Monday, October 20, 2014

I Saw the Devil - Rewatching a Brutal Classic

Movie: I Saw the Devil
My Rating: 5 stars

I wrote about this movie a few years back, right when it came out.  But, I had been wanting to rewatch it for some time now.  It’s the kind of movie that gets in your head.  And, I figured that now would be the perfect time, since I’m on this horror movie kick for the month of October.  Actually, I was really spurred to rewatch this one after I heard an awful rumor (on the AVClub) that some American directors were planning on butchering yet another, practically perfect, Korean thriller with an English-language remake.  It’s pretty scandalous that people aren’t making a bigger stink about this practice.  I pretty much see it as racism.  Because, it’s not like these American directors are improving on the originals.  In fact, in the case of Oldboy, the newer version was much worse.  I think they’re just stealing good ideas from elsewhere and pandering to the type of close-minded, xenophobic audiences who would never watch “foreigners” act on screen.
There.  I’ve said my piece, so now we can move on to the story.  I had actually forgotten a lot about the plot since seeing this movie three years ago.  I had remembered that a young cop, Kim Soo-hyeon, is going rogue to hunt down the serial killer who murdered his fiancé.  And, I think I remembered that he was successful.  But, I had forgotten almost all the details—like how Soo-hyeon keeps tormenting Kyung-chul, to drive home the point, or just how irredeemably bad Kyung-chul actually was.  Although, I did remember about how grisly this movie is to watch.  There is so much gore and dismemberment.  And, the director (Kin Jee-woon) is pretty good at showing us almost every bit of the violence.  We see hammers hit skulls, knives cutting through tendons, and body parts hacked off. But, I was still surprised by some of the more brutal blows.  This movie doesn’t shy away from violence.  But then, this is a movie about a serial killer, and the man who is trying to make his life hell.  It’d be silly not to show that stuff.
But, this movie is really more about character development than anything else.  Kyung-chul is bad, and he stays bad.  In fact, the director does us a favor by showing us how incurable this guy is early on.  That way we can focus our attention on the evolution of the grieving Soo-hyeon.  He’s the interesting one.  We get to watch his nightmare descent into near-madness.  The plot has plenty of holes.  I noticed more of them upon this second viewing.  And, I initially thought it would ruin it for me.  But, then I forgot just how complex the story was.  There are many different layers, and they all weave together to create a very satisfying plot and ending.

This is a good movie, and I definitely recommend it to fans of thriller/horror movies.  Steer clear if you have a weak stomach.  It’s brutal.  But, it’s an interesting story, and has a very satisfying ending.  And, it has all your favorite Korean actors.  Lee Byung-hun is a heartthrob, and Choi Min-sik is terrifying as always.  But, definitely see this one before the American abomination comes out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mama - Haunted Little Girls

Movie: Mama
My Rating: 3 stars

This movie wasn’t as scary as I was expecting it to be.  But, I think I’m a little bit glad about that, because I had been dreading watching this.  The premise sounded so creepy!  And, I get scared pretty easily.  A pair of young sisters is abandoned in an isolated cabin by their suicidal father.  But, the wrathful ghost of a grieving mother who lost her own baby (Mama) steps in to take over their care.  So these girls spend a few years turning into these haunted, feral creatures, until their uncle finds them and takes them in.  But, Mama isn’t ready to give up these girls just yet.
But, despite this creepy story, the movie didn’t chill me to my bones.  Maybe it was the ghost.  She does writhe, and appear suddenly, and move her joints at unnatural angles the way a proper ghost should, but she just looked silly to me.  Although, that didn’t stop me from thinking about it all night in my warm bed, and having, fitful, tormented dreams.  However, I don’t think this movie will plague me long term.
This is a proper haunting story.  An unwitting family is the undeserving target of an angry ghost.  This Mama follows “her” little girls home after they go to live with their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – ya know, Jamie Lannister) and his rocker girlfriend (Jessica Chastain).  Mama watches over as psychologists attempt to get the girls to integrate into society again.  But, her hovering presence is hindering these girls’ progress.  As terrifying of a specter as she is, Mama was all these little girls had at one point, and they really grew to love her.  The older girl, Victoria, is doing a good job of becoming human again.  But, the littlest one, Lily, was so young when Mama began taking care of her that she really turned into something else—something unsavable.

