Lynchian Horror

At some point you have probably come across the term “Lynchian.” It’s often used thoughtlessly to explain away weird imagery and seemingly ineffable behaviour in film, but it’s in the popular vernacular for a reason. David Lynch’s particular outlook and cinematic approach has made him the authority on dream-like ambience. The distinct sense of unease in his movies often comes from his interest in the uncanny; a “disturbing unfamiliarity in the evidently familiar.” The abstract concepts he puts on screen inspire fear because they are uncomfortably close to our own reality. In Twin Peaks, the ceiling fan on the landing of the Palmer household is shown at a low frame-rate, as if asking us to focus on the mundane, the ordinary, and wonder what is wrong with the picture presented; objects and behaviour normally associated with normalcy, stability, and positivity are corrupted.

In The Philosophy of Horror, Noël Carroll attributed feelings of horror and the uncanny to apparent transgressions of cultural and conceptual categories. The most effective horror is often that which pushes us beyond the boundaries that give us stability. Even the most intelligent viewers carry their own preconceptions of what a narrative needs to achieve, and what the right emotional response is for a given moment. Examples Carroll provides of these categories are “living/dead,” “me/not me,” and “flesh/machine’,” dichotomies that are common in the horror genre because they challenge the principles that give us comfort, and make the world comprehensible.

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Timecrimes Review

Héctor (Karra Ejalde) is renovating his home with his wife (Candela Fernández). Looking into a nearby forest with binoculars, he spots what looks like the murder of a young woman. When he attempts to intervene, he inadvertently provokes an increasingly bizarre series of events, and finds that he will do anything to return to ordinary life.

Timecrimes is both very basic and extremely complicated. Though I will try to leave out the specifics as much as possible, it should be said up-front that this is a time travel movie. It offers an interesting twist on the concept, as Héctor effectively spends the movie trying to ensure his own timeline makes sense, while also driven by his own hubris to rectify any mistakes. What is refreshing is that this isn’t approached with the hard science of Primer or the action beats that a lot of science-fiction falls back on. Instead, Héctor becomes both the victim and the villain of his own slasher film.  This doesn’t mean it lacks focus, as it barrels along its twisting plot in a tight 90-minutes without meandering. This is a movie that is all these things at once, and the way it navigates these genre conventions is exciting and unpredictable. Continue reading →

Cesspool on the Potomac: The Ironic Bite of ‘Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington’

Revisiting the first few seasons of The Simpsons brings some surprises. While the first nine or so seasons are hilarious, the first three bring a lot of heavy emotion into play early on. In season one the family have to convince Homer not to commit suicide, and season 2 has some of the most upsetting moments of the show – Bart’s breakdown in ‘Bart Gets an F‘, Homer dealing with imminent death in ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish‘, and Grandpa gaining then losing a companion in ‘Old Money‘. Season 3 is a sort of transition into the golden era of the show, and as the straight-faced realism starts to give way the episodes get funnier, but are still rooted in morality. The fact that the show was doing this in the early 90s, before adult humour and mature themes became more prevalent in animation, is pretty damn brave. There’s no timidity in ‘Mr. Lisa Goes To Washington‘, and even when it seems to shy away from real satire, it does something special.

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Let the Right One In Review: When Horror Isn’t Horror

Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), bullied and craving revenge, meets Eli (Lina Leandersson). Eli is also twelve, but has “been twelve for a long time”. Set in the suburbs of Stockholm in the early 1980s, Tomas Alfredson brings us a tale of childhood loneliness, love, and revenge. Continue reading →

The Elephant Man: 35th Anniversary

We don’t see the titular “Elephant Man” until around the 13 minute mark, and it is a further 30 minutes before we hear him talk. What we do see, however, are the reactions of others. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) meets John Merrick as we do; we hear the myth of his creation, wherein his mother was “struck down in the fourth month of her maternal condition by an elephant.” We are told that this man is a monster, and enter the carnival amidst the curious crowd. It is impossible not to pity anything that lives in such a state of discomfort, but the shocking discovery is that this is an educated and benevolent man. As Treves remarks before he knows of this, “He’s an imbecile, probably from birth, man’s a complete idiot. Pray to God he’s an idiot”. The Elephant Man indulges our voyeurism, then punishes it; leads us from pity to empathy.

Surprisingly, the man we have to thank for The Elephant Man is Mel Brooks. The comedy-director decided to finance the film, and insisted on hiring David Lynch as the director after seeing a midnight screening of Eraserhead. By his own request, Brooks was left uncredited, so that audiences would not associate the movie with his usual comedy fare. Continue reading →

Macbeth Review

William Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted on stage and screen countless times, and Macbeth is no different. While the slow-motion action sequences and sharp visuals are elements only feasible now, it is not enough to warrant another version of a play already adapted by cinematic greats such as Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, and Roman Polanski. On the other hand, significant changes to the source material do not have to be made for the sake of modernisation. Fortunately, Kurzel’s Macbeth balances this well. It has its own identity, and is selective in how it engages with the original text. The play itself is so rich in characters, theme, and language, that the director could take another run at it and make an entirely different film. Continue reading →