Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Into Darkness - The Descent (2005), An Analysis

Has a song ever followed you around? On the street, in the grocery store, popping up on your iPod? It's happened to me. (thankfully not in a Fallen kind of way... I think) But I've had that recently with Neil Marshall's film The Descent (2005). It's come up in several different ways in conversations with different people. I've only mentioned The Descent in passing on this blog. It's been in the back of my head to do a blog post on it but I never quite got around to it, until now. I was thinking of writing a review of it but the review would have contained three words, "I love it".

The Descent is a dark and thoughtful movie. One that contains one of my favourite horror tropes, where the horror and violence that surrounds the characters is reflection of their inner turmoil (see also: The Shining). It makes the film a human horror and The Descent is one of the best examples of this. The moral fiber of the characters is paramount to the plot and suspense of the film. They (particularly Sarah and Juno) have run from their emotions and responsibility for so long that it is almost a necessity for them to go down into that cave and face themselves and each other.

But before we get too ahead of ourselves, we need a summary. (at least that's what my TAs kept telling me) A year after a tragic accident kills her husband and daughter, Sarah is on a girls trip to do some extreme-spelunking (as you do), bond and try to move on with her life. Once in the cave the "six chicks with picks" realize that all is not what it seems. Their guide and friend Juno has no map, and no idea where they are. What could have been a fun adventure is now a nightmare when the creatures that inhabit the cave come out of the dark and go after the group.

What I noticed on my last viewing of the film was that, in essence, the affair that Sarah's husband has with Juno is what causes the accident and the inevitable horrors that follow. While driving in their car, Sarah asks he husband Paul why he's distant he gently dismisses it and looks at Sarah. At that moment their car crosses the centre line of the road causing that accident that kills him and their daughter. Her husband has risked the stability of their life together (it's heavily hinted at that he would have left Sarah for Juno) and in doing so, literally destroyed his family leaving Sarah in the dark.

Juno mirrors that deceitfulness once they enter the cavern and a pass collapses nearly killing Sarah. It is revealed that they are in an unmarked cave, not the scouted cave that Juno had said she was taking them to. Juno sees it as an act of independence while Beth (the voice of reason), correctly asserts, "this is not caving, this is an ego-trip." By leading with her ego and planning a trip based on falsities, Juno has bound the group's fate together. Their own individual goodness or humility cannot save them. They are the walking dead.

It is that same ego and pride that leads to the downfall of the first victim. Holly who possess a similar bravado to Juno panics and barges blindly forward thinking she see light but falls down a hole and badly breaks her leg. While the group works to repair it and get out of there together they are attacked by the Crawlers for the first time. Holly is taken and eaten. During that attack, the group is fractured as they run off in the dark in smaller groups. Juno, who is now keeping her pick axe handy, accidently kills Beth while trying to save Holly. Even as Beth begs Juno not to leave her, Juno slinks into the darkness, hoping that this in no way will come back to haunt her. Beth is a tragic victim of circumstance. Her death is a bitter pill to swallow for the audience. But it is her death that pays off later when Sarah discovers her and Beth manages to show her the necklace that she pulled off Juno proving an affair between Juno and Sarah's husband.

Juno's accidental fatal wounding of Beth is a turning point in the film where their objective of getting out of the cave becomes secondary to surviving amongst the Crawlers. For us as the audience, we know that these women can no longer trust each other. Whether accidentally or intentionally, it's every (wo)man for themselves.

As much as The Descent embraces the dynamics of having an ensemble cast, it is very much Sarah's story. It is the accident at the beginning that binds Juno and Sarah together in ways they don't understand until the end. The most interesting realization of Sarah, to me, is the deviations in the ending. In the original ending, Sarah is by herself, a Final Girl if you will, staring into a cavern but seeing her daughter. She has succumb to her own mind rather than free herself from it. In a way, that is almost a happy ending because she is allowed once everyone else pressuring her to move on, is removed. In the "American" ending, Sarah escapes the cave, makes her way back to the car only to encounter the ghost of Juno. It is a fitting ending since to survive Sarah has had to develop her own ego and injured Juno enough before leaving that she would almost certainly be dead at the hands of the Crawlers. It is an out of character move for Sarah but based on what we as an audience have witness, we're primed to cheer her on. But in doing so, Sarah is no longer morally pure so to speak. She has committed an unthinkable act and will be haunted by it for the rest of her life.

If you remove the cave and the Crawlers from the movie you a solid human drama, but the inclusion of all the horror ratchets up the intensity and the stakes. The Descent is a brilliantly entertaining movie, one that complicated our own views of morality and right and wrong. One that makes you question your own motives and intentions and in doing so becomes one of the most humanist films in recent memory.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Throw Mama (2013) From the Train

I think Sinister (2012) taught me a valuable lesson of not building up a film too much in my head. If I go in expecting nothing then I'm less likely to be disappointed and maybe even enjoy it a bit more. So going into the movie theatre Monday night with my friend I expect a fun if flawed ghost-y story. And boy, oh, boy did Mama not disappoint, but not in the traditional way. Mama is a few tonal shifts away from being a Kids in the Hall sketch. Based on the short film Mama, the original filmmakers struggle to turn it into a 100 minute filmic adventure until the last 15 minutes. But let's not get a head of ourselves.

