Monday 6 December 2021

Article: Love and Isolation - A blind watch of The Honeymoon Killers

You know what's great? Finding a Blu-ray in your collection you forgot you picked up a while back. You know what is better than that? When you purchased said Blu-Ray because you knew little about the film in the first place. I had picked up the Arrow Blu-Ray of The Honeymoon Killers on the cheap, with little knowledge about the film other than the intriguing title and cult status. My first viewing of this 1970 feature was a blind one. Such a watch feels oddly quaint in the information age era. Blind purchases and viewings are something I definitely urge younger film fans do too. You never know. You may unearth a gem.

The Honeymoon Killers is something I would not call a treasure. It’s far too seedy to feel beloved. It is however a startingly potent slice of viewing. In terms of tone, the best comparison would be Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986). In skimming reviews, few noted the films macabre humour, which I do concede the film does have. Yet like Henry, The Honeymoon Killers is shoe leather tough material. A scuffed and bruised tale lifted from true crime which relishes making you feel bad that you enjoy its scandalous nature. Followers of true crime will feel at home here. Particularly in the universal ease at how the main conceit can be still be transferred into modern life. 

A dash of story. Inspired by a true story and set in 50’s America, Martha Beck is an obese and embittered Nurse. Her conduct is so blunt that one can only wonder what her bedside manner could be like. Martha is also desperately lonely. Living with her mother, the fraying relationships can easily be seen. It’s not the company she wishes to keep. She craves male attention. A friend signs her up (against her wishes) to a lonely-hearts correspondent’s club. Her letter is picked up by Ray; a “Latin from Manhattan” who at first sees Martha as just another notch in his long line of female marks whom he seduces, robs money from and leaves soon after, leaving them too embarrassed to make a retrieval. Martha however thinks differently a coerces Ray into being a partner. Both romantically and in crime. The couple continues on with Ray’s lonely heart scam, albeit with Martha posing as his somewhat repressed sister. There’s now a change in the plan. The amendment is now murder.

 Famed director and marvel fandom agitator Martin Scorsese was famously fired from the production of The Honeymoon Killers due to the most infamous of reasons: "creative differences". Allegedly Scorsese wished to shoot everything in master shots. This made stitching the film difficult. An amusing aside when considering the filmmakers slight at comic book movies which appear to truly adore the idea of coverage. It was also noted that Scorsese was taking too much time and eating into the tight budget. The final straw was the Goodfellas Helmer supposedly performing arty close-ups of a beer can. The firing obviously didn't hamper the acclaimed director's career prospects. However, the completed film was credited to Opera composer Leonard Kastle. The Honeymoon Killers was his only feature production. 

 Kastle took over from Scorsese's replacement Donald Volkman, who only lasted a fortnight on the production. While much more is said about Scorsese's involvement due to the director's statue, The Honeymoon Killers feels more owed to the likes of Volkman and Kastle. The gritty and unrefined look leans more towards the types of industrial films that Volkman was known for. While the film's overall unkemptness certainly has the feeling of a debut filmmaker, though this is by no way a knock on the product itself. Kastle’s lack of inbuilt habits allows the film to go rogue in terms of conventional cinematic traits. A moment from the film’s opening starts with the kind of roaming camera shot one would expect from Scorsese. However, once the camera positions itself, perhaps due to limited space, the actors stand awkwardly within the edge of the frame. Letting dead space dominate the frame. Cinematographer Oliver Wood’s lensing often matches the grim and disconcerting subject matter. The flatly lit, grainy images visually contribute to the film’s disturbing look at the banality of evil.

All over the Honeymoon Killers lies an ugliness of the narrow social lens that existed in the period. It is easy to see why this couple chooses to prey upon these women. These victims have already been displaced by society. In the Blu-ray extras filmmaker Todd Robinson notes that after the Second World War, there was a high volume of vulnerable women isolated due to the fallout of the conflict. It’s an aspect that heightens the ease of connectivity that technology brings us today. It also highlights how easily the women in this picture were quickly spurned by the dominant way of living. That their situation was held in contempt. It’s little surprise that the advent of internet dating (despite all its many flaws) has softened the view of the so-called personal ad and the people who use them Although ask the right people, and there’s still quite a way to go. 

