Thoughts On Bragason’s Málmhaus (2013)

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Article by David Rosales

I. Overview

While a hessian might rightful sneer at the mainstream idea of metal music being the result of unsatisfied teenagers, Ragnar Bragason has created in Málmhaus (Metalhead) an accurate depiction of the sad reality faced by many first-world kids that are emotionally neglected by their parents. It seems that there are two main elements needed to be present for an alienated teenager to turn to metal as a refuge under these conditions. The first is that metal music be available in his range of perception in one way or other. Secondly, and more often than not, the minds that are most receptive to this art of dark tones lean towards a romantic disposition1.

After portraying the death of main protagonist Hera’s older brother, Bragason proceeds to tell us how the girl takes refuge in adopting his image and diving head-first into his metal persona. As she grows into a young adult, Hera becomes increasingly conflictive, to the point that she goes out of her way to create trouble for its own sake. Most of the movie at this point is a big tantrum with a few scenes in which the main character is writing and recording some angsty rock with harsh vocals. Basically, for Bragason extreme underground metal is virtually indistinguishable from emo rock at its core and motivating sentiment.

Aside from these outsider misconceptions, Málmhaus is a pleasant movie to watch with patient pacing that does not drag, convincing acting and a desolate feeling that only Nordic (and perhaps Slavic) settings really produce and which is more than suitable as backdrop for a metal scenery. Furthermore, and unfortunately for the metal movement, this picture of the pseudo-metal emo-poser is not at odds with the reality of many would be musicians in the medium. In this respect, the movie is objectively deserving.

II. Against the Vulgarization of the Metal Ideal

You may be wondering what beef I would have with this idea if the movie is in fact revealing a truthful picture of the scene. The answer is that metal art that most accurately and authentically reflects transcendental metal ideals are those produced by strong minds with a realist mentality. The emo posers in question usually produce music that is a thin veneer of emotionally outspoken yet ultimately safe and empty hogwash. From the outside, the product of the poser mind is similar to that of the authentic metal artist, because the imitator will always try to look like their idols on the exterior, but without becoming a threat to the society it claims to oppose. A true metal artist, however, represents a threat.

True metal is not an agent of social change. It is a rejection of social norms. True metal is not protest music that seeks to “create conscience”. It is the proud sneering of nihilists who see above and beyond the trappings of human convention. However, metal does not seek to destroy traditions but rather to exalt their realist underpinnings. It is not about destroying what is, because metal is realism, but rather about getting rid of the meta-reality created by humans who need an illusion to feel safe. Safe from uncertainty, safe from evil, safe from death.

Those making deconstructionist garbage music with the excuse of “destroying conventions” miss the point altogether. Yes, metal has evolved through innovation, but in a natural away in which the newly created sound is a construction and a depuration, not a musical negation, which by definition cannot be about anything because it attempts to be about something that is not, a mere abstract and near all-encompassing generalization that can never attain a definite form. This is why metal today needs to stop trying to be new and different. This is why it also needs to stop being a mere superficial rehashing of past formulas.

To reject musical convention or imitate it has never been the point. Black Sabbath gave birth to new music as it painted a stark picture that opposed flower power through its own being, but they were not defined by the latter’s non-being. New musicians need to start creating tradition, instead of attempting to dissolve it or trying to be what something else is not. Moreover, metal today needs to continue classic metal tradition if it is to be metal at all. Rejecting said tradition would essentially imply not being metal.

Death and black metal were jewels of their own time, as movements they were one of a kind and today they are, for all intents and purposes, dead, as the conditions that created and propelled them are not present today2. This does not mean that a new generation metalheads cannot be inspired and learn from it, in fact, they should. But this is the same as being inspired by Mozart or Wagner: it never calls for a copy-paste application of their surface traits.

One could describe the climaxing trilogy of Burzum3 as a concoction of Tolkien-filtered Destruction and Dead Can Dance4. But we may clearly observe that Vikernes never sought to suppress these influences nor did he try to simply make updated versions of them; he created something completely new with ideas produced from his own digestion. Part of the beauty of Burzum is how self-contained it is despite its borrowings in technique and method. Vikernes’ successfully-achieved objective in Burzum was the mystical recreation of the experience of reaching out to the ancestral knowledge ingrained genetically within the unconscious.

