Reincarnation – Shimizu at his best

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MOVIE REVIEW

Reincarnation
Geneon, Nikkatsu, Oz & Toho Company, Japan
96 Min
1.85:1
Release (Japan): 7th January 2006

DIR Takashi Shimizu
EXEC Kazuya Hamana, Yasushi Kotani
PROD Takashige Ichise
SCR Takashi Shimizu, Masaki Adachi
DP Takahide Shibanushi
CAST Kippei Shiina, Tetta Sugimoto, Shun Oguri, Marika Matsumoto, Mantarô Koichi

Populated with ghosts, unnerving children, an abandoned hotel, the creepiest doll I’ve ever seen and an all round unsettling atmosphere, Shimizu Takashi’s Reincarnation is J-horror convention that crawls under the skin.

Director Shimizu is widely renowned for creating gritty tension and captivating audiences worldwide with his film Ju-on: The Grudge (which inspired a slew of Hollywood remakes successfully helmed by the man himself), so viewers would most likely expect his over-familiar style here. However, Shimizu’s Reincarnation is not a just a mystical whodunit, it’s a widely atmospheric psychological thriller that oozes an unaccustomed bravura and plunges the viewer deep into an expertly crafted chasm of horror.

Shimizu is clearly influenced by George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead) as walking zombies infiltrate a later scene in the movie. However, Shimizu is able to intricate this reference with such originality that many wouldn’t blink an eye. There is also a spin-off on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, as the hotel is reminiscent of a location struggling to extricate itself from a dark past. In this film, eleven people were murdered at the hotel in 1970 by an old professor who filmed the whole thing with a 8mm camera. It is this event that film director, Matsumara, (Kippei Shiina) wants to create, and casts Sigiura (Yuka) as timid young girl in the lead role of the professor’s daughter.

I feel that Shimizu is also trying to recreate a Hitchcockian thriller with this film. He draws on two different strands of reality and brings them closer and closer to one another until the climax. At which point, reality has bled so innately into one another, the audience can only be left startled. One could also draw similarities between Hitchcock’s scores and title sequences. For example, in Physco and Vertigo, the abstract and delirious title sequences by Saul Bass are almost identical in style to Shimizu’s. The much alarming and distressing scores of Bernard Herrmann’s (Hitchcock’s regular composer) are similar to Kenji Kawai’s in Reincarnation.

Sigiura has all kinds of vivid and wild visions throughout the movie. She finds herself stuck between reality, unsure of what is a nightmare, or a scene in the movie, or ‘the real’. It is very cleverly depicted and Shimizu never loses us in his twisted narrative and what’s more, he leaves a twist that not even the seasoned J-horror fans would have seen coming!

Shimizu is a truly great horror director and this is a very good instance of that. But, be prepared to face what might just classify as the creepiest ‘living’ doll ever filmed!

4/5 stars.

Watch the trailer below.

Big Bad Wolves – shock value and comedy go hand-in-hand

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MOVIE REVIEW

Big Bad Wolves
United Channel Movies, Israel 
110 Min
2.35:1
UK Release: TBA for 2014 by Metronome Distribution

DIR Navot Papushado, Aharon Keshales
PROD Tami Leon, Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi
SCR Navot Papushado, Aharon Keshales
DP Giora Bejach
CAST Lior Ashkenazi, Tzachi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Dov Glickman, Menashe Noy

Hailed by Quentin Tarantino as the best film of the year, so far, at Busan international film festival, it’s easy to see why with the flair, punch and shock value that Big Bad Wolves brings to the table.

The film is, ultimately, a black comedy that takes you headfirst into the rather corrupt underworld of the Israeli police. However, it is also a spin on the horror film with torture scenes designed to make your jaw drop one minute, and the next, to laugh out loud. This is by no means a new experience, but there is something fresh about the way Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales (the directors) combine horror and comedy. The horror itself, is not funny, it is overwhelmingly shocking, but it is constantly being switched on and off with unforeseen interruptions of almost burlesque value. We are bounced back and forth in our seats.

The story is quite straightforward: A reckless cop, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), and a missing girls irate father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), are drawn to the attention of Dror (Rotem Keinan) who they relentlessly believe is guilty of raping and beheading the girl. The pair duo up and take things into their own hands in order to find a way to extract the truth from Dror. It is the classic set-up for an acrimonious torture scene.

It is within this torture-ology that the film swims in the murky waters of good vs. evil where perspective is the only thing separating the two. You are left constantly trying to guess what the characters will do next, which keeps us tied right to the edge of our seats. This tense atmosphere infuses an air of moral superiority into the narrative. You can’t help wondering, surely there is a better way to go about this? There is also a comical play-off between the local Jews and Arab communities – a statement of change and novel friendship between the two.

