Dredd takes 1950s noire themes and explodes them into a 21st century action film wrapped around a 1980s concept, but does so successfully and produces a thoughtful action film with a subtle but revelatory character study which makes it both fit together as a realistic drama and uphold the standards of its comic book origins.
The film takes place in a 24th century dystopian sprawl that is what remains of the USA. 800 million people live in Mega-City One, where over 17,000 crimes are committed daily. To keep up with the decay, police and courts have been combined into one forces: the Judges. Roughly analogous to medieval knights, these warriors roam the city and find criminals and administer punishment on the spot, including death. One detail that most fail to notice about this film is that in the poorest areas of Mega-City, just about every person is on welfare. In the Peachtrees Tower where most of the action takes place, 96% of the residents are on welfare. This gives Dredd a realistic take on dystopia, which is that it is a dystopia-utopia where good intentions and expanding humanity have led to an unstable situation.
Karl Urban creates from Judge Dredd the most believable film version yet, restraining verbal expression to the minimum but using pauses and body language to convey more nuanced reactions. Dredd follows the Judge as he takes a new colleague, Anderson, into a futuristic equivalent of the apocalyptic Section 8 housing in American cities today in pursuit of evil drug dealers who are terrorizing the helpless residents. This part of the plot feels like a 1980s holdover and my guess is that most of the people who took exception to this movie did so as a reaction to this aspect of the plot. However, the drug angle takes no greater significance in the plot than to introduce wealthy bad guys with infinite men to spare so that Dredd and friends have someone to fight that will result in a high body count which will disturb no one because of zero sympathy for the dead. The movie adds a 21st century comic book feel by incorporating technological and metaphysical aspects to the plot, expanding it from a pure adrenaline action flick to more of a science fiction hybrid, in a slightly less nuanced version of what Aliens and Terminator did, which is to create a realistic situation in which technology fails and bravery must prevail, and thus bring out some depth to the characters. Urban’s Dredd grimaces and gruffly commands his way through the movie but increasingly reveals the complex mentation required for someone to dedicate his life to thankless fighting of evil with certainty of ultimate death, giving us the most believable Dredd yet.
While not all of this film will appeal to those who find comic books one-dimensional, the filmmakers did their best to rein in those impulses while still delivering enough violence and terror to give this movie the impact it needs to be convincing. Eschewing the approach of the 1990s Stallone Dredd, Urban’s Dredd exists in a world that is more noire than superhero: dark hopeless human existence in which the Judges are more pathological authoritarians than happy heroes, and humanity is revealed as the mewling parasite that it seems to be. In the end, the film is both entertaining and compelling, giving this character fullness in an energetic retelling of a tale as much concerned with order versus chaos as the old Westerns and King Arthur era stories that surely inspired the creation of this one as much as its futuristic dystopian setting.
This film combines supernatural horror with the time-honored formula of detective stories, which is the “locked room” mystery. In this case, the locked room is an elevator in which five people are stranded during a power outage. As time goes on, and evil acts accumulate, it becomes clear that one of the people in the elevator is in fact working in service to darkness and impurity.
M. Night Shyamalan prides himself in making atmospheric films with semi-philosophical ideas lurking under the surface, but it is safer to say that Devil takes a Miltonian approach to expressing a religious message that ends up being more gnostic than the convenient externalization of Satan which with modern religion addresses evil. While the intent of the film is made clear, it strays far from the two thwarts to quality expression of idea in film, which are the blunt propaganda of contemporary religious cinema and the concealed satisfaction with deconstruction of all values — with the breakdown supplanting re-evaluation — that is the hallmark of Hollywood. In this film, Satan plays an active role in the judgment of humanity.
