Possession (minor spoilers)

Possession – 8/10

possessiony

Some people will see this film and think it’s an amazing piece of cinema. Some will see it and find it dreadful. Both views are correct.

Depending on my mood when I saw Possession, I could find it falling anywhere between those two extremes. It’s… a difficult one. People throw around the term ‘mindfuck’ for films with clever twists or disturbing ideas – I think I will now ask anyone using the term how those films stack up against Possession, because I’ve seen few films as psychologically gruelling as this one.

Most of the characters in the film are unlikeable and strange. This is something I’ve complained about in other movies and yet here it is also kind of the point. Early in the film we get to watch to odd, troubled, and unsympathetic characters as their marriage disintegrates horribly. It’s awful in all the ways it should be and a very uncomfortable watch.

From there it spirals into madness. Hard to tell if it’s the film-maker’s or the characters’ or the breakdown of the universe. Despite the title, you’re (probably) watching allegory.

Full credit has to go to Isabelle Adjani for playing her part as the disturbed, and disturbing Anna, with such unflinching, unwavering, mania. There are long, long sequences where she will act out what must have been a truly exhausting scene, physically and emotionally, without the camera ever cutting away. The scene in the subway quickly gets past uncomfortable, moves on to gruelling, and keeps on going way beyond that. She won awards for this and other films, and I’m not surprised. She’s an amazing actress.

Sam Neill does a solid job too, as Mark, who spends much of his time broken and unlikeable. His mood and attitudes vary, but you’re never completely on his side even when his wife is cruel to him.

Credit too must go to writer/director Andrzej Zulawski for filming long unbroken takes which give things a visceral quality. It’s a bit like watching a car crash, you can’t tear your eyes away as events unfold infront of you in terrible and unexpected ways.

One of the things I like about it is that it doesn’t give you any answers. You can’t tell if it’s real, if the film is from the point of view of the madness of its characters, or all shot in Symbolism-Vision. It’s a film that more than earns its right to be called a mindfuck movie, and depending on your mood you’ll hate it or appreciate it, but you probably won’t like it. I’ve seen several reviews by people who said they felt violated by the movie. It’s a strong term to use, but I can see exactly where they are coming from.

It’s not a nice film, and it will likely stay with you. I could easily have given it anywhere between 9/10 or 6/10, in the end I settled on 8 because that’s what I feel at the time of writing. Ask me again tomorrow, it will probably get a different score.

I never want to see it again, and yet I will probably buy a copy because it truly is an amazing piece of cinema that, when I feel strong enough, I will certainly want to revisit.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.
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Dagon

Dagon – 8/10

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The first third of Dagon is a little… unengaging. The protagonist isn’t very likeable, and neither is his girlfriend, though she is better than him. So I watched as it meandered along, waiting for it to pick up.

And pick up it did. Things quickly take on a surreal, creepy and dangerous bent, and to some degree, even with his irritating character, the protagonist starts to come into his own. He’s still not that likeable, but at least what is after him is even less likeable.

The film suffers in a few ways. I don’t think Ezra Godden, who plays Paul, is that good. The scripting of his character is variable, but even when it’s good it often feels like he plays it wrong. The best performance comes from Francisco Rabal, and it’s a testament to him as an actor that he’s so good even though he’s hard to understand as he struggles with the English dialogue.

Macarena Gómez is quite good. She has a nicely unusual face, and plays her part quite well. The film also uses computer graphics to achieve some moments, but sensibly uses them sparingly, and to good effect.

While it gets some things wrong, once it gets up to speed it does a fair job of carrying the audience along with it, even when it gets slightly silly. Bad things happen, and no-one comes out of it too well. There’s some gore, but it is nowhere near as horrible as the situation. Not to everyone’s taste, but certainly it captures the tone of hopelessness and and unknowable horror well.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

City of the Living Dead

City of the Living Dead (AKA Gates of Hell) – 7/10

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD-POSTER 3 BY SILVERFOX

My first Italian cosmic horror. It has some obvious Lovecraft inspiration, given the name of the main town is Dunwich, but it’s very much its own thing. Whether or not you’ll like that thing is really a matter of taste.

Probably the most problematic aspect of City of the Living Dead for many people is it feels very disjointed. Seriously, things occasionally seem to happen for no other reason than they do, which at times means you’ll get a scene like the one where a zombie gets stabbed in the stomach and dies. I love surreal film-making, but even I had some issues with this. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to a chunk of it.

