Posts Tagged ‘horror’

We’re going to get a bit spoilery later on. I just thought I would mention that now, so you can brace yourself – or, even, if you prefer, stop reading and absent yourself now. That’s fine by me. (I’m trying to think of a non-spoilery review to recommend to you, but there’s 1500 or so of them on the site, so have a dig about for yourself.) With that out of the way, we can now turn our attention to very important other cinematic matters.

To wit: did Shia get sacked or did he walk? What went on between Liv and Jason? Is it anything to do with Liv and Harry getting together? Is that why Flo got so annoyed with Liv? Is Flo really so busy doing the Dune sequel she couldn’t do all the usual publicity on this one? And did Harry really spit on Chris during the press tour?

Yes, it’s the strange world of the gossip swirling around Olivia Wilde’s new movie Don’t Worry Darling, which I would anticipate has been causing Wilde a great deal of exasperation in recent weeks. I mean, everybody wants their new film to have a bit of buzz and interest around it when it’s released, of course, but I suspect they would rather this was on account of its script or acting or cinematography, not who was knocking off whom behind the scenes, or indeed whether or not the leading actors were spitting at each other during the junket.

For sensible and cultured people who have missed all this nonsense (well done, by the way) – the condensed version goes like this: Shia LaBeouf was supposed to be in the movie, but ultimately wasn’t, and there is some disagreement over whether he was sacked for being difficult to work with or decided to quit of his own accord, possibly because he didn’t get on with co-star Florence Pugh. Wilde herself apparently split up with her long-term partner Jason Sudeikis while making the movie, and promptly launched into a new entanglement with Harry Styles. This apparently annoyed Pugh, which led to some shouting (if you believe all the gossip, anyway), and Pugh limiting her participation in the publicity tour. Any slack in this department was of course taken up by Styles, who heroically drew the media’s attention by appearing to spit on Chris Pine at the premiere.

(What is it with Chris Pine and these weird publicity angles, anyway? I can’t help but remember the release of Outlaw King – another project in which he co-starred with Pugh – which was dominated by what I can only describe as Winkygate.)

Anyway, we have wallowed in this scuttlebutt for long enough, so let’s drag our attention away and think about the actual film itself for a bit. Pugh plays Alice, the wife of Jack (Styles), an engineer working on something called the Victory Project, a hush-hush top-secret undertaking run by the enigmatic-but-charismatic Frank (Pine). The Project dominates the local town and gives all the men there employment; the wives have no idea what they do all day, but are certain of their own role – which is to cook, clean, nurture, and generally do everything possible to support the menfolk, looking fabulous all the time as they do so.

Needless to say, this domestic idyll does not endure: one of the other wives begins acting extremely strangely, and Alice begins to have what seem to be hallucinations, resulting in her breaking the main rule of the Project – that none of the wives ever go near its base of operations. Is Frank really the benevolent visionary he presents himself as, or is some dark secret lurking beneath the placid veneer of Victory?

Well, duh, of course there’s a dark secret lurking beneath the placid veneer of Victory, and one of the problems with Don’t Worry Darling is that this is blatantly obvious from the very beginning of the film. (Spoiler incoming; very soon indeed now.) I went to a midweek matinee of this movie and about twenty minutes in one of the people sitting a couple of seats away from me leaned over to her companion and audibly whispered ‘This is a complete Stepford Wives rip-off’, which was notable basically because I was having virtually the same thought myself.

Now, before we go any further I should say there do seem to me to be various commendable things about Don’t Worry Darling – the cinematography is beautiful, the same goes for the production design, and there are very impressive performances from Pugh and Wilde. Even Chris Pine is not too bad. There is also something very interesting and original going on with the sound design and the soundtrack. It may be that if you are not already familiar with that movie which I have thoughtfully not hyperlinked the title of, you may find Don’t Worry Darling to be a surprising and effective horror-SF-thriller movie.

But for me it did just feel very much like an uncredited rip-off or remake, and a not particularly adroit one. The thing about Bryan Forbes’ film is way in which there is a genuine sense of a mystery unfolding around the characters, and an accompanying slow rise in tension as they get closer to the truth and find themselves in more and more peril. Here, however, there’s just a succession of weird things happening and Pugh gradually getting more and more unravelled. It just gets more exasperating as it goes on. (You may note that I have not made any reference so far to Harry Styles’ accent, or possibly accents – well, it turns out that there is an in-movie reason why his vocal delivery possibly tours many different regions of the world, so I am inclined to give him a pass on that. It’s still not a great performance, but the film honestly does have bigger problems.)

In the end the film just turns out to be riffing on a rather familiar theme of misogyny and male possessiveness – which is not in and of itself necessarily wrong, but there have been so many films built around this kind of idea that it’s almost become a cliche. It doesn’t explore or upturn the notion as neatly as a film like Last Night in Soho did, coming across instead as heavy-handed and earnest.

Normally I will turn up to anything with Florence Pugh in it and have a pretty good time, but this is not one of her most distinguished vehicles – she’s played similar roles in other, better films before. If nothing else she proves, as if it were required, her genuine star quality, by being the best thing in a pretty bad film. This is a very good-looking film, but it takes an age to go anywhere, and when it eventually arrives it isn’t in a place which is new or interesting. Given how good Wilde’s first film Booksmart was, this is a substantial disappointment.

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John Sherwood’s 1956 film The Creature Walks Among Us doesn’t get off to a very promising start, as we meet insanely wealthy, and likely just insane doctor William Barton (Jeff Morrow) and his wife Marcia (Marilyn lookalike Leigh Snowden), whom you just know is going to turn out to be trouble. They are driving to his boat, berthed in Florida, where a gaggle of interdisciplinary boffins have been assembled for a very special, and somewhat nutty mission: they are going to hunt down and capture the gill-man, still on the run (if that’s the right expression – possibly ‘on the splosh’ would be better) despite being shot at the end of Revenge of the Creature. It’s all a bit flat and on the nose.

Sherwood worked on the two previous gill-man films as assistant director, but you really do miss the presence of Jack Arnold, who had been promoted to more prestigious projects by this point (it is, perhaps, significant that none of these ‘prestigious’ movies has anything like the reputation of his SF and horror work). You can’t help thinking that he would have found a way to lift the film out of the rather pedestrian furrow it pursues, for most of its first half at least. We get to know various scientists on the team, most of whom are quite dull, learn that the relationship between the Bartons is strained on account of his jealous nature, get suggestions that one of the team may have designs on Marcia, and so on.

