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New Escapist Column! On “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Finding Hope Amid the Apocalypse…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about the end of the world lately, understandably, but I thought it was worth unpacking Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fury Road is one of the best blockbusters of the past decade, appearing on countless lists of the best films of the 2010s. However, what distinguishes it from a lot of apocalyptic cinema is that it embraces hope in a very meaningful and practical way. Fury Road is largely about the impulse to retreat from horror and from untenable situations, to abandon a world that appears to be fallen. However, the film argues that such an impulse is ultimately self-destructive, as eventually such a retreat runs out of road. Instead, Fury Road contends that the proper response to a broken world is to turn around and face it head on, to fix it from the inside. It’s a brave and empowering message, and a large part of the film’s appeal.

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

Non-Review Review: Saint Maud

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

“Pain is precious,” intones the title character towards the third act of Saint Maud. “You shouldn’t waste it.”

Rose Glass’ debut feature is a delightfully weird genre hybrid, existing at some strange intersection of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Exorcist that just happens to unfold in Scarborough. It is hard to summarise exactly what Saint Maud is, in terms of genre. At times, it plays like that most maligned of genres, the “elevated horror” that favours slow-mounted dread over cheap thrills. At other points, it is an intensely intimate psychological thriller and character study. Occasionally, it pivots sharply into surreal black comedy. It is never one or the other, and the film’s deft balance is a credit to Glass as writer and director.

Still, at its core, Saint Maud is ultimately a tale of repression and rapture, religious devotion wrestling with carnal desire. It is a film in which the contortions of the flesh associated with divine position are juxtaposed with the use of the body as an instrument by dancers. Over the course of Saint Maud, bodies writhe in pleasure that emanates from sources both spiritual and physical. Indeed, the spiritual and physical often collapse into one another over the course of the film, inviting the audience to try to draw a clean line of separation between two ideas that are so closely intertwined.

Saint Maud is an unsettling, warped and clever little film that is worth seeking out. It is also worth seeing blind, in so much as that might be possible.

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Non-Review Review: Vivarium

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2020. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

Vivarium is an abrasive and aggressive work of surrealism.

It is very much of a piece with director Lorcan Finnegan’s earlier work, feeling like a clear descendant of his “ghost estate” short Foxes and his “land will swallow you whole” horror of Without Name. Indeed, Vivarium taps into many of those same fears, essentially beginning as a horror story about a young couple going house hunting and ending up lost in a monstrous and seemingly unending estate. It morphs from that into an exploration of a broader set of anxieties about the very idea of “adulthood”, of what young people expect from their adult life and what it in turn it expects from them.

Vivarium often feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. It features a small core cast. Although shot on an actual housing estate, Finnegan pushes the production design into the realm of the uncanny so that it looks like a gigantic creepy sound stage. The script consciously pushes its narrative into the realm of the absurd. However, throughout it all, the film remains keenly focused on a simple and strong central metaphor. Although Vivarium operates at an unsettlingly heightened level of reality, and although its populated by a mess of signifiers it never entirely explains, it remains firmly anchored in relatable ideas.

Vivarium is perhaps a little over-extended and little heavy-handed in articulating its central themes and ideas, but it is consistently interesting and ambitious. It’s well worth the time.

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165. Gisaengchung (Parasite) – This Just In (#34)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Boon Joon Ho’s Gisaengchung.

Drafted in to tutor the daughter of a rich South Korean family, the lower-class Kim Ki-woo enacts a cunning plan that will allow his entire family to infiltrate the lavish Park household. However, things quickly spiral out of control, leading to unpredictable chaos and disaster.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 34th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Colour Out of Space

Colour Out of Space is a visceral, haunting, beautiful nightmare.

H.P. Lovecraft is a notoriously difficult writer to adapt for film. It’s arguably that the best adaptations of his work have been spiritual companion pieces like John Carpenter’s The Thing or In the Mouth of Madness. There are any number of reasons for this, such as the uncomfortable racism that unpins his recurring fear of “the other.” However, there is also the obvious challenge of trying to craft cinematic adaptations of a horror often rooted in monstrosity beyond the human capacity for comprehension.

The family that stays together…

Colour Out of Space works reasonably well as an adaptation of the Lovecraft story of almost the same name. Indeed, the film is bookended by extended quotes from the source material. Director Richard Stanley’s adaptation is surprisingly faithful to that story, even if there are obviously lots of adjustments that have to made in shifting the action to the twenty-first century in both setting and production. It helps that Stanley has a great deal of experience in body horror, and clearly appreciates Lovecraft’s influence on that school of cinematic horror.

However, the real beauty of Colour Out of Space lies in the way in which if feels like a Lovecraftian adaptation of a Lovecraft text. It represents a cold and cynical nightmare of curdled and metastasised sixties psychedelia, playing as a riff on Lovecraft’s resurgence within sixties counterculture. Colour Out of Space is the story of how the sixties kids who rebelled against adult authority have so readily allowed themselves to acclimatise to it. Colour Out of Space is a story about how children become their parents, albeit perhaps more literally that the phrase suggests.

Purple haze…

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New Escapist Column! “The Shining” and the Perfect Haunted House…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last Friday. Because it was Halloween and because of the release of Doctor Sleep, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a look about at The Shining.

The Shining is my favourite horror movie ever. It is one of my favourite films ever. It is the rare piece of work that offers something new every single time I sit down to watch it. As I’ve thought more and more about it over the years, I’ve been drawn to the way in which the power of the Overlook is one of scale. It is big enough that it can serve as a fun house mirror to the anxieties of America itself, but also intimate enough that the familial anxieties of the Torrance family can play out within it. It is both large enough and small enough to work as the perfect haunted house.

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

Amazing.

153. The Exorcist – Halloween 2019 (#–)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with Doctor Bernice Murphy, 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, a Halloween treat. William Friedkin’s The Exorcist.

At time of recording, it was not ranked the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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