Locked-room mysteries tend to be research projects into either or both of the psychology of the people in the room or their pasts, looking for a bridge between characters. The sixth character here is an investigating police officer who struggles daily with the agony of loss of his wife and child in a DUI hit and run accident. Seen through his eyes, the presence of evil becomes less supernatural and more a case of human self-absorption causing negative results in reality as illusion collides with consistency. Locked outside of the elevator and many floors away, he investigates the people in the elevator with the help of telephones, the internet and other people, searching to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The result is less atmospheric than a fast-paced mystery or a mid-paced thriller, with enough gore and suspense to drive the plot forward and make solving the mystery seem an urgent necessity. Whether these actors are as good as their craft as it seems, or it is the fusion of director and actors, they achieve the greatest of all cinematic triumphs which is true suspension of disbelief: unlike most movies, they do not seem like actors, even stage actors as the more celebrated movies display. Instead they come across as everyday people who speak their lines more clearly and make their gestures more visible. Tightly edited, the film avoids the use of tedium to offset the suspense, and thankfully the script avoids any of the “instant replay” dialogue that more confused films used to replay complex plots. Instead, it moves along normally, with the tension of an observer who increasingly sees his task as more of a battle between good and evil than an everyday mystery. The conclusion is neither a baffling surprise nor as predictable as the average film, and continues the suspense until it can streamline into a sustaining emotional ambiance.
The rise of a new medium catches everyone by surprise, especially those who are trying to make it succeed. In the case of video gaming, the medium existed for many years before it came to maturity with the full-featured video games of the late 1990s, spurred on by the massive success of first-person shooter Doom, itself a followup on the renovation of the classic 1980s video game Wolfenstein with Wolfenstein 3D. Then, for reasons unknown, someone made a movie based in the world of Doom, and… it was good.
At the point in time when Doom III, the most proximate inspiration for this movie, emerged, video games had transitioned into something like a film which required user engagement. With full plot lines, accessories for the characters (we might blame 1980s Star Wars figures for this), ability to use in-game utilities to uncover plot, and complex goals to hide the banality of constant machine gun warfare, the new games hybridized all of the successful tropes of video games of the previous decade with the gestures of action movies that succeeded. This gave them new complexity and made the transition to movie more challenging if the film hoped to differentiate itself from the game. Early efforts were often horrifyingly bad. Doom corrects this with a fast-paced, tight-edited movie that keeps the plot of the game at its center, and pays extensive tribute to the game without becoming a string of in-jokes. This film could be watched without any knowledge of the game and it would be as compelling, as it is in fact brainier and more compelling than the average action film.
Doom begins in California, where a team of Marines are heading out to Las Vegas, NV, where an interstellar portal that opens on Mars has been discovered. Borrowing this idea from Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film mixes in bits of Stargate, Aliens and Starship Troopers to show us a group of hard-fighting colonial marines sent on a mission with few specifics. They discover an outbreak of a zombie-like disease which turns out to be a genetic mutation. The wrinkle is that this mutation does not so much change people as reveal what they actually are, and this creates a layer of character depth to the movie which proves instrumental to its plot and steers around the worst of the endless waves of enemies effect that early first-person shooters demonstrated. That being said, this film is designed as an action movie for young men, and so it adheres to the requirements of pleasing that audience. The hammy Dwayne Johnson delivers his usual stern facial muscles and straining deltoids, but his performance is not as central to the movie as the posters might have you believe. Ultra-gruff cinematic violence expert Karl Urban plays opposite to alternatively plain and striking Rosamund Pike, with whom the filmmakers pander to anticipated audience taste by ensuring that her relatively reserved clothing reveals the outline of breasts and nipples in every scene. That is the pulp fiction nature of both video games and action movies, however, and Doom pulls it off by being good-natured but not obsessive. The characters are part of the scenery, albeit scenery that evolves with the plot. As the film progresses, the character drama takes over, and then in one of the most enjoyable breaks in film history, the movie goes into first-person shooter mode for a finale that pays full loving tribute to the original video game.
Perhaps Doom will never be mentioned in East End coffee klatches or fashion magazines, and it may never attract more than a small die-hard cult audience, but it can be appreciated for its renovation of an otherwise uptight sub-genre of film and its ability to make what might otherwise easily deviate into idiot territory into a thoughtful and suspenseful film. The violence of raw first-person shooters here distills, as in Aliens but with less emphasis on pure suspense, to a game of anticipation in which characters must react suddenly to unexpected threats while in the midst of confusion and incredulity as they discover what is going on. The result is part mystery, mostly action film, and part the oldest type of sci-fi which is the exploration of the human being as revealed by his technology, in this case genetic engineering and 21st century violence.
