31 Days of Horror 13: Stoker (2013) by Jamie

It can be debated about whether or not Stoker counts as a true horror. It could be said that it is really more of a thriller but I find that the borders between the two genres are often blurred somewhat and so I feel good with my choice of including it here. I’ve even heard some critics describe it as a horror so that helps aid my decision to include it plus it’s heavily influenced by that ol’ master of horror himself, Alfred Hitchcock. What this all boils down to is screw it, I watched Stoker and now I’m reviewing it. Deal with it.

The first thing I should point out is that this is not a vampire movie. There seems to have been confusion when this film came out, I guess owing mostly to the name Stoker. The film does draw some inspiration from Stoker’s novel Dracula but nope, this is not a vampire film. This is a movie more in the mold of Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’, a film which I’ll say right now that you haven’t seen, you should. It’s awesome.

Anyway, Stoker is about a young girl called India and how her life gets twist-turned upside down when her father is killed in a car accident on her birthday and her Uncle Charlie comes to stay with her and her emotionally fragile mother. Uncle Charlie seems like a very nice guy but is there something sinister lying behind his polite nature and his good looks like some kind of handsome shark?

That’s where I’ll stick to on synopsis because this film has a number of twists and turns whilst still managing to keep a slow, steady pace. That’s not a criticism. This is a Park Chan-wook film and from this and Oldboy (the only films I’ve seen of his, a tragedy I seek to correct as soon as possible) I can say that he is a master of deliberate story-telling, choosing not to reveal anything until he is ready to but managing to keep you drawn in with his beautiful visual style and steady pacing.

Thankfully, this movie isn’t just well paced and well shot, it’s also terrifically acted. I can’t think of a bad performance in the whole thing… Well, maybe some of the bully characters who are kind of broadly drawn arsehole stereotypes but they’re a pretty minor part of the whole piece so I’ll let them slide. Oh and the way music is used is just another reminder that Chan-wook is a master of his craft.

Overall this is a pretty terrific film. Rent it, buy it, do whatever you have to do but see it. Can’t think of a bad thing to say about it really, or, sadly, too much good because to go into too great detail would inevitably reveal something about the plot. So yeah five pints out of five. Laterz.

Review: Black Swan by Jamie

There are some things in here which might, possibly be considered spoilers. Hard to tell with a movie like this.

Ballet. It’s a thing that people apparently watch and enjoy. I don’t really understand why. Seems to me that if you don’t know the story of the show you’re going to see then you’re watching a bunch of people dancing and prancing about on a stage. In essence you need to have the show spoiled in order to understand the show. Maybe that works for some people but as a movie fan it doesn’t really make much sense to me.

Still, I’m not gonna say ballet is the worst thing mankind has ever done. That is mime. Seriously, fuck mimes. No, I can see the artistry in it and understand the hard work that people put in in order to become really good at it. I’m sure the same could be said for mimes but I mean it, fuck mimes. I’m assuming that’s why people go to the ballet, to see the craft performed well by people who have worked hard to achieve that level of skill. Maybe the story doesn’t matter at all. Again, these are just my musings on why people watch it. I could be totally wrong and the story could be very important. In fact, it probably is. Hmmm, I just seem to be babbling.

So anyway, ‘Black Swan’, the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, features ballet fairly heavily. It’s the story of a young ballet dancer with an over-bearing mother, a demanding teacher and a talented understudy. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound that great but wait because there’s more. You see this girl, Nina (Natalie Portman), has a problem in that she’s incredibly reserved and always striving for perfection. She wants the lead in the ballet company’s latest production of ‘Swan Lake’ and whilst her reserved nature is perfect for the role of the White Swan she also needs to perform the role of the Black Swan which calls for a far more loose and sensual performance which the director, Thomas (Vincent Cassel), doesn’t feel she can pull off. Far more convincing for the role is Lily (Mila Kunis) who is exactly the kind of free spirit that Nina isn’t.

Still Nina gets the part even though she doesn’t seem to make much progress in becoming more wild and carefree. That is until Lily shows up at her door and takes her out for a night of wild abandon, much to the chagrin of Nina’s mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). They drink, they screw around, they take drugs, they apparently go back to Nina’s for a bit of girl on girl action… Yes, there’s a scene where Mila Kunis goes down on Natalie Portman. Five pints out of five. Laterz.

