashbacks really were the best way to tell Vu's version of Lovecraft's tale, and that - not a given in independent horror - Vu actually knows how to handle this sort of structure without the resulting film becoming tedious or needlessly confusing. It's also nice to see a Lovecraft adaptation that does not feel the need to permanently include winks and nods towards the author’s other works. There's a guest appearance of the Danforth Memorial Library at the beginning, but that's mostly that.

This admirable sense of restraint runs through the majority of the film's writing. The movie prefers to underplay many of its dramatic and horrifying beats, all the better to be able to get its viewers with those it doesn't underplay. It's spiritually as close to Lovecraft's writing in this particular story as possible, using those of the writer's techniques that are applicable to film, and only changing the story's framing instead of its major beats. The only part of the writing I'd criticize is the twist in the last act that doesn't ruin the film, but also doesn't do anything to improve it. As plot twists go, it isn't horrible, it just seems a bit unnecessary.

On the visual side, Vu makes the interesting decision to film in black and white, except for the Colour itself, which is a clever and elegant way to get around the question of how one shows a colour that is indescribable - when the world is black and white, any colour will look Weird. For once, I also find it impossible to be annoyed by the use of CGI; in fact, CGI seems to me the right method to bring a living colour without a body as we understand it to life (such as it is). After all, a thing without body mass can't suffer from the typical problem of low budget movie CGI of looking like it has no body mass.

All these elements (plus some decent to good acting) add up to a piece of contemporary independent horror cinema I for once find easy to praise; I am, as it turns out, a sucker for films whose directors make one intelligent decision after the other and even improve on these decisions through thoughtful execution.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

In short: Mute (2018)

This Netflix production was apparently a dream project for its director and co-writer Duncan Jones, a film he tried to get made over quite a few years. Watching it, however, I can’t help but think only the wonderfully strange future Berlin it takes place in (which an aside shows to be situated in the same world as Jones’s one perfect movie, Moon), presented as a mix of Blade Runner, today extrapolated sideways and German Shadowrun, was the dream part of the project. At least, I have difficulty imagining a filmmaker’s great dream movie plot would concern a clueless yet violent mute Amish (so he can be conveniently clueless about the place and time he lives in to an absurd degree) dude looking for his girlfriend who seems involved in the usual future noir shenanigans.

While the world Mute takes place in is often fun, as idiosyncratic as a real future, and interesting to look at – and for once in an English language movie features actual idiomatic German (admittedly, it’s a German co-production) – the plot that should lead us through it is rote, told without anything that could hook a viewer emotionally, and moves slowly, oh so very very slowly, for no reason I could make out. Adding some awkward feelings to the boredom is a low-level yet difficult to ignore vibe of homophobia that’s utterly bewildering coming from the son of David Bowie.

The characters moving through this have all the life of stage props. Alexander Skarsgård’s Leo in particularly is probably meant to be a tragic naïf but comes over as totally lifeless, not a man out of time so much as a man too boring to bother with, the actor’s never-ending barrage of would-be soulful glances notwithstanding. In general (and quite a bit of this blog proves it) I have no problem at all with movies more interested in showing a world instead of providing a classic narrative, but the tedious way Jones approaches the narrative that’s there doesn’t actually seem to be designed to show the movie’s world off at all. Unfortunately, what it’s supposed to do and why, I have no idea, and I can’t help but have the impression Jones doesn’t know it either.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Big Fix (1978)

Moses Wine (Richard Dreyfuss), formerly a proper 60s radical, is now a divorced industrial detective (missions in this glamorous job include the counting of chickens, which is more depressing than hunting cheating spouses), with two kids living with his ex-wife (Bonnie Bedelia), and a minor case of depression, sadness and self-hatred all his own. Things change when his old protest buddy and flame Lila (Susan Anspach) steps back into his life.

Lila hasn’t given up as many of her dreams as Moses has, and while she’s arranged herself with elements of changing times, she has stayed alive in and engaged with the world around her in a way Moses has not. Right now, she’s working for a political candidate named Hawthorne. Hawthorne might very well be the most boring and uncharismatic man alive yet he is also not corrupt and no monster, the kind of compromise you bet on when all the alternatives are all sorts of terrible. Unfortunately, someone has taken it upon himself to print flyers carrying endorsements for Hawthorne by radical turned terrorist turned disappeared wanted man Eppis (F. Murray Abraham). That’s the sort of thing that can end a political career right quick, so the Hawthorne campaign has sent Lila to hire a private detective to find out who is responsible for these flyers. Who’d be a better candidate for that than Moses – a trustworthy guy who knows the circles Eppis once moved in?

At first, the investigation is very much fun and games for Moses. He’s spending time with Lila, falling back in her love with her – a feeling that’s clearly reciprocated – and enjoying a light-hearted investigative romp that awakens an optimism in him he hasn’t felt for a long time. However, things turn much more serious, a murder and a conspiracy (or more than one) pressuring Moses into sticking his nose in very dangerous corners.

Jeremy Kagan’s comedic mystery The Big Fix is a very pleasant surprise. It’s one of those late 70s films that seem to have fallen through the cracks nearly completely, and while it isn’t the sort of film that’ll rewrite movie history, it is certainly a hidden gem. With a script by Roger L. Simon based on his own novel, it is another of those late 70s movie concerned with the unfulfilled promises of the 60s, but it is a bit more hopeful than many of its brethren in its belief that some of the people who have seemingly given up on all those high ideals they espoused might step back into the body politic again. The film doesn’t use the dire consequences Moses’s return to life has for a character who really doesn’t deserve this at all to end on a cynical and bitter note – it rather treats this as the sort of injustice the Moseses of this world should help fix. It’s just not lying about fixing the world being easy for anyone involved.

The film’s tonal half-shift from light-hearted mystery to something a bit darker is handled very well, Kagan timing the moment when it happens excellently, and actually rather more subtly than it at first seems. After this point, the film rightly never quite gets regains the sense of whimsy it had before (when the Moses/Lila team basically capered through their investigation), but it still contains quite a few funny and satirical ideas, like the true fate of Eppis and the way hippie and yuppie collide in how he lives now (milked grandly by an Abraham who seems to have a very good time). All the while, the film steps merrily through the ruins of former radical politics in the US, visiting the groups that still fight, those that have given up, and those that have turned malevolent with sarcasm but without the sort of cynicism that could easily come with this territory. The film’s too interested in its characters’ humanity to ever become completely bitter about it, I think. It also has a great hand for memorable side characters, not just because it has some very memorable actors (John Lithgow, Fritz Weaver and Ron Rifkin are around too, for example) to work with, but because it so clearly enjoys spending time with figures like Moses’s staunchly socialist Russian Jewish émigré aunt (Rita Karin), even if they are only marginally pertinent to the plot. 

Along this way, the viewer is accompanying a lead in Dreyfuss who finds humanity and depth in a character that could have been a caricature through a plot that probably becomes a bit too complicated for its own good (but that’s par for the course for this sort of mystery) and is finished perhaps a bit too neatly.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

In short: The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

In the near future, the world is on the brink of war – or really, a lot of wars everywhere – caused by an energy crisis. There is still one international attempt at solving the world’s energy troubles in form of a highly experimental particle accelerator built in Earth’s orbit. However, the crew of scientists (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhan Ziyi) can’t quite seem to crack the problem. Time is running out, and tensions between the crew members as well as on Earth rise. Things really start to go to crap when one of the last possible attempts with the accelerator actually seems to succeeds, only with something happening to the station that turns things decidedly weird. Not to speak of the little fact that our protagonists seem to have lost Earth.

Ironically, that isn’t even the most troubling problem our protagonists now encounter. The station seems to take on a life of its own, its walls shifting and moving and even starting to become a bit nippy. And let’s not even talk about the woman (Elizabeth Debicki) the crew finds in one of the station’s walls who says she’s a member of the team. A member nobody seems to remember, but who sometimes appears and disappears in photographs of the crew, for that matter.

