Ring 2

*Originally written in 2004, so apologies for the quality

The fear and utter dread continues in Part Two of the Ringu trilogy, set one week after the events of the first film. The girlfriend of Takayama tries to solve the mystery of his death by finding his ex-wife and son, and in doing so brings herself deeper into Sadako’s life than anyone previously had.

The movie is at times frustrating and confusing, at others ingenious, yet  the scares remain intact. For the first time we get the sense of Sadako as a tragic figure, rather than a relentless spirit with the sole purpose of seeking revenge on everyone. She had been alive down that well for a long time, and seeing the world from her eyes helps us appreciate the build up of rage. While the tension is lessened, the sudden jolt scares are increased – terrifying moments including the well scene at the end, one involving a mirror, and a scene with a treacherous journalist. Again the acting is flawless, but the most interesting part for me was the fact that minor characters from the first film get the top billing here.

The film is let down by its confusing explanation of the curse and how to stop it, or harness it, but this is a minor flaw. When you feel your stomach turning inside out, your breath catching in your throat as Sadako floats past doors, you know you’re watching an excellent horror movie. And when you turn off the lights, and imagine those nail-less fingers stretching for your ankles, you know you won’t be able to sleep easily for a while.

You Were Never Really Here

There’s so much to love and admire in You Were Never Really Here and it’s a film I dearly wanted to love. Unfortunately it suffers from one of my pet peeves in modern film-making – a lack of volume control. Now, after watching this I realized that this partly may be a problem with my TV set up, but I watched via TV and on my Kindle and the same issue occurred. After a bit of tinkering I was able to make things better, but the damage was already done. What is this problem I speak of? Essentially, the soundtrack is too loud, but the vocal mix is too low. What this means is that I’m constantly turning down the volume when the music is playing only to frantically turn it up for the dialogue, completely taking me out of the experience.

It’s a pity, because if this hadn’t been an issue for me then this would likely be one of my favourites of the year. There are few better visionary directors working today than Lynne Ramsay and here she is partnered with a rejuvenated Joaquin Phoenix. The film frequently looks spectacular, Ramsay’s visuals and the jarring editing and directing interweaving wonderfully with Jonny Greenwood’s superb score. On the surface, it’s another one of ‘those’ films – a guy with a gun goes through a bunch of bad guys to save an innocent soul, but in truth it isn’t really interested in the violence or the action, nor is it even really interested in the plot. The plot is simple to the point of irrelevance – Joe is a killer who specializes in saving kids. He is tasked with saving the daughter of a politician who has somehow been sucked into a child sex ring. Those in charge of the sex ring fight back. That’s it, a story you’ll see three times this year in Liam Neeson movies alone.

For Ramsay, it’s an excuse to peel back Joe’s damaged brain and see what’s inside, a soldier suffering from a life of abuse and bad shit – PTSD from warzones and a violent, abusive upbringing have turned him into a suicide fantasist whose dreams, reality, and flashbacks all wrestle for control. Normally these characterizations would lead to hackneyed scenes where the audience isn’t clear what is real and what is not, and while there is a touch of this to what Ramsay does, the more sudden and quick outbursts are more obvious to the viewer, giving us a greater impression of the level of breakage within Joe. The only other character worth speaking of is Joe’s Mother played by Judith Roberts (who somehow at 80-something years old is more beautiful than almost any other woman you’ll see on screen this year, apologies but it’s something I kept thinking while watching), who needs help with even the most simple task and is seemingly the only thing keeping Joe breathing. Nina, the girl Joe is tasked with rescuing, is nothing more than a maguffin – a blank canvas who is apparently so numb to the point that she doesn’t care if she is rescued or if the people around her are killed.

The violence in You Were Never Really Here is never front and centre – in fact much of it is off-screen or viewed at a glance. There’s a scene right at the end which could be shocking for some – I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you feel its resolution was a cop-out or not, but either way you get the impression that the future will not be as beautiful as the day Joe and Nina comment on. It’s another notch for Ramsay, but for me she hasn’t made the film which will define her and allow her to reach her full potential.

