Concise Review: The Quiet Ones (2014)

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The Quiet Ones is a frustrating if at times intelligent, fascinating and ultimately sly picture. It primarily impresses as being a period found footage film. The camera moves that come in the form of academy aspect ratio have this great grainy, desaturated look that gives the film its creepy edge. Additionally, the film proudly steeps itself in the canon of Hammer Horror films. For example, the central character Professor Joseph Coupland feels like he is in the same vein as Van Helsing and Nicholas, Duc de Richleau. These are characters who have a fundamental mad obsession with their pursuits, whatever the means or cost of them. Jared Harris plays Coupland with enough understated menace to prevent him from being a one-note figure.

Finally, the film’s slyness is amusing. References to the Exorcist and The Grudge give the film an odd self-knowing edge that is appreciated even if it does occasionally undermine the period proceedings. Aside from that, the film proves to be a disappointing mess. The premise is intriguing, however, for all the scientific and psychological reasons that are given for Jane’s behaviour, these ultimately prove to be foolhardy. The lasting explanation did not have any build up and it made the entire film lose the intelligence that it once possessed. As a result, the Quiet Ones turned into a generic, twisty, jack in the box affair that while appealing to aficionados of Hammer Horror films may disappoint general audiences.

Concise Review: Reservoir Dogs (1992)

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At his best Quentin Tarantino provides fascinating interpretations of schlocky and often overlooked genre fare. No where is this more apparent than in his 1992 directorial debut, Reservoir Dogs. The premise of the picture suggests that it is a heist film. However, it plays like a trashy exploitation film combined with the depth and richness of an engrossing crime drama. The genre synthesis is rewarding as it gives rise to an interesting theme that Tarantino revisits through the course of his career.

Tarantino loves grappling with the idea of people taking on a persona. Essentially, the film is a meditation on the nature of how one acts during a crime. All the characters are assigned code names while additionally being provided with strict instructions on their conduct and what they cannot reveal to their colleagues. Part of the drama and tension comes from how the characters deal with these rules. For example, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) chooses to his disclose his first name to bleeding and close to death Mr. Orange (Tim Roth). Whereas, Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) chooses to stay professional in the face of escalating problems, in the aftermath of the diamond robbery.

The one objection that could be raised against the picture is in its filmmaking. The film can be accused of being stagey, but Tarantino employs interesting uses of close-ups, 360-degree angles shots and scene transitions that counter this potential problem. There is no doubt that the film lives by its screenplay, in a way that few other films do. The coherency of the script is commendable, and its plot developments and twists are sublime. It is a picture that marked a new voice in independent cinema and it remains an important call to arms picture, which reinforces Tarantino’s obsession with the self-constructed and appointed persona.

Concise Review: Battle Royale (2000)

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Battle Royale is a potent, violent and darkly comic cult film that delivers on being an interesting vision of dystopia and an illustration of teenage angst. It is this latter aspect that is the most engaging facet of the picture as it takes normal moments of adolescent and subverts them on a big bloody canvas. As a result, teenage crushes, first loves and instances of excessive bullying are injected with a frighting and tragic edge, which is gut-wrenching and emotionally gripping.

50th Post Special: The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

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SGS On Film has reached fifty posts and to commemorate this minor landmark, I am going to pay tribute to the late great filmmaker, Wes Craven. However, in stark contrast to the usual manner in which I discuss figures in cinema that have recently passed away. I am going to do it through the prism of one film, which, in this case, is apropo as this film encapsulates Craven’s appeal as a writer/director. Additionally, it is a formative picture that cemented my love of the seventies as a decade for horror cinema.

Wes Craven will be remembered for many things. Firstly, he was the creator of the conceptually fascinating childhood monster, Freddy Kruger. Secondly, he was the overseer and instigator of the self- reflexive and snarky horror pictures that primarily resided in the nineties and early twenty-first century, with his Scream series.

While he will be primarily remembered for these two outstanding feats in the horror genre, I shall remember him fondly the most for his 1977 picture, The Hills Have Eyes. The film has a deep intelligence and was the first picture that showed me that horror films can be about something, as opposed to just being mere ninety-minute exercises in unrelenting shocks. The film can be interpreted as being about two things.

Firstly, it showcases the fight between the civilised, which are the Carter family and the uncivilised, which are the feral and caveman looking characters that embody the title of the picture. In this way, the film is a ticking time bomb, where we witness the civilised brought down to their knees and with nothing left but their survival instinct. The true horror of the picture is in the closing moments where we witness Doug Wood mercilessly stab Mars, (the leader of the people in the hills) to death.

Despite, what we might feel about the justification of the killing in the moment, Craven lingers on Wood’s face in the aftermath of the act. It shows utter shock and instant remorse. The film leaves us with the idea that it does not matter how civilised human beings may think they are, this can be easily broken and we can lose that civility and rationality in the face of survival. Thus, this illustrates the fragile nature of man and how we are no different from the people in the hills who already do deprived acts for the sake of living.

On this viewing, I read the film as being a representation of the Vietnam War, which had ended two years earlier in 1975. Craven famously drew upon Vietnam imagery in his earlier film in the decade, The Last House on the Left. I feel that Craven is still grappling with the issues that have to do with the war in this film. Firstly, the parental figures in the film are the first to go, leaving the younger generation to survive and fend for themselves.

To me, this evoked the Draft-card burning protest, which illustrated the younger generation’s disenfranchised attitude with the establishment over the merits of the Vietnam War. Similarly here, the younger members of the Carter family are reluctant inheritors of the situation that are caused by one of their parental figures. Their father did not heed the advice of an old man called Fred, who advised them to stay on the main road, which they do not. Additionally, some of the insane imagery, events and plots points evoke Vietnam in a particularly potent manner. I do acknowledge that this the reading seems to be a foolishly reaching at times, but this is what struck me on this viewing of the picture.

Elsewhere, the craft of the film is impeccable, which results in Craven effectively creating an atmospheric horror film, that scares the audience. Firstly, Craven’s use of the camera results in an ever-present tense environment. Sometimes he shows a usual medium shot that has two characters talking. Then he employs a point of view shot of the people in the hills looking down, which is a terrifying reminder that the Carter family is not alone and that every word and action they make is being watched.

Additionally, the use of sound in the film also contributes to some of the film’s most tense scenes. Most are curiosity of the family dogs, Beauty and Beast, who initially meet the people in the hills. Their barks are a constant reminder of the omnipresent evil that lurks beyond the Carter’s family car. This aspect coupled with Craven’s camera work and methodical pacing, results in one of the best horror films of the 1970s. The film is a testament to Wes Craven, who always imbued his films with an intelligence and a primal edge, which resulted in his themes of dreams, family and vengeance feel eternally potent and horrific.

RIP Wes Craven.

Concise Review: The Rover (2014)

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The Rover is a visually arresting and fascinating illustration of the nature of selfishness and savagery. In his second feature film, David Michôd has shown his true directorial trademark, which is providing a strong microcosm for the characters and the world that they inhabit. Michôd’s bare desert landscape feels like a Western Hobbesian state of nature that forces the weak to survive and the good to be suspicious and trigger ready. At the centre of this harsh picture is Guy Pierce’s Eric, who is a cynical and silent former farmer and soldier. His past has made him into a man who is terrifying for his pent up rage and penchant for violence. It is Pierce’s commendably subtle performance that makes the film truly special as his small moments of regret and empathy contrast with the desolate environment extremely well. It once again shows that Michôd can create a bleak, believable and scary portrait of humanity, which was last seen with Ben Mendelsohn’s performance in the director’s first feature film, Animal Kingdom.