It Follows (2015)

Dir. David Robert Mitchell

Starring: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto

A slow burning horror film. It Follows successfully blends supernatural horror with early slasher films. Some may be disappointed by the deliberate pace and the lack of surprise. However, the film’s atmosphere is hypnotic, and it will stay with you after you leave the theater. SPOILERS ?

It begins with a teenage girl running for her life through a quiet suburban neighborhood. She is half dressed and improbably wearing red stilettos. Like a virulent outbreak of the clap, It Follows is a cautionary tale of the consequences of premarital sex. After an idyllic first time Janie (Maika Monroe) is drugged and tied to a chair by her beau. He tells her now something is after her, and the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on by having sex with someone else. It Follows, cribs the style of earlier slashers like Friday the 13th and Carpenter’s Halloween. But rather than the faceless enemy, “It” in It Follows takes the form of people known to the victim. A chilling commentary on sexual violence.

Also, unlike those earlier films, it’s more interested in the emotional aftermath and not the body count. Look elsewhere for gory, blood-soaked kills. Janie soon enlists the help of her friends, and the adolescent love triangles become the heart of the film. The teenagers are somewhat interchangeable, but their anxiety and longing is communicated. This is especially true for Paul (Keir Gilchrist) the wannabe savior, desperate to leave the friend zone. The monster in It Follows remains unnamed and ill-defined, perhaps by design. Simply speaking, the loss of innocence is a traumatic and inescapable experience. Because of the film’s emphasis on character rather than jump scares, It Follows stays with you. It does for walking what The Ring did for static on T.V.

Stylistically, It Follows continues the trend of retro-style horror, like The House of the Devil and You’re Next. It has the look, the filter, of an older film. The costuming and settings are older. The camera is steady. It’s only noticeable flair is the slow, searching zoom, which services the story by cultivating paranoia. It even has a synth heavy soundtrack by Rich Vreeland. Despite the old packaging and classical storytelling approach, it’s refreshing. It isn’t an “updates” nor does it try to subvert the genre. Cell phones and e-readers live harmoniously with analog televisions and wood-paneled walls. It Follows successfully fuses old tropes to create a unique film.

Recommend: Yes, BUT…do not go in with the expectation that it will be “the best American horror film in years.”

Availability (US): Wide theatrical release 27 March

Review: 5 to 7

5 to 7 (2015)

dir. Victor Levin

starring: Anton Yelchin, Berenice Marlohe

A story about a young writer falling in love with an older, married woman. 5 to 7 is a charming culture-clash romance that nimbly balances comedy and drama.

Writer/director Victor Levin’s debut begins with a montage of the bench plaques in Central Park.  The little loving messages from couples and individuals is reminiscent of Pont des Arts (the love lock bridge in Paris).  It sets the light and sweet tone of the film.  From Manhattan’s upper west side setting to the Jules et Jim references, 5 to 7 has a breezy and nostalgic air.

When Brian (Anton Yelchin), a struggling writer, meets the glamorous Arielle (Berenice Marlohe), he reluctantly begins an affair that can only take place between the hours of 5p.m. to 7p.m.  She assures him that it’s a normal type of relationship in France.  She even invites him to meet her husband (Lambert Wilson), who is in his own 5 to 7 affair with the sprightly Olivia Thirlby.  It is an odd setup that generates very funny moments, especially with the children.  They are so happy Brian is mom’s boyfriend.  Berenice Marlohe and Anton Yelchin have a warm chemistry that doesn’t cheapen the relationship.  Despite the circumstances, the characters genuinely care for each other.

The downside of the film’s old-fashioned charm is that it becomes too sentimental.  The parents, played by Glenn Close and Frank Langella, are affectionately, stereotypically, Jewish parents.  All the players speak earnestly and truthfully.  It’s a bit unrealistic, especially as the relationship reaches it’s inevitable conclusion.  The aftermath of the relationship is somehow treated too lightly and too earnestly.  However, 5 to 7 leaves a warm lasting impression.

watch the film’s trailer here.

Recommend: Yes. It’s an unconventional romance with an old-fashioned heart.

In Theaters (US):  3 April, 2015

Review: Slow West

 Slow West (2015)

Dir. John Maclean

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Rory McCann

A sardonic western that relies too much on tone.

Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young man, a Scottish immigrant, on a quest to find his lost love Rose (Caren Pistorius). Michael Fassbender is Silas, the misanthropic bounty hunter who promises to help find his lost love. Little does Jay know, Rose is a murderous outlaw, wanted by bounty hunters across the west; including a nasty looking Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). Outfitted in a pimp coat made of dead ewoks and a face tattoo, Mendelsohn is subtly dangerous without overacting. All the actors are appropriately understated within this detached western.

Unfortunately for Jay his lover has moved on without him. His ignorance of this fact is sadly ironic, and unfortunately for the film, it is his only character trait. The tone of the film is ironic and sardonic. Strangers appear in the middle of nowhere and spout vaguely philosophic, irrelevant monologues. It’s lighter and comedic, but with one-dimensional characters in a fatidic story, it’s an empty experience. The depiction of the American West adds to this emptiness. It’s too clean. Perhaps too many films depicting the west as a hellish desert filled with disease and pestilence, has soiled (all puns intended) my view of the West. The landscape in Slow West seems more like an untouched, magical forest.

Slow West has a cool and ironic tone, but there isn’t enough substance.