Throughout the movie, women are viewed as spinsters or looked down upon due to wider age gaps or pregnancy out of wedlock. The conversations held between the victims in their cramped living rooms bring their desperation to light. Martha also isn’t immune to this. Her abrasive and controlling manner feel unsurprising when she loses her job early in the film. The hospital is more than happy to simply just rifle through her personal belongings just because. Scenes make a strong point of her weight and enjoyment of sweet treats. Despite trying to hide his receding hairline via toupees and hairpieces, Ray’s apparent attractiveness and ability to woo are more welcoming to an overweight woman of her demeanour who lives with her mother. When Ray first tries to con Martha, she counters by claiming she attempted suicide when he left. This type of manipulation follows throughout the film. As Martha’s jealously of the younger, more objectively prettier women is barely hidden. While the audience doesn't witness the actions, yet it's made obvious that Ray is sleeping with these women to bolster his own ego. Also, with Ray’s income stemming from conning lonely women through seduction, The Honeymoon Killers makes not that desperation is not only found in the women.   

Kastle’s use of form distorts our view of time and space as if we were in a casino of hopelessness. We’re never quite sure how much time has elapsed unless a character offhandedly mentions it. So many scenes are set in cramped living spaces. If those spaces are left, it’s only to move the action to cars or buses. New York is mentioned, yet perhaps due to budget limitations, never really visited. With the film uninterested in truly pinpointing its geography. Save for a couple of moments. Amusingly while occupying a suburban household, Ray brusquely labels suburbia itself as an identikit prison of sorts, hinting at characters morose point of view. It’s also a line that reinforces the compact feel of the film itself. One key moment is set outside in which Ray does what he can to woo a young lady but ends with a jealous Martha doing her best to drown herself in a river. The camera drops down with her. Water submerges Martha and any breathable air. From aquatic disasters such as this to the brutal methods Ray and Martha use to kill victims, the film in so many aspects feels suffocating.

The film uses its twisted sense of humour to sit unsettlingly side by side with the film's overwhelming grimness. One can't shake the feeling that John Waters absorbed this before he when on to create the deviously satirical Serial Mom (1994). Courting sympathy with its monsters while selling its victims often as irritants. Despite their bratty arguments, at the film’s heart, the conniving couple does seem to have a connection with each other. More so than the hapless victims. Although do these other women get a chance? Perhaps a better question is how likely would anyone get on with a partner who screeches ‘America, the Brave’ offkey at the top of their lungs? Maybe it’s Martha’s eye-rolling at yet another unexpecting single woman believing this is her chance of happiness, or perhaps Ray’s snake-hipped dancing while Martha’s drugged mother struggles to stay awake. The film is dusted with jewels of silliness that encourages a viewer to giggle ashamedly.

However, the film’s disarming sharp turns always ensures that the laughs are short-lived. One of the films final sequences involves the murder of the politically conservative, romantically naïve Delphine Downing and her small child. It is a scene that is chilling in its execution. It’s a sequence that is less explicit than moments that have come before it yet sticks out for the horrified and disgusted reactions that come from it. 

It is unfortunate that Kastle only made one film in his lifetime. The composer finds himself falling in a similar category as William Peter Blatty (The Exorcist 3, The Ninth Configuration) or Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter). Filmmakers with limited filmographies, but with texts which all held distinctive visions. With his work so often considered to be celebratory of sociopaths, one wonders if Scorsese would have brought forth the same unsentimental approach to the material that Kastle achieved. The Honeymoon Killers is a killer couple feature that is nestled between Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Badlands (1973). It may not have the same influence, yet by holding none of the romanticism, The Honeymoon Kills comes across as more honest. The impassive balance between the casual and the caustic, along with the deep isolation and despair felt by the characters makes The Honeymoon Killers stand out from its new Hollywood counterparts. A blind watch of a film shrouded in darkness. This cult classic was certainly worth partaking in. 

