Thursday, September 27, 2012

Maybe a dingo ate your baby.

After attractive young women, children are the most likely victims in a horror film. Their innocence is just too tempting for evil to pass up. Often in horror films children aren't brutally murdered, they're ... changed. Evil-y changed. Last night I watched The New Daughter (2009) starring Kevin Costner which  I thought would be a silly movie but I actually genuinely enjoyed it. Like most child-in-horror films The New Daughter begins with a family split and a child acting out of the ordinary. The parent(s) initially chalk it up to a reaction to change but lo and behold it is much more sinister than that.

It is nearly always possession because there is nothing more jarring than an innocent becoming not innocent. Perhaps it is the reflex of our own neurosis that a child that is full of potential can be taken and turned to evil with little or no notice.Often times these "transgressive" possessions have to do with a re-population or a new evil being brought into the world (see The Last Exorcism) which seems inherent in the possession of a young girl as they physically ready to be mothers.For instance in The New Daughter, the evil forces at work are an ancient form of deity that lives in a kind of ant mount and takes young human girls to procreate. Sexuality is a kind of taboo subject (I find anyway) to deal with in these kinds of films. The New Daughter hints at this in some subtle yet provocative ways which I find intriguing because sexuality is a big step in any young person's life and then gaining acceptance for being a sexual person is an entirely different story. We have glimpse of this in The Exorcist as well when Regan gets friendly in with a crucifix and in a different way in Orphan. The notion of a person who is still a child being sexual is one of the most jarring and complicated issues that the first world deals with. Horror in particular deals with sexuality as a kind of fever that comes over people (I thinking specifically of the attempted date-rape in The Craft). In fact a lot of transgressive behavior in horror films comes as a reaction to the society we live in and having to conform and is there a more primal urge than that to procreate?

Your other form of evil comes in spawn of the Devil most famously depicted in The Omen and Rosemary's Baby. This is interesting because for most parents their child is their world, in these cases their child will end the world. In both films it's a struggle to deal with the concept and to finally (cough Gregory Peck cough) act on it. Lord knows a cute child actor saying Mommy or Daddy would melt even the blackest heart but we must stay strong ... otherwise that child might one day be Sam Neil and run for office.

I think the most enigmatic form of child possession is the just-to-fuck with you and your faith kind. We saw this most recently in the aptly titled The Possession and it is most famously in The Exorcist. A demon takes hold of a child and turns them into a strap 'em down and get some holy water kind of demon. This is the purest form of child possession in films because it plays off of their inherent innocence and turns them into beings capable of harm and peeing on carpets. They are taking the notion of your bright, friendly child becoming a sullen teenage and turning it into a morality tale. A "real-life" demon could be drugs, alcohol or sex. At some point parents stop knowing what their child is doing all the time which is the real worry.

And finally (in my estimation anyway) we have a sins-of-the-father possession. I think this is most clearly shown in Pet Sematary where the father's negligence is visited upon him when his dead infant son comes back to life. Moreover, in this context you could take it to mean the Founding Fathers as well with the ancient Indian burial ground playing a central role in this film.

Children are a great way to emphasize sin mainly because they are a reflection of ourselves. They offer up a clear and concise version of what kind of parent you are. And having to face yourself can be the scariest thing of all.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Is Resident Evil 5 an "Anti-Film"?

Film -1. (Performing Arts)
          a.  a sequence of images of moving objects photographed by a camera and providing optical illusion of continuous movement when projected onto a screen
          b.  a form of entertainment, information, etc., composed of such a sequence of images and        shown in a cinema, etc. (Source)

I have had a long hard think about this definition in relation to the film I saw last night, Resident Evil 5: Retribution. I do not think what I saw last night could be classified as a film. I don't know if anyone would want to. It seems to have created some kind of Donnie Darko-esque portal of multi-level, multi-media influenced genre tropes presented side by side but bearing no relation to each other. RE 5 is purporting to be a film but may be the furthest thing from it. Even though it uses the same technology as every other film out there to ensure its creation it is unable to deliver on the most basic principle of film (to me anyway), story telling. This is not a review of RE 5, this is a discussion whether or not this can be considered a film and whether or not its classification as a "genre film" makes allowances for its discrepancies. I am not saying RE 5 is good or bad, I honestly couldn't tell you that because I am still trying to figure out what I just watched. (though if you'd like some reviews you can find them here)

Reisdent Evil: Retribution picks up where the 4th one left off with Alice (Milla "Leeloo" Jovovich) being captured by the Umbrella Corporation and held in their super big evil building of evil. (they mention something about it being their official headquarters but even that I'm unclear about) She is semi-interrogated by Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory whom we haven't seen since RE 2) who has been brainwashed and is now working for Umbrella.  And by "semi-interrogated" I mean, asked random questions which Umbrella should really know about by now. She is then freed by Albert Wesker who she tried to kill in RE 4 and Ada Wong (Li Bingbing, which is the best name ever). Ada, wearing a cocktail dress, informs Alice they are to rendez-vous with a team sent in to help them get out of the compound but they have to make it through several "environments" which Umbrella uses to test the effects of the bio-hazard. Ada, still wearing a cocktail dress, reveals that the zombie-outbreak virus was actually bought and sold to various countries which is how it spread. It was the Cold War without nuclear weapons. RE 5 then splits into two stories as it follows Alice and Ada as they try to make it to the exit and the group of men who are sent in to help them. The audience encounters several actors who have made previous appearances in the RE films which is explained as the effects of cloning (a topic touched on in RE 3). Oh, and there is a kid in it that thinks Alice is her mom because her mom in a simulation environment was Alice. They eventually make it out of the facility and are taken to Wesker who is kind of sort of a good guy and now occupies the White House. He restores Alice's powers that he took from her in RE 4 and then tells her this is humanities' last stand and they will fight ... or something. The camera zooms out of the compound to reveal a dystopian world that would Mad Max shit his pants and the screen fades to black.

