Thursday, October 25, 2012

The 2012 Horror Digest, Part 3: Twixts and Turns

The Tall Man

(Why does it feel like half of the pictures I select for this feature are people lying down and looking upset?)

You can catch this one on Netflix Instant, and it's quite the strange movie (if not often troubled), so I would recommend it.

The Tall Man is the most recent of Jessica Biel's many, many, many feints at serious acting, and to her credit, she is very good in it. The role is a challenging and unhinged one, and a committed performance is required for the film's insane plot to actually work. She doesn't fail director Pascal Laugier, best known for the absolutely fucked-up Martyrs, but his continued commitment to the horror genre does. The Tall Man has a complex, unpredictable plot, which makes for a pretty delightful first hour. Unfortunately, certain efforts must be made to keep the film planted in the realm of horror, which means preserving its titular "tall man" conceit and thus obscuring important details until much later in the story. Events unwind in a very confusing fashion, and though it did keep me guessing, eventually all the guessing led to frustration. The mysteries just weren't paying off with enough frequency or quality to justify all of the narrative face-heel turns. As the movie finally morphs from a kidnapping horror film into a social polemic, any sense of rhythm or clarity is lost, and you're left with little more than an awesomely feverish Biel monologue and a really pretentious ending. It crumbles under its own weight pretty spectacularly, but it is unique and impressive in its own strange ways. C+


Why are Japanese movie posters always so awesome? I don't know what it is. Maybe I'm just a sucker for pink fonts and girls looking wistful. Anyway, I used this image because a) the poster is cool and b) the movie is visually a complete piece of dogshit, which is horrifying because FRANCIS FORD FUCKING COPPOLA directed it. You know, the guy responsible for a few Godfathers. Apocalypse Now. Dracula, if you're into the whole "style over substance" dealio. But one must remember that Coppola's done some serious garbage, and he's hit an especially awful slump lately, of which Twixt is the absolute nadir. The man seems to have forgotten everything he's ever known about lighting, framing, editing, and cinematography in general. Shot on dirt-cheap digital near Coppola's house, the movie looks about six million dollars shabbier than its $7 million budget, almost to the point of unwatchability. If that doesn't kill it enough for you, please also note: the atrocious acting, led by an obese ponytailed frog that bears a suspicious similarity to Val Kilmer; the senseless editing; the complete lack of scares; the lousy goofy plot, limned with a dash of autobiographical detail that's somehow meant to justify all the cheeky self-reflexivity; and an ending that renders the whole bloody affair a wash. Occasionally the movie actually looks kind of cool in still shot, and you remember why Coppola became successful in the first place, but it left me wondering why he didn't just make a graphic novel out of his dream-inspired ideas and call it quits. This is just an embarrassment, a further sullying of an already questionable auteurial empire. D

Silent House

Cheers to Elizabeth Olsen, whose meteoric rise to critical fawning is entirely deserved. Getting all of this right in "one take," which is actually anywhere between three and seven takes poorly disguised as one, surely took an enormous amount of focus. Even aside from the fact that she pulls off a fairly lofty technical feat, she's also excellent in her own right, expertly conveying delirious fear. Shame about what she's stranded in. The setting, which we're led to believe is important because it's the name of the fucking movie, is treated like dirt by Silent House's all-in-one-shot concept. An intuitive sense of space is never established, which undoes the movie on a plethora of levels. The scares are sluggish because the camera, without the benefit of editing, rarely moves quickly enough to capture a sense of energy, and Olsen often finds herself moving awkwardly to accommodate the cameraman, like closing the door slowly enough to let him in even though she's being chased. Olsen's performance is also threatened by both her costars, who are uniformly amateurish and clearly uncomfortable, and the ridiculous ending, where even her unerring commitment wobbles a little bit. There's a great deal of compositional accomplishment to be admired here, but it's ultimately a gimmick and it doesn't work and that buries Silent House right out of the gate. C-

Killer Joe

Okay, this isn't a horror movie, but it's liable to make you feel more nauseated than anything else on this list. William Friedkin has a gift for tactical provocation, which he brings out in rare form in Killer Joe. A trailer park Greek tragedy, no man, woman or child escapes Matthew McConaughey's dark grasp unscathed. The film is a torrid NC-17 trip into a family conspiring to kill their estranged mother for her $50,000 insurance premium, all with the help of crooked cop Joe Cooper, and naturally things don't go exactly as planned. It plays out like a morbidly violent, sexual Coen Brothers film, although it trades in their dry ingenuity for a dollop of unashamed trashiness. Killer Joe is a heap of raunchy trash given shape by both an expert filmmaker, whose lensing is thoughtful and gritty, and his universally stellar cast. This makes a hell of a one-two punch for McConaughey, who exploits a sort of warped charisma that we saw only in small doses in Magic Mike but which he plays to the nasty hilt here; Juno Temple, playing opposite him, is also hypnotically good as a sort of spaced-out Lolita. There are certain suggestions of seriousness here, a department where the film doesn't particularly excel; it's at its best when it's reveling in gnarly grodiness, rather than affecting depth with cryptic conversations. Too much joy, though, and the film would have pushed too far across the already dizzyingly thin line between exploitation and pitch-black humor. It's a tough watch, but worth it to watch an actor of disposable beefcake status like McConaughey plumb through some seriously dark material. B

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