Martyrs (2008)

Martyrs posterOne of the defining films of the New French Extremity movement, Martyrs, is a brutal endurance test that is not even remotely concerned with appealing to mass audiences or casual horror fans. Inspired in part by American Torture Porn films of the time like Hostel and Saw, writer/director Pascal Laugier has also credited the severe depression he was experiencing at the time he wrote this for its incredibly dark and nihilistic tone. While the raw, visceral depictions of suffering on display mean that Martyrs easily earns its Extreme Cinema stripes, the more important question is, of course, how well it actually works as a film.

The movie opens with a young girl, Lucie, who is bloodied and clearly abused, escaping from a building in an industrial area and running screaming down the street. She is subsequently rescued and raised in an orphanage but the bulk of the film takes place fifteen years later. Now, adult Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï) aided by her best friend Anna (Morjana Alaoui) is hell-bent on seeking revenge on those who abused her and believes she has finally found the culprits.

Since one of the best parts of this film is how unconventional and unpredictable the plot is I am going to give an official **Spoiler Warning** here for the remainder of the review. This is definitely a film that is best watched with fresh eyes and if you haven’t taken the time to watch it in the nine years since it’s release you should absolutely stop what you are doing and immediately experience it. As far as Extreme Cinema goes, this one is essential viewing.

Many films depict violence, but what sets Martyrs apart from most is how effectively it depicts suffering. Lucie herself is besieged by a demonic woman, a literal embodiment of her emotional anguish who repeatedly attacks her in viscous, horrifying ways. martyrs2Although represented as a separate entity, the film does eventually make it clear that she is a manifestation of Lucie’s internal pain and Lucie’s desire to be rid of her is the central driving force for her to murder those responsible for her abuse.

Another example of exquisitely represented suffering, comes in the form of the severely abused woman that Anna finds in the secret facility under the house. Seeing Anna trying to help someone whose life has been reduced to a state of severe and prolonged agony is perhaps the most upsetting part of this extremely disturbing film. Even though many films feature kills that are graphic and gory, the fact that Laugier dwells on the aftermath of extended suffering (both physical and emotional) makes the scenes in this film far more effectively disturbing.

It should also be noted that, in and of itself, graphic, brutal violence in a film is not necessarily something that is disturbing to see. When it’s done cheaply and poorly it ends up creating the opposite effect and comes across as laughable and silly. For violent scenes to deliver the proper impact on the viewer they have to be well done and the expert craftsmanship of this film is exactly why it ranks up there with disturbing masterpieces like A Serbian Film and Salo. This is due in large part to the incredible cast, every one of which down to the most minor parts delivers absolutely flawless performances. Laugier clearly understood that, regardless of how talented your leads are, amateur acting from ancillary characters can completely shatter the illusion of reality that has been so painstakingly crafted.

Another major reason that the violent scenes are so effectively disturbing is because Laugier wisely relies on expertly made practical effects rather than CGI. The result is a film that was not only shocking when it was made but still holds up perfectly nearly a decade later, and will for years to come. martyrs 1This is all within the structure of a brilliantly crafted script, which boldly bucks the conventions of a standard narrative, to keep you on your toes as the unpredictable plot develops. It even goes as far as (remember, spoiler alert) shifting protagonists halfway through, a risky move that completely pays off. The script also features one of the best sucker-punches in cinema history when the normal, affluent family is brutally gunned down by Lucie, seemingly out of nowhere. This is an outstanding example of a filmmaker carefully establishing a sense of safety and normalcy for the viewer, only to shatter it in the most jarring way.

As well written as this film is though, there is a glaring issue with the script that absolutely should have been resolved prior to shooting. After Anna meets Lucie at the house where she has just murdered an entire family that she believes was responsible for her torture, the two women don’t leave. I understand how from a plot perspective it was important that they remain in the house, but I fucking wish Laugier had devised a solid, logical reason for them to stay. It just stands to reason that anyone committing a quadruple homicide would try to get the fuck out of Dodge as quickly as possible and not, ya know, hang out, make phone calls…..take naps. It’s a baffling oversight in an otherwise incredible screenplay and really the only significant flaw with the whole production.

martyrs3There is just so much to unpack here, especially when it comes to the secret society; their quest for transcendent knowledge through extreme suffering, the casual way they inflict violence like it’s a routine job, and of course the brilliant end when the matriarch is so rattled by knowledge of what is actually awaiting us in death, that she takes her own life. Suffice to say, this film is a unique, complex and exquisitely crafted piece of highly disturbing art that ranks among the most brilliant horror films ever created.

