The Case for Global Film

Discussing everything that isn't Hollywood (and a little that is).

Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category

Soulmate (UK 2013)

Posted by keith1942 on 15 November 2013

Soulmate1web

This is debut feature for director Axelle Carolyn. It has elements of the horror genre as well. Axelle Carolyn writes: “I love horror movies…I’d be happy to work in horror for the rest of my days.”

The film opens with an attempted suicide by a young woman, Audrey (Anna Walton). We see her cut her wrists in a bath. This is followed by the credits and then we see the same young woman driving along a country road. I thought at first that we were in a flashback. Then I saw the bandages and I realised the pre-credit sequence was a key part of what is now called the back-story.

Audrey arrives to stay at a cottage in the Brecon beacon. For a time the film becomes fairly conventional: the remote cottage, an over helpful neighbour, shots through gnarled trees, stuffed birds inside the cottage, a locked upper room. And the local doctor’s dog Anubis reacts very strongly to the cottage. But when the ghost appears the plot becomes distinctive. The centre section of the film has strong romantic flavour. And we find out more about the ghost Douglas (Tom Wisdom), and events in the past.

However, towards the end the mood reverts to the more melodramatic.  I felt that the film here lost the distinctive treatment it essayed earlier. I was unsure if the filmmakers had made the opening, with a rather gothic feel in order to mislead the audience then surprise them, or to hook them into the story before it changes tone. But I don’t think the rather different style mix well. One problem I had with the film was the music score. The early signs of the ghostly presence are aural. And for a time I found it difficult to distinguish between diegetic noise and non-diegetic accompaniment.

Still, the film’s ending is nicely ambiguous and there is one suggestive shot about what possibly remains in the cottage.

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A Blood Pledge (Dong-ban-ja-sal, South Korea 2009)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 20 October 2013

A cropped version of an original Korean poster.

A cropped version of an original Korean poster.

This South Korean horror film was given a UK DVD release on October 14th from Matchbox. It belongs to a form of teen horror franchise known as Yeogo goedam and re-titled as Whispering Corridors in English. This is the fifth instalment. The first was in 1998 with further films in 1999, 2003, 2005 and then 2009. Each film has a separate title as well as a reference to the franchise. The only elements in the ‘package’ that remain the same are the setting in a girls high school, a group of girls as principal characters and the theme that involves emotional relationships and some form of ‘haunting’. I haven’t seen the 4th instalment but I enjoyed all the others.

A Blood Pledge refers to the suicide pledge taken by four senior girls at a Catholic high school (are they called convents in South Korea?). One of the four does leap to her death from the school roof (the preferred method of suicide in several East Asian films) but the other three appear at school the next morning. The leap is witnessed by the dead girl’s younger sister. She begins to investigate what happened and disputes begin to develop between the other three girls who made the pact. The one who died is clearly going to come back to haunt the others.

Compared to the first film this latest instalment is a very slick and ‘clean’ presentation with fluid camerawork. Much of the action takes place at night and in their school uniforms with similar hairstyles it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the five central characters. There are numerous flashbacks and dream/nightmare sequences that are not very clearly marked as such so it’s quite easy to become confused and the experience of watching can make the viewer feel delirious. As far as horror effects are concerned, there is a lot of blood – but since several scenes are located in spotlessly clean school toilets, the overall effect is quite odd. Otherwise there are the usual bumps in the dark. The most interesting aspect of the film for me is the social commentary that appears at various times. We do learn something of some of the girls’ home lives but oddly we rarely see the teachers in the school (teachers are more involved in some of the other instalments of the franchise). The most overlooked aspect of the narrative in the reviews that I have seen is the Catholicism. I thought suicide was a mortal sin, but little seems to be made of it as an event in school.

A useful interview with Lee Choon-yun the producer (and originator) of the franchise can be found here. It seems that the initial idea came from a Japanese film from 1995 and it was attractive to Lee because he saw a means of drawing on a tradition of ‘legends’ or ‘scary stories’ that circulated in Korean schools. He also tells us that he was motivated by his own views about what he describes as the “repressive Korean education system” which turns out ‘good boys and girls’, punched from cookie-cutter moulds”. He also tells us that:

. . . a girl’s high school was an attractive setting. It’s a space that stimulates male curiosity, a place that men have never been in but are fascinated by. Conversely, for women it’s an environment that they can feel nostalgic about.