After five minutes of intense hype, Julius Onah’s Netflix entry in the Cloverfield universe got a right critical drubbing from mainstream critics. Me, I found myself enjoying the film just fine, sometimes even more than that, but I can understand why not only mainstream critics but also people who actually have a clue about fantastic genre film aren’t terribly happy with the movie at hand. It is, after all, impossible to deny that Paradox does waste quite a few interesting ideas and a wonderful cast on a very standard plot with a very standard finale and on in general not terribly interesting characters. There’s much more – and much stranger things – to be done with its conceit of alternative universes and I wish the film had given more characters than just Mbatha-Raw’s reason to be emotionally involved with the alternative universe they find themselves in. Or, you know, had brought them into a universe that’s just stranger than the one we got.

On the other hand, the actors are good fun in the roles they actually have, and the plot, while not as interesting as I would have hoped for, does hit its standard beats expertly enough. I also like the way the film kinda-sorta explains how the different Cloverfield films might relate to one another in a way that leaves the door wide open for the following Cloverfields to do whatever the hell they want.

Because I’m me, I can’t end this without mentioning the utter glee I felt once the business about the arm (the film’s true hero) started. There’s something to be said about a film that dares to do something so silly (some would say goofy) and even make it important to the plot.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Great Wall (2016)

China, in what I assume to be about the 11th Century C.E. Mercenary William (Matt Damon, apparently doing some kind of accent that may or may not supposed to be Irish but most certainly isn’t) and a small group of colleagues of whom only his closest buddy, the cynical Tovar (Pedro Pascal), will live long enough to be worth mentioning, have come to China to steal black powder. Not the secret of making it, mind you, these guys really seem to be aiming to cart a bunch of the stuff out of the country.

As if playing hide and seek with angry desert tribes weren’t enough to whittle a group down to next to nothing, these merry idiots encounter a lizard monster thingie, too, which they manage to kill, while leaving only William and Tovar alive. When they can’t escape the latest group of said angry riders anymore afterwards, they save themselves by surrendering to the garrison of the conveniently placed Great Wall. The Wall, it will turn out, isn’t just there to defend against human enemies, but to protect the more pleasant parts of China, especially the capital, against a horde of evil lizard thingies who pop out of a mountain every six decades or so after a meteor crashed down there.

Once they’ve decided not to kill the weird foreigners, who managed to conquer one of the lizard thingies and the two have proven themselves in an attack of the lizards, the Chinese defenders kinda-sorta bring out the best in William. Their strategist Wang (Andy Lau Tak-wa) is after all a very reasonable man, and Crane Corps commander Lin Mae (Jing Tian), after a short phase of wanting to kill William, learns to like and respect him and teaches him the meaning of fighting for things bigger than one’s own survival. Also, she’s as cute as she’s competent. At the same time, Tovar and an long-time prisoner/guest of the Chinese named Ballard (Willem Dafoe) are still very much into stealing themselves some black powder, because clearly, evil lizard thingies take the back seat for that. What will William choose, and more importantly, how dramatic will the fight against the lizard thingies get?

Historical fantasy adventure The Great Wall is a peculiar first partial English language film for the great Zhang Yimou to direct. Sure, his later Chinese films show a good idea of the marketable, and an ability to have deeply propagandistic elements stand next to others that very much subvert the propaganda again without getting himself into too hot waters with the censors. However this is clearly a film aiming to stand with one foot in the realm of blockbuster films from the USA and the other in that from and for China, and I’m not at all sure his aesthetics fit the US blockbuster market too well beyond certain critic and fan circles that won’t fill a cinema full.

It’s a bit ironic, too, for The Great Wall’s greatest strength is indeed visual spectacle, it just doesn’t feel like the kind of spectacle you get from Marvel, DC, or (Cthulhu help us) Michael Bay at all, and a mass market audience supposedly hates new things and different perspectives (even though some of the past years’ hits suggest otherwise). Personally, I am pretty happy with these parts of the film, and whenever Zhang goes for high visual excitement, the film soars, particularly because the director is free from any silly ideas of making a historically authentic epic. Instead, there are soaring scenes of masses of pretty people in colour-coded armour fighting off the genuinely excellent and inventive monsters, the absurd and utterly awesome crane diving fighting technique of the all-female crane corpse (who probably only not simply fly like in other Chinese movies not to confuse a Western audience that should be used to this sort of thing by now), the pre-climactic balloon chase(!) and more than just a couple of other wonderful flights of fancy. It’s basically a Western/Asian pulp adventure with a sense of wonder.

Of course, the pulp bit also explains the film’s weakness: the mostly bland and clichéd characterization, and a plot that seems out to exclusively hit the most expected beats at the most expected moments. But hey, at least the script contains a group of female warriors it treats matter of factly as just as competent and heroic as their peers without anybody going “you’re a woman!?” or trying to make a cut of the film in which women don’t exist.

So, seen as pure spectacle and monster-fighting, culture-uniting bit of fun, I really enjoyed The Great Wall. It certainly beats most of the other recent attempts at very consciously constructing films for the US and Chinese markets at once.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: The Nightmare Has Begun!

The Villainess aka Aknyeo (2017): I’m a bit confused by the immensely positive critical reception Jung Byung-gil’s South Korean reworking of Le Femme Nikita has received. Sure, the film’s first and final third do contain some incredibly inventive, brutal and slightly surreal action sequences that kick movies like the first John Wick down the ladder, and the double acting threat of Kim Ok-bin and Kim Seo-hyung is rather great. However, the middle is an even worse slog than your usual action movie middle can be, with a plot that suddenly moves at a snail’s pace, characters whose actions and motivations are vague and frankly often nonsensical (or could you imagine a secret organization worse at gaining their agents’ loyalty for what exclusively looks like reasons of DRAMA than the one here?), the film’s big plot twist obvious, and its gestures at trying to say something feminist about its protagonist unconvincing. Worse, the melodrama in the middle is never even mildly as visceral as the action in the first half hour or the final half hour, leading me into the grand finale with a light yawn after an hour of going through the motions of too worn plot beats.

Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017): Of course, Victor Salva’s third Jeepers Creepers film would be happy to feature anything as good as an hour of great scenes, seeing as it barely gets up to two decent minutes. By film number two, I asked myself if the quality of the first film might have been chance more than anything else; now, I’m absolutely convinced. How else to explain this film’s never-ending quest of turning the mythical monster of the first film into a gimmicky 90s horror villain, Salva’s seeming inability to shoot any scene with him without making his monster and the special effects looking worse than they need to look (hint: if your effects are this crap, you might not want to use daylight this much)? Dragging the film down further are a script that jumps from one group of characters I didn’t care about to the next and back again for no good reason whatsoever, terrible dialogue, a bunch of idiotic ideas and pacing that seems completely random. It’s the absolute opposite of what made the first film great and does even make the (pretty bad) second film look like art. Meg Foster’s pretty good, though.

Brackenmore (2016): Compared to that train wreck, Chris Kemble’s and J.P. Davidson’s very low budget little movie about a young woman’s (Sophie Hopkins) return – though she doesn’t remember the place - to a small village where her late (and basically unknown to her) uncle had property is a breath of fresh air. Yes, this is a movie about a British rural cult (I wish Germany had those), and as such not terribly original anymore, particularly since the cult isn’t terribly interesting either. The film’s edges also suffer from what must have been a shoestring budget, with the smaller roles not always convincingly cast and acted, and a couple of scenes you’d probably have reshot completely on a higher budget. The pacing’s a bit slow, too, but for all these flaws, there are a couple of very effective creepy moments, convincing acting in the lead roles and a sense that the film actually knows where it is going and why, until it finishes on what I found to be a great ending. That’s certainly much more than Jeepers Creepers 3 ever gave me.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Past Misdeeds: The Last Run (1971)

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

Former professional getaway driver Harry Garmes (George C. Scott very brilliantly being George C. Scott) had retired to a Portuguese fishing village nearly a decade ago. Shortly after coming to the village he lost his child in an accident, and a bit later his wife to another man, leaving him if not dead inside, then emotionally hibernating for a long time.

Now, Harry seems to have decided that enough is enough with the moping, and takes on the job of helping in the escape of con Paul Rickard (Tony Musante) from a Spanish prison. Harry's supposed to pick up Paul while the guards of his chain gang (or whatever the Spanish version of one is called) are distracted by a big damn explosion, and get him over the border to France.

