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TADFF 2014: Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter (2015)

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It might not be horror by the book, but “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” definitely evokes a sense of dread and unease with its stunningly ambitious, morbidly transfixing cinematography, atmospheric, nerve-shredding score and potent hilarity rooted in heart-wrenching tragedy. Loosely based upon a snippet of Takako Konishi’s life-story, a run-of-the-mill office worker who journeyed to the United States, more specifically the city of Fargo, and ended in a field near the Detroit Lakes with her much debated suicide. “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is a breath of brisk, unfiltered, decidedly hefty air and was well-deserving of a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at this past year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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Previous to the definitive discovery of Konishi’s depression and documented intent on taking her own life, miscommunication between Konishi and a Bismarck police officer, with whom she had been conversing, led to the spawning of an urban legend regarding the motivation of Konishi’s trip to America. The fable states that Konishi had travelled to Minneapolis in search of the fictitious fortune of Carl Showalter, Steve Buscemi’s character in the Coen brothers masterpiece “Fargo.” The film depicts Showalter burying a case filled with money in a field somewhere in the aforementioned city, similar to the one Konishi was found. The media fanned the flames and it wasn’t long before Konishi and the mysterious circumstances leading up to her death reached unprecedented cult-status.

With depression, loneliness, and a lack of identity driving her further from the clutches of any redemptive lifeline, Konishi’s story is one of deep sadness and struggle. A battle all too many can relate to nowadays. Yet, with such morose, Ill-fated source material, one cannot commend director and co-writer David Zellner enough for the divisive and debatably up-lifting end result, by and large. Zellner has truly created one of the most immersive experiences, both visually and viscerally, in recent memory. Mixing brief moments of such euphoria and promise with long, melancholic sequences of silence set against a wintery prairie or a thick, heavily-dusted forest. Zellner whole-heartedly comprehends the complexity of his muse and executes with the utmost respect,  deriving the disheartening beauty and helplessness originating from Konishi’s turbulent final days.

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That said, a strong case can be made that Zellner’s greatest accomplishment with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is despite the film’s rather macabre content, it eloquently and ultimately depicts the unyielding, boundless power of cinema in a positive light. Zellner’s subtlety and maliciously sweet approach to such a bizarre and definitively dark tale that is, to some degree about the negative, specifically one of the more rare downsides of cinema, despite it not having any control in the matter, excellently and truthfully portrays cinema’s ability to overcome any mishap or catastrophe and speaks volumes to the sheer strength and hallow nature of film as an art form.

Zellner and crew aren’t the only ones operating at the top of their game with “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter.” In the title role, Rinko Kikuchi is at her very best. Whether she’s uttering no more than a few words in broken English, starring off into a vicious whiteout, or bearing the insufferable hospitality of her newly-found, unwanted acquaintances, Kikuchi has full command of the screen and the audience’s heartstrings. I cannot praise Kikuchi’s performance enough, it’s difficult to describe what her fully-invested honesty and child-like innocence translates to on the screen. It’s magic, pure and simple. Easily the best performance she’s given in her career to date.

Oh and David Zellner, who pulls triple duty also grabbing a supporting role, is equal to the task and much, much more. The film wouldn’t be the same without his kind-hearted, empathetically-driven moral compass.

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Mystical, incredibly transcendent, and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, “Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter” is, without question, 2015s best film thus far and will be near-impossible to knock from that pedestal in the near future. Long live Bunzo!

Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter: 9 out of 10.

 

 

TADFF 2014: Review: Zombeavers (2014)

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Zombeavers (2014)

TADFF 2014: Review: Housebound (2014)

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TAD’14 is coming to a close and as usual, I am behind on coverage. For those of you who don’t know, I obtained a press all-access pass this year to cover the festivities. I will be posting all content related to the festival: reviews, interviews, etc…over at Gone With the Movies, a site I have been contributing to for a while. If you feel so inclined, please head on over (click the link below) and give my coverage a look. The first film I reviewed is “Housebound,” a delightfully original take on the haunted house premise.

