“You Give, And You Give, And You Give. It’s Just Never Enough…”
Encapsulating in human form the very definition of divisive, Darren Aronofsky for me is the idealistic, brave and shit-hot filmmaker needed within the midst of summer blockbusters and endless unwarranted sequels in the current climate of cinema, and whilst many understandably lift their nose at the thought of anything with the Brooklyn born movie-maker’s recognisable touch, there is an unparalleled level of talent within a man who in my eyes rarely puts a foot wrong. Whether it be the depraved, nihilistic portrayal of addiction within Requiem for a Dream, the depiction of regret and sorrow within The Wrestler, or indeed the Argento inspired ripeness of Black Swan, Aronofsky holds no standards for a crowd-pleasing cop-outs and that alone has resulted in widespread appeal for his movies, particularly mother!, Aronofsky’s latest feature which for all its’ lack of publicity and reportedly inflammatory subject matter still manages to secure a wide release across the UK. Challenging, subversive, oppressive and surreal, Aronofsky’s latest transcends the realm of cinema itself and leaves you in a state of prolonged shock as soon as the final credits roll, and whilst many are guaranteed to loathe the sadistic and ripe arty nature of the film’s final product, mother! is an experience of an ilk similar to the likes of Funny Games and Kill List by being a film so terribly haunting and tough, the execution of such simply has to be rapturously applauded.
Set wholly within the confines of the winding home of Jennifer Lawrence’s “mother” and Javier Bardem’s writer’s block ridden “him”, Aronofsky’s narrative twists between home invasion horror, jet-black comedy, Lynch-style surrealism and a Dogville-style societal commentary, and whilst the underlying story is undoubtedly based upon writings drawn from Christianity and the sacred texts within the Bible, the twisted nature of Aronofsky’s storytelling offers much more than just one simple way to manoeuver through the ambiguity and the three-act structure, with each act after the next increasing in tension and shock value as the movie progresses through to its’ ultimate conclusion. With the camera solely fixed on the subjective view of Lawrence, with all but a few minor shots either directly focusing on her face or over her shoulder, the Oscar winning actresses performance is absolutely mesmerising, conveying a rafter of facial expressions and emotions as the narrative forces her to compliment the downward spiral of horror which transcends upon the screen and a performance which evoked the spirit of Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and Mia Farrow’s iconic role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, a movie of which directly influences mother! in it’s rollercoaster ride of a final act, one which comes extremely close to dive bombing the movie altogether in its’ sheer jaw-dropping extravagance.
With Bardem on usual form as the somewhat ciphered, unknown quantity, and both Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer reminding everyone of their raw and unquestionable talent, Aronofsky throws the remainder of his cast around and around in order to suit his narrative endgame, with jarring inclusions from the likes of Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig seeming so surreal it almost cripples the way in which you as a viewer should be embracing the movie, particularly in regard to its’ ever-wandering tone. If you head to in to a screening of mother! wanting a jump-scare ridden horror, you are bound to leave extremely disappointed, and whilst there is undoubtedly elements of genre-literate exploitation aplenty, with the film evoking everything from the likes of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in terms of its’ hateful depiction of the human existence to the social commentary extremity evident within Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Aronofsky’s latest is not a film to be enjoyed, instead it is the type of movie you digest, mull over and decide to what to make of it after three glasses of whisky and a trip to a puppy farm to combat the oppressive shock your mind is layered in after exiting the auditorium. mother! gave me nightmares, and not many films manage to bury that deep within the confines of my psyche but it goes to show how much of an astonishing, messed-up cinematic achievement Aronofsky has managed to create in a cinematic environment when risks are so rarely eaten up.