Immolation may serve as a different kind of example as they come from a background in early U.S. death metal from the north-east. Some say that Immolation is deconstructionist, but this is based on superficial impressions of the music, which is mistakenly considered atonal by laymen (most metalheads) who have never even heard truly atonal music. Immolation’s music is modal, but heavily emphasizes dissonant intervals as well as diminished and augmented arpeggios. In the long haul, Immolation’s approach is pretty much standard and proper death metal5 with a very unique approach to melody and an exertion of crucial control in the rhythm section.

III. The “Understood” (Assimilated) Metalhead, the Eviscerated Soul

Towards the end of Málmhaus, Hera goes through a period of introspection and redefinition after which she is understood not only by her parents but also by her whole community. She even participates in the rebuilding the church that she burned down earlier in the movie. She is no longer a threat. She even plays an alternative rock version of her “black metal” demo for the people in her little town. The wolf has been turned into the whimpering dog.

One of the main problems faced by metal today is that it no longer boasts of the outsider status enjoyed by its predecessors. A condition that lent them a unique perspective is utterly missing from most of today’s circles. Today’s apparently most rebellious metalheads are best compared to gimmicky Marilyn Manson; those that express genuine anti-establishment ideas are ostracized by their own “fellow metalheads”. There is no extremism in extreme metal today.

Today’s metalheads conflate cowardice and sheepish compliance with maturity, while they indulge in childish vices as expressions of their “freedom”. Somewhere along the road, man-made law and society’s comforts became the reality of these assimilated metalheads, and their “rebellion” is today only an echo of leftist humanism while they support a hypocritical system that fights bigotry with bigotry while denying it. They are completely locked inside the fence–inside the cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall are real, and that Plato is talking nonsense. Only the shadows are objective, they say, the shadows we can see and measure, the “sun” that is “outside” is only an idea.

Those who wisely choose to isolate themselves from the distractions of the modern world, the banal entertainment and the “metal scene”‘s circle jerk are mockingly tagged as “kvlt” or “trve”. This in itself is a terrible sign that metal has been assimilated into a safe space that forces it to be politically correct in the worst cases and representing tongue-in-cheek darkness in the best of cases 6. Monastic devotion is ridiculed as strange fanaticism, while mediocre and inline thinking coupled with a superficial extroversion is expected. Metalheads are “normal” now. They have grown up into their accepted slavery.

The truth is that this is what lies at the root of modern metal’s sterility – its inability to produce a new tradition because its own values have been supplanted by those of an assimilated portion of the mainstream. That those creating meaningful metal are only a handful of exceptions in a time when there has never before been a larger number of self-identifying metalheads indicates that the movement is at a loss. There was promise in the idea of war metal, but with the exception of black metal – flavoured acts like Kaeck, it is largely a dead medium. Cóndor is virtually sui generis, and the likes of Graveland and Summoning are the sole survivors and curators of a dead tradition way past its heyday.

I hope you’ll excuse me for bringing Vikernes back into the conversation, but it seems to me that his movement away from metal aesthetics during the mid 1990s was only the escape of a clever sailor from a fast-sinking ship. Although we should not mix politics with the judgement of music quality, the observation that deliberate ideologies (or lack thereof, supposedly) directly affect the kind and quality of music that is produced is pretty obvious to anyone watching intently. It is therefore only honorable that Vikernes should wholly embrace the ambient aspect of his music, the side that has remained truly underground to this day.

Once black metal becomes the cash cow of sell-out clowns like Abbath or Ihsahn, it no longer represents, in the eyes of the world-perception, what Burzum was about. There is no boundlessness. There is no escape from the idiocy of modern society in black metal anymore. It is only a show, it is not dangerous because it is not real, actually, it is fun. It is obvious that there is no other option but to move away from the symbol that has become a sign for ridiculousness and poserism. A symbol is only as good as what it transmits, and an artist cannot be excluded from context as the dreamers within the ivory towers of academia think (and contradict by trying to insert politically-correct statements in their garbage modernist compositions which hold no meaning in themselves).

