Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Babadook




When Jennifer Kent's The Babadook took home the awards for best film, direction and original screenplay at last years AACTAs (our equivalent of the Oscars) it was a surprise, and an auspicious moment for Australian genre cinema. I was amazed that our Academy (and the AFI) had the guts to recognise that a horror movie could be taken seriously enough to be considered worthy of the top honours. That the Spierig's Predestination and David Michôd's The Rover also walked away with awards surely makes this a completely unprecedented event at a major mainstream awards ceremony.

I finally got around to watching The Babadook last night and was suitably impressed. Although it owes perhaps a bit too much of a debt to The Shining in parts, Kent's movie is an effective, unsettling exploration of domestic anxiety, the rigours of single parenthood, grief and madness. Some spoilers follow.

It shares a similar premise to Maury and Bustillo's masterful Inside, in that the main protagonist is a single mother struggling with grief at the loss of her husband in a car crash. The difference here is that The Babadook's Amelia is also fighting a deep seated resentment towards her son Sam, because the fatal crash occurred while her husband was driving her to the hospital to give birth to him. The other major distinction between the two movies is that where the threat to Sarah and her unborn child came from outside (ironically enough), the threat to Amelia and Sam's domestic happiness comes very much from within. Both movies offer a very welcome feminist viewpoint in a genre that is still sorely lacking in that department.


One of The Babadook's strengths lies in the way it subtly plays with the shifting power dynamics between Amelia and her son Sam. What initially appears to be a cut and dried case of a single mother trying to cope with a highly challenging and precocious child soon morphs into something far more sinister. At a certain point it becomes apparent that this is more a case of a child trying to cope with a mother who may be slipping dangerously into the abyss. It's not all black and white however, and the movie does a good job of highlighting the complexity of parent/child relationships and how fears and resentments can snowball out of a vicious circle of behaviours from both sides.

Much has been made of how terrifying this film is, but I have to admit that I think its scariness has been exaggerated to a large degree. The usual hyperbole that comes along with a well regarded, much hyped horror movie. There are some very creepy moments, but for me they stemmed more from the film's titular children's book, rather than any reveal of the creature itself or Amelia's infanticidal tendencies.

There are some very striking qualities to The Babadook which have to be mentioned. Alex Holmes' production design and Radek Ladczuk's cinematography, although overly stagy at times, combine to create a powerful visual metaphor for depression and anxiety. The film's look, with its oppressively dour colour palette of grey on grey, effectively conveys what the world might look like through the eyes of someone who is suffering through the pain and torment of extreme depression. At times it recalls the nightmarish settings of Lynch's Eraserhead, at others the gothic, shadowy expressionism of Murnau and Wiene, with whom director Kent has an obvious affinity.

The other thing that made an immediate impression on me was the film's editing style. Simon Njoo has cut the film in a choppy, rapid-fire manner that reminded me of the visual narrative technique employed by editor Jay Rabinowitz in Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream. As well as being an efficient storytelling technique, this also lends a sense of urgency and anxiety to the film, which (as with the aforementioned production design and cinematography) imbues it with a menacing sense of looming danger and madness.

In the end I'm slightly torn about my feelings for The Babadook, and I feel like I admire it more than outright like it. Jennifer Kent's debut - although very strong in some respects - is a bit too beholden to its influences, making it somewhat predictable and cliched in parts. It's also relentlessly bleak, and I can't really see myself returning for a repeat viewing anytime soon. This suburban nightmare is definitely worth a watch though, and marks another highpoint for Australian horror.




Monday, 20 April 2015

THE CONEHEADS




Akron, Ohio, uh, I mean Hammond, Indiana's Coneheads have achieved something that I honestly didn't think was possible.

Somehow these three teenage punks from the midwest have managed to completely nail not only DEVO's sound, but their attitude, philosophy and sense of humour as well. These young neo-spuds just get DEVO to a fucking tee.

