Sunday, January 24, 2010

A l'intérieur

À l'intérieur. Christ. Just... yes, À l'intérieur. Here be spoilers and seriously fucked up mental images.

So, this film is actually quite basic what horror movie plots are concerned. A pregnant woman looses her boyfriend in a car accident, and four months later, when she's quickly approaching the time to give birth, she starts getting stalked by a woman who seems... rather interested in her soon-to-be little bundle of joy. Her fascination manifests in the form of scissors, no points in guessing what she's going to use those for.

I'm a bit uncertain what to think of this movie. On one hand, it does what it's supposed to do hella good. I'm not quite certain what does so goddamn well, but the thought of a pregnant woman being put through The Strangers-levels of peril that just makes me uneasy. Not to mention that the whole "scissor C-section"-thing being teased from very early on, leaving that particular mental image to simmer in your mind until the end. Overall, the film is fairly similar to The Strangers, even though the body count is a good bit higher and the antagonist quite often is a bit more in the open.

My biggest complaint to the movie, though, is that the supporting cast, or cannon-fodder, as they end up being, are all fairly stupid. I mean, our villain du jour isn't some super-strong hillbillly, she's a fairly normal woman, her Audition-levels of The Crazy notwithstanding. When she manages to take out as many people as she does, most of them police officers, it does display some of that tried-and-true slasher movie stupidity. Granted, one of the most impressive things about this film is how it uses dramatic irony. More than once, our scissor-wielding psychopath manages to avoid capture by pretending either to be her intended victim or a relative of hers while our poor protagonist has barricaded herself in the bathroom, and although it gets old eventually, it is very suspenseful

A l'intérieur is a movie I'm a little bit ambivalent about recommending, partially because I find its imagery particularly disturbing, and also because it flips between tense physiologic horror and a sort of Slasher-type idiot plot that makes it sort of hard to take said imagery all that much more uncomfortable. Still, if you hanker for something profoundly fucked up and can't get yourself to see Irreversible, give it a shot

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Marble Hornets

I love the internet. You surf your merry way through its various nooks and crannies, and suddenly you find something, sometimes this something is funny, other times it's exciting or sad, and yet again other times, it's flat out fucking terrifying. You see, from the dark dungeons of Tvtropes, I was lead to a... well, I'm not certain what I should call it, so I'll just call it a series for now, on Youtube, called Marble Hornets.

The story of Marble Hornets follows the tale of the filming of the eponymous student film, and how the set, and the director in particular, is harrassed by a mystical well-dressed character of some considerable height, or wait, that's not quite how the story goes. You see, a friend of the director gets his hands on massive amounts of raw footage from the unfinished Marble Hornets. The director, Alex, doesn't want anything to do with it, as he has given up the entire project and refuses to elaborate as to why. After some persuasion, the friend, only referred to as J, gets the entirety of the tapes recorded for and around the movie, in trade, J agrees to never mention the film to Alex again.

In some sort of jumbled order, we are presented with cuts of the film and other segments recorded with a handheld camera, detailing Alex' progressive paranoia and the strange tall man whose coming is heralded by the audio on the camera cutting out, or possibly being cut out. To add to it all, the youtube reply segments are added from a second user, a mystical user by the name of "totheark." These are definitely more cryptic, alien almost, but occasionally show signs of being related to the segment it replies to, some times being parts of the happening from a different angle, implying whatever's stalking the set, and eventually J, is the one uploading them. All in all, it's one big clusterfuck of layers and layers, where the narrator occasionally takes on the mantle of hero, or victim, while some alien force seems to be able to transcend the bonds of narrative structure. It's eerily familiar.

Yes, you could say this whole experience reminds me of House of Leaves, and that's a good thing and a really, really bad thing all at the same time. You see, while the postmodern take on the role of narrators is refreshing, and the mystery surrounding the whole thing is very interesting, it's frankly starting to unnerve me. I feel I shouldn't even be writing this, lest I turn into some third-rate Johnny Truant-copy, tormented by the maddening truth of the fiction (?) I'm confronted with, haunted by a spectral beast that either is the monster of the story or the monster of my mind. And still I write. Wonder what that says about me? But I digress.

