Monday, 8 August 2022
Sunday, 7 August 2022
Director Dan Trachtenberg and screenwriter Patrick Aison have worked a minor miracle with Prey. The duo have managed to produce a concept so strong that it works against the received (but failing) wisdom of how to conceptualise and plot a sequel, especially one with such obvious brand recognition. To wit: go bigger and bigger, at the expense of reason. The Predator series has always stumbled and bumbled around when attempting to expand its scope beyond John McTiernan's masterful but deliberately self-contained first instalment. Although Predator 2 seethes with an agitated, even radioactive, energy, further episodes strayed further and further away from the central idea of a single invisible monster stalking a shrinking team of maniacs. In one sense the first Predator is an ultra-masculine variation on Alien - a muscular appropriation of the same tick 'em off formula that trades oily decks for a green inferno; grumbling refinery workers for a well-equipped CIA death squad.
In Prey, the extra-terrestrial chasseur is stalking The Great Plains, its presence in the 18th century reported in brief asides that recall the passively observed methodology of Arnold Schwarzenegger's cyborg in The Terminator. While McTiernan's creature was a ghostly presence, prodding at the soldiers it was tailing before going as far as actually attacking them, Trachtenberg's is locked into its own little sub-adventure. Although occasionally glimpsed by Amber Midthunder's Naru, a young Comanche woman who'd rather hunt than gather, this Predator is often alone, collecting trinkets and slowly working its way up the area's food chain. Dane DiLiegro's invader uses it's reflective camouflage to flaunt a proximity to the other animals that feast upon their physical inferiors. Trachtenberg's film, both in terms of incident and the dialogue screamed by dying men, plays up the villainous qualities of this Predator. It is a cheat. A massive firepower advantage isn't enough for this monster, instead it delights in striking at its victims while completely concealed, only decloaking when there's an enormous power discrepancy.
Trachtenberg and Aison formulate their conclusion around this mix of arrogance and cowardice. Their hero, Naru, has enjoyed a certain proximity to this creature that has allowed her to decode its technology and techniques. In these situations Naru has, more often than not, played the role of quarry to the bigger game this Predator is actually poaching. She isn't viewed as a threat and is therefore irrelevant to the heat vision hunter. An early scene in which the Predator inadvertently gives a cottontail rabbit a reprieve by killing the wolf that was stalking it establishes that this alien has a blind spot, one that the physically smaller Naru can comfortably occupy. This advantage is compounded by Naru's intellectual acumen - just as she isn't constrained by the gender role that has been assigned to her by her family and society, she isn't limited by the position she hopes to grow into either. The Comanche men she brushes shoulders with have tried and trusted weapons that they rely upon - not unlike the Predator. Naru, when sensing the limitations inherent to her equipment, customises hers and transforms their utility. Naru then practices until she is fluent with these contraptions. Threaded throughout Prey is this idea that overwhelming physical strength limits those who possess it. The reliance on this power reveals an unwillingness to adapt; a desire to respond to every question with the same, mocking, answer.
Thursday, 4 August 2022
Wednesday, 3 August 2022
Writer-director David Cronenberg's latest, Crimes of the Future, begins with a child hunkering down beneath a bathroom sink to tuck into the pink plastic bin that usually occupies that space. As he feasts, a thick white drool dangles from his mouth. Later we learn that this frothy sputum is caustic, an evolutionary advantage that will allow a new sub-species of humankind to consume and digest the synthetic trash that is crammed into every corner of our world. In the moment though, Sozos Sotiris' Brecken registers as a perfectly concealed Brundlefly - the mutant off-shot able to summon up corrosive digestive enzymes at will. This feeling of summation is threaded throughout Crimes: the mind-warping agenda of extreme, sensationalist, art from Videodrome rubs up against the pearlescent bio-mechanoids of eXistenZ; Shivers' mix of sex and surgery runs concurrent to failing attempts, by boring bureaucrats, to catalogue violent metamorphosis. The latter straight out of Scanners.
Set in and around an art world dedicated to euphoric body modification, Viggo Mortensen's Saul Tenser and Léa Seydoux's Caprice are a double-act of critically appreciated performance artists. Saul is the canvas, Caprice the brush. Although we are told that pain and infection have largely been eliminated in this oddly Mediterranean present, Saul writhes in agony throughout the film. Unlike his partner, who can hold steaming skillets and must voluntarily alter her appearance, Saul's body is constantly undergoing twisting transformation. His insides give birth to new, unknown organs that are assumed to be vestigial and potentially tumourous. Cocooned in a operating bed that looks like a cross between the sarcophagus of a deep-sea monarch and a caterpillar's chrysalis, Saul submits himself to Caprice's surgical tinkering for the amusement of the champagne and canapés set. Even Saul's attempts to feed himself primary-coloured mush requires a soothing, swishing, skeletal apparatus - one designed to simulate the movements that a body locked in choking dysphagia has otherwise grown unaccustomed to.
