2019년 4월 12일 금요일

Il cento notti di orore PART 3- THE HOLE IN THE GROUND (2019), GERALD'S GAME (2017) & THE WIND (2018)

Here comes the No. 3 in the Il cento notti di orrore or The One Hundred Nights of Horror series. Two major horror outputs in the intervening months that probably require separate write-ups are (Item No. 6) Jordan Peele's Us, not surprisingly making a killing at the worldwide box office, and (Item No. 7) AMC's The Terror, a miniseries adaptation of Dan Simmon's fictionalized account of the disappearances of the British warships Terror and Erebus attempting to discover the "Northwest Passage" that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans below the Artic continent. They are both terrific, although not without flaws naturally, and also intriguingly not quite what they appear to be at the outset. You can accuse me of cheating but I have added these titles to the counts. So we shall begin with No. 8 in this installment.  The rating system as usual: a white star ☆ counts for twenty points, a black star ★ for five points.     

8. The Hole in the Ground (Ireland, 2019). A Savage Productions/Bankside Films/Head Gear Films/Metrol Technology/Wrong Men North Co-Production, distributed by A24 and DirecTV. 1 hour 30 minutes.  Widescreen 2.35:1, Filmed with Arri Alexa Mini. Directed by Lee Cronin. Screenplay by Lee Cronin & Stephen Shields. Cinematography by Tom Comerford.  Music by Stephen McKeon. Production Design by Conor Dennison.  Rented: Amazon Prime Video, February 2019.  Having debuted to generally positive reviews at Sundance Film Festival and picked up by A24 for the US distribution, The Hole in the Ground is an Irish horror film that may be succinctly described as a hybrid between Luis Berdejo's The New Daughter (2009) and Jennifer Kent's Babadook (2014). Like the former, it deals with the inexplicable and terrifying changes taking place on one's child (with sinister ties to malevolent underground presences, here more explicitly shown to originate from a large sinkhole in the forest) and like the latter, the film is essentially an exploration of the psychological terrors visited on an anxiety-ridden mother, here Sarah O'Neill (Seána Kerslake) who, with a preschool-age son Chris (James Quinn Markey), moves into a rather desolate town next to a gigantic expanse of forest, presumably running from an abusive husband and/or a failed marriage.  

Recent Irish horror films are often terrific in terms of building the atmosphere of dread and paranoia, and The Hole is no exception.  The debuting writer-director Lee Cronin, obviously a huge fan of the horror genre (the film pays tribute to some classic shock scenes, including the multiple-fracture arm-wrestling bout from David Cronenberg's The Fly), expertly plays with the viewer expectation and sympathy, making full use out of Kerslake's wide-eyed, on-the-edge-of-hysteria emotional outbursts.  Markey is also excellent as young Chris, whose explosive and seemingly irrational sways of emotion and behavioral norms at first seems to be a direct response to the familial trauma as well as his mother's neurosis.  Kati Outinen, a wonderful Finnish actress and a regular in Aki Kaurismäki's films, provides a key supporting role as a neighboring old woman, absolutely terrifying in early scenes, who first warns Sarah that Chris might not be what he seems. 

It is somewhat disappointing, then, that, for the final third leg, The Hole, unlike Babadook, embraces more conventional narrative solutions.  I am glad that Cronin eschews a self-consciously "ambiguous" or "downbeat" denouement (the kind that mars The New Daughter, which nonetheless has some impressive monstrous beings as Kevin Costner's opponents) but I also wish that the film really went for broke, ambitiously detailing the nature and purpose of the Hole Dwellers.  As it stands, The Hole does not quite become a modern horror masterwork that it could have been, yet fans of the genre will find much to enjoy and admire in this film. ☆☆☆★

9. Gerald's Game (US, 2017). An Intrepid Pictures Production, distributed by Netflix. 1 hour 43 minutes, Widescreen 2:35:1, Arri Alexa 65. Directed & edited by Mike Flanagan. Written by Jeff Howard & Mike Flanagan, based on a novel by Stephen King. Cinematography: Michael Fimognari. Music: The Newton Brothers. Special Effects Makeup: Robert Kurtzman.  Streamed: January, Netflix.  Over the last decade, Mike Flanagan has proven himself a talented and smart explorer of domestic terror, with a noted penchant for classically-informed ghost stories. The film that made me turn my head and notice him was 2014's Oculus, which wittily commented on its Gothic setting yet took its spooky thrills refreshingly seriously.  Subsequently, he went into a greatly profitable partnership with Netflix, filming an ambitiously expanded adaptation of Shirley Jackson's classic The Haunting of the Hill House, an apex of his filmmaking career in terms of his stature in the horror field.  However, for my money, his best work so far is this astoundingly faithful adaptation of Stephen King's short novel-- which, given its extremely self-reflexive, interior orientation, many had regarded unfilmable-- that rivals David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, John Carpenter's Christine and Frank Darabont's The Mist as one of the best cinematic incarnations of the ever-popular Maine writer's opuses. 

Given that Gerald's Game is an outlier of sorts for a King novel, at its heart a deeply felt psychological examination of Jessie (Carla Gugino, definitely delivering the best performance of her career up to now), an attractive but demure middle-aged woman and something of a trophy wife to a successful lawyer, entrapped in a dangerous yet deeply humiliating situation-- a bedroom sex game gone horribly wrong, as the husband, the eponymous Gerald (Bruce Greenwood, Captain Pike from Star Trek Into Darkness, equal parts menacing and funny), drops dead from a heart attack, leaving her handcuffed to their bed. This emotional core of the novel is then somewhat awkwardly dressed with more familiar horror-novel conventions, reining in the readers with intensifying thrills as a very hungry stray dog as well as what may or may not be a supernatural bogeyman begin to intrude into her bedroom, where she lies supine, dehydrated and starving, painfully cuffed to a bedpost.  