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Thursday 2 December 2021

Article: Southern Fried Chaos - Rambling Re-watch of Killer Joe

Killer Joe may now be a decade old, yet it’s lost none of the anarchy which made it so memorable on release. In fact, with current cinematic expressions (both thoughts and films) trapped in a moral binary state, Joe feels even edgier. There are times that this first collaboration between director William Friedkin and playwright Tracey Letts feels like a scrub down with wire wool and sand. Yet its abrasiveness still delivers a morbid delight. Once the film hits fever pitch, it is still difficult to turn away.

This tale of deep-fried double indemnity begins when Chris (Emile Hirsch) gets thrown out of his mother’s house. The young drug dealer soon hatches a ludicrous scheme to off his mother with the help of his oblivious father; Ansel (Thomas Hayden Church). Word has it that if Chris’ mother dies, her insurance pay-out will land in the lap of Chris’ innocent sister Dottie (Juno Temple). Sounds too good to be true. It certainly comes across that way to Detective Joe Cooper, the full-time cop, part-time contract killer hired to do the deed. With Chris unable to stump up the cash for Joe, the cop requests a retainer: Dottie. With Killer Joe beginning in the middle of a thunderstorm, you know these people won’t find peace.

Half a neo-noir, half grotesque morality tale, Killer Joe doesn’t hold the same gritty faux-documentary style imagery as Friedkin 70’s works. There’s a slickness in Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography which firmly highlights a stark contrast from the muted tones seen in the likes of The French Connection (1971) or The Exorcist (1973). Yet the scuzzy sensibilities that have been found in many of Friedkin’s characters remain very much intact. In an opening scene, Chris opens a door to a character introducing us to their private parts before we see their face. Each member of this low-rent family only seems to communicate in arguments. Their blind ignorance is only matched by greed. Their obnoxiousness wouldn’t feel out of place in a Rob Zombie movie. Yet even the Firefly family has more kinship than these unfortunates.

This brings us to the titular Joe, who Roger Ebert remarks in his review of the film as not stupid but makes the severe mistake in not realising how stupid this family is. Dottie sees the danger that resides within him. “His eyes hurt,” she remarks more than once. Her comments are often dismissed because the stupidity of the family members is more than a touch louder. Dressed mostly in black, a shot early in the film frames Joe in a front door window peering in at the innocent “retainer”. An economically effective image of the game being preyed upon.

Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Joe was hailed as a career-best. It’s not difficult to see why. Within the decade before Joe Cooper, McConaughey’s most visible roles were a raft of middling features in which his good looks and laid-back southern drawl were the defining aspects of some bland displays. For a long time, the actor who held roles in films such as A Time to Kill (1996) and Amistad (1997) seemed almost doomed to banal rom coms in which he could be found leaning against his female co-star on the marketing posters. Lesser seen films like Frailty (2001) helped punctuate reminders that McConaughey was fully capable of complicated or subversive roles. That said, such performances probably don’t bring home as much bacon as How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003). Fair dues.

Between 2011-2014, McConaughey netted a glut of roles that had media outlets hailing a 'McConaissance'.  A resounding career comeback in which nearly every display by the actor was worth watching. Killer Joe was near the start of this second act. McConaughey resurrected his righteous cop act from John Sayles’ Lone Star (1996) and inverting it with a large injection of corruption. That easy-going image of the early 00s is left waving in the distance. With these new choice roles, McConaughey brings forth something more profoundly sinister. With this newfound intensity, Joe Cooper rules supreme. The lazy, baritone drawl is now something more deliberate and mannered. The knowing, slightly smug smile is missing. The haunted look on McConaughey’s face during Joe’s first anxiety-ridden meeting with Dottie becomes a primer to another of the actor’s Top tier performances: True Detective’s Rustin Cohle. Both Joe Cooper and Cohle have McConaughey throwing the kind of middle-distance stare that suggests that years of investigation have plunged each of them deep into their own heart of darkness. At least Cohle’s nihilism has a glimmer of a man looking to repentance. The moment Joe Cooper’s eyes settle on the innocent Dottie, the man has designs to remove that purity.