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Oculus (2014)

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Look, let’s make one thing crystal clear, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. A lot of Mike Flanagan’s “Oculus” you’ve more than likely experienced before, in one way or another. And If I’m to be honest, the only reason I watched “Oculus” is because I’m an admirer of director Mike Flanagan’s ultra-low-budget horror flick “Absentia.” A film that caught a bad break when it’s marketing team really misrepresented the film with simple, stereotypical horror posters and publicity. All misdirection aside however, if you haven’t seen “Absentia,” I highly suggest you give it a whirl. It’s a brilliant, atmospheric slow-burn that delivers some seriously unsettling content and chilling scares…but I digress. So, given that “Oculus” appeared to be nothing more than a retread through its awareness campaign and that the film didn’t really provoke much interest from me, except for Flanagan being attached, I didn’t expect much from it going in…

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Well, this is the part where I’m supposed to completely shift focus and tell you how exceptional “Oculus” turned out to be and that I loved it! Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t in good conscious lead you on like that. That being said, I can inform you that I was pleasantly surprised with what “Oculus” presented and that it is arguably the second best horror flick I’ve seen so far this year, the chillingly claustrophobic and chaotic “In Fear” still holds the distinction of being number one on my list. Now, taking into account that we’re barely four months into the new year, saying that “Oculus” is one of the year’s best doesn’t exactly hold much weight. With the likes of “Devil’s Due” and the fifth feature in the “Paranormal Activity” series barely making pre-teens have nightmares, even the competition hasn’t been top notch. I really hope this year in horror turns around…but enough about that, back to “Oculus.”

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PLOT:

A young woman, Kaylie, tries to exonerate her brother, Tim, who was convicted of murdering their father eleven years ago by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural force that dwells inside an old mirror.

The film plays out through a series of flashbacks that are recollected by our two protagonists eleven years into the present, who are simultaneously setting in motion a plan to prove the existence of an evil presence living inside the aforementioned mirror, with the intent of destroying it once they’ve obtained their evidence. Additionally, as If that isn’t complicated enough, the possessed mirror continuously distorts reality, making it nearly impossible to predict or conclude what is real and what is fabricated. So right away I became mesmerized by the complexity and hypnotic nature of the story and its many gambits. “Oculus” is a lot smarter than its surface insinuates. However, it does occasionally drift and as flabbergastingly impressive as the film’s editing is, the tale could’ve used sounder structuring. It simply feels a tad too out of control and it is, at some spots, difficult to decipher and follow.

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Our evil, devilish antagonist declares, “I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and I am him.” A chilling, memorable line that won’t soon be forgotten by horror fanboys. Sadly though, it is one of the few things I do recall from “Oculus.” I’m not saying the film isn’t scary, I myself got spooked from time to time, more so during the film’s later half, and I’m not that easily frightened. The most terrifying aspect of the film has got to be these mysterious apparitions, which turn out to be the haunted mirror’s previous victims. They have reflective, glowing eyes that dot the blackness with a sinister demeanour and appear unannounced throughout the film. They really illuminate this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that radiates from “Oculus.” Nonetheless, overall the film isn’t exactly one you’ll lose sleep over. Yet, the deliciously nauseating apple scene will definitely make your stomach turn.

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The only name I recognized attached to “Oculus,” with the exception of director Mike Flanagan, was actress Karen Gillian. Portraying present Kaylie, Gillian gives an inspired performance and really does her best to hold everything together. She’s got the talent and it shows, it is just too apparent that the script let her down. Brenton Thwaites, who tackles the complex role of adult Tim, unfortunately leaves a lot to be desired. Actually, I found it rather perplexing that Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, who portray the younger versions of Kaylie and Tim respectively, without question stole the show. I just didn’t expect such investment, terror, and dedication to burst forth from such young actors. Rory Cochrane, whom I immediately recognized having seen his face, does capture the isolated, distant, deteriorating aura of someone possessed, but doesn’t exactly shine blindingly. As for Katie Sackhoff, much like the rest of the cast, is slightly above mediocre.

