Tag Archives: horror

It (2017) – Film Review

“It” wasn’t supposed to garner the biggest September box office opening of all time. “It” had been in development turmoil for awhile, swapping directors, dropping Will Coulter as the actor to play Pennywise, and generally being bogged down by a bad streak of Stephen King movies. The Dark Tower was a disaster both financially and critically. But despite all of the doubts, the team behind “It” moved past it through great casting, a distinct visual palette, and a star turn from Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

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Finn Wolfhard, the main character from Netflix’s Stranger Things, plays the wise-cracking Richie in “It”, a change in tone from his earnest TV persona. He swears and brags about sex he’s never had. He brings a great comedic lightness to the movie, an important glue character that ties the group of troubled kids together.

Bill, played by Jaeden Lieberher, is the stuttering older brother of Georgie, the infamous victim of Pennywise’s sewer tricks. He has an emotional arc surrounding his brother that’s very intense and heartfelt. It’s made all the better by the filmmakers choosing to focus only on the characters as children, not flashing back and forth between their adult years. That will be the sequel, apparently.

Sophia Lillis plays Beverly, the tomboy girl with both an undeserved reputation at school and a hostile relationship with her heated father. She’s looking for someone to latch onto, and the losers, the main group of kids that hangout together, including Bill and Richie, a sympathetic fat boy and a home-schooled outsider, are the first she finds. She is more mature and even looks three years older than all of them. She fits in within their little squad very quickly.

Pennywise isn’t just a scary killer clown; he’s a monster capable of transporting and morphing into different entities. His mouth can shape-shift into a long, wide black hole filled with a hundred spears of teeth. But the natural physical gestures performed by Bill Skarsgard are plenty creepy enough.

An “It” producer said in a press interview that they consciously created a strategy to keep Skarsgard out of the late night circuits and press junket interviews. By doing this, the producer explained, the viewer would see Pennywise the monster first and Skarsgard the actor second. His piercing eyes and odd lip movements are huge aspects of the performance, and his real-life interviews don’t mask these intense features/expressions that landed him the role in the first place. If his face were all over magazine covers, the mystique of the Pennywise look wouldn’t be as immediate or as thrilling. Viewers would look at the clown and be able to point out the quirky gestures of the Swedish actor.

Bill Skarsgard made some sort of comment comparing his performance as Pennywise to Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight. I don’t know the context of his actual statement, but if he was saying that he had taken inspiration from Ledger’s Joker, it’s very apparent within the film. He shakes his head and laughs hoarsely at the kids, mimicking their state of absolute terror in the same way Ledger laughed as he was beat down by Batman while being interrogated. The reckless, unfiltered joy in the chaos and violence. They share a lot of common qualities in their performances, though Ledger’s makeup was dried and peeling and Pennywise’s face has been intricately painted and adjusted with CGI effects.

The new Stephen King adaption is a definite success on a long checklist of big-screen failures. “It” is a classic, well-known story with a tantalizingly creepy, enduring villain. If you’re worried about “It 2: The Adults”, be reassured that Pennywise will return and be as welcome as he has been in 2017. He’s a timeless character that will always hold some sort of grasp on audience’s fears.

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Scanners (1981)

Scanners, directed by horror wise guy David Cronenberg, is a film where the director seems to be smoothing out his style. A majority of the shots involve the camera panning towards a character, in a shoulder shot, with his or her eyes gazing up at something with their big, scanner eyes. It’s done repetitively, and runs tiresome, but the plot is taken into newly explained depth and the actors always make it involving. Cameron Vale, the guy that reminds you of Luke from Star Wars with his sense of virtue, is used by Doctor Paul Ruth to fight against the scanners who have joined together. The leader of this underground group, who we meet personally when he assassinates a scanner at a presentation, is Darryl Revok. He will stop at nothing to find Cameron, and has already killed many scanners who wouldn’t cooperate with him.

The film has a way with muddying the motivations of its characters. No-one from the start is who they seem to be, except Cameron, who as a scanner barely has a personality because he thinks and thinks all of the people’s thoughts around him, as a telepathic. Dr. Paul Ruth has a serum that can suppress this and make all input from other thoughts gone. I’m not sure why Cameron didn’t want this more than he did, for it was the whole problem before Dr. Paul found him.

It ultimately doesn’t let us know who to root for; we are in contact with several double-sided misfits, but don’t know if what their doing is wrong. I think the lack of motivation in Cameron is a key disappointment; what did the Doctor do to get him on his side? Put fifty people in his room and let him suffer from their thoughts? Grumble his raspy voice like a wise-man?

The set-design is always meticulous and atmospheric, though. The scene where Cameron goes to the Artists house is incredible, where he has a massive skull made out of some sort of clay. They hide inside of it, and while the artist walks out and is blown to pieces by guns, Cameron resides inside the head, a metaphor, and scans all of the people around him. He walks out fine, but the artist has died.

The film boasts fine performances and an engaging plot, no matter how under developed the characters were compared to Cronenberg films like ‘The Fly’. It’s a gruesome, horror aficionado’s hot-list entree.

Shutter Island

7/10

Shutter Island is not a low-point in Scorsese’s career, but simply an indulgence. It has similar elements to his past films, with 40s dressed men and a classic, noirish feeling and tone, but doesn’t satisfy on all aspects. With a plot as complex as Shutter Island, after the fact plot-holes keep appearing in the after-glow thoughts, and that is the kind of distraction that takes attention away from the main themes. Yet, what are the themes of Scorsese’s recent film? Confusion, denial, desperation..

