We’re two months into the new year and this post is long overdue, but better late than never, right? These are my favorite movies from 2011…
1990′s The Reflecting Skin, directed by Philip Ridley, is a weird movie and rather obscure. It’s very interesting, and quiet, bizarre, grotesque, over-the-top, and terribly beautiful, all at once. Visually, it’s amazing. The cinematography is gorgeous, very unforgettable. It has such atmosphere… Eerie, chilling, ominous, cryptic, ascetic yet lush. Admittedly some of the acting is just god-awful (especially the child actors!), but the movie overall is kind of brilliant. Destined to be thought terrible and intolerable by many, I loved it. It is quite possibly the movie that most embodies an “American Gothic” quality/aesthetic, a haunting sense of desolation and hopelessness, mirrored by the land, and a hypocritical, unforgiving puritanism.
Taking place in rural America in the 1950s (whose landscape of yellow wheat fields and desolate, isolated, gray wood frame houses standing in the midst of them is shot very impressively and gorgeously), The Reflecting Skin is, sort of, about child abuse, innocence, imagination, death, mortality, and love. The main character is a young boy named Seth Dove who creates an elaborate fantasy around a mysterious, otherworldly-seeming English widow who lives nearby, believing her to be a vampire who is preying on his loved ones. I suppose it’s partly about the unimaginable innocence of youth… Instead of registering and owning a sense of evil in the world, Seth displaces it onto this mysterious figure, a source of external, supernatural evil, thus allowing him not to understand these strange, horrific, traumatic events around him.
The “vampire,” pale, regal, and obsessive, is such a strange, lovely, macabre, spectral, enigmatic character, with the most absolutely haunting speeches, remote yet intense, vehement, and unnerving meditations on aging and love. Icily menacing yet alluring, preternaturally quiet with sudden outbursts of piercing, violent, grotesque, deeply primal, forlorn emotion, mercurial as a madwoman, she was played pretty much to perfection by Lindsay Duncan. She should be an iconic figure, in my opinion.
This movie is fascinating, and even if you end up not liking it, you should definitely see it. The cinematography alone is worth it.
The entirety of the film (from the Japanese DVD) is up on YouTube.
Tags: 1950s, abuse, bizarre, children, cryptic, dark, film reviews, fragility, hauntingly beautiful, innocence, innocence/menace, macabre, metaphors, puritanical, religion, sexuality, strange beauty, surreal, surreal horror, trailers, vampires, visceral, witchy
I saw this a few weeks ago, so this is kind of late, but here goes anyway. There’s “spoilers,” just FYI.
Sleeping Beauty (2011) is an Australian movie directed by Julia Leigh, starring Emily Browning and Rachael Blake. It’s about a young college student named Lucy who joins a high-end erotic waitressing service that caters to the wealthy, in order to make ends meet, and further agrees to be one of the “sleeping beauties,” so to speak, who form a more specialized subset of the girls. For each engagement she is driven to the madam/Clara’s house, where she takes a powerful sedative in a cup of tea that induces a very heavy, undisturbable, deathlike sleep for a short period, and while she’s out like the eponymous Sleeping Beauty, some client who has paid for the privilege, usually an older man, gets into bed with her and can do whatever they like with her unconscious body, short of actual penetration, for the duration of an hour. She is promised that when she wakes up, she will not remember a single thing, and for her it will be as if it never happened.
2009′s Enter the Void is the third film I’ve seen by French director Gaspar Noé, the other two being Irreversible and I Stand Alone. It’s my favorite of the three. This post is long overdue, as I saw (and was blown away by) it several months ago.
From the very beginning, with its blaringly colorful, garishly flashy, epileptic seizure-inducing opening titles, Enter the Void is obviously striving to do something visually very different and impactive, aiming for sensory overload and trippy, mind-bending experiences. And it succeeds. Destined for controversy and lots of hate due to its graphic sexual content and themes, I think few people would deny that visually, it’s pretty interesting and innovative.
Martyrs is one of those movies that are considered so controversial and I don’t quite understand why. Maybe that’s because I’m not fazed by anything. After watching 2008′s Deadgirl, I think I’ve plumbed the depths of exploitation that a film can indulge in (and I liked the movie). Lots of people emphasize the “gore” aspect of Martyrs for some reason, but I really don’t think the movie is that bloody, the gore isn’t even as extreme as in many mainstream movies.
