Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pontypool: Language Is A Virus From Outer Space

I'm sort of on the fence about zombie movies. On the one hand, some of my favorite horror films are generally considered zombie movies (Night of the Living Dead, [REC], 28 Days Later), but on the other, the genre is responsible for a whole lot of cheap direct-to-DVD gorefests with little value above the gross-out factor. Either way, the general formula is pretty simple: The dead walk (or run), people attempt to flee (or make a final stand), with at least some of their number getting infected along the way and/or having to fight someone close to them after they rise from the dead. Outcomes vary from wearily triumphant to bleak, bleak, bleak. That's okay, though. Both [REC] and The Diary of the Dead are found-footage takes on the zombie movie, but one is really good, tense, sharp, and scary as hell, and the other is The Diary of the Dead. Two musicians can play the same notes, but it's how they play them that matters.

Pontypool opens with the voice of Grant Mazzy, morning drive DJ at CLSY in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. He's sort of like Don Imus with Ken Nordine's voice, a big city bad boy whose on-air antics have reduced him to reading off school cancellations out in the sticks, broadcasting from a church basement. He's the elderly lion, a once great beast brought low by time and bad decisions. His day begins in the early dark, just him, his producer Sydney, and Laurel-Ann, the intern. You get the sense that Grant's maybe a little hard to work with - his banter with Sydney has some needles in it - but once he starts broadcasting, his voice is the only thing in the room. This voice shouldn't be reading bus route changes, local ads and PSAs. It should be telling stories, spinning yarns, shooting the breeze about history and philosophy. Grant's not happy here. He's here because this is all that's left. Just another morning in a long series of mornings talking to the people out there about the small things that occupy their days.  (It occurs to me just now that it would have been cool if the only zombie in this movie had been Grant, a man dead and not knowing it. But that's not how it plays out.)

Just another morning for the most part, with Grant interspersing his monologue with announcements, ads, and calls from various people, including his traffic helicopter reporter. It's all very small-town and quaint, and the caller who starts stammering and having trouble with words seems a little odd, but nothing to get worked up over. But then the stammering starts to spread from person to person. People are having trouble talking. Words are beginning to lose their meaning, and worse. Eventually, reports of aphasia turn into reports of seizures. People emerge from the seizures violent and insensate. Reports of people hunting in packs for other people. As the spoken word falls away, so does humanity.

Pontypool is collapsing into savagery, and whatever is responsible spreads through language.

Grant, Sydney, and Laurel-Ann are in a difficult position. They appear to be safe in the studio (certainly safer than the people calling in, sometimes meeting horrible ends over the air) , but they're basically trapped there. Worse, if the vector of infection really is language, they have to watch everything they say, and everything they hear. Is it one specific word? Is it a specific combination of words? The enemy is in the room with them even as they're listening to its ravages outside. What are their responsibilities to the outside world? They have all of the resources they need to call for help, but they don't dare broadcast anything that might spread the infection. Language as a threat or weapon shows up in all kinds of places, from Monty Python's Joke That Kills to Dune's Killing Word to the nam-shubs in Snow Crash to the Warren Ellis story "Invasive", words can hurt you far worse than sticks or stones. There's something insidious about it, and because it's such a basic part of storytelling, we almost don't notice until it's too late. Someone starts repeating a word over and over again, it takes us a second. Are they upset? Are they confused? Why are they-oh, shit.

It's a tense, claustrophobic film, and hearing the atrocity at a remove, through the speakers, as eyewitness reporting, somehow makes it worse. We're used to graphic dismemberment and disemboweling in our zombie movies, but this is suffering and agony without spectacle. Usually zombie movies feature a lot of running from zombies. This is horror from the age of the radio play, and our imagination fills in the blanks where practical or digital effects would usually go. There's nowhere to run, and setting it in a radio station, with soundproof booths and speakers just sharpens the precariousness of their situation. Sound and meaning are the enemy here, and they are unavoidable. For the first part of the movie, at least, we are in the same position as they are. We can only sit and listen in horror.

