In record time, the subspecies of horror film known as “found footage” was done seemingly to death. In contrast to a staged “mockumentary” like This Is Spinal Tap or Woody Allen’s Zelig, this term most commonly refers to a movie purporting to have caught supernatural or other scary events on camera, and the footage assembled by unknown parties after some grim fate befell the characters depicted. Think of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, and Paranormal Activity. Although features like The Last Exorcism, Grave Encounters, Project X, Chronicle and Evidence have proven that the found footage format has better creative uses than staging cheap haunted house tricks and generally inducing headaches, the gimmick invariably becomes tiresome by the end of a feature length film. It requires too many broken rules of perspective and visual storytelling to last out the running time. All in all, found footage seems best suited to shorter films.
This is the idea behind V/H/S an experimental project with now two installments to its name, and the potential for many more. A program of short films in anthology form (hearkening to the memory of films like Creepshow), V/H/S/2 boasts more energy, more cleverness, and a higher grade of grim entertainment than its passable parent. Opting for economy of form and maximum punch, the movie focuses all its energy on twisting a tired, easily dismissed moviemaking trick in new, exciting, thoroughly unsettling directions. Continue reading →
At one point in Man Of Steel, a young Clark Kent, wrestling with the overwhelming onset of his superpowers, laments to his mother that the world is too big for him. “Then make it small,” replies Ma Kent. This is not one of the film’s best scenes, but the lesson could have been useful. Director Zack Synder, as well as writers Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (of the Dark Knight saga) know a lot about spectacle and scale and heroes and villains, but not one of them seems to understand “making it small” as a practical storytelling strategy.
Given the amount of money and creative freedom that these men probably had at their fingertips for a new Superman project, it would be hard for anyone to resist the temptation to pack the movie as full as possible of absolutely everything. Man Of Steel is simply too much, swaddling about seventy minutes of outstanding Superman material in eighty more of muddled narrative and extraneous action climaxes.
You will be pleased to know that by 2022, America has been fixed. Violent crime is nearly nonexistent, as is unemployment. The economy is back on a boom. A governing body called the New Founding Fathers – never fully described, but evidently a successful compromise between radical high church and totalitarian state – has issued a directive under which once a year, for a twelve-hour period, virtually no act is illegal. By allowing those so inclined to commit any theft, murder, torture or other atrocity upon fellow citizens during this period, “The Purge” dispenses with the stress, rage and violent tendencies of the entire nation in a single night.
As dystopian high concepts go, this is an especially promising one. It allows for a polarized society in which half the population spend the year preparing defenses, and the other half build deadly arsenals with the same eagerness as those who devote months to making the perfect Halloween costume. It operates on the chilling notion that you are never completely safe, even from those you think you know best. It sets the stage for a moral wrestling match between the common good and the indulgence of humanity’s darkest, sickest parts.
Variations on the key themes of The Purge have already worked for films as diverse as Soylent Green, They Live, Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, The Running Man, and Series 7: The Contenders. Failing to break new ground is not a sin to be counted against The Purge. However, its scope is so narrow, and its message so shrill and forced, that it cannot measure up to its potential as a landmark thriller. Continue reading →
It may help to know beforehand that Louis Leterrier, director of Now You See Me, is also the man behind the first two Transporter movies, the remake of Clash Of The Titans, and the latest version of The Incredible Hulk. In other words, his reputation to date hinges on vast amounts of visual spectacle, geared toward the parts of the brain that see fast-moving things and cause the body to gasp with glee. The parts that reason, appreciate coherence, and savor subtlety have been left mostly out of the equation so far.
Now, suddenly, Leterrier has directed a script with nearly as much going on beneath the surface as upon it. Nearly, I repeat. Now You See Me is still a chocolate-frosted treat for the lower brain, but the cleverness accompanying all the flash and sizzle is a welcome surprise. Continue reading →