Posts Tagged ‘Thriller’

The Neon Demon (2016)

October 3, 2018

I have never really been into fashion. Well, at least not in the way that people actually in the fashion industry. I like clothes well enough and I often imagine what characters I write are wearing. I admire the clothes of people I see both in real life and in fictional worlds. I particularly like dresses and three-piece suits. However, I have no idea what is trendy and that world is kind of intimidating to me. I cannot even imagine how people decide what the next big look is. I would be eternally afraid of falling on my face because I thought something looked cool and everybody else disagreed. I knew a lot of costume designers back in school and they were all quirky, weird, and exotic in the best ways. I remember there was this one girl who had dyed her hair jet black on one side and paper white on the other side. There was a perfect line down the middle. I have a very visual imagination so I often do think of these sorts of things when I design a character. However, I sometimes find it hard to express all of that. I have also never really pushed hard to develop those skills. I have many friends who are blessed with visual arts skills but that is mostly because they have worked at practicing them. I also think about how cutthroat that world is. When I talked to such people in college about the possibility of Broadway, I was told that somebody would have to die to open up a spot. That was pretty grim. I can only imagine what must happen to compete with the likes of Vera Wang or Tommy Hilfiger.

On top of all of that, I can only imagine the difficulties that many women go through. Women are held to a higher standard when it comes to being visually appealing. The fashion world has long been criticized for this sort of thing. Models are encouraged to starve and drug themselves to obtain and retain an impossibly ‘beautiful’ appearance. Then came the rise of cosmetic surgery where women were pressured into getting actual surgery to ‘improve’ their body’s beauty. When women have to be tortured, drugged, and sliced up in order to be deemed pretty, that sounds like a horror movie to me. The pressures to be perfect come from society and the origin of those pressures are from men. It is no secret that men have dominated society and have used cultural conventions to suppress and oppress women. Of course, men have also enlisted women to police themselves so that women criticize each other or use gossip to police ‘beauty’. This is an age-old method of control that has been used on pretty much any minority or protected class in history. These can be tough obstacles to overcome especially since they are not actually physical limitations but are instead almost purely psychological. This sort of conditioning starts at birth and continues pretty much forever. Slowly, we are starting to figure things out but we have a long way to go.

The first thing I noticed was the startling use of silence which feel like they were used to cause unease. The dialogue especially had me in suspense as I waited through pauses. Not the usual bad acting pauses but weird alien speech patterns that definitely made me anxious for what was going to happen. The music is full of modern tonal music that helps to ramp up the tension. The production values are awesome. Because the movie covers the world of fashion and modeling, they put a lot of work into making that world beautiful. However, because it is so beautiful, it also makes it look strange and unreal. That sort of bleeds into the rest of the scenes as they look almost too polished, too superficially pretty. Seeing such fragile beauty juxtaposed against the seedier sides of life makes the shadows all the darker. Then the ‘real’ world just seems to get as strange as the fake one. It had a very disorienting effect on me so much show that in one scene I literally yelled: “What the Fuck!?” Of course, there are plenty of the traditional horror elements like gore and violence. The effects are among the best that I have seen and they were very disturbing.

The movie stars Elle Fanning as a sixteen-year-old model freshly arrived in Los Angeles to start her modeling career. Of course, she is immediately correctly told (told not warned) that the industry is just waiting to consume her. She is portrayed as having such flawless good looks, the epitome of human perfection. A lot of the movie hangs on her portrayal of a naive young woman. However, she is not completely unaware as she mentions that she is modeling because it is her only marketable skill. Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcoate play models that have been around a little longer and they are excellent at being these crazy model harpies. However, one of the big things all of the male actors do is they treat the women with such active contempt and aggression that it is hard not to feel bad for even the less nice ones. The guys are really too good at showing this naked emotion of hunger and hate that I wanted to slap them. It literally made me scared and angry. This includes a small role from Keanu Reeves. A lot also has to be said about Jenna Malone who plays a makeup artist who befriends Fanning and her friendly performance somehow added to the tension I was feeling.

Overall, I really liked the movie. It was an unsettling thriller that left me feeling all clenched throughout. It showed the accurate portrayal of the way that men treat women in general and specifically how the fashion and modeling industry hurts women’s psyches. Nothing is off topic, drugs, beauty, plastic surgery, jealousy and so on. I would compare it most to Black Swan which had a similar take on the psychological damage and pressure that being a girl can provide. While there are elements of traditional horror, it is the psychological pressure and tension that really got to me.  I felt kind of sick after it but kind of in a good way.

Green Room (2015)

October 27, 2017

95 minutes – Rated R for gore, racism, violence and extremely tense situations.

Authority is naturally pretty scary. The people who have power over us, even if we are the ones who gave them that power, have an enormous trust placed in them. We attempt to give them that trust but more importantly other people also place trust in them. There is an assumption that if somebody is in charge then they are doing the right thing. When that power is being abused, it can be difficult to convince other people that the abuse is really happening. Societies throughout history have been built on the principle of submission to authority because otherwise there can be chaos and anarchy. This is why people in charge only occasionally get caught for doing terrifying and inhuman things. They only rarely get caught because their victims are largely powerless. When the weight of authority is bearing down on you, nobody can help because they are already carrying their own weight. It happens every day and goes unpunished most of the time.

I love music but I have been to only a handful of concerts and I have been to even fewer clubs. Once I am there, I enjoy myself but it is hard to get out there. Crowds scare me a bit. Being alone in a crowd makes me tense. A person is usually a reasoning, compassionate human being. A crowd, while made up of these human beings, becomes its own animal which can turn crazy in an instant. A panicked crowd, an angry crowd, or even an excited crowd can be a violent force. I worry about being pushed down or trampled or lost and separated from whoever I am with. At sporting and pro-wrestling events, I definitely have been caught up in the crowd and I know how easy it is. You feel lonelier if you do not pick up on the group behavior. So, my experience with the music industry is an experience from a distance. For example, I love punk and heavy metal music but I recognize that these are the shows that can easily get too rowdy for me. I am content to listen to albums, watch music videos, and watch live performances on television. I know it is not the same but I feel more comfortable and less scared.

