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The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat

Apr. 10th, 2019

11:46 am - For clarity's sake

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Jun. 25th, 2016

10:05 pm - In short: The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956)

Cowboy Jimmy Ryan (Guy Madison) and his friend Felipe Sanchez (Carlos Rivas) have established a cattle ranch somewhere in Mexico. Despite the obvious hatred the big man in town Enrique Rios (Eduardo Noriega) harbours for them, things have been going well so far. That is, until a few weeks ago. Now, cattle is disappearing in surprising numbers, and it looks as if someone is driving the animals into a nearby swamp surrounding the titular Hollow Mountain.

Or it might just be the swamp is cursed, for whenever a particularly heavy summer heat wave strikes, as it does this year, and the swamp shrinks, something attacks and eats men and cattle alike in the area.

What is clear is that Enrique is stepping up his attempts at sabotaging our protagonists, not only because he doesn’t approve of an American undercutting his cattle prices but also because his fiancée Sarita (Patricia Medina) has taken quite an obvious shine to Jimmy. Of course, Jimmy’s a true white hat, so he’d never do much more than pine for Sarita, but Enrique’s the kind of guy who projects his own rather more aggressive approach to life on others, so more trouble has to ensue.

If you think this sounds as if Edward Nassour’s and Ismael Rodríguez’ Beast of Hollow Mountain, the first of the tiny handful of cowboys versus dinosaur films is rather more interested in its B-western elements than it is in its stop motion dinosaur, you’re absolutely right. In fact, if you’d leave the dinosaur out of the plot completely, there’d be little about the film that would have to change.

That’s particularly disappointing since the fifteen minutes or so of cowboy versus dinosaur action we get are rather good, with solid stop motion and a handful of clever action set pieces. Still, if you’re going into this expecting much dinosaur or monster action, you’re bound to be disappointed.

As a B-western in the non-psychological style, Beast is perfectly alright fare that starts out with a bit of neat action but suffers from a middle that’s too talky for the flat characterisations it offers. There’s not even a decent shoot-out in there, even though there are at least two scenes that would set the scene for one beautifully. The film also suffers from a wide sentimental streak that mostly involves a sub-plot about the mandatory little boy and his alcoholic father. The Western parts are certainly not horrible if you like this side of the genre – which I do to a degree - but it’s not terribly exciting either.

At least the film looks good. Thanks to being a US/Mexican co-production (there’s supposed to be a Spanish language version shot back to back), it was actually shot in Mexico for the most part, providing the directors with ample opportunity to show off the local landscape, which they do with decided enthusiasm. It’s also quite pleasant to encounter a western whose Mexican characters are played by actual Mexican actors instead of white guys from Brooklyn in brownface.

Technorati-Markierungen: mexican movies,american movies,in short,western,giant monsters,fantasy,edward nassour,ismael rodríguez,guy madison,patricia medina

Jun. 24th, 2016

10:20 pm - Past Misdeeds: The Real Pocong (2009)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

As is somewhat traditional in films, a small, young family consisting of mother Rin(i) (Nabila Syakieb), father (I)Van (Ashraf Sinclair) and little daughter Laura (Sakinah Dava Erawan) moves into a new home in the country, although as a non-Indonesian I'd call it "the jungle" or at least "the deep dark woods".

Rini and Van are enthusiastic about their new house. It was cheap, and there are none of the dangers of the city threatening their daughter now. One would think that the country air could also be good for Laura's asthma. There's a certain lack of neighbours, though, with the only person living nearby the young physician Dr. Nila (Kinaryosih). At least she's friendly and could probably be of help when little Laura has one of her attacks.

Less friendly are other inhabitants of the area. Right on the family's first day in the new house, Laura follows a strange, unsmiling girl of about her own age deeper into the woods, until she comes to a weather-beaten old shack beside a well. There, the other girl seems to disappear into thin air. Instead, something dressed in white funeral shrouds jumps Laura.