Much of the absolute terror that's inspired from this meta-narrative is extremely subtle. For example, there's one segment which is essentially one character in front of a window, talking about the titular film, and I still can't decide whether the mysterious tall man is standing on the other side of the window or not. You'll see, while watching this story, that a man in a tux is disturbingly difficult to pick out from a poorly illuminated background dominated by dark colors. Either that, or I've been imagining things, which definitely isn't good. Don't get me wrong, there's the occasional jump scare too, but they're fairly clever. For example, audio glitches of various types plague the film, and when one of them comes 'round, they come 'round LOUD, and since you're so immersed in the story, such sudden boos hit hard. Of course, that's to say nothing of the violent brainfuck that happens in Entry #19, but I'll let y'all cross that bridge when you get to it.

All in all, I like the Marble Hornets experience. I think it's a good thing when young filmmakers try to really play with the mediums at their disposal, in this case Youtube and Twitter, and make a story that really uses every aspect of these sites. I'm yet again drawing parallels with House of Leaves, but the two works have a lot in common. The series is still ongoing as far as I can tell, and it can be found at Don't say I didn't warn you, though. I watched the 24 episodes available in one sitting, and I'm starting to regret it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paranormal Activity

Occasionally, I get very pessimistic, usually around the times when I feel the horror genre in general is loosing steam. Then, along comes a movie called Paranormal Activity, and things take a turn towards the awesome. Yes, there, I said it, I love Paranormal Activity. If my opinion on the film was the only thing that matters to you, you can now click "back" in your browser and go on your merry way. Some spoilers, but nothing major.

I must admit, I did not have high hopes for Paranormal Activity, at all. You see, the trailer was surprisingly unhelpful, and the synopsis didn't really tickle me. Guy and a girl, something haunts their asses, guy tries to document it... it gets worse. As far as I could see, it was a movie about a haunting, shot in a semi Blair Witch-kind of style and it apparently frightened a cinema full of moviegoers. Yay. Well, I must admit, as far as marketing goes, just showing a crowd's reaction to the movie is actually kind of a smooth move, sure, it doesn't beat the "this was real OMG"-approach to Blair Witch, but I doubt anyone is stupid enough to try retreading that particular ground anytime soon. Oh Wait. Anyway, it wasn't until I heard one particular spoiler, together with a rather glowing review, that I got interested. You see, it's not the house that's haunted, it's the female main character.

Granted, the thought of person-centered haunts isn't all that new either. For example, I think there was a Supernatural-episode themed around such, but it's still not something we see all that often. Also, it solves a rather old problem with haunting stories, since 99% of these rely on the main characters all being massive morons, staying in a house that you have to realize, even if you're massively genre blind, is full of some seriously fucked up mojo. Also, it raises a very interesting question: What does this entity want with its designated victim? This question and many promises of this film being seriously creepy made me check it out despite my initial lackluster enthusiasm, and I'm glad I did.

Well, as I mentioned, this film is done as a sort of Blair Witch Project-thing, albeit with a lot less wavy camera. You'll notice my favorite First Person Movies, Rec and Paranormal Activity, both have less frantic wavy camerawork, whereas FPMs I'm not that crazy about, for example Cloverfield has... well... more. A lot of Paranormal Activity's scares happen with the camera mounted on a tripod during the night sequences, so even when stuff gets crazy, we get a good overview. I think one of this movie's biggest strengths is that it keeps it simple. A lot of times, we just get the sound of approaching steps or something small being moved, from a sheet to a door, it makes you wonder, is whatever's doing the haunting just warming up, or is it for some reason not strong enough to do more? Well, either way, we do get some heavier stuff later on, but it's still fairly subdued, leaving us with a slow burn of fear, if you will.