The temptation in the UK would be to sexualise the girls explicitly, especially via school uniforms, but the uniforms in this film are modest, tailored and seemingly quite expensive. Somehow, the film’s director Lee Jong-yong manages to deal with familiar social issues about teen sexuality and relationships and parental bullying alongside ‘crushes’ and petty jealousies in a measured way so that he can focus on quite long scenes of angry looks, accusations and pleadings between the girls. His previous important credits include script work on Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002) and as Assistant director on JSA (2000) but this isn’t a Park Chan-wook style film.

bloodpledge

The DVD is available from Amazon. I’d certainly recommend the film to anyone interested in horror, teen films or East Asian cinemas generally. It’s not necessary to have seen any of the four previous Whispering Corridors films to enjoy this one but I think you will want to see how different directors handle similar material. I think that Memento Mori (1999) remains my favourite for the moment, but I must look out for The Voice (2005). All four earlier titles are available in a Region 2 box set heavily discounted, so if you are starting without any knowledge you can now access all five quite easily.

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I Saw the Devil (Akmareul boatda, South Korea, 2010)

Posted by nicklacey on 14 September 2013

Seeing and being evil

Seeing and being evil

Kim Jee-woon, director of A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) A Bittersweet Life (2005) and The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008), has produced another stunning film. Stunning in both its direction, the acting and its content. It’s a revenge movie, a common trope it seems in Korean cinema (well Park Chan-wook excels in this), that mingles extreme imagery (females stripped, tortured and murdered) with beautiful composition and mise en scene. If that makes it seem that misogynist violence is aestheticised then that is accurate however, ultimately, the film uses the conventions of gorenography, or torture porn, to a morally devastating effect.

SPOILER ALERT: Lee Byung-hun plays a secret service agent whose fiancee is a victim of a serial killer, played by the brilliant Choi Min-sik (of Oldboy, 2003, fame) and seeks extra-judicial revenge. Despite the film’s 140 minute running length the killer is caught quickly and there’s one of those wonderful moments in a genre film where you have no idea where the film is going to go next. The killer is released only to be tracked and caught again, then released and so on… The dehumanising effect of revenge has been dealt with before but I doubt so successfully. Lee’s agent does save a number of potential victims as he chases down the killer but not before they’ve been put in peril and, no doubt, severely traumatised by the experience. The spectator’s complicity is highlighted in a Hitchockian manner: we wish to watch the film but that necessitates ‘people’ being placed in danger but, here, we cannot but wish the killer had been dealt with the moment he was caught. In other words, we are positioned not to want to watch the rest of the film.

I won’t give anything more away but the ending is truly devastating. For some reason (South) Korean cinema has slipped off my radar for a while but it’s definitely back on now. I can’t say I enjoyed watching this film, the brutality is visceral, and the violence-against-women trope disturbing, but the cumulative effect is extremely powerful in a positive sense. Apart from Kim’s dynamic direction, much is down to the performance of the protagonists: Choi’s charisma is cannily used as the killer who’s demented determination becomes almost admirable. In contrast Lee’s agent bottles up his emotions through most of the film making him appear to be the psychopath; but, then again, maybe he does become one.

Posted in Horror, Korean Cinema | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Das Cabinet der Dr Caligari (Germany, 1920)

Posted by nicklacey on 26 June 2013

Cinema not as we know it

Cinema not as we know it

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is indisputably a landmark film; it made a massive impact when it was first released and is as near a unique film that you are likely to see. Its uniqueness (well there are one or two that are similar) resides in its painted Expressionist sets that remain extraordinary to look at even 100 years on. Siegfried Kracauer’s history of German cinema (published 1947), From Caligari to Hitler, suggested that we can see the antecedents of authoritarian Nazis in the character of the director of the asylum, who has a sideline in serial killing. Such teleological historical methods are both out of  fashion and rubbish; Lotte Eisner’s The Haunted Screen suffers similarly in talking about ‘mysticism and magic, the dark forces to which Germans have always been more than willing to commit themselves’ (p9).