Friedkin revels in the dysfunction with a wicked sense of humour. Joe, Chris, and Ansel converse with each other in a morbid Three Stooges mentality. At the mid-way point, Chris has a run-in with his debtors. A scene executed with sly cordial hospitality. Later Ansel has a suited sight gag for the ages. A joke so perfect I had to scold myself as I forgot it happened. It is pitch-perfect. The finale is a different matter. The comedy soon dissipates before throwing the audience headfirst into the infamous "K Fried C" scene. With Friedkin reminding viewers that even in the twilight of his career, he knows how to put together a sequence that can make a person gag.

The graphic climax came under a cloud of controversy, with Friedkin steadfastly refusing to bow down to censor the film. “To get an R rating, I would have had to destroy it in order to save it and I wasn't interested in doing that,” Friedkin remarked in an interview with Rope of Silicon. The MPAA released  Killer Joe with the NC-17 rating, often a death nail in terms of commercial viability. Looking at the film a decade later, in an era where online conversations around even the slightest moral grey area require a whiff of smelling salts, one feels an element of luck that such a film came out unscathed. These are morally repugnant crooks, whose deeds are more than a little grim.  Just like the 70s Friedkin understands the assignment and the film never sympathises with its ugly people. But just like those days, he does more enough in Killer Joe for us to laugh and fear them. Praise be.

Monday 15 March 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings: Part 3

Life gets in the way. Because of this, my belated final post on the Glasgow film festival now comes in at a time when everyone is bleating on about Awards season. Such is life. Such is life. 

A Brixton Tale:

This drama of black fears and white tears is a low-level mixture of The Shape of Things and What Richard Did, with a touch of Nightcrawler sprinkled in for good measure. A Brixton Tale finds ways to get under the skin with some of its themes but also frustrates with its lack of connecting tissue and shrugging resolution.

White Youtuber Leah meets Benji in Brixton by chance and decides to make the black teenager the subject of her video documentary. As they spend more time together, a romance forms between the two, as does a cultural clash between Leah’s cosy middle-class life and Benji’s inner-city background.

One of the things the film does exceedingly well is to highlight the power of white manipulation of male black masculinity. From the very start, something is unsettling on how Leah not only quietly observing Benjy through her lens but how she subtly influences situations to her whim. All the while conveniently removing herself from the line of fire. Leah’s camera, along with insert shots of CCTV cameras and crowded mostly white rooms, illustrate the feeling of a black male image always under surveillance. Particularly via white agitators. From Policeman to even best friends. The most effective example is the contrast between Benji’s mostly benevolent temperament and how he is represented by the champagne-sipping middle class in an exhibition of Leah’s art.

The film packs a lot within its short running time, but this seemingly comes at a cost. The films final third looks to elevate the drama but buckles slightly due to the weaker foundations underlying the earlier half.  The film starts reaching with certain outcomes and revelations falling flat as opposed to feeling justified. Then again, there are at points a couple of moments that may ask one to suspend belief to rationalise a young teenage girl holding a film camera.

The Mauritanian:

With its impressive cast and heavy subject matter, The Mauritanian has its sights on gaining some glittering prestige reception. The fictional feature explores the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s, the titular Mauritanian who was held captive in Guantánamo Bay for years without any formal charge. It is a film that comes at a time when the events of 9/11 mature into its 2nd decade, and the after shocks are still being felt, if albeit less pronounced. It is certainly a subject worth looking into as America moves forward into the Biden administration, the shadowy detention centre still casting a huge cloud over each presiding government.

The film has a ton of moving parts and director Kevin MacDonald does a decent job trying to keep all the plates spinning for the most part. It’s helped with a cast of reliable actors capable of making material such as this engaging.

Despite the shifts back and forth through time, and some affecting moments from Tahar Rahim, an actor who really should be talked up more, never elevates itself into anything truly memorable. As a fictional retelling, it never has the pull of something like Zero Dark Thirty or United 93, elsewhere documentaries such as Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side have talked about the dubious practices seen in The Mauritanian with stronger provocation. This does not stop the film’s final moments – now with the commonly used real-life footage – from being holding a certain amount of poignancy.

Against The Tide:

I was invited to view Giulia Candussi’s delicately told short documentary Against near the end of the Festival, and personally feel it is worth it’s small run time.