In particular, one scare that doesn't feel that bad on paper, but was wickedly effective in the movie, was that the female character got out of bed during one of these nightly filmings, stood still for four hours, which we thankfully fast-forwarded through, before looming over her sleeping beau. I also noticed that the movie had managed to make its audience fear video not being fast-forwarded. You see, it shows nights as recorded by the man's camera, and when nothing happens, it fast-forwards, but about a minute or so before creepyness ensues, it goes back to 1x speed, and thus, in the cinema, I could hear clearly scared whispers of "it's going slow, oh god it's going slow." It was, in short, delicious. It's that kind of reaction to something that's not in itself scary that I hope to one day achieve.

As for acting, it's not going to win any Oscars for that, but the two main characters do their jobs good enough, and their fear feels fairly genuine, so I'm guessing I can't really complain too much. I've been thinking about the characters in general, and although I didn't exactly wish bad upon him, I realize the husband came off as a bit of an idiot. I mean, yeah, he doesn't trust the spirit medium the wife ends calling in, which is forgivable pretty much everywhere else than in a horror movie, but when he, contrary to prior agreement with his better half, gets an Ouija-board and tries to communicate with the spiritual being, well... not only does it sound like a very bad idea, but it's also kind of jerkish. Still, the characters are sympathic enough that you doesn't want the horrible things that happen to them to actually happen to them, so in that respect, he's still better than your average horror movie character, jerkish tendencies notwithstanding.

So, yeah, check out Paranormal Activity if you have the nerves and is in the mood for something different. Check by next week, when I will write about something... out of the ordinary.

Monday, January 11, 2010

But first:

Yeees, I figured after talking about a really good movie that made me want to die a little, it would be better to write about a bad movie that made me want a lot of other people to die, just as a change of pace. In other words, no Paranormal Activity today folks, today I'm taking on I Know Who Killed Me. This rant is spoileriffic.

I had heard about this film, mostly about how horrendously bad it is, and when the stars aligned and I finally got my hand on a Voddler invite with my name on it, and Voddler had the movie available, I decided to check it out. That was, in short, a mistake. I spent an entire afternoon, just methodically going through this film and writing down all that was wrong and bad about it, and still I felt like I didn't get to cover everything in appropriate detail. This, however, is more the condensed version of that.

So, the movie is about Aubrey Fleming, a high-school girl and alleged talented writer who gets kidnapped by a serial killer, only to be found again, insisting that her name is Dakota Moss. Are there really two almost identical, yet very different, girls, or is Dakota just fooling herself. The answers, in short is: Yes and Only into thinking she can act. So, this movie stars Lindsay Lohan as both Aubrey and Dakota, and her performance does not lift the movie to any mentionable heights. If something, she's the ballast on an U-boat in that respect. You see, as mind-numbingly poor as Ms. Lohan's performance is, the negative impact she has on the quality of the movie is far overshadowed by several other elements, most noticeably the story. Yes, the story is bad enough to outdo Lindsay Lohan in the failing department, you should be very very afraid.

You see, this story clearly has an idea or two that the author would love to show to the world. No wait, it has exactly one idea, the idea of non-religious stigmata involving some supernatural bond between twins. The entirety of the main plot revolves around this in its entirety. This'd be very boring, hadn't it been for the subplots. Oh dear merciful abominations against nature, the subplots. You see, the movie seems to do pretty much the same thing as M. Night Shyamalan more or less insists on doing every movie he makes, that is halting the main plot in favor of character development and character development-subplots. You know what, I'm not overly fond of this approach, but I'm going to go over Shyamalan's career and my two cents on him later, so I'll leave that alone for now.