Of course, things don't go quite as planned. It's not just that Paul turns out to be - fitting enough for a professional criminal - a bit of a jerk, he’s a rather dumb one at that, and is willing to risk a detour just to pick up his girlfriend Claudie (Trish Van Devere), who one might imagine to be able to make her way to France on her own. There's also the little problem that the people responsible for Paul's break-out only got him out of jail to kill him once he arrives in France.

At that point, the very lonely Harry has already fallen in love with Claudie - something Paul supports for practical reasons - and is willing to risk the little bit of life he feels he still has to help the couple escape. The trio's best route of escape seems to be to reach Harry's Portuguese home and cross the ocean to Africa on a fishing boat the driver owns. They only need to somehow avoid the horde of killers that's on their trail. Yet even if they manage this, things still may not turn out too well for Harry.

The Last Run's director Richard Fleischer is a peculiar case of a man somtimes only regarded as a work for hire guy of dubious talent (which probably is the kind of reputation you deserve when you end your career directing films like Red Sonja and Conan the Destroyer), yet who nonetheless has some fantastic films that look pretty damn personal and auteur-ish in his earlier filmography. Especially some of Fleischer's later RKO noirs and many of the films he made in the late 60s and early 70s are well worth a look, and possibly even worth a snooty remark calling the director a "true auteur" or some such.

Until last year, when Warner decided to finally release the film on one of their overpriced Archives DVD-Rs, it was quite difficult to get a hold of The Last Run at all, so it was easy to believe the critical mauling the film got from people like Roger Ebert (whose competence at understanding genre cinema was basically nil). Fortunately, now that one can see The Last Run  with one's own eyes, one just might be able to see a film that certainly isn't flawless but is also much better than the reviews and its rather pained production history (George C. Scott driving away initial director John Huston! George C. Scott ruining his marriage on set and already working on his new wife! George C. Scott being as difficult as Kinski! Etc.) would lead one to expect.

One of the most criticized elements of the film is the lack of dynamic in its action sequences, but watching them in context, I couldn't help but think their dry, laconic, and utterly naturalistic tone is part of the point of the whole affair. After all, Fleischer (or frequently brilliant scriptwriter Alan Sharp) even sets up an explicit contrast between the old gangster romanticism of classic Hollywood and the much dryer tone of his own film through various dialogue scenes between Musante and Scott and another scene where Musante and Van Devere are watching an old gangster movie.

This does not mean the action scenes are completely unexciting. In fact, if you're willing to accept Fleischer's clear emphasis on staying inside the realm of the physically possible, you'll perhaps find them to be unexpectedly effective at raising your blood pressure. Fleischer's direction of these scenes, and really, of the whole rest of the film too, is wonderfully off-handed and laconic, avoiding all big directorial gestures and all showing off - and not by making this avoidance of showing-off its own grand gesture, either. The director grounds his sparse plot in a believable sense of place, giving as much room to the Spanish landscape his characters drive through as to the things happening in that landscape.

Neither the action scenes nor the crime plot are really what the movie is interested in anyway. I believe these elements are only there at all to fulfil the genre expectations an audience will probably have going in. At its core, though, The Last Run is a film much more interested in exploring the nature of loneliness in middle-aged men and the emotional death it can lead to, the difference between the cynical optimism of youth as embodied by Musante and the - ironically - much less cynical pessimism of Scott's age, and the very existentialist (or Nietzschean, depending on your philosophical favourites) concept of hope as the most destructive emotion of them all - even if the one hoping is as conscious as Scott here of how little importance his hopes carry in the greater picture of the universe.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sorority House Massacre (1986)

College student Beth (Angela O’Neill) is spending a weekend at the house of a friendly sorority to distance herself from the horrible time (I read one early scene as a hint she might even have attempted suicide, but I might be wrong) she’s been having after the death of the aunt who raised her. In theory, friendly faces and a little party should help her cheer up some. In practice, she is now plagued by nightmares of a knife-wielding killer murdering his family right in the sorority house. As it happens, the very same killer is also dreaming of Beth in the mental ward where he has been locked up. It’s as if they share a telepathic connection.

And wouldn’t you know it? The dreams spurn the killer on to circumvent the ridiculously ineffective security measures of the ward, murder his way to a knife, and start in on the titular massacre.

Carol Frank’s Sorority House Massacre is that curious example of a mid-80s slasher that’s best described with the word “likeable”. That’s not an adjective I’d use for many slashers (not even an all-time favourite masterpiece like Halloween), but most of the small twists Frank gives to parts of the slasher formula here are the sort of changes asking for exactly this word.

The most obvious example is her treatment of her characters. Unlike most of her male colleagues, Frank doesn’t sort the sorority members into your usual walking talking tropes like The Geek, The Slut, and so on, treating them instead as somewhat believable young women of their ages who are sometimes bitchy, sometimes nice, sometimes silly, sometimes have sex. Even the guys joining them later on are a little more human than the beer guzzling jocks we’re used to from the genre, despite one of them being that most horrible of things, a practical joker (though not The Practical Joker). These still aren’t terribly deep characters – only sort of Final Girl Beth is more fleshed out - but they are also not ones you want to see killed off as fast as possible. Characters you don’t hate, what a novel idea!

This sets the tone for most of the scenes not concerning Beth’s nightmares or the killer as unusually friendly, suggesting a group of kids you might actually have known in real life. Even the couple of moments of mandatory nudity don’t feel sleazy but rather natural and certainly lack the leer films can develop when they accidentally try to explain the idea of the male gaze.

The horror scenes aren’t bad, either. Especially Beth’s nightmares are realized in the slight surreality of actual dreams, with little non-sequiturs and unreal flashes that make them closer to real dreams and to me suggest that most unusual thing in a slasher: a director with thoughts. The stalk and slash sequences are on the effective side too, generally well thought-through and presented with a degree of style that leaves them always interesting to look at, though they’ll probably be not quite gory enough for the more gore-fixated viewer. I don’t think this absence is a terrible flaw in this particular movie (unless a viewer takes the title a bit too seriously), for the rest of the film is clearly more in the spirit (even though certainly not on the level) of someone like early Carpenter than the Friday the 13th films.

There’s little to say against Sorority House Massacre at all. Pacing and editing are much better than in many low budget slashers, the acting is always at least decent (O’Neill being a clear stand-out). It is a genuine small gem of a slasher.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Villmark 2 (2015)

aka Villmark Asylum

A group of workers and one young archivist under the leadership of Live (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) are helicoptered to an empty old sanatorium and asylum deep in the deepest woods of Norway, which is indeed very deep if Norwegian horror films have taught me anything. They have only one weekend – much too short a time frame the oldest and crankiest among their number will not stop to complain until he is killed off (spoilers, I guess) – to mark the place for hazardous materials so that the wrecking crew that’s going to come in can wreck the place responsibly.

However, something’s very wrong at the place. It’s not just that the caretaker of the asylum – who has been living there for decades – doesn’t seem terribly cooperative and is indeed rather creepy, but there are noises and shapes all around that suggest there’s someone (or something?) else living there with him. Given that the team soon finds a man taking his last breaths hung up like a slasher movie victim after some sort of attack, one can’t help but suspect said someone or something is not friendly. So, as if the general tensions between the workers wasn’t enough, they are getting murdered in rather unpleasant ways one by one.

If you want, you can take the hints and Easter eggs in Pål Øie’s Villmark 2, made more than a decade after the film it is a sequel to, add them to the stuff you remember from the first one and come up with a pretty nice retcon of what actually happened in the first one, reassessing who killed whom and why there. Or you can ignore these things and have a perfectly nice asylum-set slasher on your hands. As far as handling the connections between sequels in a series of horror movies goes, that seems to be a rather neat way to go about things, suggesting a mythology more than constructing it. But then, I’m bound to prefer the more ambiguous method for this sort of thing that lets the audience do the work – or really, as much work as one wants to do – and leaves more space for a sequel to be a thing all its own.