Their sound falls somewhere between DEVO's raw mid '70s pre-album material and Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (with a hint of Duty Now for the Future creeping into a few tracks). They also kind of remind me at times of The Proletariat, that strange band who always felt like the odd one out on This Is Boston Not L.A.

When I say that this Indianan Smart Patrol has achieved the impossible, I'm talking about their ability to make music that's intrinsically tied to a particular band/sound/philosophy, but still manages to come off sounding cool and fresh. Many jocks, ninnies and twits have tried their hand at de-evolution before this, and all have failed*. All Hail The Coneheads! Hack, hack, hack!

The bandcamp link below is to their latest release, the 14 Year Old High School PC​-​Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo for the Sake of Extorting $​$​$ from Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks L​.​P​.​ It compiles their first two tapes, Out of Conetrol and Canadian Cone, but I urge you (uncontrollably) to seek out their latest tape, Selected Ringtones, cuz it's their best stuff to date.










*There's at least two well-known, highly regarded bands who've aped DEVO's sound and look, but transposed it onto a corny-as-fuck, psychotronic B-movie aesthetic. This shit is garbage.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Tale of Tales




Whoa! This trailer for Matteo Garrone's new film The Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei racconti) is a real eye opener. A lurid, sumptuous, dark fairy tale overflowing with gore, sex and surrealism? Yes please!

Getting a killer '70s/'80s Euro horror and artsploitation vibe from this. A nice mixture of John Boorman, Ken Russell, Walerian Borowczyk and Jean Rollin perhaps? We'll find out when it debuts at Cannes next month.

Garrone is the co-writer and director of 2008's highly lauded Gomorrah, which I've heard great things about and now feel the need to track down and watch ASAP.





Saturday, 18 April 2015

UNDER




So, I'm kind of obsessed with Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin.

Since finally seeing it a couple of months ago (I'm late to the party, and I regret not seeing it on the big screen), I've been haunted by this beautiful, eerie, psychedelic depth charge of a movie. The perfect fusion of exploitation and art-house sensibilities, Under the Skin blends the two so seamlessly and effortlessly that it makes the distinction feel completely redundant.

Forget your preconceived genre expectations, and just surrender yourself to this transcendent trip of a movie. Like Scarlett Johansson's "Female", Glazer's film is like nothing else on this planet, a thing of otherworldly beauty and alien mystery. 

It's not like Glazer is the only filmmaker to have successfully bridged the exploitation/art gap recently. Gaspar Noé, Fabrice Du Welz, Nicolas Winding Refn and Lars von Trier have all done so as well, and with spectacular results (their respective standouts being Enter the Void, Vinyan, the Pusher trilogy and Antichrist). Under the Skin, however, leads the pack as the cream of the crop of this rarified segment of genre cinema. It's a flat-out masterpiece.


A quick note on Under the Skin's fx - remember that feeling of watching a movie and being so thrown by the fx that it seemed like magic? Literally like magic, because you couldn't work out how the effect was achieved? This movie is full of moments like that. Absolutely state-of-the-art technological wizardry.

It also has to be said that Daniel Landin's cinematography does an impressive job of suggesting how alien a world this planet might appear to someone who was visiting it for the first time. Through his lens Scotland is transformed into a completely extraterrestrial environment.

But words simply can't do Under the Skin justice, so I spent a couple of hours combing through my blu-ray to pick out my favourite images from this film that stands as one of the most visually striking and beautiful sci-fi/horror flicks ever made. Important: if you haven't seen it yet, please skip these completely spoiling posts and go rent or buy the film now instead. You won't regret it.

The following three posts are presented as a loving tribute to the incredible work of Glazer, Johansson, cinematographer Daniel Landin, production designer Chris Oddy, composer Mica Levi, editor Paul Watts, prosthetics/sfx company Asylum Model & Effects and vfx company One Of Us.




















































UNDER THE