Archive for November, 2009

Ils: A Real French Nightmare?

Posted in Reviews on November 22, 2009 by Renee

Tonight I finally sat down to watch Ils (Them to us Statesiders).  I’ve wanted to see it forever, had almost ponied up the cash for it at Best Buy about a year ago but didn’t, and finally lucked out when it showed up on On Demand this month.  Yay, I get to see it for free!

And you know, I liked it.  The opening sequence is taut and although the rest of the film never again rises to that level, it has some pretty good moments.  The protagonists aren’t particularly well developed, but that’s not always a flaw in a horror movie (the less we know about them, the easier it is for them to be us), although I do wish they had been smarter at times (stop leaving your weapons behind!).  The third act is well orchestrated and the big reveal is shudder-inducing.  So yeah, not bad.  I liked it better than Frontiere(s) and Malefique and maybe better than Haute Tension (although not if you don’t count the last 20 minutes of Tension).

Something that caught my attention in the very first moments of Ils was its location: Although a French production and featuring French protagonists, the action takes place in Romania.  That played in my mind for the entirety of its 76-minute run time.  There didn’t seem to be any real reason for the choice; Haute Tension and Frontiere(s) reveal that France is overrun with spooky rural places of its own to make horror movies.  If it was a budgetary thing, there was nothing geographically noteworthy that would keep the Romanian countryside from doubling for French countryside, and the supporting cast could have passed for French, with as little dialogue as there is.  Finally I got my answer, or so I thought, as the pre-credits scrawl indicated Ils to be based upon a true story.

Of course, I immediately got online to suss out the details.  I didn’t find much – some references to an Austrian couple murdered while at their home in the Czech Republic, with no actual supporting documentation – but I did find something almost more interesting…and telling (spoiler alert): This Review from the online journal Lingua Romana .

If you don’t click through, I will summarize: Lingua Romana suggests that Ils is rife with racism and xenophobia, giving voice to the common fear among the French that as the European Union grows, their cultural identity will be eroded and, eventually, extinguished.  As point of reference, Ils was released in 2006 and Romania was officially welcomed into the European Union in 2006.

So suddenly what I thought was a fairly generic home invasion film is saddled with all sorts of really specific political and cultural subtext.  And none of it too flattering for the film or the filmmakers.  Yeesh, and here I thought the vilification of Eastern Europe was all on Eli Roth and his American cohorts.

You know what the Lingua Romana article called to mind more than anything else, though?  Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

It’s no secret H.P. Lovecraft was a racist.  Abominable backwoods families, loathsome monster-worshipping half-breeds, gorilla-like foreigners…his prose is rife with it.  He even incorporated the nastiest of racial epithets into the name of one of his cats.  (We won’t even get started on the role of xenophobia in his works)  And this has always been a source of tension for me.  Like most card-carrying liberals, racism appalls me and I do my best to eliminate my footprint from our culture of it, yet I adore much of Lovecraft’s writing (umm, hey, the title of this blog?).  Trust me, I’ve tried to do the mental gymnastics to make it work; “Oh, that’s just how it was back then,” I’ve said.  But that just feels like what it is…rationalization.  That the social climate of the time created a less consequential environment for people like Lovecraft to express themselves doesn’t make it right and, more importantly, it doesn’t excuse me for excusing him so blithely just because I happen to really, really like the tentacled monstrosities he conjured up from the eldritch dark.

So is Ils really casting aspersion (consciously or unconsciously) at the people of Romania and blaming them, and their neighbors, for the death of French culture?  Beats me, but they did choose Romania as home to their story for a reason and as we all know, the best horror films – the really scary ones – are scary because they tap into something real…first for the filmmaker, and then for the audience.  And by all accounts, Ils scared the hell out of a bunch of people in France.

(It also occurs to me that perhaps it’s the French who are being beleaguered here.   They are no strangers to international disparaging, and the American stereotype of the French being tourist-hating snobs is pretty similar to the Romanian-hating elitists as put forth by Lingua Romana.  I’m willing to give LR the benefit of the doubt in regards to fairness as they purport to be a journal of “French, Italian, and Romanian culture”, and their treatment of French film elsewhere is extremely generous.  Furthermore, the authors aren’t Romanian or French, but rather Professors of French and Italian studies at Brigham Young University.   But still, something to think about.)