That said, this aspect is sort of in keeping with one of the concepts brought up with cosmic horror – we don’t understand or know what’s going on. I think it would be up to the individual viewer to figure out for themselves whether Lucio Fulci understood the background logic to why things occur or not. I’m guessing not. And honestly, once you get used to the disjointed nature of the film, I’m not sure that matters.

For me, I found the chopping and changing actually started to make me feel uneasy. It was a good enough film that I was involved, but I had no freaking idea what was going to happen next. There are many films where this would annoy me, but somehow here it worked to build tension.

It’s also quite a gruesome film with sequences that are fairly over the top. As an ex-meatworker I know offal, so when a character starts to vomit guts and the odd internal organ, I can tell they’ve used the real thing. Also a scene with literally thousands of maggots makes no sense, but is a hard watch because it goes on way past where it would be comfortable, and they’ve obviously used real maggots for all of it, including the ones spirit-gummed to actors’ faces.

Full credit to the bleeding eye effect, too. Never seen it done before in the way it’s handled in this film, and it really is quite effective. Took me a few minutes to figure out how they did it.

Sound design is also a feature of this one. Being 80s Italian I’m assuming, and it certainly sounds, like all the audio is dubbed on later. This does two things. It makes everything sound just a little off, and it means that the howls, screeches, and sloppy, squelchy noises are very loud and distinct, only adding to the dream-like nature of things.

All up, definitely not a film for everyone. I’m not sure I’d watch it again, but it still makes me feel uneasy, surely the hallmark of a good horror film. The ending… is in keeping with the rest of the film. It may not be satisfying, but given some things stated within the movie, it makes a kind of sense, albeit in a disjointed way.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Altitude

Altitude – 2/10

altitude

What can I say about Altitude? Some of the cinematography was nice, and there’s an interesting twist I didn’t see coming around an hour in. Oh, and it’s in focus, and the effects are actually pretty good. And the acting isn’t terrible.

Other than that, it features three unsympathetic or unlikeable male characters, and two female characters who are passable. That’s probably its biggest flaw – the characterisation. But it’s a really huge flaw for a film of this type. Pretty much everyone makes at least one really bad decision, acts in a way that is horrible, and does something particularly stupid.  It’s not a case where they each do one of the previous things, they each do all three.  At least once.

Basically it’s bloody hard to care about any of these people, or indeed the film.

Purely by accident, I saw Cube, then this – and Altitude really highlighted the importance of decent characterisation.  They are essentially the same type of film – a group of people trapped in a confined, high stress environment in which they have little-to-no control.  The difference is with Cube we care about or understand the characters and their actions and motivations.  With Altitude, we don’t give a damn.

I can see how people would say it fits within the broad cosmic horror definition, but really, it’s just a really weak episode of Twilight Zone that’s been blown out to 90 minutes. Actually, as a 30 minute short film, I suspect it would have been much, much better since there would have been less of the characters.

I’d spoil this one something rotten like I did with The Forgotten, but except it missteps so badly right from our first introduction to these people, I really can’t be bothered giving it any more of my attention.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Cube

Cube – 8/10

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What’s nice about the first film is we know nothing about the universe it’s set in. Yes we learn stuff as we go along, but it’s still a situation where we don’t know enough. This one fits the cosmic horror bill mainly due to the characters not having any control or ability to influence things. They don’t know the rules, though they do figure some of them out as they go. There’s other elements as well, but that requires spoiling the film, which I’m reluctant to do.

Cube‘s real strength is as a character piece. Throw a bunch of people together in an enclosed, high-stress environment, and watch them react and interact. They shift and change, have layers and secrets, and all these things make it an intriguing watch.

When characters are inevitably killed it’s gruesome and gory, but not too over the top. I get the feeling the main reason for the nastiness of the deaths is to sell the danger, and make those scenes where we know there’s a trap that much more tense.

16 years later, Cube is still a classic, and proves once again that flashy special effects can’t beat good writing and characterisation.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Messiah of Evil

Messiah of Evil – 6/10

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Messiah of Evil isn’t a bad, film, but it struggles to be as good as it could be. I like movies that many would consider slow, but I found this a little… well, slow. The core story is ok, and the threat increases nicely, but it does everything at a very relaxed pace.

That said, some sequences work because of this. The scene at the cinema works precisely because it takes ages to get where it’s going. The audience knows what’s going to happen, and the build up to the inevitable is nicely handled, even if the resolution feels a little less satisfying.