Finally, and we must be about half-way through the film’s allotted 77 minutes at this point – the pacing is really shocking – the hunt for the gill-man bears fruit as the boffins contend with the creature in the Florida swamps. Someone chucks kerosene over the gill-man and it does seem to be a combination of third-degree burns and chemical tranquiliser which overcomes the proud but ornery beastie. As usual, he is dragged off to be examined, poked, and prodded.

The Creature Walks Among Us probably isn’t quite as good even as its immediate forebear, but it does have one curious idea to offer, which enters the narrative at this point. The gill-man’s, er, gills have been badly damaged when he was set on fire, but a medical examination reveals he does have lungs as well, he just needs encouragement to use them. And so, using the kind of complex scientific procedure known only to mad boffins in 50s SF B-movies, the gill-man is surgically converted from an aquatic denizen of the deep to a land animal. As a result of this, the creature’s whole physiognomy begins to change, losing much of his fish-like appearance and becoming rather more human. He also seems to have been put on a strict diet of those protein shakes gym bunnies live on, as he bulks up like you wouldn’t believe – the original incarnation of the creature had a rather sinous, sinewy appearance, whereas this mutated version is just a hulking tank of a monster. The scientists decide that the now more human creature will need clothes, so he spends the second half of the film wandering around in what look rather like medical scrubs.

Quite what the thinking was behind this transformation in the monster, I really don’t know – it doesn’t really have a material impact on the plot of the film. Perhaps the original gill-man suit was falling to bits after two movies, and the revised costume was cheaper to fabricate. What it does make for is an evem greater sense of the gill-man as a victim of human cruelty and callousness – never mind being stuck in a tank and then poked with a cattle-prod, in this film the poor old gill-man even loses his gills! What is a gill-man without his gills, I ask you? Perhaps he’s just a man. Perhaps that is the point after all.

Certainly the more humanised creature is a rather more subdued and less violent individual than he used to be, and much less prone to forming ill-judged romantic attachments to inappropriate partners. (Perhaps more than his gills got surgically taken off.) In this movie, the humans are quite capable of handling all that sort of thing for themselves, as Barton and Marcia continue to drive each other crazy and Jed the boatman (Gregg Palmer) continues to press his adulterous suit with her. It’s all a bit like something out of a melodramatic potboiler, only with a seven-foot-tall guy in a rubber mask in the mix somewhere, and you know it’s going to end badly for quite a few of the people caught up in it.

That’s the other slightly odd thing about The Creature Walks Among Us – in the first two film, the gill-man was the main menace and driver of the plot, mainly due to (as noted) his habit of fixating on the leading lady. Not only is he much more sympathetic in this film than even the previous one, but he isn’t even the main villain – that role goes to Barton. The gill-man’s role in the climax is a retributive one, as an agent of some kind of natural justice – he’s not really a menace, he’s the one who ensures the villain gets what he deserves. (And yet the film still ends on a sombre, ambiguous note, with the gill-man shambling towards an ocean where he can no longer survive, perhaps choosing death over the cruelty and unfairness of human civilisation.)

I’m probably making this film sound much, much better than is actually the case, because as an actual piece of film-making it’s fairly shoddy stuff, not even lifted much by the presence of competent performers like Morrow and Rex Reason (the two of them also appeared together in Jack Arnold’s classic flying saucer extravaganza This Island Earth). As noted, the pacing is rotten, the budget is clearly very low, and Sherwood just doesn’t have Arnold’s way with the camera. But it does have a couple of mildly interesting ideas to its credit, and one thing about the gill-man trilogy I’ve never seen much commented on is the fact that it really does feel like it has a kind of unity of conception – the three films are all about human beings screwing around with nature in general, and the gill-man in particular. He steadily becomes less of a monster and more of a victim as the three films continue – this is possibly the weirdest and least expected bit of sustained character development in the whole of Hollywood cinema. Or perhaps I’m just clutching at straws. In any case, there are just enough interesting ideas here to make the film worth watching – at least, if you enjoyed Creature from the Black Lagoon and Revenge of the Creature, you’ll probably won’t regret watching this one, either.

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These days, doing a series of sequels is so often part of the game plan when a movie is made that the key personnel are frequently signed up on multi-film contracts right from the outset. Sequels weren’t always so respectable, nor profitable, and so it’s rare to find all the major cast members coming back in older films of this type. Sometimes, the reappearance of even a relatively minor cast member can feel like a pleasant surprise.

So it is when Nestor Paiva reappears as Lucas the boat captain in Jack Arnold’s 1955 movie Revenge of the Creature, reprising his performance from the same director’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. Paiva’s the only speaking character to come back (Ricou Browning is still in the monster suit for the underwater sequences), but it’s still a welcome touch of continuity when he does. Following all the shenanigans of the original film, word has got out of the existence of the prehistoric gill-man, supposedly a missing link between terrestrial and marine life (though Lucas declares it to be nothing less than a being of demonic power, stronger even than evolution itself!). Ocean Harbour, a water park in Florida, has hired fish-wrangler Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) to bring it back alive for study and display. With admirable briskness he does just this, even though it involves the customary bout of wrestling with the gill-man and the use of what I believe is sometimes known as dynamite fishing. The gill-man is dragged back to civilisation (Black Lagoon, we hardly knew ye) and installed in a tank, manacled to the bottom.

It turns out that Joe Hayes is not in fact the hero of the movie, for this honour goes to animal psychologist Clete Ferguson (John Agar, something of a fixture of Jack Arnold’s SF films). Clete decides to head on down to Florida and check the gill-man out, but not before the moment for which Revenge of the Creature is probably best known and perhaps most notable. One of Clete’s lab assistants gets a theoretically amusing bit about some of the experimental rats: the actual gag is pretty lousy, our interest stems from the fact that the assistant is played by Clint Eastwood, making his big-screen debut. Well, you gotta start somewhere, I suppose: there’s not much here to suggest that Clint would go on to become one of the most popular and acclaimed film-makers of the late 20th century, but there’s only so much you can do with a duff gag about rats and a lab coat. (For his next movie with Agar and Arnold, Clint was promoted to jet pilot, playing the guy who bombs the monster at the end of Tarantula!.)