Simply composed and capturing its Scottish scenery beautifully, Candussi’s short account on a woman’s trial membership with a remote, self-sustaining communion away from the relentless pursuit of modern life is a quietly warming journey. Much like Candussi’s Back to the Roots photo project (found on her website), the film timely highlights ideals of simplicity and finding deeper connections with ourselves against our chaotic modern world.  A fitting finish to the festival.

Friday 26 February 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings - Part 2

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this festival for me has been a more enhanced feeling of discovery. My excursions to the London Film Festival have so often been hurried trips to packed cinemas, watching the more marketed films a few months before they are released to the awaiting public. Films by popular filmmakers are filled up quickly, and while that buzz of watching such films never truly leaves, patrons such as myself who do not have the luxury of absorbing all the fruits of the festival must economise what little time they have.

Glasgow Film Festival in its current form has given me a far more open stance on viewing opportunities. Save for Minari which I labelled as a must-see, I have found myself making a lot of choices at random. Decisions based on little else than I have the time and the film might have only a solitary element which I find worth investigating.

It may be a female director. It could be that I have simply not seen a film from that country. Hell, it might just be down to the blurb on the website. Hell with one choice, it was all these things. Either way, I took a divining rod approach to things to see if I found anything that I would consider worthwhile.

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time:

With a running time much more merciful than its title, this mysterious drama takes place in the gloomy streets of Budapest. A doctor travels from America back to her home country for a date with another doctor in a pact reminiscent of the end of Before Sunrise.  She finds herself dubiously stood up by the supposed love of her life. When encountering the man soon afterwards, he claims to have never met her before.

Director Lili Horvát produces an intriguing premise to get one’s teeth into, and the blurb on the web site make grand comparisons to Hitchcock and Kieślowski. Oddly enough, this drama had slight feelings of Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, although far less cynical. The film becomes a quiet study of the irrational risks that love can produce. So much of the film harbours the kind of tension usually obtained in a more violent thriller, however, Horvát is far more interested in the light cracking of neurosurgeon Márta Vizy’s (Natasa Stork) icy veneer than delivering an overdramatic psychosis.

Vizy’s decision to leave her high position in America to pursue the doctor opens a world of perceived irrationality. She takes residency in an empty squalid flat. She takes a position in the same hospital as this stranger. Her choices lead to her work being scrutinised in spite of being the best in her field.

Holding its cards tightly to its chest, Preparations works for most of its brief run time. Stork’s impassive expression often leaves us to wonder if she is lost her mind, or something even more insidious. The film stumbles slightly as it heads towards it’s fragile yet hopeful finale, but this doesn’t stop Horvat’s impressive methodical drip-feed execution of the story from keeping everything on tenterhooks.


The type of film which deserves to find its audience. Sweethearts: a coming-of-age story of a socially awkward, environmentally conscious teenager forced to go on holiday with her family to a Butlins style park, is not a film with many surprises. It is by no means a reinvention of the wheel. Nor does it have to be. Instead, Sweetheart is a strong remainder type of film that the British can do well. Taking advantage of its beachside location and filling it with a fun cast of up and comers and character actors, the film nails the anxiety of the passage of time between leaving childhood and finding the beginnings of post-adolescence.  It works because it does the basic things well. The closest bedfellow to Sweetheart is perhaps Submarine, while the former is not as quirky as the latter. Nevertheless, Sweetheart should be seen for its sharp observations, tender moments of drama, and generally being a good laugh for most of its runtime.


Not one to lie to my blog readers. Seeing this as a Sky produced documentary filled me with a certain dread. A niggling feeling that this overview of Tina Tuners musical career would be a rather flat, uninvolving affair. I was happy to say I am wrong.

This is a comprehensive and appealing account of one of the most electrifying black female performers of Rock and Roll. Beginning with her modest, church-going beginnings and her breakthrough RnB success with her abusive musician Ike, to her astonishing pop music comeback decades later. This film is a perfect introduction to the queen of Rock and Roll for the uninitiated.

One would find it hard to believe that the likes of Beyoncé were not more than a little influenced by Turners headstrong shimmying and powerful vocals. The archive footage that is shown is certainly infectious. However, this documentary, possibly at the subject’s own trepidation, cannot really do the passion without the pain. While all the elements within Tina were agreed to by the singer, the films most telling, and distressing moments are the affirmation of how trauma recurs and routinely inflicts its pain. The media near-obsessive desire to connect her career with her ex-husband is a chilling reminder of how the media machine situates its lens.