Some good character actors get to show why they’re popular, but sadly it feels at times with the leads as if the director has grabbed the first take each time. There’s some lovely design work for the artist’s home, and some creepy ideas, but it all just can’t quite make it past the pacing.

It’s rare I say this, but I think it’s a film that deserves a remake. Keep the same script, with minimal changes, just improve the pacing. Or make it as a 45 minute short film.

Definitely worth a look, but keep expectations low.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

The Ugly

The Ugly 8/10

The Ugly

This is the first one that I found listed that doesn’t quite work for me as a cosmic horror. There are certainly elements, and it looks like it might be going in a very creepy and odd direction, but then goes for something a little more predictable.

That said, it’s a very well done little film. It has some subtle and stylish moments, some interesting character development, and some lovely visuals. It’s not perfect. The ending doesn’t work, and the film goes for a few too many moments where we see something horrific only to have it turn out to be in a character’s imagination, which actually robs some of the other genuinely odd creepy moments of their oomph.

But I’m damning with faint praise. It’s certainly clever, disturbing, and good enough that I’m interested in checking out the director’s other work, and I’ll certainly be watching it again.

For those curious, you can buy a copy here.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Yellowbrickroad (very minor spoilers)

yellowbrickroad – 9/10

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Stunningly good in the way it builds and immerses the audience in the creeping weirdness and horror experienced by the characters. It’s not perfect, but it does what it does very, very well.

Like Uzumaki, it tells its story excellently. It picks when it will hold back, and when to go for broke. And even then it makes clever directorial choices – the first scene of overt violence is ridiculously over the top, but it’s shot silently except for a character’s horrified reaction – which helps to sell it magnificently.

And other choices – those of the kinds of characters and the ways in which they are affected, the break down of their psyches, the ways in which they act out or draw in to themselves. They may not always be the best choices, or most surprising, but they are interesting ones.

And I may be misremembering, but I don’t think it used any incidental music. All music heard is also heard by the characters. Not a new thing, but again, it suits the film’s immersive quality.

Probably the only issue I have is with the ending. It’s not a bad ending, but it’s a divisive one.  Most will either love or hate it, I’m somewhere in the middle.

Over all, this is the best of the films to date in terms of solid film-making, leaving me unnerved, and also fitting the whole “cosmic horror” angle I’ve been watching for.

  

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Red Sands (very minor spoilers)

Red Sands – 8/10

Red Sands

This really takes its time to build up to what is going to happen, and then goes about doing it in mostly character-driven ways. I really enjoyed this low budget but well made film.

It mixes subtle moments of weirdness with the occasional gory bit, into a mostly quite effective horror piece. Some of the effects are a bit obvious, but they serve to tell the story.  Some of the best effects moments are brilliantly restrained and fleeting, helping to enhance to weirdness. They’re moments where you want to go back to see them again because they were just so quick and odd.

It certainly makes me want to check out the director’s earlier efforts.

My only real complaint is that the opening bit that mentions and talks about the Djinn feels like an unnecessary add-on. I think it may have been an even stronger movie without any of that there to tip the audience off. Then again, some people would have been put off by the lack of any explanation, and there’s nothing to suggest what they are up against actually is a Djinn.

I could see people being a bit divided on this one. It’s certainly not a perfect film, but in terms of telling an interesting and different character-driven horror tale, I thought it was very good.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

The Vanishing on 7th Street (some spoilers)

The Vanishing on 7th Street – 7/10

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I liked this in spite of what was, to me, a massive, massive flaw in how it chose to tell the story. Basically in this the shadows suddenly come to life for no explained reason and people in the shadows vanish. It’s a cool idea and mostly well executed.

Except for the overwhelming lack of subtlety.

There are CG shadows everywhere. They’re almost constantly moving, right from the start of the film. I don’t care that they’re computer generated, the effects are very well done, but the fact that they’re often shifting and moving removes 90% of the drama. Instead of you wondering about whether any of those shadows are going to come after the characters, you’re constantly reminded that they’re going to. And the fact that the characters get out of so many scrapes further removes the drama.

It means that a scene very early on in the film, where a character sees a shadow of a person move in another room, has no oomph whatsoever. By that point we’ve already seen so many shadows move, we just assume it’s another one. In fact it would have been more of a shock if it had turned out to belong to someone still alive.

It is a good film, and certainly is worth a look, but Uzumaki really spoiled me for great direction and clever film-making.

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.