Suspense

The Woman in Black (2012)

Film #26: The Woman in Black (2012)

The Woman in Black is a horror movie based on the ghost story of the same name written by Susan Hill. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first non-Harry Potter film role since 2007’s December Boys. Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a solicitor living with his 4-year-old son in Edwardian era England (early 20th century). He’s a bit disgruntled, having never fully gotten over his wife’s death during childbirth, but that doesn’t stop him from getting dispatched to the English countryside to deal with the estate of the recently-deceased Alice Drablow. Center to her estate is her giant manor, the Eel Marsh House. During his time at the house, he sees the specter of a woman (in black). Soon afterward, children in the town begin to commit violent suicide, and the townspeople blame Kipps for invoking the curse of the Woman in Black.

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Buried (2010)

A minute into Rodrigo Cortés’ Buried, Ryan Reynolds wakes up to find that he has been… well, buried. With his awakening, the audience begins its 90-minute stay underground. We are allotted no breaks via flashbacks, no breathers via cutaways. From start to finish, we share Ryan Reynold’s claustrophobia in this well-plotted and very suspenseful film.

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Straw Dogs (1971)

Straw Dogs is the first film by Sam Peckinpah that I’ve seen. It’s a movie about an American mathematician, played by Dustin Hoffman, who goes with his wife, Susan George, to rural Great Britain while campus riots and political turmoil stir in the United States.

Peckinpah employs Hoffman as a very specific type of intellectual character. Peckinpah’s films have been said to deal with issues of violence and masculinity, and it’s difficult to deduct where he lies on the issues. Hoffman’s character is practically a eunuch due to his devotion to his work; he’s also terribly rude and out of touch with the general populace, and a downright bore.

His personal pitfalls are what lead his very attractive wife to go flirt with some locals. Again, Peckinpah has some dangerously ambiguous messages when she later is raped by these men. It’s again hard to determine whether the filmmaker is saying she brought it upon herself, an issue compounded by her eventual apparent acquiescence to the rape. It’s questionable scenes like this that make it hard to get behind Peckinpah ideologically.

Technically, Peckinpah knows what he’s doing. He sets a very deliberate pace for the film, one that leaves the audience sedated by a slow and steady first half in order to be shocked and alerted by the finale. The steady build up of how serious the problems for the couple are is accompanied by a well-crafted ominous and unfriendly tone. The whole movie feels claustrophobic and trapped in this small village with these unfriendly people. The film just feels dangerous.

The lead actors put in great performances. Hoffman plays one of his best roles as an awkward and mild-mannered professor. Hoffman’s demeanor only makes the final act of the film even more of a shock, as he unleashes venal rage in a murderous defense of his household. He is forced to defend his wife and shelter from a gang of locals after things go seriously wrong, and it is this violent defend-the-house situation, sort of an adult “Home Alone” scenario, that makes the film’s build-up worth it.

Peckinpah shows the brutality capable of someone when it comes down to kill or be killed, and makes a point of bringing this rage out of a man established as non-confrontational and generally placid. This violence certainly divides critics over this film and his others, and it’s unfortunate that the intellectual Hoffman apparently finds redemption through violence and murder.

Still, even if we don’t agree with the final message of the film, we must admit that this film brings up these questions of human nature and investigates them graphically. Straw Dogs is worth a look for a number of reasons – it’s a good example of a well-made slow-paced film, it’s made by an infamous filmmaker with excellent actors, and it brings up a number of issues to think about, even if your final opinions differ from the controversial ones of the film.

Final rating: 8/10

–James A. Janisse


Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

It may be safe to say that Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director. There are plenty who come close to that title, but nobody else has produced so many movies of the highest quality and in such an array of genres as Mr. Kubrick. I finally got around to watching the last film he made, Eyes Wide Shut, and while it wasn’t quite up to par with his usual masterpiece fare, it was still a solid film and definitely Kubrickian.

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The Village (2004)

The Village was the first M. Night Shyamalan movie I’ve seen in a while. It’s been a few years since I saw Unbreakable, and even longer since the Sixth Sense, so I tried to enter the movie with a fresh sense of judgment.

Unfortunately for me, popular culture has long revealed the twist ending of this movie, so it’s very likely that the knowledge of the twist ahead of time impacted my feelings toward the movie. On that note, I’m not going to restrain from spoilers in the review, so

***IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW.***

Still, I can’t say for certain that I wouldn’t have figured it out before the reveal anyway. Onward with the review.

The Village is a movie that takes its time as it explores small town life in a town supposedly in the late 19th century. The titular village is plagued by hidden and unnamed creatures that reside in the forest and keep the villagers to their little town. Joaquin Pheonix plays an emergingly rebellious young man who questions the insular doctrine that the town elders have established.

Pheonix is great, and probably the highlight of the film. His subdued performance makes you root for him as he stands up and tries to think critically about his situation, and his humbleness only solidifies his likability. The most tragic part of this movie is that the last third removes him almost entirely, and focuses instead on the leading lady played by newcomer (and Ron Howard’s daughter) Dallas Bryce Howard.

I’ve heard from a lot of people that Howard was good in her role, but I must respectfully disagree. Her delivery and mannerisms got a bit on my nerves, and I was pretty upset that she rose to the focal point of the movie by the end. It’s not that she was horrible, I think I just disagreed with the acting choices she made. I’m sure I could grow to like her if I examine her in other roles, but her interpretation of this character didn’t settle with me.

Her father similarly annoyed me. William Hurt was easily the weakest link of this movie for me. His line deliveries sounded so unnatural and awkward, and he only brought more unpleasantness to an already unsympathetic character.

Shyamalan’s direction in this movie is mixed. On the one hand, I feel as though he misuses slow-motion. The first time he uses it is when the creatures come into the town and Howard’s character has the door open and her hand outstretched. This scene is very tense, and I was enjoying the suspense a lot, but then it moved into slow-motion and broke all of the excitement that I had for it. On the other hand, there are some fantastic sequences and shots. One that stands out in particular is when Adrien Brody stabs Pheonix. It’s the most beautifully tragic and silent stabbing I’ve ever seen, and I was really impressed by it.

But the great acting and the occasional directorial goodness is all brought down by the end of the movie. The last forty minutes of this movie ruin any interest it had built up for me at all. The twists are uninspired and cliche, and the reveals are very anticlimactic. When I heard that the Village was actually in modern day, I thought it was an awesome idea, but after seeing the execution, I was severely disappointed in how Shyamalan decided to reveal this.

Then he decides to try to cover his tracks in depth by having an officer, played by Shyamalan himself, explaining everything and even offering an explanation for the lack of planes flying by. It’s like he doesn’t trust his audience to figure anything out on their own, and it really belittles the entire twist. Plus, I have serious problems with films like this, that show the creatures clearly as CGI-created monsters, and then later tries to say they were just people in rubber masks. That’s bullshit, and it’s insulting to audiences to show them one thing and then later say it’s another.

And also, I don’t think a blind chick could have killed anyone in the woods like that, even if they were mentally handicapped. The entire last third of this movie had me groaning and rolling my eyes, and made me join the leagues of other critics who claim that Shyamalan is a one-trick pony who has been failing that trick as of late.

Final rating: 4/10

–James A. Janisse