Beneath this new flesh garnish though, Crimes revolves around the sickly tension present in interpersonal incidents with clear hierarchical tiers - pitching and networking as an uncommon horror that demands artists pluck out their trembling insides then place them under someone else's microscope. In this sense Crimes treads similar ground to Cronenberg's earlier film Maps to the Stars. Whereas in that film the status that comes with fame allowed for a childish and chronic misbehaviour, Crimes examines these interactions from a perspective coloured by advancing age. Saul is elderly and established, unconsciously cooking up new projects in a mad rush to produce before his collapsing body begins its path to conclusion. In Crimes then the revulsion is generated not just by largely bloodless scenes of autopsy but by an overly appreciative audience, desperate to win any kind of favour with Saul. A scene with Kristen Stewart's Timlin, a junior staff member with the National Organ Registry, sees the young woman attempting to seduce Saul but, in practice, her overly enthusiastic regard is shown to be suffocating. Saul cannot help physically retreating from her fawning broadcasts, covering his mouth and face with his hands before, finally, conclusively ruining the mood by declaring that he is sexually inadequate.
Tuesday, 2 August 2022
Monday, 1 August 2022
Director Danny Cannon's I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is a superfluous sequel almost completely disconnected from I Know What You Did Last Summer's core concept of drunken teens covering up their small town hit-and-run. Although both Jennifer Love Hewitt's Julie and Freddie Prinze Jr's Ray survived the events of the first film, Still's circling Fisherman killer only has detailed designs on the former - the saturated maniac showing up, unannounced, while Julie is attempting to enjoy an end-of-season break in The Bahamas. This lack of serious follow through when plotting Ray's death is symptomatic of a wider conceptual shift within the film. Still is less an ensemble piece, like its predecessor, and more a star vehicle designed around Hewitt. Previously, Jim Gillespie's film struggled to state a clear preference between its two female leads; more often than not Hewitt and co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar were trapped in the same medium shot, comparing crop tops.
Cannon and cinematographer Vernon Layton's take on this Sony Pictures slasher is far more specific, and intrusive, in its shot selection. Hewitt's Julie, a lank and beleaguered presence in the first film, is allowed to be glamorous and frame filling here. The camera snoops around her, poking its lens deep into her personal space, appraising the actress' face and whatever skin she currently happens to be revealing. Singer-songwriter Brandy Norwood's Karla, the deputy attractive victim in this sequel, isn't given anything like the same attention as Hewitt. A monologue about Karla making an expensive bikini purchase fails to track into the conclusive leer it seems to propose, while a karaoke bar interlude only apportions mic time to Julie. Lumbered with a dull legacy villain who stomps around in waterlogged Wellington boots, Still does (briefly) shift up a gear when a member of Julie's college friend group reveals his true identity at the height of a tropical storm. And, although Trey Callaway's screenplay offers very little for Cannon to really sink his teeth into, the Judge Dredd director does at least seem to be trying to tune into the Italian horror masters when inspecting sodden graveyards or a verdant greenhouse that collapses in on itself.
Another look at CFX's Final Fight Ultimate, a modern fan project that squeezes Capcom's seminal coin-op down to a blast processing-friendly size. This latest clip shows off a gameplay mode missing from the SNES' 1990 adaptation (a Japanese launch title no less, which probably explains why the cart was a little feature poor): simultaneous two-player action.
Sunday, 31 July 2022
Saturday, 30 July 2022
Hurled into production after screenwriter Kevin Williamson scored a box office hit with Scream, director Jim Gillespie's I Know What You Did Last Summer is a far more routine pass at a late 90s slasher. The film is content to idle forward, slowly ticking off the remorseful teens who ran over a night-time stroller then tipped his bleeding body off a pier, so as not to disturb the bright futures they saw immediately ahead of themselves. Structurally speaking, I Know is the anti-Scream in that it deliberately thwarts the audience's natural desire to speculate on the identity of the killer. Roseanne vet Johnny Galecki plays Max, a nerdy snooper who displays all the hallmarks of a suspicion magnet: he's nursing an unrequited crush on Jennifer Love Hewitt's Julie; he's a whipping boy for the male contingent of her friendship group; and, crucially, he spots the teens acting suspiciously following the car crash incident that sits at the centre of the piece.
Rather than string the audience along using this Max character, Williamson's script, an adaptation of Lois Duncan's 1970s young adult book, quickly jettisons him. The impulse behind this decision has a sense of deconstruction to it - this most likely suspect is now off the board and, surely, all bets are off if innocent bystanders are themselves being murdered? Unfortunately this writing flourish doesn't then pave the way for a startling new revelation that could be intuited from a close examination of the film's opening act. If Max, this unconnected but axe-grinding witness, has been slain then who could possibly be taunting this group? Naturally suspicion falls on the bashed-in body they dumped in the drink. This new framing implies a supernatural element in the film, one seemingly borne out by the Fisherman killer's ability to fill a car boot full of crabs feasting on a bloated teenager, then perform a full spit-and-shine service in the minutes between Julie discovering this nautical horror and her attempts to then reveal it to her beaten-up friends.
The Fisherman killer's taunting goes beyond a simplistic, tit for tat revenge. Indeed the complete failure of any of these characters to thrive following that fateful night seems to indicate that the piece itself is acting against them. I Know is surprisingly prim in that sense. Williamson denies these characters the lives they dreamed of, hammering them back into small-town routine or, in the case of the most virtuous character Julie, having her unconsciously sabotage her chance at escape. There are even notes that imply that this is a just, tormenting, punishment being enacted from beyond-the-grave - Ryan Phillippe's image obsessed rage case has his good looks fouled (but not ruined) by a ghostly hit-and-run driver while Sarah Michelle Gellar's Helen has her beloved hair trimmed into a neat bob while she sleeps - but this spectral swirl ends up terminating in the dull den of a middle-aged man, grasping at his own straws. In the end this Fisherman killer is an unheralded aside who jumps through hoops to excuse these teens of their inciting crime.