The solution to metal’s plight is that circles of metalheads arise who can truly think outside the constraints and mandates of what is considered “good” or “proper” by the status quo. How they achieve that is less important to metal itself than that they actually accomplish it. This is not rebelliousness for its own sake, though it could be mistaken for it, but the idea that nobody else should in control of your mind and thoughts, and that the only truth lies in our mortality, and in man’s natural multiplicity of mind which makes his reality material and psychic at once without either being more important than the other7.

It is important that metal stands outside any such constraints to be what it is, otherwise it is like a caged predator: it ceases to be one as soon as it is shackled. Furthermore, metal loses its edge if it is not under pressure, because that is its whole purpose, it is a counter culture. Without nothing to counter, it simply loses its essential raison d’être. Therefore, this is not a call to the comformist to accept extremism, to understand those few who actually step outside the bounds of what is permitted. This is an encouragement to those who would attain higher understanding and see metal come alive again to become extremist in thought themselves, because in a sick and decadent world, it is those who are healthy of mind who are willing to act insanely.


1 Anyone who is new to this idea might need some clarification here. By romantic we do not mean someone who is the perfect womanizer, but more of a neo-dark romanticist, a revivalist of 19th century romanticism with a Nietzschean twist. People in our society who are commonly referred to as such are usually not so much romantics as whiny weaklings who cannot face up to reality. Metalheads do not avoid reality, they reject the images created by the delusions of modern man, who conveniently assumes their truthfulness: his own refusal to accept life in its full-fledged manifestation and the place of MAN within it.

2 It is my contention that the capacity for almost complete isolation experienced by young musicians during the late eightees and early nineties is made void today by the effects of the Internet and inescapable (for those living in urban and suburban areas) fast-paced life.

3 Namely Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem

4 The reader may refer to Destruction’s Infernal Overkill from 1985 and Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun from 1987.

5 Both Immolation’s Close to a World Below and Obscura by Gorguts are outstanding examples of this. Also, seemingly unbeknownst to the masses, well-developed death metal falls into the category of properly progressive music, while so-called “progressive death metal” (a redundant term) outfits are surface-oriented bands that produce disparaged songs as a result of poor musical judgement. A painful example of this would be The Sound of Perseverance, Death’s final album and an awkward affair that would make anyone with ears for proper music cringe in empathic embarrassment.

6 There was tongue-in-cheekness in the past, even during the golden years, but you can trace a distinction between these clowns and the best bands who used imagery to drive points home in a non-ironic way. Sincere nihilism and non-pretentious occultism stared right out of the classic albums, while today, these concepts are flat images worn on the outside only, as musicians try to cash in on people’s expectations.

7 The young science of psychology approaches these conclusions even as its mainstream-dictated values orders it to not make these findings, to try to make void the importance of the unconscious and subjective perception and will.

At The Gates releases music video for “The Night Eternal”

Someone’s brain at Century Media wasn’t firing on all of its cylinders, because this music video didn’t quite make it out in time for the 20th anniversary of Slaughter of the Soul. “The Night Eternal” is the final track of At the Gates’ 2014 comeback, At War With Reality. We didn’t give the album a great deal of consideration when it released, except to say that it wasn’t quite as offensive and simplistic as the band had been in 1995. Instead, it took after the band’s mid-period for whatever reason, showcasing some efforts towards musical depth without really reaching the career and genre peak of The Red In The Sky Is Ours. The video showcases little to dispel that belief and is likely only really worth your time if you’re into the 2D graphics manipulation visuals it showcases… and if you are into that sort of thing, you should really learn 68000 assembly and write a scenedemo for the Commodore Amiga.

Deathgasm (2015)

Theatrical poster of Deathgasm

The combination of metal and horror films presents a challenge because you cannot have two strong forces without having one trigger the other. In Death Metal Zombies (1995) it was a recording send from an on-air contest; in The Lords of Salem director Rob “Zombie” Cummings features a terrifyingly enigmatic piece of music that, played over the radio, invokes demons. In Deathgasm, a downtrodden teenage metalhead in New Zealand uncovers an ancient hymn for summoning a dark deity, and launches (nearly) the end of the world.

As with all in the genre of New Zealand horror, Deathgasm features a tight integration of absurdist humor with its horror plot. Like reading Mad Magazine, watching this film requires the viewer to be attentive to background details for extra laughs, but there are also outright comedic lines delivered at pivotal points in the plot. Much like the best underground films of the 1980s, Deathgasm also serves as a revelation of society from a metalhead’s point of view: boring, pointless, disorganized, with people already possessed by ideas before the demons even get the glimmer of personality transubstantiation in their beady little eyes.