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Providing consistent scares, passable performances, and a script that’s probably too smart for its own good, makes “Oculus” worth the look for die-hard horror fans. However, it’s blatantly open-ended finale which leaves tons of room for countless sequels seems a bit too eager and will undoubtedly turn its fair share of viewers away.

Oculus: 7 out of 10.

In Fear (2014)

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For cinephiles, much like myself, I find that horror is trickier to dissect in the same manner one would a film in other genres. Reason being that no matter how impressive and substantial, horror films never seem to carry as much reverence in the art of film as a whole. For example, come award season, horror flicks aren’t exactly looked upon with much value and very rarely garner a nomination, let alone a victory. Why?

I never like to toss myself in the minority, but I can’t help it this time. Personally, horror is one of, if not the genre of choice, and I’m not alone. I’ve seen the very best of what the genre has to offer from the ultra disturbing, to the unbearably gory and so on. Yet, people still can’t shake this notion that somehow horror is a notch below cinema’s elite. It’s as if we’ve been brainwashed to believe that what the horror genre has to offer isn’t worthy of our time and acclaim. How many times have you heard the lie that the horror genre is dying? This mindset needs to change amongst us cinephiles. Horror creates fear, one of the most crucial and unique emotions that affects the human body mentally and physically, unlike any other feeling. The point of cinema is to provoke reaction, isn’t it? So how can you deny yourself that experience? Begin your cinematic progression, your film evolution here, with “In Fear.”

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Director Jeremy Lovering has set the record straight. His latest film’s title is derived from the story and the premise on which it was based, as if after watching this cinematic thesis unfold left any confusion. This dive into horror isn’t exactly conventional. You know, a series of events that progress to a distressing crest, climax, and conclude. No, there is something theoretic, scientific, albeit madly, about this picture. Something that Lovering put best when he summarized that his latest flick wasn’t a typical outing into terror, rather, “an experiment in fear.” And although “In Fear” is quite terrifying, it isn’t solely driven by the fear it is able to provoke. It is a film that explores the experience of fear itself and what effect it has on the human body, both mentally and physically. And more importantly, to what extent is the damage irreversible…

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“There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.” A famous quote used by many I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere before. Maybe a tad cliche, especially when discussing the horror genre, but that doesn’t make it any less true. This notion is excavated and examined exhaustively throughout “In Fear,” almost scholar-like.

This theory is fairly simple to understand. Essentially, what’s truly frightening about fear is what the emotion allow’s ourselves to create. When terrified, it’s as if we access a part of our brain we don’t normally tend to, where we keep all the things we irrevocably dread. It’s this miraculously unnerving ability to turn common things like shadows, rain, tree branches into monstrosities not of this world with sinister motivations. It’s the darkest side of our imagination, a wonder of life who’s existence we despise to the marrow.

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Of course however, no matter how talented we may be at transforming bland simplicity into complex apparitions of terror, we are never really in danger, it’s all just a concoction in our brain, a phantom that never actually existed. Kind of anti-climactic, isn’t it? That being said however, with “In Fear” Lovering presents and depicts a rather intriguing idea, an uncomfortable thought. He states that the only thing we have to fear is those without any. Someone who is removed from fear and danger, someone who’s life isn’t of value to them self. This then allows this being without fear to become an external force, like gravity. When you distinguish and rid yourself of fear, you gain control over every other life form. Simply, you have fear and it doesn’t, you have everything to lose and it doesn’t. Creepy, isn’t it?

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Lovering captures the immensity of “In Fear’s” theory flawlessly, which is all the more remarkable considering that the entirety of the film takes place within a car. Yet, as impressive as this philosophical intelligence is, what’s even more astounding is the fact that “In Fear” was captured literally void of a script. All the cast and crew had to go on was a premise, nothing more. Looking back on the scale of what they created with how little they begun with is worth the watch alone. Now, aside from the theoretical premise, the genuine ambiguity of the dialogue and script, keep an eye out for “In Fear’s” use of atmosphere to create the foundation of terror. Hauntingly beautiful visuals of baron fields, harsh weather, and dreary overgrowth form this Earthy, elemental fright that’s inescapable. Combined with a light, ominous score, the fright is almost unbearable.

