Posts Tagged ‘horror film’

“The Orphanage”: Frightening. Truly.

January 2, 2008

The Orphanage

This is the second year in a row I’ve broken the New Year in with a Guillermo del Toro produced film, I’d like to make it a tradition. The Orphanage (or El Orfanato) is probably the most frightening horror film I’ve seen this year and more frightening than anything I saw last year. It’s a ghost story, one that follows in the footsteps of some of the best; Poltergeist, The Innocents, The Haunting, The Shining, The Sixth Sense, The Devil’s Backbone and most recently The Others. Only it’s better than The Others and not as good as some of the others. It’s about a woman, Laura, who goes back to the orphanage she grew up in to start a home for the mentally disabled, only to find that there are children already living there. Cree-ee-py! But it’s not Laura, it’s her son, Simone, that sees what’s happening around them first. See, he has harmless invisible friends. So Laura and her husband think nothing of it when he meets a couple more. Simone has also been adopted and suffers from a disease that’s only hinted at in the beginning, but turns out to be surprising – something I wish the film had dealt a little more directly with as a theme, but the movie isn’t ambitious in that sense. In the end it could have been any life threatening disease or illness.

In every good ghost story there’s a reason for ghosts to exist. There’s a reason why certain people can see them. There’s always some theory about traces being left behind because of a murder or suicide. It’s the mystery, the unknown. A filmmakers way of doping it up for the audience. Something that’s become common because of the rise in Japanese horror films like The Ring – here it’s far more clever than most films. Is the ghost good or bad? What’s its motivation? What do we see and what’s implied? Is it really evil? The Director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G Sanchez, know when to hold their cards. They tease and poke and prod the audience and they do it well. The pacing swings like a pendulum, back and forth, every now and then the blade dropping suddenly closer to your gut. And you feel it as Laura becomes more encapsulated in this dark world. And it’s not only that you see it, you hear it. The camera moves along the halls like it did in The House on Haunted Hill. The sounds rattle and rumble from within. There’s a whole sequence in which we see nothing, but hear everything. How much is in their world and how much is in ours we wonder? It’s a question that has ramifications.

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“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”: The Scariest Kind of Horror Film

December 26, 2007

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

The title is far scarier and problematic than it suggests, and like most films of its nature the people who need to see it won’t. Let me write it again (to get it out of my system)… 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 day is a film by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, and it’s gnawing away at me. Sometimes a person has to write to get it out of their system, this is one such time. I walked into the movie theatre this evening wanting to experience something different and I got my wish bestowed upon me times three. All that I knew of the film was the title from a few best of year lists, and the fact that its now up for a Golden Globe and will more than likely be up for an Oscar.

Now the question is as it always is, how do I unfold the story to you without ruining the experience in the way I experienced it? So I’m not going to give you a synopsis of the story because the psychology of the film works better if you don’t know going into it and while the film focuses on one particular event and the aftermath of it it’s not what the movie is about. This film unfolds like a first person story – one of the only films that I’ve seen work as a first person film – and to feel the confusion and exacerbation that Otilia is going through for her friend Gabriela, it helps not to know what the event is. The first twenty minutes is a daunting task as we play catch up to our two young women preparing for something though for what we’re not sure. This movie is in the details so pay careful attention to the small things Gabriella focuses on and thinks are important. When you understand everything, think back on these things and you’ll end up shaking your head in dismay. She’s a girl in a woman’s body, able to experience things as a woman, but unable to maturely handle the responsibility and repercussions of her actions. Otilia is a pushover but she’s dependable, dependable to a fault. She’s the character we end up following around through the preparations and the reason why we’re kept in the dark is so that our own frustrations are amplified to match her frustrations, but once we do get the idea we’re taken through every emotion she goes through, as she’s going through it. The camera follows Otilia’s shadowy figure through streets allowing us to feel like we’re walking the streets. We jump when she jumps, we get nervous when she does – is that guy following her or is he just going the same way? She is invited to sit around a cramped dinner table while she anxiously awaits the opportunity to excuse herself, and we wait along just as anxiously. This isn’t done with the use of music, or with tricky editing, but letting the camera sit opposite Otilia with everyone crammed into the edges of the frame. There are no cuts. And we wait, and wait, until we hear the phone ring. She wants to get it, but can’t…how can a person answer someone else’s phone? She’s too kind to excuse herself, we would be too kind to excuse ourselves, so we wait it out, nodding our head to the polite chatter and answering questions we’ve been asked a million times before, we have to. Layers upon layers build, and we sit, getting more and more anxious. Waiting for the worst to happen.

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