When Rini finds her deeply disturbed daughter, she can't get a word out of the girl, and puts her strange behaviour on an understandable reaction to the new environment. In truth, a pocong (female Indonesian ghost dressed in white shrouds that often seems to have religious connotations I won't pretend to understand) has taken an interest in the girl. At first, it seems relatively benign, turning into a kitten and sneaking into Laura's room, or singing her lullabies, but just too soon the ghost again lures the girl to the shack. Only this time, Laura doesn't return.

The police (who are never actually shown by the film) find not a trace of the child, nor any explanation of what happened, so the desperate Rini seeks the help of a medium, very much against Van's will. The medium diagnoses the place to be haunted and declares a pocong to be the child snatcher, but seems unwilling to act on her findings. Only when Van calls her out in a fit of aggressive scepticism she deigns to do something, and I can't say that I find giving the sceptic an amulet that is supposed to help him cross over to the spirit world and then drive away never to return to be a very responsible action.

Surprisingly enough, Van actually uses the amulet to cross over (through a gate of pine trees, no less), and manages to bring Laura back. Of course, this is not the end of the family's troubles.

The more films of the (as it seems still merrily continuing) Indonesian horror film boom I see, the more impressed I am with it. Of course, quite a few of the films are terribly generic, or marred by the sort of comic relief that is neither comical, nor any kind of relief, but you can say that of every country's genre film output at the best of times. The important thing is the good films, and the good horror films made in Indonesia in the last five years or so tend to be very good, and quietly ambitious in exploring the possibilities of their genre.

The Real Pocong definitely is one of those good films. Directed by Hanny R. Saputra (whose other films I unfortunately know next to nothing about), it is a film that treats its horror story as a fairy tale. One just needs to have a look at the plot structure - like the way the film uses repetition - or the elements (the deep dark wood, the road into the other world, the child-snatching supernatural creature etc) of the plot to realize this.

The characters are more archetypes than psychologically "realistic" people. As such, they don't always act as rational or logical as some viewers might want them to - especially Rini's inability to completely understand what is happening around her in the final third of the film could be very problematic to some - but I'm not too sure I would find people learning that their little daughter has been kidnapped by a ghost and then acting rationally and logically that much more believable. Thankfully, the handful of actors is good enough to provide performances which do not confuse the archetypal with the inhuman.

I was especially impressed by Sakinah Dava Erawan. Child actors are often terrible, and I find it somewhat unfair to blame them for it, seeing that they just don't have much life experience they could draw from, but I didn't find it difficult at all to sympathize with this little girl. Cleverly, the first part of The Real Pocong lets the film's audience share Laura's perspective, her mixture of terror and wonder and the naturalness with which she treats the stranger occurrences around her; as a child, she doesn't have the grip on what should be reality and what not a grown-up possesses, and because we share her view of the world, we don't get to have that grip either.

As any good fairy tale would, the movie does well addressing anxieties people typically don't want to be confronted with quite directly. The Laura-centric half of the film embodies many childhood anxieties. It's not only the more banal ones like "the thing in the cupboard" or "the thing under the bed", but the fear of not being understood by one's parents, and the more painful fear of not being able to trust them.

The second half of the film puts the same (slightly painful) spotlight on the big parental fear of the loss of one's child without going down either the road of Spielbergian kitsch, nor that of exploitative melodrama.

Apart from that, The Real Pocong also manages to be quite creepy (again, as a good fairy tale should be). While some of the special effects look a bit ropey, the production design and photography are excellent. This is one of the few horror films whose actions take place nearly entirely by daylight, and it proves that a director who knows what he's doing doesn't need darkness to build a mood of dread.

