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Don’t Breathe (2016)

breathe1I can’t remember the last time I went into a picture colder than a witches tit, just to thread through this years tenuous supernatural shenanigans, at least when it comes to horror movies. What I’m referring to is the deliberate and active avoidance of all marketing materials surrounding Don’t Breathe, as a little thought experiment I didn’t read a single social media tweet review, nor consumed the films trailer, in a vain attempt to go into this experience as virginal as possible. No matter how hard you try though the general chatter usually penetrates any measly spoiler defenses you can erect, and in fact it was the quiet praise for the film that convinced me to give the film a shot. Whilst I thought the 2013 Evil Dead remake was perfectly adequate I wasn’t necessarily clamoring to see director Fede Alvarez’s claustrophobic follow-up, until the murmuring consensus seemed to indicate that this was a darkly efficient and compact thriller, with a few perilous twists and turns which always appeals to my particular cinematic peccadilloes. Of course, this exercise puts a critic in something of an existential quandary, as I have to recommend this blackout approach if you wish to wallow in some genuine, unadulterated scares and surprises, so I should be demanding that you close this browser window and  go see the movie, then come back latter, battered and bruised, to see what I have to say. There is a fine tradition of single set movies which utilize the most of their clamoring environments, Hitchcock’s Rope and Lifeboat immediately spring to mind, and there was the choking Buried from a few years ago, the Uruguayan La Casa Muda. and, well, a whole host of them here. Away from the single environment the genre backdrops to these projects emerge from the pulpy swamps of  horror and suspense comics of the 1950’s and 1960’s, the likes of Eerie or Tales From The Crypt, simple, short, tensile tales with some sort of horrific premise, pulsing with some black moral manifesto. What we have in Don’t Breathe is an effective mixture of the two, a primarily single set remote house, which is infiltrated by a trio of hapless and morally questionable intruders, occupied by an easy ‘mark’ who may turn out to be more deadly than his sensory disabilities would suggest……

breathe2Our protagonists are hardly the heroes we usually see cluttered the multiplex screens. Alex  (Jane Levy), Rocky (Dylan Minnette), and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are thieves pure and simple, cunningly using Rocky’s fathers security company insight to identify lucrative domiciles  in a decaying Detroit, where entire cul-de-sacs and communities have been desolated by decades of economic decline.  A pre-conflict context opening shows that their activities while inexcusable may be justified to their distorted eyes, Alex and her younger development disabled sister are suffering in a domestically abusive household, and she seeks the funding from the rich to flee to pastures new, while Alex sympathizes with her situation and obviously yearns for their friendship to develop to a more intimate baseline. One final, lucrative score ambles their way in the form of an isolated home on the outskirts of town, with the news of a denzien who has just been the recipient of a seven-figure settlement after his daughter was killed in a hit and run accident. Complications ensue when the gang discover that their target is also a service veteran (Stephen Lang) who was discharged after being struck blind by a rogue IED, although the prospect of robbing a recently bereaved, disabled war hero doesn’t appear to pose any particular moral conundrum for our aggressive anti-heroes. This sets the scene for a weaving tale of shifting audience empathy, with a host of twists and turns that would make Mephistopheles himself cackle with glee.


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If I was magically transported to some hellish pitch session in Hollywood I’d cite Don’t Breathe as a delicious genre goulash baked with the ingredients of Panic Room and a dash of Cujo, sinisterly seasoned with the tense glass balancing set-piece of The Lost World and the grasping climax of Silence of The Lambs. When effectively executed single location thriller / horror movies can be fantastic experiences, trapping the camera in a claustrophobic cage, forcing the director and cinematographer into some unusual decisions and techniques to maintain a sense of apprehensive audience interest. Broadly speaking Don’t Breathe achieves an expert delineation and exploration of its cinematic space, drawing the cat-and-mouse game through the various levels and locales of theisdour and murky home,  alongside some amusing plot contortions which might be increasingly absurd but retain a sense of creative and gleeful cruelty. One of the films quiet triumphs is navigating the oscillation of empathy between the intruders and the defender, it’s quite a clever method to challenge any notion of audience identification, expertly walking that fine line between not being too po-faced and severe, nor too flippant and absurd. When you realize you are holding your breath and gripping your palms in coiled apprehension while a repugnant thief is being hunted by a resourceful and brave blind dude it’s quite a disconcerting  realization, as any normal decent person would want these swine apprehended as swiftly as possible, until some plot contortions completely pull the rug out from under your feet as the film shifts from urban thriller into pure, petrifying, scenario-specific horror.

