Knock Knock (2015) & Slow West (2015)
Guilt can be a powerful tool. There I was, forlornly idling through recent activity on the menagerie, cursing my lack of recent opportunities to manage all things movie. Then, like a flash of lightning inspiration struck – why not pull an old fashioned double-bill weekend, featuring films unknown and unseen? Well, through the luck of the draw a quick search of the local cinema schedule yielded two potential targets, a duplex of movies whose outline premise and cast were known to me, yet whose overall dimensions remained still vague enough for me not to have even caught a trailer or an outline inking of their relative merits or mistakes. So, as is my idiom on possibly the sunniest day of the year I wearily meandered over to the Cineworld to spend the day hiding from the sun, embarking on a devilish roll of the dice with the next four hours hurled down as the ante on the poker table of life. Now I know what you’re thinking – alert the authorities, he’s out of control, and surely like Icarus such reckless behaviour is bound to cause him to crash down to earth in a humbling, pride-defying heap. Well fret not gentle reader I have this all under control, even if I still haven’t quite found the impetus to visit either of London’s two newest and prestigious cinemas. I do have a programmed agenda for July which should set us back on track with previously viewed and guaranteed material, and part of the reasoning for this exercise was to set myself a speed-writing goal as we get into training for a potential international festival which is looming on the horizon. But for now let’s see what this recent folly has excavated, and as a preview of coming events I wouldn’t call either interrogation a particularly unfruitful activity.
The first to obtain access was Knock Knock, the Eli Roth directed horror thriller starring Keanu Reeves as LA valley dwelling architect Evan Webber. Never knowingly missing the chance to bludgeon a scene into his audiences cranium the first twenty minutes of this film clearly establish that Evan LOVES HIS WIFE and adores HIS TWO CHILDREN, as a one scene requirement to erect backstory is ham-fistedly drawn out to twenty minutes of EXPLAINING JUST HOW MUCH A NICE GUY KEANU IS AND HOW MUCH HE LOVES HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN. After the family retire to the beach for the weekend Evan has to stay home and finish an urgent project, his doorbell ringing at a midnight hour during a particularly ominous rainstorm. Standing there bedraggled yet bewitching are Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas), two shall we say feisty young women whom take a liking to Keanu, the seductive sirens swiftly overcoming his futile sexual defences of faithfulness and fidelity. The next morning his mournful regret turns more hellish as Evan realizes that both seductresses are not entirely mentally stable, and he soon finds himself on a rocky road to blackmail, vengeance and a marriage threatening maelstrom of violence, torture and tendentious trysts.
Home invasion movies always pivot on an outside force entering and disrupting the domestic equilibrium, usually due to some small moral failure on behalf of our hapless and doomed protagonist, it’s a formula that Roth gleefully flays as he formulates this exploitation picture that would not be adverse to squalidly limp squealing out from to the scuzzy picture houses of 1970’s Times Square or Soho. In fact Roth is on record as saying the film is a loose remake of 1977’s Death Game, it’s certainly got that old fashioned moral quandary of a fundamentally decent chap paying heavily for one moment of weakness or social transgression, and even Roth’s rather clumsy direction can’t blight what elementally remains a gruesomely fascinating premise – hell hath no fury like a woman, or indeed women scorned. You’ve got to hand this one to Keanu though, I can’t imagine many actors accepting a rather risky project which doesn’t project him in a particularly effervescent light, with even a suggestion that the two temptresses could be underage throwing a very uncomfortable pallor of paedophilic potential – how many ‘A’ listers are gonna get even remotely close to that? The uncomfortable aura is replicated in a few scenes where you can almost hear Roth cackling with unbridled glee, but he doesn’t quite have the satiric skill that say a terse provocateur like Verhoeven or Von Trier would invest in the actual chain of cause and effect, with opportunities squandered to really turn the thumb screws while ignoring some plot contrivences like barely concealed cadavers.. All that said I rather enjoyed this, especially for the moments of horrific hilarity, the women’s lunatic cruelty and Keanu’s tortured yells, even assimilating the moments of unintended hilarity from his rather robotic performance – Keanu is many things, a most excellent dude whom is usually entertaining to spend some time with, but a great actor he is not.
Second on the sojourn was Slow West, a film which when I utter the phrase ‘a Sundance festival western’ may get all sorts of genre synapses ricocheting around your sun-poached cerebellum. Quirky, off-beat characters and segregated scene momentum? Quality, studious character actors known for their attraction to offbeat material? Attention demanding compositions and landscape photography aligned with a folktronic and frenetic score? All these things and more reside in the purlieus of writer director John Maclean (of Beta Band fame no less) debut movie, and never has a film screamed ‘this is my debut so I’m going to throw in everything I possibly can’ since Raimi and Campbell haunted the Michigan woods in 1979. Following a trademark Western journey narrative our slightly hapless hero Jay Cavendish (the raccoon eyed Kodi Smit McPhee) is self-exiled from his Scotland home, travelling to the badlands of Missouri to seek his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius) after her and her father fled the thistle drenched homestead due to some serious, unspecified infraction which is slowly revealed as the narrative ambles along. Through chance and fate Jay is befriended by the roguish Silas (Fassbender who also served as producer so he obviously was charmed by the material), a scoundrel who is also seeking Rose for more financially secretive measures, with the $2000 bounty on her head causing his old criminal fraternity led by the perennially filthy Ben Mendelsohn to nip at both their avaricious heels.
I mostly admired Slow West incredulous strain for artistic authenticity, the film veers from pretentious to primitive but there is certainly a valid voice trying to be heard over the clattering horseshoes and starling pistol fire. It’s the kind of film where the two leads stumble across three African dudes deep in the Minnesota’s veldt, crooning some tribal songs to each other, a incongruous mix of setting and scenario which is unremarked upon as Silas and jay continue on their horse opera odyssey. The closest comparison I can draw upon is Jim Jarmusch’s wonderfully melancholy Dead Man although Slow West simply isn’t in the same symbolic stratosphere, with just a dash of the dark humour of the Coens at their most playful the film manages to charm you over with its snake oil scaled elixir of oblique observations and bone crunching violence. Some of the photography of the teeming prairies is breath-taking and actually feels fresh for this long suffering 120 year vintage movie genre, but this is slightly undermined by a hacksaw editing pattern which has all the discipline of a sun-addled squaw, seemingly unable to hold a shot or moment for longer than a few seconds which prompts a lack of confidence in the material. The principals are as good as you’d expect and there are a few genuine laughs along the way, although life is a cheap commodity in these unyielding geographies, a sobering fact that Maclean brings to the foreground with a body count worthy of Stallone or Ahnoldt at their most blood thirsty. The title suggests the generic conventions decelerated to a tick-tock, slowing of time and movement reminiscent of the great 19th century Muybridge wager, a primer on cinema itself as a bastion of truth buried among the flickering hallucination of multiple overlapping images. Slow West is a promising enough debut of a potential new talent, at a brisk pace of 83 minutes it knows not to outstay its welcome, an ode to better things to come for Silas and his hopeful path to redemption.