Technorati-Markierungen: indonesian movies,reviews,past misdeeds,horror,hanny r. saputra,nabila syakieb,ashraf sinclair,sakinah dava erawan

Jun. 23rd, 2016

08:32 pm - The Collection (2012)

A bizarre serial killer called The Collector (Randall Archer) has made his way into a sequel. His modus operandi sees him locking up a group of people somewhere and slaughtering them with the help of physics-sceptical death traps as well as more hands-on efforts until only one victim is left. Him or her, he loads into a neat little trunk and carts to his murder castle (quite traditionally situated in an old hotel building named after Dario Argento) where he has fun with torture, drugs, and the creation of modern art of the sort I suspect Rob Zombie would love.

For reasons, the Collector likes to bring an earlier trunked victim to his next crime. Which affords thief Arkin (Josh Stewart), the survivor of the first film I believe, an opportunity to escape the crazyman while he’s killing a horde of teenagers on a warehouse party in various hilarious way. The Collector then trunks survivor Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) and carries her home to have his various ways with her. Elena, it turns out, was not a terribly good choice of victim. She’s a ten out of ten on the Final Girl effectiveness scale, and I’m pretty sure she’d kick the guy’s ass herself rather well.

However, she doesn’t have to do the job alone, because she’s also the child of a very rich father as well as under the protection of a rather effective security guy named Lucello (Lee Tergesen). Lucello convinces Arkin to lead him and a small band of mercenaries (among them Andre Royo and Shannon Kane) to The Collector’s murder palace. Arkin has seen Aliens so he’s not willing to lead Lucello and his people any further than the entry to Collector central but once there, their guns are rather convincing for him to change his mind.

Now they only have to fight their way through a bunch of the killer’s drugged up zombie victims, survive a cornucopia of death traps, and somehow find Elena in this somewhat creepy labyrinth. It’s good for all involved that Elena can take care of herself and that Arkin will find his heroic spirit.

I thought Marcus Dunstan’s The Collector was a pretty useless Saw-alike crossed with a slasher with even less substance, care and style than that series or that genre show; Dunstan’s own sequel, on the other hand, doesn’t just beat the Saw movies by a wide margin but also has a personality of its own. Sure, its personality is stitched together out of the parts of other movies but it’s the right parts put together in the right way, presented with an eye for the lurid and the outrageous.

While nobody – certainly not I - would suggest The Collection to be subtle, it is a rather more clever and coherent film than I expected it to be. Early on, around minute eleven or so, the film establishes that it isn’t taking place anywhere that might be confused with the real world through the rather fun, rather absurd and rather cool party slaughter scene. After that point, one might expect the film to continue to just throw random disjointed crap at its audience but the first fifteen minutes or so actually establish the specific kind of luridness and craziness the film is going for, and Dunstan just follows through for the rest of the movie, turning what by all rights should be a warehouse horror piece about people wandering from one random shock to the next (and dying) into a film that is lurid as hell but also of one piece – while still being all about people wandering through a warehouse, being shocked, and dying.

There’s an unexpected sense of aesthetic coherence on display into which the Collector lair’s Goth Metal cover look and feel fit perfectly well, making sense in context and providing the film with a coherent mood and style, as do the set design and the film’s very un-2012 thoughtful use of colours that reminded me of some of the better bits of 80s horror.

Even the writing works rather well, with the script going out of its way to add surprising little moments where a character’s action comments on other actions that happened before. Clearly a lot of effort is put into keeping the film’s main victims more than just meat for the killer to slaughter; this being the rare slasher film that actually realizes its killer is a right prick. I also very much enjoyed the little bits of action movie cheese that are sprinkled throughout the film, keeping things pleasantly crazy while never going so far as to breaking the established rules of the film’s world.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,horror,marcus dunstan,josh stewart,emma fitzpatrick,lee tergesen,randall archer

Jun. 22nd, 2016

10:38 pm - In short: The Ouija Experiment 2: Theatre of Death (2015)

aka The Ouija Resurrection

Oh, how meta! Turns out, in the world of The Ouija Experiment 2, the first film was only a movie, so the film brings back three of the first film’s main actors, now playing themselves. Now I can’t keep Swisyzinna, Justin Armstrong and Eric Window anonymous anymore, but it’s their own damn fault. Anyway, our heroes – such as they are – have just taken part in the “world premiere” of their film in a shabby movie theatre in some god-forsaken Texas town. In what is difficult not to read as an act of ever so slight wish fulfilment, the audience is really excited about the film. But wait, there’s more!

