Sunday, April 17, 2016
Mania tells the story of Mel (Ellie Church) and Brooke (Tristan Risk), two lesbian lovers who live together in a quiet suburb. When Brooke lapses on her medication and commits a brutal murder, the two must flee their home and go on the run as their lives are changed forever.
Mania is the kind of movie that starts with a bang and then spends the rest of it's run time sneaking back up on you. It's about desire, want, love, demons, need, sex, and acceptance yet boasts a simplistic story that allows the two characters to slowly get into your head and haunt you in different ways. The brilliant trick of Mania is that those different ways end up being the same ghost, as Mel and Brooke slowly bleed into each other from opposite ends of the spectrum as the film progresses, yet couldn't be more different. Let me explain.
A lot of time is spent with the camera close up on the faces of the two leads. One reason for this may be the amount of time that Mel and Brook spend in a car in close quarters together, but several other moments outside of the car are also in close up and I found this a fascinating and effective choice. What these close ups reveal are the empty vessel like gaze with storms behind the eyes of Tristan Risk and the constant state of worry and concern on the face of Ellie Church. The faces of these characters are opposite sides of the same Mania coin.
Mania is a magnificent mash-up from a script that director Jessica Cameron infuses with style and know how of several genres. It's directed with ferocity that allows for explicit gore, sensual sex scenes, and beautiful, haunting, and surreal dream sequences that pop with over saturated reds and blues and yellows that recall Argento and 1970's Italian cinema. It's a little bit grind house, a little bit art house, and a little bit of an old fashioned slasher movie all swirling around a love story.
Mania offers a complex and layered analysis to be had. The film calls itself “a fucked up lesbian love story,” but about half way through Mania I was thinking it was more “a lesbian love story that gets fucked up”. By the end of the film I decided it was both. The mania works on two fronts here: Brooke and her uncontrollable killing spree, and Mel and her uncontrollable love for Brooke. The two characters couldn't be more opposite, really. The only logical connection they have to each other is love and it's easy to think that the title Mania refers only to Brooke and her lack of inhibitions but I feel the film demands more than that as it refers to both Mel and Brooke. Mel is seemingly in the same mental state as Brooke, her lack of inhibitions is what allows for the nightmarish scenario to continue.
This ability of the film to get inside my head long after I left the screening of it is what has me appreciating the hell out of it. Is it a masterpiece? No. There are some things I wish the script handled better: Mel and her extreme willingness to simply go along with whatever Mel said seemed too easy for me. The script also seemed to set up some scenarios a little too nicely. For example the set up that led Mel and Brooke to be dinner guests at a particular characters house seemed too contrived. But I have to say that I was very impressed with Mania as a whole and am just stuck on Cameron's obvious clear vision for the movie and the complex depiction of love the characters and story present.
As of this writing, Mania can only be caught at film festivals. If it comes anywhere near you I highly suggest checking this film out, it's a fantastic thinking piece of cinema that I can't wait to revisit!
Friday, April 15, 2016
Silent Retreat is about six people who work at a media company who go on a weekend business retreat. The retreat takes place at an isolated lodge in the woods that was formerly a mental institution. When one of the members of the group goes missing, the dark secrets of the lodges past begin to claim victims one by one.
Silent Retreat may not have the most original of story lines, (it's a cabin in the woods, folks), but something I really appreciated about the film was that it took itself seriously and presented a story and atmosphere that could deliver a scary movie. I like the way it avoided the college kids going to party at a lodge in the woods set up and instead took a more adult approach by making it a business retreat. Now, don't get me wrong, the employees are still young and the usual weekend getaway hijinks ensue, but hey, I'll give points for taking a somewhat different route to get there. The set up in the beginning was quick and to the point and left enough mystery to lead the viewer into the film feeling intrigued.
The location is great and the lodge sets up a deceptively comfortable setting that creates an eerie atmosphere underneath it all. The lodge itself is so nice, and so full of hand crafted decoration and personality that you just know it harbors some dark secrets, like one of those gaudy mansions in Gothic horror. It gives off that impression that you're never truly alone, and this feeling from the lodge goes a long way in giving off an uneasy feeling throughout the film.
The film has a bit of a slow build up. I fear a lot of horror fans may think it's a bit too slow of a build up and think it boring. I for one like the time we get to spend with the characters so we have a sense of knowing them. This makes the events to come that much more dreadful. And when they do come, the film does a nice job of tying the beginning into the events that take place, and ultimately it's outcome.
The film does experience some hiccups along the way. It's unfortunate that the obligatory smart ass of the group, Teddy, isn't that funny or endearing like those characters aim to be. Instead he just came across as annoying and I found every time he spoke to be a distraction from the film itself. Another distraction is the dialogue is a bit uneven. At times it seems a bit wooden and others pretty inspired. The scene where the group is welcomed to the retreat seems odd and stilted, whereas a scene where two characters banter about Axl Rose is very genuine and real feeling. The Axl Rose scene may have something to do with the two lead characters, Frank and Megan, having great onscreen chemistry together.I wouldn't call Silent Retreat a great movie, but I did enjoy the slow churn of the story and the subtlety of the eerie atmosphere as the horror built up. Overall it was a solid flick to watch alone in the dark.
Saturday, April 2, 2016
The Girl in the Photographs has famously become the last film credit of the late, great Wes Craven. Craven worked as a producer so it's hard to say exactly what creative influence he had over the film. But let's not confuse this with being a 'Wes Craven Film', he did not write or direct this, merely produced.
With that out of the way, The Girl in the Photographs tells the story of Colleen (Claudia Lee), a young woman living in the small community of Spearfish. Colleen has a stalker who likes to post images of murdered young women where she will find them. When a Los Angeles photographer (Kal Penn) hears of the story, he feels inspired and travels to Spearfish for a photo shoot based on the dead young women concept.
Ok, right off the bat we have a concept that could go either way. To be perfectly honest, I found the plot of the film to be very strange. And not in a good way. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The opening scene got this film off to a great start. It is powerful and terrifying in its subtlety, is nicely shot, and features a welcome cameo from the always good Katherine Isabelle. Then the rest of the story begins.
Claudia Lee does almost too good a job as the seemingly bored and distraught Colleen. It's unfortunate that her performance itself comes across as bored and in turn her character is completely lifeless. I just couldn't latch on to Colleen and her plight because of this. As if this weren't damaging enough to the film, the rest of the characters don't fare any better in the shallow feeling script.
The technical aspects of the movie do a really good job of setting a menacing tone: the music sounds imposing and intrusive, the lighting and quality look of the set pieces are beautifully eerie, and the icy cold abrupt violence is disturbing. The problem with the film that unfortunately negates all of that good stuff is a lack of character development. When the victims start to get knocked off, I didn't feel too much of a loss because I never was truly invested in any of them. In short: I just didn't really care.
It occurred to me that maybe we were supposed to be rooting for some of these people to die? But the killers were so evil that it was hard to want to see them get their way. The feel of this movie became muddled as it went on; the bad guys were terrible and the characters all felt annoying or completely lifeless.
On a positive note, Kal Penn was fantastic in this. He has this intensity that comes through in his speech that hints at a thousand thoughts going on in his head at the same time. But it never gets annoying or distracting, you just get the feeling that this guy could lose it at any moment.
The Girl in the Photographs turned out to be pretty disappointing. The film has some style and some quick bursts of bloody violence that are filmed very well, but it's not enough to save it from feeling flat. It starts out like a fully inflated balloon, full of promise after an effective opening scene. But as the film plays out the balloon slowly and continuously deflates until, by the end, you're left with something you really have no use for and most likely won't give a second thought to.