Ok, fine. There’s more to the story than that. Basically throughout the entire film there’s an undercurrent of a growing madness within Nina’s mind. It appears as though she’s had mental issues in the past, apparently a self-abuser in the form of scratching herself deeply on her back. This behaviour seems to manifest itself again and with it a new kind of paranoia. Is it the stress of the role playing out in her mind? Is it the dark side of her personality finally trying to break free of years of repression, finding a crack to escape through due to her trying to access it in order to successfully perform the part of the black swan? Whatever it is, the madness begins to show itself by her beginning to believe that she is physically transforming into a black swan, beginning with a rash near her scratch marks that resembles the skin of a bird, eventually growing to a point where she feels as though she’s growing feathers or her legs have bent backwards like those of a swan.

Obviously the film builds up to a massive ending that I won’t spoil here because you should probably go and see this film. I’ll say it’s a very, very good film, hell probably even a great film but it is not a perfect film. Yes, the performances are brilliant although there were times where Natalie Portman’s character was so pathetic that I found her to be a touch annoying and stretching the limits of believability. Still, the dancing is impressive as much as I, a man who knows practically nothing about ballet, can judge such a thing. It’s clear that both Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis spent a long fucking time preparing for this role.

The camera work is also incredibly impressive and features a number of techniques that you’ll probably recognise if you saw ‘The Wrestler’ and it’s clear to see that Darren Aronofsky considered making this a companion piece for that film. There are shots that follow the character from behind and there are shots that manage to focus on the character rather than the choreographed performance that they are giving (dancing in Black Swan and wrestling in ‘The Wrestler’. Yes, wrestling is largely choreographed) which gives you a sense of what the character is feeling whilst they do their thing.

And like I said as damn fucking good as the film is, it’s not perfect. There are times when it seems a bit slow, particularly to start of with, though it’s never so bad that you lose interest in what’s going on. There are also times where it pushes the boundaries of weird and yet at the same time doesn’t seem to go far enough. That may seem like a particularly odd sentence but it’s something I can’t really explain unless you’ve seen the movie. There’s also the ending which, without being spoilery, I’ll just say that I wish certain events had played out a little differently.

Finally my biggest issue with this film is a rather personal one so I’ll understand if you don’t agree with me. I have a terrible aversion to anything bad happening to finger or toe nails and fuck if there aren’t like a thousand separate occasions when horrible shit happens to nails in this movie. Ok, I may be over exaggerating that a little bit but still, there are times when I just couldn’t look at the screen. Again, I know it’s entirely my problem but I’m just saying, if you don’t like bad shit happening to nails then there are gonna be a number of times when you look away during this movie, wincing in pain and trying not to throw up.

Despite this, it is a really, really amazing film. I’m not suddenly gonna develop a deep interest in ballet or anything but I did look up black swans on Wikipedia for a bit. And seriously, if you’re a dude don’t let the fact that there’s a lot of ballet in this film. Things get seriously fucked up including a really fucking horrific scene involving Winona Ryder in a hospital. And don’t forget, Mila Kunis goes down on Natalie Portman. Still, I don’t think it’s as good as The Wrestler and I think a lot of that has to do with the main characters. Mickey Rourke’s character in that film is a genuinely likeable character who’s going through a hard time whilst Natalie Portman’s character in this is sometimes just so pathetic that I found it hard to sympathise with her. Overall four pints out of five. Laterz.

Review: Antichrist by Jamie

Warning: Spoilers Ahead.

Hmm, how do I start this review? Well, Antichrist is the 2009 horror film directed by Lars Von Trier. It stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The majority of it takes place in the woods. Some of it is shot in black and white and some of it is shot in colour. Well, hope you enjoyed the review. Laterz.

No, I suppose I can think of a few more things to say. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Antichrist. It’s the controversial film that shocked audiences and reviewers alike, apparently. One reviewer was so shocked that he reviewed the film without even seeing the film! It’s true! An actual film ‘critic’ was actually paid by a ‘newspaper’ in the UK to review a film he hadn’t seen! You can read the pricks ‘incredibly valid opinion’ here. My god, what a cunt.

So I suppose we should address all this right up front. Does Antichrist deserve the controversy surrounding it? Well, yes and no. I say this because different people find different things controversial. I find neither graphic sex nor graphic violence to be that offensive because, at the end of the day, it’s just a goddamn film and I can separate reality from fiction because I’m a rational human being. That being said, there were two scenes in particular which I did find a little difficult to watch. One involves violence against the male sexual organ and the other involves self-inflicted violence against a certain part of female genitalia. Yeah, nice.