The Night Eats The World

Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is my favourite book of all time. Beyond its influence on horror (no I Am Legend, then no Night Of The Living Dead, no Stephen King, and nothing which either of those two examples have influenced) it remains a stone-cold classic, chilling, prescient, written with a surgeon’s precision and nerve, and it is filled with horror, humour, despair, and acceptance in defeat. It’s so rarely included on any best books of the 20th Century lists as to render those lists worthless. Aside from the many films, TV shows, and books which it has spawned, there have been a few direct or pseudo direct adaptations – The Last Man, The Omega Man, and Will Smith’s I Am Legend. None of those are worth watching more than once, and none come close to the majesty of Matheson’s original. Although it is completely unofficial and not mentioned anywhere as being an influence, The Night Eats The World is the best film version of Matheson’s story we have so far. Interestingly, the movie is in fact an adaptation of a different book by Pit Agarmen/Martin Page which I have not yet read but almost certainly borrows from Matheson.

Just to expand further on that point – both works see a man left seemingly alone in the world, surrounded by the undead. In I Am Legend they are vampires, and here they are zombies, but they are fairly interchangeable – all they want is to kill the lone survivor. The survivor in each spends his days barricading himself up, scavenging for food and supplies, keeping fit, and trying to not go insane. I Am Legend has a dog, The Night Eats The World has a cat. Both are character studies on the nature and notion of survival, on humanity, on loneliness, and while Matheson goes all in on the scientific side, here director Dominique Rocher is more concerned with philosophy, with tone, with cinema. Both works discuss whether the human is now useless – a soon to be extinct relic no longer required by nature and that the undead are the new normal. Our hero in the movie, Sam, discusses this as he descends into madness with a zombie named Alfred which he traps in a lift shaft. Those viewers looking for a straight horror movie may want to look elsewhere because while there are scares – effective ones – this is not supposed to be a visceral experience and instead is a rumination on existence when there seems to be no future – an idea so horrifying you’d struggle to name one worse.

Sam is a musician living in Paris. The film begins with him visiting an ex-girlfriend to pick up some of his recorded pieces of music. Unaware that she is having a monumental party in her apartment block he struggles with the pretentious people, the strangers, the crowds, and the sheer awkwardness of being there. With little to no dialogue or interaction we are put firmly in his shoes and know pretty much everything we need to know about him. A series of unfortunate events lead to Sam falling asleep in a locked room while the camera slowly zooms towards the door as familiar sounds of carnage erupt briefly. The next morning Sam wakes, finds the apartment empty but destroyed and filled with blood. He meets his zombified ex-girlfriend, locks himself away, and soon discovers that some cataclysmic event has unfolded leaving him abandoned an alone. Cultured viewers already know the zombie tropes, so the film doesn’t need to bore us with explanations or examples of how you’re turned, how to kill them, et cetera, and Sam simply resigns himself to the facts. He is alone, he needs food, he needs water, he needs shelter. The rest of the film is a showcase for these struggles, but more importantly what to do with his time and with his existence once these struggles have been overcome.

Sam is as uncomfortable with people as he is without. His descent towards insanity is gradual, shown in clever ways such as terrifying nightmares, possible hallucinations, definite hallucinations, and other subtle and not so subtle changes in his personality and actions. I’ve often wondered how I would cope under the same strains. Part of me thinks I would have the time of my life – free to do whatever I wanted and perfectly fine with never meeting another living soul again. Then again, that was before I had a family. And I’m essentially useless at DIY, cooking, farming, and anything else needed for surviving under these conditions. And most of the things I’d want to do would be rendered obsolete by the fact that electricity would be gone and a step outside would likely lead to certain death. Like many of its ilk, the film forces these questions and assumptions upon the viewer, though this is the most effective example I’ve seen since Dawn Of The Dead. 

The film is a slow-burner. There is almost no dialogue, and any violence and action when it comes is swift and brief. For me this worked, especially knowing Sam’s character and within the self-defined constrictions of the piece, but I understand that other viewers may get frustrated or even bored by the unfolding story. A few negative reviews have gone so far as calling it dull and a few have been angered by the open-ended conclusion. This isn’t a film which has a beginning and an end. This is a few months in the life of a man trapped and buried by insurmountable odds, and the conclusion is simply one more step – a step towards more of the same, or a step towards whatever is next is down to the viewer to assess. Again, you’ve asked what you would do if faced with the same situation – what would you do faced with the ending?