My point, though, is that at least Shyamalan does what he does well. I Know Who Killed Me well... doesn't. I remember one particular instant where our intrepid heroine Dakota searches through the room of the killer's previous victims and spots a trophy. We're not told what the trophy is, but the way the cinematography and characters work it let us know that this is important in one way or another. So, Dakota reaches out for it, and for a brief moment, it looks like we might actually get some progress on the main plot, seconds later she's hauled out of her house by her parents. At this point, I had to pause the movie and just let the rage pass. You see, it's not that the main plot is very good, it's just that up until that point, we hadn't gotten a single clue about the killer, and except for the reveal in the last part of the movie, we wouldn't get another. The whole "killer" part seems like it had been cut, trimmed and then cut again before it was thrown into a wood chipper, we never learn why the killer kills and we never learn why we should care.

Another thing about the movie, both of the main characters, Aubrey and Dakota, are both as likeable as a serial killer dressed entirely in dead babies. To take the one that vexes me less first: Dakota. Stereotypical Bad Girl, so incredibly paint-by-numbers "bad" that it approaches parody. Aubrey, on the other hand, is in the movie all of... what, fifteen minutes total, and I not only dislike her, but also hate several aspects of her more than I've hated any other character. You see, Aubrey is an equally paint-by-numbers Good girl, approaching Mary Sue-levels at lightspeed, and only to make it better, or worse, you be the judge, she's a writer. Great, can you say "author avatar," much? The fact that everyone seems to be deeply fascinated by her crappy writing doesn't exactly help. Oh, and to top it of, Aubrey does what every fucking author does according to fictionland, she writes about herself, except not quite, as she writes about the life and times of her lost identical twin, except she seems to be clarvoyant... somehow. I'd rather not dwell on that aspect of it, but let me just ask one thing, why on earth does all author write solely about themselves in the most transparent way possible in fiction? I mean, the people who makes them do this are all writers, why do it? I'm not sure, but I'm convinced a writer has a duty to write about something else than his own problems and beliefs. One of my first books on scriptwriting told me "Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting to others." and from this, I've always assumed that it's a rather basic writer thing to not gab on endlessly about you and yours. Then again, it'd be unrealistic for a writer to write a writer who writes better than the writer who writes him (that sentence kind of got away from me,) but come on, at least a little effort, please?

Well, if that wasn't enough, the director seems to be convinced he's destined for greatness. There's a very Lynch-esque feel over the movie, or at least a very "Wishes it was Lynch"-esque vibe, heavy use of colors, a vague attempt at mixing reality that seems surreal with surreality that seems real, the whole package. The thing is, of course, that the general feel of the movie is more like something an over-eager film student would put together if given the funds. Every time I say that, I feel bad for the over-eager film students of the world, after all, they have potential to become better, potential to surprise, potential to lead the way in a new and exciting branch of cinema, heck, I am one of those young hopefuls, but I have at least reached the point where I recognize our most common mistake, and I Know Who Killed Me plays as an itemized list of them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I musn't run away

Ok, the time has come to stop messing around. The reason I haven't been posting for two months is that I've been dreading to write about Antichrist, but the time of faffing about is over. Come on, Antichrist, let's dance.

So, the basic story of Antichrist is fairly standard for a horror movie, although I'm debating whether this is actually a horror movie, but the horror/thriller line is sort of dodgy anyways, so let's just assume that this is a horror movie for simplicity. A couple goes to a cabin in the woods to battle the grief of loosing their only child. A set up, I might add, that's fairly similar setup to one of my horror favorites, The Strangers, except you change the outcome from "masked psychopats with nothing better to do" to "The inherit evil of mankind," but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, the roles of Him and Her kind of balances between knowing them just a little too well and not knowing them at all, for example we don't get to know their names. as for getting to know them, we get very close to them, into their intimacy, at least in the first scene, where we see a sex scene between the two in black & white and a mesmerizing sort of slow-motion. Lemme just go right ahead and say we probably wouldn't see anything like this in an american film. Of course, David Lynch would probably like to, but I guess the producers are a bit more persuasive over the pond. Well, this scene, except for setting us up for the brainfuck that is to follow with the accident, also sets us into the mood of the movie. Lars Von Trier's got our attention now, and he's going to do horrible, horrible things with it before he lets it go.

