Say what you will about Alexandre Aja’s Horns, but it is a looker. Photographed by Frederick Elmes, who spent his strongest days lensing slices of dirty, surrealist Americana for David Lynch like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Wild at Heart, the film’s version of the Pacific Northwest – filtered through the piece’s relentless weirdness – often recalls a diluted Lynch at his best. Logs cut through the screen with a lush, romantic hue that ironically captures the forested expanse as a jungle ready to swallow the everyday suburbia of the film. Elsewhere, sequences surrounding a quintessential American icon – the diner – pervert the locale to a darkened, neon-hued collage of red and blue that Lynch himself would have appreciated. The look isn’t a surprise – Aja isn’t the most capable of filmmakers, but he has passion, and he knows his forebearers. With an opportunity to play in Lynch’s Twin Peaks territory, he clearly knew who to fan-boyishly turn to, and he arguably found the perfect cinematographer for his vision. Continue reading
Christopher Smith’s Black Death certainly aspires to be holier-than-thou with its morbid, deeply unsentimental darkness, and it almost gets there. Aspirations of Herzog and Bergman abound, and while Smith is much more plainly a genre-fried director than Herzog or Bergman ever aspired to be, he gets points for effort, and almost as many for success.
Following Sean Bean as the leader of a cadre of warriors-of-god on their way to an untouched village in the middle of a Capital-P Plague in 1348 England, Smith submerses himself in the mud and generally revels in the festering pestilence of a Europe that had and, for the characters in this film, never would see better days again. Sebastian Edschmid’s cinematography, heavy on the chiaroscuro, effectively splits the difference between husky naturalism and a throatily omnipresent sense of mythic dread, adopting lighting that conveys an odyssey more than anything else. Meanwhile, the production details lend a really hearty impact to Smith’s malnourished take on the destitution and outcast terror of the film’s hellishly frosty Europe. No doubt, some of the malnourishment is a product of filming the scenes in the order they occur in the film, likely causing the actors and crew to grow weary and dejected over time as the characters do in the film. The effect is a hurting, bruised film that relishes in meaty melancholy, and we feel the plague-ridden sickness of the characters in the air of the film itself. Continue reading
America did pop proud in the 1960s, but pop didn’t always imply a bulging budget or grandiose popular success. The lingering vestiges of that most ’50s of all genres, the atomic underground horror, still clung to the beginning of the decade like a wandering specter. Admittedly, the low-brow, even-lower-budget works suffered a little about how to re-invent themselves; Hammer Horror in the UK certainly hit a few home runs, but flooding the markets ran them red with bloody boredom sooner than not. In the US, where “underground fare” similarly served as a safe, parental euphemism for horror, things were likewise stuck in a liminal space between the pre-Bay of Pigs interest in fooling around with atomic supermen and nuclear fall-out monsters, and the genuine “exploitation” of exploitation cinema came to fruition in the very late 1960s. In between, in the early 1960s, what was underground horror to do?
It is not a new or interesting argument to rain down laurels upon silent cinema for its vigorous, transformative sense of cinematic self-exploration. No time in cinema history matches the medium’s earliest years for pure ecstatic inventiveness and unbridled, unhinged storytelling experimentation. No time has seen directors and cinematographers and editors, and even producers for that matter, ever so consistently transfixed by the potential of exposing the cinematic mind by pushing it to its breaking point and moving beyond the grip of narrative storytelling to look for new and exciting ways to freshly portray the limits of fiction on screen. No time has ever been as hungry, or as invested in film for the sake of film itself.
It is also not a new or interesting argument to look to 1928, the last year of silent cinema’s monopolistic dominance in the medium, as the pinnacle of the form’s artistic exploration. Although no one work may equal the heights of what FW Murnau achieved with 1927’s Sunrise, the sheer plethora of major and minor classics, from Dreyer’s luminous The Passion of Joan of Arc to King Vidor’s cityscape tone peom The Crowd, to Josef von Sternberg’s hazy, mystifying The Docks of New York, proves that drama was in fine form as a selection of unarguable masters looked to close out the history of silent cinema on a high note. Of course, they may not have known it was coming, but we auteurists are no less guilty of assuming intent in our individuals than anyone else (we’re perhaps more guilty, if anything). Continue reading
Seriously having difficulty viewing and wrapping my head around one specific film for Midnight Screenings, but I think I have it down for next week. In the meantime, here are two 2005 Midnight-appropriate horrors (one of them never really popularly understood as such, but somehow its Godzilla-sized budget only makes it all the more spectacular that it still has the look and feel of a grainy horror movie). Sorry for the delay. All will be corrected next week.
A stomach-churning introduction to the big leagues for British director Neil Marshall (who has since gone on to underachieve somewhat depressingly), this concrete slab of raw, untamed horror finds skeletons in the human closet and exploits them for gut-churning viscera. Monsters abound, both external and internal, but the film’s claustrophobic environment, a cave rendered with nightmarish use of single-color tints that distort and obfuscate reality, takes center stage, as does gender. Continue reading
Just when I’d gotten over using “new” films for the weekly Midnight Screenings column, a film had to come along that would have been unethical to put anywhere but in the halls of the Midnight Screening. Next week we’ll return to older films, with an especially fitting two-fer of classic ’70s efforts important to the development of the Midnight Screening idea in real life and not simply on the internet. It promises fun, but in the meantime just check out that movie poster to the left. Seriously, even if you don’t read the review (which you absolutely should, if I have anything to say about it), just bask in the look of that poster. It speaks for itself.
It’s fitting that the year which brought us Jonathan Glazer’s wonderfully impenetrable vamp Under the Skin also sees a young whippersnapper with an almost fully formed filmic voice comes to challenge him for the title of “best pointedly empty, barren art-house quasi-vampire pic about gender with a fascinatingly obtuse visual aesthetic” of the year. Incidentally, that is a competition I did not know needed to exist, nor did I ever expect it to, but I am jumping with joy at the fact that it does.
Ana Lily Amirpour’s film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not Glazer’s though, although they share many features. They are both style-as-substance Frankenstein’s monsters composed of the fleshiest bits of other films and styles, and both dabble in the seemingly contradictory realms of neo-realism and hyper-stylized, highly-sensory aesthetic-based filmmaking and meld their diverse cross-hatch of styles and interests together into a fully unified, totally unique voice of their own. But they are not the same, and in certain ways they are almost clearly counteracting one another.
It’s an easy thing to see the success of Coraline the film resting squarely on Neil Gaiman’s shoulders. Indeed, his sly storybook writing is the base of the film’s narrative, which sees young Coraline (Dakota Fanning) stuck in the day-to-day doldrums of a dreary, lifeless existence in suburbia. Every detail of narrative is very much Gaiman-esque (which, if not yet coined, most certainly will be soon enough). One day, Coraline finds a portal to another world, alike in some ways but different in many others, as though it was built by the same architect in an altered state. There she meets her “other” parents, alike in every physical detail except one: black buttons sewn in where eyes once were. Emotionally and mentally, however, the new parents are polar opposites. While her old ones are overworked and uninterested, her new mother and father spend every waking moment perfecting Coraline’s world. It’s a dream come true, but young Coraline is about to discover that behind every dream lies a nightmare waiting to burst out. Continue reading