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Without scripted structure and dialogue, Lovering was hoping to achieve an authentic portrayal of fear, something the cast, comprised of Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, and Allen Leech, would have to convey naturally. Englert and Caestecker portray the victims of Leech’s torment, a young couple on their first getaway. Leech is the highlight of the film, performance wise. His sadistic, unmotivated, sociopathic take on a serial murderer is bone-chilling. One of the better performances I’ve seen in a horror film in a good, long while. As for Englert and Caestecker, what can one say? The level of genuine fear they reach in their portrayals is bewildering. Their performances really drive the film forward. Honestly, for parts of this flick, you’ll feel as if you’re watching a snuff film, that’s how realistic the performances are.

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Although undoubtedly not for everyone, “In Fear” is a terrific showcase of horror done right.

In Fear: 8.5 out of 10

Enemy (2014)

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Dennis Villeneuve’s latest, “Enemy,” is seemingly shrouded in secrecy. Amongst the remnants of Villeneuve’s last film, high-profile crime-thriller “Prisoners,” this mysterious piece of suspenseful anti-existentialism took form and emerged from the shadows. Blending staggeringly beautiful camerawork, the lovely Toronto skyline muddled in a glowing haze, and marvellously haunting performances from the entire cast, “Enemy” quite handily manages to stimulate, stump, and shock. With Hitchcock-like suspense, an atmosphere akin to classic David Lynch, and a skin-crawling metamorphosis that would make Kafka proud. “Enemy” stands not only as a sufficiently fulfilling thriller, but a nerve-shredding, confident, worthy art-house piece in the ranks of its inspirations.

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A flick that’s as much an exercise in problem solving as it is a piece of art, a lot like a puzzle or a mathematical game of deciphering a pattern or code. “Enemy” is about as complex as they come, never ceasing to challenge the viewer with a barrage of variables, twists and turns. It’s an equation comprised of shapeless pieces that intertwine to form a web on the grandest scale.

Based on “The Double” by Jose Saramago, “Enemy” was adapted for the screen by Javier Gullon and directed by the aforementioned Dennis Villeneuve. Shot on location in Toronto, this modern-day fable stars Jake Gyllenhaal in a dual role, Melanie Laurent, and Sarah Gadon.

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Adam (Gyllenhaal) is a history professor who is slowly becoming more and more disinterested in the world and people surrounding him. Even his girlfriend Mary (Laurent) can’t seem to hold his attention outside of the bedroom in his gloomy, run-down apartment. On a recommendation, Adam decides to pick up a local film at a nearby video store, perhaps a last attempt at salvaging his humanity. Later that night, while Mary sleeps alone in the next room, Adam has reluctantly become entranced by the low-budget flick. Then, while lost in a deep sleep, Adam has a dream heavily influenced by the movie, so much so that Adam begins to see himself in the picture. Awakening frightened, he revisits the film to find that it wasn’t himself he was seeing in his dream, but an extra that resembles himself exactly. Stunned, Adam becomes obsessed with his look-alike and eventually searches out his identical being.

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Anthony (Gyllenhaal) is an aspiring actor who is expecting his first child with his lovely wife Helen (Gadon). The two are looking for a fresh start after some turbulence early on in their relationship. Having recently moved to a respectable apartment, one could conclude that this new place of residence is a symbol of their relationship’s rejuvenation. One day, Helen receives a bizarre phone call from someone who sounds exactly like her husband Anthony. As days pass, the phone calls persist, which Anthony now handles in private. Letting speculation get the best of her, Helen demands Anthony reveal the nature of the calls. Anthony informs his wife that it is nothing but a bizarre man claiming to be a big fan of his films. Fully aware of the trust issues his marriage has sustained, Anthony decides to keep the true nature of the calls from his wife, that Adam is on the other end, clamouring to be Anthony’s doppelgänger.

