Tag Archives: Cannibalism

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

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Rating- B+/ Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of Westerns. I occasionally like to watch one with my dad, but they’re not typically my favorite genre, or my second favorite genre, for that matter. That said, the premise for Bone Tomahawk immediately caught my interest. A western? Pfft. With hill-dwelling cannibals? Huh. With cannibals and a bit of the old ultra-violence? Gentlemen, you had my curiosity. now you have my attention. I just had to watch it.

My level of interest was increased exponentially by the presence of Richard Jenkins, a veteran character actor I’ve loved and admired since my early teen years, when I saw him in Burn After Reading and The Visitor. But really, like any other of the ubiquitous American character actors that blend into small roles in big movies every year, I’d seen him so many times before that. And let me tell you, this movie started out with a bang.

Rather than being a straight-out slow burn, Bone Tomahawk starts out cuckoo and then slows down around the middle to reflect on it’s themes and characters, then becomes balls-out sadistic in it’s final act. Some people think the 2/3 part drags, but I would not be among them. How can a movie drag with such a great cast of actors and characters. If you want to flat-out categorize this as a horror-western, then Bone Tomahawk has something 99.9% of contemporary horror movies lack- it makes you give a damn about it’s protagonists. Which is something in this day and age as rare as Aztec Gold.

Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) is the cool-as-a-cucumber man of the law in a tiny town in the old West ironically dubbed ‘Bright Hope,’ this moniker being ironic because three people have just been abducted from Bright Hope by feral hill people who also happen to be inbred cannibals.  Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is the happily married man and former cowboy whose wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is abducted by the psychos.

This comes at a particularly bad time for him (not that there’s any particularly good time to have your wife kidnapped by cannibals) because Arthur has recently broken his leg falling off a roof and must decide whether to go after her in his current condition or stand by impotently while the love of his life gets eaten by hill people. Except for Arthur, there’s no deciding about it. He’s going, man.

Arthur and Hunt are accompanied by Brooder (Lost‘s Matthew Fox), an racially biased flirt and Chicory (Richard Jenkins,) a chatty eccentric and Hunt’s right hand man despite his rapidly advancing age. Together they have no idea what they’re getting into, and personalities clash when Brooder’s abrasive nature, lack of compassion, and casual racism butts up against the others’ surprisingly Liberal values. Added to the explosive mix is Arthur’s hotheadedness when it comes to saving his wife his way and his powerlessness when dealing with his broken leg. Not to mention how fast the posses’ horses get stolen by Mexican bandits. How could this situation go wrong? Add conflict, injury, and homicidal cannibal nutcases and stir well. Let simmer.

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Bone Tomahawk is an exceptionally well-written and well-thought out horror movie that happens to have a few scenes that rival the fucking Human Centipede in gore factor. And I’m not talking the surprisingly tame Human Centipede I. I’m talking Human Centipede II, with Martin tearing out peoples’ tendons, baby. Except this movie offers more in the dialogue department than the THC movies. Not that that would be hard.

The conversations the characters have in their blooddrenched journey is fairly idiosyncratic, a little Tarantino-esque, but with a verve of it’s own. Subjects such as flea circuses and reading in the bath might seem a little random and out of context until you realize no, they make more sense than you originally suspected. Slowly, the pieces of the narrative start to fall into place, the good, the gory, and the weird.

And boy, is this movie gory. There was one death in particular (you’ll know it when you see it) that had me squirming in my seat. And I am not a prude. Depending on your threshold for really bloody movies, this might have you cheering or running in the other direction. The violence is really raw and sadistic, definitely not for everybody, or even most people for that matter. But it’s not all about the gore here. The filmmaker, a first-time director named S. Craig Zahler, has more tricks up his sleeve than just wanton brutality.

Although the characters’ lack of true shock and horror at the events unfolding rapidly in front of them seems kind of unlikely given the circumstances (they seem disturbingly calm after having someone disemboweled in front of them, not a likely reaction for anyone who isn’t a hardcore psychopath,) this movie is for anyone who’s wanted to see the Western genre done a little differently, but with a deft hand in terms of dialogue and character development.

