The Living & the Dead (2006)

Not your first pick for Mother’s Day, The Living and the Dead is morbid and horrifying, and I mean that, strangely, as a compliment. It is a family drama, a psychological thriller, a tragedy, an art film, all these things at once, and and despite it’s flaws, it doesn’t overextend.

The film opens with Lord Donald Brocklebank (Roger Lloyd-Pack), a worn-down, silent shell of an old man, pushing an empty wheelchair through a quiet room. The image delivers the same feeling as a dark grey painting, lonely and despondent. He watches, lip quivering, as an ambulance pulls into his massive estate. Cut back an undetermined amount of time. Donald stands straighter. He maintains a kind of pride that must come with being one of the British elite, but he is grieving. He has a lot to grieve about.

His wife, Lady Nancy Brocklebank, is terribly sick and probably won’t be with him much longer. The bills are piling up, and they will soon lose their mansion. His son James (Leo Bill, in an over-the-top performance that works), dashes around the house with little clear purpose.

James is in his mid-to-late twenties. He is stuck in a kind of permanent childhood, the kind of childhood that is made up of nightmares, not whimsy. Although Simon Rumley, the director, describes him as “mentally challenged,” I suspect paranoid schizophrenia.

James is by far my favorite character in the film. He is a complicated movie creation, and his emotional limitations do not hold back his complexity or ambiguity as a person. Donald treats James with the casual cruelty that is most likely inflicted on the mentally ill more often than we think, condescending to him, forbidding him to use the phone or answer the door. James is desperate to prove to his father that he is an independent adult and plans to do so by taking care of his mother.

His father understandably rejects the idea. In an matter of days, James will have locked the door, shut out the nurse, skipped his pills, and may have destroyed the lives of those closest to him. Soon, as his lucidity deteriorates, the viewer begins to wonder if the past events were only in James’ head. This is a film for a patient audience — it’s a while before anything happens and the reality of the events is questionable.

The atmosphere is palpable, and the characters are well developed. There are many plot holes and unanswered questions throughout the film, as the story itself seems on the edge of reality, with its Gothic features and abstract images.

People have had different opinions on whether James is “good” or “bad.” He is a disturbing character, to be sure. He is not a sex maniac, mad slasher, or stony-faced killer, but an exceptionally childlike and deeply disturbed man. This movie might make you feel differently about a crime, in the paper, in which mental illness was a factor. Despite naysayers, The Living and the Dead is an emotional bombshell and thought-provoking film.

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V/H/S (2012)

Nothing to see here, ladies and gents. “V/H/S” is a appallingly bad and nauseatingly shot fright flick, marred by misogynist overtones and 0% (and I do mean %0) character development. The film is geared toward predominately male teenagers with short attention spans, sporting sickeningly schizoid cinematography and and gratuitous boobie shots (most of which are in sexually violent or exploitative context.)

In the core storyline, A group of miscreants break into a house after being hired to steal one videotape. We have no sympathy for these people- between their abusive treatment of women and their grating stupidity, we’re actually rooting against them. When they break in, they find a stack of V/H/S home movies… and a corpse. Unfazed by the body of an old man resting in an armchair, they begin to view the videotapes. Each one is a supposedly real horror short.

The first short in the anthology is by far the worst. A trio of horny and misogynistic friends set out to video tape one of the men’s sexual experience. The situation soon becomes rapey, as one girl is passed out drunk and another is an apparently addled femme fatale who is not what she seems. The acting in this short is pretty poor and the dialogue is worse.

Is it really necessary to drop the F bomb in every sentence? I mean, I love my expletives as much anybody else, but throwing it around willy-nilly makes you sound like a 13-year-old trying to be ‘edgy.’ The boys are disgusting pieces of work, but watching their well-deserved demise, satisfying as it might be, is not enough to save this terrible short.

The majority of these shorts are wretchedly bad to pretty mediocre, with the exception of one. Here’s a wonder- Ti West, who made one of the worst shorts in the similarly themed horror anthology “The ABC’s of Death”, also directs the segment that saves this movie from being a total disaster. “Second Honeymoon,” starring Joe Swanberg and Sopie Takal, is a surprising and competently acted short that kept me guessing throughout.

The short with the aliens had potential, but just left too many unanswered questions for my liking. The others were utter crap. The shaky cam gave me a headache and a stomachache. The dialogue was a string of childish obscenities. There was no depth to the characters. I have not seen a movie in a long time with a cast of characters I liked less. This movie is so, so bad. Avoid it like the plague.
Rating-
3.5/10

American Mary (2012)

Moral depravity, sexual deviation, and extreme body modification are  all on gut-churning display here in “American Mary,” a surprisingly polished indie horror film with a impressive performance by Katherine Isabelle.