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I know it may appear as if I’ve somewhat spoiled the film with the previous summarization, but I assure you, the information I’ve provided you with is merely the premise. I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of “Enemy” and that’s the way it’ll have to stay in order for you, the reader, to thoroughly experience and discover its depths. That being said, I can tell you that what follows will undoubtedly leave a fair amount of viewers on the opposite side of the fence. “Enemy” is a complex, intricate beast that’ll leave you begging for a second viewing. It’ll keep you up at night, reading, thinking about every aspect of its veiled misdirection, dialogue, and symbolism. You won’t be able to view “Enemy” and then simply sit it on a shelf, it requires ambitious follow-up.

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While I can’t reveal “Enemy’s” secrets, I can describe to you Dennis Villeneuve’s mastery is on display throughout this film. However, if I’m to be honest, this is the first film of Villeneuve’s I’ve seen. That being said, after viewing “Enemy,” I can assure you his catalogue is on my radar.

Now, what I found most impressive is Villeneuve’s ability to shift seamlessly from the large-scale stuff down to the minuscule. Through his lens, we span across a luminous smog and an achromatic pallet that has Toronto looking menacing and infinite. Then, a few shots down the road, we’re locked, engulfed in a dark and dreary apartment, watching two men and their identities crumble under what defines them, or lack there of. Villeneuve somehow manages to create this rapidly rising claustrophobia through intimate settings and predicaments, like travelling on a streetcar or partaking in compassionate sex. A vulnerable helplessness, inescapability that gives us a distinct vantage point to our own importance and insignificance that is truly remarkable. Without question some of the finest camerawork and direction I’ve ever seen.

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It’s always a visual treat for viewers when an actor tackles multiple roles in a film, and quite a challenge for the one who has undertaken it. Still, I feel most filmmakers and actors haven’t fully capitalized on the double premise…until now.

On one hand, sitting on a motorcycle sporting a devilishly handsome and intimidating beard while wearing a black leather jacket, we have Jake Gyllenhaal’s Anthony. A cold, pretentious, opportunistic predator bordering narcissistic. Conversely, lounging around his crappy apartment, unkempt, grading papers, and forcing himself on his girlfriend, we have Gyllenhaal’s Adam. A pessimist and reluctant narcissist, who’s soul just might still be salvageable. Two vastly different characters comprised of a single man’s brilliance. Gyllenhaal, who’s wowed us in the past with “Donnie Darko” and “Source Code,” gives a career defining performance…twice. Even if you find yourself flabbergasted, obsessed, or just plain infuriated by “Enemy,” there’s no denying Gyllenhaal’s triumph.

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The characters of Mary and Helen are a level of bizarre all on their own, mirroring one another, although not to the same extent of Adam and Anthony. Melanie Laurent (Mary), arguably portraying the sanest character in the film, does what she can with her limited dialogue and screen time. Had Mary been more crucial to the story instead of merely being an oblivious pawn, Laurent would have been allowed to stun as we should expect. Nonetheless, Laurent is as radiant and invested as always. Sarah Gadon (Helen) has drawn possibly the most intriguing character in the film, which I cannot explain due to spoilers. Regardless, this gorgeous rising star continues to improve and hone her craft while building a very respectable repertoire.   Immaculate performances by the entire ensemble, through and through.

Featuring a transfixing musical score, stunning visuals, immensely impressive performances, and dread that reaches its pinnacle at the terrifying ending. “Enemy” is a taut, entertaining, slow-burning thriller that we’ll be discussing and revisiting for a good, long while.