In the next few days, the supposedly haunted cinema will be turned into a haunted house attraction to promote the film, with the high point an extra special haunted tour behind locked doors for lucky winner Michelle Joy (Sally Greenland) and two invitees of her choosing – her gay best friend and the local mildly psychic goth girl.

Alas, Window farts around with the original ouija board from the first movie while trying to impress a local bimbo and of course does not say goodbye, which invites in the local incest ghost who proceeds to first kill the actors and then anyone else it can get its claws on. There’s also a bit of “darn those backwoods” people horror thrown in in the end, but let’s not go there, particularly since that part of the film gives us an overlong expositional speech of highly dubious merit.

You know when I said about the first film that I found myself somewhat charmed by it because it clearly tried very hard, as well as by the existence of some decent scares? That pretty much holds for the second Ouija Experiment too. The film is a bit more ambitious with its attempts at meta horror but that never really amounts to much more than a handful of scenes that wink at the audience in a not too penetrant way. The cinema is certainly a spookier place than the first film’s apartments/bungalows/wherever you American people live, lending itself well enough to this second film’s eschewing of POV horror for more standard filmmaking.

The acting’s still pretty bad – though the actors from the first film have improved a bit – and the humour goofy in a somewhat charming manner, while the horror sequences go from fun to aggressively annoying and back again. As a whole, I enjoyed the film more than it probably deserves. Maybe because it – as well as its predecessor – feels to me like the direct to video version of the goofier side of 70s and 80s local filmmaking, or because I kinda like its particular type of silliness, or perhaps just because I can’t help but root for a sequel that doesn’t just repeat its predecessor beat for beat.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,horror,israel luna,swisyzinna,justin armstrong,sally greenland

Jun. 21st, 2016

09:54 pm - The Tag-Along (2015)

Original title: 紅衣小女孩

Warning: spoilers are inevitable in this case

Real estate agent Wei (River Wong Hiu) and his talk radio DJ girlfriend Yi-Jun (Tiffany Hsu Wei-Ning) have a rather difficult relationship. She doesn’t want to marry at all while he mortgages his grandma’s house to buy a family apartment for the time after they’re married behind everyone’s backs (somehow, even his grandmother’s), which does not promise a very glorious future to anyone involved.

Things become definitely inglorious when Wei’s grandmother (Liu Yin-Shang) disappears, or rather, as the audience knows, is kidnapped by mountain forest spirits who seem to be putting human souls where once trees stood (or something of that sort), sometimes putting an evil spirit in the place of their victims. The victims can call their loved ones for help, but when those react, they are taken in their stead. It’s a bit of an awkward arrangement, if you ask me, but I’m no forest spirit. Obviously, after a handful of frightening occurrences, Wei takes the place of his grandmother, and Yi-Jun becomes our protagonist.

It falls on her shoulders to save Wei by changing her mind about marriage and children. But hey, at least it’s okay for her to work, it seems.

So yeah, it would take quite a bit of mental gymnastics to call Cheng Wei-Hao’s The Tag-Along anything else but socially conservative (as most Taiwanese films I’ve seen seem to be). Given that my own predilections lie in a rather different direction, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I still enjoyed the film. Certainly, that has a lot to do with the fact that Cheng isn’t out to punish his characters for living the “wrong” way as a lot of explicitly conservative horror is – the film is even willing to let an abortion slide which these films usually never do – but seems more interested in seeing them become happier and ghost-free through marriage and babies. The film seems to genuinely feel for its characters, and while I disagree with what it says is good for them, it does have its heart in the right place.