The miracle of Bone Tomahawk is that it utterly keeps your attention and your investment in it’s characters alive for it’s 2+ hour runtime. That’s no mean feat for a first-time director who allegedly was told my many people prior to filming that this movie couldn’t be done. Maybe they should have spent more time making their own movies and less time arguing that Zahler couldn’t see this project to completion. But as Taylor Swift wisely said, the haters gonna hate, and this film is evidence of their failure to sway the dream of a potential-packed filmmaker with a bright future.

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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

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Coincidentally, Tim Burton’s grim, macabre musical tragedy ties in with an important moment in my life; “Sweeney Todd” was the first review I ever wrote. I can’t seem to recover this piece of my early teenhood, but I’m happy to say I’ve grown enormously as a critic since my gawky adolescence, and while I have a long way to go, well… who doesn’t? It’s been a rewarding and worthy journey, albeit with many frustrating pitfalls along the way.

Anyway, what can I say? I love “Sweeney.” Always have. I know it isn’t the most popular film with the critics, but I think of it as the last great film Tim Burton has done in recent times. I’ll be perfectly frank… I enjoyed the Burtster’s take on “Alice in Wonderland.” Guilty pleasure, folks, don’t judge me. “Big Eyes” was a mistake one that should not be repeated. Who would have known Tim Burton would be the one to get a terrible performance out of Christoph Waltz? Guys, is that even possible?

While “Alice in Wonderland” was gaudy entertainment, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is a dark morality tale, with, in my opinion, a genuine sense of artistry behind it. There was a barber and his wife… and it took only a bit of sleight hand by a corrupt judge (the suitably villainous Alan Rickman) to tear that happy couple apart forever. Now the barber (Johnny Depp,) sent away for a crime he didn’t commit, is a sadistic sociopath bent on revenge.

His wife (Laura Michelle Kelly) is out of the picture, having been driven crazy by the judge’s lascivious appetites, and their once infant daughter Joanna (Jayne Wisener) is Turpin’s young, beautiful prisoner. Lovestruck sailor boy Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) concocts a plan to rescue Joanna, but the barber, Benjamin Barker, or Sweeney Todd as he is now called, seems more concerned with getting gory revenge on the judge that ruined his life than protecting his daughter’s welfare.

Helena Bonham Carter gives the most artful performance as the  equally homicidal Mrs. Lovett, who owns a pie shop known far and wide for it’s disgusting grub (as well as questionable sanitation) and forms a deal with Sweeney converting the men the insane barber kills with his razor into delicious meat pies, satiating his bloodlust while — surprise! business soars.

I’ve heard some people criticize Bonham Carter and Depp’s singing voices — saying they are not up for the job of a musical — but I did not consider their relative inexperience a problem. “Sweeney Todd” is stylized and moody and very, very gory, so expect blood spraying literally all over the set in various scenes. The psychology behind the character’s motivations — and their justifications for the atrocities the choose to commit —is interesting and I love the music. Catchy tunes are a prerequisite in a movie like this, and “Sweeney Todd” has the goods in terms of an addictive score.

Helena Bonham Carter acts with her eyes and the dark makeup shadowing her peepers makes her look perpetually like a work of expressionist art. Depp is slightly less compelling, playing the ultimate emo enraged (however justifiably) with how his life turned out. The only character I truly found myself empathizing with was the little boy (payed by Edward Sanders) who believed with an wide—eyed earnesty and breathtaking innocence that he would look after and protect Mrs. Lovett, and she him.

The rest? Fuck them. Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett were morally reprehensible and foul; Joanna and Anthony were a little too much like starcrossed Disney lovers who walked into the wrong movie. Though I had a nagging feeling throughout that Joanna was exploiting the foolishly naive Anthony’s affections in order to get the hell out of dodge. She would be his prize, another kind of slavery, but anything was better than remaining in Judge Turpin’s lecherous possession.

“Sweeney Todd”‘s plot isn’t realistic at all (there’s a kind of unintentional hilarity in the way that, despite endless hint —dropping and an almost identical appearance, Turpin refuses to acknowledge Sweeney’s true identity —who is he, Clark Kent pulling the glasses on his face and the wool over the Judge’s eyes?)

My brother (ever the source of dry wit) quipped that when it came to Judge Turpin, ‘it was hard not to feel sorry for someone who was so like a potato in IQ.’ Not all villains have to be evil geniuses, but damn, that was kind of ridiculous, Turpin had to have gotten into a position of power by some method other than fucking people over. Apparently intelligence wasn’t one of them.