I won't go into details with the plot, but basically, He decides to try to cure Her grief via psychotherapy, since he's a psychologist by profession. A part of this therapy is taking her to an old cabin She once visited with their son. On the way, it's pretty obvious this is a really bad idea, at least from the standard genre savvy perspective. For example, we get a little subliminal fuck you via snarling faces superimposed over the woods the couple drive by, or through. Once they reach the cabin, the treatment begins, but things soon go straight to hell, neither passing start nor collecting 2000$. It's a bit hard to describe what happens, but She gets convinced she's evil, and tries to convince Him, quite violently in the end.

In the end, I feel that I should leave it to more capable hands to try to analyze this movie. I don't know anything, after all. I'm just a film geek with half a year (and counting) worth of Psychology education and my own little nook in the intertubes. Of course, I have realized that people rowing themselves out on deep waters and burning the oars is what the internet is for, so this is why I'm writing today. Anyway, as far as I see it, Antichrist can either be about the bottomless evil of mankind or the depths of depravity to which one is willing to sink to escape grief. Granted, a straightforward interpretation of this film could also say that it's only women that's evil and that men just have to defend themselves from the sadistic hell harpies known as womenfolk.

I'm a bit sceptical to that, mostly since it appears to be a bit too much of a simplistic interpretation. Call me elitist, but I think that if you find the answer to what the movie is about without copious amounts of digging in both the movie and your own mind, you're not doing it right. This, of course, applies extra strongly to movies like Antichrist, but it holds true for most other movies, and is mostly the reason why I do not consider Fight Club as an anarchistic manifesto. Also, in the end, He winds up killing his wife, and you can argue that as self-defense all you will, but I maintain that there's a difference between trying to subdue someone or gain enough distance to flee, as one will want to do when defending yourself, and killing them. It could be the pacifist in me speaking, but I figure the end is His descent into darkness as much as it's Hers.

My second interpretation, I'm starting to doubt a little, but it's worth a shot, I would say. You see, what it would appear is that He is over his grief, or has processed it by the book, to the point where he's capable of functioning normally very quickly. Me, I think he's in it just as deep as She is, or maybe more. What makes me say this is that I'm fairly sure you're not supposed to try psychotherapy on your own family or close friends, and if He wasn't at his wit's end, he'd probably know that. In a way, trying to treat her is in reality him trying to treat himself. You could say there's a level of cognitive dissonance at work in the character of He. He considers himself a man who knows enough about the workings of the human mind to treat grief, but he himself feels grief he can't overcome, and therefore the grief gets pushed aside, at which points it manifests as a focus on treating Her of her grief. I'm certain this paragraph would make several of my psychology professors cry, but hey, I've still got a lot to learn.

She, on the other hand, is unable to concieve a setting where unfortunate circumstances alone could end in the death of her child, and therefore adds a factor contributing to this, herself being evil. Of course, it's hinted that this particular problem is actually older than that, since it would seem She somehow let her research into medieval witch hunts and misogyny in general get to her back at the above mentioned first cabin trip. That is, of course, if you accept that there's no supernatural snake in this paradise, literally as the cabin is named Eden. Me, I believe this is mostly an in-their-minds experience, but I realize a lot of things would make sense if there was some supernatural presence.

Well, I'm about ready to wind down. Antichrist is a film you should see, at least if you care about what good filmmakers make when they are severely depressed, but it's probably not a movie you'll want to watch again. It's a bit like Irreversible, in that I haven't been able to watch it a second time, and neither will most people, I suspect.

So, happy 2010, I guess. Here's hoping this year will be a good one for horror. Speaking of which, I'm planning to cover Paranormal Activity rather soon, so tune in for that.