From the start, I could tell that this movie was shot really well. The lighting is pretty dark and gritty which is befitting a movie in the horror/thriller genres. Even scenes shot in the day seem to have a dark film over everything that gave me a foreboding sense as the movie headed towards the main event. As one would expect from a movie about a band, the sound is excellent. From the first mumbled lines to the cranked up concert speakers, everything is clear as a bell and just sounds super rich. The production values are great as everything looks gritty and real and they did a great job of creating this world just beyond our own. As I stated above, I love punk music but I was never part of the scene and this made me feel like I was right there in that world. I am a huge fan of horror movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street series which is almost in technicolor. It was nice to see another movie grounded in reality that also had production values grounded in reality. There was nowhere to escape to because this felt like the real world. The special effects and prosthetics were almost too real.

There is a lot of great acting in this. First, I have to start off with praise for Patrick Stewart who, for the first time in memory, plays a truly evil character. I have to respect a guy with range like that. This movie was also the last movie starring Anton Yelchin to be released before his death. He leads the protagonists and he is instantly likable. There is also Alia Shawkat (of Arrested Development fame) who does a great job as just another punk musician. Imogen Poots was great as a stranger girl who gets caught in the mix. I also really liked Eric Edelstein as a skinhead minion. He almost seemed reasonable until you remember that he is a skinhead. Yeah, this movie is about a bunch of punks who run afoul of a lot of Nazis. Skinheads are a super violent sub-culture/terrorist group and they make the perfect bad guys. The actors do a great job of making them human but strangely inhuman at the same time. They act perfectly reasonable and argue about stuff that normal people argue about but they are full of such alien hate. It is a story of gray characters getting terrorized by very black characters but there is nuance there.

Overall, I loved this movie. My first thought was that it felt kind of like a Nazi version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre but it ended up being so much more. Of course, it has the same culture clash that Massacre has but there is so much more story and humanity to it. This was an intense movie that latched on and did not let go until a minute into the end credits. I definitely felt like I had been on a journey by the end of it. This movie really made me scared as well because of the rising Nazi sentiment in the United States. If the guys from this movie spread, we are screwed.

Night Watch (2004)

October 31, 2016

The Other can be a frightening concept. As I have discussed before, The Other is anything that is not us. In this movie, “The Other” is anything beyond our normal natural world. This is even more frightening because it comes from a world of secrets and the unknown. Generally, ignorance breeds fear and fear breeds violence and hate. Not knowing what was out in the darkness and why bad things happened gave birth to folktales and religion. Both have their bogeymen who we are told we should fear and perform rituals to protect ourselves from what goes bump in the night. We also are told often to embrace a duality and are told that picking a side will protect us and empower us. However, in the old tales often neither side was really the good guys. If you look at most material covering faeries, both courts are to be marveled at but also feared. Looking at things as Light and Dark without seeing the Gray is dangerous. However, the great thing about fiction is that they can often simplify things so that evil is evil and good is good.

I have been thinking about what makes a monster in these tales of supernatural horror. Do we do bad things because we are a monster or are we a monster because we do bad things? Freddy Krueger was a horrible human being even before he became a dream demon. However, in the Buffyverse, the very act of becoming a vampire removes the soul and usually turns a person evil. Our justice system says that we are innocent until proven guilty. Religion says that it is our actions that define us and not our thoughts. So if you are a vampire who refuses to feed on humans, are you a monster? I think not. However, just watching and experiencing the misdeeds of others can be enough to darken the soul. Police officers and military are often as irreparably changed as gang members and other violent criminals. Hunting vampires can be almost as troubling as being one.

We have yet another foreign horror movie which makes it the sixth of sixteen reviews this year. This one is Russian and might just be the first pure Russian movie I have watched outside of a certain Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. Yet again, this means that I have no preconceived notions about any of the actors in this movie. The movie stars Konstantin Khabensky as Anton, a man who basically tracks monster criminals on behalf of the Light side. I like how Anton is not perfect and his journey on behalf of the Light is plagued by the temptation of evil. He is a great example of the reluctant hero. I like to think that even when pressed, we are all the reluctant hero. Nobody gets supernatural abilities and suddenly leaps up excited to risk their life. Anton and everybody he meets is  hardened by life outside the norm where things are more dangerous.

I really liked the visuals in this movie. Everything is bleak from the very beginning of the movie. The world is full of shadows and muted colors and light is almost a godsend. Even in sunlight, everything is just dark and dangerous looking. It makes light and splashes of color a very welcome contrast. I really love the digital effects of the supernatural world. I especially loved how various vampiric powers and abilities are depicted. For example, vampiric vision makes everything but the veins of a human body invisible, making it easier to feed. There is also some great drawn animation which makes some of the exposition easier to get through. The editing is smooth and keeps the movie clipping along at a pretty good pace. The action is easy to understand and the subtitles made the Russian language clear.

Overall this is a pretty good horror adventure movie. The depiction of the supernatural world just beyond our natural one is one of the most interesting examples I have seen in pop culture. The movie was the top grossing film in Russian history when it was released but the record has since been topped. It is also one of the first Russian blockbusters after the fall of Soviet cinema and is therefore automatically a success. The movie has some great ideas but I would say its only sin is that it is too long. It incorporates two plots that do not ever fully connect. However, I feel like the world building and character work mostly make up for this. I would recommend watching this movie because it is so different in how it depicts the creepier side of things.

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