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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Seimetz’

‘It’s pronounced Pet Seh-MET-a-ree,’ I said.

Olinka tutted and rolled her eyes. ‘No it’s not. It’s Pet Seh-met-AH-ree,’ she said.

I thought about this for a moment. ‘Are you sure it’s not Pet Seh-met-AIR-ee?’

‘Whatever. I think we should just get on and buy the tickets,’ she said.

We both turned and looked at the Odeon staff member responsible for seeing to our requirements. Her eyes seemed to have widened appreciably while we were having our discussion and there appeared to be signs of alarm in them. ‘I think you just pronounce it the usual way,’ she said, in a slightly quavery voice. Oh well: you live and learn, I suppose.

Stephen King has been a famous and successful writer for about forty-five years now, so perhaps it’s not surprising that some of his books are coming to the screen for the second time. The original movie of Pet Sematary came out in 1989, and all I remember about it is one UK reviewer complaining he couldn’t take it seriously because the spooky old man character was played by Fred Gwynne from The Munsters. It’s actually something of a rare pleasure for me to turn up to a movie never having seen the trailer and not knowing much about the plot, so from that point of view I was looking forward to Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer’s take on the novel (I do like King, but this is one book I’ve never read). Of course, there is also the fabled Curse of King to consider – the fact that no matter how good his books are, they don’t have the greatest track record on the big screen.

Kolsch and Widmeyer’s movie gets underway in time-honoured fashion, with a wholesome young family moving from the ugly stresses of big-city life to an idyllic new home deep in the countryside. Of course, it is an iron law of cinema that whenever anyone does this, it proves to be an extraordinarily bad idea and they are shortly afterwards besieged by killer spiders, misogynistic android replicas, pagan cultists, or what-have-you. Naturally, neither husband and father Louis (Jason Clarke) nor wife and mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz) appears to have ever seen a horror movie, and are just looking forward to de-stressing a bit. Their young daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) isn’t stressed at all, to begin with, and is looking forward to playing with her beloved cat in the great outdoors.

Well, everyone settles in and Louis starts his job as a local doctor. Back at home, however, Rachel is a little put out to discover that their new property incorporates the town’s traditional resting place for deceased domestic animals, which is apparently run by members of the remedial spelling class. Ellie bumps into their neighbour, Jud (John Lithgow), who is the area’s Creepy Exposition Yokel, although this early in the story he is only permitted to make vague general statements about not going too deeply into the forest. Well, anyway, the discovery of the animal graveyard occasions an opportunity for Louis and Rachel to have serious conversation with Ellie about life and death and what happens to people (or indeed animals) after they die; on the surface it is all innocuous enough, but your ears don’t have to be that keen in order to detect the sounds of heavy-duty foreshadowing equipment hard at work.

And so it proves; following a tragic accident, Louis is assailed by visions of a reasonably benign spectre who warns him that the boundary between the living and the dead must be respected, which seems quite sensible until Ellie’s cat is run over. It is at this point that Jud reveals that on the other side of the forest is a site of ancient supernatural power (suffice to say that Louis and Rachel have unwittingly entered into a time-share with Ithaqua) with the ability to resurrect the dead bodies of anyone interred there. They don’t come back quite the same as they left, of course, but that’s what you get for mucking about with fundamental cosmic principles. Louis resolves to make use of this unexpected amenity, but only this once, to restore the cat. Yes, definitely just the one time, there’s absolutely nothing that could ever impel him to go there again… is there?

Well, I may not have been familiar with either the book or the 1989 film version of this particular story, but the way this film turned out was in no way a surprise to me: one of the things I quite enjoyed about Pet Sematary was that once the story had properly got going, I was never in any doubt as to how it was going to turn out – in a way, the film is the best kind of predictable, because the characters are introduced, their flaws established, and then they move towards their inevitable dooms, as circumstances compel them into making very bad choices. It also helps that the story itself is also rather familiar – it now seems to me that the Nu-Hammer movie Wake Wood is very substantially derived from Pet Sematary, which itself owes a large debt to W.W. Jacobs’ much-adapted tale The Monkey’s Paw.

Given the character-based nature of this story, the film does well in casting Jason Clarke, a very able and versatile actor, in the lead role. This is a character who goes on a bit of a journey in the course of the story, to put it mildly, and Clarke is never less than totally convincing as he moves from mild-mannered rationalism to unhinged mania. It feels like the script favours Clarke and John Lithgow (also very good in what could have been a deeply hammy part) over Amy Seimetz, but she also gives a fine performance – as, come to that, does Jete Laurence, although given there have been a number of memorable child performances in horror films recently, I’m not sure she does quite enough to stand out.

One of those other recent horror films was Hereditary, which many people still rate quite highly (my opinion hasn’t changed, although Olinka now believes it is less rubbish than she initially did), which also strikes some similar notes to Pet Sematary – both are on some level films about the effect that grief can have on people (and perhaps also the corrosive effects of guilt). Pet Sematary doesn’t have the freakily unsettling atmosphere of the first half of Hereditary, but then it doesn’t turn into absurd cobblers in the second, either, and on the whole I found it a more satisfying and entertaining movie. I should say, though, that while I thought this movie was borderline-nasty good fun, Olinka found parts of it genuinely upsetting to watch, simply because of the subject matter. I expect this is a personal thing, though, and it is interesting that while the film contains both distressing ideas and genuine grisliness, they seldom appear at the same time.

