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SXSW: 6 Balloons

Katie is having a busy day. She’s throwing a surprise party for her boyfriend and she’s got stuff to do: food, cake, balloons, the usual. Plus picking up her brother, Seth. Is this a good day for Seth to have relapsed on heroin? No it is not. Is there any right time to do that? Likely not. But it’s an especially bad day, seeing how Katie’s got a houseful of people waiting on her, and Seth’s 3 year old daughter Ella is along for the ride.

Yeah, I REALLY wish that last part wasn’t true. The thing is, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) has been down this road with her brother before. And she’d displaying the classic 6balloonsheadersymptoms of the caring sister who’s also sort of an enabler. Because instead of leaving him to get his shit together, she’s prepared to miss the party and spend the night driving around the dirtiest, sleaziest parts of L.A. to find her brother (Dave Franco) a detox facility, and barring that – well, something far worse.

This film accurately depicts the enormous toll that addictions take on the whole family – it truly is a family disease. Everybody plays their part. Heroin is no joke and someone withdrawing from it is in very sick, and possibly very dangerous territory. Any movie that has realistic portraying of drug use is of course going to be hard to watch, and for a lot of us, having such a young child along as a witness is just heartbreaking.

Sean left this movie quite mad at Katie, for her choices and her failures, but that’s what makes this movie interesting. Director Marja-Lewis Ryan allows us the space to sympathize with both characters and to come away with our own judgments – and it will be very hard not to judge. Addiction is a powerful disease and the truth is that most people will relapse. And it’s also true that drug addicts are judged far more harshly than, say, someone who has had a second or third heart attack – even though both diseases have genetic components, and involve some willpower over lifestyle. Nobody wants to be hooked on heroin, and no one wants to die coming off it. And Katie loves her brother but doesn’t know which choices will ultimately serve him better. Or when to say no. Or how to set boundaries. And of course drug addicts are infamous for pushing boundaries anyway.

6 Balloons is a mercifully quick ride at 74 minutes but it doesn’t let you off easily; it will pack enough horror into its short run time for 20 normal movies. But it’s not just horror, it’s also love. So much love. But is love what Seth needs right now?

You can decide for yourself: this movie will hit Netflix April 6.

 

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SXSW: Game Of Death

Laurence Morais Lagacé and Sebastien Landry are two young Canadian directors who apparently have wild and sick imaginations.

A bunch of teenagers, who’ve already had the sex and done the drugs, are just bored Game-of-Deathenough to try a dusty old board game, Game Of Death. They should have read the instructions first – once engaged, the game counts down the 24 people necessary TO MURDER in order to “win.” The game doesn’t stop until 24 are dead. When the clock runs out, if no one is killed, the game itself will execute a player. How stoned would you have to be for this to sound fun?

They do what any normal teenagers would: beer bongs. But failing to take this game seriously is a fatal mistake: when the clock runs out, one of the characters’ heads explodes. Like, explosively explodes. Yes, I know, I’m quite the colourful writer! Bow down if you must.

At any rate, this game is For Real. Now there are 23 left to be killed and some interesting choices to be made. Will the kids turn on each other, prey on their neighbours, or sit back and wait for their own skulls to go bust?

Interesting fact about teenagers: they are devoid of morals. Apparently. And video games have definitely made them callous!

Interesting fact about me: I cannot spend an hour and a half listening to a teenaged girl game-of-death-F69597cry. I assume this the same is also true of teenaged boys. I understand that some people cry under pressure, but for the sake of watchable movies, I think film makers need to dispense of this annoying soundtrack.

Interesting fact about this movie: exploding heads are NOT the most disturbing thing about it.

Should you watch it? Hey man, no judgments. There’s no real horror here; no anxiety, no foreboding, no creepiness, just straight up gore and blood lust, plenty of both, and some gratuitous bikini shots thrown in. Perfect guilt-watch?

 

Elle

Michèle is attacked in her home, brutally raped by a man in a ski mask. She cleans up the mess, and herself. She doesn’t reveal the assault for several days, when she calmly tells a tableful of friends at a restaurant. Her response may seem a little cold to some, but she’s grappling with it, in fact reliving it all the time (which means we get to witness the rape repeatedly). Michèle has some childhood trauma that makes her distrustful of the police, but after the attack she continues to get threatening text messages that keep her on edge.