Once having accepted that the plot will revolve around a teenage metalhead, his band, and an ancient curse, the viewer can proceed to enjoy this film for what it delivers: buckets of gore, wry laughs, and an honest sense of terror for these characters caught in an absurd world gone even more nonsensical. Protagonist Brodie just wants to make it through high school and away from his horrible foster parents, maybe picking up axe-slinging sweetheart Medina along the way, but his world has collapsed… and then the demons arrive.

Tightly scripted, and filmed with an eye for the natural beauty of New Zealand as well as as a pervasive creepy suspense that makes ordinary settings look threatening and surreal, Deathgasm applies perhaps the lightest touch working metal into the film as both topic and soundtrack, immersing us in the world of the metalhead facing a demonic horror that, like the adult world around him, is both incomprehensible and threatening. Look for the classic metal tshirts and other details of the underground metal world.

Unlike many horror films, Deathgasm follows more of the adventure movie plot (think: Die Hard, the apex of the genre if you ask me, which you didn’t) in that it involves humans attempting to surmount disbelief and low self-confidence to take on supernatural forces. Its characters, while caricatures, also reveal some of the truth of our varied social roles in this wonderful modern society. Rising to the inevitable conclusion, this film spills buckets of blood and guts and makes its audience identify with the struggle for survival against forces beyond our control.

Dismember – Under Blood Red Skies (2009)

Dismember - Under Blood Red Skies (2009)

Review by Daniel Maarat

This DVD set of two filmed concerts and a documentary was the final release from “death metal legends and fucking idiots” Dismember. The sound quality and performances of the concerts are adequate, but fans will be disappointed that they aren’t from the prime period of the band in the early nineties; both were filmed after the departure of drummer, primary songwriter, and producer Fred Estby before the final, lukewarm album. Not entirely filling in his shoes was Thomas Daun of Repugnant and Ghost. Shitting in his shoes. I only made it all the way through both concerts and resisted the temptation to play Dark Recollections with the help of a six pack of Coors Banquet. More interesting is the included documentary, Death Metal and More Mental Illness. This also lacks contribution from Estby except for some footage from the 2006 Masters of Death tour with Grave, Entombed, and Unleashed. The performance of “Pieces” is better than the two included shows. The interviews with the Best Voice in Death Metal* Matti Karki and lead guitarist Dave Blomqvist provide good information for die hard fans.

Blomqvist says that Dismember never cheated with quantization, cut and paste digital trickery, or drum triggers while playing live. Live, they constantly had to stomp on the dimed Boss Heavy Metal 2 pedals at the end of guitar parts to prevent their ridiculous tone from frequency masking everything else. The only time they turned down the distortion was on their Nuclear Blast mandated sellout as death metal “was not in anymore” album, Massive Killing Capacity, which they admitted “sounds like shit.” Otherwise, Dismember never followed trends and kept true to their Autopsy, Sepultura, Repulsion, Morbid Angel, and Iron Maiden influences; Mental Funeral was their “riff bible.”

Karki reveals that most of his lyrics were written at the last minute; his vocals are from higher in the vocal registry than traditional Cookie Monster death growl, almost a harsher hardcore punk bark. Performing them in the studio “killed and devastated” him. We feel his pain through the presented footage of an overweight Swedish man in his underwear.

The drunken goofiness that satiated Dismember’s touring bleeds: A dozen minutes of the band headbanging, set lists written on bare backs, Swedish imitations American, and British accents. The film climaxes with a hen on the side of the road. Recommended for boredom.

*http://www.deathmetal.org/news/new-york-times-on-the-best-voices-in-heavy-metal/

Supuration posts new track “Ephemeral Paradise” from album Reveries…

French progressive/indie/death metal band Supuration has posted a new video, “Ephemeral Paradise,” from its upcoming album Reveries…. This showcases the firm blend between alternative rock of the indie variety, death metal and grind, and progressive notions of concept albums and harmony that has propelled this band since its inception, and its peak with 1993’s The Cube.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)

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Compared to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy most films appear to simply be extended commercials with music videos for the emotional parts. Telling the story of Soviet infiltration of the British secret services through an interlocking series of clues, this film takes the approach that Agatha Christie might use for one of her cerebral murder cases and applies it instead to international espionage. It will never outsell The Avengers because in this film, every detail is part of the mechanism that builds up to an intense finale for its ultimate revelation. Even more damning, themes in this movie illustrate human narcissism, how the West was destroyed by the same individualistic self-interest that made it strong, and the importance of honor, loyalty and truthfulness.