There’s also an only slightly more subtle aspect to the film’s subtext, in that the spirits are leaving their forest home to harvest souls in the city because the balance of things in their forest has been disturbed by people, only to come to a place where the natural order is just as out of joint. Young people not marrying! Women who don’t want children! OMG!

I…don’t seem to be selling the film very well, am I? But despite its basic message, I do think The Tag-Along is a rather fine horror film that tries to sell its message in an honest way, without being too much of an ass about it and without feeling the need to disrespect the integrity of its characters for its message. Even Yi-Jun’s change of heart when confronted with nasty spirits makes sense for her, so that I didn’t found myself manipulated – at least until the very end when the film’s laying it on much too thick (though that does feed into a kicker ending which you could see as a subversion of the whole conservative message of the film, but that I read as your standard horror movie ending being just that).

The thing is, this is a genuinely good horror movie, a film featuring some simple yet effective ghost scares, CGI that goes from silly to creepy and is charming in both ways, decent acting, as well as one of the ickier bug eating scenes in memory. It’s a film that builds mood and establishes characters and place economically and effectively, as well as one that does understand the special vulnerability you feel just after waking up from a nightmare. I also found the way the protagonist role shifts over time very elegantly realized and organic to the film while still being surprising.

So it would be pretty shabby if I’d look down on The Tag-Along just because I disagree with it on the importance of marriage and babies.

Technorati-Markierungen: taiwanese movies,reviews,horror,cheng wei-hao,river wong hiu,tiffany hsu wei-ning

Jun. 20th, 2016

07:27 pm - Music Monday: Indigo Edition

Jun. 19th, 2016

10:40 pm - In short: Venom (2005)

The young population of the appropriately named Louisiana swamp town of Backwater is under attack, for an accident involving a suitcase full of magical snakes has left the corpse of town outcast and gas station owner Ray (Rick Cramer) possessed by all the evil the local voodoo priestess milked out of people (don’t ask). That’s obviously a whole lot of evil, and so Zombie Ray first kills the coroner, then Method Man, and then starts on the town’s young.

Will obvious final girl Eden (Agnes Bruckner) manage to save some of her friends from certain doom? And how will she get rid of a tow truck driving zombie?

Despite appearances, Jim Gillespie’s throwback to the supernatural slasher stylings of the 80s is a rather fun little flick. As it goes with its particular subgenre, it’s not a terrible clever film, but at least it is not the kind of film where the bad guy is dispatched by a kung fu kicking Bustah Rhymes. Instead the film takes its own silliness seriously and expects the audience to roll with it.

That’s not particularly difficult, for there’s quite a bit to recommend here. For one, the film puts in a decent effort to portray its Louisiana dead end town as a place, if the kind of place where only our young murder victims, Ray, a sheriff and deputy, a coroner and a mother seem to live. It’s not exactly a naturalistic approach, but the film does have quite a few atmospheric shots of swamps and the always empty (apart from the diner) town, driving home that this isn’t a generic backwater, but indeed much more specific Backwater.

It also puts a bit of effort into giving its meat broad stroke character traits and conflicts slightly above and beyond the question of who sleeps with whom. It’s not deep, but it’s deep enough to make most of the characters feel a bit less disposable, even though I have a hard time imagining anyone being crushed by anyone’s death. These deaths aren’t half bad either, realized with decent practical effects and a good eye for the slightly gruesome (it’s mainstream horror and not a gore movie after all) and embedded in just as decent slash and stalk scenes.

The longer Venom goes on, the larger its sillier vein becomes, and once we enter the final third, bets are off enough that a completely straight-faced scene where the more survivable of our protagonists use the dead body of one of their friends as an oversized voodoo doll with an assorted discussion about the morality of such a thing is just par for the course. I’m not complaining, mind you, because I do prefer imaginative nonsense played straight to the alternatives of unimaginative nonsense or awkward irony, or worse, a combination of both.