4-5-stars-red

Twelve Pole (2017)

Twelve PoleA good opening scene that grabs the viewers attention is very important for setting the tone of your film, especially in a horror movie. Conversely, when the opening of your film is so misguided that the audience is already rolling their eyes at minute one, you’re not off to a great start. Unfortunately, this is the case for Twelve Pole, which makes an incredibly lame attempt to be edgy by opening the film with a voice-over, warning the viewer about how graphic the movie is. Problem is, actual warnings like that aren’t a thing! Legitimately hardcore films don’t bother with such gimmicks, and for a film that doesn’t even qualify as Extreme Cinema, they’ve got some nerve pretending that a warning is required. Still, you can’t judge an entire film by a single misstep in the beginning, so let’s see how well the film itself holds up.

In a plot that can be best summed up as “Redneck Amityville Horror” a group of good ol’ boys purchase a dilapidated house in order to fix it up themselves and sell it for a profit. The fact that a violent crime had been previously committed on the property means that the house is a real steal, but naturally, it isn’t long before the cursed property starts affecting the men in strange and horrifying ways.

The first thing I have to say about this film is that at least everybody tries, which is not something to be taken for granted. Being that it’s a micro-budget film, the acting is bound to fall on the wrong side of realistic, but there is at least a sense that the cast is fully committing. I also appreciate that, while it may not be the most ground-breaking concept, at least it doesn’t take place in the fucking woods, and the story itself is something that is well suited to a single primary location and a small central cast.

There is certainly nothing wrong with a classic haunted house set-up, and the fact that certain characters start behaving in drastically different ways after being in the house too long, is a time-tested concept that is effectively unsettling. In fact, the overall concept is a very solid one, and basing a film around real-world anxieties, such as buying a house, is a smart, logical setting for a horror film. Unfortunately, Twelve Pole also makes some very illogical choices, such as having two of the characters spend the weekend in the abandoned house to guard it (!) until the locks are changed. That’s also not a thing! Why would you need to guard an abandoned house that sat there untouched for years and doesn’t even have any of your stuff in it yet?

There is one key area that this film does really deliver in though, and that is the gore. While this may not be an example of Extreme Cinema, there is no denying that it is plenty bloody. That, in and of itself, isn’t always a wholly positive trait in micro-budget films, but what sets Twelve Pole apart from many of it’s contemporaries is that it pulls off the effects very well. From a gloriously realistic hanging to ripped out throats, graphically broken limbs, barbwire strangling, disembowelments, and so much more, the uncompromising violence is by far the best part of this experience.

Since the gruesome parts of this movie are so well done and many of the scenes in between are weighed down with lackluster static shots and awkward, stilted dialogue, I honestly feel that this would be far better if it was trimmed down to a short film. At 20-30 minutes Twelve Pole could be a visceral, kick-ass ride that grabs the audience by the throat and gets right down to business. As it is, the good parts are there, but the lack of convincing characters and a less than compelling plot make it hard to justify waiting for them.

*Reviewer’s Note: After my review posted, I was contacted by the film’s director, Sam Hodge, who let me know that he will be removing the opening warning from the final version of the film, which I think will be a substantial improvement.

2-stars-red

Murder Made Easy (2017)

Murder Made EasyEstablishing the proper tone for a film can be very difficult to get just right, especially when your film incorporates elements of black comedy as well as horror. When it works it can be a very entertaining blend of genres that properly balances both, and when it doesn’t, it quickly devolves into a confused mess that serves neither. Today we’ll see if Murder Made Easy is able to strike the right balance with its modern take on an Agatha Christie style murder mystery.