Often movies address a need for some voice to explore a certain idea, even if the implementation might be a bit shoddy. This movie attacks a necessary topic but does so in a way that while proficient in technique misses an opportunity to make the story come alive.
As many know, screenwriting possesses its own discipline of technique over content much as songwriting does, based on the kind of spreadsheet-logic that shows the sweet spot where 77% of people in a crowd understand and appreciate a gesture, which in aggregate makes the product successful. This “workshop style” of screenwriting arrives at this movie most likely through the book on which it is based, and prevents any wholehearted recommendation of this film. It addresses the mother of a child described as “evil” who is at the very least troubled in the kind of apathetic direction toward sociopathy that arises in children of narcissistic parents. Therein we find the issue, which is the question of what produced this child? His parents are not only narcissistic but have delusions of grandeur and apparently a fair amount of money; the child is also of mixed-race and somewhat gender-mixed as well. Kevin appears in this film as troubled from his youngest days through adulthood, but what is more difficult to watch is the obliviousness of parental response, and it is perhaps in this that the intent of this film rests: people are focused on using others as means to their own ends, and as a result, they raise children in a void of common sense, actual love, concern, discipline, authority and attention. Children are designed to be accessories to the self-importance — measured in career, wealth, social prestige and other external accomplishments — of the parents. As a result, children are left empty and unattended, and sometimes one of those takes that in a hostile direction.
While no spoilers will be given here, the plot is not hard to figure out since it is as said above “workshop style,” which means that it is based on the predictability of things and the reactions of people as if they were simply complex chemical compounds in unique situations. In my view, this is what makes We Need To Talk About Kevin somewhat tedious: it is wholly linear despite attempts of the filmmaker to break up the narrative over different threads in time. The story itself is linear. Narcissists raise child, cannot snap out of their own little worlds to do something about it and then… and then, what you might expect would happen happens, and the viewer ends up without much sympathy for anyone involved.
Combining comedy with horror takes a deft touch or the result rapidly veers into the leering variety show that Hollywood has adored since its earliest days but that strikes an audience with deep existential dread rooted in unacknowledged devastating boredom. A film can either be a horror film with a sense of humor, or a comedy wearing the mantle of horror, but few can do both.
Housebound reverses the direction in which even movies like Evil Dead (1981) venture, which is the “self-aware” movie in the postmodern style, or a movie which is ironically funny as part of its ineptitude or uncertainty about its primary mission. It might make more sense to refer to the 2014 movie as “suspense comedy” because it does not evoke horror so much as a sense of something large and important being wrong underneath the veneer of normalcy which we call “normal life” and as a species use to bury our doubts, fears and existential confusion. Housebound is a very funny movie, once the viewer gets accustomed to the method in which it delivers its humor, which is mostly situational and character-based but relies on a strong sense of the absurd and thus requires the viewer, like the protagonist in a horror film, to be a realist among the herd of denialist sheep.
The movie begins with plot-as-setting: a young woman, troubled in her relationship to drugs and crime, runs into a sadistic judge who assigns her not to jail but to a sentence back where the problem began, namely her childhood home. This in turn puts her into confrontation with her mother who exists in mental orbit most of the time, and a stepfather who seems to have no ability to change anything that happens in his life. While they live in uncertainty and loathing for each other, events that appear to be supernatural in origin begin to appear, and all react with skepticism until the pervasive intrusion within their lives can no longer be denied. At this point, the plot ramps up with a delicious lack of concern for human life and “feelings.” Like most good comedies, the characters are situationally accurate but take on a larger than life aspect in order to drive forward a plot that requires people to react like unstable chemical compounds. Sympathetic portrayals of even the pathetic give this movie somewhat of an extra grace, and while it is not always believable, its mockery of the head-in-the-sand of normal human existence makes it an enjoyable watch.
