Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs_tp01

Directed by Pascal Laugier
Starring Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï

Wow, just got done watching this one and it is…intense. Like with my Cannibal Holocaust review, I recommend this film only to horror fan aficionado who feels they’ve seen it all. This is not for the faint of heart and will more than likely offend or scar you. In many screenings, vomiting and fainting has been reported. That said, let’s jump in.

Martyrs is divided into three acts which stand in stark contrast to one another. The first follows a young girl’s path of revenge against the people who kidnapped and tortured her and the demons she faces out of her past. This plays like your standard horror fare, but technically competant and successful in its scares, harkening back to the original Grudge. A satisfying resolution leaves the viewer wondering where the film willl go next. The next act follows her friend’s exploration of the girl’s past, at which point the film descends into sickening dread and revulsion. Without going into too much detail, the third act, punctuated by an unnecessary expositional scene, locks the viewer in the room with its victim and subjects them to a transcendant level of torture imagery. An ambiguous conclusion lends less of an explanation and more of an excuse for the violent extremes explored.

Having a similar opinion to British film reviewer Mark Kermode about horror being the last genre to push the art form that is film, I think this is worthy of a viewing. Is it torture porn? Yes. Is it expoitational? Some argue no, I say yes. But for the structure and cinematic crafting of sound, image, and effects to create an experience you cannot ignore, this film accomplishes its task. Much like Noe’s Irreverisble, this is one film that will stick with you and probably alter your psyche a bit. It’s rumored the director has been tapped to remake both this film and Hellraiser.

You’re not gonna like what you see. Or maybe you will, sicko.

Also by this director: Saint Ange (2004)

The Celebration (Festen) (1998)

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Starring Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen, Birthe Neumann, Trine Dyrholm

A Danish film based on a lie told on a radio talk show, Festen, is the story of a terrible family secret revealed at a father’s 60th birthday. Regarded as the first Dogma 95 film, Festen shuns the excesses of modern studio filmmaking and focuses on creating realistic portrayals of characters, settings, and actions without the crutches of props, post-production, and artificial lighting. The result is a startling and immersive film.

For those who have not seen the movie, I won’t ruin the surprise and encourage you not to read anything on the film that would give away the secret before seeing the film. Even with knowing though, the complex character portrayals and interactions, the cinematic style, tension, and humor are engaging enough to warrant a viewing.

For those curious about Dogma 95 filmmaking, here are the rules laid down by directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg:

Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs within the scene being filmed, i.e., diegetic).
The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.)
The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
Optical work and filters are forbidden.
The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
Genre movies are not acceptable.
The final picture must be transferred to the Academy 35mm film, with an aspect ratio of 4:3, that is, not widescreen. (Originally, the requirement was that the film had to be filmed on Academy 35mm film, but the rule was relaxed to allow low-budget productions.)
The director must not be credited.

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Directed by Rémy Belvaux

Starring Benoît Poelvoorde

Since out last film took place in Belgium, why not a Belgian film?  I revisited this film recently while preparing for a presentation on the subjective camera and it’s uses in film. In the past, I’ve found Man Bites Dog to be an inspirational film for me, one that I actually referenced for some comedic scenes in a children’s animated movie, Surf’s Up.

The film follows a fictitious documentary crew as they record the daily events of an amiable, erudite serial killer. Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, often times repellant, the film is decidedly original. The immersive nature of the camera work and natural acting on the part of Poelvoorde, draws the viewer into the strange world of the protagonist and eventually the film crew as well.

As the film progresses, the documentary crew becomes more and more involved in the killings and two members are coincidentally killed. We used this idea in Surf’s Up when we had the camera crew following a chicken hunted by cannibal penguins get hit with darts and spears. A little morbid for an animated movie about surfing penguins, but it got a few laughs and a nod for technical application.

It’s a student film on a shoestring budget, but it will draw you in and rivet you to your seat. Not for the squemish, this film is definitely a horror movie, but one with some interesting reflections on the media and modern society.

Dreams (1990)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Starring Akira Terao, Martin Scorsese

Based on the dreams of the accomplished director, Dreams is a stylishly visual film that explores the possibilities of the medium. Haunting and original, Dreams is unlike any of Kurosawa’s previous films but in its essence an art piece.

The film is divided into several vignettes, punctuated by three nightmares. Each is unique and memorable in their varied imagery, but certain scenes have a strange permenance that cannot easily be forgotten. Standing out for me was the impressionistic meanderings through a Van Gogh painting in The Crows, the blue-faced dead in the Tunnel, and the horned mutants standing out against a gray sky in the Weeping Demon.