However, Turner’s dignity and professionalism not only outlay her as a performer, but it is also among the highlights of the film itself. Watching her desire to perform, along with her decorum throughout the low points of her career, it’s difficult to think of any modern-day performers who will hold as much grace in a career as long.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings - Part 1

With many parts of the world still in the grip of the pandemic, Film Festivals have been forced to reconsider how they function as a main cog in the industry. The focus is now heavily based on streamed screeners and zoom interviews as the main approach. Something that festivals were aiming towards for a small while anyway. However, the acceleration of this possible new normal has allowed a broadening of scope which perhaps had not been tapped into in previous years.

With Glasgow film festival having to adapt to the situation at hand, it has allowed the likes of myself – unable to travel up to bonnie Scotland – to be able to take part in the proceedings in a way that I would have perhaps been able to before. If the new adaptation is adopted and improved upon even further, the fact that we may be able to see a flourishing of diverse opinion provides a profoundly optimistic outlook to the world of cinema and film writing. One hopes that when COVID-19 is no longer a mainstay of our news and lives, such broadening of horizons remains with us.

The Toll:

Set entirely in the sparse but photogenic Pembrokeshire countryside, The Toll casts Michael Smiley as the quiet yet sinister Tollbooth operator whose shady secret from his previous life sparks a whole manner of chaos in a remote Welsh town. Ryan Andrew Hooper’s loads his debut feature with a hefty amount of local colour and oddball characters. The film’s cast is filled with solid character actors that help deflect the purposely fractured storytelling, which may or may not convince viewers. However, the main strength of the film lies in the wryly comic observations on topics such as teen criminals asking for Instagram engagement and English ex-pats claiming Wales for themselves.  British cinema could do worse than have a few more attempts at what this Welsh Western is trying.


While we may only be in the second month of the year at the time of writing, I would not be surprised if Minari stays high up in my list of favourite films of the year. Lee Isaac Chung’s tender drama takes place in rural Arkansas in the 1980s following a Korean American family moving from California to a remote plot of land, to grow Far Eastern produce for immigrant vendors. With its naturalistic cinematography and warm performances, the film is quietly disarming in nearly every scene.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, Chung’s film eschews the kind of typical racial conflict which one could have expected from such a film. Instead, Minari is more interested in the frayed family tensions that come from Steven Yeun’s Jacob overwhelming desire to make his way through the American dream. The film is not overtly plotted and does not have to be to deliver its emotional gut punches. A film that delivers a strong wind with butterfly wings.


A myriad of interconnecting stories which meld within one another, the Estonian filmed Undergods is an eyeball hijacker from a production design standpoint. The stark, dilapidated landscapes perfectly capture the nature of this anthology of dour tales which centre around broken family values, mistrust, and isolation. Spanish director Chino Moya starts proceedings well. Opening with a snappy, spiteful story of a splintered relationship being suspiciously invaded by a too-friendly neighbour.  

However, the film becomes a bit too self-absorbed in its bleakness to be fully invested. The film falls down rabbit holes, telling stories within stories and punctuates itself with moments of dark violence. But by the time Kate Dickie starts wildly dancing to Conway Twitty’s Lonely Blue Boy, Undergods steers into David Lynch territory, but with none of the engagement.  

Saturday 13 February 2021

Review: Paradise Cove

 Year: 2021

Director: Martin Guigui

Screenplay: Sherry Klein

Starring: Todd Grinnell, Mena Suvari, Kristin Bauer van Straten


Synopsis is here:

Every so often, a movie will have me thinking about Pauline Kael’s seminal essay about appreciating great trash. Watching Paradise Cove, always makes me wonder what she would think of a film like this or the many similar features like it. These off the beaten track thrillers which love to highlight their gaudy wares at the expense of logical plot.