Anders Danielsen Lie is an up and coming star, with a number of notable releases and performances in this and recent years. The film belongs almost entirely to him and the director, who I can only assume worked closely on most aspects. His performance is gritty and quietly powerful, avoiding many of the usual hallmarks of the ‘guy goes mad’ story. Without becoming too extreme in any single direction, he runs the gamut of emotions and remains convincing throughout. Rocher is surely a name to watch now too, the latest director to wield a more subtle approach to terrifying audiences, and I will be excited to see what her comes up with next. His camera rarely jump-cuts or moves beyond a pedestrian pace and he is more interested in how desolate a room or a city can look than how bloody a person can be when being torn to shreds. The decision to make zombies almost completely silent is more potent than it sounds and leads to some of the more frightening encounters in many years. A strong soundtrack fills out some of the empty spaces and a few supporting characters add to the overall quality and effect. Although I admit to being predisposed to loving this, it is a highly recommended voyage into the horror of solitude. Train To Busan came from nowhere and thrilled audiences and rejuvenated a genre everyone was sick with – The Night Eats The World does the same, but in an entirely different style. In a year where horror saw a number of major financial and critical successes, and in a year where I read countless best movie of the year posts featuring every Superhero movie under the sun, The Night Eats The World is not being discussed by anyone but should be leapfrogging its way onto every series movie fan’s list.

Ring

*Originally written in 2003

Just when horror movies were slipping back towards mediocrity and worse, after the high of Scream and the many lows which followed, Hideo Nakata decided to bring Koji Suzuki’s hit novel to the big screen. The result is the most terrifying movie of the decade, and one of the most chilling movies of all time. Made on a tiny budget the film is relentlessly evil, the tension never gives in, and you will not forget it for the rest of your life. Stylish, borrowing from other films and surpassing them, Ringu is a demon reincarnated as a movie, its effect on us everlasting, ensuring we spread the word…

The film opens with a Scream-like scene and the tension is already high, our wrists put in a deathly grip from the outset. Two teenage girls are discussing a video one of them claims to have seen, saying it is the scariest thing she has ever see. Once you watch it the phone rings, and a voice tells you you will die in seven days. The girl though says she is joking. Then the TV switches itself on and she hears scratching noises. It has been seven days. We cut to a reporter, Reiko Asakawa who is doing a story about the video curse. She investigates some local deaths, including her niece and soon realises that all her niece’s friends are dead too, having watched a mysterious video. Leaving her son behind she goes in search of the video. Eventually she finds it, watches it and answers the ringing phone. Convinced she is going to die she contacts her ex-husband and tries to find a way to save herself. He is not convinced, and watches it as well. However, later that night their son Yoichi also watches, so they all try to solve the curse, uncovering the story of the Yamamuras, in particular – Sadako.

Aside from having one of the most frightening climaxes in movie history, one which the recent remake completely failed to resurrect, there is an eerie atmosphere throughout the film. There are many other moments which add to the atmosphere and build towards the infamous final scare. The last 15 minutes are extremely scary as Reiko and Ryuji search for Sadako and feature some of extremely nail-biting scenes. Everything in the film is designed to unsettle – the unearthly soundtrack reminiscent of Argento and Goblin’s works, the fixed and cornered camera angles so we can never see what is near, the grim surroundings, the complete lack of humour, the use of colour etc. The performances are all very good as well, Nanako Matsushima as Reiko swiftly moves from confident to frantic wreck, and exudes every possible emotion. Hiroyuki Sanada is extremely strong, slowly coming to realise the truth, conveying guilt over his son and remaining both mysterious and strong when his ex-wife gives up. His final scene is perfectly acted, heightening the overall effect. Rikiya Otaka as Yoichi manages to be creepy, but his role becomes more central in the second film. The rest of the cast are all immensely good. The inclusion of the timer is also highly effective, ensuring the tension rises as we know time is running out.

Of course the film has its flaws. Some people will be put off by the slow nature. Some people will feel the need to have every question answered, and Ringu leaves many unanswered – that is the point. If we were in this situation we would be looking for answers – anything to help us, to relieve the fear, something real to hold on to, but nothing is given. As we are left wondering, the film will stay with us, continuing to haunt us over time, ensuring we do not escape the ring. As it was adapted from a novel, certain inherent difficulties arise. In the novel it is a man who is the reporter, his wife is barely around, and his near-sadist friend takes up the Ryuji role, hoping to put some excitement into his life. In the book, beware all reflective surfaces. The curse is more of a disease than a ghost. Nakata takes the best elements, and makes the story his own. There will be some confusing moments, but the constant threat of something happening will mean you will continually be focused on the film.

