Thursday, October 02, 2014

Who Fears the Devil?

Devil

There's a party game called "Werewolf" in which three players are werewolves and the rest of the party is villagers. Every "night," the villagers close their eyes and the werewolves "kill" one of them. During the "day" the villagers try to deduce who the werewolves are. If the villagers "kill" all the werewolves before the werewolves get them, they win, otherwise, the werewolves win. It's fun variant of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. I couldn't help but think about this while I was watching Devil (2010, directed by John Erick Dowdle), an unassuming little shocker in which five people are trapped in an elevator and one of them is, well, The Devil. It's a classic game of Werewolf, including the periods of darkness when The Devil takes the next victim.


The plot of the film is outlined in a vaguely folkloric voice-over at the outset: The Devil takes on human form to torment a group of people who have been trapped. It starts with a suicide as a summoning, and darned if that's not how the film starts, with a man hitting the top of a truck after a long fall from a tall office building. The cops investigating the suicide are sucked in when an express elevator in the same building is stopped between floors with five people on board. As they get ever more frantic, "accidents" begin to befall them. The cops are left trying to figure out who the murderer is by delving into the past of all of the people on the elevator, only to discover that all of them are sinners of one variety or another: a thug, a thief, a gold-digger, etc. One of the security guards watching the video feed sees the face of the devil flash on screen during a short blackout, and the whiff of brimstone settles in on the proceedings...


Devil

This is an unassuming chamber drama. As a horror movie it's fairly effective, dialing up the classic Aristotelian unities of time and space. Most of the action is confined to the elevator and the security station and the film unfolds in an approximation of real time. It plants the seed of its denouement early enough in the film that you might miss it--this is a film written and produced by M. Night Shyamalan, a filmmaker known for his "twists," and this film obliges his cinematic reputation by providing one. It doesn't even cheat to do this, though it certainly engages in cinematic sleight of hand. The reliance on voice-over to provide the film with its exposition is lazy, though, and redundant given that the film provides an on-camera source for the its folktale. I wish it trusted the audience more. The folktale is a real folktale, by the way. It wasn't invented for the film.


The characters in this film are archetypes rather than well-rounded "real" human beings. Indeed, none of the characters in the elevator is named in the credits even though the film provides them with names in the text of the movie. For the most part, the characters in this film serve the plot rather than vice versa, which is common enough in genre films. What IS uncommon is the way this film ends. Shyamalan's films have always had a vaguely Christian thrust to them, and that's true here. I mean, this is a film about The Devil, and as the film suggests, if The Devil is real, then so too is God. And here, the film gets tripped up with theodicy, because at the end of the film, it becomes clear that the entire sequence of events is intended to bring one single character to a state of grace. It's a bloody-minded process if that's the plan, but grace has often been granted in horror movies and in history over a pile of dead bodies. Still, I can't entirely hate a movie where the key to defeating the monster is forgiveness rather than an iron faith.


In any event, Devil is only an hour and nineteen minutes long. It's a brisk running time, too, that doesn't slow down for much. Whatever its other flaws, it's refreshingly short and doesn't overstay its welcome.



Current Challenge tally:


Total Viewings: 2


First Time Viewings: 1












Around the Web:


Old friend Tim Brannan gets into the act with The Lost Boys and Vampire Academy over at The Other Side.


Jose at Riding the Nightmare finds his blog infested with Frogs.


Michelle Deidre joins us with the very FIRST horror movie ever made, Georges Méliès's The Haunted Castle from 1896!


Lady Terminator Erika serves up a Blood Feast.






Patreon Logo
I'm trying out Patreon as a means of funding my blogs. They don't have a widget yet, so this link will just have to do. If you like my writing and art and if you'd like to support Krell Laboratories and Christianne's Art and Comics, please come on over and pledge. Thanks.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Mind and Body


The first month that it was on HBO, I think I watched Scanners (1981, directed by David Cronenberg) six times. This wasn't easy to do, because in those days, HBO was hesitant to show anything rated a hard "R" any earlier than 9 pm. Scanners was a movie that often showed up at 3 am or later. I remember dawn breaking during one viewing, right as Cameron Vale and Daryl Revok engaged in a telepathic duel to the death. It's a film I've been living with for a long time. I used to think that it was relatively minor in Cronenberg's canon when you set it next to The Brood, Videodrome, and The Fly among the films that constitute "early Cronenberg," but I've come around to a different point of view on that these days.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

50 Horror Movies for Halloween (Part 5)

Katharine Isabelle in Ginger Snaps

Tomorrow is October, so here's the grand finale.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

