Enemy [Mild Spoilers]: when a history lecturer spots his doppelgänger in the background of a movie scene he becomes increasingly fascinated by the actor. Quite a difficult film to articulate, this probably falls vaguely under the ‘Psychological Thriller’ banner. There’s a deliberately slow and intense build up, magnified by a doom-laden score that the intensity relies heavily on. This is completely Jake’s film, as we see him pull off playing two people, and then each character ‘impostering’ the other (Imagine Face/Off^²). Stylistically, there’s an intense amber hue for the duration, which I didn’t really see the point of – or understand. Naturally, there’s a lot of playing around with duality, repetition, mirrors, doubles, from the get-go, and although the film’s not explicitly wrapped up (the ending is a bit of a mystery/clusterfuck) there are a lot of clues and lines in there; namely that our lead may have a split personality. Definitely the least accessible film since he started working with ‘big’ names; this bleak, tense, and dark thriller is the perfect appetiser for Arrival; and lays out the “un film de Denis Villeneuve” style that he’s kept right through to his current, mega-budget films.
Possession (Original Cut): follows the breakdown of a relationship between an international spy and his increasingly disturbed wife. Highly stylized, the masterful direction immediately jumps out; the camera is perpetually moving, with long and involving shots that roam around the actors, thrusting you right into the middle of the powerful, visceral drama. The acting is superb throughout, borderline theatrical but it assists in dragging you further into the intriguing plot. The entire film has an unusual vibe that’s both quasi-religious and heavily-surreal – somewhere between arthouse and exploitation – aided by a phenomenally creepy score that is one of the most unsettling I can remember. Not without it’s flaws, by the 75-minute mark, I was wishing I’d opted for the 90-minute edit, as the film takes a lingering detour into an examination of the body, soul, god, chance, and faith. It’s also a movie that has echoed strongly throughout the years, with a lot of imagery and powerful shots “borrowed” from this, and some of the most photogenic Berlin buildings – inside and out. Capped off with a genuinely crazy, jaw-dropping ending this is a film that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry; yet is such an intense experience that you won be rushing to re-watch. Marginalized because of it’s supernatural and excessive elements, Possession is ripe for a retrospective viewing: almost 40 years on it remains a modern thriller/horror that was way, way ahead of it’s time.
Train to Busan (AKA 부산행, Busanhaeng): follows a ragtag bunch of commuters as a zombie outbreak sweeps through South Korea – and their Train. Mostly killer and very little filler, this is about as fun and enjoyable as a zombie apocalypse film can get. All of the populist and barnstorming zombie staples are there – namely hoards of ultra-twitchy and energetic zombies gorily ripping their way through everything and everyone in their path. Not unlike Snowpiercer, the train is a great way of offering up a diverse cross-section of society, which leads to some light social commentary and comedy moments. It’s a tight and straightforward film that has a punchy setup, then revels in the crimson spectacle of a drawn-out zombie attack. The action is all well-handled and there’s some nice dramatic moments thrown in for some respite and balance. The only minor niggle is that it loses it’s way a little in the final act and gets a bit too Hollywood / 28 Weeks Later. Overall, this has all of the prime cuts that you want from Zombie film, and none of the offal (except for buckets of brains and guts!)
GET OUT [Spoilers]: when a girl takes her new boyfriend home to meet her family, he gets way more than he bargained for. As a white metropolitan elite male, and part of the liberal media (a blog counts, right?) the moments of sleight racism, underhand stereotypes, and low-key comments about ‘form’, ‘structure’, ‘genetics’, etc were the hardest bits to watch. The strongest aspect about this film is that it skillfully uses the ‘language’ of horror cinema (jumps, isolation, string score) to emphasize the uneasy and odd parts of the plot. Even white people talking normally about Tiger Woods, Jessie Owens, and Obama sounds creepier through the ‘horror’ lens. The final 10 minutes see a major tone shift into exploitation & schlocky B-movie cheese, with some crowd pleasing gore – although it does feel like it’s been heaped on for good measure – a highlight being a ‘reverse American History X headstomp’ homage. There’s a few other missteps like the ‘gentrified’ help coming over more “robotic” than ‘transplanted’, and the TSA agent friend is purely in there for some cheap comic relief. The best thing about Get Out is that everything mentioned in the first half fits together perfectly for the reveal and finale; however, the flip side of that is that there’s no subtlety, and you get pushed down a particular path, which the film sticks religiously to; which feels too straightforward in a time where you expect more from top-drawer horror.
The Hunt (aka Jagten): a nursery teacher’s life is pulled from beneath him when one of his very young students falsely accuses him of a sexual act. The film has a highly naturalistic, almost documentary-style (think Dogme 95) which creates a very realistic world and really gives you the impression that this could be any guy in this position. Being in almost every frame, the film puts a lot of stock in to Mads, but it pays off as he delivers an absolute powerhouse performance – he’s an everyman, but not like the other men around, and we see enough of him to empathise with his new fate. The middle act is particularly moving & emotional, and feels like a critique of the “guilty until proven innocent” society we live in at the moment. It’s even more interesting re-watching this through the 2017 ‘scandal of the week’ lens in this post-Weinstein abuse era. There are some very tough scenes like child counselor meeting and Lucas trying in vain to reason with his closest family and friends. Raw, emotional and affecting, The Hunt is a modern classic, and will no doubt be one of Mikkelsen and Vinterberg’s career highlights, no matter what else they go on to do.
El topo: a surreal wild-west-type cowboy tale that’s heavy on the religious symbolism and appeared to have been conceived (& filmed) whilst on all of the drugs. The biggest thing this film has going for it is reel after reel of top-shelf insanity and phenomenal imagery: attempting to put some of the scenes into words wouldn’t do them justice – but suffice to say that the locations, landscapes, characters, and overall visuals are absolutely remarkable. Beyond the aesthetics, the rest of the film feels like a hodgepodge of themes, styles, and ideas. The tone continually bounces around from jarring “Texas Chainsaw” style, straight into to a Russ Meyers type shoe-sniffer: from po-faced religious moments through to Blazing Saddles levels of stupidity. It’s also – unfortunately – a film of two halves, that gets tangled up after the initial “mission” and really loses the head of steam (and patience) that the first have had built up. The foley work is particularly terrible – the film is shot outdoors, but most of the speech and effects appear to have been recorded in a boxy echo chamber. There’s also a lot of violent (although reddest blood ever) and exploitative stuff in here too, like the misuse of religion, lesbians, and midgets & disabled people for no real reason. Bizarre and easily one of the strangest & most overlooked cult movies ever made, El Topo is the most peculiar of beasts, that’s only worth watching for it’s sublime and visionary aesthetic.