I think it’s useful to look beyond this historical ‘baggage’ and simply consider it was a film. Of course contextualising film is of utmost importance, it’s just that Kracauer and Eisner’s views may have ‘tainted’ perceptions of Caligari.

As one of the first ‘art film’ successes, it’s ironic that if suffered from producer interference regarding the ending; something that is usually reserved for commercial cinema. But then Caligari was always a commercial enterprise it’s just that it doesn’t look like that, then or now. SPOILER ALERT: to what extent does the framing device that exonerates the director (brilliantly played by Werner Krauss) alter our understanding of the film? Does the fact that the ‘Expressionist’ sets merely indicate the ravings of a madman diminish the subversion of the suggestion that the ruler of the asylum is a lunatic? My view is that it doesn’t because too much of the film focuses upon Caligari – as manipulator of the somnambulist Cesare – as a dodgy character for that to be alleviated at the end. It could even be that Francis, the protagonist, has been entrapped in the asylum by director. Too often those in power are able to cover up their own incompetence.

Regardless of the narrative the key to the film is the marvellous mise en scene where the world is a place of artifice. The wonderful town clerk’s chair that emphasises his superiority; the bunch of houses on a hill; the triangular windows. These are what matter most in Caligari.

Posted in European Cinema, German Cinema, Horror | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Byzantium (Ireland/UK/US 2012)

Posted by keith1942 on 8 June 2013

byzantium-uk-banner-poster

Neil Jordan new film (2012) revisits the vampire territory that he explored in the 1994 Interview With a Vampire. Like that film this offers a distinctive take on the genre. This is down in great measure to the script by Moira Buffini adapted from her own play. She clearly has a taste for the gothic, having also adapted Jane Eyre in 2011. Jordan’s output is closer to film noir, including frequent femme fatales. This offers the most distinctive feature of Byzantium, the central and strong female characters of Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan). Clara is a vital sexually dominant character, played with relish by Arterton. Ronan as Eleanor is suitably restrained as a moody and rather fragile teenager. By comparison the men, human or undead, are somewhat pallid in comparison. The June Sight & Sound had an article by Kim Newman who traces the film vampiric lineage in Deadly is the Female. None of the titles he mentioned seem to have a woman with as much panache as Clara.

The film also has distinctive settings: one of the contributions by Jordan. We cut between a run-down English seaside town [actually Hastings] and a barren Irish landscape [the Barra Peninsula]. Visually the film is a real pleasure. We alternate from forbidding and mysterious landscapes, to the washed out neon-lit resort, and moments of vivid colour as the victim toll mounts.  The transformation from human to undead is both impressive and distinctive.

The plot brings together a variety of strands from vampiric literature and C19th melodrama. Some of this is deliberately over the top, and whilst there are surprises some of the mechanics are signalled well in advance. The title Byzantium seems to be a rather arbitrary inclusion with a link to the early medieval world.

I watched the film at the Vue Cinema in central Leeds. The foyer proudly informs patrons that all the projectors are 4K; however, they neglect to provide any information about whether the DCPs are 2K or 4K. I remember a profile of the Chief Executive of Vue in The Guardian, where he said he was ‘passionate about film’. His cinemas need a little more of this. The film was screened in 2.35:1 though the masking remains as for 16:9 [one of the oddities of this cinema is the aspect ratio of the screens]. And I do not remember any warning about ‘mobile phones’ before the screening commenced. Sure enough, just as we started the climatic sequence one lit up in the row in front of me. Vampires in Byzantium have a really impressive nail on the index finger: I would have traded for one at that moment.

Posted in British Cinema, Horror, Irish Cinema | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Stoker (UK-US, 2013)

Posted by nicklacey on 11 March 2013

Who's the nuttiest?

Who’s the nuttiest?