“Suspense comedy” might describe this film better than anything related to horror, since the aspect of horror that lives on is a pejorative realism toward human adaptive behaviors, and although there are moments of fear and terror the real drive of this film is satire of the wretched and absurd nature of human existence. As a result, it makes no sense to endorse this as a horror film, but more to say it is a comedy set in a horror backdrop which may win over its audience from the similar ways to horror films with which it treats humanity and its sacred cows. In addition, once it gains momentum (and the audience adapts to the New Zealand accent), Housebound provides a compelling character drama within an existence as nonsensical as actual reality, only more clearly revealed as such by the humorous events which it contains.
The genre of psychological horror often gets ignored because it does not deliver the tangible impact that sheer horror does, but unsettles the watcher as in the coming days that person contemplates what he has seen. Proxy attacks psychological horror by combining Swedish introspective cinema with the type of suspense found in movies like Psycho, delivering what is ultimately a biting critique of modernity.
Without giving away the plot, this movie involves the tendency of people to project and transfer their own psychological drama onto others, centered around the idea of family. In this film, people treat others like objects of their own egos, which creates secondary consequences that render characters unable to stand themselves. Through prolonged psychological exploration, including an insight into the way the world appears to those who are intensely lonely, this film explores the sources of modern alienation and why this society starts us out as alienated isolates from within our own families.
Filmed with more of a sense of intense subjective awareness than an objectivity which the camera always betrays, Proxy explores the confrontation between detached and disaffected young women and their attempts to start their own families. It shows how people project, or live vicariously through others by assuming their role in a narcissistic conception of self, and then undergo transferrence, or conditioning their own happiness or sadness on the acts of others. These conditions like PTSD and other mental afflictions follow a binary progression, in that the person holds on to the reality they can parse for as long as they can but when it cracks, it does so violently and leads to a culmination of violence and emotion that are perfectly paired into poignant yet devastating circumstances.
Like any movie tackling the inner workings of the human mind, this film touches on subjects which many of us would rather not witness because they reveal too much to us of our own fears. In particular, it has a sense of being Generation X art, reflecting the wave of children who growing up under manipulative families tended to wall off huge areas of life and stick with only what they know and trust, probably because their own parents viewed them as accessories for showing off (or blaming) like owning a British motorcar. The characters in this find no peace and no contentment as they rage through life, tricking their own perception into creating what seems like what they desire, only later finding the hollowness within, and the rapid transition to danger caused by illusion and its collapse.
Certain movies or albums clearly reveal the presence of bad management. Either leadership by committee, which isn’t leadership so much as compromise that satisfies no one, or a bad manager who spends too much time worried about surveys, business objectives and the like to place his focus on whether or not the product is good. Such is the case with Robocop 2014 version, a movie so stunningly bad that with its obviously huge budget it can only be the result of thorough mis-management and execrably poor judgment.
Following up on a winning franchise is never easy because viewers have high expectations, but one thing is clear: the new movie must be at least within the ballpark of the old, or it will be interpreted as having the same failure as most sequels which is too many cooks in the kitchen, too many fingers in the pot, etc. The 2014 version comes nowhere close to the 1987 original on any level and even where it attempts to pay homage to the original, completely misses the point. This occurs because management decided the 2014 version must fit within the parameters for television shows, namely that each scene must have one unambiguous point and one only. Remember, that which communicates clearly wins out over the truthful when you’re dealing with the masses, and so these filmmakers decided to sacrifice not just nuance so that every idiot in the room could understand it, but also depth. The result paint-by-numbers script is as excruciating as a Creative Writing final exam, moving from point to point with absurd over-emphasis on the basics so that even if you are brick-stupid, obese, lazy, drunk and distracted, you will still understand what is going on. Which, as it turns out, is not a whole hell of a lot.
