Monday, June 25, 2012

Fun With Google 7

poughkeepsie tapes real

In short, no.

lifetime scary movie plot

I don't see this search turning up a lot of results.

the bunny game movie dick scene

Of all the horrible shit that is in that movie, I'm not sure what this person means by the "dick scene."

urinates "the bunny game"

My, that's awfully...specific.

monster impregnates girl

Creepy? Maybe. That it was repeated 3 or 4 times? Creepier.

Dying God penis

Okay fuck this I'm out of here. Internet, you win.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Clinic: It's Quiet…Too Quiet

There was a period of time when my wife and I used to watch medical documentary shows, and in all of their real gore and ickiness, I was never as grossed out by shows set in the ER as much as shows set in maternity wards. Bullet wounds, knife wounds, broken and gangrenous limbs, none of those squicked me out the way live birth did. On TV, freshly born babies look like nothing so much as rubber props covered in slime. It felt like I was watching a monster movie to some degree.

In short: Babies, birth, children, and parenthood are fucking scary.

At best, you get movies like Rosemary's Baby, Eraserhead, and The Exorcist. At worst, you get any number of maudlin, heartstring-tugging Lifetime specials about plucky mothers fighting to get their kids back or protecting their kids from psycho ex-husbands or nannies. Kids are fucking scary, losing your kid is even scarier. That said, The Clinic manages to deftly avoid the obvious beats - most of them, not all of them - to good effect.

I don't usually single out opening credits for comment, but these are nicely creepy - long, low tracking shots of tile floors and rows of hooks, more reminiscent of a slaughterhouse than the titular clinic, the contrast communicates something important about this movie early on: We're telling you it's about one thing, and it's not not about that thing, but it's also not about that thing.

A young couple - Cameron, and his hugely pregnant fiancee Beth - are driving through rural Australia to visit her parents. As near as I can tell from pretty much every movie set in Australia that I've ever watched, this involves long stretches of highway going across flat desert nothing with little towns dotting the route, but miles and miles away from each other. They're arguing a little, but not so much as to be a whole thing. They're young, and in love, and have a lot of stuff with which to deal. In short order, our young couple get run off the road by a truck that's come pretty much out of nowhere.

(This is where I expected to say "A-ha! The truck driver is evil and is going to hound them or come back and try to kill them!" Nope, truck driver was, as near as I can tell, just an asshole.  This isn't important to the movie, but I appreciate it when movies dodge the obvious. It's not the thing you think it's going to be.)

The car's pretty banged up, so they get it towed to the nearest garage and pay for a room at a ratty little motel in one of these tiny little towns. The proprietor is appropriately gross, as is the room, but it's only going to be for one night, so they can deal. This bit hits entirely too close to home for me, being pretty much a reenactment of an unfortunate overnight stay I had in St. Louis. The night clerk looked like his parents skimped on the chromosomes, and the mattress in the room was an air mattress. Aaaaggghhhhhhh but anyway this is about the movie. So Cameron gets up before Beth and goes to get some food, which ends up being sort of a production in this one-horse town. When he comes back, Beth is gone. Creepy motel owner and suspiciously good ol' boy sheriff are less than no help, and so Cameron flips out a little and goes looking for Beth on his own.

Meanwhile, Beth wakes up in an abandoned warehouse, in a tub of ice, with a freshly-stitched incision across her abdomen.

The rest of The Clinic is Cameron trying to find Beth, and Beth trying to figure out exactly what the hell has happened to her. It could be really tired and awful - terrified, traumatized woman running around what turns out to be an abandoned slaughterhouse (see what they did there?), I mean, it sort of has Saw-type "we're going to play a game" bullshit written all over it at first blush, but what we get instead is a relatively low-key mystery - it's not immediately apparent who has captured Beth or why, apart from the obvious baby-stealing, and the movie does a pretty good job of revealing just enough information at any given point in the story to keep us interested without completely throwing us. It could be a lot more histrionic, though Beth's grief and terror are palpable and real, even the highest-tension points for much of the movie take place in quiet and stillness. It walks sort of a queasy line in that sense - we don't get really wound up as much as you'd think, it's much more careful and deliberate, which is good. But at the same time, I sort of wanted to be wound up more - I wanted more visceral scares than the movie really communicated.

