The Iranian answer to The Devil’s Backbone we didn’t know we needed, Under the Shadow is a trim and lyrical ghost story that takes place amid the sociopolitical turmoil of 1980s post-revolution Tehran and its cues from Guillermo del Toro’s minor Spanish Civil War-era masterpiece, with perhaps a glance at Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook for reference. It certainly takes the same economical approach to plot as those movies, following a mother and daughter as they fight a spiritual war on two fronts: the realities of a country in distress on one side, and a supernatural entity on the other. Representing the former is the undetonated missile that crashes into Shideh’s (Narges Rashidi) apartment complex, the significance of which will not be lost on del Toro fans: this is the harsh reality of the world to whose presence some will adapt and others will live in fear. Less blatant, but no less insidious, is the spirit that invades Shideh’s home and tempts her daughter Dorsa (Avin Mashadi), intent on punishing them both for a crime out of their control.
There’s an elegant simplicity to the way Under the Shadow sets up the parallels between these two setpieces, and a gratifying lack of pretension or melodrama in the way they affect the dynamics of Shideh’s home. This is a quiet movie on the whole, given more to introspection than boo-gotcha Conjuring-style horror, but the movie strikes a chord in the way it portrays Shideh and Dorsa’s situation proximal to the Tehranian state of affairs, not to mention to today’s discord in the Middle East, transcending the need for those sorts of scares. There’s plenty scary about Under the Shadow even without the increasingly violent actions of the ghost. This a movie of trauma and repression, of constant anxiety and frequent panic that functions as a snapshot of real-life, on-going horror filtered through the the universal metaphor of the ghost. It makes it easier to process, but the movie never pretends the damage is reversible. When you live Under the Shadow, even the light you make for yourself isn't always enough.
The Lake Bodom Murders are old hat to metal fans. Taking their name from the murder of two teenage girls and one boy on the shore of Finland’s Lake Bodom, we have Children of Bodom to thank for the inadvertent education in this chapter of European true-crime history. Although the band aren’t much to write about these days, the story continues to hold a particular sway over the imaginations of conspiracy theorists and horror writers--certainly, there’s enough to the story to appeal to Aleksi Hyvärinen and Taneli Mustonen, authors of the script for Lake Bodom.
Initially taking the shape of your average vacation slasher, it begins where we expect: with Nora, Atte, and Elias (Mimosa Willamo, Santeri Helinheimo Mäntylä, and Mikael Gabriel, respectively), the future “children of bodom,” on their journey to the lakeside where they will meet their end. The memory of a thousand other slashers will rise up to meet you, but stick with it and Lake Bodom will mutates into an unpredictable thriller (and a Lake Bodom conspiracy theorist’s dream, I’d imagine) with more twists than a bag of Twizzlers right before your eyes--an analogy you’re just going to have to forgive because there’s no better way to relate how much of a treat this movie is for slasher fans.
Like Dead Snow, The Final Girls, and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, Lake Bodom knows exactly what arena it’s entering and how to make an impression on an audience jaded by decades of movies purported to “rewrite the rules” of the slasher film, from Scream to Don’t Breathe and beyond. While it’s true that there’s nothing left to innovate about a person with a knife and a quota to fill in 90 minutes or less, and that Lake Bodom will sometimes have to fall back on that truth to get to where it’s going, movies like this remind us that some formulas will always have just enough juice in them to get back up no matter what.
Twin Peaks is a ghost story; it’s just that David Lynch had a hand in it, and there isn’t a single thing about that man that’s straightforward, so we get doppelgangers and sex trafficking plots and pocket dimensions, wrapped in layers of Native American folklore and transcendentalism to obscure the show’s profound dissatisfaction with the ugliness of the world. Lake Mungo is a brilliant film for any number of reasons, but one of its most foundational successes is its intertextuality with Twin Peaks. Told in pitch-perfect documentary style, a choice that must have surely disoriented viewers without prior knowledge of the movie, just stop me if the movie sounds a bit familiar: Lake Mungo is the story of a young girl named Alice Palmer who is murdered under mysterious circumstances. Her death is a profound blow to her sleepy hometown of Ararat, Australia. As those closest to her mourn her loss, they are slowly made aware of the fact that Alice was not at all who she seemed.
