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Non-Review Review: She Dies Tomorrow

She Dies Tomorrow is very much a modern indie horror movie, in that’s decidedly absurdist and surrealist, and perhaps scariest in a vague existential sense.

It’s interesting to consider the development of this particular strand of modern horror cinema. In some ways, it reflects the development of the indie comedy in the early years of the twenty-first century, once it became clear that these sorts of films could be financially and critically successful. This led to a strange situation where movies that were essentially off-kilter dramas were marketed as comedies, films like A Serious Man, Nebraska or The Kids Are All Right. (This approach to comedy arguably even spilled out into television, where even comedies adopted a prestige sheen.)

It’s not the end of the world…

Something similar has been happening in terms of prestige horror. A large part of this is due to the emergence of smaller studios supporting genre fare from writers and directors with strong visions – Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Trey Edward Shults’ It Comes at Night, Ari Aster’s Hereditary. These films blended the sly aesthetics and stylistic sensibilities of independent cinema with the trappings of horror, producing a strand of horror that was reasonably successful, highly praised, and strongly distinctive.

Of course, all of those films are drawing from the genre’s rich history. Hereditary is perhaps the most obvious example, and it’s possible to draw a clear line between Hereditary and New Hollywood experiments with the genre in films like The Exorcist or Don’t Look Now. As such, it isn’t that this is an entirely new approach to horror that came out of nowhere. Instead, it is a logical extrapolation of certain trends and sensibilities, pushed to their logical extremes.

Looking out for herself.

She Dies Tomorrow clearly fits within that framework of modern indie horror cinema, along with films like The Lodge or The Lighthouse. However, She Dies Tomorrow pushes itself much mroe confidently towards the rhythms and structures of a blackly comic psycho drama. She Dies Tomorrow is a film about existential loneliness, the frustrating death drive, and suffocating dinner parties populated by people who can barely stand one another. It is very much a standard low-budget indie drama. It’s just flavoured with a dash of existential horror.

It’s a cocktail that doesn’t quite work. Writer and director Amy Seimetz offers a film that is intentionally disjointed and disconnected, but one that is ultimately more frustrating than it aims to be. She Dies Tomorrow has a number of striking images and interesting ideas, but punctuates them with scenes that play almost as a parody of arthouse drama.

Dial it back.

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New Escapist Column! On the Future of Cinemas…

I published a new piece at The Escapist earlier today. With the summer effectively lost, the future of cinema is a subject of much discussion.

Will cinemas open soon? If they open soon, what will they show? If they have films to show, will audiences turn up? If audience show up, how will basic safety measures like social distancing and masks impact their financial bottom line? Will cinemas be among the attractions that people are most eager to revisit when the chance presents itself? More than that, what will a visit to cinemas actually be like? To answer these questions, I actually took a trip to a recently reopened cinema in Ireland.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

192. Hamilton: An American Musical – This Just In (#20)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Deirdre Mulomby, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Thomas Kail’s Hamilton: An American Musical.

Reconstructed from a pair of live theatrical recordings and additional material compiled in June 2016, Hamilton features one of the last performances from the original Broadway cast of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s record-breaking smash hit cultural sensation, available on streaming for the first time.

At time of recording, it was ranked 20th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #86 (“Well-Manicured Sacrifice”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

And so my time on the Fight the Future minute comes to an end. It has been a pleasure. I like to think that Kurt and I go out like the Well-Manicured Man himself, in a blaze of glory. We discuss everything from the Well-Manicured Man’s flare for the theatrical, to his somewhat unnecessary killing spree, to how exactly we imagine the local papers are going to cover the weird murder-suicide-in-an-alley sequence. It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s a recording I really enjoyed – and which I hope you enjoy as well.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #85 (“Well-Manicured Murder”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

And so my time on the Fight the Future minute nears an end. However, there’s still one minute left. So this provides a nice opportunity to talk about the weirdness of the Well-Manicured Man’s plan during this exposition-driven sequence that apparently includes crossing “double murder-suicide” off his bucket list. We also discuss the narrative conventions that require a propulsive conspiracy thriller like Fight the Future to generate completely absurd tension and suspense in place where it really has no reason to exist.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #84 (“Well-Manicured Rationale”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

And so, after the exposition comes character motivation – which is handily provided via exposition. The limousine sequence in Fight the Future is notable primarily as a bridging sequence. In terms of the “play the hits” aesthetic of Fight the Future, it serves to get Mulder from Scully’s abduction to his Arctic expedition. As a result, it’s a section of the film tasked with tying all of this together, in a rather condensed and contracted period of time. The results aren’t always elegant, but there is something fun about them.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

New Escapist Column! On “Hamilton” Bringing the Theatre Home…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Hamilton was released earlier in the month on Disney+, and has managed to reignite all manner of debate about the musical.