So what I'm left with is something akin to ambivalence. Which is weird, because there's a lot about The Clinic to like - it's smart, careful, doesn't overexplain, and takes all of these odd or implausible things that happen throughout the movie and provides reasons for them. It's a movie that doesn't underestimate the viewer - it treats us like adults, doesn't beat us over the head with explanation. It's not airtight - its endgame stretches plausibility a little in a few different ways, but for a movie where people run around, scream, and spill blood, it's pleasantly free of juvenile mistakes or cheap scares. Honestly, I'd like to see more movies with ostensibly lowbrow narratives (like, say, slasher films) handled with this much intelligence and skill, because the end results would probably be scary as hell. As it is, I'm sitting here, quietly impressed with what I've seen, but not really scared or moved as much as I feel I should have been. Like, I don't want to scream watching this, I want to give it a golf clap.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Available on Amazon Instant
Available on Netflix

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Penumbra: Having A Really Bad Day

There's an old aphorism that comedy is the absolute worst day of someone else's life. Which is sometimes true, I think, but not always - I mean, let's face it, the story of Oedipus isn't exactly a laugh riot, and I'm pretty sure the day he discovered that he'd inadvertently killed his own father and slept with his mother was the worst day of his life. So what distinguishes funny worst days from frightening or tragic worst days? I think it might be empathy. If we like or identify with the person, we don't want to see them hurt or suffer. If we don't, we're indifferent at best and rejoice in it at worst.

This is why I think it's so important to give the audience a connection to the protagonists of a horror movie - if we don't care, how are we going to be scared? Where it gets a little weirder is when the protagonists are actively unsympathetic, and you sort of find yourself rooting for their demise. Is that horror, or just really black comedy? I'm not saying there are clear-cut demarcations (American Psycho is a pretty tense, scary movie, and it's got some great dark comic moments), but if you're trying to make a scary movie, it helps if we're generally frightened for the protagonists. And I think this is where Penumbra runs into trouble.

Margarita Sanchez is having a very bad day. She's a high-powered yuppie lawyer from Barcelona who, much to her dismay, is stuck in Buenos Aires trying to unload an apartment her family inherited. She hates the country for its dirtiness and lack of sophistication and cannot wait to get back to Spain. She bears the sort of energetic contempt you associate with the aggressively upwardly mobile, perhaps someone trying desperately to outrun her own humble beginnings. She can't even be bothered to be polite to the people around her. She's rudeness and snobbery stuffed into a power suit and tethered to the world by a cell phone.

So Margarita's stuck in Buenos Aires, waiting for the realtor to come by to look at the apartment. The realtor keeps not showing up and not showing up, until finally he does - well, it turns out he was upstairs already, looking around. She lets him in, and he explains that he's still waiting for his boss to show up, and that he was sent ahead to look around. She's impatient enough to start to shoo him off, but his employer is willing to pay about four times what the property is worth to expedite the sale. That gets her attention, and so she suffers his presence while pacing around the apartment on her cell phone, juggling her sister, an annoyed co-worker, a lecherous client, and her boss, all without letting on that she's running late for her meeting because she's trying to get rid of this apartment. She's very busy trying to keep all of her lies straight.

So busy, in fact, that she doesn't take too much notice of the other people who start coming into the apartment, or the fact that none of them really seem like realtors, or that they're very insistent on taking this specific apartment by a specific time, or that Buenos Aires is about to experience a total solar eclipse.

What I think Penumbra is trying to achieve is a mixture of menace and surreal comedy like you might find in one of Roman Polanski's films, but the comedy almost seems more slapstick than anything else, and it's at odds enough with the menacing moments that both end up undercut - the funny stuff either seems less funny or the scary stuff seems less scary. And since we don't really identify with Margarita - she really isn't anything but unpleasant - the scary bits scare us even less. We aren't worried for Margarita because she's pretty much at fault throughout. At most, we watch as all of her previous bad behavior throughout the movie comes back to bite her on the ass in her moments of real need. So by the time things start going really bad, the appropriate response seems less "oh shit," and more "well, there you go."

There are some nice little moments throughout that, true to Polanski's approach, make you wonder not so much if it's all in Margarita's head or not (because we know it isn't), but just how deep the rabbit hole goes - other people's behavior does seem a little off, a little suspicious at times, and it's almost enough to keep you wondering, but not enough to mitigate the way the rest of the movie veers between creepy and goofy without really integrating the two. Our protagonist and her situation are both just terrible enough to leave us undecided between comedy and horror. It's the worst day of the worst person's life, so what are we supposed to feel?

Unavailable on Netflix