Flanagan, operating with a supreme level of care and finesse, dismantles and reconstructs the building blocks of King's narrative.  By introducing Gerald as a spectral interlocutor for Jessie, he stages a terrific Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  dynamic to unfold between Gugino and Greenwood, without sacrificing any suspense for the viewers rooting for Jessie to escape her predicament.  Equally impressively, the flashback to Jessie's childhood is handled with good taste and intelligence. Indeed, Gerald's Game is one of those extremely rare American movies in which child sexual abuse is shown to be causing such lasting damages, not because it is about sex per se, but because it "trusses" the victim with its intimations of harm and suppression of truths, ultimately robbing her of the capacity to trust others and to forge meaningful relationships. The cruelest scene in the film, in that sense, is one in which Jessie's father (Henry Thomas), his voice dripping with sincerity, seals her lips, not to tell anyone about "their secret."   

Moreover, Flanagan deftly handles what some might consider the novel's major weak point, i.e. the Moonlight Man (called Space Cowboy in the original), the bogeyman character that comes across in the original either slightly redundant, as if he wandered into the story from another segment of the King universe, or overtly literary-symbolic, endowing him with a credible and scary physical presence yet making sure to have him serve the larger theme of Jessie retrieving her control over her life from her "men," finally escaping from the shackles of secrecy and deception that had imprisoned her twelve-year-old self all these years.  

Make no mistake, Gerald's Game is not an "art-house" film and does not stint at all on the suspense or gore department.  Those who carry traumas or fears about paper cuts or having your fingers or toes caught in doors and such are well advised to pace yourself during agonizing scenes of Jessie struggling to escape the cuffs.  Nonetheless, Flanagan here manages to present a superior case study of how to adroitly adapt a difficult literary source, while remaining strikingly faithful to King's characterizations and themes. ☆☆☆★★★

10. The Wind (US, 2018). A Soapbox Films/Divide/Conquer/Mind Hive Films Co-Production, distributed by IFC Midnight.  1 hour 26 minutes. Aspect ratio 2:39:1. Directed by Emma Tammi. Screenplay by Teresa Sutherland. Cinematography by Lyn Moncrief. Production Designers: Courtney Andujar, Hilary Andujar. Special Makeup Effects: Jennifer M. Quinteros. Rented: April, Vudu. First showcased at Toronto International Film Festival, The Wind is the kind of genre crossover that I wish were produced with greater frequency-- a Western-horror hybrid (ok, please don't bring up Bone Tomahawk: I am aware of that movie, I don't like it and I don't consider it a prime example of such a hybrid). Starkly yet beautifully filmed by Lyn Moncrief (Midnight Son [2011], Orion [2015], among others) in the extra-wide scope ratio that emphasizes vast expanses of nothingness, The Wind has an ambitiously complex narrative structure, first showing a failed bloody Caesarian section on a woman half of whose head is missing from a gunshot wound, and going back in time to introduce principals and their relationships. 

Written and directed by women, the film is ultimate about the profound isolation and alienation of its protagonist, Lizzy (Caitlin Gerard, Insidious: The Last Key [2018]), tending to household chores and the needs of her husband Isaac (Ashley Zuckerman, the TV series Childhood's End [2015]).  She also plays a generous host to their only neighbors, the less experienced (and perhaps less mature) Harpers, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) and Gideon (Dylan McTee), yet there is an undercurrent of unarticulated tensions among their relationship, especially when Emma, very pregnant, claims to have seen the "demons of the prairie." 

At first, I thought the movie would be about Wendigo (as it turns out, Wendigo, a being from the Algonquin-speaking tribal myths, might be geographically misplaced as far as this film is concerned. It does get a mention in the new Pet Sematary, which is culturally appropriate given that it is set in Northern Maine, I suppose) and indeed it does feature a few competently done scenes of (seeming) demonic possession and Poltergeist-like incidents in the middle section.  However, the movie is really not interested in the precise nature of these "demons:" they could easily have been Biblical ones, and the Sutherland-Tammi team make it clear that these supernatural beings are more like spiritual resources rather than actual entities, that a lonely and depressed heart-and-mind grasps in desperation, like spoiled food that might satiate hunger for a short while, but would bring on worse problems later.

Director Tammi, for whom The Wind is the debuting feature, only missteps a few times in wrangling the various strands of timeline, in which Lizzy's own background of pregnancy and loss of a son is revealed, and the Reverend (Miles Anderson) is shown to be a thoroughly ineffectual spiritual counsel, even a bringer of a cure-worse-than-the-disease. More importantly, by patiently illustrating the everyday routines of the pioneer couples in their toilsome details, Tammi convincingly puts the viewers in the minds of these young women, completely unaided by their taciturn and uselessly "rational" husbands, daring us to judge them for gradually losing their grounds to the creeping madness born out of inhuman desolation.  Caitlin Gerard gives a restrained but powerful performance as Lizzy, a strong "pioneer woman," always appropriately attired for the occasion and capable of expertly handling firearms, yet at a loss to address the unnamable emotions and anxieties building up inside her.  It is a measure of the filmmaker's good judgment that we never lose sympathy for either Lizzy or Emma, despite the awful things done to and by them progressively revealed, as the narrative threads twine themselves to a resolution.

The Wind is not an easy film to enjoy or like, but I would definitely recommend it as a compellingly told, successful Western horror, seditiously driving a sharp knife into the liver of a triumphant American narrative of the pioneer hard work paying off in familial bliss in the settlement communities.  It does not really need a Native American bogeyman to show the horrors of human heart-and-mind dying with scream, driven mad by the blowing dust of the vast plains.☆☆☆★★

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