What happens when the director of the Vengeance trilogy (that culminated in the demented Oldboy, Korea, 2003) goes to Hollywood? Actually, not quite Hollywood as this is a Scott Bros. production (Tony’s last) and wears its indie sensibilities with its $15m budget. Park Chan-wook in America, certainly, but creating a particular Gothic world that is too uncomfortable for the mainstream.

What a cast; for the money or otherwise. I’ve despaired recently about Nicole Kidman, who seemed to have gotten lost in Hollywood, but she does a brilliantly brittle turn as the mother of the bullied, yet sinister, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska – very good). Similarly excellent is Matthew Goode, all sinister charm, as Uncle Charlie who seems to have stepped out of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Hitch visited small town America; Park visits the Gothic; the film’s title is a tribute to Bram.

Park certainly has an eye for composition and there are some stunning set ups and the cinematography, Chung Chung-hoon, is great. While there are some gut-wrenching moments, it’s not as visceral as Oldboy (well, not much is) and the horror is nicely balanced between shock and suspense.

Posted in Horror | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Sightseers (UK 2012)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 29 December 2012

Our beautiful North of England!

Our beautiful North of England!

Every year, it seems, UK critics and commentators pick out a small independent film and promote it. I do this myself to some extent, but I don’t have any influence. Sightseers has been picked out by Wendy Mitchell, Editor of Screen International, and by Sight & Sound, whose editor put the film on the cover of the November issue. It has even turned up on the ‘Top Films of the Year’ list of a Belgian critic polled by Cineuropa and the film has won prizes at three European festivals as well as a BIFA (British Independent Film Award) for its screenplay. Clearly there is something here that critics are responding to. I found the film to be an interesting exercise that somehow didn’t come together. The main disappointment for me was that it is billed as a black comedy but I didn’t find it funny. I do like traditional gothic horror films and Sightseers promises to be a modern gothic horror but doesn’t fulfil the promise.

Sightseers is an interesting mix – a road movie, a romance, a satire, a crime film and a comedy. The two central characters, Tina and Chris (played by the two principal writers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram), are 30-something social misfits. We don’t learn about Chris’s background until later on but he has acquired a caravan and a car big enough to haul it around the North of England. Tina is a dog counsellor and knitter who lives with her mother and she eagerly accepts Chris’s offer to become his muse as he travels seeking inspiration for a book he is planning.

The film is presented in ‘Scope and it does show some of the beauty of the Peak District, the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. I’ve seen it compared to Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, which traversed some of the same roads, but whereas Winterbottom and his cinematographer seemed to capture more than just pretty images, I didn’t feel the same about Sightseers. To be fair, this isn’t a film about landscapes. The scenery is meant to supply useful plot devices and to represent a certain kind of Englishness associated with the National Trust and the perhaps more middle-class tourists who visit the National Parks. On the other hand, Chris and Tina also despise other types of tourists or even locals. They are basically misanthropes who develop a taste for dispatching people who cross them/offend them in some way. A “ginger-faced man and an angry woman”, as the news reports describe them, make an unlikely pair of serial killers.

Sightseers is directed by Ben Wheatley who has already developed a strong reputation with critics for films he has written himself, Down Terrace (2009) and Kill List (2011). His background is partly in television (like Oram and Lowe) and that background in a certain kind of contemporary TV comedy maybe the reason why Sightseers is not to my taste. I’m too old to watch BBC3 and I have avoided programmes like Little Britain or The League of Gentleman. I have enjoyed comedy horror films where the violence seems to have a point but in this case it just seems cruel – which isn’t to say that Chris and Tina aren’t an intriguing couple and several of the romance elements are explored in novel ways. Wheatley is an astute filmmaker and he has a real future ahead of him. The interview listed below is well worth a listen.

The film’s critical status meant a wider distribution than most films with this kind of budget and genre mix – through the European ‘major’ StudioCanal. However, despite the generally very good reviews, audiences have not been large and I doubt that the film has gone much beyond the core horror fanbase and those who follow the more cultish end of the British independent film scene. Sightseers opened very strongly on 92 screens but then tailed off quite dramatically by its third weekend, suggesting that word of mouth was not so good. Nevertheless it has managed over £500,000 so far which is acceptable for a UK cinema release and bodes well for a subsequent life on DVD and online – where I expect it to attract repeat viewings by fans.

