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Under the Skin – 8

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

 

Director – Jonathan Glazer

Cast – Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Lynsey Taylor Mackay, Adam Pearson, Jessica Mance, Dougie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, D. Meade, Andrew Gorman, Krystof Hádek, Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland

Release Year – 2014

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Earlier this year I learned that there would be a horror film starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien seductress who lures men to their doom. If you ask me, that sounds like a kickass grindhouse film – I was dead wrong. The more I learned about the film the more it came off as an art house masterpiece with hints of influence from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Regardless, with so many cool elements involved I had to give this a watch, and was pleased at the outcome. Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. It’s a horror, thriller, drama, and fantasy effort that makes for one of the most unique horror films this millennium.

The storyline is as simple as the first sentence of this review. Scarlett stars as an unnamed woman who removes the clothes from an unconscious woman and then embarks on an unmentioned mission to seduce random men. That is, of course, after the film’s immense opening sequence. I really cannot tell you what happens at the beginning of the film, but it is this sequence that makes me mention 2001: A Space Odyssey when I speak of this flick. The first word is not spoken until 13 minutes into the film, and I was very surprised to learn that much of the dialogue was unscripted. To get a realistic feel, most of the men that the woman meets are non-actors who had their conversations with the woman recorded and were then offered roles in the film. This is a bold move by writer/director Jonathan Glazer that worked out in his favor in the end. So, instead of an actual screenplay the film is written more as a blueprint, with the non-actors giving “true” performances as they were unaware that they were speaking to Scarlett Johansson, who was wearing a wig and makeup.

A very long first act gives us approximately an hour of the woman seeking men, both successfully and unsuccessfully, and disposing of them. The first kill appears at the 21-minute mark, and it will leave you bewildered as to what exactly happened. Do not worry though, the next kill, at 35 minutes, explains what happens to her unsuspecting victims…and it is truly haunting. For this being such an artsy film I was quite surprised at how effective the horror was. I can’t say that this will give me nightmares, but I was definitely left in shock over what I saw. The second act slows things down as she travels a bit and begins to find herself. At times it feels like she is curious to know what life is like as a human, but she is on a mission and we are made aware that those who sent her to Earth are covertly watching her. The third act gives us the woman’s first true conflict, which is short-lived and leads to a climax you will either love or hate.

 

Jonathan Glazer’s direction is what sells the film, and it was unexpected given his previous efforts, which are Birth and Massive Attack videos. His provides a visceral experience with long, drawn-out sequences that play on your senses with amazing visuals and a haunting score. Scarlett is great, and the execution of her character, from looks to mannerisms, surpasses her acting. This is not because her acting is poor, but because the performance is so basic. Glazer’s direction of the kills was quite out of this world, with the uneventful ones still captivating me thanks once again to the visuals. I mentioned earlier that there is at least one haunting scene, and its effectiveness is incredible. Glazer draws these scenes out to achieve the highest amount of tension possible, leaving you to squirm in your seat, eyes glued to the screen, and in complete submission to the film. I cannot say that happens often, and I give him props for that.

Overall, Under the Skin is an experience that must be experienced. If you are looking for a film to entertain a group of friends with then this is probably not for such an occasion. However, if an incredibly unique effort is what you seek, you have found it here.

Rating: 8/10

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Beyond the Black Rainbow – 7

September 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Director – Panos Cosmatos

Cast – Eva Bourne, Michael Rogers, Scott Hylands, Rondel Reynoldson, Marilyn Norry

Release Year – 2012

Reviewed by John of the Dead

While looking at lists of 2012’s top horror films I came across one film a few times that grabbed my attention, Beyond the Black Rainbow. The reviewers claimed it wasn’t a devout horror film, but that the end result was a visually epic and mind boggling ride, and for the most part they are right. In what feels like 2001: A Space Odyssey meets the horror genre, this Canadian flick from Greek writer/director Panos Cosmatos is an incredible experience that may be a turn off to some, but will nonetheless be an experience they will remember. While not heavy in scares, Beyond the Black Rainbow‘s subject matter is most definitely horrific and may very well be one of the best horror films of 2012.

While battling heavy sedation, the young and mentally gifted Elena tries desperately to make her way out of Arboria, a secluded and futuristic compound where she is held captive by a maniacal doctor.

It is not often that we see horror films like this so it does not surprise me that the film received some pretty positive attention from fans and reviewers. Set in the 1980s, Panos Cosmatos pays homage to the atmospheric and visual flicks of that timeframe, with Altered States coming to mind as a film this one somewhat resembles. The story is an incredibly simple on that focuses on two things, Elena’s torment and escape and Dr. Niles’ ever-growing obsession with her and her mental abilities. Very little dialogue is spoken and the film relies more on what we see to sell the film. With Elena’s case we view her vivid flashbacks to earlier, happier times, and with Dr. Niles we view his developing collapse into madness. The situation between Elena and Niles is horrific itself, but thankfully we are given some cool scenes of horror and the few deaths to go with them. Is the film a scary one? No, not at all, but it is definitely a film that is hard to talk about given how heavily it focuses of visuals instead of story. While this is not a bad story by any means I most definitely do not feel it had the capacity to fulfill a 110 minute experience. There is a lot of downtime in this piece and at at times I found myself drifting in an out of it, ultimately deciding that while this was an interesting piece I will not forget, it is unlikely I will watch it again.

Cosmatos’ direction is pretty great and is definitely the film’s major selling point. With a simple story you must have good direction to keep the viewer engaged, and he mostly succeeded in what he set out ot do. The visuals and cinematography are amazing and as I mentioned earlier, come off much like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I assume most of us will either like or dislike. For me personally I did not care for the constant visual engagements and slow moving scenes of what appear to be just nonsense sometimes, but we all have our preferences. The acting was good, although the actors did not have to act very much, and I had no major qualms with Casmotos direction, which was the only reason I chose to stick it out with this 110 minute film.

Overall, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a visually engaging film that relies little on story and more on what you see. Some will be opposed to this while others will find joy in Cosmatos’ direction and imagery, however in the end this is one of those films you will remember for a while, regardless.

Rating: 7/10

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