breathe3That said  these plot contortions run about ten minutes too long when a final round of conflict ensues, but thankfully Don’t Breathe doesn’t resort to some horror movie atrocity of cliches,  preferring to follow a route which retains fidelity to the characters and their goals, an grip on the relation between character and genre trappings which would make John Carpenter proud. Ah, Carpenter you say? Well now, doesn’t that take me nicely into the recently announced BFI schedule for JC and while I’m unsurprised to see that no Q&A is forthcoming – a damn shame but no major shock given his cantankerous attitude and I’m seeing him live on the 31st anyway – I am simultaneously aggravated and excited. I’m frustrated that some of the films are only showing on the minuscule NFT3 screen which is very unfortunate, however the good news is all those I’ve selected to bolster my efforts earlier in the year for this Menagerie icon are in 35mm which might be some of the last chances to see some of these projected in that format given the way the industry is going – good luck ever seeing Halloween or The Thing in their original analogue format my learned friends. Still, this sets quite a challenging schedule for the next couple of months that moves directly from the week hence LFF into a trio of BFI, visits, with a few other surprises lurking on the horizon. But until then I heartily recommend Don’t Breathe for a compact, thumbscrew tightening tenseexperience, proving that alongside Hell & High Water there’s some life in the non-multiplex, franchise-free Hollywood sourced adoption of genre yet;

Psychogenic Fugue (2017) Trailer

No, I don’t know what this entirely is, but yes, I have been following some of the sneak peeks that have been slithering from Lynch’s social media accounts – I can only assume this is some precursor to the Twin Peaks revival, and that DL has somehow levered some funds to do ‘something’ else, beyond a mere TV series excavation. With Malk. How and where these are interconnected remans a mystery, at least at this point. Consider me intrigued, but also a little worried;

Playing Lynch: Official trailer to Psychogenic Fugue from Squarespace on Vimeo.

This revelation comes hot on the heels of my first assignment extension which is a major relief, taking us into Christmas and potentially through Q1 of 2017, for which the signals are positive. So, I’m not saying I’ve celebrated with a spending carnage or anything, I mean, it’s not, like, I’ve pre-ordered the recently announced 4K enabled PS4 gaming sorcery to complement my new A/V portfolio or anything. No. That would be crazy. It’s not like I’m on the cusp of a dream, nay, a vision sparked way back in 1990 of a home use virtual experience which I’ve never forgotten since I first saw it on this long forgotten programme? Or that I’ve pre-ordered the decade in development new benchmark in virtual world entertainment which I’ve been dreaming about playing for months? That would all be a dream, wrapped in a riddle, immersed in a 7th level illusion…..

Terry Riley – Barbican (2016)

My minimalist experience continues, with a Saturday night at the Barbican which was throughly fascinating. I joke among friends that I am dragged to these experiences, but they are terrific fun, broadening the horizons for the Menagerie whom really doesn’t appreciate the influence of these inceptors to the music which has been the soundtrack to our lives – techno, post-punk, and much of my favourite movie composers. Truth be told the first act wasn’t particuraly inspiring, but the main event was quite remarkable, a benchmark for all the music that has been the soundtrack to one’s life over the years. Yes, I understand in concept that every performance of this piece ‘in C’ marks it as unique and precious, but after that my critical powers diminish other than to say it was terrific, so enough, and here enjoy a similar performance;

Ghost In The Shell (2017) Teaser

I wouldn’t normally post these annoying blipverts but someone has been wise enough to connect them together, and I think this looks quite…intriguing;

Blair Witch (2016)

bw1You all know the shivering story I’m sure, of how back in the shadowing eaves of the 20th century a couple of inventive film students improvised one of the most terrifying films of modern times? The original Blair Witch Project was quite the phenomenon of its time, an early beneficiary of viral market on the nascent net, and a clever fiction shrouding back-story that convinced the more ghoulish gullible that the footage was genuine. I liked the 1999 original a great deal, I found it genuinely unsettling with a killer final moment, all qualities which the detested Book Of Shadows sequel neglected to its forgettable reputation. Unlike contemporary post-modern and J-horror tropes of that period the picture had a genuine ferocity, a freshness which traded on elemental fears buried deep in our primitive brains, the numbing notion of being stalked and chased in the wilderness with no savior coming, of the unknown spectral lurking on the fringes of our rational civilization.  Given it’s ratio of budget to profit it is no surprise that another crew would have a crack on establishing a new franchise, this long gestating sequel carefully shrouded in secrecy, engineered with a canny eye for modern marketing and internet appreciation by the cult movie team of director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. Operating under the working title The Woods the real horror was revealed at the San Diego Comic-Con premiere a few months ago, and now the film has finally been unleashed to shriek through the multiplexes, alas for me this is several generations away from their clever genetic genre The Guest and much more in line with You’re Next, a project grasping for purchase far beyond its instinctive reach, with a fatal void of genuine terror or original thought.