The sense of isolation is strong, and there is a coldness surrounding the film. Many rooms are blank, places lack expression, and people speak in monotone, and avoid eye contact. Nakata explores Japanese culture and mythology, showing the intrusion of the West via moments which remind us of past films. There is more than one reference to The Terminator – the final shot, the dates, the relentless evil of Sadako, technology backfiring, and it recalls other films such as Videodrome, Eraserhead, Straw Dogs, and there is veiled thanks to Stephen King. (Translate the name of a certain familiar Stephen King town into Japanese). Nakata shows himself to be the new master of tension, and along with Miike, Kitano and others is proving that Japanese cinema is a force not to be taken lightly. I first saw this around 5 years ago, and it is still rewarding and scary today. The themes of abandonment, fear and guilt stay with the viewer, coming out more with each viewing, once the initial fear has gone. This is one horror movie everyone should see, vastly superior to the remake which opted for cheap scares, flashy camera-work and loud noises. This is subtle, both nightmarish and real, and uses one of the most effective themes of horror movies to the fullest – the inevitability of death. We are doomed and there is no escape, but that should not stop us fighting for each other and ourselves, no matter how invincible our enemy.

Annihilation

The furor around streaming versus big screen is an interesting one – everyone has an opinion on it. Personally I feel that if the director’s intention (as was the case here) was for the film to be seen on the big screen then that is where the film should debut. If I had the power (and in another part of The Spac Hole I do) I would want every film to debut in Cinema. Hell, I would want to watch every TV show on the big screen too – the quality of television these days almost demands that shows with spectacle such as GOT and TWD should be seen with a crowd on a massive screen. However, the world is continuing to move away from such things – films are now becoming available on smaller and smaller screens, in more and more portable ways, and are becoming both more personal and less engaged experiences. Personal in that you can sit watching with headphones in bed or on the train or on the trap with no-one else annoying you, but less engaged in that you’re more likely to watch the movie in short bursts instead of a single sitting – something which I can’t stand but freely admit to doing more and more.

Annihilation is the latest film from Alex Garland – riding high after Ex Machina – with this film being another intelligent entry into a new wave of sci-fi movies. Based on the story of the same name (nope, haven’t read it) it follows an all-women group of scientists and soldiers as they venture into a wavering phenomenon which has arrived in the USA and has been growing steadily. This shimmer, as they call it, appeared three years ago, and all attempts to investigate successfully have failed – recording equipment yields no results, data is cursory, and any people who have gone into it have never returned. That is until one solider, Kane, returns home after having entered the shimmer a year earlier, although he has no memory of his lost time and is disoriented and sick. His wife, played by Natalie Portman, joins the all female team to enter the shimmer and find some answers once and for all.

I haven’t read many reviews of the film so far, but I imagine comparisons to 2001 will be frequently made. The film is a journey of body and mind – not quite the action epic I was anticipating when I first heard about it. There is action, but this is more akin to something like Moon than Aliens. There are meditations on guilt, depression, hope, and a lot of digestible science to chew on, though it might take multiple viewings to fully swallow and appreciate. The visuals are often stunning and the performances are uniformly strong, albeit mostly on the samey side – almost every character seems to be in a malaise of some sort and it’s really only Portman and Leigh’s characters how generate and depth or feeling. On a visual level it’s undoubtedly a success, from a thematic and philosophical perspective I imagine it will have more supporters than detractors, while on an emotional level the coldness left me… cold. The struggles near the end reminded me of the similar struggles for survival of Gravity but didn’t affect me on as personal a level. Another watch might make me think differently, but at this point in time it’s not a film I feel that I need to see again.