A year after her husband Neil’s death, Joan (Jessica Graham) and her good friend Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) invite several of their friends over for dinner to discuss and remember Neil. Of course, as the title clearly suggests, there are far more nefarious elements at play here. That’s about as specific as I can get because with a film like this, twists and revelations are a big part of the central experience.

This film definitely does wear its theatrical influences proudly on it’s sleeve, even name-checking Mousetrap several times throughout. In fact, the experience of watching it was very reminiscent of watching a play, and with its heavy emphasis on dialogue and single location, this is a film that could very easily be adapted into a stage production. To be clear, this is not a negative, and the superb acting and engaging plot make use of the single location in the same manner that great theater productions do. MME pic 1

Since theater itself, and in particular a specific production of Mousetrap, are integral to the plot, the centralized location actually works in service of the film to help establish the desired tone and feel. Director David Palamaro is clearly shooting for a specific aesthetic and is able to capture the look and feel of a classy murder mystery incredibly well. The use of music here is spot-on and the different elements of horror, thriller and black comedy are well balanced to create a cohesive experience. Well, mostly…

MME pic 2While I can see why the overall plot itself was structured the way it was, the very device of having sequential guests show up does make much of the general plot rather predictable, and even a bit repetitive. Fortunately, as more of the larger story is revealed most of the characters have enough substance and variety to keep the interactions entertaining throughout…..with the notable exception of Cricket (Emilia Richeson). While most of the other characters are represented as slightly heightened archetypes, Cricket is full-blown New Age stereotype and her segment is the film’s most overt (and misguided) attempt at comedy, and a clear low point in the overall film itself. Had she simply been rewritten as a slightly more realistic character, her segment would have worked far better.

Regardless, this is a very entertaining film overall that knows what it’s going for and embraces it wholeheartedly. Well acted and enjoyable to watch, this is one dinner party you won’t want to be late for.

3-stars-red

The Small Woman in Grey (2017)

Small Woman in GreyAhhh the woods, the go to, ready-made set that is the favorite location for countless indie horror films. I understand the practicality of using this as a primary location, but aspiring filmmakers would do well to keep this advice in mind before they start lugging their cameras into the wilderness: If you are going to set your teen-massacring film in the woods, as we’ve seen countless times before, you’d better bring your fucking A game and show us a very creative and interesting twist on the most tired premise in horror. Otherwise, don’t bother showing up. So, even though it’s utilizing the most played out concept in horror cinema does The Small Woman in Grey elevate itself above the masses with a quality script and innovative filmmaking? Well, let’s discuss.

The film centers around a group of teens who go into the woods to party. Coincidentally, they happen to run into a man who got separated from the rest of his broad daylight ghost hunting group (!) and is conveniently able to tell them all about the ghost that allegedly haunts the woods. Predictably, it’s not long before members of the group start dying mysteriously, and it’s up to the remaining survivors to try and figure out why before it’s too late.

So, clearly writer/director Andrew Sean Eltham-Byers wasn’t looking to break any new ground with the concept here. But, even a film about (yawn) teens partying in the woods until a mysterious stranger imparts plot exposition can still be worthwhile if the characters are well-crafted and compelling. Well, that’s unfortunately not the case here because while the characters aren’t the overt caricatures we sometimes see in these kinds of films, they are still completely insufferable and uninteresting. The fact that this is a micro-budget film means that the painfully amateur acting is somewhat forgivable….but the generic, plodding script is not.

Still, I’ve seen plenty of films that may not have had the most innovative plot but still managed to deliver a high level of entertainment value through well-crafted kills scenes. Sadly, this is where Eltham-Byers commits the most egregious cinematic sin and opts for bargain-basement CGI effects over practical ones. Shame! Shame! Shaaaaame! Seriously, this is a decision that I can’t even wrap my head around. I mean, even CGI effects on multi-million dollar productions often end up residing in the dreaded uncanny valley, but when your budget is next to nothing, the chance of pulling off convincing CGI is about the same. It’s a lot smarter move to scale back your set pieces to what you can effectively execute so you don’t end up with cartoony graphics that look like they were made on a home computer in the 90s.