There are plenty of thoughtful tweaks and adjustments to keep the homage from becoming slavish, but it’s the way the movie scoops the whimsy and comedy out of the premise of the show and replaces it with an unblinking eye toward the nature of secrecy and the specter of loss that’s most impressive. A ripoff this is not: if anything, Lake Mungo actually improves the experience of watching Twin Peaks, addressing the sorrow and lack of closure that the show does not. It’s a companion piece, a thematic complement, and a deeply unsettling horror movie to boot; the sort of movie more interested in creeping under your skin than doling out bloody shocks and musical stings--although, for my money, it contains the best jump-scare in horror since The Exorcist III, and an atmosphere of dread and mystery yet to be matched.
One last thing:
Watch through the credits.
Eden Lake is perfect evidence of a couple of things: there is not enough nihilism in modern horror, and not enough Kelly Reilly, either. Somewhere along the way, as slashers and final girls became the face of the genre, the bitter edge of late-seventies thrillers and early-eighties horror was dulled by the unfounded belief that someone needs to survive in order for such movies to have good, dramatic arcs--in short, to make them more palatable. Shortly after Eden Lake, one of three horror movies starring Kelly Reilly, Kelly Reilly stopped taking roles in horror movies and committed to tepid period pieces, dramedies, and shlock like Heaven Is For Real, despite being well-poised to do much, much more.
Reilly plays Jenny Greengrass, a schoolteacher in a relationship with Steve Taylor (Michael Fassbender). We know what’s going to happen the moment we realize they’re heading for a remote lakeside camp in the woods, but what we don’t expect are the antagonists. Eden Lake, like other British horror-thrillers Citadel and Heartless, is part of a rash of movies tenuously connected to one another by their thematic preoccupation with “Broken Britain,” a political term meant to evoke a country overrun with underage crime and immorality and threatened by “hoodies,” shorthand for dangerous youth identified by--you guessed it--the wearing of hoodies. From this angle, Eden Lake is a modern day exploitation movie (neo-exploitation? Maybe hoodiesploitation?), taking advantage of public fears for entertainment's sake, and it doesn’t do much to shake that classification. Nor should it. Eden Lake is uncompromising horror: a brutal, despondent, and angry movie that offers every reason to give groups of teenagers the side eye for weeks after. It’s sickly blue pallor lends the movie’s rampant cruelty an unnatural glow, and its impenetrable shadows seem to ooze blood and sweat.
Reilly, throughout, is a born genre star, imbuing her character’s emotionally complex progression from victim to aggressor and back with a lived-in authenticity that lingers just as long as the movie’s terrifyingly hopeless climax. Like Britain itself, the movie stands on the shoulders of its forebears, so it’s not hard to spot shades of The Wicker Man and the influence of Hammer Film’s darker, unsmiling side reflected through Eden Lake; but the movie’s gut-level punch and the nasty psychological bruise it leaves are wholly its own. This is the antithesis of palatable, just as horror movies should be.
In the tradition of other notable Australian horror like The Snowtown Murders and Wolf Creek, Hounds of Love has roots in true crime. It’s more of a composite than those movies, drawing from at least two or three chapters in Australian crime history to assemble this nasty little picture, but that doesn’t diminish its impact in the slightest. Hounds of Love isn’t stingy with the grimy details as it moves with documentarian deliberateness on the trail of John and Evelyn White (Stephen Curry and Emma Booth), a Bonnie-and-Clyde couple who prowl the suburbs in search of girls to abduct. The movie’s “twist” is that their abductee, Vicki Maloney (Ashleigh Cummings), is much more intelligent than they anticipate.
