Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

Haunter (2013)

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Lisa (Abigail Breslin) finds herself trapped in her home reliving the same day over and over with her oblivious family.

After a fast start to his career with the excellent “Cube” and the under-appreciated “Cypher”, Canadian film-maker Vincenzo Natali’s career had stalled somewhat with the batshit crazy but deeply flawed “Nothing” and “Splice”, a ludicrous film that almost qualifies as “so-bad-it’s-good” (but still didn’t manage to be the most laughably bad Adrian Brody film released in 2009 thanks to the truly abysmal “Giallo”).

He arrives back on the scene with “Haunter”, a supernatural mystery thriller, which has been receiving positive feedback on the festival circuit without getting a full cinema release, and is now widely available on DVD. Something of a return to basics, Natali’s trademarks are present and correct, from his inventive, silky visuals, to the labyrinthine twisting plots he seems in thrall of, and even the ramshackle CGI that has bedevilled much of his work.

The “reliving the same day” set-up is always terrific fun, mined to great effect in “Groundhog Day”, and the recent “Edge of Tomorrow” among many others, although “Haunter” does a great job in steering itself away from the ground those films covered. Here the device is used as a means to present a mystery and slowly unravel it, like peeling away the layers of an onion. This is done effectively and lovingly, and the film’s main strength lies in how engrossing the mystery at it’s centre is.

There is a healthy dose of pinching from other films, most obviously in the initial set-up but also from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series (which is heavily mined), as well a few other notable plot lifts that are probably best left unmentioned so as not to spoil too much; although you will definitely know them when you see them. In many ways this magpie tendency becomes a positive, as the film repeatedly sheds it’s skin, morphing in ways that, although still derivative, are at least unexpected. Just when you think you have a handle on what the film is doing, it moves on, with every mystery solved just an opportunity to start unravelling the next. Although it is likely that the assembly was somewhat cynical (and the final “happy” coda feels depressingly tacked on), it does make for a gripping and surprising journey.

Abigail Breslin as Lisa shows that she is maturing into a leading lady of real standing, in no way resembling the goofy child star of “Little MIss Sunshine”, and making what could have been a frustrating role incredibly endearing. At once exasperated and scared by her situation, she is still believable when required to muster the courage to face the evil of the house, striking a fine balance that could easily have eluded a young actress (shockingly, Breslin was only 16 when this was filmed), especially when the camera is on them for much of the film’s duration. The rest of the cast are equally able in their roles, with particular mention to the wonderfully craggy-faced Stephen McHattie, who makes good use of his weathered features as the creepy and mysterious “Pale Man”. There is even time for a brief cameo from long-time Natali collaborator David Hewlett, a pleasing Easter egg for fans, even if he is somewhat under-used.

If there is one major criticism, it is that the film isn’t particularly scary, something that many consider a cardinal sin for a film in the horror genre. There are a few nice jump scares in the early going, but beyond a certain point the lack of peril is palpable, as if it fell victim to the multitude of narrative turns the film undertakes. Despite that, “Haunter” is a real return to form for Natali, a well made and creepily effective low-key ghost story that keeps your attention from start to slightly hackneyed finish.

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trance (2013)

Posted: November 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Simon (James McAvoy) is an auctioneer, who, during the sale of a priceless painting, is caught up in a carefully planned robbery perpetrated by Franck (Vincent Cassel). During the course of the raid Simon suffers a head injury and loses his memory, but not before he has hidden the artwork the robbers are targeting. Frustrated, and with no other option, Franck forces Simon to see a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) who must break through the barriers in Simon’s mind to discover the whereabouts of the valuable item.

An adaptation of a UK mini-series of the same name, “Trance”, as befits a film about a fractured memory, is intentionally jumbled and, at times, hard to follow. The line between dream and reality is blurred as the film nudges you toward the truth rather than presenting you with a linear narrative. As a stylistic choice this works for much of the film and is it’s real strength; you really do find yourself being drawn in trying to unravel the puzzle, which stretches far beyond the macguffin of the missing painting.

It is easy to see what drew Danny Boyle to this project, as the labyrinthine set-up enables him to play with multiple genres. Style-wise, “Trance” is pitched somewhere between “Drive” and “Inception”, but where those films felt fresh, “Trance” feels lazy and dated. It is too clean and too choreographed; a mere pastiche of what others have done far better. The old hat vibe is heightened by a soundtrack that seemingly tries to ape the hip retro sound of Winding Refn’s 2011 neo-noir, but is generic and distracting rather than unique and mood enhancing.

The screenplay by John Hodge (working from the original television script by Joe Ahearne) shows exactly why Boyle hasn’t worked with him in over a decade. The majority of the dialogue is as subtle as a brick to the face and just as lacking in wit (the funniest moment in the film is Vincent Cassel’s exasperated single word answer to one of the stupidest questions in cinema history). Most lines were seemingly written with the sole intention of appearing in the trailer, and you are treated to a barrage of on-the-nose cod-philosophising like: “I must remember never to forget…that you are a criminal”, and “To be yourself you have to constantly remember yourself”. Worst of all for a film so reliant on the unravelling of it’s mysteries; the plotting is incredibly contrived and as the layers are peeled away it feels that the twists are there for their own sake, more about servicing some adolescent idea of what’s “cool” than creating an interesting story.