In some ways, though, it hearkens back to the big daddy of zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead. Why are the dead walking? Who the hell knows? Somebody might have said something about a meteor or something, but the point is that the dead are fucking walking. We can figure out the "why" later when we aren't being eaten. What about language is doing this? That doesn't matter as much as not being torn apart by the mob outside. So there are some nice ties to tradition combined with a way to make a very visceral type of movie more cerebral without resorting to irony or "stick zombies into everything lol" pop-culture pastiche. Pontypool neatly sidesteps many zombie movie clichés. It's a small cast, set in one location, the violence is almost entirely inferred, and it's not toxic waste, it's not a bite, it's not the fault of the body that monsters are created, it's the mind. It's the least visceral zombie movie ever made. You barely even see a zombie.

Had the filmmakers trusted the audience to watch carefully and make the connections and discoveries themselves, this would have been a great movie. Unfortunately, we get a new character in the third act who pretty much just serves as a massive infodump, laying out the idea that the infection moves through language in the most gratingly obvious fashion possible at a point in the story when the only logical response is "yeah, no shit."  What was up to now a careful, smart movie descends into histrionics that treat the central conceit like something defeatable. It might mark the first time in horror cinema that the writings of Jacques Derrida and Mikhail Bakhtin are more useful in a zombie apocalypse than the presence of Bruce Campbell. That has a lot of potential, but none of it is realized here. Instead, in the final moments of the film, we get nonsense.

IMDB entry
Purchase on Amazon
Available from Netflix

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Ruins: Between The Earth And Sky

Horror movies thrive on situations in which the protagonists have to run through the dark. Seriously - show me a movie with somebody running through the dark, and it's probably a horror film. The dark is the embodiment of the unknown, which - as I just argued in my last post - is vital to effective horror. I mean, just try to imagine a romantic comedy or period drama in which someone runs through lightless, deserted hallways or across a field in the inky black.

To my mind, this makes what The Ruins accomplishes - horror in the open air and light of day - that much more impressive.

Two couples are having fun on a Mexican beach. Sun, sand, surf, beer, bikinis, the whole bit. Jeff and Amy are the serious, responsible couple. Jeff is going to go off to med school, and Amy's a bit of a wet blanket. She didn't want to come and is being sort of passive-aggressive about it. Stacy and Eric are the wacky, irresponsible couple, here indicated by their willingness to keep their friends waiting while they grab a morning quickie. There's some inter- and intracouple tension along gender lines, and temperament lines. They're trying to enjoy themselves, though. Lots of loaded glances and half-spoken, immediately abandoned arguments. The kind of shittiness that casts a pall over any vacation.

Into this simmering cauldron of pretty much every teens-in-trouble premise ever comes handsome, blonde, German Mathias. He's on vacation with his brother Heinrich and Heinrich's wife. They're busy on an archeological dig at some Mayan ruins. Mathias invites the four to come with him and his friend Dimitri to visit Heinrich the next day, and as usual, Amy is a wet blanket about it, and as usual, gets thoroughly and comprehensively outvoted.  Only the next day, Mathias' ride - some people from the dig - doesn't show up. Mathias can't reach Heinrich. So he decides to hire some transportation to go to the dig site and look for them. He give the two couples an out - this isn't their problem - but they go anyway. Of course they do. It's a long trip, deep into the jungle, and eventually their hired transportation refuses to go any farther. They get a local to take them the rest of the way, and when they reach the dig site, they find a Mayan pyramid, overgrown with a lush, flowering vine, Heinrich's truck sitting abandoned, and no sign of the dig team.

They do, however, find a group of armed Mayans on horseback who won't let them leave the pyramid once they've climbed it. Oddly, they won't approach the group, remaining at a distance, never lowering their guns or bows. The group is forced back to the base of the pyramid, across the fallow ground. The fallow ground, salted so that nothing may grow. A couple of ugly discoveries later, the group gets it. It's not the group that the Mayans are worried about, it's the vine. A vine held at bay by the salted earth.