bw2Like its nefarious forebear the films opens with a grim title screen incantation – that the footage we are about to be exposed to was recovered from the Burksville woods, in the year 2014. Yes we’re back in shaky-cam found footage territory, the for some nauseous  technique which abandons any primitive props such as a camera mounts or spirit levels, branded with a 21st century update – all the principals are equipped with ear mounted GoPros, lightweight digital palmcorders, multi-gadget GPS synchronization. In a further nod to modern filming techniques the inquisitive group have even brought along a camera-drone contraption in order to pierce the forest canopy, a clever plan to potentially locate the ruined dwelling that was the site of the doomed sortie’s last frantic frames of rushes. A contemporary connection is sparked through James (James Allen McCune) who is still haunted by the disappearance of his older sister Heather some fifteen years ago, and he seeks closure by travelling to the Burksville woods in order to retrace her final steps. Accompanying him is media student Lisa (Callie Hernandez) who naturally wants to make her own film of the experience, marshaling friends Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) in order to stump up the slaughter shrieking numbers. After a brief contextual sequence the team stop briefly to recruit a couple of locals who are fascinated with the legend, enlisting the environmental and historical knowledge of the slightly sinister Lane (Wes Robinson) and his friend Talia (Valorie Curry) before they hesitantly hunch into the foreboding  wilderness….

bw4Your patience with Blair Witch will be largely dependent on your capacity to endure long, sustained shaky-cam footage of characters rushing through murky environments, all the while screaming and yelling for the preservation of their precious immortal souls. After a perfunctory context setting scene you have to admire Wingard for getting straight down to business in the increasingly eerie woods for the films remaining 75 minutes, but critically unfortunately any genuine chills are largely absent from this increasingly redundant sequel. Like may sequels it is a greatest hits revamp of the originals increasing desperation – the futile return to base camp after hours of hiking, the ghostly appearance of Wicca inspired charms and dreamcatchers, but there is almost nothing new here that is comprehensively and chillingly inducted.  Some new concepts are inflicted – a sliver of body horror after a characters flesh wound starts to manifest necrotic qualities,  sanity shredding time disruption and disorders seem to be pushing into our dimension through the porous location of the Burksville woods, a wider excavation of the Blair Witch mythos and origins are muttered between the increasing hysteria – but these strands are left fatally unmolested, as both director and screenwriter seem uncertain of where these strands will conclude and how they could match the fate of their characters. Instead once the crew find themselves adrift in the dark, dark woods the film is punctuated with a handful of cattle-prod scares, the usual ‘oh don’t sneak up on me’ cliches which are thoroughly unnecessary, while the film sorely lacks  that lurking, coiling dread that the original mustered as the light began to fade and the night shadows started flickering, bringing with them another long and fearful period of cowering in your tents while something prowled around outside…..

bw3After an interminable period of screeching, fumbling and overall stumbling our surviving prey arrives at the same decrepit domicile, deep in the delirious woods. Alas the enthusiasm has ebbed to such levels at this point that the prospect of some final  glimpsed vision of the titular crone had long lost its lusture, and if I’m honest I was just patiently awaiting the pandemonium to end. Throughout the entirety of Blair Witch there was one singular moment which raised the hackles but it is merely an amplification of a story beat from the original film, a brief detour into building tension and apprehension before the plot diverted back to the same visual and cluttered incomprehension. There has been no empathy built as to the fate of these hapless souls, and its difficult to understand where or why characters are frantically  careering through certain paths, whilst some of the young cast meet their fate in the most undramatic and perfunctory methods possible – this my learned friends is not how you make a horror movie linger and lurk in the memory. It’s a shame, a real missed opportunity with this setting the potential was there to really craft a 21st century update to a milestone genre film if they only had some supernatural inspiration and an eerie execution. For now the fate of the 2016 horror genre rests on a few possible shrieks at the LFF and Don’t Breathe which I’m going to see tomorrow, but as the cabal currently chants the only withered and accursed crone worth your time mounted her broomstick some two hundred and fifty years ago…..