This is the sort of Yuppies-in-hell type of movie that does not seem to be much of. Inequality is through the roof. People buy homes less to live but to profit from. Late-stage capitalism has left many in despair. It is the perfect time to update Pacific Heights (1990). Paradise Cove holds none of the financial muscle of John Schlesinger’s movie, but it should not need to. What Paradise Cove has going for it is relevancy. Its dog-eat-dog story brings a certain amount of connectivity to an audience. To have such a topic thrown into such an over-the-top thriller is usually enjoyable.

That said, Paradise Cove is seriously lacking in the type of craftsmanship which could turn it into an enjoyable pulp smothered tale. It is a film which lacks the guts or coherence to be as interesting as it could have been. Hampered by poor pacing, cardboard flat performances, and a patchy narrative which needed to be tidied up in the pre-production stage it is a film which far too happily enjoys its contrivance. Better films can often have its audience asking the same questions that one may do here. But Paradise Cove is deficient in having the ability to distract its audience. It would perhaps be beneficial if the film had characters who worth investing in.

Watching a young couple being terrorised by a disturbed, homeless women could be an intriguing premise if the screenplay cared about any of the people at play. However, Paradise Cove is a place where every person is annoyingly uncompelling and profoundly unsympathetic. A couple who seems uninterested in the memories within the house they cannot wait to flip. They go up against a middle-aged vagrant, whose tragic backstory never feels strong enough to tolerate her causal slip into needless violence. The film’s habit of playing fast and loose with plot strands, along with some tone-deaf characterisation ensures that none of these characters provides empathy.

The annoying thing is when you have the likes of Mena Suvari in the casting roster, you should allow her to be more than a shrill, hysterical wife. It is a role with no agency or sympathy and some of the most egregious pieces of dialogue. So much of what this character says makes whatever plight this couple may have unappealing. Kristin Bauer van Straten has a better time with things. Her performance as a jilted housewife is at one which knows what type of movie this could have been.

Unfortunately, this is not about what the film could have been, but what the film is. Folks like me may get a kick out of the unintentionally humorous set pieces and plot points that seemingly go nowhere (that shower sequence does what for the film exactly?). However, for those who are looking for a thriller with more…well thrill, it may be worth heading elsewhere.














Sunday 17 January 2021

Article: Giving The Shunt a Punt


During this pandemic, the wish of many has been revisiting films which bring about comfort and losing oneself in safety. I, however, found myself routinely absorbed in more disconcerting material. I have gone back to reading Pet Semetery and re-watching warped texts such as Society. Escaping the bleak into the realms of cheerful escapism does not make it go away. Staring at the abyss may not bring warmth but it has helped me push away that sense of complacency which can arrive in the face of uncertainty.

Society deals with one teenager’s deep pit of uncertainty. Billy is unsure of his parents. On the face of things, in the eyes of those without certain privileges, it is difficult to see why. Growing up amongst Beverly Hill’s upper class, Billy’s increasing worries over his parents and sister should come across as the kind of growing pains one expects to face if your hill has one tree, or your creek has a Dawson in it. Billy’s fears deepen as he slowly uncovers indications that suggest his family are not what they may seem. As a horror film, it is best to keep quiet on the gory secrets, however, Bill soon learns the price of privilege can cost more than an arm and or a leg.

There is a somewhat twisted pleasure in watching Brian Yuzna’s cinematic attack on the ruling classes. Even now 32 years on, as a sickly satirical horror film Society is still notable for slapping its social commentary right in the face of those who watch it without a hint of subtly. The rich are different from you and me. They see the world almost as if they are a different species. By the much-commented end of the film, we find how just how different they are. This is a film with no room for subtext.

It is easy to dismiss society as a film because a lot of the film's runtime would not look out of place in a bland 80's teen romp. The film has so much wrapped up in its outrageous climax that the rest of the film can feel off. A little forgettable. Save for some of the other more absurd visuals and hints which keep prodding us to the grand reveal. Charlie Lyne writes about the film’s ending as an extraordinary yet laments the films first hour as tedious. An unfortunate response as while the film’s opening hour rolls at a deliberate pace, it is peppered with crude and surreal clues. Contorted spines are witnessed through shower screens. Bodies disappear and are quickly covered up. The impassive reaction to the death of a school colleague by Bill’s parents is ominous, made bleaker in watching the current events at the time of writing in which a global pandemic has had politicians and talking heads make blasé comments about fatality percentages. Often because of their desire to kick start the economy. But Society is also a film about building to a crescendo. Its finale is a fountain of viscera, yet it means nothing without the build-up. The reaction to the apparent death of Blanchard is grim. His actual demise is a fate worse than death. 

