Sunday, 29 September 2019

Martyrs (2008)

 Director: Pascal Laugier

Fifteen years after escaping captivity as a child Lucie, accompanied by her friend Anna, breaks into an apparently normal middle-class home and murders the mother, father and two teenage children in a brutal killing spree. We know that this family is somehow related to Lucie's earlier captivity, which was extremely abusive and traumatic, but we are left wondering what exactly was their role, and why they kept and abused a child. Was it sexual sadism? Some form of horrific parenting? The film offers few answers, and raises even more questions as Lucie sees visions of an emaciated human-like creature that appears intent on killing her. At the halfway mark of the story, something happens that completely changes our ideas about what we have just seen, and unleashes a rather different plot, one that is extremely difficult to watch in its brutality.

I am being hazy with the details of Martyrs as it is a film best going in not knowing what will happen, as I did. The film is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and offers no real let-up from the horror it presents to the audience: no moments of humour or levity. I imagine this could be too much for even some of the keenest of horror fans. It is bleak.

That being said, it is not just torture porn (though it veers close to it). The shifts in focus in the storytelling are well done, and the central mystery at the film's heart is seeded from the beginning. It is just that once you find out about it, it carries through its painful implications to the end. This is a glimmer of hope at the end that it is not all in vain, but it is a dim one.

If you have the nerves and stomach for it, this is an interesting horror film, one of the more smarter torturous stories out there. But it is uncomfortable, deeply unpleasant, and will remind you of the horrible things humans are capable of doing to one another. 

Sunday, 15 September 2019

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

 Director: Wes Anderson

Gene Hackman gives one of his best performances as Royal Tenenbaum, the self-centred paterfamilias who decides to reconnect with his estranged family after several decades. His not quite ex-wife Etheline is getting married to her accountant, which makes Royal jealous. The three Tenenbaum children, who were all gifted in their youth, have lost their ways as adults, dealing with grief and pain in their relationships, and a lack of progress in their careers. Royal's re-entrance into their lives brings chaos that threatens to break things apart, and possibly mend them too.

I am not a Wes Anderson "fan-girl" but I do like his films and certainly appreciate the coherency of his vision, and his ability to execute said vision without it getting in the way of the narrative. The idiosyncratic style and story generally feed into each other rather seamlessly. He also gets great performances from his cast, though if you cast your films this well, that isn't so hard to achieve. As I said Gene Hackman is fantastic here, managing to engage in some truly awful behaviour and yet still be charming and hilarious too. I also enjoy watching Anjelica Huston in anything, and she is good as the rather harried mother of the family. The deadpan delivery of Stiller, Wilson and Paltrow as the children adds a human equality to the absurdity of the whole story.

Wes Anderson doesn't tend to deviate from his film style, so when you see one of his films, you know what you are going to get. The Royal Tenenbaums is quintessential Anderson, and if that's your thing, you'll love it.