Anyway, Clete arrives in Ocean Harbour where he quickly becomes fascinated by the gill-man, and very nearly as interested in glamorous icthyology student Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) – who, to be fair, is extremely pretty and meets the ‘must look good in a bathing suit’ requirement of this kind of film with flying colours. While Clete and Helen are supposedly studying the gill-man, what they actually seem to be doing more closely resembles a rather cruel training regime, heavily dependent on the use of what looks like an underwater cattle-prod (I’m sure there must be health and safety issues with that). Poor old gill-man clearly hasn’t figured out that these surface girls are nothing but trouble and that age-gap relationships never work (especially when the gap in question is between the Devonian Age and the Anthropocene), and falls hard for the lovely Helen. Eventually he busts out, jumps in the sea, mysteriously doesn’t die from osmotic shock, and starts causing all sorts of trouble.

The film’s been a bit of a mixed bag so far, but at this point it takes a definite turn in the direction of Jaws – The Revenge. Clete and Helen decide to take their minds off things by going on a bit of a holiday together (it’s all outwardly very respectable so as not to outrage the censor, but they’re clearly going to be at it like rabbits), and check into a motel on the edge of the Everglades. What a very extraordinary coincidence it is that it is next to this very establishment that the gill-man should clamber out of the swamp and come sniffing around. Clete and Helen try to get on with their holiday, but the finny stalker just won’t quit, and there is bound to be trouble before the film reaches the end of its 82 minute running time…

Even post-Shape of Water, it’s hardly as if Creature from the Black Lagoon is an unequivocally acclaimed movie, so it’s hardly surprising that its sequels have an equally schlocky reputation. This is no great injustice, however, as Revenge of the Creature (I think the working title Return of the Creature from the Black Lagoon has a better ring to it, but it is fairly on-the-nose) is not some great overlooked classic, either as sci-fi or as a monster movie. It starts off sort of acceptably okay and then quickly becomes quite variable – the middle section, in which the gill-man is chained up in his tank while Clete and Helen blandly romance each other in between bouts of shock therapy, goes on for a long time without very much happening, while the final section is just a bit silly, and saddled with an ending which is abrupt and unsatisfactory – you can almost see the film-makers hitting the 82-minute point and then calling it a day.

Taking the creature from the Black Lagoon out of the Black Lagoon was probably a necessary step for the sequel, but it does rob the film of something of the original’s atmosphere. I can see there’s something to the school of thought that the first film is, on some level, an eco-fable about the destruction of the environment, but that doesn’t seem to have carried over as such – what is interesting, though, is that there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to make the gill-man more sympathetic this time around. He is blown up, dragged off to civilisation in a coma, chained to the bottom of a tank, repeatedly electrocuted, and so on – if only he didn’t have these wildly over-optimistic designs on pretty girls in bathing suits, the audience would probably be rooting for him.

As it is, the film is just too silly to really get that involved with. The script and setting aren’t as interesting as in the first one, but in every other respect, while it’s a step down, it’s no more an outright disaster than Creature from the Black Lagoon. It doesn’t do anything particularly interesting or original with the gill-man, but it’s sort of mildly diverting – no more than that, though.

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Given the popularity of so-called Scandi noir, with all the darkness and moral ambiguity implicit in the notion, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the past year has seen something of a bumper crop of horror movies from the Nordic countries – the weird livestock-based psycho-drama Lamb, the profoundly disturbing ‘what I did on my summer holidays’ movie The Innocents, and now Hanna Bergholm’s Hatching. In some ways this is more of a conventional horror film than either of those, but there’s always something to be said for the classic style.

Hatching is centred on the members of an affluent family living somewhere in Finland (though there is nothing intrinsically Finnish about the story). The father is amiable but clueless, while Mother (Sophia Heikkila) rules the roost, demanding nothing but domestic perfection from everyone else, mainly because this is best for the video-blog which seems to be her main concern in life – we see a few glimpses of this cringe-making project, which is entitled Lovely Everyday Life. In the case of her daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna) this extends to constant and gruelling gymnastics training, to which she submits without complaint.

One day the domestic idyll is disrupted when a bird flies into the house – the distressed creature swoops around, flapping and cawing, breaking plates and generally wreaking havoc amongst Mother’s carefully-managed decor. Tinja manages to catch the frightened bird – only for Mother to snap its neck, seemingly out of simple spite. Mother has a thinly-disguised ruthless and manipulative streak, as quickly becomes apparent – when Tinja walks in on her cavorting with the handyman (Reino Nordin), she quickly manages to make her daughter complicit in her infidelity.

It’s a lot for a young girl to deal with, and Tinja has more to contend with than this, anyway – racked with guilt over the death of the bird, she has brought what initially seems to be one of its eggs into the house and is secretly trying to incubate it. This at least seems to go well, for the egg grows to an enormous size – before cracking open and disgorging…

Well, thereby hangs the tale, of course. The hatchling is a remarkable creation, a fusion of CGI and the puppeteer’s art – a rather disquieting bird-thing and yet not entirely without the capacity to evoke sympathy. Perhaps even more disturbingly, there is clearly a profound bond between Tinja and the creature, which she names Alla. For her part, Alla seems very prone to becoming outraged on Tinja’s behalf, even violently and excessively so – a local dog which nips at her meets a grisly fate. Needless to say things do not bode well for her annoying little brother or her rival on the gymnastics team…

This is a slick and impressive production which has clearly been thought-through by the writers. It’s kind of curious that several of the things I’ve been saying about horror movies recently certainly apply to Hatching – firstly that it is, to some extent, clearly inspired by E.T. the Extra-terrestrial – a troubled pre-teen develops an extremely close connection with an unearthly creature they keep hidden in the family home – but done as a horror movie. (My understanding is that the original conception was for the protagonist to be male, which would have made the derivation even clearer.)

The origins of the film are just a starting point, of course, for this eventually goes off in a quite different direction. Whatever the alien is meant to represent in E.T., Alla is clearly a symbol of something else. When I was writing about Men, one of my complaints about the film was that while the central metaphor was entirely clear, the film didn’t make sense in any terms other than those of the metaphor – while the thesis was clear, the narrative delivering it was a nonsense. Hatching doesn’t fall into the same trap, but it pushes the limits of the narrative right to the limit, by which I mean that the horror story is just good enough to serve the director’s purpose. The decision to frame and present the story almost as a fable or fairy tale helps smooth some of the more awkward edges, too.