Overall Score: 9/10
“You Can’t Trust Anyone But Family…”
Learning his cinematic craft on the set of not one, nor two but three Terrence Malick productions including the staggeringly beautiful The Tree of Life, American filmmaker Trey Edward Shults follows on from his critically acclaimed debut, Krisha, this week with It Comes at Night, a psychological horror movie which features The Gift’s Joel Edgerton in the leading role and a movie which seems to have somewhat drifted under the propaganda radar, resulting in the first time in a while in which I head into a movie having no idea or preconceptions about what I am about to witness on-screen. Whether this is an element which ultimately damages or aids a particular release, there is a sense of thrilling ambiguity being unaware of a film’s direction, particularly in regards to a horror movie, and what we have with It Comes at Night is a staggeringly bleak, yet wholly effective white-knuckle thriller, one which uses its’ minimalist surroundings to outstanding use and a movie which perfectly showcases the acting talents of one Joel Edgerton, an actor who seems to have found his perfect hunting ground in order to grind out the best he has to offer upon the big screen.
Set in the aftermath of an unknown, ambiguous, worldwide pandemic, It Comes at Night focuses primarily on Edgerton’s Paul, the husband and father figure of a survivalist family destined to keep safe in the midst of the darkened wilderness who are suddenly forced to surrender their safety for the greater good when they come across another trio of survivors who too are desperate for survival. With a narrative edge as bleak and nihilistic as films such as The Road and even at times, The Mist, It Comes at Night is a effective mix of psychological and body horror, one which echoes a wide range of previous films from 28 Days Later to last year’s The Girl With All the Gifts, particularly in regards to its’ underlying notion of disease and contagion, and with cinematography which makes the likes of Seven look like a Disney movie, the jet black colour pallet adds to the ghostly air of uncertainty which embraces the viewer and leaves the audience with a sense of never really knowing where the tension is directly heading. Whilst the violence and dastardly dark plot turns result in the movie not exactly being for all audiences, for someone who loved the likes of The Witch and The Neon Demon recently, It Comes at Night is independent horror at it’s most effective.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Keep Thinking About This Story. There’s This Video That Kills You. Seven Days After You Watch It…”
Blah, blah, blah. Whilst there is nothing new in the notion of American remakes, the category in which really grinds my gears is the one filled to the rim with English-speaking “re-imaginings” of foreign language horror movies, with absolute classics in the form of A Tale of Two Sisters, Let The Right One In and Ju-on: The Grudge all being mashed up and reproduced in the flight of gaining a quick yet tainted blood-stained buck on the account of the butchery which tends to happen when foreign movies are translated onto an audience which is primarily English speaking. Of the many horror franchises which has roots well and truly set in the minds of more intelligent filmmakers, Rings, directed by Spanish filmmaker F. Javier Gutiérrez, is yet another entry into the Ringu canon which began all the way back in 1998 with Hideo Nakata’s terrifying cinematic take on the Koji Suzuki novel of the same name, and whilst the third American entry seems to begin with an element of interest, Rings unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, ends up being yet another wasted opportunity, with it not only coming across as incredibly offensive to horror fans across the world, effectively spits on the shadow of its’ former self with its’ sheer and utter dreadfulness.
With a leading star who carries as much charisma and interest as an ASDA bag for life, Rings begins with a narrative which looks as if it is set to offer some new light into the world of spooky water-covered teenagers with long black hair by delving into a somewhat underground network of shady college preps who view the infamous killer video tape as a reason to get up in the morning, using the threat of Samara as a messed up type of adrenaline rush alongside a basis for Johnny Galecki’s character’s thesis on the mystery of her existence. Whilst this interesting notion covers roughly the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the following 90 minutes is essentially a cheap re-telling of a story in which every single person in the cinematic world is now bored to death with, trading real elements of threat and suspense with cheesy dialogue and awful jump scares which rely on the power of the cinema’s sound system in order to actually come across as worthwhile. News alert; they don’t. Ending on a supposed twist which offers up the idea that the franchise is set to continue into the future, Rings is the type of cinematic face-palm which you really struggle to understand its’ existence. If you’re thinking of buying it on DVD, don’t.