Instead of taking the intelligent course of action and creating a sequel set in 2014, the filmmakers decided to re-tell the Robocop backstory but with new actors and new settings. This becomes troublesome because they insist on dumbing this down and, as if pitching this movie to millennial women, centering the plot on the surface emotion of a generic character in its setting, rather than letting the emotion arise from this character’s struggle to understand his circumstances. Everything is surface level, cut from whole cloth in broad colors with boundaries double-underlined in thick market like an idiot kindergarten teacher might do, and the result is that the characters become caricatures. The expressive Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice) is utterly wasted in her role, and the excellent Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman are expended without purpose in theirs. Keaton portrays a CEO who dutifuly turns evil as the gimpy plot requires, instead of focusing on the fascinating side of his character which seems an amalgam of Dot-Com CEOs in his pursuit of technology and wealth with the zealous belief that nothing but good can come from progress. Oldman also experiences a character deformation as he goes from a good guy scientist to a self-interested quasi-villain to a hastily rehabilitated hero. Even Samuel L. Jackson becomes neutered as he must contort his acting to fit within the manipulated plotline. The filmmakers seem narcissistic in the worship of their own cleverness, forgetting that “writing in” details does not obscure the form of the plot itself, which shakes off their little footnotes and rampages straight into paradox.
The above are terrible sins against the artisanal craft (heh) of filmmaking. But the worst sin of all is that they removed the fun and terror from Robocop. In the original, audiences were shocked by the situation, the horror of people themselves and the self-serving decisions they made, and the clash between man and machine. The whole movie might be described as man emerging from within the machine to triumph over it. The new movie removes the tension. Combat scenes are outright boring, with Robocop playing the role of either omnipotent effortless victor or duty-bound moral martyr, but the tension of tight situations and intelligent responses to them dies in a video game simulation that looks about as boring as most first person shooters are after the week they get introduced. Even more, fight scenes are over quickly with little resolved. The movie just moves on like a checklist between points the filmmakers wanted to establish, with utterly zero dimension to the characters. It is probably difficult to botch a story with this much promise, but the director and his staff on this one did so with ease, which is about the only effortless and unforced thing about this movie. Avoid!
Idealizing the darkest edge of the first wave of 1960s rock that carried the true stamp of the counter-culture revolution that was forming, the Doors hit in 1991 just as the first Generation X kids — the children of the 1960s generation — were graduating from high school. At the time, it was perceived as glorifying the culture of the 1960s and the legend of Jim Morrison, but on seeing it many years later, it seems more a revelation of the emptiness of that time.
To understand the 1960s, one must first understand why the counter-culture was so influential. Rock music gripped the American mind because it had both messianic and commercial possibilities. As Sam Huntington observed in his epic American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony, the lack of unity in American thinking arising from its democratization causes periodic mass movements with the ecstatic character of a tent revival — like witch hunts, civil wars, moral panics — called “creedal passions” in which Americans buzz like a hive to clarify their own values. The 1960s were one such time, a generation removed from the Second World War when it became apparent that not only did society lack direction, but it seemed to be sinking further into the 1950s commercial morass at the same time its social and cultural aspects deteriorated.
As part of a youth movement that re-interpreted the American vision to be far more universal through lowering standards for entry, rock music created a democratic mass hysteria in addition to making many people very rich. Into this fertile environment that The Doors dropped their first musical salvos, adapting the fantasy, hobo, dropout, hippie and beatnik themes of early 1960s rock into music with a darker edge. This was three years before Black Sabbath and other bands dropped the common viewpoint of “peace, love, (drugs) and acceptance” to issue forth Nietzschean warnings of doom.
In the Doors, Oliver Stone approaches a figure who remains influential in rock music and through it, the counterculture and American politics, which are now still in the hands of the Baby Boomers and will soon pass to millennials (Generation X having all but dropped out). Rock music idealizes its heroes with the kind of reverence that only a circus covered in rhinestones and dreamcatchers can create, and Jim Morrison represents one of this millionaire trailer park’s attempt at legitimacy. He was a poet. He read, you know, Nietzsche and stuff. He went to college and could have graduated. He was deep, therefore we are deep, because we are part of the same activity that he was in. And in that thought we see the essence of mass movements: people want to believe that participation conveys upon them the attributes they desire, when really they are just cosplaying as people of significance. It is a revolt of the nobodies. Naturally this has its dark side for performers, and the Doors is the story of that negative side to the feedback loop.