50 Horror Movies for Halloween (Part 4)

Angela Bettis and Anna Farris in May

One of the challenges involved with creating a project like a list is writing from distant memories rather than from fresh impressions. I rarely write about films I haven't seen in a while. In the case of some of the films I'm listing here, my impressions are decades old. It would be completely impractical to rewatch all of these films, though I imagine that most of them stand up to rewatching. The only film I've rewatched for these posts is The Queen of Spades, listed below. Others? I haven't seen The Serpent and the Rainbow since it was in theaters, nor have I seen The Other since it creeped me out of me when I was a kid, watching it on late night television. I've never forgotten any of these films, though, which it a testament to their quality.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

50 Horror Movies for Halloween (Part 3)

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

October is coming up fast, so here's the next installment of this series. I've been trying to cast a wide net across the history of horror movies, but there are some periods when the genre was in serious remission (I'm looking at you, early to mid 1990s). I'm fascinated at how great horror movies cluster around certain times: the early 1930s, the 1970s, the 2000s. I'm tempted to pontificate on the sociology of these groupings, but I'll spare you that. In any event here's the next ten films for your perusal:

Friday, September 26, 2014

50 Horror Movies for Halloween (part 2)

The Abandoned

Here's part two of this series. These are not in any kind of order. They are unranked. These are all films I've enjoyed to one degree or another. The only common thread running through them is that few, if any, of these films has the broad recognition of general audiences or the kinds of people who make "best of" lists. And, hopefully they'll provide ideas for October.


One more word about this project, though: I'm not writing this for horror fans. I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the first installment of this series who complained--well, commented is probably more like it--that he had seen almost everything I wrote about. That's fine. If you're a student of the genre, you've probably got a list of your own "deep cuts." My friend, Aaron Christensen, ran into the same thing when he was putting together Hidden Horror. Horror fans--myself included--tend to be obsessive.



Thursday, September 25, 2014

Everybody Dance Now

Living Stars

Longtime readers probably realize that my movie writing usually follows a formula: introductory paragraph, synopsis, bulk of the review. I'm going to skip a synopsis of Living Stars (2014, directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat), because it's not a narrative film in any meaning of the word. I mean, technically, it's a documentary, but even that seems to impose certain expectations. What this is is 63 minutes of people dancing to a variety of pop songs. That's it. In spite of its utter simplicity, Living Stars is one of the most joyful and hilarious film experiences I've had in a good long while.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

50 Films For Halloween (part 1)

Black Pit of Dr. M

I got into an argument over the weekend over the usefulness of all those top whatever lists of horror movies you see show up every year. You know the ones, I'm sure: they always have some combination of The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, Alien, etc at the top? Yeah. Those. You don't even need an advanced degree in horror movie-ology to know about those films. They're in the culture. I mean, Night of the Living Dead's influence is so all-pervasive that it shows up on sitcoms and commercials. Seriously, you don't need my voice added to the din.


Lately, though, I've been thinking about the role of the critic. In a world where movies proliferate faster than ever, the critic is a cartographer. The critic has an obligation to wander into the parts of cinema that are labeled terra incognito on the map and bring back their findings. I've been a hardcore student of horror since I was very young, so here are some of my findings. This is in no order. There is no ranking, no hierarchy. Think of this as a kind of high-altitude mapping expedition. I'll be posting ten of these a day for the next week, so hang on to your seat. It might get bumpy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mothers and Sons

Club Sandwich

Club Sandwich (2013, directed by Fernando Eimbcke) is a coming of age story with an unusual point of view. Its young protagonist is a bundle of sexual confusion, as most such protagonists are. You've seen countless boys like him fumbling their way toward adulthood. In a male-dominated industry, these kinds of stories proliferate. What you generally don't see is the effect this has on the protagonist's parent(s). This film's primary insight is to look at what a mother might feel while watching her son discover his sexuality. That the film is quietly funny is a bonus. It's not glib, though, and it's doesn't take shortcuts. The slow accumulation of awkward moments becomes heavy over the course of the film and its ultimate disposition is more bittersweet than comedic. It's a good comedy that can reveal its characters without mocking or humiliating them. This manages to do exactly that.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shameless Self-promotion: Kickstarter Edition

I normally keep my art projects off my movie blog, but I have a financial stake in this, so here we go: I have a Kickstarter. I'm trying to fund a collection of my transgender-themed comics (some of which you can read here). If it seems like I'm trying my level best to avoid doing nine-to-five work between Patreon and this, well, you would be correct. Ideally, I'll never have to go back to the capitalist employment model ever again. In the mean time, I have to sell myself to you, dear potential patron. Anyway, I've put a lot of work and love into this comic. I don't think you need to be trans to enjoy it (I have it on the authority of my cis friends that it reads pretty well). It IS pretty sexually explicit, but hopefully not exploitative. Anyway, check it out and back it if you like what you see.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion: Hidden Horror