Okay, this film has a lot of self-inflicted wounds but there were still some aspects that I did genuinely appreciate. For instance, it was refreshing to see a film where the primary romantic subplot involved a homosexual couple but was presented as casually as a heterosexual relationship, which was a nice, progressive touch. There are also a few times that the film was effectively creepy, but they were the all too infrequent times that Eltham-Byers opted for the subtler, less-is-more approach. Any scenes where the ghost was on full display in all her CGI glory were just awful, but the couple of times she was limited to a sinister voice and a shadow crossing the scene were (not surprisingly) far more effective.

Between the terrible pop music, worse special effects, lame script and unironic use of montages there isn’t really anything about this film to make it worth recommending. It is clear that everyone involved put a lot of effort into the production, but if Eltham-Byers had spent a little more time on the script and effects and a little less time on figuring out how to make text bubbles pop up on screen then perhaps it would’ve paid off with a better finished product.

1-star-red

Inside (2007)

InsideThe New French Extremity movement created some incredible and daring films in the early 2000s, one of the most notable being Inside. This film along with Irreversible, Martyrs, Frontier(s) and many others defined the film movement that would give us some of the most extreme, taboo shattering films ever made. Much like The Human Centipede, Inside is a film in which the very concept is enough to make most people’s skin crawl. That alone makes it a must see for Extreme Cinema fans but the most important question is still “is there substance beneath the surface”?

The film starts with pregnant Sarah (Alysson Paradis) getting into a horrific car accident that takes her husband’s life, and things only get worse for her from there. Four months later, the night before she is to be induced, a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) comes to her house with a single-minded purpose……to cut Sarah open and steal her baby.

The two keys things that all of the notable films of the New French Extremity have in common is that they feature gruesome brutality and are very well made. That’s an important distinction to make because if they were a collection of poorly-acted films with laughable special effects then they wouldn’t have been noteworthy in the first place. The fact that these films are so well executed, not only makes them far more enjoyable, but also makes the extreme violence something that is genuinely disturbing rather than laughable.

Inside definitely holds up on that front, with gorgeous shots, brilliant lighting design, and realistic, visceral gore. All of the actors involved do a great job, but Paradis and Dalle are exceptional and both deliver harrowing performances that take the film to the next level. I also enjoyed the simple yet innovative concept that manages to keep the tension high even with a small cast and one central location. It all culminates in an ending that is an absolutely perfect way to cap off this film.

Now, this film does have a great, tightly paced script that is very well written overall. However, there were still a few illogical moments that should have been tightened up before shooting. For instance, it seems very unlikely that a cop would bring a random perp he arrested with him into a house, where a potentially dangerous suspect was lurking, and give him a gun. This doesn’t make any sense, considering the fact that he could have easily just left him in the car. But it makes even less sense to tell the victim to wait alone in her bedroom while he turns the power back on, instead of just bringing her the fuck out of the house! In both cases these are oversights that could have been easily remedied with some logical justification that could have still achieved the same end result.

Regardless, the couple of minor script issues can be forgiven in an overall incredible film, and the fact that the film is so good in general, is actually what makes them stand out. If you are a fan of extreme cinema and you somehow haven’t seen this film yet, drop what you’re doing and fucking see it because this is daring, uncompromising cinema that must be seen to be believed.

4-stars-red

Baskin (2015)

BaskinWhen you think about the country of Turkey, ‘horror films’ probably isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind, but after the international success of Can Evrenol’s Baskin, that may be changing, at least a little. It certainly isn’t the first horror movie made in Turkey, but it is by far the most successful and just as A Serbian Film did in 2010, it puts an unexpected country into the international horror conversation. Based upon the 2013 short film of the same name, Baskin is a surreal and gruesome journey into a nightmarish world.

The central characters are a group of police officers who we first see hanging out in a small restaurant late at night, casually chatting about bestiality (!) and fucking trans hookers….like you do. After beating up the waiter and leaving, they receive a call for backup and head out to a decrepit house in the middle of nowhere, where they stumble upon a gruesome Satanic ritual and perhaps the gateway to Hell itself. Needless to say, shit starts to go south in a hurry.

