Talking Movies

August 27, 2018

From the Archives: Eden Lake

Another dive into the archives pulls up a Michael Fassbender horror movie that announced a new British director.

Eden Lake may be the first entry in an entirely new sub-genre, the socio-economic horror film, as this film might be more accurately and threateningly re-titled The Chavs

Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly play a polite middle-class London couple who travel to Eden Lake in the depths of the English countryside with the help of their sat-nav. Steve (Fassbender) plans to propose to Jenny (Reilly) over the course of a romantic weekend camping by its idyllic lapping waters. However the surroundings really are a place where every prospect pleases and only man is vile because a group of hoodie wearing teenagers mercilessly harass them for the day, and then the next day steal their jeep. An attempt by Steve and Jenny to get it back sees events very realistically spiral totally out of control.

Eden Lake is relentlessly tense from the first time you hear a voice announcing government proposals to deal with under-age offenders on the car radio as the couple drive out of London. Fassbender (a personal hero of mine) breaks his own rule of always obviously enjoying himself far too much in his work, as, after initially grinning like an idiot, his character Steve is sucked into the nightmare of dealing with this chillingly realised teen gang. Be warned that Eden Lake features a nigh unwatchable scene where, following the accidental killing of a vicious dog belonging to the gang leader Brett (a terrifying Jack O’Connell), Steve is tied up with barb wire and slashed and stabbed by every member of the gang, who of course all have knives like box-cutters, while the sole girl in the gang films the torture on her mobile phone.

Believe it or not things actually get even worse after that; being burnt alive, having a spike driven through your foot and being stabbed in the neck with a shard of glass are horrors still to come for the characters. It’s easy to see why Kelly Reilly was cast as Desdemona in Ewan McGregor’s West End production of Othello last year as her character Jenny is a frustratingly helpless victim until the incredibly bleak final reel.

The writing, directing and acting are as taut as can be and the shlock horror make-up is exemplary. Eden Lake is technically a superb achievement that belies its small budget and announces writer/director James Watkins as a notable talent. I cannot, however, think of a single reason to see this film. It is horror without humour, without the supernatural, without hope or relief. It is horror that could actually happen, and to you. Jack O’Connell’s surly Brett is the worst school bully you ever feared, on crack. Eden Lake would make you feel unsafe walking the streets of England with anything less than a Samurai sword strapped to your waist. Too close to the bone…

3/5

May 6, 2018

They call this screening ‘The Mop’

There is a certain type of film that plays last of all at a multiplex for the purpose of mopping up late-comers and professional procrastinators.

Right now in Movies at Dundrum Blockers is on at 21:20 and A Quiet Place at 21:10. A Quiet Place is the kind of film that fits the archetype of ‘The Mop’, as is Cineworld’s final movie tonight, The Strangers: Prey at Night, on at 22:45. The Mop is usually a horror film. In fact a good deal of Blumhouse’s output (Sinister, The Purge, Happy Death Day, Truth or Dare) would be well-suited to mop purposes. The Mop ought to be a horror film, because it sustains horror week in week out. Horror films aren’t expensive to make. That is the secret of Jason Blum’s success. It is possible to make a very presentable film on the catering budget of a CGI-laden blockbuster. And horror films and late, dithering audiences have an easy to understand and easy to fulfil compact.

The audience that needs to be mopped has arrived without having booked in advance, something which admittedly is becoming less common. They have no firm idea what they’re going to see and are heavily swayed by the times of the films and the times of bus/Luas home. One of my greatest experiences in dithering saw myself, the man behind the online pseudonym E von Ludendorff, and John Fahey begged to leave Cineworld by a security guard who’d  suffered thru too many minutes of arguing over what to see – “Lads! Would you go outside for a few minutes, just DECIDE, and then come back in”. That resulted in an almighty tussle between Saw, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, and Shark Tale.

Horror films don’t get much respect outside of Hallowe’en. But, just as Seth Rogen noted it’s easy to tell if a comedy is working as opposed to a drama, it’s quite easy to spot when a horror film is not scary. They are a matter of technique. Think of the sequence in Let Me In where Elias Koteas foolishly moves towards the bloodied door to see what’s behind it while Michael Giacchino’s string orchestration goes into a frenzy. In the hands of someone like Matt Reeves or James Watkins such a sequence is almost unbearably suspenseful. In the hands of a hack, the effect is lost entirely, and you become aware it’s just a guy slowly walking towards a door with a vampire behind it.