Watching this portmanteau film is more of an image-driven experience than a narrative one, but Kurosawa achieves an original method of conveying true horror, joy, dread, and mystery. Look for Martin Scorsese’s appearance in The Crows.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Yojimbo (1961), Ran (1985)

My favorite, scenes from The Weeping Demon have stuck with me for years…

Braindead/Dead Alive (1992)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Timothy Balme, Diana Peñalver, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin

Still one of my favorite horror films and one of Peter Jackson’s best films, even though low-budget and tongue-in-cheek, Braindead to this day holds the record for the most fake blood ever used in a film (300 liters). Full of gore and slapstick humor this film starts out quirky, turns stylishly gruesome, and never lets up. Once you see the trailer, you’ll get the idea. Though technically not an Austrailian film, I’m still sticking with the down under theme and we can’t miss one of the most celebrated modern directors (we got Peter Weir covered with Picnic Rock, but don’t worry I’ll get to George Miller).

The film opens with the discovery of the Sumatran Rat-Monkey (look for the reference in the King Kong remake), a vicious little creature the product of a plague rat copulating with a tree monkey. The rat-monkey bites an explorer and the rest of his team kills him to prevent the spread of disease, then delivers the monster to the Wellington Zoo. There it bites the possessive mother of Lionel Cosgrove, a meek man who is obsessed with a local shopkeeper, Paquita.

Lionel’s mother deteriorates quickly and eventually becomes a flesh-eating zombie, forcing him to try to hide her condition with makeup and anesthetic. Eventually she bites other people, turning them into zombies as well. This includes a baby, which sounds horrific, but leads to some of the funniest sequences in the movie. In fact, Jackson came in under budget so used the excess $50,000 to go back and shoot a hilarious three stooges-like scene with Lionel and the mutant baby.

The zombies get out of control and Lionel is forced to anesthesize the growing crowd, but he mistakenly injects them with animal stimulant. Soon he has a hoard of blood-thristy undead on his hands and only he take them down using his wits and suped up lawnmower.

Try to get your hands on the unrated cut, as you’ll missing out on about 15 minutes of the funniest horror scenes you’ll ever see. You’ll still be cut off from watching 10 minutes of the orginal film that only came out on foreign releases due to the gore. Look for the director’s cameo as the mortician’s assistant.

Other Notable Films by this Director: Heavenly Creatures (1994), The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)

Bad Boy Bubby (1993)

Directed by Rolf de Heer

Starring Nicholas Hope

Ok back to the Austrailian theme, gotta warn ya, this is weird one.  Rolf de Heer spins a crazy yarn about a schizophrenic shut-in shot by multiple camera operators to convey the disparity in the main character’s perspective.  At times it is hilarious, at others, disturbing and poignant, but nonetheless, entertaining and original.

The film starts with Bubby trapped in a dingy one room studio with a cat and mother, who acts like a sadistic prison warden.  She refuses to let him leave, abusing him and using him for sex, until his father returns home.  A series of misunderstandings leads to a string of accidental homicides by Bubby via plastic wrap.  With no food and no knowledge of how to survive on his own, Bubby is forced out into a world he’s never experienced before.  Communicating through mimicry, Bubby gets varied reactions, sometimes funny, sometimes hostile.  In the end his antics earn him noteriety as a cult rock star and the love he needs from a busty nurse who reminds him of his mother.

I’ve never seen anything like it and it’s worth viewing because it lives in a genre of its own.  Somewhere between Lynch and Anderson, Bubby is delightfully insane.

Walkabout (1971)

Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Starring Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg

Well it looks like it’s going to be Down Under week on My Queue as the slate of films I have planned all come from Austrailia or New Zealand. We’ll start out with one of my favorites, brought to my attention again because it’s scheduled for a Blu-Ray Criterion re-release. And naturally, that made me immediately think about Jenny Agutter. Anyone who’s seen this movie, Logan’s Run, or an American Werewolf in London is gonna know what I’m talking about.

She fine.

Anyway, Walkabout follows the journey of two children who are stranded in the Austrailian wilderness by their deranged father. They befriend an Aboriginal boy who teaches them how to survive in the wilderness and leads them to an abandoned farm house. He tries to court the girl through dance, but when she doesn’t understand his meaning, wanders off and disappears, only to be found later dead, hanging from a tree. Eventually the two children find rescue, but secretly long for their simple days of survival in the wild.

Walkabout is lyrical and ingeniously edited, Roeg juxtaposing life among nature with shots of life in civilization demonstrating the similarities and disparities between the two. It is cinematically gorgeous and Agutter is captivating to watch.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)