Enemy: 9 out of 10.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

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Director and writer Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a peculiar film regarding vampirism. And, as it most commonly is when submitting oneself to a piece from Jarmusch’s body of work, it’s a tough beast to tame. It tackles all the vampiric themes one would expect, undying love, an unquenchable thirst for healthy vitals, eternal existence, and so on. Yet, it’s the fresh, atypical, achromatic reality he brings to the sub-genre that sets “Only Lovers Left Alive” apart from the pack. Jarmusch manages to create and capture these blood-sucker trademarks with such a genuine, almost non-fictional authenticity that the ideal of a vampire transcends the fantastical realm into our own.

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“Only Lovers Left Alive” is subtle, self-referential, inter-textual, allusive, and most importantly, intelligent. Exploding with an entrancing musical score, gloomy visuals, and an engulfing atmosphere. But perhaps what’s most surprising is the dark, sly, morbid sense of humour present throughout the film’s runtime. For example, our anti-hero consistently likens the general human population to “zombies” and our species technological advances have never seemed so insignificant. Caught somewhere between the complexity of electricity and the emergence of the smartphone, there’s no shortage of witty jabs at our futuristic gadgets and their controlling, outdated prowess.

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Not stopping at our achievements, “Only Lovers Left Alive” continues to shine a harsh light on humankind’s shortcomings. With the persistent bashing of our kinds stupidity for dismissing and cutting those down who propel us forward, those who think differently…like scientists, musicians, and philosophers…humanities faults are never far from prominent here. We’ve even managed to contaminate our own blood, which doesn’t sit well with those who bare fangs, as it poisons them, leading to an arduously slow, painful death. Forcing those who want to stay healthy into obtaining uncontaminated blood from a secure, reliable source, which is always risky. There’s symbolism oozing from Jarmusch’s latest, one must only look.

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I can see how being alive for centuries, watching mankind progress at a crawl, might be frustrating. Hell, I can barely stand where we are currently or even look at where we’re heading without buckling…but I digress. There’s a beautiful theory, apart from Einstein’s Theory of Entanglement in “Only Lovers Left Alive,” comparing blood and water as the basis for all life and sustenance, a kind of eternal currency, that’s absolutely transcendent. Make sure to gather all the pieces scattered throughout the dialogue to form the thesis when watching.

“Only Lovers Left Alive” has so much to offer, it needn’t be carried by its two leads, Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. Nevertheless, both Tom and Tilda can’t help but put the film on their backs. Hiddleston as Adam, a modern rock god, mopping around a gloomy apartment, suicidal, experimenting, and helplessly in love. Swinton as Eve, sniffing about for fresh sustenance, full of wisdom and love, “ruthless, brutal” as Hiddleston’s Adam claims in the film. Both look so lovely, calm, but underneath storms brew and an evil dormant. Hiddleston, who continues his rapid ascent to the mainstream, is nothing short of marvellous and Swinton matches her co-star stride for stride. Never faltering under the obscurity, complexity, and weight of “Only Lovers Left Alive,” Swinton and Hiddleston run the show.

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Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffery Wright, and William Hurt round out the cast and provide a much needed chaotic, grounded, human element to their cold-blooded, nocturnal co-stars and the film as a whole. Apart from Wasikowska, the supporting staff doesn’t garner much screen time, yet fulfill their limited duties with a very predictable capability. There’s a fear radiating from the supporting ensemble that the viewer can sympathize with, a need to tread lightly when in the company of these mysterious, stoic beings, which we can abide by. They’re never out of place or speak unless spoken to. Their performances are hypnotic, fragile, terrified.

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Not simply a story with characters and structure, rather, Jim Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” has a point to make. Its unnerving, smart, haunting, and beautiful, a toxic cocktail that tastes too good to put down.