The performances by the strong cast are generally good, although they aren’t helped by the banal dialogue and characters who are essentially little more than cyphers acting in certain ways to propel the twisting plot and wrong-foot the audience.

“Trance” is a film that tries to be subtle, clever and deep but is really just broad, dumb and takes itself too seriously. The mystery at the film’s centre is arresting and enough to keep you interested to the end, but given all the talent involved and what they are capable of, it is hard not to feel disappointed.

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A French province is terrorised by attacks from an unknown beast, sending ripples of fear throughout the country. A sceptical Knight and his Native American companion arrive to investigate the strange happenings, but find themselves unprepared for the dark reality behind the fantastical stories.

Loosely based on a genuine folk legend, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” makes little attempt at historical accuracy. Primarily an action/adventure, with elements of horror, mystery, native american mysticism, primitive steampunk and even a healthy dose of completely anachronistic kung-fu, this is certainly a film with eclectic influences.

Director Christophe Gans works hard to achieve a slick stylised feel, loaded with slo-mo, swooping crane-shots and stylish zooms. The film is genuinely gorgeous, with Gans’ kinetic camera gliding through picturesque locations and magnificently appointed sets. At times the camera trickery is overdone or unnecessary, leading to a cheesy or comical feel. When a distant scream leads to a zoom in on a character’s reaction, followed by a slow motion walk to the window, it simply feels hokey, while a close up on a characters face as he is propelled backwards through a wall feels so unneeded that it takes you out of the moment completely. While it is admirable that Gans made so much effort to make every shot exceptional, at times it feels like he is simply trying too hard.

The camerawork is supplemented by quite a bit of CGI, most of which works fairly well. However, there are the occasional moments when it is poorly realised, a sword that extends into a bladed whip being a notable example, severely detracting from a battle scene that really should have been among the film’s highlights.

Much of the first hour is given over to developing the relationship between the Knight, Fronsac, and Marianne, the Count’s daughter, a romance that never quite clicks and wouldn’t be missed if it were excised from the film completely. Too much time is spent setting the scene and for a good portion of the film substance is secondary to a dawdling trundle through the lavish costumes, sets and scenery. However, it all really clicks into gear when the mystery of the beast begins to be unravelled and the last hour is a breath-taking thrill-ride of action set-pieces and unlikely plot twists.

The cast are generally solid, with Samuel Le Bihan finding a nice balance between likeable oafishness and nobility as Fronsac. It is a shame that Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci are not given more to do in supporting roles, although Cassel makes the most of his screen time with a nuanced, creepy turn while Bellucci is enigmatic yet alluring as a mysterious courtesan.

While it takes a while to get going, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is an enjoyable period romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While over-stylised and too reliant on cliched plotting, you would have to be very hard of heart not to take at least some pleasure from it’s bizarre mish-mash of styles, especially when it finds it’s groove in a rip-roaring second half filled with highlights.

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A young woman who works translating Chinese films into her native Italian is offered a great deal of money for an unexplained job. Blindfolded and taken deep into the bowels of a nondescript building in Rome, she is tasked with being the go-between in an interrogation between the fierce Dr Curti and the mysterious Chinese speaking Mr Wang.

A science fiction thriller, “The Arrival of Wang” (L’arrivo di Wang) has an interesting premise which it is probably best not to describe in too much detail. The plot is simple and effective, but also somewhat contrived with numerous glaring plot holes that are hard to overlook.

Dealing with themes of trust, the film seems to ask questions about what right and wrong might be in certain extreme circumstances. As with much of the best science-fiction “The Arrival of Wang” uses it’s fantastical concept to address real world issues, although many are bound to be unhappy about the conclusions it draws and any pretence of deeper thought is discarded well before the end.

For the majority of the film the spotlight is squarely on the two leads and they carry the weight fantastically. as Curti, Enzo Fantastichini is excellent, at once the obvious antagonist but also a man who is driven by a desire to do what he believes is right. Francesca Cuttica is solid and sympathetic as Gaia, the trusting translator, although her performance is at times overly melodramatic.

A lot of the film takes place in one room and these interrogation scenes are where the film really shines, cranking up the tension and playing with your sympathies. Is Wang what he claims to be, or is Curti right to be suspicious about his motives? These sections recall an episode of the classic “Twilight Zone”; a moral conundrum playing out on a single set, driven by performance and script. Although the film is never great to look at, these scenes are solidly directed, with a tight focus on the conflict between the leads.

However, when we leave those confines the film deteriorates badly and the final third sacrifices what had made the film interesting up until that point with a more conventional narrative turn which really doesn’t work, feeling both needless and contrived. The look of the film suffers too as the camera wanders, and some scenes wouldn’t look out of place in a student film, being both carelessly conceived and poorly executed.

As this was clearly made on a small budget it is possible to be quite forgiving of the low quality special effects for much of the film’s runtime, as the premise and performances are convincing enough to make up for the slightly poor execution. But some late moments are almost completely ruined by laughable CGI, leaving you to wonder if the the makers wouldn’t have been better served leaving more to the imagination.

Although it has it’s flaws, “The Arrival of Wang” does many things well. The central conflict is an interesting one and the mystery at the heart of the film is largely well executed. However, the film essentially abandons these elements late on, in favour of a lazily staged final reel that leaves a distinctly bitter taste.