Split Screen: Dogtooth (2009)/Split (2017)

In an interview with the AV Club around the time of Split‘s release, director M Night Shyamalan pointed to the influence of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth on the film’s cinematography:

Well, then you remember how the frame is so irreverent to the characters. They stand up, and they’re just cut off. It’s doing its own thing. So if you watch our film through “Dogtooth eyes,” you can see how often we did that: a character just standing up out of frame or walking out, or you see just their shoulder. It feels like a window.

The connection between both films is perhaps most explicit here, to the point where it feels like a handshake between the directors.

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The Conjuring (2013)


I keep returning to The Conjuring every few years not because it scares the shit out of me – it doesn’t – but because Wan clearly aspires to a certain level of craft and calibre within the genre and puts a lot of hard work into making those jump-scares really work. From the title treatment and the presence of “proper” actors like Patrick Wilson (Wan’s muse), Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor (fantastic) given the heavy-lifting, you can tell Friedkin’s The Exorcist is something of an ideal for Wan, a proper shit-your-pants, crowd-chilling horror movie that doubles up as a legitimate awards contender. This never went the full distance but for a lot of people – check that box office intake – it certainly kept them up at night. I admire its purity and Wan’s total commitment to scaring the shit out his audience in inventive and classy ways. Whether or not that includes me is irrelevant. Like a well-oiled carnival ride, it works.

Watched on blu-ray.

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Blood Harvest (1987)


A generally bland slasher curio made all the more curious thanks to the heavy presence of Tiny Tim in the cast. The film makes good use of its contained locations, to the point where it feels like a narrative decision and not just a budgetary cut-back (which I have no doubt it was). I like horror movies that unfold in more rural backdrops, featuring farmhouses and, yknow, grass and this nicely plants itself in good company as a result (Axe and Luther the Geek, both of which I saw recently, spring to mind). Thankfully they get their money’s worth out of Tiny Tim as he even performs a handful of songs in the movie as well as supplying the theme song. The skeezy clown make-up is the greasepaint icing on the cake. Oh, and in this week’s instalment of “Spot the actor who probably scrubbed this off their filmography once they became legitimate”, a young a Peter Krause shows up in a minor role that will perk up any Six Feet Under fans who find themselves nodding off.

Watched on 88 films blu-ray.

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Mute (2018)


To echo a lot of the other criticisms (and in fact criticisms dating all the way back to early script reviews), Mute‘s neon-junk sci-fi setting never feels totally necessary to the plot or themes, but then again there’s no valid reason why it should. Without the added visual interest, the film would probably be far more unremarkable than it already is, so I was glad for all the eye-candy.

It reminded me of the big 90s movies in the way Jones took quite an old-hat genre framework – the avenging detective – and just transfused it into the milieu of a more heightened genre, probably just for the cool factor. A lot of those American John Woo films or Bruckheimer productions feel that way. Remember that prison in Face/Off? That’s what I’m talking about; B-movies dressed up in A-grade tech. Maybe if Jones disguised the seams a little better, viewers and critics would have been kinder.

Alas, most of the fun derived from Mute comes from seeing these actors get to play dress up with extravagant costumes, wigs, moustaches. Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux all clearly relish going all-in on their meaty character parts. Nobody is the star here. Rudd and Theroux get the most surprising strand of the story that toys with some dark themes and conflicts which definitely took me off-guard. Rudd develops into the stand-out, reminding us that he is so often the secret weapon in so many films he stars in but is mostly at his best when supported by a wider ensemble, which he is here. Mute occasionally synthesises itself together for some memorable moments, but interestingly almost all of them are character based. For all the spectacle and cyber-pulp, it’s the characters you remember which I would count as a positive.

Considering we’ve heard Duncan Jones talk this project up since the earliest interviews around Moon, it’s a delight to finally see it come to light. I’m glad he got it out of his system and with Netflix carte blanche no-less. I don’t think it’s as bad or incoherent (like, what?) as many have suggested, nor is the filmmaking incompetent. In the wake of Blade Runner 2049 it seems that expectations for what this kind of movie should be have become extremely high. We also had to wait nine years for it, and it isn’t worth that kind of build-up. In the face of the puzzlingly negative reaction though – honestly, as a film, it’s totally fine – it is a lot better than you’d probably expect. Maybe if it came totally out of nowhere the reception would be kinder. It’s also nice to have another Clint Mansell score to sit alongside Moon.

Watched on Netflix.

