27 November 2009

Horror Movie Round-Up: Last House on the Left, Pontypool, I Can See You, [Rec]

I watched a bunch of recent horror movies so you don't (necessarily) have to.


Last House on the Left
Directed by: Dennis Iliadis
Written by: Adam Alleca & Carl Ellsworth

A punishing rape scene at the thirdway point of Last House on the Left goes on for several shots too long: there’s no good reason our villain couldn’t climax more quickly, assuming such a scene was necessary at all. (It’s not.) Later, there are multiple stabbings, shootings, and thwackings with all variety of household weapons objects: fireplace poker, shower curtain rod. A man gets his hand caught in a garbage disposal before getting a hammer to the brain.

The movie is disgusting. And the violence is disturbing, too—but it’s the film’s underlying politics that really make you want to vomit.

A remake of Wes Craven’s ’72 debut—itself a (loose!) retelling of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring—the film concerns two teenagers who are abducted, ravished, beaten and left for dead by a cohort of easy-to-hate villains; with the spree of violence concluded and their car broken-down, the bad guys seek refuge at a nearby house—which belongs to the parents of one of the girls! The ‘rents figure out what’s happened and take a gruesome and splattery revenge. It adds up to a wacky conservative fantasy of law-and-order and vigilante justice: bad guys are everywhere, they have no redeeming qualities, and we need to cleanse the earth of them—we the multiple-home owning white people, that is, the perpetual victims under constant threat from criminals. (It could almost be an equally repellant terrorism allegory, if Iliadis were a sharper director.) That the parents defeat the enemy with a combination of guns, kitchen knives and found objects serves as a testament to American pluck, moxie, ingenuity, prosperity, and general badassery. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Grade: D


Watch the trailer:


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Pontypool
Directed by: Bruce McDonald
Written by: Tony Burgess
Full credits from IMDb

Pontypool is almost entirely set in a (spacious) radio station; you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an adaptation of a play—particularly as its aesthetics evoke Talk Radio—but in fact it’s based on a novel, whose author also penned the screenplay. The theatricality and resulting claustrophobia is particularly effective: as mayhem transpires outside the basement-studio’s walls, it unfolds for the audience in phone calls, external reports of bloodthirsty and cannibalistic mobs—what turn out to be zombies. The general rule of thumb in storytelling is “show, don’t tell,” but Pontypool is stronger for its narration of the unseen: horror movies in particular thrive off suggestion, because the images conjured by our own imaginations are almost always creepier than those that can be created on screen.

But it’s not just the palpable sense of chaos, disorder and uncertainty that makes the movie so rewarding: it’s its clever political message. The rampaging zombies don’t hunt by scent or sight but by sound, infected by a virus that spreads through language (specifically the English language, in a juicy detail). Men turn to unthinking mobs, capable only of repeating others’ words. Families murder one another; houses are turned against themselves. The filmmakers’ target is Talk Radio, obviously of the kind that would (after the film was released) put together Tea Parties, the kind that makes Americans mindless with the potential to incite violence. Burgess sums up his position nicely in this on-air exchange, between the morning shock jock (the sonorously voiced Stephen McHattie) and a medical expert:
“Should we be talking at all?”
“Well, to be safe, probably not. Talking is risky. And, well, talk radio is high risk, so we should stop.”
“But we need to tell people about this. People need to know…”
“…let’s just hope what you’re getting out there isn’t going to destroy your world.” Grade: B+


Watch the trailer:


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I Can See You
Written & Directed by: Graham Reznick
Full credits at IMDb

Phew: it takes a long time for I Can See You to get going. In the meantime, we suffer through getting to know a trio of unlikeable Pete Campbell wannabes—Brooklyn ad men, on a head-clearing trip to the forest. Most horror movies, like this citykids in the woods variation, depend upon sympathetic identification with the leads, accomplished through long introductory sequences of character development. But, here, a total absence of drama, action or meaningful conflict exposes the three as little more than mean, ugly, self-consciously styled Billyburgers hustling for a piece of that evil Madison Avenue pie. Look at how littered their campsite is, how they dress for the forest like it were just one more night out at Trash Bar.

Then, around the two-thirds point, something happens (sort of), and I Can See You, at first channeling L’Avventura via The Blair Witch Project, loses all its rationality, moving past Inland Empire territory—a retro musical number, a campy TV pitchman (Larry Fessenden) lurking among the trees, a random zombie chick haunting a trail—and into the realm of pure abstraction. I Can See You makes some bold choices, maybe, but some neat surrealism can’t hide its underlying vacuity. Grade: C


Watch the trailer:


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[●Rec]
Directed by: Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza
Written by: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza and Luis Berdejo
Full credits at IMDb

So, it turns out that Quarantine was a remarkably faithful adaptation of its source material, the Spanish film [Rec]—even the sets are nearly identical. Both films capture the thrilling pandemonium of a routine fire department service call gone wrong—28 Days Later super rabies meets 28 Weeks Later’s conspiratorial paranoia—in long unedited takes, filmed in the rawness of firsthand experience with a handheld camera that is disorienting and imprisoning: it puts you at the mercy of the directors, who exploit their authoritarian position to maximum effect. Tempers flare in desperation—leading to some overacting, especially from Ferran Terraza as the fireman who survives the longest—and lots of screaming, running and bleeding ensue. [Rec] is leaner, Quarantine has some better details: a medical intern in the original is a vet in the remake, and the American version has that amazing moment of murder-by-camera. In their slight variations, the two are like companion pieces, but also essentially interchangeable. Grade: A-


Watch the trailer:

4 comments:

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I can't consider those movies as horror movies, don't provoke me neither a little bit sensation of fear or horror, in fact I laughed when I see this movies.
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Elliott Broidy said...

It got rave reviews.