Leatherface

We’ve been slicing up this story for a while now haven’t we? Even through all the sequels, remakes, and copies, few films touch the raw, visceral power of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 original – a film which still gets under the skin after multiple decades and viewings. What can we possibly add to the story, and do we need to? My feelings have always been that (and the same goes for most horror films and icons) we don’t need an origin story – all we need to know is that this creature or person exists, and that it’s trying to kill the protagonists. Most origin stories try to reason with the murderer and inevitably make us sympathize to a certain degree, yet end up not making the character any more interesting. If your original story contains the origin – fine, but can a prequel coming much later be anything other than a cash grab?

Cash grabs can be entertaining, no matter how cynical they may be. Thankfully, as many flaws as this one his – almost entirely due to the plot and premise – it still does the job of entertaining me. For horror fans, there is plenty of gore and violence (though not as explicit as most others in the series) and for everyone else it is peppered with good performers giving good performances. Viewed as a standalone film separate from the mythology of the franchise it works a little better. It tells a story of revenge echoing through the years – a policeman’s daughter is senselessly murdered by a brutal isolationist family and as retribution the cop abducts a baby from the family. The baby grows up in an institute but eventually escapes with a group of Bonnie and Clyde wannabees and they embark on a collision course of mayhem which leads baby, family, and cop back to where it all began.

Sam Strike takes up the unenviable task of playing the young Leatherface – UK viewers will know him from Eastenders – and I have no issues with his performance. He has the script, he’s been told how to play it, and he follows through. Similarly, the always reliable Dorff and Tyler are engaging and Vanessa Grasse is good as the sympathetic final girl. French directing duo Maury and Bustillo became instant horror legends after their incredible debut Inside, but they don’t get to expand upon their penchant for threat and terror here, hindered by an idea and a screenplay which is entirely by the numbers and unnecessary. There’s a point in the movie – I’m not sure if it was ever intentional – that it seems like the filmmakers are going to pull an early Shyamalan and actually have a different character turn out to be Leatherface. Based on what we do get, that twist could have improved matters.

Going back to my point about not needing origin stories – a related point is that I never found Leatherface to be such an interesting character anyway. Here was this hulking man-child who appeared to be severely mentally challenged, and just happened to enjoy killing things and dead things – like the rest of his family. He was essentially a slave and both didn’t and couldn’t know better. That’s all you need to know. The original offers no suggestion of him being a complex character – that’s us projecting onto him. Rather, the film portrays him to be an almost mindless child in the body of a WWE Superstar, likely the result of generations of inbreeding and seclusion. Leatherface does a ridiculous double sell-out, a triple sell out in fact; first, by showing the young Leatherface being abducted and raised by a different family before being placed in a Young Offenders/mental institution where he is presented as a sympathetic, caring, yet conflicted human, secondly by making him become violent for no good reason, and finally by making him lose his mind and regress to…. something? There’s no reasoning behind any of it. We start out the movie not buying into the character being this emotionally involved teenager, and we end the movie not buying in to him becoming the mindless Leatherface. They even make a mess of explaining the origin of the mask – him wearing it out of necessity due to taking a bullet to the face, rather than because he simply likes the feel of human skin on his own. It makes the character much less interesting, and crucially, much less frightening. What is scary about the original is that history has shown us that there are people out there who commit these crimes for no reason other than they enjoy it. Here, in trying to explain evil they instead act like the parent showing that the coat in the closet isn’t the boogeyman.

Still, with all that said it’s better than a lot of movies of its ilk and it’s likely an improvement on many of the franchise entries. I can’t say for sure how I feel as the three other entries between 2003 and 2013 are of similar middling quality. In the end, they all feel like watchable throwaway horror which don’t come close to the madcap disgusting nature of Part 2, and are a world away from the relentless perfection of the original.

Return To Oz

*Originally written in 2003 – again, apologies for posting all these old, crappy reviews.

In this minor dark fantasy classic, we return to Oz with Dorothy Gale who has not been able to adjust to normality since her primary adventures. Her Auntie and Uncle do not know what do to with her, and no-one believes her amazing stories. Eventually she is sent to a psychiatric hospital, and unknown to her family it is run by near-masochists who supposedly perform terrifying experiments on children. As this is still a kids’ movie none of this is shown, but the suggestion is pretty heavy.