Overall Score: 3/10
“I Want Your Eyes, Man, I Want Those Things You See Through…”
Following on from the complete and utter nonsense spouted from the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson this month regarding the use of British black actors in lead roles within predominantly American based cinematic projects, first-time director Jordan Peele attempts to divert attention from such utter drivel this week by treating us to the release of Get Out, a film of which Mr. Jackson’s ill-judged comments were heavily directed towards. If being judged entirely on the merit of its’ trailers, Peele’s directorial debut presented itself as an entirely bonkers and mouthwateringly interesting horror, one which seemed to come across as the most surreal and OTT horror movie of the past few years. Starring Daniel Kaluuya in the leading role, an actor arguably best known for his work on Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and Denis Villeneuve’s excellent Sicario in 2015, Get Out is as wacky and relentless as it’s many formats of advertisement made it out to be, a brilliantly shocking and wholly entertaining work of genre-twisting mayhem which makes you jump, laugh and squelch at the utter ripeness of its’ undeniable lunacy.
Unnerved by the potential racial tensions of meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time, Kaluuya’s Chris is swiftly placed at the heart of a Stepford Wives-esque community who seem a tad bit too interested in his own individual well-being and presence amidst a minority of fellow black residents who seem weirder and weirder with every passing glance. What follows for the majority of the movie is a hypnotic, both metaphorical and literal, tale of Twilight Zone magnitude weirdness which evokes a wide range of classic horror tales from John Carpenter’s Halloween to the more recent splatter-fest in the form of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Mixing in a variety of effectively timed jump-scares amidst an underlying element of rib-tickling comedy, Peele’s debut is an outstanding addition to a supposedly tired format, with ripe as rainbow performances form most of its’ cast evoking a chilling sensibility which arches towards a Wicker Man-esque narrative, Get Out is the type of movie destined for classic cult status. The best horror movie of the year so far and by a distance one of the most interesting of recent years, Get Out is the type of movie fans of classic horror movies pray and hope for.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Do You Know What The Cure For The Human Condition Is? Disease. Because That’s The Only Way One Could Hope For A Cure…”
Rather annoyingly, the use of the term “visionary” is something of which is pushed around so often in the current cinematic climate that to be regarded as such is somewhat of a negative down-stroke. With the likes of Zack Snyder and now Gore Verbinski proclaiming themselves as visionaries of modern cinema, directors who have released such “classics” such as Sucker Punch and Mouse Hunt respectively, the term has now officially become defunct and saved only for those who are deserved of the term, you know, like directors who have actually made films of some worth. Anyhow, Verbinski returns this year with the 18 rated A Cure For Wellness, a film which harks back to everything from The Ninth Configuration to Lars von Trier’s Riget, and a picture which can only be regarded as one of the most boring, misjudged and overlong works of horror I can remember within the remits of recent history. Whilst many have condoned A Cure For Wellness as simply nothing more than a Shutter Island rip-off, Verbinski’s latest makes Scorsese’s OTT two hours of mania look like a modern masterpiece, with it more likely to send you into a deep coma of confusion than inflict any real tangible sense of threat throughout a barnstorming length of two and a half hours.
After dropping a job-losing clunker and subsequently threatened with criminal prosecution, egotistic Wall Street flunky Lockhart, played by The Place Beyond the Pines’ Dane DeHaan, is sent to a mysterious health care centre in the heart of the Swiss Alps in order to retrieve a AWOL financial executive who has supposedly regressed into a complete and utter basket case and refuses to return to the US of A in order to complete a huge financial deal. Cue creepy looking patients, a mindless and ridiculously overcooked narrative and a concluding feeling of watching a movie which not only could lose at least an hour of its’ running time but one in which nothing actually happens, A Cure for Wellness suffers primarily from a runtime which is unbearable to say the least, and although Verbinski is renowned for an array of miscalculated movie lengths, with Pirates of the Caribbean 3 being a prime example, A Cure for Wellness is his pièce de résistance in terms of runtime malpractice. Whilst Jason Isaacs does do the best with what he’s given in the cliched “foreign stranger” role, the movie can’t escape the problems of its’ silliness, particularly within scenes of unnecessary violence including a cheesy R-rated dentist appointment and an attempted rape scene which borders on the outskirts of being a utter cringe-inflicted misstep. If you wish to see the type of movie A Cure for Wellness is so obviously attempting to be, seek out something like Shutter Island or The Shining instead, relieving you of the utter tedium of delving into a horror which is neither horrific or interesting. A cure for wellness? A cure for sleep deprivation.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Let Us Show Them What We Can Do. Let Us Show Them How Powerful We Can Be…”
If there is one thing to be said about M. Night Shyamalan’s career in the business of movie-making so far, to say it was one of the most diverse and critically haphazard back catalogues of all time wouldn’t exactly be a raging overstatement. Whilst films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable continue to be Shyamalan’s support beam for his seemingly imperishable reputation, people tend to forget the cinematic bombs such as After Earth, The Last Airbender and Lady in the Water, films which not only are regarded as utter, utter stinkers but films of which Shyamalan tends not to remind people of their existence in fear of not actually being allowed to be behind the camera ever again in Hollywood. With Split, Shyamalan seems to be on similar and overtly familiar territory, with a creepy, psychological premise at the core of the film’s screenplay and a final twist which is both surprising and overtly on-the-nose in terms of its’ utter silliness but one which too will leave the lay cinematic audience scratching their heads.