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Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)


While I had some reservations going into this – seeing a 60 year old Paul Reubens young himself up into this man-child certainly has creepy undertones – Pee-wee’s Big Holiday stays true to the Pee-wee spirit with nary a bad bone in its body. Going on a Pee-wee adventure is like diving head-first into a ball-pool of optimism and the brand is so anchored on visual pop, driven by colour and imbued with sight gags galore, that, in the current climate, this makes for quite the striking alternative viewing experience. Just harmless, childlike fun. It’s no Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (which is legit one of my favourite movies ever) but Reubens, co-writer Paul Rust and director John Lee nail the sensibility with enough layered gags and references to please everyone. The three bank robbers modelled after the girls in Faster Pussycat! Kill! KIll! – including *swoon* Alia Shawkat – was my personal favourite. Sad there was no Dotty cameo though.

Watched on Netflix.

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Golden Exits (2018)


Another unmistakeable entry into the Alex Ross Perry canon aka “The Ongoing Dramas of Upper Class Assholes”. Perry mounts a mass ensemble but avoids an Altman-like sprawl by cleverly having them all pivot around Emily Browning’s Naomi. It’s a collage of characters looking for connections in the wrong places or just trying to avoid a connection all together.

The cast is excellent with Browning and Adam Horovitz standing out. Browning because she’s never been given thiskind of showcase before – opening the film to her singing in an unfussy close-up is a gift few actors are handed – and Horovitz because, being this is only the second film I’ve seen him act substantially in, his presence on screen is a new and exciting one. It’s rare to see a fifty year old actor suddenly emerge out of nowhere, especially in the shape of a person we’re familiar with through their other work. Horovitz looks and feels like a Perry regular and I’ve no doubt this is his graduation into one.

As ever, the autumnal celluloid is lovely. DP Sean Price Williams and Perry’s attraction to big close-ups of faces is spread on thick here, wider than the two-hander of Queen of Earth. I was especially struck by Robert Greene’s editing too. There all sorts of striking choices and the dominance of mournful fade-outs within scenes as well as calculated hard-cuts steadies the drama with a sad inevitability, as if these characters are seen through eyes watching from above that occasionally tune in and out depending on how intense, funny or tragic the drama is. A lot of it is heightened by the spaces too; Horovitz’s stuffy office, the various bars as well as the open plan houses, they all key in to bringing the walls closer to the characters or isolating them in domestic voids. You don’t just recall characters and their voices, you remember their surroundings. It’s a crime it took so long for this to come out.

Watched via itunes.

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Victor Crowley (2017)


Considering that this was shot in secret a good four years after Hatchet III and unveiled in grandstanding fashion upon an unsuspecting Hatchet-loving crowd, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Victor Crowley would be something of an event for the franchise. Instead it’s just business as usual.

Chronologically, this is the first in the series to use a time-jump (the first three films practically happened over one 48 hour period) but it isn’t actually utilised for any meaningful narrative purpose. For any viewer watching these back-to-back in a Hatchet-mad binge – not far off how I’ve just experienced them – it’d be easy to assume this one was shot a year after the last movie. Now, I think I held this one under more scrutiny because of how it was made and unveiled; Adam Green returning to the director’s chair, the title change, the secretive production; it all points to an upping of the ante. And honestly, by this point, the series could do with a bit of a shake-up. Victor Crowley himself doesn’t show up until well into this film’s brief running time and one of the things the Hatchet movies never really indulged in was a great, meaty resurrection sequence. The nature of Crowley’s mythology means he can just keep coming back, but for this one I really thought Green should have pulled off all the stops and brought him back in a big, bad way. Sadly not.

Now four films in, I’m glad they finally decided to just make series MVP Perry Shen the lead. He’s the connective tissue that covertly keeps a lot of these films together, even more so than Dannielle Harris who, for all intents and purposes, is the franchise’s figurehead. With Shen taking up the reins though, I didn’t miss her as much as I thought (plus we know we haven’t seen the last of Marybeth). Green’s penchant for using ace genre faces continues to be his greatest currency, here letting mad-man Dave Sheridan tear up the scenery with a movie-stealing supporting role. I also like the central conceit of having a plane crash into the swamp making it something of a base for all the carnage, but the barebones design of the actual plane – basically a hollow shell painted white with holes cut in it for windows – shows the film’s budgetary restrictions. I do love that it stays true to the franchise’s heritage though as Green’s preference for overblown, bloody, abrupt endings is very much intact.

This is 100% a Hatchet movie, but my main problem with it is that it’s called Victor Crowley so I expected something different, something – dare I say it? – more. I also watched/re-watched these four films in a relatively short time span so it’s very likely I’m just suffering from Hatchet fatigue. So far, this is the only film in the series I felt I could live without.

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