As someone who found “The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence)” too strident, I can say I found that “American Mary” had a well-needed (and unnerving) realism that adds a kick to the violent scenes, of which there are many. Oh, boy, you have no idea.

Mary Mason (Isabelle) is a seemingly normal, attractive aspiring surgeon who is introduced to the world of Extreme Body Modifications. Want laces sewn through your back? ‘Need’ horns applied to  your head for a more demonic look? Mary is on the job.


But when Mary is attacked at a party, her surgical skills come to good use as she deals with the attacker in the harshest way possible. My first reaction is shock that this ‘body modification’ thing actually exists. My second reaction is actual pity for Mary’s victimizer. No THING, no matter how dastardly, deserves that.

The cinematography in “American Mary” is very prim and professional, and the make-up and gore effects challenge the assumption that ‘indie’ is synonymous with ‘amateur.’ I was nearly convinced that the face of the actress who played emotionally damaged plastic surgery freak Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg) was the real deal but I soon discovered that Lindberg was a perfectly lovely blonde.

The mask-like face of modifier Beatriss (Tristan Risk) is equally frightening, though less believably so. The performances were altogether good, and I think Katherine Isabelle has what it takes to become a modern scream queen. Her transformation from everyday college student to morally bankrupt ‘underground’ surgeon to sadistic, levelheaded, confident killer is compelling and adept.

Directors and sisters Sylvia and Jen Soska (who also appear in the movie as the ‘Demon Twins from Berlin’ have created a frightening vision of the moral abyss of the surgical world, and the freaks and refuse that exist within it. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the people who would put themselves through surgical Hell in order to deal with deep-seated issues that would be better confronted in the shrink’s office.

Ruby Realgirl’s bodily obsession was sickening, and you just wanted to tell her to TALK TO SOMEONE- that will help. The movie was really a tragedy in some ways, especially the end. The title “‘American’ Mary” makes you think after the movie is  over about the price of beauty, the price of wealth, and how we define being ‘happy’ or ‘wanted.’ It’s a bitter pill, but one well worth your time.

Tideland (2005)

“Tideland,” Terry Gilliam’s fantastical horror brain child, is an undeniably original, unmistakably repulsive journey into the life and mind of one troubled little girl (Jodelle Ferland.) To say it outstays it’s welcome it an understatement, the film clocks at over two hours and leaves an undeniably bad taste in one’s throat. The characters are hard to comprehend, much less like or understand.

All this would be bad enough without the bizarre intro by Terry Gilliam, who vaguely informs us that children ‘bounce back’ from situations such as these and tells us ‘don’t forget to laugh.’ But what is there to laugh at in a disgusting horror show such as this?  it’s as if Dave Peltzer of ‘A Child Called It’ fame had promised us a knee-slapping good time.

Between the role of Jeff Bridges as the girl’s junkie father, who sits down in a chair to shoot up, dies, and spends the majority of the movie in various states of decomposition, our prepubescent heroine trading ‘silly kisses’ and sexual curiousness with a mentally retarded man (Brendon Fletcher,) and Daddy (prior to his death) instructing his daughter to prepare heroin for him, I found very little to laugh at in this revolting freak show.

The fact that Gilliam expects us to laugh and see this whole travesty through the eyes of a child speaks volumes on the man’s mental stability. What does he think we are? Animals. Sub-human cretins who are all-too-eager and willing to laugh at the mental and psychological destruction of a child? Apparently, if Gilliam should have his way, we will be laughing at child endangerment through the eyes of that child, oblivious to the adult consequences of such atrocities. Mmm-kay.

After her harpy mother (Jennifer Tilly) O.D.’s Jeliza-Rose (Ferland), ten or eleven or so, is swept away from the squalid tenement she calls home by her druggie father (Bridges,) and tries her best to adjust to her new home in her father’s childhood house on the massive prairie, far away from anything. When Dad dies, Jeliza-Rose acts much as if he was alive, talking to his corpse and exploring the prairie, where she meets local freak Dell (Janet McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother, Dickens (Fletcher.)

Dell, who as it happens, bangs the stuttering grocery delivery boy (Dylan Taylor) in exchange for food, takes a liking to Jeliza-Rose and invites her and her doll heads (Jeliza-Rose frequently talks through her collection of severed doll’s heads, did I mention that?) to live in her and Dickens’ family home.

“Tideland” often references Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ as Jeliza-Rose ‘falls down the rabbit hole’ from one bizarre situation to another. Although technically well-made in many respects, “Tideland” is yucky, overlong, and had me begging for it to end by the halfway point.