So, while Venom certainly isn’t an overlooked classic, it is a good-sized chunk of effective, slightly crazy fun, just the thing to watch when you’re not up for something more involving.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,horror,slasher,jim gillespie,agnes bruckner,jonathan jackson,rick cramer,laura ramsey

Jun. 18th, 2016

08:55 pm - SyFy vs. The Mynd: Ominous (2015)

Rachel (Esmé Bianco) and Michael (Barry Watson) Young’s little son Jacob (Gavin Lewis) dies when his father doesn’t hold to the old rule that drinking and reversing out of one’s driveway don’t mix.

When a not at all ominous (see what I did there?) stranger (Mark Lindsay Chapman) offers them to resurrect their son they are a bit sceptical at first. Fortunately, Michael is such a menace when driving they just happen to carry a freshly run over dog in their car, which the Stranger promptly revives. Given further developments, I’m pretty disappointed we never hear from the dog again afterwards, Ominous cheating us out of some perfectly good Devil Dog remake action.

So off our heroes drive to dig out their son. The Stranger does as he promises, but would you believe it, little Jacob isn’t quite as was once before what with him killing the family dog to for being barked at and all. Three months later, the family has relocated to avoid what would have been some truly awkward – yet hilarious – questions. Michael’s sober, Rachel’s happy, and Jacob murders small animals or causes telekinetic playground massacres when he’s getting really annoyed. One Father Francis (Eric Etebari), dagger-fighting devil-hunting priest, informs Michael that his son is the Anti-Christ, and thanks to Jacob’s total lack of restraint when it comes to using his magical powers in public, it very quickly becomes rather difficult for Michael to disagree. Rachel, on the other hand, will need a while to come around to the proper point of view.

Well, say what you will against Peter Sullivan’s Ominous, it sure doesn’t follow the usual SyFy Original formula (on account of it being a film made for but not by the Channel, I suppose). Instead, it’s a cheap, frequently hilarious riff on The Omen and other kid Satan films. I can’t remember ever having seen an entry into that exclusive sub-genre that wasn’t any good, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise Ominous is pretty bad too.

However – and fortunately – it is bad in all the best ways, with a cast that treats the hilarious and usually deeply stupid things they have to do or say as if they were involved in matters of great gravitas and import, special effects that try to make up for their lack of imagination with a lot of digital gore, an evil Satanic conspiracy that seems to have only one member, a haunted priest who looks like he spends more time in front of the mirror taking care of his facial hair than fighting evil and who has the astonishing ability to decapitate a teenager with a dagger, a possessed boy whose last act super power seems to be to transform into a teenager-sized version of himself in bad demon make-up (or might that be the film being a wee bit nervous about showing a little kid axed and knifed by his own parents?).

If that’s not enough for your brain – mine’s already dead, so don’t look at my like that – the film’s final act also features a fight between a SWAT team and a digital unkindness of ravens or a digital murder of crows – who can identify digital bids? - which the SWAT team manages to lose, and that features a bird swarm so badly done it’s nearly on the sub-basement level of Birdemic.

What’s not to like?

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,syfy vs the mynd,horror,wtf,peter sullivan,esmé bianco,barry watson

Jun. 17th, 2016

08:19 pm - Past Misdeeds: Sheitan (2006)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

I'm going to explain a bit more of the film's subtext than I'd strictly like in the course of the write-up, so anyone planning to see this with fresh eyes shouldn't read any further.

It's the night before Christmas. After being thrown out of a club thanks to the douchey behaviour of their friend Bart (Olivier Bartelemy), Ladj (Ladj Ly), Thai (Nico Le Phat Tan), the barkeep Yasmine (Leila Bekhti) and vague acquaintance Eve (Roxane Mesquida) decide to drunk drive to Eve's country home to spend some time there.

The folks' place must be far from Paris, because the group only arrives some time the next morning. There's no trace of Eve's parents at her place, only Dad's doll collection. The only people home are the family's satyr-like groundskeeper Joseph (Vincent Cassel) and - unseen by the Parisians - his highly pregnant wife Marie (Georgette Crochon). Marie mostly seems to spend her time making a doll out of spare parts and hiding, but the city folk are too busy with other things to notice.