But this isn’t You’re Next. Don’t expect a superhumanly competent protagonist, and be prepared to wince and yell at the screen. Don’t anticipate a single protagonist, either; for as much as we identify with Vicki in this unfathomably awful situation, we peek into the psyches and personal lives of her abductors with the same depth and uncommon sensitivity as we do Vicki. John and Evelyn are perfect team as far as serial killers pairings go--she has the wits and the charm, and he the amoral single-mindedness, to see their crimes through--but their marriage is a different story, one predicated on emotional manipulation and withheld affection Evelyn doesn’t seem to recognize until Vicki, the child of a troubled family herself, opens her eyes.
What Hounds of Love lacks in a center, it more than compensates in the psychological chess match that develops between Vicki and Evelyn as Vicki explores the cracks in the couple’s unstable relationship to her advantage. It’s the movie’s most engrossing aspect as Hounds of Love takes the time to show us just how terrible love can be through the lens of a real-world incident. It’s not so much about what people do for love, but what love does to people.
To paraphrase Park Chan-wook, all great dramas are revenge movies. He may not have had a hand in I Saw the Devil, but his philosophy is all over it, buoying it to the top of a truly stellar heap of Korean revenge-thrillers that includes Na Hong-jin’s The Chaser, Lee Jung-beom’s The Man From Nowhere, and Chan-wook’s own Vengeance Trilogy, built on this principle: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Lady Vengeance, and Oldboy.
At just shy of two-and-a-half hours, I Saw the Devil is a veritable horror epic, an immaculately shot cat-and-mouse that moves with the grace of a drama at the pace of an action movie. It begins with the murder of a woman one snowy night, introducing us to the movie’s villain, Kyung-Chul, who will be a familiar face to fans of Chan-wook’s Shakespearean Oldboy. Choi Min-sik’s character is the inverse of the man he played in that movie: an evil, oafish monster, his disregard for human life is made brutally clear when he slaughters the woman, Se-jung, even after she reveals she’s pregnant. What Kyung-Chul doesn’t know at the time, but finds out very quickly and very painfully, is that Se-jung’s fiancee, Kim Soo-hyun, is an NIS agent whose grief doesn’t take long to harden into bloodthirsty resolve. And so the movie begins.
I Saw the Devil has the lurid tone of a Punisher comic as scribed by, well, Park Chan-wook, brimming with stylish hand-to-hand combat and gory detours to such unexpected locales as the back room of a doctor’s office, the front seat of a taxicab, and a greenhouse with a dark secret, among many other highlight scenes. The purposeful ambiguity of the movie’s title comes to mind more and more often with each subsequent cruelty. I’m not sure whether it’s a direct translation of the movie’s Korean title, but I can say that it’s English title is wholly appropriate. As the atrocities stack and the intensity ratchets up, who’s the devil, and who’s really seeing him?
Whether he hits or misses, Ben Wheatley is one of the most fascinating voices in British cinema, and Kill List is his biggest, squarest hit--maybe not commercially (that, I believe, would be last year’s Free Fire) but unquestionably so on an artistic front. Among the many reasons I consider it not only one of the all-around best horror movies I’ve seen, but also one of my favorite movies period, the most divisive has nothing to do with its graphic depictions of violence, but with its total lack of exposition.
For the sake of clarity, here are the basics: Kill List follows a disgraced hitman persuaded to take on a new assignment by his fellow hitman. Both of them are former soldiers affected by an mission in Kiev that went awry, although the nature of the job and the screw-up are never addressed. The movie follows a pretty conventional three-act structure separated by title cards a la The Shining and Reservoir Dogs, peripheral influences on the movie’s, although its psychological vice-grip is arguably stronger than both thanks to some intense performances and, again, a complete lack of explanatory dialogue. The cliche “feels like you’re figuring it out with them” bit is, for once, the truth.