What Hanna Bergholm is up to here is another film about the pressures placed on young people, particularly girls, in modern society: forced to adhere to a certain set of standards and requirements, they have no socially-sanctioned outlet for their negative emotions – which nevertheless build up and lead to a destructive outburst. Here, the eruption takes the form of an alarming bird-monster, but I am sure that many parents of teenagers can empathise, plumage or no plumage.

The film is well-made, and extremely well-acted, with an astonishingly self-assured performance from Siiri Solalinna (who apparently has never acted before). The eruption of gore and grue into the carefully-curated family home is striking, and there are a few effective jump-scares sprinkled into the story (even the most atmospheric horror movie is sometimes enlivened by the odd jump-scare). However, once it becomes clear what’s going on – and, to be fair, the film is so well-paced that this takes a while to become apparent – the film inevitably seems a bit less interesting than it did to begin with, like a song where you can guess many of the rhymes in advance.

To be clear, there’s a definite pleasure to be gained from finding yourself so in-synch with a film, or when a film is so congruent with the conventions of whatever genre it is operating in. Hatching is a satisfying and effective film, certainly a success by any rational metric – both as a horror story and a film with something to say about the dehumanising and pressurising elements of modern life. But the distinctiveness of the early part of the film, when it is at its most fairy-tale-ish, led me to anticipate something as original and striking throughout. Nevertheless, this is a very good movie, and one which will hopefully mark the debut of a number of talents who will go on to do interesting work for years to come.

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Some movies don’t really need a directorial credit on them: the identity of their creator is imprinted on every frame, every casting decision, every line of dialogue. It’s the brushstroke of an artist or some other mark that a great stylist is about his or her craft.

Crimes of the Future (the new version) is mostly concerned with the doings of Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Lea Seydoux), who are performance artists. The duo live in a strangely-divergent world where digital technology does not appear to exist and the process of human evolution has become somewhat fractious. One of the forms this takes is that Saul’s body spontaneous generates new and mysterious organs – causing him some discomfort in the process – which Caprice then extracts on-stage using a device which resembles a sort of bone coffin sprouting bio-mechanical arms.

This has earned Saul and Caprice something of a following, amongst both other art-lovers and the people running the National Organ Registry, which keeps track of new pieces of internal human architecture (they are played by Don McKellar and Kristen Stewart). He is invited to enter the forthcoming Inner Beauty Contest, where he is likely to stand a good chance in the Best Original Organ category. But he has other things on his mind, such as an encounter with members of a cult with a very strange dietary restriction, and their idea for a new show in which the victim of a shocking murder is autopsied on stage…

Do I even need to tell you who wrote and directed Crimes of the Future? Does their identity not blaze forth from even this simple description? It’s David Cronenberg. Of course it’s David Cronenberg. It’s such a David Cronenbergy film that if anyone else had come up with it (a fairly unlikely eventuality, of course) they would have been greeted with derision for such a blatant act of plagiarism. As it is, it is the most David Cronenbergy film that even Cronenberg himself has made in over twenty years – which I suppose is another way of saying that Cronenberg has, fairly effortlessly, managed to shed the trappings of his early films in favour of a less instantly recognisable mode of storytelling.

But here all those trappings return: gristly, throbbing bits of bio-machinery, a morbid fascination with rebellious organic matter, strange pseudo-erotic interactions between human and technology… at one point Kristen Stewart’s character says ‘Surgery is the new sex,’ which is almost certainly the most Cronenbergy line you’ll hear in a cinema this year. Needless to say this is followed up by a moment in which Mortensen and Seydoux, in what looks very much like a post-coital embrace, recline ecstatically together in a skeletal sarcophagus as robotic scalpels carve into their soft flesh. Someone tells an artist ‘Seeing you makes me want to cut my own face open’, as a compliment.

Needless to say it is extreme and provocative, and arguably less well-mannered than most of Cronenberg’s recent films. Apparently this was an old script that he fished out of his bottom drawer and reworked, which may explain why it seems to have more in common with a film like Videodrome than anything from this century. Then again, rumour had it that Cronenberg was actively contemplating retirement from film-making, such was his disillusionment with the whole process of raising finance, so we must be grateful for his making anything at all. (The strange world of film financing means that the new version of Crimes of the Future (Cronenberg’s debut movie from over fifty years ago was also called Crimes of the Future, but the two are distinct entities – this isn’t a remake) is a Greco-Canadian co-production, filmed on location in Athens, giving it a very distinctive atmosphere and visual style.)

I must say that it is a real treat to see Cronenberg making this return visit to an area where he has previously produced so much of his most distinctive work. The visceral impact of the various strangenesses and outright horrors that he unleashes only gains in power from the fact that the director is clearly not just attempting to shock or nauseate the audience – even though there are moments in this film where I thought the director was in genuine danger of going too far – everything is in service to ideas and metaphors with real heft to them. At the heart of this film is a grotesque metaphor for the creative process; it also deals with questions of consumerism, ecology, and political freedom. The stew of ideas is almost overwhelming, both in its richness and in the casual way that Cronenberg presents the individual elements to the audience.

This is very reminiscent of what I suppose we should refer to as Classic Early Cronenberg – the string of unambiguous horror movies running through the 1970s and early 1980s that includes such famous works as Rabid, Shivers, The Brood, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly, all of which found new ways to employ the notion of body-horror as a metaphor. The new Crimes of the Future does this, but I do feel compelled to admit that it resembles some of the earlier films in another way, too – when Cronenberg is really in full flow, the onslaught of ideas and images can be so irresistible that the actual plot can become a little oblique or, on the initial viewing at least, somewhat incoherent. That’s the case here too: there’s a plot about a cult and a couple of assassins that I never really felt like I entirely understood. It’s solely the fact that parts of Crimes of the Future seem a bit obscure and oblique that keeps me from suggesting the film contains rather more gratuitous nudity than is generally the case these days, even in a horror movie – for all I know the naked female cast members are all vital to the plot and theme of the movie, I’m just not recognising the connection.

Normally I’m very harsh on movies with incoherent plots, and it may indeed be the case that I am letting my respect for David Cronenberg get in the way of treating this film objectively. But I don’t watch his films for the details of the plot, I watch them for the ideas, the squelchy bits, the metaphor. Crimes of the Future has all of those things in abundance, together with some excellent performances from a talented cast. It’s a grisly, potentially disgusting, deliberately obscure and really rather challenging film. But it also feels like a bit of a treat.