They're being quarantined on the pyramid.

From here, the movie is an exercise in the crushing inevitable, played out on the small surface of the pyramid. Rations are meager, dehydration and exposure are certain, and the sun and sky press down like a vise. There is no dark, and there is nowhere to run. The open air and light of day feel claustrophobic. The location itself is physically constraining - with a couple of exceptions, you could set this story on the stage and it would lose next to nothing in the translation. And there is the matter of the vine. It grows aggressively, and appears to be carnivorous. There are unfortunate accidents, injuries, and crude attempts at medicine. Grudges and secrets come boiling to the surface - with nowhere to go, the vacationers start to turn on each other. Tempers and resentment flare as their circumstances ratchet tighter and tighter around them. And the vine waits. Waits and grows.  The protagonists do not deserve this. Nobody deserves this. These are people cracking and breaking under merciless strain, and every minute of their time stranded is hard and sharp. My only quibble with the movie is the range of things of which the vine is capable - but to be fair, killer plants are hard to pull off (there's a terrible pun in there somewhere) under the best of circumstances, and nature is full of strangeness in the name of adaptation. To a point, you could almost make the argument that there's nothing special about the vine, that this is all delusion brought on by a terrible situation.

But those are shades of bad, and this is not a movie about shade or nuance. This is bright and brutal, the colors of an ant squirming under the magnifying glass.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Available on Netflix

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Sequels, and the Narrative Problem of the Franchise: The Saw Series

NOTE: There are going to be some spoilers here and there.

I want to get one thing out the way up front: I have not seen all of the Saw films. I have seen the first three. I started watching the fourth before switching it off from disinterest. I am aware that it is considered (rightly so) bad form to criticize something you haven't seen, but I've tried to follow the ongoing story via Wikipedia summaries. Honestly, I'd argue based on 2 & 3 (and what little I saw of 4), actually watching the films after a certain point might not be necessary.

So yes, I have come to bury the Saw films, not to praise them.

Which is too bad, because I thought the first one was flawed, but generally pretty cool. It was atypical for North American horror films at the time. There was a tension between the simplicity of the situation in which the two main protagonists found themselves and the baroque storyline of betrayal and intertwined relationships surrounding them. The visual aesthetic was equally tense, contrasting grimy, believably decayed locations with the almost operatic quality of the killer's traps and methods. Sort of a locked-room murder mystery by way of Dario Argento, set in an abandoned, rusting warehouse.  It definitely had its flaws - it was shot without rehearsal and showed, and enough scenery got chewed toward the end that I worried about the actors getting tetanus. But as a singular story, it had promise, and it was something a little new and different.

New and different isn't always a guaranteed good thing, but in this instance it paid off. In terms of the business of filmmaking, this was great - a couple of relative unknowns, with not that much of a budget, turned out a successful horror film that wasn't just another smirky, ironic riff on the slasher film. Any time deviation from the tried and true pays off, it makes it a little easier to get some new blood more opportunities, and that's good. In terms of the art of filmmaking, this was also great - it was both grittier and more stylized than most commercial North American horror films to date, and so it added a lot to the potential visual vocabulary of horror film. Even the ad campaign had a little something to it - the posters for Saw looked like something Joel-Peter Witkin might do.

The problem comes in when art and business meet. Saw was commercially successful, and as a commercial product, its underwriters wanted to replicate its success. Fair enough, that's business. They paid for production, they got a return on investment, they'd like to keep going with a successful product. If you want to argue artistic purity, commercial film production is the wrong place to do it. However, films - however much a product they are - are still received, understood, and consumed as art (or entertainment). So in that sense, they can and should be evaluated on those terms, regardless of the place they occupy on a spreadsheet.