Gary Oldman stars as John le Carré’s character George Smiley, modulated from the outsider nerd in the book to a methodical and highly analytical man who finds much of society around him to be short-sighted and erroneous. Like the best characters from literature, he endures civilization as it is but upholds it as it is at its best, creating a worldview that would approve of the mythological analysis of the human soul as found in Slayer lyrics or the darker days of grindcore. Exiled from his position at MI6 because of his refusal to endorse a new and magical source of Soviet secrets, and passed over by those who built careers on it, Smiley hunts for a “mole” or double-agent who is compromising British intelligence whenever it tries to operate in enemy territory. Unlike those who have taken over his former role, he searches through the type of logical analysis and study of the relationship between details that made sleuths like Sherlock Holmes, Ellery Queen, Hercule Poirot, the Continental Op, Phillip Marlowe and Miss Jane Marple legends in their field.

Sadly for most modern audiences, this film requires attention. No detail is spurious and every scene follows from the systematic and interlocking pursuit of details. In addition, the filmmakers layer that story with parallel themes of love and loss, loyalty and motivation, and strength of character versus the tendency to appeal to pleasant but erroneous notions that receive the aplomb of journalists, politicians and the faceless voting masses. While its logicality deserves praise, the emotionality of this film in bringing out the loneliness of its characters and the equal isolation of the struggle for truth, as not a motivator but a shaper and revelation of personality, enhances a solid story into an epic one. The acting is brilliant without being self-absorbed — no one in this film looks like they are acting, or resembles other characters they have played in other films — and the soundtrack is minimal and on point, the cinematography both bleak and elegant, and the directing and editing show a perfect sense of timing that both preserves atmosphere and cuts out anything but the powerful. Of the films made in the 2010s, this will either be the best or in the top three, because movies this intense rarely come along at a rate of more than a handful per generation.

Hot Fuzz (2007)

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In the grand tradition of send-ups like Naked Gun, Tropic Thunder and Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, this goofy UK film tears apart movie stereotypes and cliches while providing relatively harmless laughs. It bears no relation to reality and exists solely as distraction but serves an important role in revealing movie tropes for the empty and implausible scenarios they are.

As in most good films, it begins with hyperbole and descends into satire. A super-cop from the city moves to a small town where he finds that mysterious deaths are going unreported. He investigates and finds a dark secret to this idyllic and seemingly useless place. Because of his inner conviction that law and order is important, he takes on the bad guys with impossible odds against him. Since this is a family film, there are no major surprises in the plot, and the filmmakers focused on texture instead. Like most films of this genre, internal plot features are repeated in different contexts to achieve both continuity and contrast. Characters, while one-dimensional, also exist as people with relatively complex motivations formed from a balance of self-interest and goodwill. What initially seem like simply stereotypes expand to show the reasons behind the behavior, reducing the implied mindlessness of lifestyle choices. This allows the filmmakers to mutilate, spindle and destroy those roles and bring out the absurdity of our time.

Comedy cannot be bloodless. In this film, the prime targets are the vast hypocrisy of a society that, like the idyllic town in this film, has given up on finding reason for its actions. It operates on rote, driven by money and obedient to mindless rules, and these two behaviors get the most ire. Throughout the movie, classic movie moments are revisited and destroyed with mockery. Characters twist and erode their own character types of the type one might expect in a Hollywood blockbuster. Through it all, the film manages to make its characters likeable by showing them as relatively simple people working on simple rules that they have found generally guide them to the right places in a world that is chaotic and beyond control. While no surprises or great profundity come from Hot Fuzz, what makes it powerful is that in the process of satirizing a situation, and then movies themselves, it also mocks the absurdity of our current era and the uselessness of people within it. Like all good comedy, this approach results in well-needed laughs and increasing cynicism toward “the way things are always done around here.”