Stone captured the transition from 1980s to 1990s cinema with fast cuts, lots of background detail, and longer shots which move through complex sets. A good deal of attention to detail went into the Doors and it shows not through the kind of detail a viewer might revisit to notice new aspects, but a kind of gestalt of each scene where it appears both perfectly realistic and as cartoonishly articulate as writers need their subjects to be. The movie follows a linear path after introducing the so-called pivotal event in Morrison’s life, which although disputed by his family he found meaningful, in which he saw a group of Navajo laborers dying after experiencing a brutal automobile accident. At first, the movie follows a biographical path. We see Jim going to UCLA film school only to drop out, meeting up with Pamela Courson in a method that in our current society would be identified as “stalkery” and “rapey,” then singing his songs to the one person who believed in his films and forming a band with him. From that point on, the movie becomes a rockumentary showing events of significance from a brief biography of the doors, including controversial performances in New Haven and Miami Beach that later led to arrests and prosecutions. During this process, it works in the American Indian theme — Baby Boomers love nothing more than new groups to universalize, and Indians (Free Leonard Peltier!) were high on their list — to show Morrison gradually colliding with his inevitable fate, just to show that this rock god was made of legend and mysticism not drug and alcohol addiction.
While Stone takes a gentle view of his subject, he also keeps a fair and balanced outlook which requires removing the pink-tinted sunglasses and seeing the 1960s for what it was: a hairy, sweaty, flabby and filthy mob united only on wanting to be part of something really big, man, behaving with the decorum of those at a carnival not a cultural revival. The concert shots and interactions between Morrison and those “closest” to him increasingly show the selfishness and self-importance of the people attracted to this scene, which remains consistent to this day as anyone in the funderground can demonstrate. On the surface, we see the tragedy of Morrison the misunderstood poet; beneath the surface, we see how the whole thing was a farce from the beginning and the audience came not for enlightenment, and cared not a whit about his Dionysiac rantings, but was there for the spectacle and the hopes that it might convey the strength of the ritual onto its individual members, like some primitive superstitious mystic rite conducted by people wearing grass skirts and holding spears. Morrison was an egotist confined to what he allowed himself to notice, and aided by drugs/alcohol in that regard, and his audience were narcissists locked into him through a BDSM reaction where they wanted to see him self-destruct and feel important for having “been there.”
Like many before and after him, Morrison became trapped by the paradox of mass culture: in order for something to be popular, it must confirm what the crowd already wants so they can project themselves onto it, and by that process it becomes unrecognizably adulterated. The public then approves of this neutered version, turns it into a herd trope, and then wonders why its magic is gone. Like carnival-goers, they then shrug and rush on to the next “new” delight, finding no importance there either because through the process of popularity, anything important in it got filtered out beforehand. This leaves guys like Morrison and Kurt Cobain in a bad light. They lack the greatness of their influences, whether the brew of William Blake, Aldous Huxley and Friedrich Nietzsche that Morrison cooked up or the cloning of hardore greats in a grunge setting that put Cobain on the map, and that leaves them as merely cheerleaders for an audience that exercises its ultimate power in not wanting to hear or understand the cheer. This drives the anti-hero leader to self-destruction as they he has become irrelevant, but delights the audience, who have a sadomasochistic relationship to celebrities where they both want to be them and want to see them fall for being the chosen ones. When Morrison ultimately self-destructs, it is as anticlimax and late arrival to the party, like a misdirected package arriving sufficiently after the holiday that no one remembers at first what it is for.