I am going to argue that the "franchising" of horror films is a bad thing, using the Saw films as a case study. In specific, the power of a film as a synthesized whole is diluted by increasing emphasis on its parts, and the power of the story, as originally conceived, is muted by and buried under increasingly complicated additions to the original narrative for the sake of maintaining some sort of franchise continuity. In general, this process not only makes individual films less effective as horror films, but shifts emphasis from creating art to laying the foundations for product.

In my opinion, much of the power of horror film lies in mystery. The unknown is a big part of horror film, however it shows up - the protagonists don't know how they got where they are, they don't know where somebody went, they don't know who is stalking them, they don't know why the bad things are happening to them, they don't know what type of creature is attacking them. The audience doesn't know these things either, or they do know when the protagonists don't and they get freaked out because they know the protagonists are in danger when they don't. Or the protagonists know something the audience doesn't and does something the audience doesn't understand and won't until all is revealed. The unknown scares us, and having the unknown become known also scares us (the power of the twist). In Saw, we spend the movie finding out why the two men are where they are and what brought them there and what's going to happen to them, and those are the sort of things that scare us.

In a sequel, then, you're already starting at a disadvantage just by virtue of there being less mystery. We've seen the monster in the first one, whatever the monster is. Now it is a known quantity. Whether it's the monster's identity, its motivation, its methodology, whatever, now we know something about that, so it doesn't scare us as much. By the end of Saw, we know that the Jigsaw Killer is a terminally ill man who resents the way others squander life, so he puts people into situations which force them to reexamine themselves and their fears, leading to a greater appreciation for the life they have. So we're already prepared for that going in. There's no threat left in that information.

So then what of the original film is left? We have a pretty good idea of what happened to the two original protagonists (nothing good), and the supporting cast is either dead or of little consequence. As far as we know, their story is over. What we have left are Jigsaw's traps, or "games", as he calls them.

(In my world, Jigsaw relies more on things like the Prisoner's Dilemma and less on rusty bear traps. But I'm a nerd.)

The traps are pretty much the engine driving the sequels. They're going to evoke a response (shock, revulsion) every time, and knowing they're coming isn't a disadvantage, it's a selling point. It's what separates the Saw films from other slasher films, which themselves rely on increasingly gruesome or baroque "kills" (scenes in which people are murdered) to keep audiences coming in for the sequels. I'd argue that these scenes of violence, largely devoid of context or character development, are the fats and sugars of our horror movie metabolism. A little is great - sudden bursts of violence can be very effective as a dramatic tool - but too much at the expense of story or pace or mood or character just leaves you empty, less scared than jolted and disgusted. (Yes, I just compared some horror movies to fast food. That was weak. But stick with me.)

So the appeal of the Saw sequels - since we now know who is behind these atrocities and why - is the sensations the traps evoke. They're the "kills" to which the audience is going to react. If you're going to make a successful Saw movie, then, you need to pay close attention to how you write the trap scenes. The traps need to be good, because it's the traps that are going to bring people into the theaters once all of the other mysteries are gone. There's also an element of one-upmanship, because each set of trap sequences you design are going to accustom the audience to a particular level or type of gruesomeness. So the next set needs to be "worse", somehow, to get the same feeling from the audience. This is true of pretty much any stimulus - it's a habituation effect. Pain is bad, suffering is worse, suffering of the innocent is even worse. Spikes are bad, blades are worse, needles are even worse, drowning in rotten pig entrails is yet again worse. And so it goes.

The more attention goes into the traps (since that's the feature attraction), the less goes into things like setting, mood, and characterization. These are less important because it doesn't matter who is going up against Jigsaw or where - we already know all about Jigsaw. There's no mystery there. The only mystery left is what the traps are going to be and who will be killed in which order. There may be some pretext to get all of the victims in place (Jigsaw's "game" with the police officer in Saw II involved his son and a number of people who fell afoul of his cavalier police methods), but we aren't going to find out anything about these people outside of their rationale for being there, because their only dramatic purpose is as models for the elaborate traps which are the constant of the series. The characters in any given Saw film after the first are either Jigsaw, an audience for Jigsaw, or cannon fodder.