Jean Marsh plays the relentlessly horrifying Nurse Wilson, and pursues Dorothy through the stormy night in a bid for escape. Dorothy jumps into a river and when she wakes she is in Oz with a chicken called Billina. However, after some exploring it appears that Oz has been infected with some kind of evil, and it is no longer the enchanting place it was, instead it is a place of nightmares. The Emerald city and all inhabitants including the Cowardly Lion and the Tin-Man have been turned to stone. After a chase by the brilliantly memorable and scary Wheelers, Dorothy meets Tik-Tok, a mechanical man, and they try to find the Scarecrow and work out what has happened. Soon Dorothy is taken prisoner by the wicked Princess Mombi, Jean Marsh again, who is obsessed with her appearance, stealing the heads of beautiful young women. It seems that the Nome King has become immensely powerful, turning all to stone as his personal statues. The struggle to return Oz to its glory is one which will take all of Dorothy’s skill and love.

This film is a definite classic for kids, but beware – it is dark and has many moments which will be scary. I saw this recently, having not seen it in a few years, and although the impact has dwindled, and the flaws are clear, it is still a good film which should definitely be seen at a young age. There are many things to recommend it, although fans of The Wizard of Oz my be disappointed by the lack of music and light-hearted fun. The acting is all top notch; Jean Marsh is excellent in her roles and Fairuza Balk is outstanding in her first major performance, seeming both timid and strong and giving a good account of what may be a disturbed, abused child. The new characters are all just as good as those in the 1939 film, particularly Pumpkinhead and Tik-Tok. The effects are extremely good for their time and hold up today. Scary moments include the Wheeler chase, the final encounter with the Nome King, and of course the infamous screaming heads scene which will likely stay in the memory of all who see it. If you have children with strong imaginations, or with an interest in reading or fantasy, then this is a film they should be shown, but if they are scared easily it may not be such a good idea.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Return To Oz!

Rope

*Originally written in 2004 (it goes without saying as my reviews from this period are basically one big plot reveal, but SPOILER ALERT)

Another technological feat from Hitchcock; a film which seems to have no cuts throughout. Although there are five or six, the editing is so swift that you will have trouble finding the cutting points, and the blend between each is seamless. Like other Hitchcock films where he experiments with camera work and conventional methods of filming and storytelling, it is a success and never feels as if it is the main gimmick of the film. The story and acting are all good enough to keep the viewer enthralled, and the balance between plot and camera-work is perfectly balanced, structured and adds to the overall effect of the film. In short – you can enjoy it without knowing or caring about any of the technical aspects, or for everything mentioned above.

The film takes place over the period of a single night in an apartment owned by two young men, students of Philosophy taught by the well-respected, cynical and clever Rupert Cadell. The students, Brandon and Phillip, decide to murder someone as an experiment, to see what it feels like and to see if they can get away with it. They choose to kill a friend, hiding the body in a trunk in their apartment before inviting Rupert and their other friends (including the victim’s family) over for a party. Enjoying the irony and thrill of it all at first, the pressure soon grows; Knowing jokes about death and murder are thrown around, the victim’s family and friends wonder why he is late and cannot get in contact with him, philosophical, moral and political discussions become heated, arguments break out, and Rupert becomes increasingly suspicious as the Brandon and Phillip’s behaviour gets more strange. Phillip becomes more nervous as the irony, dark humour, and pressure from Rupert grows, and eventually the horror is uncovered. The boys explain their actions and Rupert realises that to some degree he had a part in it, because of his subversive teachings. The superiority complex much talked about by Nietzsche is explored, and the boys question of whether it is right to kill another person because you feel superior is discussed with Hitchockian flair and humour.

The dialogue is typical of Hitchcock, full of dark humour and nodding sight gags such as the fact that the food is served from the trunk in which the body lies. The backdrop of the city is impressive and Dall is pretty chilling. The rest of the cast are admittedly average, but Jimmy Stewart makes up for this by giving a memorable performance, almost against type. He easily controls the screen, and we come to feel like he is superior, all the more shocking and ironic when we sense his involvement in the death and his reaction to that knowledge. A lesser known Hitchcock, but one no less worthy of catching today.

Let us know in the comments what you though of Rope!

The Wailing

Before I saw The Wailing I had seen it described as one of the scariest Asian movies of the decade – that sort of widespread feedback is enough to get me excited and wary at the same time, and by thirty minutes in to the movie I was wondering if I had accidentally selected another Korean movie with the same name, a comedy caper which was nevertheless entertaining. That’s what most of the reviews don’t tell you – The Wailing isn’t just a horror movie – it’s a comedy, it’s a drama, and it’s a tragic character study which will suck you in and spit you out if you allow yourself to be swallowed.

