What can be creepier than evil, sadistic children? Sometimes scary things come in small packages, especially spooky because horrific deeds are creeping up from where we least expect. I find these movies so unnerving that I never watch them. But I have seen these three. Thanks again to Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting this chilling month of Thursday Movie Picks.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)– At least here we don’t have to look evil in the face. The Spawn of Satan rests comfortably in the womb of the great Mia Farrow. Rosemary can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong with her baby and is starting to think that she’s been getting some bad prenatal advice from sweet creepy old lady Ruth Gordon. It takes a sick mind to play on the anxieties of an expectant mother and Roman Polanski is just the guy for the job.
The Exorcist (1973)– It’s hard to blame a kid for the cruel things they say and the dastardly things they do when you know it’s just the demonic posession talking but Linda Blair and and the make-up crew make Regan a memorable villain. I don’t believe in possession or exorcism so I sleep just fine after watching it but Ellen Burstyn does such a great job as a mom who just wants to know what’s wrong with her daughter that the film holds up even today.
The White Ribbon (2009)– No need for demonic possession when you’re a future Nazi. In a small German village, suspicious “accidents” escalate into brutal assaults and the local children seem to be at the center of it. Like most Michael Haneke films, The White Ribbon is disturbing without technically being a horror movie. I’m not the only Asshole who’s struggled with this one.
A brutal black and white film by Michael Haneke about the shame of masturbation, animal mutilation, incest and the symbolism of pierced ears, torturing the retarded, bleak and swift suicide, a meditation on sin,ritualized punishment, cruelty and the hardness of hearts, guilt and innocence, apathy and revenge. So many crazy events occur in this little German village on the eve of WWI that pretty soon the villagers are looking around at each other with very suspicious eyes – and so are we. The children seem to be at the heart of this mystery and I can’t help but think that they’re exactly the generation who would become Nazis. The children, whether or not they’re responsible for the mysterious atrocities, have no escape from their relentlessly punitive lives, and for nearly two and a half hours, neither do we.
Whose job is it to prevent evil? Why do we strive to puzzle out random acts? Are we willing to surrender freedom to mitigate danger? Heneke hints at a lot of uncomfortable questions and if you dare to watch, you’ll find it’s not just a question of whodunnit, and even if you ask the right questions, there’s no telling if you’ll ever find the answers.
Director Michael Hanake has an explanation for what makes his controversial 1997 film different from more recent torture porn movies but I’m not buying it.
Haneke was frustratingly vague in his comments during the DVD bonus features of the intentionally ambiguous Caché. Usually a fan of leaving his films open to interpretation, he was unusually forthcoming though on how he would like Funny Games to be interpreted. On the surface, the film tells the story of a home invasion where two surprisingly privileged and aritculate young men barge in on a married couple and their young son at their beautiful cottage and proceed to torment them both psychologically and physically for the rest of the movie. What’s strange is that, the longer this continues, the more clues we get that the two psychopaths are aware that they’re in a movie, especially when they look directly into the camera and wink at the audience. “Hey, don’t look at me. This has got nothing to do with me,” we’re meant to protest. Or does it? Are we, as an audience to such sadism, somehow complicit in it? The film has a habit of giving us lots of warning every time something awful is about to happen, giving us ample time to get out while we still can and Haneke the chance to ask haters “Why the hell did you stay til the end?”.
Horseshit. Shame on you Michael Haneke for shaming me for sitting through your movie and keeping faith that you were going somewhere with all this. Sure, i got the sense that Birdman was mocking me for appreciating it but at least that was funny, thought-provoking, and wasn’t nearly as gut-wrenching an experience. Commenting on sadism isn’t a good enough excuse to bring something so sadistic into the world and, as many critics have already pointed out, not without it’s hypocrisies.
While I resent Haneke for insinuating that he’s smarter than me, I may not buy that this is the anti-horror film that Haneke claims that it is. I see it more as a cinephile’s horror film filled with the director’s signature long takes, an excellent setup, and fantastic performances (especially by Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe as the couple in peril). Today’s horror fans that are used to liberal use of gore and torture may find I’m overstating the depravity. In fact, almost every act of violence occurs offscreen. Taking advantage of the power of suggestion and anticipation is a lost art though and Michael Haneke has found it. Every act of cruelty in the movie begins with a long build up filled with clever wordplay. I was literally on the edge of my seat and feeling queasy throughout the entire experience of watching it.
Funny Games is a brilliantly executed and punishing work of suspense and is perfect for those looking for a perverse thrill. I just don’t buy that it’s anything more than that.
Here’s a film that couldn’t be more different from the teen comedies that I’ve enjoyed watching all week. I’ve been hard at work catching up on all the movies I missed to prepare for Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday challenge but I took a break from all the dick jokes to rewatch one of my favourite movies from 2005 (one of my favourite years). Last week’s challenge got me thinking about The Piano Teacher and the films of German filmmaker Michael Haneke.
While I admire the technique and honesty of The Piano Teacher and Haneke’s more recent and Oscar-winning Amour, watching them can feel like chores due to the former’s unpleasantness and the latter’s sleepy pacing. Here, though, is a movie that I can honestly say that I enjoy watching. Even though he’s asking tough questions about class, reality, and deception, he is generous enough to structure Caché like a thriller. It begins with Georges and Anne (Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche) watching and discussing a videotape that was inexplicably left at their front door. The video is simply a two-hour wide shot of their beautiful Paris home. It might just be a prank by one of their teenage son’s friends but, still, it’s pretty creepy. Somebody seems to be trying to show them that they’re under surveillance. Well, the tapes keep coming and the footage starts hitting closer and closer to home and it starts wreaking havoc on Georges and Anne’s seemingly happy home.
One of the things that make Haneke’s films so unsettling is he’s not fond of easy answers and there’s always a lot I still want to know when they’re over. The mystery of who’s sending these tapes and why kept me riveted from start to finish but is never fully explained. As I always do when I’m afraid I might be missing something, I ran to the DVD bonus features looking for answers and it turns out the director is as vague in interviews as he is in his writing. He said that he likes to leave things open to interpretation because reality is.
Fair enough. When I invest so much time in a whodunnit, I like to know who dun it but Caché still gives us a lot to be thankful for. Haneke’s examination of a marriage full of secrets is made even more compelling by the performances from the two leads and, unlike most Marvel movies, viewers who stay through the credits will be rewarded.