Michèle, the character, is an interesting woman. She’s a successful businesswoman, the boss at a video game company with a lot of young men working under her, with varying degrees of respect, resentment, and lust toward her. She has a grown son who is increasingly under the thumb of his pregnant girlfriend, and thus more estranged from his elle-6mother. She has exes, lovers, and erotic fixations. Some of them may surprise you. She reminds us that there are many ways to respond to this kind of violation, and none of them are necessarily wrong. But victimhood does not sit well with Michèle; Michèle plots revenge. Michèle’s complexity is a welcome layer to this psychological thriller, and it’s superbly executed by Isabelle Huppert. Huppert won the Golden Globe for her performance and is nominated for an Oscar, and it’s easy to see why. This is a career best for her, and she’s not exactly a slouch.

The harder pill to swallow is that Elle is directed by Paul Verhoeven – THAT Verhoeven; Showgirls Verhoeven. Verhoeven’s filmography is, erm, varied. Neither Robocop nor Starship Troopers really signal that he’s capable of this kind of film. Tonally it resembles Basic Instinct most closely, but this work still shows more maturity  and more nuance than we’ve perhaps seen from him before. Maybe this is owing to the film’s source material, the book ‘Oh…’ by Philippe Dijan.

Fire At Sea

Fire At Sea is an Italian documentary directed by Gianfranco Rosi that won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and is nominated for an Oscar.

It’s about the Sicilian island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean, between Africa and Italy, and focuses on the European migrant crisis, during which some 15000 people have died trying to reach the island. Hundreds of people board boats that are barely seafaring and risk their lives trying to make it to a safer life. Not everyone makes it.

It’s such a sad story, and an important cause. I wanted badly to like this movie. Badly. Meryl Streep, chair of the Berlin jury, called the film “a daring hybrid of captured fuocoammare-1footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do. It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking.” Meryl, love ya, but I respectfully disagree.

I realize I’m going to be in the minority here, but Fire At Sea nearly bored me to death. There’s no narration to drive the story. There isn’t much of a story at all. It follows some island natives who have very little to do with the migrant crisis, and if their lives are affected by it at all, it remains a secret from us. Lengthy scenes are spent on a 12 year old boy who has a lazy eye and an aptitude with slingshots. Why give so much time to him and very little to the actual refugees? The only thing I can conclude is that the film maker is making the migrant crisis seem every day, as perhaps it feels to the people of Lampedusa who have witnessed so much and are now impressed by very little. But for me, hearing people plead for their lives over a CB radio, begging to be saved from their rapidly sinking vessel, it’s horrible. It’s fucking atrocious. But in this documentary, it’s given no more weight than is given to the kid discussing his allergies. So while I concede there might be some bigger meaning going on here, that it’s the juxtaposition of banality and tragedy that really underlines the horror, it just felt off to me, the refugees basically an afterthought.

The length of the scenes are painful, and Rosi’s aesthetic detracts from the film’s impact. Yes, life must go on, even in face of unspeakably injustice, but perhaps this film would have served its subject better had it focused on one more than the other. While I appreciate the message, I can’t help but object to the medium.

 

 

 

Green Room

I think we can all agree that Jeremy Saulnier would make a terrible dinner party guest. He’s the writer-director of the most sadistic movies I’ve ever seen and I think someone needs to give him a houseplant and one of those sappy Hallmark cards with a nice beach scene on the front. Like, the man needs a hug only I wouldn’t recommend anyone get close enough to give him one. A man who makes movies this crazy has to be a little deranged, right?

Okay, I don’t really know a single thing about Saulnier, and judging by his IMDB profile pic, I’d say he’s a Mumford & Sons listening, Wholefoods shopping, Keds wearing dude like any other. Only he’s also a brilliant writer and director who just happens to like fucking with people.

I watched Blue Ruin all by my lonesome and survived. Green Room is even downloadmore of a trial. It’s about a not very successful punk band on a tour of tiny bars and rec rooms about to head home when they get one last gig that pays too well to ignore. They should have ignored it though because the neo-Nazis who show up to hear them play are a little more than they bargained for. Shit goes down, and it’s not just uncomfortable racist undertones, it’s more the literal tearing out of your throat variety.