Jodelle Ferland turns in pretty good performance as Jeliza-Rose (although I found her Southern accent exaggerated) and Brendan Fletcher gives a decent supporting performance as Dickens (who, through no fault of his own, reminded me a bit of Ben Stiller’s ‘Simple Jack’) but overall the film is a fail. I would recommend you watch “Alice” by Jan Svankmajer as a dark take on “Alice in Wonderland” rather than this. It is less sickening and doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching for hours on end, but hey, that’s just me.

Movie Review- Martyrs (2008)

ImageThere are no words to describe how fucked-up this movie is. I have not seen “A Serbian Film,” which is supposed to make “Martyrs” look tame in comparison, but I truly do not know how it’s going to top this. I’ve seen “Antichrist,” “The Human Centipede II,” “American Mary,” but nothing like this. This movie is spirtually and physically sickening, which is exactly how the filmmaker,Pascal Laugier, intended it.

Okay, I’m probably just riling up you gorehounds, so I’ll cut to the chase. To say that this movie is nauseating is not to say it’s bad. It’s actually very well-made and well-acted from start to finish. Actress Mylène Jampanoï does a great job as the frightened victim turned infuriated perpetrator, and Morjana Alaoui is also terrific as her enamored friend.

Although Anna (Alaoui) harbors a lesbian crush on Lucie (Jampanoï,) her sexuality isn’t a huge part of the plot. Instead, the movie is about the giving and receiving of physical punishment (not the least bit pleasurable; sorry, BDSM enthusiasts,) and just how far the rich and selfish will go to secure their own peace of mind, with no regard to the people they hurt.

Maybe comparing the premise of this movie with current class issues is a long shot, but damn it, it sounded smart to me at the time. Lucie is inexplicably held prisoner as a child and subjected to physical pain. Young Lucie (Jessie Pham, in a performance worthy of her grown-up counterpart,) runs away and ends up in an orphanage, where she meets Anna (played as a child by Erika Scott) and forges a close bond.

Anna seems determined to help Lucie no matter what squirrels reside in her attic and continues to be a faithful friend and companion when Lucie grows up and, P.O.-ed and dangerous, takes a shotgun to a couple she believes participated in her torture and their teenaged children.

This movie is super brutal and fairly realistic, and establishes itself as such in the home invasion scene. Unlike a American movie, Lucie runs out of shotgun shells and needs to reload, and the reaction of the family radiates terror, but perhaps, not surprise. The movie a sick (let me rephrase that- sicker) turn after Anna is captured by Lucie’s tormenters.

The ending is a ‘What the Hell?’ moment and will leave you thinking about what it all means. The cinematography is very professional and overall well-done. The scenes involving Anna’s entrapment last a little too long, frankly. How many times can we watch a woman be smacked around and degraded when it doesn’t advance the plot?

The movie makes the decision to focus on young Lucie rather than her captors in the flashbacks, which is a good cinematic choice considering Lucie is traumatized by the experiences and initially doesn’t remember her victimizers. In many of the later scenes with Anna, we see her abusers very clearly, constrasting with with the earlier scenes with Lucie.

I thought this was a very well-made movie, but only watchable for people with very strong stomachs. It’s not a popcorn movie, and neither does it intend to be. I liked it, but I don’t think I could watch it again anytime soon.

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Introduction

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Hi all, I am a 19-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker with a love for all things strange and obscure. My best (canine) friend, pictured above, next to me, is my 9-year-old pit bull/lab mix Leah Rebecca, the most gorgeous dog in the world. My constant foil (aha!) is my OCD and social anxiety, and I would like to make this blog to take a chance to meet other people with social anxiety who would otherwise not make themselves known. Also people who are into movies, because I am a big film fan.

I am a pretty good writer (or so people tell me,) and I might occasionally post a little of some of my latest writing project on the blog. Constructive criticism, please! Trolls will not be tolerated!

Here’s some info. My favorite movie is “Let the Right One In” (original, always) because there has never been a more tender or touching horror story.

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My favorite book is a three-way tie between A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, and Lord of the Flies by William Golding (an oldie but a goodie.) My favorite bands are Pearl Jam, Rammstein, and Filthy Boy (I almost put Iron & Wine on the list, but decided against it last minute- I am so changeable that way.)

Favorite actors- Ralph Fiennes, Aidan Gillen, and Paddy Considine. Favorite actress- Emily Watson (Em-il-y, not Em-ma, think “Breaking the Waves” by Lars Von Trier.) My favorite show is “Firefly”- Yay, “Firefly”- with “Game of Thrones” being a comparable but not close second.

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Thanks for all that read!

A Fangirl's Rants about Movies, TV, and Literature