Because I'm lousy at self-promotion, I don't think I've touted this book I was in at the start of the year. It's Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks and it was put together by all-around good guy Aaron Christensen. My piece for the book was about X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, which you can read at Filmmaker Magazine's web site. I know that one criticism of the book so far has been that a lot of the films discussed aren't nearly that "underrated" or "overlooked," but that sniping comes from inside horror fandom itself, so it shouldn't be taken too seriously. If May was well-known for example, it would have been a much bigger hit and Lucky McKee wouldn't have had so many problems getting films made ever since.  And, you know? There's stuff in the book that even I haven't seen and I'm an obsessive, so you get no qualms from me about the films my colleagues selected. More than that, though, I'm shocked at how few of the films in the book that I have seen are films that I've written about. A lot of those are films that I saw pre-internet. I may have written about them in the spiral notebooks I used as film diaries when I was a teen, but I'll be damned if I'll let any of that writing onto the web. Be that as it may, I recognize a challenge when I see it.


This is the full list of films in the book. The ones with links are films I've written about. The ones in italics are films I haven't seen:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The October Challenge--2014 Edition


There's a snap of autumn in the air this week and here at Stately Krell Laboratories, that can only mean one thing: it's horror movie season. Yes, boils and ghouls, The October Challenge will soon be upon us once more. To recap the rules, in case you've forgotten: the goal is to watch 31 horror movies during the month of October, with at least 16 of those films being completely new to you. There are plenty of side games you can play with the challenge, but the one I usually pursue for myself is to write a substantial blog post about every movie I see for the Challenge. This is not, strictly speaking, necessary. My friend, the inestimable Dr. AC over at Horror 101 usually runs his challenge as a fundraiser for charity--something I've done in the past and may do again.


If you're blogging the challenge, I'll be doing link round-ups again, so leave me comments when your content appears. I'll add you to the (hopefully) daily link dump.


In any event, I hope you've stockpiled some movies and laid in a supply of cider and pumpkin pie. Here's a new set of banners for the challenge, if you want them, but any of the banners from past years are fair game. Tally ho!











Patreon Logo
I'm trying out Patreon as a means of funding my blogs. They don't have a widget yet, so this link will just have to do. If you like my writing and art and if you'd like to support Krell Laboratories and Christianne's Art and Comics, please come on over and pledge. Thanks.



Flowers in the Wreckage

Lika Babluani and Mariam Bokeri in In Bloom

My local arthouse runs a series of recent international cinema every fall. They call it "The Passport Series" and the conceit is that they hand out a punch card with your ticket and if you attend at least six of the eight films in the series, they throw your card in a hopper and give you a chance to win passes for the St. Louis Film Festival later in the year. They also theme the series around wine, but I don't imbibe, so that's never something I notice. I do like the idea of a passport, though, as a kind of tally of cinematic destinations (in lieu of actual travel, which I usually can't afford). I often approach this series with the attitude of a collector: Do I have this country yet? I've seen films from an impressive number of countries. In any event, this year's series kicks off with a Georgian film, and I can check that country off the list now.


In Bloom (2013, directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß), finds neo-realism alive and well in Georgia. Set in the immediate aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet empire, this details the coming of age of two teenage girls, Eka and Natia, who are best friends. They live in the wreckage of Tblisi, where they stand in line for bread, are terrorized by autocratic teachers, and where they fend off the aggressions of boys. It would be easy for the filmmakers to use their story as some kind of grand historical gesture, but this is too smart for that. This finds itself following the path of other neo-realists who find in the lives of their characters broad possibilities for melodrama. In Bloom is also a withering critique of patriarchy.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Begin the Beguine


John Carney's Begin Again (2014) is an indie version of a musical romantic drama. In truth, I didn't know I had an itch for such a thing until that itch was scratched. Musicals are always hit or miss with me, particularly contemporary musicals, so when one of them hits the spot, I'm always delighted and a bit surprised. In this case, I'm especially taken in because I had no faith in Kiera Knightley as a singer, never having heard that she can sing. She acquits herself well. If the story seems a little over-familiar, well, that's fine. It's the execution that counts.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Mundane Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-man 2

As I was watching The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, directed by Marc Webb), I was imagining Shailene Woodley sitting in a theater somewhere this spring breathing a sigh of profoundest relief. She was famously cast as Mary Jane Watson in this film and even shot some scenes for it before being cut, ostensibly to move her to this film's inevitable sequel. That sequel is now in some doubt. This film is the least successful film in the franchise, both commercially and aesthetically. If Woodley is smart--and it appears that she is--she'll find some other movie to clog her schedule if Sony decides to pick her up again for the role.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is awful. There's not any getting around it. It lurches from set piece to set piece without any coherent connective tissue. Its scenes veer from the romantically heartfelt to day-glow camp and back again. It squanders actor after actor in scenes that aren't worthy of them. It's busy and ugly and not really much fun. Spider-Man needs to be fun. The world has enough grimdark Batman wannabes. This doesn't need to be one.


Here there be spoylers...