The first thing that stands out about this film is how incredibly well shot it is. The cinematography is incredible by any standard but the fact that Evrenol was able to achieve such rich, gorgeous visuals in his first feature on a budget of only $350,000 is truly impressive. He also uses the surreal storyline to create some incredible set pieces such as the dream scene of Arda (Görkem Kasal) plunging into water and being rescued by giant hands. Most importantly though, the film is laden with grotesque imagery, genuinely unnerving set design, and gloriously brutal violence.

Beyond just the quality of the image itself, Evrenol also makes some smart stylistic choices that pay off very well. One of the most notable is the casting of visually striking character actors for some of the roles that give the film a surreal authenticity that you simply cannot replicate with latex. There are a few here, but the standout is, of course, the casting of Mehmet Cerrahoglu, who’s unique physical condition makes for one of the most memorable and interesting faces you will ever see on film.

The story itself is heavily imbued with dream logic and a surreal, almost Lynchian quality that gives the feeling of being trapped in a waking nightmare. Because of this, Baskin may require a few viewings to fully process it’s meaning but that’s okay because the twisted visuals and copious amounts of blood are entertaining enough to keep sick fucks (such as myself) coming back for more. Overall, a very interesting, unusual film that makes me excited to see what Evrenol (as well as Turkey as a whole) have in store for us in the future.

4-stars-red

Short Film Review: I Baked Him a Cake (2016) Duration: 5 min

I Baked Him a Cake - Official PosterCreating a short film that tells an interesting and compelling story within the span of minutes can be challenging. Shorter films don’t have to hold the audiences attention for as long but also have less time to develop the plot. In the case of I Baked Him a Cake, the running time of only five minutes requires that a lot of story is packed into a very short amount of time, so let’s see if director Vanessa lonta Wright is up for the challenge.

The first thing that I noticed with this film is that it’s very professionally shot and the opening scene sets the tone with some great high-contrast shots and excellent sound design. It also helps that the first shots are very engaging and leave you eager to see how it will play out. Of course, bad acting can instantly derail even the most interesting stories, especially when only two actors are involved. Luckily, in this case, both actresses do an excellent job with their respective roles and imbue the scenes with the realism, tension and underlying menace that is needed.

Everything here is competently done, so my only real complaint is that I feel like the film shies away from gore in some key places. Aside from the blood-soaked bathroom, we don’t really see any, and rather than having the opening scene represented with shadows, it would have been more effective to show a nice, graphic practical effect. I also felt that the ending was a bit abrupt and would have benefited from having a gruesome reveal to close it out instead. Obviously, these were stylistic choices made by the director, but unless there is a strong reason not to, it’s always best for horror films to really lean into the gore and violence, and it looks like this production had the means to do so.

It also could be that the film is deliberately open-ended in order to expand the story more with a future work. I’m hoping that the latter is the case, as there are a lot of questions about motivation and what happens next that would be very interesting to explore.

Thematically, the film brings up some interesting ideas such as how much influence a caretaker has over a child who must look to them to provide a sense of normality, even in a very abnormal situation. In the end, this is a short but sweet film that packs a surprising amount of emotion into its tiny runtime and actually made me feel for the character of the daughter quite a lot, which is not an easy feat to pull off in something that’s the length of two movie trailers. It also made me want to see more about what’s going on in these characters’ lives and look forward to hopefully seeing what Wright can do with a feature some day.

3-stars-red

Ichi the Killer (2001)

IchiBased upon the Manga of the same name, Ichi the Killer is one of controversial director Takashi Miike’s most well known (and most gruesome) works. Often found on lists of the most disturbing films of all time this is certainly not one for casual moviegoers who require a calm, numbing escape from reality. The numerous scenes of rape, graphic torture, and blood-spraying violence is sure to scare off all but the most hardened fans of Extreme Cinema. As always, the most important question becomes “is there more to this film than it’s graphic content or is it little more than a two hour exercise in shock value?” Well, let’s discuss.