The conscious segmentation of the three-arc structure isn’t for show, either: from the moment the movie opens on two parents engaged in a full-blown screaming match to its firelit conclusion, Kill List is a cerebral examination of violence--whether as catharsis; as consequence; as a social construct; as a fact of human existence, it’s a concept the movie can’t stop turning over and over in its big, bloody hands, constantly reevaluating its meaning in the world through the lens of two characters immersed in it, sometimes by choice and sometimes by force. It seems to be the common thread among the movies of Ben Wheatley, sometimes played for laughs (Down Terrace, Free Fire) and sometimes for more ambiguous ends (A Field in England, Sightseers), but not since Kill List has he treated it with such sobering, razor-sharp gravity, creating in the process both his most compelling work and a masterpiece of horror.
So watch it already!
Review: Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 - Denis Villeneuve
In 1982, Ridley Scott released his film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” entitled Blade Runner. Outside of a few elements, the movie couldn’t have been more different from the book, focusing much more on the humanity of the replicants than the status quo of the society in Dick’s novella. The movie was rather unsuccessful at the box office, but its impressive visuals and memorable dialogue has garnered it a devoted cult following, and even spawned a few novel sequels written by K.W. Jeter. Now, 35 years after its release, Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) took it upon himself to make a sequel to Blade Runner, which with the exception of Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos reprising their respective roles, features an entirely new cast of actors and actresses including Ryan Gosling, Sylvia Hoeks, and Jared Leto.
Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty years after the original Blade Runner when the replicants have been “perfected” by the Wallace Corporation, who took over after Tyrell Corporation fell apart. We are introduced to a new replicant bounty hunter who simply goes by K (Ryan Gosling). K lives in an apartment with his holographic girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas), and after retiring Sapper Mourton (Dave Bautista), he finds a box that contains replicant remains. After realizing that the body was pregnant, he is sent on an investigation to find “the miracle baby.” Wallace (Jared Leto) sends a replicant named Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to stalk K and capture “the miracle” so that he can use it to engineer replicant reproduction. So the race for “the miracle” begins.
Audiences tend to expect late sequels like this one to be nothing but a giant action sequence. Blade Runner could not be further from that at all. At an almost three-hour runtime, the movie focuses on character development and world-building than anything else, but movie’s most amazing feature is how hard it is to tell who’s human and who isn’t. K’s investigation becomes an odyssey of doubt, his origins called into question following some revelations about “implanted” memories. He begins the movie as an emotionally cold agent with little regard for himself or others, much like Deckard in the original Blade Runner, but as the movie progress, we see his emotions and actions becoming more identifiably human. In direct opposition is the threat of Luv, who becomes more cold-blooded and violent as she nears her objective, although she’s driven by a very human obsession and sense of cruelty. Deckard (Ford) is exactly who we expect him to be after thirty years of complete isolation: lonely, gruff, and numb until Rachel, his lover, is brought up. Finally, while he doesn’t have much screen time, Wallace is an ominous, unfeeling figure in the shadows, a businessman corrupted by his own power and influence. Of all these physical characters, however, the most human of them all is Joi. Her character is shown on multiple occasions wishing she could be more than what she is for K, from getting romantic with him to supporting him emotionally through his journey.
Blade Runner is lauded for its amazing cinematography and futuristic set design, but 2049 amps them up to a whole new level. Los Angeles is a wasteland of advertisements, but it’s just as dark and rainy as it was thirty years prior. Wallace’s pyramid building mirrors Tyrell’s, but its bright colors contrast against the darkness of the city, showing us how much more powerful Wallace has become than Tyrell ever was. Las Vegas is as vibrant as this movie gets, drenched in desert-orange. Most shots concentrate on depicting size and scope, immersing us in the world of Blade Runner 2049.