In the case of the streaming release, one of the most heated discussions concerns the question of whether Hamilton is actually a movie in the conventional sense. This misses the point somewhat, as it’s immediately clear that Hamilton is not packaging the story for audiences, it is instead trying to offer a simulacra of the experience. It’s designed to replicate, as faithfully as possible on screen, the texture and tempo of a theatrical performance. Ironically, this is something that cinema has been trying to do for years, so it’s fascinating to see streaming pull it off so strongly.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

“The Best Sword is Kept in its Sheath”: Akira Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro” and the Reluctant Samurai…

I got to write about Akira Kurosawa earlier this week for The Escapist, which was great. However, having rewatched a bunch of his films at the weekend, I had some more in-depth thoughts I wanted to share on them. One in particular. I recorded a podcast on Sanjuro last year, which might also be of interest.

Sanjuro is something of an oddity in the filmography of director Akira Kurosawa.

The film is one of only two sequels in Kurosawa’s filmography, following on from Sanshiro Sugata, Part Two seventeen years earlier. It is also the last of Kurosawa’s black-and-white samurai films. While Kurosawa did make other black-and-white period films, such as his last collaboration with Tushiro Mifune in Red Beard, he would not return to stories of warlords and swordsmen until Kagemusha and Ran in the eighties.

Sanjuro is somewhat underseen among Kurosawa’s black-and-white samurai films, which is interesting. It is the sequel to one of Kurosawa’s most influential films. Yojimbo famously inspired one of the formative spaghetti westerns, A Fistful of Dollars, and so helped to inspire a renaissance in American westerns. It introduced a basic plot that was often emulated, leading to remakes like Last Man Standing. When Sanjuro is discussed, it is often in terms of its striking final scene, in which the eponymous samurai strikes down an opponent, resulting in a geyser of blood.

This is a shame, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening in Sanjuro, particularly in relation to the forms and conventions of the samurai genre. Kurosawa’s samurai films are at once archetypal and deconstructive. To a lot of international audiences, films like Rashomon, Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress are shorthand for the Japanese samurai films of the fifties. However, they are also surprisingly critical of the idea of the samurai. They draw on the cinematic language of John Ford westerns, but predict the cynicism of Sergio Leone westerns.

This is perhaps no more obvious than in Sanjuro. The film originated as an adaptation of Shūgorō Yamamoto’s short story Peaceful Days. Kurosawa had been working on an adaptation of the story before Yojimbo, but the success of Yojimbo saw the studio approaching Kurosawa to make a sequel. Kurosawa took an interesting approach. He wrote the character of Sanjuro into the story of Peaceful Days, replacing the unskilled-with-a-blade ronin from the source novel. Kurosawa also turned up the humour in the script.

The result is fascinating. Watching Sanjuro, it often feels like the title character has wandered into a situation that its protagonists have mistaken for a romantic historical epic: a story of virtue triumphing over corruption. Sanjuro spends a lot of the film openly ridiculing the nine samurai at the centre of the film, picking apart their understanding of how the world works, and generally rolling his eyes at the heightened melodramatic elements of the narrative. Sanjuro is the story of a samurai whose blade is so sharp that it cuts at the narrative that contains him.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #83 (“Well-Manicured Truth II”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

You know what’s better than exposition? Even more exposition. More than that, exposition that isn’t actually even in the finished film. This is a fun minute of Fight the Future, in large part because it tries to fit about five years worth of exposition into a single minute of screen time while also trying to simultaneously build tension to keep the audience engaged. It’s notable that this sequence was the point at which Carter tacitly acknowledged he could only go so far while pleasing both casual viewers and die-hard fans, which makes it fun to explore.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

 

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #82 (“Well-Manicured Truth I”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

Who doesn’t like exposition? Especially when it’s delivered by a veteran British character actor trying to cram as much as physically possible into the space between two set pieces? We’re in an incredibly dense stretch of Fight the Future in which the film tries to offer a cliffnotes of the show’s mythology for the blockbuster audiences watching in cinemas. The result isn’t always elegant, but it’s surprisingly effective.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.