Which is not to say that every horror film needs to be a character study, but if we're not going to care about the characters as people, then the situation in which they find themselves should be pretty evocative. We should at least sympathize with the characters just enough to not want to see them hurt or dead, just enough for the evocative situation to make us feel something. In the Saw films, it's a pretty one-way street. There are traps, and people are going to die in them, sooner or later. It's the difference between moving chess pieces around a board and feeding meat into a grinder. One engages us as viewers, asks us to anticipate moves, allows us to recognize the implications of events and feel something as a result of our discovery. The other is tedious inevitability. Oh, look, more people are about to die in some lethal contraption. Who could have seen that coming?

As much as the Saw films rely on their central conceit to attract the audience (assuming the whole trap angle was what brought in audiences, and that seems to be the case), then it's going to keep going back to the same well again and again. The more it goes back to that well, the more it has to up the stakes to keep people coming in. The more it ups the stakes, the less important other aspects of the film become. The original movie has been photocopied over and over and over and over and over and over, and all of the weird shades of obsession and duplicity and secret lives from the first movie have been reduced to blobs of traps and bodies to occupy them. There's no actual story any more, just a pretext and series of set pieces.

So that's the first problem with sequels: After the first movie, there's no real mystery. Successive sequels take the parts of the first movie and replicate them at the expense of anything that wasn't one of those parts. Mystery, so important to horror, is replaced with expectation, and narrative is sacrificed for spectacle.

The second problem stems from the first, to some extent: You can't completely abandon narrative for a string of murder scenes. Oh, sure, it'd probably be more efficient, but I suspect that lays the real value of those movies a little too bare for comfort. So what we're left with is the need for a narrative (or plot) that provides a reason to revisit a particular setting. Jigsaw needs more victims for his games. Teenagers need to return to Crystal Lake. Someone else needs to have a near-death experience in order for Death to catch up with them. Someone else needs to pick up the Lament Configuration. The spirit of Michael Myers needs to inhabit another body.  There needs to be a reason, no matter how spurious.

The pretext can be handled with varying amounts of finesse. At one end, you have the Hellraiser movies - since the engine of all of the horrible stuff in those movies is a puzzle box, it gets handled more like an anthology than a continuous narrative, and although there is some throughput and some attempt at a mythology (to the movies' detriment), it doesn't become problematic. At the other end, you've got the Saw movies - from an original movie which itself had a pretty elaborate storyline, attempts to continue with entirely new setpieces and groups of victims have made what was already a complicated narrative downright unwieldy. The Jigsaw killer is already dying in the first movie. He doesn't actually expire until the third movie. There are four movies after that. What follows is a kaleidoscope of secret apprentices, double-secret apprentices, double-crosses, triple-crosses, and somehow, each and every character in every one of the seven movies is somehow connected to all of the others. In the Saw films, there are no strangers or bystanders. Everyone has somehow crossed paths with Jigsaw or someone Jigsaw knew, for good or ill. It is a self-contained universe, with the Jigsaw Killer as the body around which all things orbit. Were the films concluded with the reveal that this was all the narcissistic fever dream of some mid-level bureaucrat who likes to tinker with gadgets in his garage, it'd be good. But not so much.