This movie is a little tricky. It takes huge, drastic, nearly schizophrenic turns in plot; what’s kind of odd is that it’s sort of about three entirely different things, and sectioned into different parts. It tells the story of Lucie, the main character (during the first part of the film), who as a young girl was kidnapped and horribly abused and tortured by this married couple and escaped, permanently traumatized. She carries a sort of “ghost” around, a vicious feral woman that Lucie perceives as physically attacking her in rage, and for a while it’s hard to tell what this ghost really is, to figure out the reality. (Initially I thought that she might be the grown-up “ghost” of the little girl who was locked up and abused in that basement, that it was who Lucie would have been if she hadn’t in reality escaped; I don’t know if that makes any sense, though).
One of the best movies I’ve seen that came out in the last couple of years is Lars von Trier’s Antichrist from 2009, starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s almost impossible to describe what this film is like, or “about.” It’s like a slow-moving, beautiful, irresistible nightmare. I would describe it as psychological/surreal arty horror.
The movie is divided into four chapters, titled “Grief,” “Pain (Chaos Reigns),” “Despair (Gynocide),” and “The Three Beggars.”
It tells the story of this nameless couple whose child dies accidentally and who go to a cabin in the woods to cope with the mother’s subsequent trauma. For me, it’s kind of divided into two parts, and it’s weird because these two parts are so different, in terms of what they give away about what the movie is “about.” In the first part, it seems very psychological, as if the movie is really about her psychiatrist-cum-boyfriend trying to help her overcome her anxiety and panic attacks. Nothing that happens in the first part isn’t within the realm of reality. Once they move to the cabin, strange things begin happening, and the movie shifts into an even more surreal, creepy, nightmarish atmosphere. But it never ceases being psychological.
Like I said, the movie is very vague, ambiguous, and doesn’t have a traditional narrative. It takes on this very mystical and surreal bent in the cabin, and gradually builds in horror. It has nothing to do with a literal Antichrist, except for the sort of archaic, cryptic mental atmosphere where such ideas come from.
What I sort of think it’s about is…primal evil. Deep, dark, obscure evil, like the horrific atmosphere surrounding medieval demons. The kind of evil that the woman (a Lilith-like figure) takes on, which seems to originate externally and just exists as evil. Similarly, nature and animals reflect the human happenings and aberrations, like in Macbeth. The bizarre stuff going on with the man and woman is manifested in the outside world, but external forces are also driving her and seeping into her psyche.
The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. It’s so interesting and a breath of fresh air, and even if you’re not that into the subject matter, you should probably check it out just for its visual effect. It’s surreal, eerie, highly atmospheric, and erotic. It has these lovely scenes of surreal, disturbing beauty, like the piles of pale limbs and naked bodies entwined with the tree roots in the promotional image above. Willem Dafoe is great in it, and so is Charlotte Gainsbourg, whom I love. Her character is so crazy and emotional in a very intense, visceral way.
This movie is definitely bizarre, and not for the squeamish, because it has quite graphic sex and some gruesome occurrences (the gore is not visually that over-the-top, just the idea of it is kind of squirmy).
A title like “Antichrist” evokes cheesy ’70s horror films like The Omen, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Antichrist is a gem of subtle, surreal horror, and of artistic, intellectual, and creative filmmaking.
An hour-long surreal horror film called “Imprint” is Takashi Miike’s contribution to the Masters of Horror series. It takes place (vaguely) in 19th-century Japan, but everything is spoken in English, and it’s very sort of ahistorical; it’s much more about a modern aesthetic interpretation of the times that the story takes place in rather than any real historical basis. Based on a traditional Japanese ghost story, an older American man travels to an island, where a brothel is kept, in search of his long-lost love, Komomo, who he promised he would take away one day long ago. Once there, he meets a disfigured/beautiful prostitute who tells him the story of (and many lies about) her life and Komomo’s. The girl’s appearance/disfigurement reminds me a bit of Yotsuya Kaidan, one of my favorite ghost stories.
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