Apparently this adaptation has come in for some stick for being less than entirely faithful to King’s novel (the 1989 version was written by King himself). I have to say the film in its existing form is entirely satisfactory – although, having since checked out the synopsis of the novel, there is at least one moment where the film appears to be playing games with anyone familiar with previous versions of the story, suggesting it’s going to stay faithful to the novel before heading off on a new course. I’m not normally a fan of films getting all meta in this way, but on this occasion it works, feeling justified in terms of the story beats that it allows rather than simply being done as a cheap trick. One thing I would say, though, is that the film very properly takes its time establishing characters and atmosphere, but then seems to feel compelled to rush things to their conclusion within 105 minutes – it’s a very busy, slightly frantic home stretch. Nevertheless, the ending does work, with some very memorable closing images.

This is a mid-budget mainstream horror movie, so it was never going to contain anything too extreme or innovative, but it has style and polish and is very respectful towards Stephen King’s style, if not every detail of his story. I didn’t find it particularly scary or unsettling, but I still enjoyed the ride the film gave me, mainly due to the craft of the script and the performances. Ultimately, this is schlock, but quality schlock.

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It was with a notable degree of gleeful delight that I told a friend that one of the films I was considering seeing this week was Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color. ‘I can’t wait to see you explain that plot,’ is the phrase that particularly sticks in my memory. Well, he’s a very cultured guy who is capable of talking intelligently with German words about opera and suchlike, and Upstream Color is clearly the sort of thing which is up his street. I would have thought it would have been up mine too, as – whatever else Upstream Color is – it’s definitely an SF movie too.

upcolor

However, the house of SF has never been more arty than in the case of Upstream Color. This film is aimed at the kind of punter for whom Inception was just a bit too mainstream and obvious a piece of film-making. This is usually the point at which I would launch into a brief outline of the plot and how the story gets under way. Unfortunately – and here’s where you may faintly be able to hear distant laughter – Upstream Color has a peculiar relationship with conventional notions of plot and story.

I am absolutely not saying that Upstream Color doesn’t have a plot or a story. But where most films take their responsibilities quite seriously when it comes to things like setting up a scenario, introducing characters, and developing a plot, with Carruth it is much more a case of a journey to the centre of ‘what the…?’ What Carruth does as writer, director and editor is construct little moments of incident, which he then floats past the viewer bereft of all the usual connective tissue in terms of understanding how they relate to one another.

I knew very little about Upstream Color‘s plot before I went to see it (the temptation is to add that, having seen it, I still know very little about the film’s plot), but I suspect that much of the film’s special charm derives from the oblique unfolding of events as it progresses. So, bearing all of this in mind and not wanting to spoil the experience of watching it, this film is primarily the story of Kris (Amy Seimetz – by no means a very famous performer, but one with a prodigious work ethic), a woman who is the victim of a rather exotic type of extortion which effectively destroys her life. Recovering from the fallout of this, she meets and begins a somewhat fraught relationship with Jeff (Carruth himself), a broker. Intimately connected with all of this are the activities of a pig farmer who also enjoys making some slightly peculiar recordings.

Or so it seemed to me, anyway: the film is very much a puzzle (there are long stretches which are almost entirely dialogue-free) and I think the challenge of trying to work out how the different strands fit together is what has endeared this film to so many critics. Bits of it wander off in different directions and narrative roles shuffle around unexpectedly; I myself emerged with a vague sense of what had been going on but would by no means claim to have completely understood it.

I expect that many people who prefer films where you don’t need to be a savant to work out what’s going on would accuse Upstream Color of being incredibly pretentious. I have some sympathy for this view: the film is artfully shot and convincingly played, but does this particular story demand to be told in such a cryptic way? The obvious comparison is with Carruth’s previous film, Primer. Highly abstruse and erudite academic articles have been written trying to tease out the full details of Primer‘s intensely convoluted plot, but there’s an argument to be made that Primer is about about an inherently deeply confusing situation and so the film itself is justified in deliberately being confusing too.

I’m not sure the same argument can be made for Upstream Color – the plot isn’t exactly complex, but its telling is so disarticulated that it almost feels like it is – but of course in order to be sure I would have to be certain exactly what the film is supposed to be about. In the end, I suspect that Shane Carruth gets away with it, but to say more would – yet again – risk spoiling the film.

This has been an unusually difficult and slightly frustrating review to write, which is interesting because watching the film itself was a genuine pleasure (although a slightly bemusing one). Carruth is turning into one of the most interesting film-makers working today, taking what looks like standard genre material and producing films quite unlike anyone else. Careful thought and artistry have clearly gone into the making of Upstream Color and it’s my respect for this which makes me unwilling to crack the story open here and delve about inside it in too much detail. It’s a very, very unconventional film, and I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone I didn’t know quite well. But it offer many subtle pleasures.

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