The movie does not at all lack beauty in its camera-work; its first scene is a wonderful pan onto a mist-covered boat, with detective Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) leaning on the handling with his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) smoking a cigarette; Teddy leave s soon, his sea-sick rising in his stomach, for the bathroom. They are headed to investigate the merit of a psychiatric institution, but what their looking for is not told to us from the start; and even if it was, it would end up an entirely different thing. The movie strives on paranoia and fear, from conspiracy to mystery: the two investigate a case where a woman seems to have disappeared from her room, while at the same time not being seen escaping by the night guards. The island is searched, nothing found. The rest of the film is dedicated to finding her-as well as Teddy dealing with his own past troubles.

Their were flash-back sequences in the film, or dream-sequences, of Teddy with his wife as she fades away and out of existence from him. These I feel are derivative and a low-point for Scorsese’s cinematic inventiveness. She flakes away like a burning newspaper, and she is gone leaving Teddy teared-up and devastated. It creates no mood, nor visual ecstasy,  and is like a sequence trying to mock Lynch’s methods; a hand flying up as he was thinking of her, or hugging a corpse even: He resorts to the weakest of metaphors and imagery.

The film easily sums up its whole with facets of the mentally ill; this character acted like this, because he was paranoid or delusional. But this seems like the only thing that does work right, there are other things that are never bothered to be explained or elaborated; you can definitely get the feeling that this could have been smarter if Scorsese wasn’t making a movie for commercial success. It’s a bold horror entry no doubt-but with more assumptions being done than an actual plot, it’s a misty film in itself.

Carrie (1976)

9/10

Carrie is another Stephen King adaption that is above par, thanks to psychologically tense directing from Brian DePalma, and Sissy Spacek’s tender performance as the subjected teenage girl. Carrie’s mother is a radical religious type who indoctrinates Carrie with vows of righteousness and conduct: She is devoid of all understanding of what happens to a teenager and instead has to focus on what teenagers ought not do; her lack of a normal life causes her to be ridiculed and made fun of by the girls at  school, and even the one’s who defend her do it behind her back and in small groups; In the end, she has no reason to  spare anyone. Carrie has special, supernatural powers of telekinesis and pyromania. What could these girls do to her to cause her to express the full capability of her powers?

The most intriguing thing I think about, that is never shown, is the mothers reaction to murder: Out of hate of boys and lack of prayer, what terrible quotes could be expressed by her about murder? Or was her life the same as her daughters? I feel the high-school depiction is more nuanced in that era, and the Protestant existence of the mother more accepted and common in her time. But if she doesn’t condemn murder, why do we see the girls who stand up for Carrie? Essentialy, is there any point besides gentle optimism when we are shown these scenes? The ugliness is so the director can over-compose the reaction and conclusion, and it is; the movie is a stylistic treat, a classic that is appreciated even by non-horror fans, and a brooding look at innocence and evil, a common theme that lives in the world of horror movies; The Exorcist being one, and probably the most pivotal.

The film takes domestic and teenage problems and turns them into a study of dynamics. When we see Carrie  getting a date for prom, it is a moment of a hesitant yet great joy, and we hope what she achieves through it is a must-needed sense of rebellion with her mother, which she shows as she sticks up for her right to go to the dance in the first place; but, as the conclusion comes into realization, we have a gut feeling of the emotional wreckage and consequence that will be inescapable: The gym-coach who feels sorrow for Carrie, the boy who seemed to be taking Carrie to the prom with good means, all thrown into nothingness with one outrageous prank, and at the peak of her happiness. An intelligent, kinetic film with much needed doll-like quality from Sissy Spacek that will surely endure as a classic.

Peeping Tom (1960) – Film Review

Peeping Tom is a great film as its main character guides us hand-in-hand through his atrocities, a self-conscious first-person technique that creates mountains of tension. As the audience, we’re peeping into Mark Boehl’s life and his strange hobby and obsession with recording people at the cusp of their being victimized by him. The story is pieced together in a literary form in the way that everything we learn of, like the mothers blindness for example, has a cause and an importance later on.

The director, Michael Powell, establishes the time and place very well, almost like a stage-film in which highly-decorative scenes remain static for long periods of time; the layout of the apartment, the ground-floor, the secluded bunk-like upstairs where Mark dwells and develops his celluloid.  Films that are constantly jump-cutting to new places can be uncomfortable to watch; to better understand the character is by their environment, and with a character like Mark, who keeps to himself, it can be troublesome when trying to probe why he does what he does. And essentially, without the necessary information we need to understand him, all we have is the performance of Karlheinz Böhm to attempt to make us feel some tangible form of sympathy for the man.

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The film is a dense, unforgettable character study. Mark Boehl is an obsessive 8mm film recorder. He works for a film company, not yet achieving his goal of becoming a director, and lives a quiet and methodical life, doing photo-shoots for women on the side. When he becomes interested in a woman who lives next door, his secrets begin to unravel, and he must choose between his hobby and the girl he now has come to enjoy; to say, “who he’s come to love” would be unfitting for Marks character, because he’s the sort of person who proclaims that he ‘enjoys your presence’, nothing more, nothing less.

Peeping Tom didn’t do wonders for director Michael Powell’s film career, as its reception was similar to the reaction Kubrick received following the release of A Clockwork Orange. But thanks to Martin Scorsese’s restoration of the film, Powell-fans can see and admire the voyeuristic work of the director even more.