“Sweeney Todd” is a highly enjoyable film even while being morbid and tragic on a grand scale. The stylized storytelling and violence keeps it from being too tough a watch. The acting’s fine, the story’s cool, but the music? That’s really something to stay for. Tim Burton has his moments, and this is one of them. Those with weak stomachs might want to steer clear of this enthusiastically gory flick.

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We Are What We Are (2010)

Family values takes a whole new meaning in Jorge Michel Grau’s eerie cannibalism thriller “We Are What We Are,” and the menace of the movie is both strange and psychologically intriguing. Sexual politics and bodily mutilation take the front wheel in this nightmarish horror film, and no one is safe. When the patriarch of a strange, impoverished family in Mexico dies dramatically, the bereaved are compelled to carry on as they always have. But this time ‘carrying on’ doesn’t mean washing clothes, commuting to work, and buying groceries- Father’s clan is a family of cannibalistic killers, and someone must take the job of hunting their human prey.

While Mother (Carmen Beato) locks herself in the room and falls apart, her two sons- impulsive, violent Julien (Alan Chávez) and the more methodical, repentant Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) squabble and their beautiful sister Sabina (Paulina Gaitan) plays them against each other. Alfredo laments that his mother never liked him and tries to prove himself to the others, while Julien, a loose cannon, postures and puts his family in grave danger with his recklessness.

Meanwhile, two somewhat corrupt cops track the family, after a gory incident involving a prostitute threatens to put their strange lifestyle on display. The film builds tension with spooky cinematography and a nerve-wracking violin score akin to “The Shining.” The acting is superior from the entire cast, especially Paulina Gaitin and Francisco Barreiro (who is also a cutie- I look forward to seeing him in “Here Comes The Devil.”
The first scene is a haunting study of disenfranchisement- as Father  (Humberto Yáñez) wanders the streets and stops before a display of mannequins, he falls to the ground and begins to spit up blood. After dying in the street, he is nonchalantly cleaned up along with his blood, and steadfastly ignored by passersby, as the violins on the soundtrack shriek. This sets the tone for a grim and bloody picture that is sadly underrated by the public.

There is recurring theme of women in low-class situations asserting power as best they can- Sabina manipulates her two brothers with her gentle words and her gorgeous body, while mother attempts to maintain control of her sons. And the prostitutes… well, you’ll have to see how that turns out. More disturbing than the graphic violence is the dehumanizing way the family talks about their victims (they’re ‘whores’ and ‘faggots,’ never people.) More disturbing still is the way you start to root for the family, ever so slightly, before you can stop yourself. They suck you into their world, and things you know are wrong seem intriguing.

I wish the characters of the police had been developed more. I definitely think the climactic scene would have been more compelling if the main cop hadn’t just tried to pick up a prostitute who was like twelve, destroying any meager sympathy we may have had for him. After that, I don’t care whether he lives or he dies… I’m actually rooting for the man-eating psychos at this point.

The 5.7 rating of this movie on Imdb makes me sad. I only checked the clock once during “We Are What We Are,” and that was when my sister asked from the other room how much was left. This movie was engrossing and not boring at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. I love how foreign horror films don’t feel the need to reveal everything in the first five minutes. It is compared to “Let the Right One In” on the back of the box. Well, I wouldn’t call it better (“Let the Right One In” is my favorite movie,) but it was well-made and highly enjoyable. A creepy slow-burner of a horror film.

Buddy Boy (1999)

Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon’s debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen), who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (actual amputee Susan Tyrrell), in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion. The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh… pleasuring himself to a pair of voluptuous breasts in a magazine.

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new pasttime in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, controversial Polish director Roman Polanski’s wife) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren’t clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn’t understand, but he catches on. According to her, she doesn’t care what he eats, but then she buys him a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character’s conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane? Or is meat back on the menu? Buddy Boy is an enigma — although declared a religious allegory by IMDB users it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity.

In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it. The movie is a triumph of atmosphere — the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal’s apartment is palpable, while Gloria’s big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyrrell (his stepmom, Sal). Gillen, from the GLBTQ show Queer as Folk (which I haven’t seen), plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis. Susan Tyrrell plays his abusive stepmom more like a SNL skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material.

When an actress’ character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg (one of the stranger scenes in this story), maybe there isn’t much room for subtlety. Buddy Boy, nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story.

It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish, but rarely do.