This movie is a good, fun scare.  But, it won’t work you up into an unsleepable state.  (I’ve had my fair share of sleepless slumber parties—thank you The Shining).  This movie is no Ringu, or The Conjuring.  Those ones had me scared for weeks!  So, this film is perfect for some good Halloween chills without going too overboard.  It’s a good choice for a mixed crowed if you’re all in the mood for a light fright.  So, see this one, but be prepared not to take it too seriously.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Silent Night - You're on Santa's List

Movie: Silent Night
My Rating: 2 stars

This is about as classic of a slash-‘em-up as you can come by.  And, not only are the themes traditional, but so are the script and cinematography style.  It looks like an old-timey horror flick, with the cheap cinematography and low budget.   But, this is all intentional.  In fact, the director throws in a few classic shots as homage to the old scream queens of days past.  And, the result is a very representational specimen of the genre.  Unfortunately, I think I’m a little bit over straight interpretation of archetypal styles.  I want my directors to mix things up a bit—throw in a few new tricks while winking at the old pattern.  So, I didn’t enjoy this film as much as I could have.
Life in a small town is turned upside down as a killer dressed as Santa Claus is terrorizing the citizens, punishing those who have been “naughty” and sparing the “nice.”  People are terrified, because we could all do a little better in our lives, right?  We could all swear a little less, and be nicer to homeless people.  But, fortunately our vigilante murderer is going for the real baddies first—the pornographers, the grifters, and the rogue cops.
And, our killer is knocking off his targets in some spectacularly grisly (and festive) ways—electrocution with Christmas lights, bloody crèches, crucifixion, feeding a body into a wood chipper along with all the unsold Christmas trees.  It’s very blasphemous.  But, that’s horror movies for you!  And, true to the genre, there are a few good-eggs who are immune from this killer’s wrath because of their total innocence.  And, in this case, it’s a plucky new cop who just wants to do good and help people.  And, she can’t stand for all this illegal activity. (Murder is definitely against the law).   So, her virtue also necessarily compels her to find this maniac and shut him down for good.  But, the killer almost wants to get caught.  However, not until his righteous cleansing is done.
I don’t think you need to go out of your way to see this movie.  It’s fine, but this road is very well-worn, and this film isn’t bringing anything new to the table.  It almost feels like a well-executed film school exercise.  And, that’s enjoyable sometimes, but I think we’re all ready for something more.                   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Splice - Biological Horror