The Babadook (2014)

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Old school horror books often focused on plotlines where an inner psychological trauma became manifested in a physical evil. Metaphorically, this plot generates a lot of appeal because it mimics the worst of the human condition: neurotic and blinded to our own inner corruption, we humans have a tendency to act out our psychological dysfunction on the world. The horror story takes this only one step further by mythologizing it, and putting abstract dysfunction into a visual form so we can recognize it, unlike when it remains within us.

The Babadook takes on this plot family — comparable to riff archetype in metal — and makes of it a movie that is one-half tedium and one-half incoherence. It holds up the metaphor reasonably well, but loses sight of its purpose early on, and like many movies with female directors, concentrates on “atmosphere” to the point of making the audience lose sympathy for the characters. Although it brings itself full circle without pandering to the easy options for plot conclusion, such as character insanity or dream, its failure to make sense of the challenge to the main character, Amelia, renders the storyline into gibberish at the end.

The setup is simple: Amelia has a son, Samuel, who was born on the day her husband died. The husband, Oskar, was killed in a car crash on a rainy night as he drove Amelia to the hospital to birth Samuel. Seven years later, she still becomes morbid and withdrawn as the day that Samuel was born approaches. The child, on the other hand, never has a guilt-free birthday party. Working the standard pointless modern job, and struggling with her own inability to snap out of her reverie, Amelia struggles with the more profound problem of Samuel, who acts like a child with severe emotional problems. As the movie goes on, both Amelia and Samuel essentially retreat or are exiled from the world as their increasingly bizarre and dangerous behavior threatens others.

During the midst of this, Samuel finds a pop-up book that tells the story of a creature called the Babadook. The book is written in annoying sing-song rhyme, but it makes its point that is essential to the metaphor of the story: the more you deny the presence of the Babadook, the more he takes over you. The obvious analogy to grief itself, and the inability to escape or unwillingness to give up prolonged mourning, shows us the weakness in Amelia that allows evil to enter… or escape. In some of the most tired plot devices in horror, the book keeps re-appearing after being destroyed or hidden, adding new lines to the rhyme as life falls apart for Amelia and Samuel.

Like many other modern films, The Babadook features characters who are chronically sleep-deprived. This bit of realism resonates with audiences, so many of the newer generation of psychological horror films adopt it. Here it is worn to death and repeated to the point of tedium during the first half of the film. At the midpoint of the film, everyone changes roles. Samuel, the useless and destructive child, suddenly becomes responsible. Amelia suddenly spaces out and becomes useless. Unfortunately for all viewers of this film, the remaining “suspense” repeats the same three techniques very slowly so we understand the atmosphere, and as a result avoids sheer tedium but replaces it with predictability and storyline nonsense as characters undergo brain damage in order to allow the plot to stay together. That and gratuitous (and mostly ineffectual) pet death are supposed to shock us into dropping our iPhones into our arugula salad and calling our husband who are working late at their corporate jobs, in hysterics at how “shocking” it all is. Except that it is not. It is babble.

This film could have been great because the metaphor resonates with us all in this time of intense victimhood. For it to do that, however, it would have to overcome its favorable view of victimhood and get serious about its own metaphor, producing a creature that is believable which mimics grief in its ability to consume people, instead of just making them go crazy and act completely against common sense, which makes it impossible for the audience to identify with them. The plot needed a careful structuring to show the reason for the projection of grief into this creature, and then needed some kind of plot device that defeats the evil. It has neither of these. It hides behind sloppy screenwriting which it justifies with the idea that it enhances the mystery or atmosphere, but it does neither. This script is incomplete and what was there did not stretch for the full length of the film.

The Babadook falls short of not only its own potential, but the standard it would need to meet for the experienced suspense-horror audience, but could easily have achieved greatness. The acting — especially by Essie Davis as Amelia — is very well-executed. Cinematography does not strike an excessive note, nor does it stand out as particularly excellent, but it rises far above mediocre. The problem of the storyline dooms this film. “Atmosphere” serves as a cop-out for what really needed to be done: to tell the story of grief and self-pity with an unblinking eye, and by showing us that psychology as a metaphorical monster, revealing what must be done to defeat that crippling choice and sensation in ourselves.