Admittedly, “a thing all its own” is a bit of a curious description for Villmark 2, for where the first movie only used elements of the slasher and films about people cracking up in a cabin in the woods, this second outing hews much closer to typical genre standards, and not just because the empty sanatorium and/or asylum might be a place that’s even more overused by horror movies than a cabin in the woods. There are certainly more than just shades of the brilliant Session 9 in the film’s set-up, too, even though it moves in a more standard backwoods slasher direction from there. However, the film’s central location – the interior scenes where apparently shot in Hungary and not in Norway – is still often effectively creepy, Øie again demonstrating quite an ability to fill a place with a feeling of wrongness before much of anything happens.

On the plot side, the film often follows standard backwoods slasher structures, but Øie has a better grip on the possibilities of the formula than most directors still using it, developing  well-worn tropes effectively, as well as simply putting more effort into the characterisation of victims and their tormentors alike.

The film also recommends itself through a pleasant sense of the grotesque. Again, its basic ideas regarding the design and behaviour of the killers and what they do isn’t new, but there’s a sense for the telling detail when it comes to this aspect of the film that turns the things I’ve seen in a hundred movies effective again for this one. They also hang together, aesthetically and thematically, feeling like an organic – if aberrant – consequence of the film’s background.

I very much suspect that the way the film’s backstory taps into World War II and terrible human experiments following it has some strong resonance for a Norwegian audience – at least, it seems to be a motive repeating in what I’ve seen in Norwegian horror. Then again, I might just have seen exactly the films to make me come up with this theory.

Anyway, while I don’t think Villmark 2 is quite as strong as the first film, it is a fine film very much worth watching.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SyFy vs. The Mynd: The Sandman (2017)

I miss SyFy Originals that aren’t about sharks. While I do appreciate the channel’s – sometimes even successful - attempts at making make proper SF shows now, there should always be room for cheesy little monster movies made in the right spirit. Unfortunately, the tiny number of non-shark movies they still produce have gone back down in entertainment as well as in production value, mostly lacking in spirit and quality.

Case in point is this thing directed and written by one Peter Sullivan, whose body of work seems particularly focussed on TV movies with the word “Christmas” in their titles. But let’s start with something positive here: the film’s fake search engine of choice is called “Querioo”, with the Q stylized as a search symbol/magnifying glass. You’d hope this sort of thing suggested a film made with a degree of care and love, but it surely doesn’t.

As a matter of fact, The Sandman, particularly its script, is a sad excuse for a movie. The plot – I’ll spare everyone a synopsis here – is badly stitched together out of elements of a handful of better movies – as well as  Firestarter – and moves all the speed of that particular snail who loses all the snail races. Adding insult to injury, the narrative only moves at all because all characters in here except for heroine Claire (Haylie Duff, having one up on the other grown-up actors by at least being awake) are cartoonish assholes and incompetents. Most of them are apparently working for the evil government conspiracy exclusively staffed by the guys and gals none of the proper government conspiracies wanted to hire. Then there’s Tobin Bell looking as if he’s about to fall asleep on his feet doing very little of interest.

I do appreciate the film’s attempt at escalating the concept of the idiot plot by turning it into that of the idiot arsehole plot on a theoretical level, but in practice, this doesn’t make the narrative any more interesting. Here’s the rub: I’m perfectly willing to watch unlikeable characters doing stupid shit but I do need said stupid shit – and perhaps the characters too – to be entertaining. The Sandman only ever reaches the stage of “badly ripped off”.

I could go on about the general crappiness of the acting, with psychic kid Shae Smolik being a mild exception, the extreme genericness of Sullivan’s direction, the fact that this is a film that doesn’t even attempt to motivate crap like Claire’s boyfriend’s attempted murder of a child properly, or the bad mood watching this got me into, but life is short, the film felt long, and nobody really needs to hear more about The Sandman than the word “avoid”.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Conjurer (2008)

After a stillbirth in the late stages of pregnancy, teacher Helen (Maxine Bahns) and her art photographer husband Shawn (Andrew Bowen) leave the Big City behind and move to the country. Helen’s self-declared rich-ass developer brother Frank (John Schneider) is going to build them a house somewhere in the deep south, and apparently make a handsome amount of bucks from the other houses he’s going to build on the property. For now, they move into an older house on the same property.

At first, the good country air is working wonders for Helen’s mental well-being, and even city boy Shawn seems to do very well indeed. Unfortunately, things soon take a turn for the unpleasant, when Shawn explores an empty old shack standing a hundred meters or so away from their house. He finds strange amulets with human teeth there, and cuts himself – a wound which will never heal and only get worse throughout the rest of the movie. Shawn starts hearing and seeing peculiar and disturbing things: mysterious lights at night in the shack, a crow that acts rather more sinister than these birds usually do, the shape of a woman staring at him.

Turns out there are tales about the shack reaching back to the end of the US Civil War basically everybody in the area knows. Apparently, it was home to a witch who didn’t take too kindly to anyone encroaching on her habitation. Further investigation provoked by increasing supernatural encounters for Shawn – Helen seems very much untouched by anything but the increasingly disturbed state of her husband’s mind – suggests a rather darker truth.

For a time, Clint Hutchison’s Conjurer is a very nice surprise. It may be cheap and look a bit like a TV movie – not a badly made TV movie, mind you – but it is also a more than decent attempt to make something like a US Southern folk horror film, a well of potential horror movie tales that still waits for more genre filmmakers to lower their buckets into. After all, as Conjurer in its own, pleasantly unspectacular, way demonstrates, there’s a whole, rich world of folk tales of conjure women, crow familiars and creepy little cabins to build your own movie mythology on; and if you want to say something about the world with your horror films, there’s this slavery thing you might have heard about, as well as the Jim Crow laws afterwards that would make a rather obvious entry point there which could also rather well be used in connection with Southern folk horror.

But even for a film like Conjurer that isn’t interested in the shadow of slavery, the use of a pseudo-folkloric background does wonders for its atmosphere, combining with the Georgia locations to create an actual sense of place – and that without the film ever trying to cart out the expected character clichés. Why, even the character mostly in tune with your typical movie yokel correctly believing in the supernatural isn’t drawn as crudely as all that, and so works very well as just a guy who believes in things he has learned to be true from his own experience, whereas the rest of the couple of locals we meet is just as unbelieving as anybody you’d meet anywhere else. Extra bonus points for the film not going overboard with the accents; there’s little that makes a film feel less taking place somewhere than attempts at really hammering it home.

This isn’t a film of big shocks or gore, but presents itself as a pretty traditional ghost story. Hutchison’s not really reaching great depths of horror there, either, yet the film has a general air of calm competence that simply works for what it does. Just because a film doesn’t really stare into the abyss doesn’t mean it is not delivering some pleasant chills, after all.

I am less satisfied with the climax of the plot, though, which goes for exactly the sort of double twist you’d expect and that really leaves the plot hanging in a rather dissatisfying way. I am usually a big fan of ambiguous and open endings in horror, but if a film is as straightforward as Conjurer is, it does demand an equally straightforward ending.

Nonetheless, given the relatively minor number of Southern folk horror movies, and the fact that the film works well for as long as its does, Conjurer is certainly worthy of more eyes – and kind words – than it seems to have gotten.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: They Can Be Slaughtered Like Any Beast

Devil (2010): Given that that I’m one of the few people who rather enjoyed director John Erick Dowdle’s As Above, So Below, I was quite willing to give this one a chance despite it being tainted by a “story by M. Night Shyamalan” credit. Alas, while it’s slickly directed, this has a plot of utmost stupidity (did you know the devil likes to arrange elevators getting stuck so he can harvest the souls of sinners in them?), cartoon-level characters, and – in full Shyamalan form even though the man didn’t even write the damn script – at times plays like a propaganda movie for a particularly unhinged form of Christianity, where you can tell the devil is present because then toasts fall with the marmalade side down (seriously). And while that’s certainly good for a laugh or two, it’s not a basis for a film that quite obviously wants to be taken very very seriously indeed.

