Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Martyrs (2008; Pascal Laugier)

Martyrs is a film stemming from a new found obsession with gore and violence not seen much before in France. In the vein of Irreversible and Inside (among others I haven't reviewed yet), Martyrs picks up where the others left off and excels.

A young girl who is tortured and beaten when younger manages to escape. Grows up, makes one true friend, and together they decide to take matters into their own hands. Pretty straight forward, right?

The only summaries I was ever given before seeing this film were very brief such as the one I just gave, so despite being told how amazing it was, I was still a little bit nervous. That sort of plot just sounds weak... like some sad attempt to hold scenes of violence together. I was gladly proven wrong so if that summary had you concerned, you can relax.

The camera and acting are what really shine through in this piece. The shots are very well constructed and balanced. They also take great care in never showing you more than they need to during each moment. Some of their earlier moments (first half hour) have tremendous build ups until the film takes a drastic change of pace. However, the camera stays right with it as once the pacing and mood change. The cutting immediately becomes erratic and uneasy.

Touching briefly on the acting... it is superb. The two main actresses pull their characters off in stride, never once letting us doubt their roles. Nearing the end, one of them plays off desperation spotlessly (with the little help of camera sweeps and a minor score).

The only thing that goes against this film is that, like with most ultra violent films, they lose replay impact after each viewing. So once again...

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Long haired girl... in a French film?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kourei (2000; Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a big name in the J-horror circle, however he is a man I have more or less ignored for mostly monetary reasons. The only other work I have seen of his before this one was his very popular Kairo. There is one thing that becomes apparent from watching either of the previously stated pieces, and that is that Kurosawa has quite an eye for camera.

A psychic is out to prove herself as real with the help of a college student. She is given the opportunity to when a young girl gets kidnapped off of a playground, but things go wrong, shit goes down, etc...

I have a problem with movies dealing with psychics. It's not so much that they are bad plot devices, it's just that I get so sick of them because I know "psychics" in the real world are just people robbing others of their money. I can't help myself from getting annoyed whenever I see one on film, even if they are "real" in terms of the story. It would be unfair for me to dock this film for that however, but I just had to get it out there.

As I stated earlier in the introduction, Kurosawa's mastery of the camera is very much apparent. He uses everything from slow crawls, first person perspectives, and room sweeps all to their fullest potential. He tries his hardest to get everything he can from his chilling sequences. Speaking of which...

Kurosawa also presents his chills and scares very effectively. He is not shy in showing you what the characters see, and he tries his hardest with the use of a limited score and effective camera to make every second of it count. He also doesn't use cheap shots to try and scare you; he uses an effectively built up atmosphere to slowly build up a lingering sense of paranoia.

So is there anything wrong with it? While Kurosawa does build the atmosphere he wants, the films slow pace sometimes works against it instead of for it. There is also a reference to Dopplegangers that is played with but sort of just becomes neglected. While this may look like your average J-horror film on the outside, it plays very much different from your Ju-on's and your One Missed Calls. This is very much a low key, brooding piece meant to haunt you long after it is over. So while it's pacing halters it slightly, Kurosawa achieves what he set out for in the end, giving this film a score of...

Score: 4/5

Notes: Long. Black. Hair. Again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Noroi (2005; Koji Shiraishi)

I can now officially say that Koji Shiraishi is a director whose body of works completely confounds me. He is the director of Kuchisake-Onna (Carved) which was an awfully mediocre underachievement of generic asian cinema. Also, while never having seen it, Ju-Rei was a film that was torn apart by critics (not that they matter too much) for being exactly what I described Carved as.

Out of the blue, Noroi. A film so scary I actually looked away. As embarrasing as that may sound, true horror/gore hounds such as myself live for events such as this. The thrill of being scared, even if only for a few moments, makes it all worth while. However, when a movie such as Noroi comes around, dealing those thrills out in spades, it can bring most people to their knees (or just have them look away like I had to). Our main man is a paranormal investigator who is currently looking into a curse and the connections between the people it is having an effect upon.

(Don't worry, I went back and watched the scene again so I didn't miss anything.)

So do you see my confusion with Shiraishi now? On one hand he is scraping the bottom of the J-horror bucket looking for any long haired actresses that might be left over, and then on the other he is making possibly the scariest mockumentary that exists to this day. It has also come to my attention that his newest work might actually be yet another peak in his career so I will be waiting impatiently with both eyes wide open (mostly because Noroi has made me too scared to close them).

Right, onto the movie... Well, as usual with mockumentaries, there is only so much that can be said. So much of the success relies upon powerful acting and storytelling, which this film is drowning in, and once they obtain those aspects they are well on their way to being a diamond in the rough. All the performances in this film are top of the line (with a special nod to Mitsuo Hori with a mind blowing performance as an eccentric "super psychic").

As far as storytelling, Shiraishi took great care to craft an intricate backstory to go along with the "current" events to tie it all together. This leads to a world that feels very much real, which in return only draws us, the viewers, into the curse that much deeper. The development of the backstory reminds me very much of another high class mockumentary film (Blair Witch) that uses it as a method to make the material that much more real. We suddenly question whether or not these films are actually mockumentaries.

There is a score used here, but it is very scarce. It is simply sprinkled in to make the experience that much more horrifying.

To quote a critic who is much more popular than I...

"So in summary: if you don't crap yourself by the end of Noroi, then chances are that you're dead inside and no amount of horror movies will ever scare you."

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Score is subject to change. I felt such an urgency to get the word out about this film that I haven't given myself time to watch it a second time yet.

P.S. The quote can be found here... mandiapple.com/snowblood/noroi.htm

P.P.S. Shiraishi's newest film is named Grotesque, and is a very intriguing looking torture porn.