Movie: Splice
My Rating: 3 stars

This is a really creepy movie.  But, it’s not scary in the sense that it’s terribly gory or murdery—although there is a little bit of blood.  It’s more like the disgust you’d feel upon seeing some grotesque biological hybrid—the same feeling I got in Alien: Resurrection (Aliens 4) when the camera enters the room full of all of Ripley’s botched clones.  It’s pretty much the unsettling feeling you get from experiencing the uncanny valley.  Because, in this movie a pair of rogue scientists decide to take their new cloning technology to try and create a human/animal amalgamation—ya know, for science.  And, the result is horribly repugnant.  In fact, the more human the creature gets, the more terrifying she becomes.  This is definitely a horror film.
This movie is also pretty ridiculous for how horrifying it is.  It’s a classic case of the director (or studio executives) saying, “I don’t know, have the actors do something really sciency in this scene.”  Because, the movie is full of lots of test tube spinning, eye-droppers placing random colored liquids onto slides, and lots of computer key-strokes, leading to wild flashes of green code scrolling down screens.  It’s pretty laughable.  And, then the scientists are pretty crazy too.  These are the sexy, hipster scientist types, played by Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody.  They’re lovers, and they wear punk clothes, listen to hard rock, and live in a graffiti-chic, exposed-brick loft together.  And, I have to admit, the two actors do have chemistry.  These characters are committed to helping humanity with their knowledge.  It’s all very idealistic and silly.  But unfortunately, I don’t think the movie was going for humor.  It’s almost as if the script was written by a college student with a very fuzzy idea of what scientists do for a living, and how the pharmaceutical industry works.
These sexy kids are experimental scientists working for a big pharma company.  They’re the idea people, trying to come up with new patentable compounds by splicing together the DNA from various different animals.  But, when the nature of their funding changes—they must focus their energy on isolating a specific protein for commercial application—they decide to take their experimental research underground.  And, the result is a disturbing.  They create an almost human creature, with the instincts of a wild beast.  And, they become very attached, even naming her.  But, she gets harder and harder to control as she gets older.  Things get especially troubling once this creature becomes sexually mature.  Ick.

This movie is alright.  It has many flaws, but it’s still a pretty good horror film with all the shocks and chills.  Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of unintentional humor, but it’s not bad enough to be campy.  All the fake science is pretty ridiculous.  But, I guess it would be fun to watch it for that.  And, it ‘s a good addition to your October roster of scary movies.  But, you don’t need to add this movie to your must-see list, though.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Skeleton Twins - Heartachingly Funny

Movie: The Skeleton Twins
My Rating: 5 stars

I actually made it out to the theater to see this one.  I know, it’s shameful that I don’t go see more new releases!  But, this movie looked so good that I overcame my laziness.  And, I’m glad I did because this movie is so great.  This isn’t technically a horror movie, per my October theme.  But, it has heavy Halloween themes, and the characters all love a good costume, so it made the cut.  This movie is simultaneously side-achingly funny and devastatingly heartbreaking.  I love Kristen Wiig and Bill Heder.  Those two know each other so well, and they have such great comedic chemistry.  So, they were cast perfectly as a set of close, fraternal twins, Milo and Maggie.  They’ve been estranged for a number of years, but they come back together to stay with each other for a while after a botched suicide attempt.  These are emotionally fragile characters.  They had a pretty rough childhood together, so they’re struggling with how to make a life for themselves now that they’re adults.
All this sounds really heavy.  And, this movie is technically a drama.  But, it’s so funny!  And, I’m having a really hard time conveying just how hilarious the script is.  Pretty much everyone in the audience was doubled over in uncontrollable laughter.  It’s dark humor, sure.  All the jokes and riffs come from a place of emotional pain or nostalgia for the kinds of inside jokes these twins had together as kids.  But, it feels so real.  The humor is raw and organic.  And, it’s infectious.  The movie feels so special.  You have to see it.
I think I connected with these characters on a very personal level as well.  Of course, I haven’t had to endure the kind of personal tragedies in my life that Milo and Maggie have.  But, I’m a sensitive soul.  I feel things deeply, and am subject to bouts of ennui.  And unfortunately, I’ve been known to try to solve inner turmoil by acting out inappropriately, just like these kids.  But, there’s always a bright side.  Just like these crazy twins, I can’t tell you how much I love to sing, and dance, and laugh, and dress up in wild outfits for Halloween!  I could be these characters’ triplet!  What I’m trying to say is that I loved this movie.

I don’t know if I’d recommend this movie to everyone.  There are certain people who just won’t get it.  (And, dealing with those people is always maddening).  You have to be the kind of person who is in on the cosmic joke—someone who recognizes the absurdity of being, and revels in it.  You have to be the kind of person who appreciates the beauty and healing nature of pain—someone who doesn’t categorically reject profoundly sad art. Because sorrow is a valuable part of life just as much as joy is.  So, if any of this rings true, don’t hesitate to go see this film.  I think it might be your new favorite.