Ladj would really like to get into Yasmine's pants, merrily ignoring the fact that he has a girlfriend at home, while both the obviously douchey Bart, and the more subtly douchey Thai both feel very attracted to Eve, who for her part isn't exactly discouraging anyone (although I don't think these guys would notice if she were). Joseph for his part seems strangely interested in Barth, but for what reason won't become clear until much later in the movie.

Suffice it to say that these reasonably friendly country people have some rather strange hobbies, besides throwing smiling racist insults around. Everything Joseph and the country youth do has an undertone of violence and weird menace that people a bit more sensitive and sensible than our "heroes" would find creepy, if not outright disturbing. Of course, the violent undercurrent will come to the surface in the end, if in a different way than you would expect.

Kim Chapiron's Sheitan really is something different than you'd think on first (or even second) sight. It all starts out as a French variation of the backwoods slasher, promising a gore explosion in the manner of much of the French horror renaissance for its final thirty minutes.

But the longer the film is running, the clearer it gets that this is not the kind of film it initially pretends to be. In spirit, it is much closer to the great weird European films of the fantastic made in the Seventies than its contemporaries, willing to give up on the notion of plot or characters nearly completely to better be able to drag its viewers into the realms of utter strangeness and dry, wrong-feeling humour.

Instead of the expected revue of kills, the film plays out as a series of increasingly disquieting, often erotically charged set pieces bound to confuse, annoy, amuse and confound anyone with their grotesquerie. While it is obvious to the film's audience (the characters are rather dense, I'm afraid) that something very unpleasant is bound to happen rather sooner than later, the film virtually wallows in not explaining itself too early. But, unlike in some of my other very favourite weird ass European films, everything happening does in fact happen for a reason. You see, it is important that Sheitan takes place at Christmas, because the child Marie is going to give birth to is the Anti-Christ, or at least that is what the country family thinks - there is nothing overtly supernatural going on. Much of what happens during the course of the movie happens as a twisted mirror of Christian tradition, sometimes more subtle and sometimes less (Mary and Joseph, anyone?).

Still, as I said, the film never does actually say this outright, and instead treats its high concept a bit detached and with a feeling of sardonic humour, like a joke it doesn't need you to get to find funny.

I'm very fond of the way Chapiron directs the film. It is steady, technically adept, but doesn't try to out-weird itself like a lot of modern horror films going for weird are wont to, very often to their detriment. This does not mean that Chapiron just points and shoots. Rather, he is building the mood of intense strangeness required for his film in more subtle ways and does not seem to need or want to put too much emphasis on his own abilities.

"Subtle" isn't a word I'd use for Vincent Cassel's performance here. From a certain perspective, he's chewing the scenery outrageously, but still manages to give this outwardly blustering performance a much more disturbing undercurrent, as if his outer madness is hiding something much worse (which it in fact does). Roxane Mesquida's performance as Eve is nearly as intense as Cassel's, but not as aggressively over the top. She projects a quiet eroticism that also hints at something different beyond or below it.

Our theoretical heroes are just as well played, but the characters the actors are left with don't have much depth to them. They're supposed to be a bit dense, a bit too aggressive, and utterly unlikeable, and they manage that perfectly. Of course, this isn't a character study, but a trip into the land of the weird, so I'm not complaining.

There isn't much to complain about in Sheitan anyway. Sure, it doesn't have a plot, but watching something this clearly in the tradition of 70s Eurohorror and demanding "plot" instead of a  moody trip into a strange place in someone's head is just wrong-headed, like complaining that the moon isn't made of green cheese. If you let it, Sheitan can beautifully mess with your head, and make your mind a more interesting place for its ninety minute running time (and possibly afterwards). I couldn't wish for more.

Technorati-Markierungen: french movies,horror,kim chapiron,roxane mesquida,vincent cassel,reviews,past misdeeds

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