Dead Rising: Watchtower (2015): If you’re in the market for something that makes some of the Resident Evil movies look like art, this misbegotten, shot-in-Canada, videogame movie might be just the right thing for you. There are some moments of competent filmmaking here, and even some fun scenes, but mostly, this is one of those films that just can’t decide if it wants to play its zombies for laughs or for terror and certainly isn’t well-written enough to successfully do both at the same time. This is a film that just can’t decide if it wants to be knowingly silly or dramatic, and so ends up being neither.

Male lead Jesse Metcalfe is atrocious and the rest of the cast – despite Virginia Madsen and Dennis Haysbert earning their pay checks – isn’t much better. Add to that a tedious length of nearly two hours wasted on a plot that probably would have worked for seventy minutes, and you have exactly the crappy videogame zombie movie you expected going on.

In the Dark Half (2012): This on a very other hand is a wonderful exploration of sadness and loss through fairy mythology and folk rituals with subtle, often eerie direction by Alastair Siddons and a script by Lucy Catherine that’s so good, even its plot twist works, which it of course also does because it is actually part of what the film has to say and not just a stupid gimmick.

The acting by Jessica Barden, Tony Curran and Lyndsey Marshal is just as impressive, and the film as a whole just doesn’t get a more in-depth write-up all its own from me because it would mostly consist of me making the blogging version of cooing noises, as well as a few stifled sobs.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Past Misdeeds: Don't Look In The Basement (1973)

aka The Forgotten

aka Death Ward #13

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

When psychiatric nurse Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik, growing increasingly hysterical very prettily) arrives at the peculiar little clinic of Dr. Stephens (Michael Harvey), where no door is ever locked, and patients are treated in a manner as far away from traditional psychiatry as possible (with all the good yet also all the bad that implies), she doesn't suspect the awful truth the audience learned during the pre-credit sequence. Stephens has been axed by one of his patients, the axe-loving Judge Cameron (Gene Ross and his favourite fake axe), and the only nurse has been strangled for supposedly kidnapping a baby (that is in fact a doll) by another patient. It's the sort of thing that can happen when you give an axe to a man with violent tendencies so he can live them out hitting a poor innocent log, and a baby doll to a woman who thinks it's her baby.

The only remaining medical professional, Dr. Masters (Annabelle Weenick), has decided to get rid of the bodies, so that her little family can remain as if nothing had ever happened. How fortunate there's no missing persons bureau in Texas (or so I imagine).

Masters is not too keen on Charlotte's arrival, but after some back and forth, she decides to allow the nurse to stay. That's a decision Charlotte won't be all that happy about in the long run, for the streak of violence among the patients, once awakened, continues with a bit of murder and a smidgen of tongue cutting, and deteriorates further from that point. Why, you could even think at least some of the murders have a concrete reason besides madness.

But who is doing the killing - creepy manchild Danny (Jessie Kirby, reminding me of Steve Ditko's "The Creeper", among other nightmare-inducing things), orally fixated friendly manchild Sam (Bill McGhee, in a surprise turn where the person of colour is the least murderous character on screen), the judge, the nymphomaniac, the soldier (Hugh Feagin)? All of them together, or somebody else?

The Forgotten (as is the initial and least sexy sounding title of the film at hand) is the directorial debut of Texan local filmmaker S.F. (Science Fiction? San Francisco?) Brownrigg. Brownrigg, unlike many other director/producers of local independent horror actually managed to put out more than one film, and going by The Forgotten, that's a thing to be quite excited about. Even in this debut, Brownrigg proves himself a capable director, using the small number of locations available - the film basically takes place in and around one not very interesting mansion - and a love for close-ups and surprisingly sprightly camera-work and editing to produce a mood of increasing claustrophobia and tension. Sure, there are some moments that will seem amateurish compared to bigger productions (sometimes Brownrigg's love for close-ups goes a bit too far for example, the blocking of scenes is often just strange, and you can't turn a normal house into a clinic, not even one as weird as this one), but by and large, Brownrigg is in control of his material, and knows which techniques to use to achieve his aesthetic goals.

I very much love how Brownrigg's direction grows less and less "normal" and conservative the longer the film runs, clearly mirroring how increasingly unhinged the characters become.

These characters, though, may be the film's main problem for some. The way they are written and acted is hardly informed by any actual knowledge about mental illness. One might even find the movie's whole set-up and large parts of its execution and vibe utterly offensive. Personally, I've seldom found myself offended by the depiction of the mentally ill in horror films because I see the movies' various whackos and psychos as just as fictitious as vampires and werewolves. If you want to piss me off in this regard, show me I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK and its horrible romantization of the pain people with mental illnesses suffer from.

Anyhow, coming back to the film, Brownrigg has to work with a cast of amateur and semi-amateur actors, and if you've ever seen an amateur actor trying to play "mad", you probably know what to expect: a horde of people chewing scenery so hard and excitedly, it comes as a bit of a surprise there's still scenery left to chew after half an hour of the film is through. However, the actors' various ideas of how to go about their roles (from cackling, to shouting, to bug eyes, to menacing stares, to McGhee's awesome blissful calm and Kirby's "crazy clown in puberty" performance) come together in a way that may start out silly but becomes increasingly intense, the bad portrayals of "insanity" taking on the feel of more real insanity, as if all the cackling, shouting and gibbering would actually unhinge the actors and/or the audience. Come the film's grand (as much as the budget allows, of course) freak show finale, the performances have taken a turn towards the feverish, even the disturbing, and the film's tone turns from a 70s interpretation of the friendly hokeyness of a William Castle production towards something a little more nightmarish and (in)arguably creepy. One may very well argue the latter turn to be utterly typical of the more cynical mood of 70s horror cinema, even though Don't Look doesn't have quite as cruel an ending as one would expect of it following this theory.

While Brownrigg does escalate his movie's action further than older horror rules and regulations would have allowed, and certainly shows himself unafraid of a little blood and decapitations, there's also a sense of (rather black) humour surrounding the movie that reveals itself in knowing nods in the direction of the audience that are best exemplified by the film's lovely ending credits, which show the actor's names over stills of their characters' corpses (if available). It's the perfect mix of the brazenly exploitative, the funny, and the slightly disturbing - a perfect ending for a film like this if ever I've seen one.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

In short: Slumber (2017)

Doctor Alice Arnolds (Maggie Q) is working as a researcher and therapist in a sleep lab. She does have the appropriate childhood trauma to cause her interest in this kind of work, as mandated by movie law, for when they were children, her little brother jumped to his death while sleepwalking. Or really, as it will turn out when a family, the Morgans, come to her for help with a shared sleepwalking problem that finds all of them sleepwalking and doing creepy and potentially violent stuff, was killed by the demon known as the Nigh Hag.

For a while, Alice tries to keep to a scientific and medical view on the family’s problems, but as strange things are happening all around the Morgans, she is soon starting on a way that might cost her life or at least her career.

Jonathan Hopkins’s Slumber is a very entertaining entry in the sub-genre of sleep paralysis horror. It’s not the most carefully plotted film, and its monster design – once we get to see it – certainly isn’t very good at all, but there are quite a few things to recommend it. Firstly, it does contain at least three truly creepy scenes concentrating on what the night hag makes the Morgans do in their sleep, suggesting a shadow of abuse, self-mutilation and violence hanging over an apparently perfectly functional family, very much giving the impression of something praying on unconscious – or at least unspoken - psychological issues and tensions the supernatural is only bringing to the surface. Hopkins is also quite adept at staging dream sequences that feel like dreams, with strange and somewhat disturbing non-sequiturs, a talent that (surprise!) comes in very handy in a film about a dream demon.

Secondly, there’s a pretty fantastic scenery-chewing outing by Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy as an elderly, drugged up, former night hag victim with a fascinating taste in clothing, and some neat eye-mutilation scars that turns a Joe Exposition role into pure, if absolutely grotesque, joy. Somehow, whatever it is McCoy is doing (having fun, it looks like, at the very least) doesn’t break a film full of earnest, competent performances by everyone else but enhances it considerably.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lake of the Dead (1958)

Original title: De dødes tjern

A group of friends – critic Gabriel Mørk (André Bjerke, the actual writer of the novel this is based on), crime writer Bernhard Borge (Henki Kolstad, playing a character named like the pseudonym Bjerke used for the novel), Borge’s wife Sonja (Bjørg Engh), psychologist Kai Bugge (Erling Lindahl), Liljan Werner (Henny Moan), and her fiancée Harald Gran (Georg Richter) – are making their way out into the boons of Norway to visit Liljan’s brother Bjørn (Per Lillo-Stenberg) in a forest cabin for a couple of weeks of rest and relaxation.