Recommend: No

Movie Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

clouds

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

dir. Olivier Assayas

starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace-Moretz

A post-modern meditation on maturity and power. Set in the Swiss Alps, and Maria Enders’ (Juliette Binoche) insecurities, Clouds of Sils Maria covers similar thematic territory as Black Swan and Birdman, albeit with more complexity.

Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a respected and mature actress. She is asked to be in the play the made her famous twenty years ago. It’s a play about a younger woman, Sigrid, who seduces her older female boss, Helena, then abandons her. It drives Helena, to suicide…maybe.  Clouds of Sils Maria lives in the ambiguities and explores how power changes with age. The abrupt, ironically looser, edits enhance that feeling. However, when looking back, you feel you were being set up for a twist that never comes.  The Swiss Alps are a beautiful and otherworldly setting for this intellectual approach.  As the play is deconstructed by the characters, echoes of the relationship dynamics in the play are seen in the film.

Maria reluctantly accepts the role of the older woman this time. The younger woman is played by Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace-Moretz), a woman famous for her tabloid headlines rather than her Hollywood superhero movies. Maria is uncomfortable playing an older woman. She hates Helena, she’s too weak, she’s self-destructive, she’s boring. To her the role is admitting aging, becoming invisible. Her and her assistant, played by a surprisingly human Kristen Stewart, run lines, and run through Maria’s insecurities in the Alps. Kristen Stewart, as the assistant Val, acts as the devil’s advocate in Maria’s debates. Val is Maria’s right hand, her shadow. The pair have a best-friend bond, which allows Val to challenge Maria’s assumptions. She pushes Maria to see the depth and complexity in the character.  Val reminds her that the text hasn’t changed, Maria has. She suggests that vulnerability isn’t weakness. Binoche and Stewart have great chemistry that changes from sisterly, to mentor, to even sexual.  Their relationship is key.

Clouds of Sils Maria takes a unique approach to familiar material.

Recommend: Yes, it’s a discussion starter.

Review: Forever Into Space

Forever Into Space (2015)fis_card

dir. Greg W. Locke

starring: Kelly Sebastian, Tyler Evan Rowe, Oliver Fetter, Julianna Pitt, Jaz Valentino

A film that’s more about a feeling. Shot in crisp black and white, Forever Into Space is a glimpse into the lives of over-educated and underemployed twenty-somethings in New York City.  It centers on Audrey Harrington (Kelly Sebastian) a writer/blogger trying to earn a living off her writing, and her struggling friends.  The film pays homage to other New York-set films and subtly answers the criticisms lobbed at millennials.  With a budget of less than $1000, Forever Into Space is no budget film-making at its best.

The first comparison that comes to mind is ClerksForever Into Space shines in the small moments, where the characters are just hanging out, occasionally waxing philosophically. There is an homage to the bridge scene in Manhattan that puts the focus on the speakers rather than the object of their conversation. Maybe that’s a generational difference?  Unlike Clerks, here there is an underlying tone of hunger and disappointment.  It takes place in 2013 and economic uncertainty permeates the film. These are people who did what they were supposed to, like go to college, move out, get a real job; but they are constantly told that they are entitled brats who expect everything for nothing.  That disconnect is the films’ slogan, “the have-to-do-it-yourself generation.” It can be a bit slow, but its authenticity and immediacy make it worth a watch.

www.foreverintospace.com

www.cinequest.org

Surrealist Sundays: The Exterminating Angel

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

photo: imdb.com

photo: imdb.com

dir. Luis Bunuel

starring: Silvia Pinal, Jacqueline Andere, Enrique Rambal

In the final installment of Surrealist Sundays, I look at one of Bunuel’s well-known works: The Exterminating Angel. Here Bunuel refutes the premise that nothing interesting can happen on a dark and stormy night.  Following a dinner party, the guests are mysteriously unable to leave the room. What follows that, is a breakdown of manners and human decency that is darkly comic and ridiculous, especially when the reason for their entrapment is revealed.

The reliance on routines is criticized in this film. When the guest are forced to endure each others company longer than expected, that’s when things stop being polite. Thrown into a new situation, the guests cling to their rules and sense of propriety, which brings out an ugly selfishness. The guests become more withdrawn into their own private dramas. Given everyone’s close proximity, that focus becomes increasingly silly. The secret lovers are no longer a secret when everyone sees them hide in a corner for the room, even though no one comments on their tryst. A woman with feathers and chicken feet in her purse looks for mystical answers. One of the guests dies, and no one rushes to get them to the hospital. They are too busy debating who should be in charge. There are no heroes, and hardly any sympathetic characters. Silvia Pinal plays the most sympathetic character as the antisocial Leticia. However, she disappears early on and reappears at the end to solve the mystery.

If only the guests just had to worry about each other. For reasons not quite known, a herd of sheep and baby bear roam freely around the house. The sheep, the film’s spirit animal, provide food.  Yes, they are trapped in the room long enough to worry about starvation. The bear inspires terror and the men begin fighting one another.

Although the film could stay in the room, and we could participate in the claustrophobia and paranoia, Bunuel takes us out of the room and looks at the outside world.  A crowd has gathered outside the mansion. No one can get into the mansion.  Whatever affects the guests also affects the society at large. A child makes it farther than most, but he soon turns back. In that moment, you begin to check your own biases. Aren’t children innately innocent, especially in films?

The Exterminating Angel wakes us up to the unwritten rules of society that let us exist on autopilot.