I don’t really know what to make of all this.  On one hand, had it not been for this film and my subsequent research, I wouldn’t have even known there was an issue.  Without all the baggage, it was an enjoyable, if somewhat innocuous, ride.  With it, I again find myself wondering about one of my favorite topics to discuss: My social responsibility as a consumer.  Can I celebrate a portion of a piece of art, even if the other part is something I detest?

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Random Horror Limerick, Ya’ll

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 19, 2009 by fawn krisenthia

There once was a baron named Sting

Who created a gash for a fling.

To baron’s surprise

She only had eyes

for her brother’s Monsterous thing.

-inspired by The Bride, 1985

Review: “Don’t Look Now” (1973)

Posted in Reviews with tags on November 17, 2009 by annamae3

Director: Nicholas Roeg
Screenplay: Allan Scott, based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania

SPOILERS WITHIN

Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 release “Don’t Look Now” is an atypical horror film that forces the audience to defy its title, for fear that they may miss a crucial detail. Nearly every shot, scene and sequence contains clues that may (or may not) be important to the film’s ending. Roeg purposely confuses and misleads his viewers so that the conclusion comes as even more of a surprise than it could have turned out to be. The film also explores the way a typical family deals with and functions after the loss of a child.

The story opens with the death of Christine (Sharon Williams), young daughter to John (Sutherland) and Laura (Christie) Baxter. While trying to retrieve her ball from the pond behind the Baxter home, Christine drowns, while wearing a bright red-colored raincoat. It is at this point that the color red begins to play an increasingly larger role in the film, appearing in a variety of instances that may offer clues to the film’s grand mystery.

Soon after this tragedy, John and Laura travel Venice where John is working on a church restoration. During lunch one afternoon, Laura encounters two sisters, Heather (Mason) and Wendy (Matania), one of whom is a blind seer. Heather, the psychic sister, tells Laura that Christine’s spirit is still with the Baxter family, but also that John may be in danger. John believes that the women are phonies and he violently insists to Laura that Christine is dead and that Laura should let her go.

However, John becomes obsessed with a small, red-coated figure running through the narrow alleys of Venice that seems to resemble Christine. His pursuit of the figure, coupled with his ignorance of Heather’s warning, leads to the film’s shocking and somewhat confusing finale. The red-coated figure turns out to be an evil-looking dwarf who stabs and murders John.

Roeg uses a variety of visual cues and heavy foreshadowing to give the audience clues about the film’s conclusion. In addition to the color red, water plays a major role in “Don’t Look Now”. Broken glass is also used as a signal of a significant event in the plot. A painting in the two sisters’ hotel room foreshadows the end of the film: The painting, depicting three women surrounding a child, resembles the end of the film where only Laura, the two sisters, and the Baxters’ son Johnny are left at John’s funeral. Most creepily, a stone gargoyle at the church John is restoring bears more than a passing resemblance to the dwarf that kills him.

“Don’t Look Now” also presents a realistic portrayal of a family coping with the loss of a child. John and Laura’s reactions to Christine’s death, ranging from anger to joy upon learning that Christine is still with them, all feel like appropriate responses to the loss of a child. At the start of the film John seems to be coping well, but Laura is having a more difficult time losing her daughter. After Laura meets with the sisters, the roles slowly reverse: John begins to fall apart in his obsession with the red-coated figure, revealing that he’s had an equally difficult time with Christine’s drowning.

Roeg effectively created a horror film that breaks from typical horror film elements. There are few shocks and no gore; instead, Roeg relies on suspense and setting to disturb his audience. The late fall/early winter setting in an increasingly claustrophobic Venice has more of a powerful impact than cheap thrills and bloodshed. The solid acting, especially from Sutherland and Christie, is equally effective in setting and maintaining the chilling tone in a masterpiece of horror cinema.

Dreams in the Bitch House Podcast: Episode 002

Posted in Podcast with tags , on November 10, 2009 by dunyazad

The second of our podcasts is now live. Again, it’s a free-form discussion ranging from female horror icons to Halloween to bodily functions. Again, there’s salty sailor talk throughout, so caveat emptor.


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October Misogyny: Deadgirl & Martyrs (Spoilers)

Posted in Reviews on November 3, 2009 by Renee

So October is over and I didn’t get to watch nearly as many horror flicks as I would have liked.

I did see a bunch of good ones though.  Zombieland (the only movie I actually saw in a theater all month), Trick ‘r Treat, Splinter, [Rec], Death Bed, and a few others.

I also got to see two of the more controversial films making the rounds this past year: Deadgirl and Martyrs.