Only Lovers Left Alive: 8.5 out of 10.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

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I’ve seen a fair amount of messed up flicks in my day, and at their most unrestrained and ruthless, I’ve been forced to wash my eyes and brain for a good long while just to rid myself of the imagery. You know, the deformed bodies, a woman being skinned alive, inhumane harm to children and pregnant women, all of it, and what I’ve listed isn’t even the half of it. So, as a fan of this material, a few friends and fellow site-runners urged me for quite some time to watch “Dead Man’s Shoes.” A film I’ve heard in passing that supposedly is extremely difficult to watch, while remaining fairly potent and eerily memorable. Sounds like it’s right up my alley, don’t you think? Yet for some reason, I never, ever got around to watching it. So, I continued along with my life as usual, until The Cinematic Katzenjammer‘s Secret Santa Swap popped up again and I, of course, signed up for a second helping. And wouldn’t you know it, “Dead Man’s Shoes” was the film selected for me!

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What did I think of it, you ask? Well, it’s certainly not an easy flick to sit through, that’s for sure, but for significantly different reasons then the aforementioned brutality. “Dead Man’s Shoes” follows Richard (Considine) and his mentally impaired brother Anthony (Kebbell) as they move around the countryside, taking refuge in abandoned farms and places of this nature. Richard, a respectable war-vet, has returned to his hometown after completing his service. Through a series of flashbacks, the reason for Richard’s return is revealed. His brother Anthony, had been continuously abused, taken advantage of, and forced to perform unspeakable acts of inhumanity by a group of drug-dealers, who were supposedly his friends. Richard has vowed to take revenge against anyone who has caused his brother any harm, using any means necessary. The assailants arm themselves to defend against Richard’s onslaught, and soon a war of wits and ferocity unfolds.

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I mentioned briefly that “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an uncomfortable film to undertake, and I stand by that statement. That being said, the limits differ greatly than those of pure violence and brutality. What makes this film so cringe-inducing is its disconcerting nature. From the moment it begins, there’s this overwhelming feeling that something bad has happened, a constant calm before the storm. As this hums persistently in the background, the despicable actions of those with no morals, compassion, and humanity slowly unveils itself. The crud, this dirt crawls in between ever crack on your skin and under your nails and is hard to dismiss. Then there’s this gloomy atmosphere that’s impossible to shake that overhangs the entirety of this film. This is due in large part to director Shane Meadows wonderful use of the serene, shady countryside, troubling skies, and contrasting characters that are at one moment merciless, then endearing.

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As impressive as the effect created and reactions provoked by this film and it’s makers on such an ultra-low budget is, the real stunner is the performances. “Dead Man’s Shoes” features the tragically underused and under appreciated Paddy Considine in the lead role and a remarkable turn by Toby Kebbell as Anthony. Everything Considine does is authentic, scarily genuine. The camerawork is always panning his eyes and for good reason. When you gaze into his, everything his character feels is transferred through his simple squints, tears, and deathly cold stares. As for Kebbell, his portrayal is anything but textbook. I’m not really sure how to word this. Kebbell acting as a mentally handicapped, sweet, real, compassionate being is one of the most sublime I’ve ever witnessed. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more uncanny, driven portrayal.

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The impression left and mindset gained from “Dead Man’s Shoes” are permanent and irreplaceable. The performances are something to marvel and the premise is unique and something that has never been this effectively used previously, at least to my knowledge. All this being said, the story is quite predictable, for me anyway, and the visuals, camerawork a little shaky from time to time. However, these flaws are minuscule when compared to the grand scale of the film.

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Dead Man’s Shoes: 7.5 out of 10.

Open Grave (2013)

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Very rarely do I claim a film to be brilliant, even rarer is said “brilliant” film found in the horror genre, yet stranger things have happened…I mean, every now and again we all need a little extraordinary, right? Now, with that in mind, I’m sad to report that “Open Grave” is not one of these rarities…wait, wait, stay with me here. That being said, it wasn’t a large drop-off, in fact, the film did brush brilliance with its fingertips. Granted, those instances are few and far between, nevertheless, those sparse moments of contact are remarkable. Conversely though, it’s these precise segments of success that alert the audience to the slightly above mediocre scenes in between and the dizzying heights the film should have achieved. There’s no question that “Open Grave” is a step-above the genre’s usually contrived efforts, it’s just not canon material, more minor cult-hit. It’ll appease enthusiasts, like myself, enough for the first watch, but won’t last too long afterwords I’m afraid.

