Thursday, October 19, 2017

underseen for Halloween

** no (major) spoilers to fear **

Eric Hoffer famously said, "Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil."  In parallel, Halloween has expanded in significance: we'd celebrate monthly, given a way around the cognitive dissonance. 
Six low-budget films for observance:
consulting a physician, Body Parts
Body Parts (1992) is one, like Starship Troopers and Con Air, best enjoyed as self-spoof.  Despite financial modesty (top-billing Jeff Fahey of Lost), Body Parts is equally wicked as it rolls the chestnut about transplant recipient possessed by not-quite-dead criminal donor.  Eric Red directed (after writing The Hitcher and Near Dark), aiming for the cult celebrity of The Evil Dead and Re-Animator.

Frailty (2001) is a solid horror-drama (and an early credit for Matthew McConaughey).  The late Bill Paxton directed and stars as a dad with his own ideas: raising sons to be homicidal.  The plot holds some unusual twists, if not to the end.  Paxton had planned to re-team with screenwriter Brent Hanley to adapt Joe R. Lansdale's The Bottoms.

Danvers State Hospital (Mass.), 1893
Also from the shadows of 2001, Session 9 is set at the amazingly creepy (since demolished) Danvers State Hospital, the reported inspiration for Arkham asylum in the Lovecraft (and Batman) mythos.  David Caruso is the only "name" in an asbestos-removal crew discovering their site, a shuttered mental hospital, is not empty like the work-order says.  It's a slow burn, but truly frightening.  Directed and co-written by Brad Anderson, who's since made The Machinist and Vanishing on 7th Street.

At one time, the American cowboy was sacred, such that a horror-Western was almost unthinkable, excepting self-sabotaged junk like Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.  Westerns are fewer today, but a high percentage have horror elements: The MissingJonah Hex.  The Burrowers (2008) is the Old West equivalent of Pitch Black or The Descent, as white settlers and natives discover a common enemy.

You're Next (2011) is a slasher film that asks if anyone deserves to survive, as an entitled/dysfunctional American clan reunites to celebrate the parental anniversary.  Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett announce their presence with this shuffle of thrills, humor and social criticism.  Part of a cycle in which the suburbs are hell, including A Horrible Way to Die (also Wingard and Barrett), Martha Marcy May Marlene and We Need to Speak About Kevin.  

The latter's Karyn Kusama directed The Invitation (2015): slow-building and dark, it leaves a mark.  While the mainstream offers crime films about horror-down-the-(L.A.)-street (Training Day, Crash, Lakeview Terrace), The Invitation bypasses righteousness for the disenchantment of Right at Your Door and Sound of My Voice.  To say more would spoil the party.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Grey (2011) 3 of 4

** moderate spoilers **

Liam Neeson is close to a Western star for recent decades, based on films not quite Westerns: Ethan Frome (1993), Rob Roy (1995), Gangs of New York (2002), Kingdom of Heaven (2005).  The underrated Seraphim Falls (2006), also with Pierce Brosnan, might be Neeson's only literal visit to the genre.  (He's also in the parody A Million Ways to Die in the West.)

In The Grey he's Ottway, salaried killer of wolves for an oil company in the Arctic.  We'll learn he's lost his wife, which has made life an onerous duty.  He describes the oil crew he's protecting: "ex-cons, fugitives, drifters, assholes" (compare Deadwood and The Hateful Eight).  As in John Carpenter's The Thing, men are a dangerous subculture to be exiled at 30-below.

As a company plane takes off, the karma's bad, as in Alien.  A nervous roughneck can't shut up, blurting the plane may crash: the trigger sin.  It crashes.  The good news: they have a wolf expert, as Ottway takes leadership of the dwindling group, informing them wolves have a 30-mile "kill radius."  The bad news: they have no way of knowing where's the den.

The Grey is a neat trick, a hit film about death.  While downbeat, it's an exciting, inventive thriller, with spectacular action as the men deal with wolves, weather, and unforgiving terrain.  The wolves are CGI, and not fully believable, but as in Frozen (2010), they're mostly off-screen.  The British Columbia locations are thrilling; evidently, the actors and crew endured bitter cold.

It's an open question what the title refers to: grey wolves, presumably (although these as often appear brown or black).  The weather is grey.  The characters face death, a grey zone shielding mystery.  Finally, most of the men are white: if "grey," they're fading, becoming historical.

It's implied the plane crashes because delayed by workers acting up and complaining (a supervisor says "You guys are fucking this up").  Sometimes, we allow a narrative to say what's taboo, thus we've lately seen many film-narrative plane crashes, and many widowers: the dead (missing) wife (or child) represents a line ending.  Unlike Stagecoach and The Outlaw Josey Wales, The Grey presents an afflicted band without women.  Unlike The Searchers or Open Range, this alpha male isn't protecting a settlement: he fights for his own survival, because it's-what-you-do, even when there's nothing decent left to protect.  Even when the wolf is at the door. 

** dedicated to the memory of Roger Ebert, who praised The Grey 15 months before his passing in 2013 **