When they arrive, they can’t find Bjørn anywhere in or around the cabin. Some exploration suggests he has jumped into a nearby lake and died. A diary found by Bugge suggests the young man became fixated on a legend surrounding the lake. Apparently, one Tore Gråvik (Leif Sommerstad) first drowned his sister - with whom he was obsessed - and her lover and then himself in it, his ghost supposedly haunting the area ever since, occasionally luring people to a drowning death. The diary purports Bjørn has indeed seen the ghost – or dreamed of it, the borders between sleep and wakefulness having become rather blurry to the young man – and felt compelled to jump into the lake to confront the void; or drown in it.

So, this may be a relatively clear cut case of a mentally fragile man killing himself, as the local police think, but there are things that just don’t quite seem to fit this theory. And is grief the only reason why Liljan now feels the call of the lake too once night falls?

In its native Norway, Kåre Bergstrøm’s Lake of the Dead isn’t just one of the most well-loved horror movies of the country but tends to land very high on critics’ lists of the best Norwegian movie regardless of genre. Outside of the country, film is unfortunately barely known, even though it should at least make any lover of mysteries with fantastical elements, or fantastic cinema as a whole rather happy.

The film’s structure is very much that of a classic mystery, psychologist Bugge – the lead character of several crime novels by Bjerke – taking on the role of the main detective as seen through the eyes of the slightly bumbling Borge, suggesting the human mind is more important for the solving of crimes than physical evidence. Yet instead of using Bugge to expose the supernatural elements of the mystery as pure bogus, the film chooses ambivalence, having a (sort of) rational explanation but also suggesting it might not be the completely right one. One should also keep in mind that the “rational” explanation for some of the film’s occurrences is based on telepathic mind control, not exactly a thing which seems opposed to the sort of thinking that finds explanation in ghosts. This idea does of course also make Bugge something of an occult detective, perhaps not one using an electric pentacle fighting the Abnatural, but certainly not a debunker.

Interestingly enough, Bergstrøm contrasts Bugge’s at least sort of scientific and rational method with the ideas of Mørk, who is convinced of a more supernatural explanation (with a particular tension caused by him being played by the writer of the whole thing), but also with the purely worldly and criminalistic interpretation of the situation by Gran (as well as to a degree the worldly but simply wrong one of the police). The film never quite agrees with anyone completely, leaving the audience in a delicious state of ambivalence even after the narrative has run its course and never falling into the trap of making any of the characters apart from Borge an idiot.

So an entertaining and interesting supernatural (or not) mystery whose style reminds me of the kind of story you might have found in a US pulp like “Unknown” is guaranteed, but Bergstrøm also manages to create more than just a few delightful moments of strangeness and the weird. The scene in which Liljan is nearly sleepwalking into the lake is apparently particularly iconic in Norway – not surprising giving its uncanny mood created by shadows and lights – but my personal favourite is the dream (or is it?) about Bjørn’s encounter with Gråvik’s ghost that creates something very special out of noirish lighting, the claustrophobia of the woods (nature often feeling rather unnatural to us humans), a folkloric undertone, an eye for the telling detail that increases a situation’s creepiness (Gråvik’s wooden leg and the way he moves thanks to it are just brilliant), and a delicate feel of nightmare logic. This scene is exemplary for the film’s greatest strength, the intertwining of the rational and the irrational until it becomes to difficult to discern which is which.

That scenes like it are embedded in an intelligently constructed and well-paced mystery just makes Lake of the Dead all the more stunning. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Some thoughts about Deadpool (2016)

By now, even the geniuses over at Fox have realized the old comics wisdom that, to paraphrase some wise old writers (Archie Goodwin it was, I think), when making a superhero movie, you can make any kind of film around the fights and the superpowers as long as you have the fights and the superpowers. Well, at least some parts of Fox seem to have realized, the rest thought Fantastic Four was a good idea.

So now, we get an oh-so-hip, oh-so-mature cynical comedy around the fights, a film that mostly seems to have come about by its makers misunderstanding the heart in Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man as ironic posturing; which is useful, since posturing is the best Deadpool can do. There’s something unpleasantly puerile about a film whose only idea of subversion is to throw in lots of blood, decidedly less sex (because that’s much worse than the red stuff, obviously), many a joke I would have found funny when I was in puberty, and whose general approach to the specific dreams at the core of the superhero genre is a vague, pointless and joyless cynicism. Basically, the film’s a fifteen year old boy, and teenagers suck.

An extra degree of the tiresome is added by the never-ending fourth-wall-breaking jokes, which add a feeling of undeserved smugness to Deadpool’s other failings by giving the impression of a film that’s more interested in congratulating itself for how funny it is instead of actually being funny.

To add insult to injury, the super-powered action isn’t much cop either with all the ironic, fourth-wall-breaking posturing breaking up any possible flow, an overemphasis on slow-motion and stops that reminds me of one of those 90s US action movies that were so desperate to look like a John Woo movie but never did, and generally unimaginative set-ups for the action that fit how boring Ed Skrein’s Big Bad is.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Burglar (1957)

Nat Harbin (Dan Duryea) has a sensible thing going on with his tiny “organization” of crooks. But when they rob jewellery from a spiritualist, the potential riches open all the little rifts between members of the group up into abysses. In today’s parlance, Nat himself suffers under a form of PTSD, presented by the film in an excellent dream-memory sequence about his time in an orphanage, and how he escaped and was taken in by a very kind man, who also happened to be a professional burglar. He taught Nat all he knew about the business, and made the boy swear to watch out for his little daughter Gladden.

Since their dad is dead, Nat has been trying to be a replacement father to her (now grown up to be played by Jayne Mansfield), while using her to scoop out their targets. The problem is that Gladden doesn’t really see Nat as father or big brother anymore but has developed a pretty obsessive degree of lust for him; something he doesn’t at all reciprocate. Now that times are changing on them, and certainly not helped by the rest of the crew having crap of their own going on – one’s rapey and the other one is apparently born to run decades before Bruce Springsteen – their relationship will come to a decision point too.

As if that weren’t bad enough, someone else is rather interested in stealing the jewellery from the thieves.

Paul Wendkos’s The Burglar is a nice little heist movie of the sort more interested in the aftermath of the heist than the actual stealing of stuff, sharing some of the world view and some of the style of the noir, using the mandatory end for criminals in a 50s movie to express existentialist desperation. Despite the rules of the game, the film treats its broken characters – particularly Nat and Gladden – with exceptional compassion, suggesting their lives have been doomed from the start through the places they were born into in society. The film’s clearly not happy about this. Now, more crime movies of the time did this sort of thing than one would expect given the strictures of the production code, but there aren’t many films who’d have a policeman when asked how to label Nat’s corpse, simply state “victim”.

Of course, the script to The Burglar was written by great, at his own time pretty unsung, hero of noir crime writing David Goodis, so I probably should have expected the mix of compassion and ruthlessness carried by what to me always reads as a great sadness.

As a director, Wendkos – whose debut feature this was and who would go on to a long and storied career in movies and TV of the kind that suggests a journeyman who still treated his work with thought and respect  – intelligently goes from the classic noir style of scenes like Nat’s dream and the climax to the brightly lit, more direct sort of staging you’d find in a Phil Karlsson film of the era, depending on the mood of any given scene. The director also puts a lot of energy into giving his performers centre stage whenever the script demands it, not so much getting out of their way than enabling them – quite an achievement for a debut movie like this.

