Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Zone of Interest: contextual horror

I watched this movie on a flight from San Diego to New York. It was listed under "new releases" next to the new musical version of "Mean Girls" - a very curious selection of titles, if you ask me. "The Zone of Interest" is not a film you can jump into without knowing the historical context. You almost need to watch 5-6 movies on the topic to fully appreciate the horror behind the scenes - "Schindler's List" and "Conspiracy" 2001 come to mind. "The Zone of Interest" is not a horror film that speaks for itself. There is nothing truly gruesome happening on the screen. No battles, no graphic genocide scenes. On the contrary, we see a big nuclear family enjoying an idyllic life in a countryside house. There is nothing immediately disturbing or remarkable. The horror is all in the context. The house is situated in an area around the Auschwitz concentration camp reserved for the SS. Before the war the land was used by Polish farmers. In 1941 the local population was removed from the area and their lands confiscated for the benefit of the SS. The doting father of the family turns out to be Rudolf Hoss, the camp commandant, who was executed after the war. Again, at a first glance, there is nothing inherently monstrous about him. Most films portray SS officers in the act of committing atrocities. This film shows a distressingly, freakishly human side of the monster. He plays with his kids, discusses household matters with his frumpy wife, even cheats on her in a most mechanical, emotionless manner - basically goes through the typical motions a man of his rank might go through. Nothing truly monstrous on the surface. Until you hear his name and learn the historical context. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Three Musketeers: d'Artagnan (2023) - for the haters of A. Dumas

Greetings, commies!

Anyone else disappointed in the latest Three Musketeers adaptation? One would have expected a more respectful, more faithful adaptation from the French. I walked away with a weird impression that the creators had a deep disdain for the source material, since they butchered up the plot so mercilessly. I guess they despise Dumas. Otherwise, why would they create subplots that serve no purpose? D'Artagnan is shot upon arrival in France for no apparent reason. He ends up crawling out of a shallow grave. You don't even realize it's him until later. Athos is a Protestant, with some brother named Benjamin (a very strange name for an early 17th century French noble). Athos is framed for stabbing a lady in bed and faces execution. Porthos is presented as bisexual. Constance wears what looks like a hijab. The Louvre is like a roadside diner with minimal security. Random people walk in and out. The whole country is filthy and covered in black ashes, evoking images of Chernobyl fallout. But the cherry on top was a mass shooting a-la Kennedy. I understand that American producers have to spread wokery. But these are French filmmakers. Why? 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Stopmotion: a delectable grotesque feast

Greetings, commies!

Synopsis:

A talented stop-motion animator is consumed by the grotesque world of her horrifying creations with deadly results.

My thoughts:

First of all, how did such a potent horror gem end up with such an underwhelming, minimalist title. "Stopmotion". It's like naming your cat "Kitty" or "Whiskers". I am willing to make an exception for historical films referencing specific individuals or events, like "Napoleon" or "Pearl Harbor". This horror film deserves a more menacing, elaborate title. Rant over. 

"Stopmotion" should be watched in tandem with 2002 "May". The two films feed off of each other thematically, esthetically and psychologically. Both actresses look alike. Aisling Franciosi, who plays Ella, resembles Angela Bettis, who played May. Both actresses are ambivalently 20-something, have an old-maidish vibe about them. Both characters are a bit out of touch with reality, at odds with humanity and have a love-hate relationship with their inner demons. "Stopmotion" leans on some of the proven horror gimmicks. Yes, there is a freaky child / imaginary friend / alter ego. There is a toxic mother-daughter relationship that echoes "Black Swan" and "Carrie". It's really hard to come up with truly original conflicts. So you basically reuse the same staples - with unique touches. What sets "Stopmotion" apart is the sheer horror of the creatures that come from Ella's imagination. The grotesque synthetic monsters are worthy of Guillermo del Torro's vision. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

"The Iron Claw" 2023 - "Black Swan" meets "Godfather"

Synopsis

The Iron Claw is a 2023 biographical sports drama film written and directed by Sean Durkin about the Von Erichs, a family of professional wrestlers who are "cursed" by constant tragedy. The film depicts the struggles of wrestling company owner Fritz Von Erich's sons to achieve the success their father groomed them for, from 1979 to the early 1990s–resulting in more tragedy.

My thoughts
It took my husband some effort to convince me to watch this movie with him, and I'm glad I did. This is not a straight up sports drama. Even if you don't care for sports in general, let alone something as kitsch as professional wrestling, you will be moved and disturbed by "The Iron Claw".  You don't need to be a ballet dancer or afficionado to appreciate "Black Swan". The psychological nuances will leave you unsettled. 

In the very first scene we meet Fritz Von Erich, the family patriarch who keeps his sons trapped on a capsule. They struggle to function outside of that capsule. I always found that siblings from such tightknit, almost cult-like families often lack social skills, because they don't need to cultivate relationships outside of the family unit. The Von Erich boys look like skittish, feral animals in the bodies of grown men. 