In an effort to connect all of the movies (some of which take place immediately before or after the preceding or succeeding movie), the web of interrelationships and hidden agendas has become so dense that it practically has an event horizon. Just to take a sample of the summary of Saw VI from the Wikipedia entry

"As William progresses through four tests, he saves as many people as he can and learns the error of his choice to reject so many policies, which inherently "kill" the rejected. His last test is revealed to be a test of forgiveness by the family of Harold Abbott who William rejected a policy to in the past, who ultimately choose to kill William using Hydrofluoric acid. Meanwhile, Agent Erickson and the previously thought to be dead agent Perez search for Agent Strahm with the assistance of Hoffman. Upon finding irregularities in previous murder scenes, Perez and Erickson discover Hoffman's identity, but are killed by him before they have a chance to report him but Perez tells Hoffman that everyone knows about him. Hoffman then plants Strahm's finger prints on evidence in the room where he killed Erickson and Perez. Hoffman travels back to the site of William's tests in which Jill attacks him to obey John's final request. She leaves Hoffman in a new Reverse-Bear Trap left behind by John where he is able to manipulate the trap and escape wounded. Hoffman is left in the area, screaming, with his face mangled by Jill's trap."

It's like a soap opera. With knives.

Ironically enough, even as the individual movies suffer a paucity of story (lots of people in traps, there's a twist somewhere, roll credits), the connections between movies make trying to follow even the meager story there is almost impossible. Not every franchise has this particular problem to the degree that the Saw films do, but to one extent or another, each revisit to a particular well entails stretching the confines of the original story to accommodate more and more iterations. Again, we lose the sense of mystery that makes any horror film powerful, simply because additional movies stretch plausibility further, both in each specific story (yes, lightning did strike Jason Voorhees' grave and that's why he came back. Also, his heart is a demon), and as metacommentary. The more movies there are, the less finality the events of any one movie have. Nobody is actually in mortal danger, because either they are necessary for the inevitable sequel, or because they are just day players in yet another installment of a franchise. Their peril has no meaning, and so no power to move us. Copies of copies of copies.

I'm not saying stories should never be revisited or that sequels are never warranted, but it seems like more and more often horror films are being made with the tacit acknowledgement that there will most likely be a sequel if it's successful, and some are even openly referred to as "the beginning of a franchise." That isn't art. It's product. And I firmly believe that horror films are, at their best, capable of being art. And I want to see horror movies at their best.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monsters: The Worst "Morning After" Ever

Horror movies are pretty much synonymous with monsters. The definition of "monster" is pretty broad, but there's a Big Bad Something, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral, and it means people ill, and people object to that with varying degrees of success. In pretty much every instance, the monster is at the center of the movie - the movie begins just before we meet the monster, the monster is fought and defeated (or is it?), and it ends with some kind of resolution, either a happy ending or not. There's a plucky band of protagonists, and it's up to them to stop the monster. People are threatened, and then saved. There's a threat, then there isn't, unless it comes back.

At least, that's the convention. As the convention gets reconsidered, we get movies where the monster gets moved to the periphery to different degrees - The Host is nominally about a giant mutant tadpole looking thing, but it's mostly a family drama, in which the defining tragedy is the kidnapping of the youngest daughter by said giant mutant tadpole. Cloverfield is a verité riff on the giant-monster movie in which we don't follow the plucky band of protagonists - instead, we follow one of the groups of people who run screaming from the monster. The Mist is as much about the horrible things people will do out of fear as it is about the gargantuan monstrosities lurking outside. Monsters move from being the driving threat to being the catalyst for other events.

Monsters takes this one step further, by making monsters a preexisting condition, a fact of the world.

We learn from a title card that six years ago, a deep-space probe tasked with searching for extraterrestrial life blew up on reentry, scattering alien life all over a large swath of Mexico, This life has flourished at the expense of the native flora and fauna, and Mexico is cut in two by a heavily-patrolled "Infected Zone." This is just a fact of the world now. Children incorporate the aliens into their murals, immigration is locked down even more tightly than it was before, a mammoth concrete wall (visible from space) runs along the U.S./Mexico border. The events of the monster movie have happened, and the alien invasion was not averted. They are here.

