Monday, May 27, 2019

Quick Takes: Brightburn, The Perfection, Piercing

Brightburn is an anomaly: part origin film (that's rather weak), part slasher (that really works). It follows a familiar super man narrative with horror at the fringe that moves in and out of focus and with surprisingly effective gore. Yet the evil simmers without insight and never quite reaches that explosive or emotional crescendo. If it had a stronger point of view, it might have been a better movie – a good concept alone isn't enough.

The Perfection takes beats from revenge films and turns them on their side – unpredictably. With odes to Black Swan, Suspiria, and Oldboy, the tone wavers from segment to segment which are delineated with titles reminiscent to Lars Von Trier movies (but with less misogyny). It has solid acting from Allison Williams and Logan Browning but as usual Steven Weber is miscast as the sinister antagonist. The direction builds masterful moments of suspense giving you whiplash, especially in the first segment on a bus that ends with a definitive chop. You may never know exactly what kind of film you are watching but the madcap twists keep the pace brisk. And yet as it nears the final act, it suddenly stumbles – badly. What should have been a cathartic revelation feels flat and uncharacteristic of this wild ride. But by this time the major punches have already landed and it's bruises are effective and lasting.

Piercing is an accessibly weird, amusing, darkly macabre little film so wispy it practically cracks like nutty brittle. The performances are rapturous, Cronenbergian hallucinations pepper the antics, & the heavily styled sets & direction signifies an auteur at work.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Quick Takes: Hagazussa, Book of Monsters, Scream of Fear

Hagazussa is a rumination on the outsider & women who forge untraditional paths. The visuals tell a grim and forlorn story that’s often triggering, sickening, and hard to swallow. The subtitle calls this a gothic folk tale and its period setting and overall production design will draw comparisons to 2015's The Witch. The horror in this film comes from the almost wordless script, and traumatic moments of an emotional and physically damaged person. Whether the main character is a witch is not the point and the film may not satisfy those wanting a supernatural yarn. Nonetheless, Hagazussa is a masterful debut featuring a harrowing lead performance. It's also artfully shot with exquisite backdrop of the Alps. Ultimately though it may prove too enigmatic for many viewers.

Book of Monsters has a zany 80s vibe, splashy gore, fun practical effects & a squad of tough ladies. It’s B-movie heaven but the sullen leads don't seem to be having fun. A little more camp & urgency when being mauled by freaky monsters would have made this totally rad. If you're in the right frame of mind and properly inebriated this will be a fun time but if you're looking for high art, good direction and editing, perhaps look elsewhere. It's sad when you can see the passion on the screen but it just doesn't gel. As a side note I must call out the the marketing and 80s design for this movie artwork. It is absolutely perfect. I want that poster hanging on my wall, forever!

Hammer Films is known for their gothic horror movies of the 60s & 70s but they have a large catalog of other films that have been widely overlooked. 1961's Scream of Fear is a mystery thriller at heart, although the film's aesthetics and production design definitely leans towards the horror genre. A young wheelchair bound girl visits her estranged father who is away on business as it met by her stepmother. Strange goings on in the house push the girl teetering on the edge of sanity to a breaking point. From there the story twists and turns, sometimes predictably, but you'll never see the end coming. This is how great writing, acting, and direction merge to make a classic film full of dreadful atmosphere and a suspicion that something isn't right. The actors reel you right in with empathetic performances, and the reveals are real gut punches.  Fans of Hitchcock and Christopher Lee should seek it out, although, I will say this is the most straight-forward "normal" role I've seen Christopher Lee playing.