When the head of the Anjo crime family goes missing it’s up to the ultra-sadistic chief enforcer Kakihara (Tadanobu Asano) to get to the bottom of what happened. As Kakihara begins his brutal investigation, he soon discovers that a mysterious man named Ichi (Nao Ohmori) may be the key to uncovering the fate of the boss. As the bodies begin to pile up, he also realizes that Ichi may also be the only one sadistic enough to prove a worthy challenger.

That’s the plot in very broad strokes but there is a lot more going on here. The storylines of Jijii (Shin’ya Tsukamoto), the head of a body disposal crew, Kaneko (Hiroyuki Tanaka) the disgraced policeman turned Yakuza gunman, and Karen (Paulyn Sun), the boss’ bilingual prostitute girlfriend, all factor heavily into the complex, interwoven story.

At the heart of any film, what really matters is how engaging the story that is being told is and how well it can sustain the viewers interest throughout the runtime. This is where Ichi the Killer really shines because, underneath the gruesome blood and violence, is an incredibly well-structured story that will hold your attention through fascinating and unpredictable twists and turns. As the story goes on, more and more details are revealed, as Miike masterfully unveils the backstory and character motivations in a natural and deliberate manner.

Even after you’ve unraveled the whole story the film remains highly rewatchable and I actually enjoyed it more upon the second viewing. This is in large part due to the highly skilled acting on display across the board, as well as the fascinating characters themselves. It’s always refreshing to see a film where there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” but rather a host of complex characters with a variety of motivations. Kakihara for one, is without a doubt one of the best and most realistic portrayals of a true sociopath that I have ever seen, a dead-eyed, asexual psycho who only enjoys pain and sees no value in human life. However, Ichi himself is the most interesting and unusual character, a craven, whimpering, coward in a superhero costume who unleashes reactionary bursts of ultraviolence when upset.

Since this is an Extreme Cinema film, the gore is naturally an important factor. In this regard the film delivers in many scenes where throats are slashed, limbs hacked off, and of course the infamous suspension hooks/boiling oil scene. These scenes are mostly well executed and feature cringe-inducing brutality, but there were a couple points where the effects missed the mark. The most glaring example of this was when a character is literally split in half and Miike opted to go for cartoony looking CGI, rather than a more realistic practical effect that would have created a far better illusion.

Ultimately, this is a very exciting, interesting film that will be highly enjoyable for those who enjoy challenging cinema and have had enough of Hollywood’s safe, bland, escapism bullshit. It’s also an excellent introduction to one of cinema’s great auteurs, Takashi Miike, whose work is fascinating, unpredictable and completely fucking uncompromising.

4-5-stars-red

Visitor Q (2001)

Visitor QIs it possible to have a film that features incest, necrophilia, rape and a whole lotta violence and still have it infused with genuinely heartfelt sentiment? If you’re maverick director Takashi Miike, the answer is abso-fucking-lutely! Just like other Extreme Cinema films like A Serbian Film or Irreversible, Visitor Q is not actually a horror movie but is an incredibly horrifying drama that goes way beyond the boundaries of most horror films in terms of content. So, how does all this shock value content actually marry with a sentimental core? Well, let’s discuss.

I do want to mention before I start, that while I’m not including spoilers, I do talk about quite a few plot points, so if you want to go in completely fresh, you’ll want to track down a copy and watch it first.

The story centers around the Yamazaki family who, it’s safe to say, has a couple of issues to work out. Patriarch Kiyoshi (Ken’ichi Endô) is obsessed with trying to create a documentary special for TV that takes an unflinching look at what’s really going on with Japanese teens today, especially in regards to bullying. His son Takuya (Jun Mutô) is the victim of severe bullying and takes his rage out on his mother Keiko (Shungiku Uchida) who in turn prostitutes herself to afford the heroin she needs to cope with the abuse. Kiyoshi’s teenage daughter Miki (Reiko Matsuo aka “Fujiko”) is a runaway turned to prostitution whom Kiyoshi interviews for his documentary in the opening scene of the film. After minimal convincing, Kiyoshi is soon fucking his own daughter, and that’s where this film starts. In the midst of all this extreme dysfunction, a mysterious man known only as The Visitor (Kazushi Watanabe) inserts himself into the family’s lives (after brutally attacking Kiyoshi with a rock several times) and begins to subtly influence them in surprising ways to achieve his goal.