It’s a horror-thriller that doesn’t apologize for relishing the bloodiness of greenroom4the genre, but this one has the surprising addition of exceptional acting. I liked Blue Ruin for defying my expectations of the genre, and Green Room of guilty of the same, to some extent. It has a real plot and a set-up that won’t make you cringe in its obviousness or its thinness. When Saulnier’s name is attached to a film (this is his third – the perfect opportunity, and maybe his only opportunity to indulge and be indulged in such a gorefest) you’re pretty much guaranteed a nail-biter. There’s breathtaking cruelty around every corner, but I was even more surprised by the tiny flickers of humanity that sneak up on you.

Green Room is not an easy watch, but if you think you have the stomach for it, you should probably put Saulnier on your watch list.

 

The Eyes of My Mother

The horror is not what you’ll see on screen – it’s what you’ll see when you close your eyes in bed that night, if you’re able to close them at all.

I went into this film at the New Hampshire Film Festival having been warned by Anna at Film Grimoire – not warned against it, mind you, but warned that it screen-shot-2016-06-26-at-9-47-49-pmwas…unusual, intense, disturbing. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to see it. You may know by now that Jay and horror don’t mix. But Sean was keen despite my own warnings, so we hunkered down in the same beautiful theatre where I barely survived watching The Witch last year and hoped for the best (ie, dry pants when all was said and done).

Anna felt that the less you knew about this film going in, the better, and I agree. But I do feel compelled to tell you that it is not a traditional horror film, by which I mean: I was completely fine, didn’t cover my face even once, but Sean, shaken and pale when we left the theatre, confessed to 0% when I asked how much he’d enjoyed the film. “Enjoy” is the wrong word.

It’s about a young girl living on a farm with her immigrant parents. She witnesses the brutal murder of her mother (at the hands of a super creepy serial killer played brilliantly by Will Brill) and in some ways the even more brutal response to the murder by her father. Basically, she’s warped. As a little girl with certain proclivities, this trauma pushes her over the deep end and she deals with it in ways that most of us only encounter in nightmares.

Shot in stark black and white, the cinematography can be disturbingly eyesmo2beautiful for such a twisted movie. The monochrome may lessen the impact of the gore but it only serves to heighten the intensity of the atmosphere, creating a world I was never sure of, never trusted. So while there’s little in the way of jump-scare, there’s plenty of hair-raising all the same.

Do I recommend it? It’s interesting. It’s unique. It’s creepy as fuck. I found it bearable, but the suspense is unrelenting. I had to buy Sean a Fred Flintstone nightlight, so I guess your “enjoyment” of this film will depend a lot on your tolerance for depravity.

Deepwater Horizon

07Disoriented. I walked out of the theatre disoriented. Was it the strobe light effect while the power failed? Was it the glass shards being pulled by Kurt Russell out of his own foot? Was it the bone sticking out of a redshirt’s leg? Was it that 11 people died and I wondered how the other 115 on the rig survived?

Yes.

Deepwater Horizon is a war movie where the good guys don’t have a chance in hell, the bad guys are greedy bastards who were supposed to be on the good guys’ side, and the real enemy is an almost unstoppable 130 million gallons of oil spewing from the sea floor. Deepwater Horizon makes it perfectly clear where the blame for the worst oil spill in history rests: with the money-grubbing assholes who tried to cut corners and lost their gamble. The film is not subtle. It finds ten different ways to show us the choices that led to the disaster. It works.

image1-3Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) gets bloody. Jimmy Harrell (Russell) gets bloodier. The stand-in for greedy BP, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovitch), does not get as bloody as you’d hope. They are some of the lucky ones. Deepwater Horizon takes us into the heart of the mess. Tons of mud, oil, fire, explosions, and rag dolls flying all over the screen. It is hard to watch but not too hard to follow. We are provided with title cards and a grade school explanation of the Deepwater Horizon’s mission. They help the exposition fly by so we can get to the destruction faster.

By the end you will have been appropriately beaten down by the disaster. It is a suitably somber end. The survivors are consumed with grief. The restraint shown, especially in the closing minutes, elevates this movie above the Michael-Bay-esque fire show I thought we would see.

Deepwater Horizon is not a great movie but it’s far better than expected. By the time the credits roll your head may be spinning like mine was, especially if you remember that beyond the immediate devastation depicted in the film lies the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, one that ended up costing BP $54 billion in cleanup costs and penalties. Deepwater Horizon makes clear that BP in general and Vidrine in particular got off too easy, but it puts itself in an awkward position by barely mentioning the environmental effects of the disaster, which left me feeling that the movie entirely missed the point.