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It’s a crowded market when it comes to the low-to-mid-budget horror movie – the very nature of the form means that it can be hard to cut through and get attention. What you really need, in the likely absence of star names, is either to be part of an established franchise, or a really good gimmick. But there’s only so many films they can crowbar into the Conjuring or Paranormal Activity settings, which may be why we are increasingly seeing the rise of the peculiar (to my mind, anyway) ‘…but done as a horror movie’ subgenre.

I suppose if you wanted to be pernickety you could argue this dates back all the way to the 1940s with I Walked With A Zombie, which is Jane Eyre, but done as a horror movie. It’s all become a bit more impudent and grisly in recent years, however: one film that stood out for me was Brightburn, which is basically the origin of Superman, but done as a horror movie. There was also the horror take on (of all things) the Banana Splits, also in 2019. Currently getting more buzz than you would have thought possible for what sounds like a deeply questionable work is the forthcoming Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, in which the loveable old bear is reimagined as a homicidal maniac and basically sounds like a fantastic argument for revisiting the law when it comes to copyright and public domain. (I doubt it will prove quite as traumatising as the Peter Rabbit movie, of course, and that wasn’t even meant to be a horror film.)

I didn’t have quite as extreme a reaction when my fellow Cthulhuites and I went along to see Underwater, not that long before the first lockdown, and were treated to the trailer for the film version of Fantasy Island, directed by Jeff Wadlow. My first reaction was ‘doing Fantasy Island as a horror movie? That’s a really, really weird idea.’ I am old enough to remember the original Fantasy Island TV show from the late 70s and early 80s – I barely remember any of the actual plots, but I do recall the iconography of the thing – Ricardo Montalban swanking around in a white suit crying ‘Smiles, everyone, smiles!’, and Herve Villechaise as his sidekick shouting ‘De plane! De plane!’

For the uninitiated: it was basically an anthology show which came out of an unsuccessful pitch meeting at the network ABC. Apparently the exhausted producers had half a dozen ideas rejected by executives, leading one of them to jokingly suggest they do a show about an island where people could live out their sexual fantasies, which of course the network really liked. (Nowadays it would probably be a reality show.) The premise was essentially just that: an island where visitors could live out their fantasies, through unexplained but possibly otherworldly means. (Various episodes suggested that Roarke might be God; Montalban’s own theory was that he was a disgraced angel.) I think it’s fair to say it was about as gritty and challenging as The Love Boat, although apparently the version from the 1990s with Malcolm McDowell was a bit sparkier. (I understand that, post the movie, yet another incarnation of the show is now running, though whether the success of the movie had any part in making that happen I have no idea.)

So, anyway, this is a horror version of that show. Roarke is played by Michael Pena and the premise seems to be the same – visitors arrive on Fantasy Island to leave out their dreams. As we have already seen a young woman being kidnapped by masked men, however, it’s clear that this place has a darker side to it. Initially it seems very much like a conventional update of the TV show – a hard-working businesswoman (Maggie Q) wants the chance to revisit a bad relationship decision, a cop wants the opportunity to be a soldier for a while, two brothers just want to live like millionaires for the weekend. But the final guest (Lucy Hale) has a different kind of fantasy – horribly bullied and persecuted at school, she wants revenge on the person responsible. Her fantasy consists of her going into an underground vault where the bully (who we saw at the start) is tied to a chair. Various options for punishment are available to her. Is this really what she wanted?

Gradually it turns out that most of the other fantasies are not going fantastically well, either, and it seems like a succession of cautionary tales with the subtext ‘be careful what you wish for’ are in progress. Some of the guests also get momentary glimpses of a horribly burned figure closing in on them, and it becomes clear that there is something else going on here…

At this point I sat up and started paying more attention to a movie which was proving to be a bit less dumb than I had expected it to be. It turns out that all the guests, rather than simply winning a free trip to the island, have been deliberately selected to go there. To say more would be to enter the territory of spoilers, I fear, but there is perhaps a sense in which the shade of J. B. Priestley briefly lingers over Fantasy Island (before no doubt leaving very rapidly).

It’s certainly an interesting take on the material – very up-front about the powers of the island and Roarke’s position as its overseer, both of which get a lot more exposition than ever happened on TV. ‘Interesting’ can only take you so far, of course, and the main problem with Fantasy Island is one you might have predicted: tonally it’s a bit all over the place, switching from frat-boy comedy to mainstream drama to dark fantasy to something not unlike torture-porn horror almost at random. It’s very curious to watch, and actually quite intriguing as the story begins to develop, but it’s never that funny, or emotionally involving, or honestly even scary. It’s also the case that, for the film’s twist to work, at least one of the characters has to spend the first half of the film acting in a way that doesn’t actually make sense given what we later learn about them. Probably this is a major flaw in the script, but the film is so hectic it’s not the sort of thing you find yourself minded to dwell upon much.

Occasionally you see a trailer for a movie and your gut reaction turns out to be exactly on the money: Fantasy Island is really, really weird. It’s almost certainly not an unqualified good kind of weird, though on the other hand I don’t think the film is so awful it deserves some of the opprobium heaped upon it (multiple nominations at that year’s Golden Raspberries) – I can only imagine that people thought ‘Fantasy Island as a horror movie? Terrible idea = terrible movie.’ It’s certainly a strange idea, and film itself is odd and not really very satisfactory. But it has a certain originality and ambition to it.

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The other day I was a little surprised to discover I still had a checklist in my head of all those movies which the onset of lockdown back in March 2020 stopped me from seeing in a timely manner. Possibly the outstanding item on said list is a movie called Military Wives, which may sound like a niche magazine but is actually one of those uplifting true-life comedy dramas which almost invariably make me feel like opening a vein whenever I watch one. I got as far as watching the first half hour of that at the cinema before the building’s electrics blew and we were all sent home with the promise of a free ticket to a future showing. Five days later the cinemas all closed, and I’ve never heard anything about this movie since (I wasn’t actually enjoying it much so I’m not that bothered about seeing the rest of it).

Perhaps even more unlucky was Craig Zobel’s The Hunt, which had already suffered one delay to its release and came out just in time to play for less than a week. But at least The Hunt has resurfaced on one of the big streamers, where it doesn’t seem to have made a particular impression. Perhaps that’s because this is a movie which was the product of a very particular moment in American culture, which has now to some degree passed, or possibly it’s simply because it’s a rather odd film.