At the time of writing this global pandemic has highlighted how labour outside the ruling classes has kept our current system functioning.  Elsewhere people have weighed up the economy in comparison to the health of others. Placing terms such as underlying conditions under disturbingly vague terms. Only recently Conservative MP Esther McVey made comments regarding “tolerable levels of death".  Referenced in comparison to costs in a way which would fit snugly into a rough draft of Dr Strangelove (1962). Such statements are stated with conviction to express seriousness, yet the blasé nature of such remarks come to be quite unpleasant when you consider the commenter to appear disengaged from the reality of the words. Something often stated about the comfortable class. The indifferent way those who do not worry look upon those that do. Something that Society enjoys toying within the most sweaty, gruelling way. Fuel for pleasure.

Society is so memorable because the metaphor is so blunt and yet so remarkably pure. Horror films are often great features to craft social-political subtext within them. Brian Yuzna does away with any idea of subtlety. Recent current affairs only seem to make the film more potent. Ryan Lambie notes in Den of Geek that the film’s title song is the Eton Boating Song. A piece of music associated with Eton College. A university is known for not only known for its elite standing, but also for the fact that both ex-Prime Minister David Cameron and current leader Boris Johnson were both educated there. Kieran Fisher remarks the dubious statements made by America's 45th President, Donald Trump about his daughter. They unwittingly mirror the incestuous nature of Bill’s parents towards their female offspring. 

Conversations over the one percent have been drawn into sharp focus in recent times. Billionaires made serious bank during a time of great trauma for many areas of the working class and a film like Society is not the first film to highlight the riches ability to feed off the lesser advantaged. But within the purity of the film’s message lies its relevancy.

Reaching comparisons aside, in the film’s text, the rich are just rich. You do not need knowledge of the Eton Boating Song. There are no party-political lines drawn, yet the incestuous aspect of the film brings around the feeling that it does not matter whose president or which party leads. Those who have can dominate those who have not. Despite more recent comparisons being made in this piece, the film still leans to the anti-materialistic cult films of its decade. Paired with John Carpenter’s They Live (1986) both make a potent double bill about the rich v poor era they inhabit. One of the most unsettling aspects lies in their protagonists discovering the hideous plot by the ruling powers, only to have their journey end in partial disruption, not completion. Both film’s climax with the secret world revealed, but not quelled. The film gives us a basic resolution to the plot but never imparts full closure.

The opening third features scenes which seem to imply that Billy paranoia is not false but has been blindsided by materialistic culture. His sister maybe favoured but he gets the flash jeep. There is an element of being bought into the culture. The film still resonates due to that point of view being still quite deep-seated in the current culture. As the western world glorifies billionaires while demonising lower-wage workers on social media platforms, ignoring the manipulation of labour which has allowed such an uneven balance between the rich and poor, Society still holds a sense of potency. We all have smartphones. We blast off whatever opinion about those we deem lesser than ourselves while those in the upper echelons feed off the exploitation. In Society, the antagonists of the film have been with us forever.  Still feeding and shunting. In the present, dark humour exists. Watching the space race between the Musks and Bezos’ of the world, it is as if we have modern-day shunters. Seeking a way back home after a long feed.

Do we need more films that play in the same satirical playbox as Society? I feel we have them. Both Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and US (2019) load themselves with similar sinister underpinnings. The death cult which inhabits The Invitation (2015) may not be as macabre in its dealings or as blatant with its targets, yet the film harbours elements of bizarre cult ritual which work well with Society as a double bill of the west of America losing its mind. One does hope budding filmmakers go back to films like Society and take notes. From its modest openings of late 80s cheese to its perverse ending. A finish which must be seen to be believed.  Society is a cult film for a reason. It is doubtful that a consensus will be willing to give the Shunt a punt. However, in a pandemic like which with the ongoing discourse of current events being what they are, it is quite possibly one of the perfect times to watch such a film.

Society is available on Blu-Ray

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