Mama opens with a news report about the economic collapse a few years ago (you can almost hear the filmmakers screaming WE'RE RELEVANT!! from the audience) and a banker type kills his wife and drives his two young (and impossibly cute) daughters to the woods where they stumble on a cabin. The father is about to shoot one of them because, y'know... and an unseen force or entity kills him. Cut to a few years later and the guy's brother Luke is still looking for his nieces. He's dating Annabelle who sneaks in the fact that she doesn't want kids into every sentence. They find the girls in the cabin in the woods and they bring them back to the city be rehabilitated. Luke and Annabelle take them in but this Mama ghost is still following them around, hanging out in the closet, playing with them, giving them a sense of comfort. She's basically a creepy babysitter until the ghost goes all, I won't be ignored and sends Luke into a coma leaving Annabelle to fend for herself.


Then the girls start to like Annabelle and then Mama gets pissed, apparently possesses their aunt who drives them (I think, this part is really poorly explained) back to the cabin then Mama is about jump off a cliff with the two girls. But Annabelle and Luke (oh yeah, his coma got better) show up and the older girl is all like, no I love them!! And Mama gets pissed, there's a lot of hand to hand combat with the ghost (yup) and then Mama takes the younger girl and they jump off the cliff together and turn into butterflies. Mother-fucking-butterflies. I wish so much there has been an additional scene at the end where Annabelle and Luke had to explain what happened to the younger girl to Family Services. There's also a plot with Daniel Kash who's the girls' psychiatrist. He figures out that Mama is the ghost of a crazy lady from the 1800s. He dies because Mama punches him really hard... or something.

My biggest problem with Mama is why did no one hit her with a bat? Or a chair? Or punch her? It didn't make any goddamn sense. And I kept thinking of this scene.

While I don't advocate physical violence they just needed to explain it. To wit:

LUKE: Why didn't you just hit her in the last scene?

ANNABELLE: It's like a strip club Luke. She can touch us but we can't touch her.

See? Bam! Explained!

Mama is an exercise in waste talented. Director Andres Muschietti creates some really inventive set ups but there's a lot of slack in the film. 80% of it is jump scares, 10% slow moving tracking shots and 10% bat-shit stupid plot. Go back to the original short and save yourself an evening. You can use your newly freed time to see your family, or something.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Based on a True Story - Horror Documentaries

I loves me a good documentary. And as I'm sure you've guessed from this blog I also have a passing interest horror films. So what could be better than a horror documentary?! Nothing. The answer is nothing.

There are a few superb entries that I want to tackle. Some more famous than others but they all deserve a watch. They are fascinating portraits of the film industry and the people who create the things that go bump in the night.

Never Sleep Again: The Nightmare On Elm Street Legacy (2010)

I bought this before I'd seen it and it currently my most borrowed DVD.When I initially tell people about this documentary their eyes glaze over as I extol the virtues of a 4+ hour documentary about the Nightmare on Elm Street Series. But after about 30 minutes they're sucked into the details and unbelievable story about how New Line Studios churned our movie after movie.  It's a fantastic look at one of the most successful franchises ever and the people who sold their souls to make it that big.

Nightmare Factory (2011)

A look behind the scenes of one of the biggest special effects companies out there, KNB Effects. From their beginning working on Evil Dead 2 (1987) they have grown by leaps and bounds working with everyone from Frank Darabont to Quentin Tarantino. It's a in depth look at the changes the film industry has adopted in the past few decades from technological advances to the reliance on CGI..

Zombie Girl (2009)

I think this is one of the sweetest documentaries I've ever seen. Zombie Girl follows Emily Hagins, a 12 year old set on making her first zombie film. Filled with the trial and tribulations of a Judy Blume novel, the film is a great look at the questions that surround the desire to make and tell stories.

Best Worst Movie (2009)

A documentary about the enduring legacy of Troll 2 (1990) this film veers between see it to believe it type stuff and the sad life of the American Dream. While all those involved with Troll 2 limped away from the disaster of a film, through midnight screenings and a VHS audience Troll 2 took on a life of its own. The sad part of the documentary is where some of the actors have found themselves. While some enjoy the notoriety it has given them, other are shells of their former selves. Which is I guess the effect of a troll.

Fear in the Dark (1991)

The oldest documentary on this list is a little basic but comes at an interesting time in the horror genre. The early 90s a strange time for horror movies as there wasn't a huge trend. There were some great movies made, but none really and truly stuck in the public's consciousness like say The Exorcist or Scream. Fear in the Dark is a great refresher on what has come before contemporary horror.

Friday, January 11, 2013

I Could Never Be Your Woman

Horror films are like a boxing ring for gender issues. Put someone's life in peril and generally you'll see some true colours come shining through. Gender in horror has inspired numerous tropes, books, university level classes and lots of bar fights. (ok, some bar fights... OK, my bar fights)  Pushing people to extremes is one of my favourite things about horror. We're forced to confront some not so nice truths about ourselves and for that, we're something slapped in the face by honesty. But honesty is not for everyone.