It opens with the audience being made privy to a chat exchange between a group of liberal friends, complaining about the latest outrages committed by (we are invited to assume) Donald Trump. (As we have noted, the film was due to come out in early 2020.) The friends console themselves by discussing an upcoming social occasion, when they will gather at the mansion home of one of them and then hunt and kill a dozen or so ‘deplorables’ – this being a rather loaded expression, derived from a disparaging comment about Republican voters made by Hillary Clinton.

A sequence set on the flight to the hunting grounds then follows, which mainly seems to be here for shock value and to pad out the film to a decent ninety-minute length: the first class passengers gang up to kill someone from cattle class who recovers from the sedative they’ve been given unexpectedly early. And from here we’re off into the hunt itself.

A dozen people wake up on the edge of woodland, close to a large wooden crate; they are all gagged. Inside the crate they find weapons of various kinds, before coming under fire from a hide nearby – several of them are gorily killed before the survivors flee into the woods, contending with booby traps (spike pits, land mines) along the way.

That’s basically all you need to know about the premise of the movie; there isn’t a great deal more to be said about it, to be honest, without getting into the realm of spoilers. There’s a weird diversion where it looks like a replica of rural Arkansas has been constructed in Bosnia to confuse the quarry in the hunt, but this once again feels a bit like diversionary filler – there’s a distinct smell around this film of it being a case of a strong premise that they really had trouble blowing up to feature length.

The idea of people hunting people isn’t an especially new one, after all – readers with serious psychiatric issues may recall that, after The Hunt had its theatrical run cancelled, I consoled myself by watching The Most Dangerous Game, another movie with a similar premise from the early 1930s. It crops up in various genre TV episodes as well – see The Snare, an episode of the Hulk TV show from the seventies. But one also gets the sense that this was conceived as a piece of satire as much as a thriller or a horror movie (it’s certainly gory enough to qualify as the latter).

Exactly which genre The Hunt falls into is a somewhat contentious issue, which has even earned its own Wikipedia footnote. I originally heard it advertised as a horror movie (not surprisingly, given it was produced by Blumhouse, the makers of the Paranormal Activity, Purge and Insidious franchises, as well as the (rather good) recent Halloween films). However, if you slap together any combination of the words horror, action, thriller, satire, and comedy, it is practically certain that someone will have described the film this way.

And the odd thing is that they all do describe the film: there’s more than enough gore for it to qualify as a horror, parts of it are very funny, and there’s at least one really well-staged action sequence. The problem is that, rather than blending all of these things into a single, coherent whole, The Hunt has a rather frenetic quality, hopping from sequence to sequence and topic to topic as if it’s afraid that if it lingers on any of them the audience will realise it’s actually a fairly insubstantial film. The irony is that if anything’s likely to create this impression it’s the fact the movie can’t keep still.

Wrong-footing the audience is often a good idea, and the film does have a go at this, being deliberately misleading about what exactly’s going on. It also attempts to do the old Psycho routine of introducing a character as, ostensibly, the lead, and then spectacularly killing them off relatively early in the film. This can work quite well – but The Hunt does the idea to death, repeatedly seeming to establish a protagonist only for them to meet a grisly fate a few minutes later. It gets a little bit wearisome, to be honest.

The scattershot approach of the film does occasionally pay off: there are some very funny moments, most of them satirical – the liberal elitists responsible for the carnage often pause in planning their mass slaughter to pick each other up for things like cultural appropriation and inappropriately gendered language. These scenes are so knowingly absurd that only an idiot could genuinely find The Hunt to be a provocative and dangerous incitement to division – it’s an exaggerated parody of the splits already existing in modern America.

Needless to say, Donald Trump weighed in and suggested an upcoming film was intended to ‘inflame and cause chaos’ (possibly that very stable genius was concerned about demarcation issues). To be honest, The Hunt is very small potatoes on that particular score, but the central idea – liberals hunting conservatives – was always going to be a bit controversial. The script does attempt to subvert audience expectations, by turning out to have as its main target the tendency of some people to believe anything they read on the internet, and the inflexible and nuance-free nature of so much modern political discourse. But this turns up rather late in the day, and feels like a bit of an afterthought.

Nevertheless, I did rather enjoy it: there are solid performances from what’s largely an ensemble cast (Hilary Swank, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee, Betty Gilpin, Emma Roberts and Justin Hartley all get their moments of prominence) and the piece does have pace, energy, and a degree of wit about it. I’m not sure it hangs together as a coherent political thesis but there are certainly some very nice moments along the way.

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What’s that, you say? Subtitled movies? You’ll have to be more specific, constant reader. Japanese movies? By the dozen, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, by the dozen. French, Farsi, Arabic, Swedish, Italian, Indonesian, Cantonese, Spanish, Korean, and probably a few more besides. However, proudly joining the role of honour today is something I’d never anticipated: a subtitled movie from my own country.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle and some amusement when some metropolitan showings of Trainspotting took place with the (ostensibly) English dialogue subtitled in the same language, but Lee Haven Jones’ The Feast (Gwledd) is a differently fishy kettle, a British film made in Welsh. (At least, the print I saw was: I get the impression two versions were made, a decision which apparently didn’t go down very well with some of the cast.)

It seems a pretty safe bet that the existence of Welsh language cinema is largely a result of state funding to support minority-language arts, but the makers of The Feast seem to be trying their best to make something relatively commercial which stands a chance of getting the subsidisers their money back – in the time-honoured fashion, they are making something in a genre which is famous for delivering big returns on a relatively modest investment. Yup, The Feast is – and my research suggests it may be a first in this respect – a Welsh-language horror movie.

It’s not something that would ever have occurred to me. If you’d asked me what a Welsh-language horror movie might look or feel like, I would have struggled to answer you. I might have suggested it would end up looking like one of those rough-around-the-edges low-budget movies that still turn up on it’ll-always-be-the-Horror-Channel-to-me in the small hours of the morning, probably rural, probably gory.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad, but – to begin with at least – The Feast is a notably well-behaved and well-turned-out movie, if a little on the oblique side. The setting is the countryside (the movie was shot in Snowdonia, or Eryri as I believe some locals prefer), in and around the opulent if slightly brutalist home of local MP Gwyn (Julian Lewis Jones). Gwyn is hosting a dinner party for a few friends, which of course means that his wife Glenda (Nia Roberts) is having to do all the cooking and make other preparations. (The couple’s two grown-up sons are loitering about the place too, but don’t seem particularly interested.) So Glenda has recruited Cadi (Annes Elwy), a quiet young woman from the local village, to come in and help with the serving and tidying up.