There’s a certain cultural divide you have to be prepared for when going into most foreign cinema. Sometimes an Asian film can be straight enough and universal enough to be fully understood by any viewer, and sometimes there can be quirky moments or pieces of dialogue or character traits which seem alien. Most of the time if the film is good enough, interesting enough, these can be overlooked or even enhance our viewing and become something a Western viewer looks forward to. When you watch a film with a certain historical or political context, or in the case of The Wailing, with numerous instances of Asian folklore, it can become a little overwhelming. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost in places while watching The Wailing – coming from someone who considers themselves a seasoned viewer of Asian Cinema. I feel like I can’t give an adequate synopsis of the plot due to this, and also due to wanting to avoid spoilers/mystery. All you need to know is that it’s about a small Korean town/village policeman and father who is investigating a mysterious sickness which has been sweeping through the town, coinciding with the arrival of a Japanese man.

The film has received universal acclaim from critics and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it too, even if I didn’t absorb everything I could have on first viewing. I suspect more of the puzzle pieces will become clear on a second viewing, possibly uncovering more of the Asian folklore and nods to Christianity. The film passes two and a half hours long and I feel like some of the early scenes could have been saved to get the film closer to a 120 minute run time. 150 mins plus is a long time for a horror film to retain scares and dread and threat and that opening half an hour or so almost feels like a different film, with bumbling keystone cop antics at loose character info eventually giving way to the procedural, the macabre, the horror. Mystery and myth intertwine and a father who seems careless and distant is forced to reevaluate his life and priorities in a race against time, but deception and intrigue seem to thwart him at every turn. Is it scary? There are moments, set pieces, both early on and towards the end which will scare or chill, but once the main plot picks up steam it is that sense of unearthly dread and tension which will get under your skin. The film is so well acted, so beautifully crafted, that it should unnerve even the most hardcore horror viewer – just don’t go in expecting jump scares and knife attacks. Expect the unexpected, expect provocation, and expect lots of reading up on the film after watching. I expect you’ll love it.

Big Driver

Rape is arguably the most difficult subject to tackle on screen, never mind in literature. The horrific act is something which has long been used in stories – particularly in the visual medium – as a turning point in the narrative; the character survives and generally seeks vengeance or justice. There is a whole history, mainly in horror, of the rape revenge stories with increasingly, depressingly violent or graphic, or inexplicably titillating scenes of sexual violence which lead to further acts of violence against the perpetrator(s). Stephen King tackles the issue knowingly in his novella of the same name, from a collection which largely deals with issues relating to women or relationships. The written story is done with a level of tact and a lack of detail of the event, instead spending most of its length on the lead character, depicted before and after the event as a strong, singular women who just happens to be led into the wrong place at the wrong time. Indeed, King even acknowledges the cinematic tropes as the lead character refuses to be a victim and seeks out some of the aforementioned movies as part of her recovery, planning, and justice. The film, while it doesn’t linger on the event, shows enough to possibly put off a large section of the intended audience.

Big Driver stars Mario Bello (who is excellent in the role) as Tess – a successful crime writer who lives with her cat and the voices in her head – a device King often employs. She is invited to speak at library fan meeting and is advised to take a short cut, idyllic drive home off the beaten track by the event organiser. If you’ve seen any film in this vein before, you’ll have already connected the dots – one flat tyre and ‘helpful’ trucker later and Tess has been raped and left for dead in a sewage pipe, along with the rotting corpses of past victims. She survives, heads home, and begins connecting her own dots as she seeks vengeance.

If you’ve watched any rape revenge movie before, then you know what you’re going to get here. Thankfully this one didn’t feel like exploitation, at least to me, and the worthy cast give full-blooded performances. It’s a Lifetime TV movie so you have any idea how extreme the content will be. The direction is sound, nothing eye-catching or out of the ordinary here and the story, while attempting to offer some moderate twists in the narrative and contemplation on guilt doesn’t really offer anything new. This will be mainly for King fans, or any fans of the cast – as it stands it’s a worthwhile watch for those groups, but it’s not one you’re likely to remember or watch again.