Speaking of the acting, a lot of it is in that very particular 50s early method style that to me always feels halfway between the stylized acting approach of the 40s (which is another kind of stylization than used in the 30s, but I digress) and the more organic acting styles of the 60s and 70s. For today’s taste, where actors not visibly emoting is often treated as the state of the art (comparable to the contemporary love of particularly bland writing styles in novels, if you ask me, but I’m clearly old), the performances might seem a bit stagey, a bit too earnestly big, but once you’ve gotten in the groove of this sort of thing, they actually make sense, presenting much more nuance than a viewer might at first realize.

Duryea was always great in the kind of role where he could show the fissures in the soul of the man’s man of the time, so the quality of his performance isn’t surprising, but there’s still a certain fearlessness from an actor doing this in an era when fragility just wasn’t what men showed (or were allowed to show).

Young Jayne Mansfield (before her short period of stardom) is good too, providing Gladden with the neediness of a young woman who never had much to begin with, and never had the opportunity to actually finish growing up, and now hangs on to the little she has with everything she’s got. The rest of the cast is great, too, with Martha Vickers giving nuance to what could have been an underwritten one-note character, and a handful of character actors really digging into the meat of the script.

The Burglar is a wonderful film all around, at once very typical of films of its time and daring to go a little further when nobody’s looking.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Three Films Make A Post: See these incredible scenes before your unbelieving eyes!

November Criminals (2017): Sometimes, one really wonders why certain films don’t come together as well as they should. This one clearly has a decent enough budget, features a good cast with Ansel Elgort, Chloe Grace Moretz as well as Catherine Keener and David Strathairn in the unthankful parent roles, the script is written by well-known professionals, and Sacha Gervasi’s direction does not suggest a lack of talent. Still, what all the talent before and behind the camera adds up to is a film that seemingly can’t decide what kind of movie it is, what it is actually about, if it has a point, or what that point might be. There are a few intriguing, or at least interesting subjects broached, but the film never really hones in on one (or just a couple), instead wandering from one idea to the next with all the focus of a toddler distracted by the next shiny thing. There’s so much less substance in here than you’d expect, it becomes rather annoying right quick.

Hellstone (2016): In comparison, this little German microbudget horror movie about a guy stumbling through a patch of woods fighting off demons directed by Andreas Tom seems laser-focused. It is clearly inspired by spirit and body of the original Evil Dead (as is only right and proper) but does feature a couple or three ideas of its own. The film nicely concentrates on the things it’s got going for itself – a claustrophobic cabin (set), woods, one and a half actors who are decent, a handful of pretty great practical effects, and people behind the camera who do know what they are doing – using them with a complete lack of pretension but a degree of style and what feels like quite a bit of enthusiasm. It’s not the sort of film that’ll have anyone re-writing the history of horror, but it’s fun and suggests a degree of care from its makers; not something I’d say about many German microbudget films.

The Dark Tower (2017): But back to the bad stuff, or really, the completely puzzling stuff. I don’t understand why anyone would buy the rights to Stephen King’s Dark Tower cycle and then turn its first part into a painfully generic bit of YA fantasy in which the supposedly central Gunslinger Roland (a wasted Idris Elba) becomes a side-character in the yawn-inducing story of some kid (Tom Taylor) the film never bothers to give me any reason to care about discovering how very special he is.

Now, if it were a good YA movie, I’d still be puzzled but at least feel entertained, but standing between entertainment and me are a near complete lack of dramatic tension, the usual dependence on the Hero’s Journey trope even if it makes no sense in context, lackluster production design, a mechanically creaky script and Matthew McConaughey playing the villain Walter/The Man in Black as if he were the bad guy in a kid’s TV show.

Honestly, I have no idea what this is supposed to be, for whom it was made, or why anyone should watch it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Past Misdeeds: No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1948)

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 presented with only  basic re-writes and 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.

It looks like a certain thing for a trio of would-be gangsters: grab the incredibly valuable jewellery of millionaire's daughter Miss "I don't need no stinking first name" Blandish (Linden Travers) while she and her fiancée are driving through dark country roads on the way to a roadhouse. As it goes with things that are certain, the robbery plan ends with a dead fiancée, two dead would-be kidnappers and Miss Blandish kidnapped by the last surviving gangster, a certain Bailey (Leslie Bradley). Oops.

Bailey drives his victim to a country shack, where he is planning on, well, shacking up for a while and doing Miss Blandish harm. Just when he is about to rape her, members of the Grisson gang, who learned of Bailey's plans and whereabouts by ways too complicated to explain, appear like a particularly inappropriate sort of cavalry. Their leader, Slim Grisson (Jack La Rue), decides to kill off Bailey and kidnap Miss Blandish (and her jewellery) for himself.

But a strange thing happens to the hardened gangster once his booty (human and monetary) is safely stashed away at the club he owns. Slim falls in love with his victim, even becoming willing to risk the wrath of his partner/boss Ma Grisson (Lilli Molnar) - who doesn't actually seem to be related to him - for said love. When Slim tells Miss Blandish to take her jewellery and just go on home, it turns out that he's not the only one who's in love here. Clearly, that sort of mutual feeling can not end well in a noir.

At the time the British noir No Orchids for Miss Blandish came out, it seems to have caused a minor scandal by flaunting British censorship rules towards filmic violence (and probably sex) enough to end the career of its director, the excellently named St. John Legh Clowes and its female lead Linden Travers. From my modern perspective, this, like a lot of things causing censors to foam at the mouth, seems more than just a bit overblown. Sure, conceptually the film's scenes of violence are a bit more directly visceral than was typical for its time, but Clowes’s execution of those scenes is so unconvincing, with fists that miss bellies by miles and bullets that are so clearly never shot no audience member (many of whom will have lived through various kinds of real violence during World War II, one presumes) can have been shocked by what's happening on screen.

I suspect that it's the sexual content that broke the film's neck anyhow, seeing as the amount of innuendo and the number of scenes where the film is basically stating "the characters are now going to have premarital sex while the camera's not looking" reminds of the raunchier Hollywood pre-code films I've seen.

But really, it's neither the sex nor the violence that makes No Orchids as interesting a film as it is, it's the peculiar way it goes about its business of being a British noir. Most of the British noirs I've seen were putting their efforts into taking the aesthetics and philosophy of the Hollywood noir and putting them into a decidedly British setting, with decidedly British characters and exploring decidedly British themes. It's none of that for No Orchids. Like the novels of James Hadley Chase (one of which this is based on), the film tries its damndest to pretend it is an American noir, setting its story in the USA yet still casting - apart from Jack La Rue's ersatz-Bogart and Walter Crisham's ersatz-Widmark - British actors for the roles.

This lets No Orchids take place in a particularly strange place - a USA where everyone tries for a different kind of badly done American accent to stiffly utter (often rather weird) dialogue full of off-key americanisms in, frequently while wearing clothes that are clearly supposed to be American-style, but actually look like the clothes people wear in classic gangster films as recreated by a mad tourist. This whole aspect of the movie has a highly alienating effect, putting a distance between a modern viewer and the film that makes emotional involvement near impossible. It's all much too artificial and strange to be immersive.

This effect is even further heightened by a script confusing and difficult to believe even by noir standards, and which oozes so much puppy-like excitement about aping all aspects of American noir it ever put its eyes on it's impossible to take it seriously at all. The film makes no attempt to make the sudden love between Slim and Miss believable even in the slightest, and instead puts them into scenes of bizarre domesticity that can't help but leave one with the feeling Clowes either had a very peculiar sense of humour and was trying to have the audience on, or is an alien only vaguely familiar with the idea and ideal of love. This sort of thing sure makes for an interesting film, but also left me giggling throughout the "dramatic" climax that - I think - is supposed to jerk a few tears.

So, by the standards of how a "good" film is supposed to be, No Orchids For Miss Blandish is pretty much a total loss. However, as a film that takes a by the time well-developed style of filmmaking and makes it weird through its own sheer wrong-headedness and an insistence on imitation as if it were a broken mirror, it's absolutely brilliant. As regular readers of this column and my blog know, there's not much I love better in a movie than the ability to present itself as part of a different world than the one I come from. No Orchids For Miss Blandish achieves that effect effortlessly, while also providing some very pretty pictures to look at (say what you will about Clowes's direction, but he sure knew how to do "pretty fake"), horrible musical numbers and "comic" interludes to be disturbed by, as well as psychosexual nonsense to shake one's head about.