Tiger parenting is not limited to high achieving Asian American moms. It was fascinating to see a white man employ the same parenting gimmicks to groom his children for his version of success. Fritz, portrayed by Holt McCallany, is ruthless without resorting to physical brutality with his boys. You never see him threatening or hitting his sons, yet his power over them is unquestionable. You almost thing of Don Corleone from "The Godfather". It's frightening to see grown men so subjugated by their father. He takes their deaths nonchalantly. 

Zac Efron, a former teen heartthrob, is unrecognizable as the family's oldest surviving son, shouldering the responsibility for his younger brothers. The former pretty boy redefined himself and proved to be capable of handling serious dramatic roles. 

Of course, it takes a British actress (Lily James) to play a wholesome, ambitious Texan girl. I have zero complaints about her performance. Still, it's hard to believe that there were no American actresses who could handle this role. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

9 Miles Down: bad casting kills a horror movie

Greetings, commies!

Winter is a great time for self-reflection and self-flagellation, a great opportunity to remember all those times you wronged others and reflect on how you are going to pay for them ... in the afterlife. Just kidding! I am no moralist. However, if you come across "Nine Miles Down" while flipping through your Amazon Prime options, consider giving it a go. 

Synopsis:

Nine Miles Down is a 2009 horror film[2] based on the Well to Hell, a widespread urban legend (spread mostly in the 1990s) that Russian scientists had drilled so deep that they had broken through into hell and recorded the screams of the damned emanating from the borehole.[3] It was the last feature film credit for writer Everett de Roche.[4] It is an international co-production between the UK, Hungary, and the US.

My thoughts:

Released five years before a more known and acclaimed "As Above So Below" (2014), "9 Miles Down" takes the idea of personal hell to new depths, blurring traumatic memories, fears and imagination into an unsettling concoction. The problem is that the actors portraying the two lead characters are too ... generically "hot". Jack, played by Adrian Paul, does not come across as a bereaved father and husband, tormented by guilt. And Kate Nauta looks like a cast member of "Baywatch". She's just not a good actress. Her abilities are suitable for C-rated direct to stream flicks. Her seductive antics are affected and borderline histrionic. Meredith Ostrom is another traditionally hot and awkwardly stiff as Jack's betrayed wife Susan in the flashbacks. She looks like a model who walked off of a bikini photo shoot into a horror movie set. The casting director could have made different choices to make the characters more convincing and sympathetic. The casting choices do nothing for the plot and detract from the overall message. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

47 Meters Down: a low budget version of "Gravity"

Greetings, commies!

It's that time of year, and many of you in the northern hemisphere are tempted to escape to tropical locations. Before you dish out a few hundred dollars cash for an "unforgettable experience" that will make you look "totally badass" like teasing sharks from the safety of a metal cage, watch "47 Meters Under". 

Synopsis
Two sisters vacationing in Mexico are trapped in a shark cage at the bottom of the ocean. With less than an hour of oxygen left and great white sharks circling nearby, they must fight to survive.

My thoughts
The plot formula closely mimics that of 2013 "Gravity". You have all the plot milestones: accident, entrapment, race for survival, some difficult choices and a bit of soul-searching. Except that instead of two seasoned astronauts lost in space we have two ditsy American women trapped in a cage underwater. You don't need to be a survival movie buff to foresee some of the plot twists from ten miles away. I won't spoil the experience for you and let you see how quicky and accurately you can guess some of those twists. 

In the entire movie the most sympathetic characters are sharks.
Women - white American women, to be precise - are portrayed as impulsive, naive, overreaching.
The men are portrayed as opportunistic, cynical and cowardly. Like the women, they are completely dispensable - finger food for the sharks. 

If you have a strong misanthropic streak, like I do, you will enjoy watching silly humans making fools of themselves. Take it as a cautionary tale for middle-class 20-something Americans inclined to seek thrills in resorts. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

When Evil Lurks: Children Love Evil


Synopsis:

Post-apocalyptic rural Argentina. In a remote village, two brothers find a demon-infected man just about to give birth to evil itself. They decide to get rid of the man but merely succeed in helping him to deliver the inferno.

My thoughts:

I have written several reviews of Latin American horror films - a previously underrated genre that is steadily gaining momentum. I had the pleasure of seeing "When Evil Lurks" on big screen in Dolby. The benefits of seeing a movie like that in Dolby is that you pick up on subtle sounds from the soundtrack, which enhances the overall experience. "When Evil Lurks" offers the classical staples of Latin American religious horror: the expected elements of Catholicism mixed in with some local native lore. 

Ordinarily, demonic possession is presented as a deeply personal experience, a personal spiritual tragedy. In this film the possession is presented almost like a pandemic - and you never know who is immune to it. Obsession with cleanliness, distancing and the fear of contagion are common themes woven into the narrative. 

One phrase uttered towards the end of the film will strike you: "Children love evil." I found it impressive that children are portrayed as primary hosts of evil - a clear deviation from the widely accepted notion that children are "pure". Their curiosity is what makes them ideal targets for temptation.