All of this becomes clear relatively slowly: the opening movement of the film is quite discursive, presenting a series of images and moments which don’t initially seem connected as a narrative. But the film slowly coheres, and its transition from something approaching impressionism to a much more naturalistic narrative structure, and then on beyond to something distinctly non-naturalistic is handled extremely well. The characters come into focus: the family are both indulged and self-indulgent, casually patronising towards Cadi, who is after all just the hired help. Suggestions that many things are not quite right in this family begin to pile up: one of the sons clearly has some kind of issue, possibly psychological, while the other also has a chequered past. Odd little inexplicable things start to happen; an atmosphere of unease, shading into dread, begins to develop. (Much of this is all down to the sound design and editing, which is excellent.)

It initially seems like The Feast is going to turn out to be one of those bleak psychological dramas that imports an edge of horror just for effect, or some other kind of horror-adjacent or post-horror movie. Possibly the most impressive thing about a movie which is strong overall is the immaculate way in which it is paced – the way in which it reveals itself to be a true horror movie, dealing with classic genre themes, doesn’t put a foot wrong. There isn’t a single moment when the film tilts over from something resembling the real world into a place more steeped in the uncanny and unsettling; the transformation is too gradual for that. Suffice to say that by the end of the evening it has become clear that ancient and primal powers are moving in and around the house, with regrettable consequences for many of those coming to eat there.

Without giving too much away, The Feast turns out to be – on one level at least – a very gory new addition to the folk-horror tradition, with perhaps just a touch of the gothic to it as well. (There really is some strong meat before the end of the movie, in every sense of the expression.) But there’s also something very modern about the film’s sensibility, too. I’m not sure satire is quite the right word for it – it feels more like a rather grisly fable, an updating of a very old story for a new audience. The script gets the balance between explaining what’s going on and letting the audience work it for themselves just about spot-on, which is very unusual these days.

Grabbing the attention performance-wise, to begin with at least, is probably Nia Roberts, who seemed to me to be channelling Alison Steadman in Abigail’s Party some of the time: Glenda is quite magnificently self-regarding and awful, and as such a very appropriate matriarch for her family. That said, Annes Elwy increasingly grabs the attention as the film goes on and events begin to unfold; and all of the performances are good.

It’s fair to say that The Feast is one of those movies which casts an odd spell while you’re watching it, so much so that you’re almost inclined to overlook some of the more outlandish elements of the plot. As it proceeds it does increasingly feel like being trapped in a nightmare – the characters likewise seem to become beguiled, forced to play out their darkest impulses and natures. Looking back on the film with hindsight it’s true that certain elements of the story don’t quite hang together, perhaps, but this is movie to be viewed and felt rather than reflected on and analysed. This is an extremely strong and effective horror movie, and the best argument for state-subsidised film-making I’ve seen in a long time. Hir byw Cymraeg!

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Sometimes you come across a movie or TV episode which is very obviously a ripped-from-the-headlines hot take on an issue or event which was topical at the time it was made – but the weird thing is that, when you check, the movie predates the event it seems to be a response to. Starship Troopers is one of the best and most intelligent films about the American response to the September 11th attacks – but it came out nearly four years earlier (something similar is true about a couple of Star Trek episodes about a terrorist attack on Earth).

And the same sort of thing is going on with Alex and David Pastor’s film Carriers, which I came across the other day while browsing one of the major streamers. To be honest, I thought it was another zombie movie, which is kind of the McDonalds’ of horror at the moment, and didn’t realise it wasn’t until some way into the story. It turned out I wasn’t paying a very great deal of attention most of the time I was choosing the movie, to be honest.

We find ourselves in the company of a somewhat mismatched quartet on a rather tense road trip: the de facto leader is Brian (Chris Pine), a jockish loudmouth; accompanying him is his younger brother Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), and also his girlfriend Bobby (Piper Perabo) and another young woman named Kate (Emily VanCamp), whom Danny sort of vaguely knows. It transpires they are heading to a beach resort the brothers enjoyed visiting as children. This is not for a holiday, but because the world is in the grip of a horrendous respiratory virus, which is hugely contagious and – as far as anyone can tell – 100% lethal.

It does feel rather like a zombie film in its atmosphere: civilisation has broken down and the survivors are understandably wary of going anywhere near one another. When they meet a young man who needs petrol so he can take his daughter to a medical centre, their response is to give him a wide berth – until they need a new ride, at which point they steal his car (he and the kid stay in the back for, you know, plot reasons, though it’s reasonably credibly-scripted). Will everyone make it to sanctuary alive…?

I’d never heard of Carriers before the other night when I watched it, clearly didn’t pay much attention to the on-screen information given about the film, and rapidly, understandably, and entirely erroneously came to the initial conclusion that it was a new movie, part of the first wave of post-Covid horror films. Why understandably? Well, it’s a film where everyone zealously wears PPE when dealing with strangers – the zombie movie dogma of ‘don’t get bitten’ is here replaced by ‘don’t get coughed on’ – as a result of a virus devastating society, the virus apparently having been brought to the US from China (prescient, but on reflection not outstandingly so).

Anyway, as the film went on I found myself starting to doubt my own judgment: Chris Pine hasn’t starred in a decent live-action movie in five years, but he is still (somewhat bemusingly) a big star, and it seemed unlikely he would turn up in an unheralded low-budget Netflix horror movie – let alone that he would be second-billed to someone largely unknown (Pucci has yet to star in a high-profile mainstream movie). And there was also the fact that Emily VanCamp, who has inevitably acquired a bit of a profile through her association with Marvel, looked suspiciously young. It turned out I was right the second time around – Carriers was shot in 2006 and then sat on the shelf for years until Pine’s rise to prominence in his first Star Trek movie.

Does any of this really matter? Probably not, but – other than a reminder of the kind of oddities up-and-coming actors occasionally appear in – Carriers is an interesting example of the unintentionally predictive horror movie. To be fair, people have been telling stories about apocalyptic pandemics since at least the 1950s, so someone was eventually going to score a near miss,  but even so. This does look very much like a zombie movie which has managed to reduce its budget by taking the actual zombies out, but that at least gives it a point of distinctiveness – it also takes itself quite seriously (perhaps a bit too seriously), feeling like a slightly stagey character piece in parts: the big moments aren’t action sequences but actors emoting very earnestly at one another. No-one, I suspect, was talking about post-horror as a thing in 2006, but this is certainly tending that way (it would make an appropriate companion piece for It Comes at Night).