Interview with Ben Wheatley.

UK trailer (WARNING: Spoilers)

 

Posted in British Cinema, Comedies, Horror | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Berberian Sound Studio (UK-Germany 2012)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 23 September 2012

Toby Jones as Gilderoy. Image © Artificial Eye

Peter Strickland’s debut feature Katalin Varga was such a striking film that I had great expectations of Berberian Sound Studio. To a large extent those expectations were fulfilled, but I also have some lingering doubts – not about the quality of the filmmaking, but about what the film offers to audiences. This is the kind of film that makes much more sense when you read the comments from fans. But I suspect that there are other audiences who don’t have the specific genre knowledge and who will be baffled . Challenging an audience is something I generally applaud, so what’s going on here?

The narrative takes a rather timid and introverted British sound recordist known simply as ‘Gilderoy’ (played by Toby Jones) on a trip to Italy to work on a film called The Equestrian Vortex. This is the mid-1970s and Gilderoy seems unaware of the tradition of the giallo – the lurid form of Italian horror/crime film which in dubbed form played in mainstream cinemas across Europe. The masters of the genre included Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. Because of my aversion to ‘gore’ and ‘splatter films’, I’ve only seen two gialli that I remember, both by Argento. Even so, I can easily see how carefully Strickland has devised his satire – or is it an hommage? It isn’t a horror film as such, but it is disturbing as well as sometimes very funny.

Gilderoy lives at home with his mother in Dorking in deepest Surrey (and also the site of a Martian invasion in War of the Worlds). His experience is on nature documentaries and children’s films. His arrival in Italy is like the appearance of a sacrificial lamb. The film’s titular sound studio is populated by lecherous Italian production staff, beautiful young women and assorted strange characters. As one of the women points out, Gilderoy needs to assert himself if he is going to get paid. Toby Jones is perfect as the mild-mannered man who will find it hard to survive.

The film never strays out of the sound studio – except in Gilderoy’s imagination. Italian films of the 1970s were all ‘post-synched’ for every element of the soundtrack, so the ‘action’ of the film comprises voice dubbing, forms of music production and lots of foley work involving stabbing, squashing and splattering a variety of vegetables – with the pulpy remnants gradually rotting away in a bin. It doesn’t sound much to go on, but cinematographer Nick Knowland and editor Chris Dickens do a wonderful job with montages of the knobs and dials of vintage audio equipment alongside the rotting vegetables, and various actors attempting to find the right kind of scream for a woman being tortured with a red-hot poker!

The Press Notes tell us that “Peter [Strickland] himself has dabbled in sound art and electronic production as part of the trio The Sonic Catering Band. Tracks written by Strickland are featured in the film. There is a character called the ‘goblin’ in the film (voiced by a man who looks like he has escaped from an Italian golf club): Goblin was the band who provided the music for Dario Argento’s films Profundo Rosso and Suspiria. Strickland has also used the band Nurse With Wound in both this film and his earlier Katalin Varga. The sounds themselves (of the stabbing, squashing etc.) are wonderfully realised and the overall technical quality of the film is very high. Like Katalin Varga, this is a European film made by a ‘European’ Brit and a multinational cast. This time, however, the shoot was at Three Mile Island studios in East London, even though it is partly backed by German money and Screen Yorkshire supporting Warp Films (who are based in London and Sheffield). All the producers were keen to work with Peter Strickland, recognising him as a major talent.

The weakness for the general audience, apart from a lack of familiarity with all the references, is going to be the way that the narrative loses its drive in the last third. I won’t give away the ending and I think that it is an appropriate way to end this particular narrative, but it doesn’t perhaps live up to what audiences might be expecting.

Artificial Eye Pressbook

Official Artificial Eye trailer:

Posted in British Cinema, European Cinema, Horror | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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