Featuring a scenery chewing central performance from James McAvoy, one which echoes the full-blown madness of his role in the black-hole darkness of Filth, Shyamalan’s latest is undeniably a welcome return to some sort of form, with the obvious b-movie silliness actually resorting in a movie which is much more fun in terms of its’ exaggerated ripeness than one might have first expected, due mainly to the headline performance of McAvoy, whilst the go-to actress for creepy leading ladies in recent times, Anya Taylor-Joy, continues to impress after continuing on from her stand-out roles in both The Witch and Morgan. Of course, now the un-embargoed reveal of the very final act of Split is one of which will baffle those unaware of Shyamalan’s previous work, yet for those privy to a particular early Shyamalan picture, the concluding seconds bring with it a surprising sense of wanting to pat Shyamalan on the back for having the audacity to attempt it, let alone actually film it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Beauty Isn’t Everything. It’s The Only Thing…”
Much like marmite, the conservative party and battenburg cake, Nicolas Winding Refn has established himself as the leading figure of being someone you either love or someone you really, really hate, where although films such as Bronson and Drive have put Refn on the Hollywood map in recent years, his last venture in the form of Only God Forgives was something that myself and many others believed to be his most divisive work yet. What side was I on I hear you ask? The one which thought that Refn had really lost the plot, with Only God Forgives being an ultra-violent mess from start to finish. Now, Refn is back with The Neon Demon, a neo-noir horror based upon the dark side of the fashion industry starring Elle Fanning as the 16 year old Jesse, the blue eyed deer in the headlights, desperate for her time in the spotlight after recently moving to Los Angeles, who realises the only way to make money is to make the most of her stunning, natural beauty. Que necrophilia, cannibalism, stunning visuals and a Oscar worthy score by Refn regular Cliff Martinez and The Neon Demon is indeed a complete work of art, a work of art like Only God Forgives, is bound to split audiences right down the middle. What side am I on this time? The positive one. And some.
Pulling in riffs from a wide range of famous movies from the past, The Neon Demon prides itself on featuring echoes of Black Swan, Irreversible, Carrie, and even more deliciously, the movies of David Lynch, particularly that of Inland Empire and Mulholland Drive, with both featuring the notion that sometimes imagery and visuals can be so overpowering and hypnotic that the sense of ambiguity such films create can be put to one side with a strange sense of rational compromise. The same can be said of The Neon Demon, a film so hell bent on blasting you with out of this world colours, visuals, and imagery that you have to think twice to comprehend that Refn is indeed colour blind. That’s right, the director of the best looking film of 2016 can’t see the beauty he has created. Ironic really, in a sad sense, yet there is no denying The Neon Demon is indeed a spectrum of artful amazingness, something you wouldn’t really think of in regards to a horror movie in the traditional sense, yet the inclusion of obvious shock-inducing exploitation goodness such as THAT scene and things going a bit stabby stabby come the final act means Refn has created a film which stays with you for days on end. The Neon Demon will indeed divide audiences yet for my money, it’s up there with Drive, making it one of the best, and most surprising, films of the year so far.