Stone wisely does not explore the various mysteries of Doors lore, such as whether Morrison died of a heroin overdose in a nearby nightclub during a flirtation with the drug in retaliation for Courson’s extensive use of it, or the various mythologies that contribute to the idyllic picture of the band’s founding and culture. He covers all the bases needed to make a big-budget high-grossing profile of Morrison, but introduces a hearty amount of artistic skepticism as well. He portrays rock as “entertainment” in the oldest sense, or people using other people to amuse themselves with no concern for the end result. He shows self-destruction and the cult of the anti-hero as a kind of egomania, where the anti-hero cannot conceive of anything beyond himself and so concocts the ultimate narcissistic act of shutting out the world permanently. Finally, he reveals the loneliness of someone who — having made his way to the top of the rock crowd — realizes that no one understands or cares who he is, or what he thinks, because their only concern is their own participation in the mass phenomenon. Probably a movie best watched twice in life, once as a teenager to pick up on the mythos, and once as an adult to see how cheap, tawdry and pointless all of it was.
Joy Division remain important for the world of music because most of 1980s indie aggregated Joy Division post-punk guitar technique into bouncy pop-punk and formed of it the post-rock which also influenced the chaotic post-hardcore that is the basis for metalcore and modern metal. Where the newer bands were totally circular, Joy Division created more of an unsettling atmosphere of unsystematic and dissymetric music.
The film pitches the idea that Curtis suicided because his diagnosis with epilepsy condemned him to the side-effects of the drugs he took for the condition, and the tendency of seizures to hit at moments of high emotion made him fear the things that ultimately fulfilled him, like band, family and friends. As a result he became increasingly isolated at the same time his symptoms increased, with the exception of his remora of a Euro-girlfriend, Annik Honore.
It’s an interesting thesis, but suicides are too often blamed on medical conditions instead of an honest perception of the utter misery of life. Control shows us the more innocent and purposeful world in which Joy Division arose, the strong bond between the men in the band, and the left field attack of fame and seductive power. Without being a Joy Division historian, it is hard to say how accurate its perspective is, and it may be 100% true, but Deborah Curtis gets shown in a kind light. To its credit, the film does not extensively vilify others, except perhaps the extramarital affair (I’m told these are now called “side bitches”) which is portrayed as parasitic in this and other sources.
What makes Control worth watching is that it portrays artistic force as the utterly incoherent thing that it is; musicians have no idea how to articulate what they are doing, and yet they do it and often incorporate a good deal of thinking into the end result despite being unable to explain it. If anything, the movie could have done with more band scenes — the actors practiced together and became a Joy Division cover band for the purpose of the movie, with actor Sam Riley’s interpretation of the songs as a more Morrisonian Joy Division sometimes giving them new power — and less of the family drama behind it, but it is good to see that included, as it is to see the environment in which this band arose. Joy Division remains provocative and adored to this day, joining a long line of controversial rock vocalists who self-destructed upon seeing the ruin that is modernity. Perhaps this movie would have been stronger if it, like The Doors, incorporated more of that vision, but as it is it makes for an interesting introduction to Joy Division and post-punk.
The best horror films combine all of the elements of a good tale with a dark journey — violence, terror, suspense, quasi-supernaturalism, a lone protagonist — and balance them so that variety coexists with a clear narrative. The Town That Dreaded Sundown creates a compelling tale in which the horror is a feeling of helplessness and paranoia as one might have when facing a mythological evil.
Centered in the divided town of Texarkana, which exists in both Texas and Arkansas and has duplicate governments, this film explores the cultural attachment to a serial killer from two generations before. Using shots from a 1976 movie which documented those killings, The Town That Dreaded Sundown begins its story with the possible return of that original killer or a copycat.
While the storyline itself is well-known, this 2014 film makes the best interpretation of it possible and keeps the origin mysterious throughout the film, which heightens the suspense. Its strength is in its idiosyncratic but expressive cinematography, which features odd angles, indirect focus and often room-encircling pans that create a sense of urgency and lack of control. The plot accentuates this instability by like a good Stephen King book showing human denial at every turn, enabling evil to thrive while a lone protagonist confronts it. The film uses violence and gore sparingly enough to make them shocking, and with high contrast created by film technique, allows suspense to predominate so that expectation of the horror is greater than the acts themselves.