For a film that is trying so hard to be like other films, No Orchids For Miss Blandish is very much only like itself.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

In short: Arrival (2016)

Warning: A minor degree of spoilers is inevitable in this case

Usually, I have little trouble to entangle a movie adaptation from a superior more thoughtful source and take it for what it is. No such luck for me with Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”. It’s too bad too, for I suspect if I could, I would find a little bit more to like about the film at hand.

Part of this difficulty certainly lies in the fact that the film’s first half or so is a more than decent movie version of the story, given a glossy Hollywood sheen through impressive camera work, special effects that recommend themselves by never pointing to themselves, and expectedly good acting by Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams’s Louise’s first visit to the alien spaceship is a fantastic moment that demonstrates the wonder, the awe and the terror of an encounter with the utterly alien. Alas, the aliens become increasingly less alien the longer the film goes on and the further it moves away from Chiang’s novella. In the end, the film’s aliens are just another band of outer space big daddies who have come to wag their fingers at humanity and unify it by force instead of the much more ambiguous and truly alien aliens of the novella to whom we and our ways are as alien as they are to us.

Of course, if the film did otherwise, we couldn’t have a last half hour mostly consisting of lame, clichéd ticking clock scenarios and been there, done that plot events. Keeping with this dumbing down, Villeneuve (or Eric Heisserer’s script) also turns the story’s central philosophical conceit into a plot-practical way to see into the future that is infuriating in its simple-mindedness, falling into the usual trap of expecting a film to play well to the dumbest audience member a Hollywood filmmaker can imagine.

All this does add up to the perfectly respectable kind of science fiction film that can play well with the Academy Awards audience (see also the loathsome Gravity), the sort of film that pretends to be deep and emotional but mostly makes empty gestures to hide how cynically manipulative it is. Which is in general what the big mainstream film awards still prefer from their films, the last bunch of Academy Awards nominees and winners notwithstanding.

Now, I’m not at all against spectacle with a hint of heart as my love for the output of Marvel Studios should prove, but the way Arrival handles these things really sticks in my craw, the series of pretentious gestures that never become anything more than gestures that is the final act, hiding emptiness behind the still fantastic effects and production design and an increasingly schmaltzy score by Jóhann Jóhannsson (who could do so much better), adding up to very little but presented with the grandest gestures possible.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Norliss Tapes (1973)

Writer David Norliss (Roy Thinnes), tasked with writing a book debunking the supernatural, ceases all contact with his publisher. He seems to spend his time lounging around sweating, not buttoning his shirt a lot. When the publisher finally makes contact with Norliss, the writer rambles something about being in too deep and having dictated his book onto tape. It will explain everything, apparently. He’s certainly not going to do that himself, for he doesn’t appear to a meeting with said publisher and seems to have vanished from the face of the Earth now.

His publisher does find the titular tapes, though. What is on the first of them makes up most of the film. Ellen Cort (Angie Dickinson), the widow of apparently somewhat famous sculptor James Raymond Cort (Nick Dimitri) calls Norliss in for help in a rather mysterious case. Despite being quite dead, a blue-faced version of Cort with pretty frightening eyes leaves his sarcophagus in the family crypt to murder dogs – later people – and work on a final sculpture. Ellen thinks it has something to do with the occult circles her husband started moving in when he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Ellen particularly suspects the sinister Madame Jeckiel (Vonetta McGee) and a ring she gave James to have something to do with her husband’s very eventful version of the afterlife.

Norliss isn’t the most sceptical of sceptics, so he’s soon the one trying to convince your typical incompetent local Sheriff (as is usually the case played by Claude Akins) of the truth of a blue zombie dude walking around, murdering people, and sculpting a pretty creepy looking demon sculpture.

Dan Curtis’s – this time around not only producing but also directing – NBC TV movie The Norliss Tapes was supposed to be the pilot for a series of Norliss adventures, but the network never did pick the series up in the end. Therefor, we never will learn why Norliss disappeared, but since this was made in the age of done-in-one TV stories, his disappearance is really more an atmospheric set-up for the film’s actual plot.

I have to admit I’m not terribly surprised by the series not having been picked up. In an age where pretty much only soap operas had continuing storylines as we understand them today, much of the rest of the TV show world really had to sell themselves on the pull of their central characters, and I don’t see Norliss making much of a mark in many viewers’ minds. While it is nice to have a main character who isn’t a walking, talking gimmick, Norliss seems rather lacking in personality of any kind. He’s somewhat cool and aloof, but not in a terribly interesting way, he dresses to suggest he’s a pretty successful writer – and that’s it. Which I don’t think is enough to carry a show.

Of course, having said that, Norliss’s only actual adventure is at least an entertaining bit of TV horror throughout, starting off as a well-constructed series of investigative interviews and becoming a bit more gruesome and horror movie-like as things continue. Curtis, while for my tastes not quite as good a director as the best examples of the trade he worked with, does manage some fine scenes, always trying for the more atmospheric shot in a medium easily falling into the blandly generic for budget and cost reason and often making excellent use of rain, darkness and shadow to create a mood of classicist creeps. There are some fine sets and locations too – I’m particularly partial to the tunnels under the crypt – as well as a good cast doing the expected good work. Though I would have wished the film had made better use of Dickinson, who nonetheless turns out to be a rather adept screamer.

The monster design is simple yet on the effective side. The blue skin is in practice much more convincing than it sounds on paper, and our undead’s eyes are indeed pleasantly creepy (and Curtis clearly knows this). Dimitri’s fine, increasingly less human snarling isn’t too bad, either.

I also appreciate that Curtis doesn’t just use an early 70s undead but throws in a whole bunch of occult stuff that escalates to a bonus monster and provides the whole affair with a pleasant pulpy flavour. So, while I never really warmed to Norliss as a character or an occult detective, the film he’s in is a fine use of 70 minutes of anyone’s time, I believe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In short: Dark Woods (2003)

Original title: Villmark

TV producer Gunnar (Bjørn Floberg) is in the final stages of preparation for a reality TV show that’ll see its victims trying to survive out in the wild wild woods of Norway. Gunnar’s of the opinion that he can’t have the participants of his show do anything he wouldn’t do himself, so he packs up his crew of young guys and gals who mostly have never worked with him before for a weekend of definitely not fun in a hut somewhere far out in the woods, with the usual bagging of cell phones and other useful features of modernity to maintain isolation.

This being a Norwegian horror film, there’s also a lake in these woods, and as all Norwegian horror film lakes I have encountered, it is a creepy and threatening body of water. It certainly doesn’t become less so when the boys of the group find a female corpse in it, a discovery Gunnar decides nobody with a brain instead of a penis needs to know about until Sunday when they’re going back to civilization. The thing is, Gunnar doesn’t exactly smell of mental health, his tendency to dictatorial behaviour and sadism seems extreme even for a reality TV producer, and there’s clearly some shadow hanging over him – or more than one. That the group is soon encountering threatening and disturbing occurrences hardly needs mentioning, nor does the fact that there just might be someone or something out in these woods with a penchant for murder.

Pål Øie’s Dark Woods is apparently a minor classic of Norwegian horror, and it’s not difficult to understand why. The film’s gritty and grubby yet also controlled and stylish camera work milks the cabin and the excellently creepy woods for all they are worth, the shocks are well-constructed and often very cleverly staged, and the characters and their relationships are certainly portrayed with insight and care several levels above your usual slasher cabin full of meat.

In fact, the film is at its best whenever it exploits the spoken and unspoken tensions it creates between the characters to help escalate the outside threat. Much of what could be read as characters acting stupidly because it say so in the script in lesser films here plays out as the logical consequence of a handful of people bringing their problems and hang-ups into an enclosed space and really not turning out to be able to cope rationally with anything much.

Additionally, the plot is rather more complex than its final solution and plot twist show, containing another layer of hints and ambiguous facts that will make the chain of past events much less random than they appear. It is very much to the film’s honour that it is satisfied for its audience to either see this further layer or not.