These shots are accompanied by a beautiful score by Hans Zimmer, whose ambient, atmospheric score may not be Vangelis, but does justice to his acclaimed work on the original Blade Runner. The score does an incredible job making us feel small and alone in this huge, alien world of the future, and somehow retains its ethereal quality even when it ramps up for an action sequence. There are very few big action moments other than the final sequence, but they are all completely satisfying. The choreography is beautiful and natural, so even when we have characters beating each other to death, they feel intrinsically connected by their own humanity, a rare feeling in today’s action movies.
You don’t need to have watched the original to understand Blade Runner 2049. Obviously, some ideas are carried over and developed, and some references are made to Scott’s original, but 2049 takes the time to explain the connections between itself and its predecessor, which is something not enough sequels take into consideration. I’ll admit that this movie isn’t for everyone. Like the best sci-fi, it’s a slow-burn that focuses on understanding K’s character and the world around him--the action scenes are pretty minimalist, driven by unextravagant hand-to-hand combat, but what the movie does best is show that big-budget movies can still be artful. In a world where The Emoji Movie exists, it’s a breath of fresh air knowing that movies like Blade Runner 2049 can still be made at all.
- Alex Brown
Horror scholars might glance at Coherence's summary as a modern update on the ’80s cult favorite Night of the Comet, and while the two may very well draw from the same real-life mysteries, they do so to entirely different ends. Comet is a lighthearted fantasy about what two teenage girls from the ’80s would do when everyone in the world (or at least New York) disappears.
Coherence has a little more on its mind. It begins simply: a group of friends are meeting for the first time in a while on the same night a large comet is about to pass by Earth. It comes up in conversation the myriad side effects comets like this have had on people, and references are made to the Tunguska Event and other spooky incidents of family no longer recognizing family, and so forth--and then, the power goes out.
What follows is one of the twistiest and most engrossing sci-fi movies of the decade, somewhere between the brilliantly inscrutable Primer and the crowd-pleasing mind-bend of Triangle. The cast is game and frequently excellent, their improvised dialogue lending the proceedings a layer of believability that gets way under the skin--and deep into the bedrock of secrets on which all long-running friendships are built--as things complicate in the second act and gets downright crazy in the third. Coherence is simply not to be missed.
The Faustian bargain on its own is a great, compelling plot with plenty of room for metaphor and personal touches. Angel Heart, Needful Things, and even the Two-Face plotline of The Dark Knight all incorporate something of the story, proving its malleability, but it rarely pops as well as it does when applied to Hollywood. The very best example may or may not be Mulholland Drive, but Starry Eyes does an admirable job of diving headlong into the parallels between acting tryouts and selling one’s soul for material benefit, but it does so with the clinical restraint of a different David.
Sarah (Alex Essoe), as fed up with her passive-aggressive roommates as she is with her job as a waitress at some third-rate Hooters knock-off in downtown LA, catches wind of tryouts going on for a new horror movie called The Silver Scream, and decides to audition. Certain she has failed to impress the producers, she retreats to the bathroom and, in a fit, reveals to no one but the viewer the dark undercurrent of her ambition by ritualistically pulling out large chunks of her own hair. Well, almost no one, because one of the producers happens to wander into the bathroom, and is so impressed by her “commitment” that she hires Sarah for The Silver Scream on the spot.
Something is amiss. Essoe is great throughout, bringing dimension and humanity to a character that could have easily become a cypher or a caricature, but the movie’s greatest strength is the way it creates sympathy for her even when it’s clear that Sarah is almost entirely to blame. Shades of The Brood and Videodrome seep into the film as Sarah’s ambition, her repressed anxiety, and her body slowly blossom into...something else. Cushioned in a warm 80s vibe a la Ti West’s The House of the Devil, replete with a throwback synth score and a mood equally inspired by the “Satanic panic,” the movie plays less like a slow-burn than a long build-up to an ending that will more than satisfy gorehounds and body-horror fans.
"Curtains" is where you can catch movie reviews by the Metal Lifestyle staff.