Against this backdrop we have the story of Andrew and Samantha. Andrew is a freelance photographer, trying to get into the Infected Zone to get photographs of the aliens at close range - highly prized, these would be a big payday for him. The closest he's been able to get has been pictures of the monsters' wreckage - destroyed vehicles and buildings, cars and airplanes flung up into trees, the carcasses of dead aliens. His window of opportunity is closing because the U.S. is extending a program of carpet-bombing further out from the Infected Zone proper in an attempt to control the alien population. It's also creating tens of thousands of refugees as Mexicans are driven from their homes. He's going to have to get out of this part of Mexico soon, so he wants to get into the Infected Zone before he has to go back home. His one shot is interrupted by a call for him from the publisher of the magazine for whom he is shooting. The publisher's daughter Samantha is lost somewhere further south - injured and staying in a Mexican hospital. Andrew is tasked with bringing her back to the U.S., his big chance be damned.

Naturally, there's some resentment from both ends. Andrew is mad that he's lost his one shot at the big time to play babysitter, and Samantha has to put up with a bit of a boor in Andrew. She speaks the language, he doesn't. She's concerned about the people in the villages, he's looking for the perfect shot. She wants to help, he wants to party and be done with his errand as soon as possible. This could tip very easily into romantic comedy cliché, but the actors play it just low-key enough to keep it on a human scale.

Getting out of Mexico ends up being more difficult than either of them thought - lines of transportation are limited, and the people controlling them are making a killing off the people who need to get out. It's the last day they can run the ferry before the military moves in, so the tickets going for thousands of dollars. Andrew and Samantha give everything they have to someone who is one step above a smuggler, and there's no guarantee that he isn't just going to leave them for dead, but they have no choice. The Infected Zone is the dangerous unknown lurking miles away, but Mexico itself feels just as predatory. There's a sense that these two people are innocents abroad, and the journey is going to be just as scary (if not scarier) than the monsters.

One thing leads to another - many shots of tequila and regrettable decisions during their last night in Mexico, and they wake up in the morning without their ferry tickets or much of anything else. The ferries are through running, the military is coming in. They have to leave now, and there's only one way left to go: Through the Infected Zone.

The resulting journey is something like a very low-key Cloverfield. It's a giant monster movie from the point of view of people on the periphery of events. With a couple of exceptions, all we see is the aftermath of the monsters' attacks - wreckage, human and otherwise, flung about. More remarkable is how life has gone on in the wake of the monsters' arrival. The presence of massive, dangerous alien life forms changes the way we live, but not as much as you might think. People still want to get away from the danger and are willing to pay, people are still willing to take their money, and others build walls, higher and thicker, in hopes of blotting out the thought of the danger entirely. Like Andrew and Samantha, we're just visitors, coming along after the worst is over, quietly appalled.

Of course, gringos horrified at something in the Third World is not a new thing, and the parallels with issues like immigration, foreign policy, and colonialism drift into the ham-handed on a couple of occasions, but like Andrew & Samantha's changing relationship, generally stay on the right side of believable. They're brought together by ordeal and fear, and the need to cling to something familiar. They meet halfway through difficult circumstances, and this is mostly the focus of the movie, rather than the monsters themselves. This becomes less true toward the last act, where danger is equally intermingled with beauty, relief with despair, closure with uncertainty, and a scene at the film's open is revisited from a different perspective, neatly bringing the whole thing to a close. I'd hesitate to call this a horror movie - more of a "quietly upset" movie - but it's an interesting addition to the increasing vocabulary of the monster movie, all of its typical bombast and shouting brought to the level of a conversation between people.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Available on Netflix

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mother Nature Does Not Care

Maybe it's because I"m watching snow come down outside right now, but this just occurred to me. As an addendum to my review of Frozen I submit to you this story of the many hazards of climbing Mt. Everest. A better real-world demonstration of nature's monolithic indifference to our concerns I could not find if I made one up...

Abandoned on Everest

Note: Some pretty unpleasant, definitely NSFW imagery accompanies the story, but probably nothing more disgusting than you've seen in any horror movie. It's just, you know, real.