Lesson #1 You shouldn't have to change yourself to be with them. Get some goddamn sunscreen.
I think most people are pretty comatose when it comes to going after what they want. They'll stay in so-so or unhappy relationships, content on never reaching above the status quo because the status quo is comfortable. It's easy, you know it, you can wear your sweat pants around it. But frankly, lots of people should get the hell out of certain relationships before the zombie/werewolf/ghost attack. Don't you want to spend your last moments with someone you actually like? Here are some couples that should have called it quits before the last reel.

Wendy & Jack - The Shining (1980)

Lesson #2 Do the exact opposite of what these people do.
This is the quintessential "if he loved you, he wouldn't treat you like that" kind of relationships. Sometimes it takes going to a scary ass hotel to know that your husband is a dick and/or susceptible to ghosts. Either way, you don't need Dr. Phil to tell you to get the hell out. 

Kristen & James - The Strangers (2008)

Lesson #3 Don't be a gun nut.
While Kristen and James are well intentioned, they're simply not meant for each other. After rejecting his proposal, he still goes and buys her cigarettes. Get a back bone, man.

Tina & Rod - Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Lessons #4 Always keep a broom handy to pry loved ones off the ceiling.
 Tina and Rod are just two crazy, sad kids. Both from broken homes, no one really believes them when they say some guy is after them in their dreams. When you're in a relationship, at least one of you needs to yield some credibility. 

Chris & Billy - Carrie (1977)
Lessons # 5 Get different hairstyles.
 Look, assholes deserve assholes but Billy and Chris just enable each other. It's like a weird gross snake of slapping, animal blood and oral sex. 

Jess & Peter - Black Christmas (1974)

Lesson # 6 Tell me where I can get that beret. 
Man alive these two should not be together. No one could realistically be with someone who's ego is as big as Peter's. Between the grand piano smashing, the insistence on marriage Peter's just a big bag of crazy. 

Julia & Frank - Hellraiser (1987)

Lesson #7 Get a hobby that isn't your undead lover.
These two almost deserve each other and if it wasn't for the fact for the fact that so many people have to be killed/eaten/skinned for them to be together I'd be all over these two as the first couple of horror. Despite the deaths they also screw each other over in the end. And what's a relationship without trust?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Trailer Review: Evil Dead (2013)

I know mine will hardly be the first to be talking about the pomp and circumstance of the new red band trailer for the Evil Dead remake, but mine is not a high horse. And I went through a sparkly rainbow of emotions as I watched it. While I'm sure there will be much better analysis of what the hell is going on in this thing, I thought I'd take the media machine behind the film up on its offer to document my reactions.

Firstly, what dim-witted sad-sack is going to take this film company up on taping themselves while watching the trailer? WHO? No, really, I want names. Frankly, this whole concept grossed me out. It follows on the footsteps of Lovely Molly and The Devil Inside by putting a website above the creative content of the film. I was pretty turned off when, at the end of Lovely Molly, the first credit is a website address. The Devil Inside doesn't even have an ending, it has a website. I believe you make a film to tell a story. Really, any story your heart desires. But then to add on this kind of additional content well... it's a bit much. I understand the want and need to create a community and I think that's one of the wonderful things about the internet. But this media-force-fed BS has got to stop. It's pandering and gross. Stop it.

Anyway, on to the show. We open on a creepy cottage with rain. I like this. It's similar enough to my beloved original but in the Rob Zombie/Christopher Nolan era of remakes it's basically understood that you have to go darker or there's no point, right? Right. Then we've got an actress begging to be taken away from the cottage which takes forever because she's enounciating very goddamn letter. Listen lady, if you want to get taken out of there, tell them it's that time of the month and you're out of tampons. Guys will practically whisk you out of that cabin tout suite.

Now the Necronomicon. I really like this new version of the book, wrapped in what looks like a garbage bag and with "leave this book alone" scrawled on it, it's appropriately creepy and enticing. We're then cutting back and forth between some nerd reading through the book and the girl we saw previously getting chased through the woods by the some unseen force. I really like the look of these shots. They are gray and drizzly, giving it a nice atmosphere without hitting you over the head with it. It won't top the smoke machines of the original, but hey, what will?

Then forest-running lady (run, Forrest, run!) gets really extra super possessed and there appears to be some possibly very cool practical effects and some great makeup work. The sense I get is they're using more practical effects than CGI which would be a much welcome palate cleanser. Then she attacks her friends, they all start getting sort of possessed and going generally cray-cray.

Then there are lots of cuts. Hundreds, possibly thousands of cuts basically showcasing the gore which looks rightfully excessive and bloody. They also take this opportunity to incorporate some of our favourite scenes from the original; hands being cuts off, decapitated heads taunting you, the usual.

Overall, it's a pretty decent trailer and enough to peak any horror fans interest. Hopefully the same can be said of the completed film.