Free Fire (2016) Trailer

Prolific, isn’t he, that Ben Wheatley fella, and early reports out of Toronto sound positive for his latest carnage strewn charade, this time with Oscar winning actresses;

Operation Avalanche (2016) Trailer

I can’t say I’m overly fond of any material that adds grist to the mill of the numerous conspiracy theories that orbit Kubrick, but this could be passably amusing in a curious way;

For those close to the Menagerie the fact that this film’s director is a certain Matt Johnson might also be coincidently amusing. Jan Harlan did mention this mockumentary at the event I attended on Monday, and how the family were upset at its existence, but Warner Brothers were powerless to prevent its circulation, arguing that any intervention on their part would only attract further attention. Unsurprisingly he was also less than complementary about some of the propositions expressed in the ridiculous Room 237, I find this nonsense kinda fascinating from an analytical viewpoint, but sympathise with the estate and the associated degregation of the man’s work and legacy…

Heat (1995) Panel Discussion

Just a little something to ‘warm’ up your weekend, this ‘hot’ discussion is burining with intense movie ‘friction’, a panel review and discussion of Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece, hosted by modern cinema’s primary purveyor of perplexing puzzle pictorials – enjoy;

The exhaustive other parts can be followed here, should you be so inclined….

Raw (2017) LFF Preview

Just in time for the LFF after allegedly causing certain viewers to faint during screenings at TiFF, Cannes and Venice, guess who’s just managed to nab a ticket to ‘this years most brutally controversial horror film?’ Go on, guess…..

So there’s no trailer yet but just a couple of extracts, in any case this should expand my cult film credentials at this years festival, and partially makes up for losing out on tickets for the Herzog event and screening during the allocation lottery. Still, I console myself with the warm notion that it never fails to amuse me to be part of an audience groaning, whimpering and wincing in unison during some particularly outre cinematic experience…..

Jan Harlan In Conversation…..

Another day, another Kubrick event in ole London town. I can’t remember how I heard that some film appreciation collective had managed to get Executive Producer, production lead and brother-in-law Jan Harlan under their hallowed roof, but I’ve certaintly had less illunminating Monday nights. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Jan now, five or six times I guess in attendance at various screenings and panel discussions, but it never hurts to revisit some of the novers and shakers who worked as closely as possible with Kubrick for the last thirty years of his career.

Now, I don’t wish to be negative, or overly critical but I can’t escape the fact that the interviewer was, well, he was terrible. To be fair I’m sure he wasn’t a professional – in fact I don’t actually know under which hipster collective they even convinced Jan to come and make this appearance in this backwater of Stoke Newington – but it might have helped if you had someone you didn’t feel necessary to field questions such as (and no, I’m not kidding) ‘What do you think of Star Wars?’ Luckily Mr. Harlan is a skilled raconteur and a mere subject on any of the 13 film pantheon would ignite him to rattle off a ten or minute monologue, with a few fascinating anecdotes and insights which even the deeply initiated like yours truly still find fascinating.

So just to paraphrase the usual revelations – Eyes Wide Shut was Stanley’s favorite of his films, but as it took him 30 years to make that’s not surprising. After seeing video footage of the practice drills that R.Lee Emery was conducting for his Paris Island recruits – remember he was only employed as a consultant who actually worked in basic training earlier in his career – Stanley was blown away, ditched the script segment and the originally cast actor and elevated Ermery as the on-screen drill instructor and the rest, as they say, is history…..

One small snippet that was new concerned the insane manuscript for The Shining, and the inevitable remarks that ‘oh it must have taken them months to type up that prop over hundreds of pages, what legendary perfectionist attention to detail’ which goes deeper when you consider that some foreign language prints of the film had different language versions, and you can see Kubrick himself typing up some pages in the famous behind the scenes documentary. Wellyes 1980 was before widespread computer printing but Script & Production supervisor Margaret Adams did type out different typeset combinations of ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, photocopied them, and just shuffle mixed them up to provoke the illusion of hundreds of pages of sanity shredding delusion.

Finally Jan remarked that it was the kids and teenagers who literally saved 2001 back in 1968, all the critics and intelligentsia disliked it and it was going to be pulled from exhibition until the theater owners started to feed back to MGM that something was happening and crowds of ‘yoof’ were starting to coalesce around the movie, before it become the undisputed masterpiece that it is known as today. I’ll just add to the choris by making my oft-remarked point that this film was designed, conceived, executed and released before we went to the moon, before we had those photographs taken from the Apollo lander, between 1964 and 1968. People always forgot that…..