Both have relatively simple set-ups (and some contextual similarities).

In Deadgirl, you have two boys who stumble onto the bound-up corpse of a young woman in the basement of a dilapidated hospital.  Only the woman isn’t dead…she’s a zombie.  One of the boys immediately concludes that she’d make a great live-action version of a blow-up sex doll, and the other struggles with the basic humanity of the whole scenario.

Martyrs also features young women locked in basements, this time as the subjects of a secret cult’s plan to gain insight into the afterlife.  They believe if they torture someone – and twenty-something females seem to make the best someones – long enough and brutally enough, they’ll see Heaven (or whatever awaits beyond Death’s Door).  Interestingly, you don’t know any of this until midway through the film; the first half sets the movie up as a straight female revenge flick*…so it works as a bit of a bait-and-switch, and a pretty effective one if you haven’t been exposed to any spoilers (like this paragraph).

Both films give me pause.  As someone who volunteers as a rape and domestic abuse crisis counselor, the real-world implications of violence-against-women in media is very much on my radar.  When even our jean ads portray women as disposable products, you have to wonder where we are as a society.  We talk about “objectification” all the time, but we don’t really give thought to what that means: To see someone not as a person, but as an object…a thing to be used however you want.  It’s how people like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer see people…it should scare us that much of the world shares some of that viewpoint.  And you can’t say it doesn’t because right there are the jean ads…someone in the advertising department at Wrangler thought that up, and someone else thought it was a great idea and gave the go ahead to do a whole line of ads just like that.  But it’s not just Wrangler…snuff advertising is tres chic right now.

You could ask the question, which came first: Is popular media a reflection of how women are thought of, or is it the cause of it?  It doesn’t matter though…one perpetuates the other, and it’s all bad.

That said, I don’t believe there’s any subject matter off-limits to art.  I think there is a place for this in our films and television and literature and painting.  All of those things give us a lens through which to view and reflect upon these issues.  It’s just a question of what biases the artist brings with them to the piece.

Which finally brings me back to Deadgirl and Martyrs.

Deadgirl uses rape imagery to tell a coming of age story about two young men and the friendship they share.  Is there a worse way to tell such a story?  Is rape such a part of our culture that it has become integral to a boy’s journey from childhood to manhood?  Oh sure, the filmmakers try to distance themselves from that idea by pointing out that “deadgirl” isn’t really a person…she’s just a thing.  But that just makes it worse; rather than deal with the idea that women can be and often are objectified my men who want to have sex with them, they just wrote it into the storyline so that everyone – the characters, the audience, everyone – can be in that place without having to do the emotional work to get there.  They take you to point B without ever going through point A (showing us how “deadgirl” became “deadgirl”, and possibly giving us an opportunity to empathize with her), and it’s a little scary…not because the film is especially frightening, but because you have to wonder why the filmmakers decided that part wasn’t important.  Even the violence is a little too titillating – in that way horror movie violence can be – to do the subject matter any justice. This film needed to be hard and challenging if it was going to deal with these issues, and it just wasn’t.

Martyrs, on the other hand, is.  All of the emotional heavy-lifting that Deadgirl is afraid to do, Martyrs is not.  It starts at point B, takes you to point C, then takes you all the way back to point A, and from there you somehow end up in Point D.  I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s what the the movie does.  It puts you in the victim’s shoes and shows you everything…the abuse, the longterm damage of that abuse, the violence perpetuated by violence…everything.  Perhaps what it shows isn’t realistic – hyper-realistic might be a better description  – but not a moment of it is titillating or fun.  Our final understanding of the film is complicated  by a late twist suggesting that the torture our heroine has endured might possibly be meaningful in some way (presuming you come down on the side that Anna did gaze into the beyond and that it wasn’t a hallucination, which I don’t necessarily).  But we don’t have to understand the film to know how it makes us feel, which for me could be best described as sick and angry.  Sick and angry because unfortunately much of what writer/director Pascal Laugier portrayed isn’t that far from reality.  That’s the lens I was talking about, and sometimes it isn’t much fun to look into.

 

* This is a lie…it only seems like a “straight female revenge flick” in retrospect.  Watching it the first time, spoiler-free, it’s not obvious at all that Lucy, our vengeance-seeker, has exacted vengeance upon the right people and by the time it is obvious, the movie has moved in about three directions that keeps you from taking any satisfaction in the revelation.  Such a film is Martyrs.