I may have actually read too much into the film based on the above description because as you watch the film it doesn't make that much sense. Practically every element from the previous films in the series are brought back for at least a line of dialogue or a glimpse of something familiar which takes up a surprising amount of time. They also add in new elements like (I think, I never really got a good look at them) Nazi zombies who are capable of driving cars and shooting guns. The women teetering around in heels and all the men seem to have clip in bangs.  There is no recognizable human trait in any of these people. 

So, if film is presenting a stream of images that when projected correctly produce a continuous narrative (and I mean narrative in a very, very, VERY general sense of the word) is RE 5 a film? I can't say that it is. The way characters enter and exit scenes makes no sense. The film tropes (such as mapping, computer displays and x-rays) are random and haphazard. The narrative thrust is non-existent. If I were to break down RE 5 into playable objectives it would be to get out of the compound but getting out of the compound yields nothing. We are essentially back where we were at the end of RE 4. 

I can't in good conscious say that Resident Evil: Retribution is a film. Nothing is truly lost and nothing is gained. I do not honestly believe that any scenes made sense next to each other. Even within scenes there are vast differences in logic and sense.The most telling example is this; Alice is in many fights and in one scene she is walking down a hallway by herself, feels pain, touches her side to reveal that she is bleeding. I do not know how she got injured. It is not explained nor is it of consequence. Twenty minutes later, the same thing happens. She feels pain, touches blood that is apparently coming from her body and keeps going. Oh, and then someone get punched so hard their heart stops.

You could always argue that RE 5 is a film. Many, many, many short films. Such as previously mentioned scene would be the story of a woman walking down a hall. But that's a stupid movie, therefore a stupid argument. For a film with a reasonable budget it should be able to produce reasonable results. 

And just as RE 5 isn't a film, this is not a review. I could not tell you whether I enjoyed it or not. It was like a bizarre fever dream of fast moving images with limited consequence that simply happened to me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

There's An App For That - The Possession (2012)

I had blue balls for The Possession. A deep longing that I was sure would be assuaged once I settled in to the cheap-y Toronto movie theatre I chose this past sunny Saturday afternoon. I was sure that I would be cowering in my seat, my popcorn would fly everywhere and my fear vomit would coat the aisles. But alas, my metaphorical balls remained metaphorically blue.

Why was I so excited? Well, a Mr. Sam Rami produced the damn thing and it was based on a true story. A story so true that the main prop in the film supposedly caused all the events that the movie was based on. Would there be demon water mark on the film? When and where would Ted Rami pop up? And where oh, where is Jeffery Dean Morgan's boomstick?! But no, it was a dull, lifeless shell of a film with no true scares. The film begins with the end of a marriage, Clyde Jeffery Dean Morgan) and Stephanie (Kyra Sedgewick) have split up (something to do with shoes I think) and their daughters are caught in the middle. To appease his daughters and win them over, Clyde buys his youngest a wooden box that she finds at a garage sale. Now, I'm not a child of divorce but I can tell you, if my parents had let me buy a wooden box I would have thrown it at them. Buy a puppy. Jeez. Anyway, there's a demon in the box that possesses the daughter... or just makes her gassy, there just seemed to be a bunch of wind whenever she was evil. They all start believing that she's really possessed so they get Matisyahu (yes, this Matisyahu) to get the demon back in the box.

The film is in fact so simple that I was distracted by the amount of Apple products in the film. In fact, during one of the last sequences in the film, Clyde uses the Flashlight app on his iPhone. In fact, everything in this film seems to be solved so simply that the only oddly complicated thing is that Clyde can't get his emails to stop going to his ex-wife's computer. A deficiency I chalk up to demon input.

There are decent performances and it is beautifully shot, but nothing really adds up. Characters go missing, the "powers" are all over the place and the biggest difference everyone is talking about is that it is a Jewish demon rather than a Christian demon. Yes, the Dybbuk is back from The Unborn to be ever so slightly different from Pazuzu. Frankly there isn't a whole lot of difference. None that I could sense anyway because the film spends so much time on lame jump scares (this coming from someone whole loooooooooves a good jump scare) that the story is thread bare.

The "actual" true story in as much as I can piece together is that the box (the same used in the film) was repeatedly bought and sold on eBay. Each owner claiming supernatural events accompanied the box. Every time the box was sold, it went for a higher price. Which, I think, would make a far more interesting movie than what The Possession actually is. 

I will admit that I'm happy to see the "well-made" horror film making a return. Several upcoming films (such as Sinister) are dropping tiresome gimmicks and trying to focus on a classically made, effectively scare film. Unfortunately the Possession is a retread of everything that has come before it. It's The Exorcist if Regan's dad had been overbearing, it's The Grudge if Japanese ghosts watched It's A Wonderful Life, it's The Evil Dead if it hadn't been awesome. The Possession is a stylishly made, soulless film which despite it's gassy demon and inclusion of a Jewish reggae hip-hop star, never manages to have any fun.