May 11, 2016

Green Room

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier follows up the succes d’estime of his second feature, 2013 revenge thriller Blue Ruin, with an equally visceral assault on mainstream horror.

green-room-is-a-must-watch-brutally-insane-movie-sundance-review

The Ain’t Rights wake up in their tour van to find they’re out of gas and off the road. Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Sam (Alia Shawkat) cycle to a parking lot to siphon gas. Rescuing the stranded Reece (Joe Cole) and Tiger (Callum Turner) they head to a disastrous afternoon gig after which apologetic DJ Tad (David W Thompson) sets them up with a backwoods gig for gas money. They are troubled to find a certain neo-Nazi vibe there, and so naturally lead off with a provocative Dead Kennedys number. But when they walk offstage to find Amber (Imogen Poots) and Werm (Brent Werzner) standing over the dead body of Emily (Taylor Tunes) in the green room, provoking neo-Nazis goes from a risky proposition to a lethal one as Gabe (Macon Blair) imprisons them, waiting for supremo Darcy (Patrick Stewart)…

Green Room recalls 2008’s Eden Lake. Saulnier’s writing and directing are spare and taut and the shlock horror practical FX are exemplary. Eden Lake was an equally superb technical achievement that belied its small budget and announced James Watkins as a notable talent. Reviewing Eden Lake, however, I couldn’t think of a single reason to recommend watching it. It was horror without humour, without the supernatural, without hope or relief; horror that could actually happen, and to you. Green Room is an equally plausible nightmare. You are stapled to your chair by dread and tension, even though there is humour in Macon’s nice guy thug, and the band’s agonising over their Desert Island Discs picks. Stewart is a gruff presence but Poots steals the film with the best lines (“Madonna. … And Slayer”) and a casual facility with extreme violence.

Green Room is not an easy watch. Once Big Justin (Eric Edelstein) is insinuated into the green room to guard the band the clever edits, memorable imagery, and character moments of touring musicians become a distant memory. Dogs rip out throats, box-cutters slice open stomachs, heads explode with shotgun blasts, arms are broken asunder, and a Gotham-aping mutilation occurs. This is where the lack of supernatural or glee becomes a problem. The Kingslayer losing his sword-hand for acting morally in Games of Thrones horrifies in a way that Ash losing his hand in Evil Dead 2 does not, not only because of differences in overall tone but also because it’s his self-definition. Saulnier goes grand guignol gross-out on the mutilation, then backpedals on its life-altering horror by visually covering it up, as if belatedly concerned it’s excessive enough to distract.

Green Room is undeniably an indelible cinematic experience, but not one that will leave fond memories. We await Saulnier’s impending MR James adaptation Red Rune with an awed anticipation.

3/5

February 8, 2012

The Woman in Black

Director James Watkins abundantly fulfils the promise he showed with 2008’s Eden Lake by unleashing a terrifying film that establishes him as a true master of horror.

Daniel Radcliffe is back in the realms of the supernatural, but this time he has no magical powers with which to fight evil… Watkins’ Eden Lake was a social horror in which chavs terrorised a yuppie couple, but his follow-up is a classical haunted house story set in the early 1920s. The film unnerves from the prologue where three young children commit suicide at the behest of the titular ghost. Radcliffe’s struggling London lawyer has lost his wife in childbirth, and is sent to the Norfolk broads on sufferance that if he doesn’t clear up the nightmarish paperwork concerning Eel Marsh House he will lose his job. The unwelcoming villagers try to convince him not to stay, and the ‘incompetent’ local solicitor thrusts documents in his hands; begging him not to visit the house. Driven by duty Radcliffe ignores them…

Sam, a wonderful Ciaran Hinds as the friendly local toff, is contemptuous of the villagers’ superstitions but in this acutely observed 1920s the huge numbers of War dead has created a hunger for communication with the gone thru mediums. It quickly becomes clear that any sighting of the Woman leads to a child’s death. And Radcliffe has a child… Eel Marsh House, situated on a mountainous rise in the Broads with a road washed away by tides twice daily, is a tremendously eerie location. Inside, courtesy of the world’s creepiest toy shop, the dimly-lit house is primed for scares. Classy horror might best be described as a concentrating on dread to create terror rather than on gore to elicit horror. This is the best ‘classy horror’ film I’ve seen since 2008’s The Orphanage, because a maestro is conducting.

Watkins disdains the ‘ha, made you jump!’ scares that blighted Black Swan. Instead he delivers three amazing releases of tension in innocuous but sharp surprises at the house, before a slightly unnerved Radcliffe returns to the village only to encounter a true horror. It is when he returns to Eel Marsh House and informs Hinds of his intention to work thru the night and get shot of the paperwork in one go that things become terrifying. Hitchcock defined suspense as the pleasurable/tense wait for something you knew was going to happen, and Watkins delivers multiple bravura sequences of truly terrifying attendance on the arrival of malevolent spirits. Jane Goldman’s lean adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel creates an escalating feeling of sheer dread and the ending defeats the cliché you may be expecting. That’s if you don’t bolt, screaming, before the end…

Eden Lake was a dazzling technical achievement but it was hard to recommend. The Woman in Black, while almost unbearable for the nervously disposed, cannot be recommended enough.

5/5

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