The only thing lacking for me in the film was the absence of any real character development. Okay, it is not entirely necessary for the script to work as our squirming and laughing out loud soon sidetracks us. Also, part of the reason this film is so impulsive lies in the lack of back-story. However, there is also nothing to explain why Miki and Gidi are so focused on Dror, the man they are targeting as the killer. Towards the beginning, there is simply an anonymous throwaway line regarding someone alleging to have seen Dror with the child.

Big Bad Wolves is, nevertheless, beautifully crafted, from its apprehensive and muted prologue to sinisterly lit forest scenes and pronounced, sweeping camera shots of the basement corridors and walls. The film is innovative in nearly all respects, it is brimming with the unusual and it boasts a brilliant genre fare. Not since Park Chan-wook’s pictures has a director managed to maintain such a light tone whilst depicting a deeply troubling subject matter.

4 stars

Watch the trailer below:

Possession – If you like sexual demons and vomit…

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MOVIE REVIEW

Possession
Gaumont, France
123 Min
1.66:1
Colour
Release: 27th May 1981 (France)

DIR Andrzej Żuławski
PROD Marie-Laure Reyre
SCR Andrzej Żuławski, Frédéric Tuten
DP Bruno Nuytten
CAST Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill, Heinz Bennent, Shaun Lawton,

If I gave 5 stars to a film obscured in an orgy of milk, demonic cum and vomit, you might think I was mad. However, there is nothing quite like Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession, it has everything from sexual mutilations to wild psychotic descents – it is truly surreal, bizarre and wonderful.

Possession is a tricky film to bed within any one genre; its primary undertones give it an art-house appeal. However, suspense, drama, mystery and horror are all at work here to create a distressingly powerful, tragic and grisly mashed-up movie. This may all sound a tad overwhelming, it is, but Zulawski’s direction is masterful in fitting all these rudiments into one package. He plays around with striking set pieces and tight spaces giving the film a claustrophobic component, making it all the more terrifying. The further complement the act of insanity, legendary French cinematographer, Bruno Nuytten, meets Zulawski’s vision with gorgeously long sweeping camera shots and 360-degree encircling shots of the deranged characters.

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The plot concerns the breakdown of a couples marriage into hysteric arguments and domestic, masochistic melodrama. The husband (San Neil – you’ll remember him from Jurassic Park) discovers that his wife, Anne (Isabelle Adjani), is having an affair with an offbeat and laid-back man, Heinrich (Heinz Bennett). Loyalties are thrown out the window as incoherent monologues and farce commotion engulf Anne into sheer madness; a noteworthy scene being when Anne’s inner demon rises to the surface in a subway – incredible doesn’t touch on Anne’s mind-blowing performance. She won the Best Actress at Cannes that year; it’s not surprising considering the spellbinding depiction of her possession. It becomes apparent that Anne is concealing something far darker than anyone can expect – upon this divulgence, I found myself gazing at the screen wondering if I’d gone mad.

This film is full of chaos and dynamic extremity. I could feel the boundaries of the screen pulsating as ‘cinema’ was being pushed to its limits. Obviously, this viewing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there is sentimental value and a personal touch from Zulawski embedded into every mannerism. You will fall in and out of love with each scene and become wreathed in a state of psychosis – it’s not an everyday cinematic experience, but it’s one that should be cherished and honored.

5 stars

Watch the trailer below:

Short of the Week: Knife Point

My short film of the week: Knife Point

I’m not exactly keen on short horror films, but this film absolutely nails the genre to a pole.

There is a creepy essence throughout the film, you’re never sure which route it will take. It’s an awkward, warped type of suspense, which will leave you at ‘Knife Point’ of the malfunctioning human mind.

This film is worth your time, it has cinematic roots and a dark, moody undertone (beautifully shot by Chris Dapkins). It is slow, but anything from formulaic.

The film is directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis who is currently working on his debut feature (more info).

I hope you enjoy it:

 

Other honorable mentions this week:

Cargo – Another horror film that defies popular convention. It somehow manages to put empathy and human nature into a zomblie flick – watch it online here.

Wretched – A gritty drama acting out the dark trappings of drug addiction and relationship insecurities – watch it online here.

The Call – Should you take it?

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Probably not…

Brad Anderson’s The Call is a cluttered B-thriller with a tight clasp, but very little personality.

Anderson’s The Machinist was an incredible divergence into the mind of the insomniac male (executed to sincere perfection by Christian Bale). It was a chilling ride, one that continued out of the cinema door and infiltrated your dreams. However, with Anderson’s The Call, we are sent on an intense and suspenseful adventure, only to be gatecrashed of everything fresh and intriguing in the third act.