Nevertheless, the low-budget ultimately doesn’t do the film many favours. As apocalyptic horror stories go, this one is basically from the ‘true nature of the catastrophe’ tradition – by which I mean the really terrible thing that happens is that the main characters’ civilised nature is brutally torn away from them by the necessities of survival: they are obliged to lie, steal, and kill innocent strangers in order to stay alive. The problem with opening this kind of story post-disaster is that we never actually get to see the characters being civilised and so the contrast, and much of the tragedy, is lost. This being the case, the film essentially devolves into a series of downbeat scenes of characters doing rather grim things, without much in the way of context; the pre-existing relationship between the two brothers is likewise not really developed enough for the ending of the film to be effective.

However, some of the details of the post-apocalyptic world are effectively done – abandoned garbage trucks filled with occupied body bags, and so on – and the acting is, on the whole, pretty effective. Pine plays a sort of irresponsible frat-boy, and does it pretty well, but then this is essentially his default performance (or so it seems to me). He still copes with the somewhat theatrical nature of the script as well as any of the others. This isn’t a great film, but nor is it an especially bad one: it’s bleak and heavy without being especially frightening, which may explain why it seems to have languished in obscurity. While it’s probably only marginally successful as a horror movie, as a genre-inflected drama it’s not too bad.

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‘He hasn’t done a movie for a bit,’ observed Former Next Desk Colleague Now Manager (At A Different Establishment), when I revealed I was planning on seeing the new movie by Jordan Peele. ‘He tends to take his time, doesn’t he?’

I wouldn’t necessarily have said this, but. ‘Well, I suppose he has spent the last couple of years pretending to be Rod Serling,’ I said.

‘You what?’

‘You know, he did the most recent version of Twilight Zone on the telly.’

‘Are we thinking about the same guy?’

It turned out we were not, and Former Next Desk Colleague Now Manager (At A Different Establishment) was actually getting Jordan Peele mixed up with Neil Jordan – which is not, perhaps, the most obvious confusion to get oneself entangled in, given Neil Jordan does all kinds of movies and Jordan Peele, as a writer and director at least, has tended to stick to a horror-adjacent furrow (and see, as mentioned already, his take on The Twilight Zone).

Things do not seem to have changed very greatly as Peele’s new movie, Nope, gets underway: there is an opening tableau which manages to be rather gory and unsettling and borderline surreal, before we are off into the lives of the protagonists, the Haywood family. They are long-established horse-breeders and animal trainers for Hollywood movies – a remote ancestor was the first man ever caught on film – but things are not going well. Family patriarch Otis (veteran actor and cult star Keith David) is caught in a freak shower of metal debris and killed, leaving taciturn elder son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) struggling to make ends meet, even with the help of his more personable sister Emerald (Keke Palmer).

Things get so bad that OJ finds himself selling some of the family horses to former child star Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), who has set up a fairly tacky wild-west themed attraction down the other end of their valley. But it seems that cash flow could be the least of their problems – there are sudden, inexplicable power outages around their ranch, strange noises and shadows, and horses begin to mysteriously disappear. When the siblings see a disc-shaped object in the sky overhead, and discover that there is a cloud formation nearby which seems bafflingly immune to the local weather, they begin to suspect the ranch may have visitors of a non-terrestrial kind…

Peele body-swerves around the usual notes of panic and alarm that would normally accompany this kind of plot development in favour of something more down-to-earth: Em points out that there’s big money in UFO footage, all they have to do is get the saucer on camera somehow and all their financial troubles are over. However, it transpires that they may have dangerously misunderstood the nature of the thing in the sky, and getting a camera pointing at it and in focus may not be the best of ideas…

This is one of those films that probably sounds a lot more straightforward in precis than is actually the case. There’s a reason why Peele was given the job of doorman to the Twilight Zone, and that’s because his last couple of films have been fairly low-key, high-concept horror allegories (even if, in Get Out at least, the exact nature of the metaphor he was trying to construct remained a bit oblique – to your correspondent at least). Nope is a slightly different piece of work – not least in its scale, as it has getting on for twenty times the budget of Get Out. There is much more of a visual element to this film.

This is touched upon from the opening moments, which feature a Biblical quotation on the topic of ‘making a spectacle’ – although not in the positive sense in which we usually talk of something being spectacular. It does seem like Peele is, on some level at least, attempting to deconstruct the whole idea of what a spectacular summer movie is and how it works; sight and the visual image are touched on again and again as motifs, throughout the movie – much of it is mediated by cameras and their images, as characters observe events through CCTV systems or attempt to capture a particular moment on film. It’s hardly insignificant that the Haywoods have their unique ancestral distinction, while another character’s reaction, after being involved in a fairly significant road accident, is to ask whether anyone filmed it. (This character appears to be named after Eadweard Muybridge, one of the pioneers of motion-picture photography.)

This is a laudably big and complex project for a summer movie – one which attempts to provide spectacle as well as comment on it. In this respect Peele appears to be borrowing from the playbook of one of the grand masters of the form, namely Steven Spielberg – there are a lot of clearly Spielbergian touches to this movie (one should say it starts off by bearing more than a passing resemblance to an M Night Shymalan project, too), and if one wanted to be as reductive as possible the plot could be described as a mash-up of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This is a fairly weird premise for a movie, but then Peele goes ahead and includes a lot of additional, even surreal touches – there’s a whole subplot about a chimpanzee running bloodily amok on the set of a fictitious sitcom back in the 1990s, which doesn’t really connect to the main storyline except in the most tangential and thematic way.

Nevertheless, the performances are good, especially by Kaluuya, who has the tricky job of trying to lead a movie while playing someone who’s basically an introvert. It’s also nice to see the return of ash-gargling one-time heavy Michael Wincott, who shows up as the expert called in by the siblings – his area of expertise is, inevitably, cinematography. Peele himself handles the film with obvious skill, transitioning from the creepier early sequences to the wide-screen action of the climax with great deftness.

In the end I would say Nope is an admirably intelligent and well-made film, but more of a commentary on cinema than a genuine example of it. Too many elements remain oblique and obscure, although the central idea is a strong one and it’s never less than watchable. It seems a very safe bet that Jordan Peele will one day make a really great film. But this is not quite it.

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