What’s clear from the start, is that Miike set out to utterly shatter as many taboos as possible, which he does in a variety of bizarre, grotesque and extremely shocking ways. What’s perhaps most shocking to some, however, (although not surprising to fans of Miike’s work) is how well he is able to incorporate these extreme elements into a nuanced story about a disintegrating family unit. Rather than being gratuitous, the shocking scenes are an integral part of the story and work perfectly within the heightened reality of the world Miike has created.

Despite the fact that this film features a scene where a female character literally coats a room in a seemingly endless supply of her own breast milk, the part that struck me as most bizarre when I first saw it years ago, was the fact that people’s genitals are usually blurred out. Of course this has to do with Japan’s incomprehensible anti-obscenity law that allows graphic necrophilia, incest, and unsimulated oral sex, but draws the line at showing a flaccid penis. Being that Miike is known for pushing artistic boundaries and advocating for free speech, the extreme content in this film was no doubt a commentary on the ridiculous and arbitrary nature of censorship in Japan.

Overall, this is an incredibly interesting, engaging film with an unpredictable storyline that must be seen to be believed. For fans of Extreme Cinema this is an absolute must watch, especially if you enjoyed Miike’s more well-known films like Audition and Ichi the Killer. So gather your dysfunctional family around the TV and enjoy the most unique depiction of family dynamics you are ever going to see.

4-5-stars-red

Short Film Review: Coming Home (2017) Duration: 15 min 57 sec

ComingHomePosterWhite _July2017Even though it’s a tremendous amount of work creating a short film, it is undoubtedly a far more achievable task then attempting a feature, and a great way for indie filmmakers to hone their craft as they try to break into the business. Still, it comes with a unique set of challenges and being able to tell an interesting, concise, story in a very limited amount of time, is the most important (and difficult) of all. Given that most shorts are made independently, with very limited resources, there’s bound to be some rougher edges, but discerning audiences are willing to overlook such things as long as there is a compelling story at the core. So, does Coming Home have what it takes to be an indie short that’s worth your time? Well, lets discuss.

The story centers around a goth teen serial killer who goes by Craw (Nicholas Trivisonno) and a man named Richard (D. Duckie Rodriguez) who is trying to track him down with the help of his wife and son. The film also makes a point of explicitly letting you know that it takes place in 2003, which is curious since the date has no relevance to the plot and the entire story takes place within the same year. However, the conclusion is very open-ended and it’s possible that the date would be a factor in a sequel or if the short is adapted into a feature. I’m hoping that’s the case and the date wasn’t just put in to justify the tepid jokes about computers being “magic boxes that everyone will have someday” even though by 2003 they were already ubiquitous.

For a short film to work, it must get right into the action and immediately pull you in. Fortunately, Coming Home does just that and, right from the cold-open, sets up a world that you want to see more of. Director Shiva Rodriguez is able to strike just the right balance by naturally revealing the information you need without resorting to clunky exposition to move the story along. She is also able to imbue the story with enough mystery and intrigue to make the viewer want to watch until the very end to see how it will all play out.

Trivisonno gives a very solid performance as the emotionally damaged Craw, but a few of the other actors fall a bit short of being able to portray their characters with enough emotional resonance for the audience to properly suspend disbelief. Now, it was clearly a stylistic choice to have the first murder occur in the background out of focus, but it undercuts the power and emotional weight of the act if we don’t properly see it. If there is going to be violence in a film, it’s always better to show rather than imply unless there is a good reason to hold it back, such as keeping the identity of the killer secret, etc.

As I mentioned before, the conclusion of this film leaves the story open-ended but rather than feeling unfinished, it simply makes me want to see it continue. I don’t know if Rodriguez has plans to adapt this into something longer, or continue the story with another short, but I very much hope she does. At sixteen minutes, we’ve only scratched the surface of this world and the twisted characters in it, and when the credits rolled, all I could think was “I want to see what happens next”.

3-stars-red