The Call takes us into the high-stakes world of an LA 911 operator. This proves to be an interesting insight, as the emergency call centre setting isn’t something I can recall being explored much in film. It is totally immersive. Thus, the film gets off to a flying start. Halle Berry’s resourcefulness is tested after a terrified young woman (Abigail Breslin) phones from the trunk of the car of a serial killer who’s just kidnapped her. This is an edge of your seat premise. D’Ovidio was onto something here, a classic crime thriller could have been crafted from the elements laid forth – this wasn’t to be acknowledged by Anderson or D’Ovidio (where is David Fincher when you need him?)

It appears that most of Berry’s life is spent behind her desk in “the hive” as co-workers call it – this also happens to be where most the movie is set. It is a work-centric environment and even one that her handsome LAPD officer boyfriend (Morris Chestnut) is part of. It therefore has far greater impact when Berry can’t handle work anymore, as she blames herself for a misstep. This misstep condemns a teenage girl to be summoned to a shallow grave; Berry consequently joins the workforce training new operators instead. However, this is short-lived when, six months later, the veteran reluctantly takes over a call as the young operator couldn’t handle the pressure. This call comes from the girl (Abigail Breslin) who is locked in the trunk of the car.

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Once it is evident the car boot has a shovel in it, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the kidnapper is the same one from six months earlier. You can predict that things will get personal for Berry, in fact very personal, as the realization causes Berry to almost self-destruct.

The serial killer is offbeat, as one might expect, but Michael Eklund plays a twitchy, restless killer who looks as though he may have dropped some acid before each take. Eklund’s character is easily spooked and seems highly unprepared. This had me puzzled because he had a grand underground lair devoted to torturing young blonde teens – a little confusing for such a chaotic man.

The entire premise wouldn’t work without the fact that Breslin is calling from a cheap, pay-as-you-go, disposable mobile. Unlikely in an era where nearly everyone owns a Blackberry, Samsung or iPhone. Berry, therefore, can’t trace the phone and of course Breslin has no idea where she is. This makes for a nice cat and mouse chase. Unfortunately, form and imagination are clearly lacking throughout the belated chase sequence. The premise offers great opportunity for a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere, there are hints of this but everything quickly becomes flat. As you can imagine, endless shots of Berry yelling into her headset become tiresome and the action cuts seem rather wonky and disordered.

Eventually, the movie betrays its premise, a premise that could have been far more ingenious. Perhaps, Anderson realized it was time to go back to his roots and delve into a grindhouse style rape-revenge movie, with floods of horror. It sees Berry miraculously leave “the hive” and go on a solo mission to find Breslin herself. It seems dumb, and it really is dumb, but Anderson is now doing what he’s good at: creating oppressive atmospheres and orchestrating opaque horror. Of course, this third act concludes as unquestionably puerile and the resolution is left hanging thin in the air – and not in an indulging way. I was just left thinking: “After all that trouble, why the hell would they do that?”

All in all, this movie will summon you, but then dump you in a trench and maybe lift you back out again, but only half way.

It’s a tattered 3 stars for Anderson’s efforts and Berry’s slightly improved performance from a career of washouts (The Flinstones, Gothika, Catwoman, Movie 43 etc).

Short of the Week: Picnic

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This was a tough decision after a week of watching way too many shorts. Some were very notable, some extremely alternative and some just a bit rubbish.

Picnic, however, really dug deep and sent chills down my spine. It’s definitely one to remember.

Spanish director Gerardo Herrero and his film crew head to the once safe and festive woods of Eastern Bosnia to shoot a visually stunning live-action short.

Beautifully lit night scenes and sweeping steadicam scenes by cinematographer Rafa Reparaz leave lasting marks, alongside the atmospheric soundtrack and perfectly paced editing.

Picnic is mostly dialogue free apart from a poetic like narration informing that “It’s been a long time since anyone played in Grebak. There was a war. And, although you don’t know it… The War changed everything.” Already we know something bad will happen in the woods, in fact, something so vivid that the family outing soon turns into a life or death situation.

Hence, the narrative appears simple, though Herrero believes his narrative tackles much grander concepts than first interpretations. It is a short that talks about living in constant war with nature, the economy and governments. He believes this story focuses on a “fear which lives and grows inside of us.”

The film is bold, it presents us with our darkest fears, it shows no mercy and fankly boasts a confident style from first time director Gerardo Herrero whose new short Acrobat is currently hitting festivals.

Watch Picnic here:

 

Check out the films website for extra goodies.

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