However, there are some people who do find depictions of graphic sex and violence to be offensive, so to those people I would say that yes, the film probably does deserve the controversy that you yourselves have likely generated for it. I suppose I can see the point of some of your concerns. Is it necessary to depict such things in films? Well, sometimes I would say that yes, yes it is. Sex and violence are intrinsic parts of the human experience, probably two of the biggest components of the human psyche. When we sink to our most base and instinctual level, when we loose track of rational thought entirely, it is generally because of these two extremes of our basic nature. Some films exist to be reflections of human nature and therefore it would be necessary to include these two elements. I think that makes sense. It seems to when I read it back but that could have been because I wrote it so I understand what I mean anyway.

I suppose there has also been some criticism that the film is misogynistic. I can kind of see where that criticism comes from and this film but really it just mirrors age old themes that have been part of human storytelling for thousands of years. I’m not saying it’s right but if every time a film that has something controversial to say is instantly branded as evil then we might as well stick to making shitty ‘The Land Before Time’ sequels. Besides, I feel that the misogynistic component of the film can largely be explained through the mutual insanity of the couple. I don’t think it’s inherent to either character.

Antichrist is very much a film about human nature. Specifically it’s about death, the reaction to it, sex, violence and insanity. It begins with a couple, Dafoe and Gainsbourg, fucking in slow motion while their child wanders from its room and out of an open window to it’s death. This child’s death is the catalyst for the events which follow. At the funeral Gainsborough collapses and is taken to hospital. She spends the next month slipping in and out of a coma-like state and loses perception of time. Her therapist husband, Dafoe, decides to take her home and get her off of her medication, forcing her to confront the mourning process whilst also enabling him to take her on as a kind of patient. It seems, at first, as though this is to help her but you also get the impression that he enjoys treating his wife in this way.

Gainsbourg reveals that the thing she fears the most is Eden, a wooded area where she had spent some time with her child the summer previously whilst she was writing her thesis in Gynocide, a word that I can’t help but find hilarious because I’m currently reading Lloyd Kaufman’s book ‘Direct Your Own Damn Movie’ throughout which he refers to ladies of the female persuasion as gynos. Dafoe decides that it would be best for her if she were to go to Eden and confront her fear. Straight away it seems as though the woods are trying to fuck with the couple. First of all Dafoe sees a deer with a dead baby deer… Wait a minute, what the fuck is a baby deer called? Shit, I can’t remember… I’ll just call it a deerling… So yeah, Dafoe sees a deer with a dead deerling hanging from it’s deergina. Later on the couple see a little birdling fall from a tree. This is serves, of course, to remind the couple of their own dead humanling and to further provoke their respective insanity. Dafoe also sees a fox that is eating itself which turns to him and screeches ‘Chaos Reigns!’ It is awesome.

You see, whilst Gainsbourg was in Eden before, her studies of Gynocide and specifically the witch trials of the past, had lead her to believe that there was some kind of inherent evil within women. As her psychosis and guilt over the death of her child builds within her, she begins to believe that she can perform some of the practices that the witches of old used to carry out. This leads her to the aforementioned acts of genitalia centric violence as well as bolting a grind-stone through his leg. Events continue to build, with wilder and wilder hallucinations on both their parts until the film reaches it’s conclusion. I’m gonna leave the plot synopsis there because I don’t want to give too much away as I’d like to leave people enough mystery so that they’d still want to see the film.

Of course, during that synopsis I mentioned that the events are caused by the couples growing insanity and that’s certainly one way to look at it. There is of course the alternative option which is to accept that all the things that they think they are seeing and all the powers Gainsborough believes she has are actually real. Which do I subscribe to? Well, despite my synopsis taking a definite point of view, I myself am not really sure. I think there are good cases to made for both and I haven’t really made up my mind yet. I suggest you watch it for yourself and make up your own mind.

So, how do I rate Antichrist as a film? Well, I’m certainly glad I watched it, if glad is the correct word to use in this situation. I don’t think it’s as dramatically shocking or offensive as people have made it out to be and it’s certainly shot and acted incredibly well. In fact one of the most disturbing things about the film is the number of close-ups you get of Willem Dafoe’s face. He is one creepy bastard and I think he can see my soul through the screen. There is one major problem that I had with the film though. It’s kind of slow. It takes some time to actually get to Eden and, whilst the earlier scenes serve to give some background to the plot, you can’t help but wonder if maybe they couldn’t have gotten to the cabin some time sooner. Overall, I give Antichrist 3 pints out of 5. Laterz.

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