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PLOT:

We join a man, awakening in a mass grave, stiff, dehydrated, and completely vacant of any past recollections, even his own name. After being helped out of the pit by a woman whom he does not recognize, the man stumbles upon a house filled with other survivors who also don’t remember a thing. It’s not long before the group is at each others throats as they all try to get a hold of who they are, where they are, and whom amongst them brought this chaos upon them.

Reading the plot summary beforehand was very misleading, and quite frankly a mistake on my part. Which is why the best advice I can give you going into “Open Grave” is to read as little as possible about the film itself and its story. And I just realized how contradictory that sentence is because you are already reading this article. Don’t worry though, nothing is spoiled, if anything It’ll enhance and enlighten your viewing. Now, the story is much more elaborate and intricate then the summary leads on. When it concluded, I was blown away at how clever and well-thought out the story actually is, to be honest, it knocked me off my feet. Which is probably why upon its finale I was really let-down by its execution and scattered nature. I don’t want to spoil the actual progression of events and what they lead to, but I will let you know that it’s a lot more unique and complex. I can whole-heartedly say that they story is the best thing about “Open Grave.”

This scene was very disturbing...

This scene was very disturbing…

Writers Eddie and Chris Borey aren’t entirely at fault, they share the blame with director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego, at least in my opinion anyway. Again, it’s not the story that falters per se, it’s more the length and layout. I mean, there could have been so much more added to explain and broaden the experience. In all fairness, aside from it jumping around too often, there isn’t much wrong with the placement and performance. It’s simply the bouncing from scene to scene that’s just too disconcerting to overcome, in my opinion at least. Now, apart from this grievous error however, the direction is fairly solid. The gloomy, tense, overwhelming atmosphere is engulfing and the sense of cluelessness is heart-wrenchingly abundant. The visuals aren’t as strong as they needed to be for a film with this kind of premise and outcome, but they get the job done. The score is sufficient, much like the rest of “Open Grave’s” facets, it serves its purpose and not much else.

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I need to be fair to myself and to the film for a moment. I need to stress how hard it is to write a review for this film. The plot, its twists and turns are too much of what make “Open Grave” great and I don’t want to spoil them. It feels as if I’m reviewing half a movie and that I’m not giving the film the credit it deserves, so keep that in mind when weighing my opinion, but I digress…

Had the film been deprived of its star Sharlto Copley, it’s a safe bet that I would never have given it a second glance. Nonetheless, “Open Grave” found itself the visceral, invested, significantly talented up-and-comer it desired and locked him in, effectively sinking its hooks into my watch-list, as I’m sure it did to countless others. The film also features performances from the illustrious Thomas Kretschmann and Erin Richards.

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Copley once again dives head first into his role and the audience reaps the benefits. Copley somehow manages to turn his character into this two-sided being who is truly capable of anything, good or evil, which is beyond frightening. It’s quite masterful actually how he channels the motivations and emotions from one of his characters possible paths and then turns right around and utilizes it for the other half’s benefit. Look, I’m probably a little bias and we’d be here all day if I continue singling out every single thing Copley does amazingly. His performance really put the film over-theatop, well, at least enough so that it trickles down the side of cup, so to speak. Kretschmann continues to do what he does best, which is being one of the best and most recognized character actor’s alive today. Apart from Copley and Kretschmann, the acting left a lot to be desired and that just can’t happen, especially in a film that’s so ensemble-driven.

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The truth is, “Open Grave” exceeded my expectations, but that being said, they weren’t that high to begin with. The story is phenomenal and Copley is stunning as usual. They are let down by the choppiness and inexperience surrounding them and the final product radiates this inconsistency. But again, that being said, it’s better than a majority of the genre’s efforts, combine that with an enthralling story and Copley’s fine performance and it’s enough to make “Open Grave” recommended viewing…Seriously, the story is what makes this worth the watch alone…

Open Grave: 8 out of 10.