18 October 2010

Fright Fest: Parlez-vous horreur Psychologique?

Yesterday I mentioned my fear of dolls when I was a child. I've out grown it (to some extent; adults with china dolls is odd) and upgraded to more reality based fears. The ghoul under the bed has been replaced by an intruder, dolls replaced with ghosts, and people as predator. The human condition and psyche scares me a hell of a lot more than Pinhead (though don't tell him that on the safe side). With adulthood also comes a deepening respect for films outside the English language. I always liked foreign films, I was raised in a household that believed that to be important, so I never had to overcome the hurdles that others find difficult to leap over. Reading subtitles is second nature to me and I could wax poetic about the films that get it right and those that get it wrong. I love the intimacy in foreign films, how they push boundaries and discuss complex and often controversial topics. I love how quiet they are.

So without further adieu, my list of the best foreign and psychological films for you this Halloween:


"Pan's Labrynth" - I swear, I had no idea how often some people would show up on this list! Guillermo del Toro is at it again with this deeply moving and disturbing film about a young girl living in war torn Spain with her mother and evil stepfather. While exploring her new home, she discovers a labyrinth and befriends the mysterious Pan. You'll never guess how this all plays out.

True story: I have a bit of a problem with laughing at inopportune times at the movies, this being one of them. I saw this in a small packed theatre with a bunch of friends. I will admit to laughing out loud at one scene but that just seemed to make the guy behind me think this was acceptable behaviour. Every time he laughed, I got shushed! I swear I only did it once. That being said, this is the kind of movie people either love or hate. For me, it's a beautifully twisted fairy tale reminiscent of the ones my father told me as a child. Oddly enough, he hopes to never see it again as the ending bothered him. I can see why, but for the same reasons he hated it I loved it. To each his own.

"Mother of Tears" - The final installment of Italian horror mastermind Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy ("Suspiria", "Inferno") ends when an American art student (Asia Argento, daughter) opens an ancient urn that unleashes the Mother of Tears, a powerful and vengeful witch, onto the people of Rome.

Argento makes some of the most interesting and confusing films I've ever seen. They're almost like a train wreck- I have no idea what's going on half the time but I can't look away. Maybe it has something to do with the awful dubbing that his films have when released in the US. I want subtitles people! Of course, how are you going to pass Asia as American when she couldn't lose her accent if you paid her (and they have) or threatened to feed her to a ravenous bear. Still, who cares? That's not what his movies are about. They're about the power of persuasion, mythology, the fragility of women, and blood, and guts, and boobs. If you are not already a fan of B-movies (don't tell me because then we can't be friends) or dubbed films, skip his body of work, educate yourself, learn to like it, then rent them. Otherwise, a great weekend could be spent with these tales of a mother's love that only an Italian could make.

"Night Watch" & "Day Watch" Double Feature- The powers of good and evil try to win a war that's been waging for centuries. The Night Watch are a group of "Others" that patrol and monitor the Day Watch. One are light/good and the other dark/bad, however the lines between the two are often blurred even as alliances are not. Witches, vampires, shape shifters, psychics, ancient prophecies, oh my!

Based on the popular book series by Sergei Lukyanenko and helmed by Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted"), this duo are the highest grossing films in Russian history. That may not sound impressive to you, but one viewing and you will be converted. It's depressing actually, to see what can be done in a fledgling film community with a fraction of the dollars we typically spend on FX heavy films. Things I love: it's a great companion to the books (both films are based off the 1st book, "Night Watch"), the FX are amazing and crucial to the storytelling, the acting is great, both the subtitles and dubbing are done in house by Bekmambetov so you know they are top notch. I suggest watching the subtitled version first- the captions scroll across the screen, slide from top to bottom, and generally go where your eye needs to be. You never lose any of the action! What I don't like: Bekmambetov says "Wanted" tapped him out for ideas he would have used on the 3rd and final film ("Twilight Watch"), leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of fans. Get to it Timur!!

"Cold Prey" & "Dead Snow" Double Feature- "Cold Prey" is a tight Norwegian thriller about a group of extreme sports enthusiasts/med students who get trapped in an abandoned hotel after one of them breaks their leg. "Dead Snow" is a both gory and often funny Norwegian film about a group of med students who get trapped in their cabin by ravenous Nazi zombies. Oh yea, you heard me right- Nazi zombies.

Clearly it is a bad idea to go off into the mountains for any reason in Norway. It is also clear that the country is enjoying a bit of Renaissance film wise with so many amazing and wonderful works being produced their recently. I really like the idea of these two movies together. "Prey" has a kind of "Texas Chainsaw Masacre" feel to it but with more blood and suspense. "Snow" starts as a typical kids lost in the woods (insert snow here) before going into traditional zombie territory. Somewhere into the 3rd act it becomes a comedy though and you laugh through the sickness. It also has two of the most disgusting scenes I've seen in recent history. All I'll say is: Outhouse and Face mask. Trust me, you want to see this. It doesn't hurt that both films are written well, acted well (i.e. straight), and the subtitles seem to be good as well. I'll need a Norwegian to help me with that one though. I cannot wait to see what else the country has in store for us in the future.

[side note: Also rent the "Dead Snow" bonus disc. It is full of behind the scenes featurettes, making of's, and a great multi-part documentary of the cast and crew on their way to Sundance.]


"Session 9" - A team of asbestos removers clean an abandoned psychiatric hospital, however the discovery of recorded patient sessions mixed with the generally eerie feeling of the hospital soon lead the crew to believe it's haunted. Or is it?

Prior to this film, Brad Anderson was known for light indie fare (see "Next Stop Wonderland"). Whatever was going through his mind when he came up with this, I wish would happen again. This is one of the creepiest movies without blood or FX I've ever seen. Like a really amazing episode of "Ghost Hunters" (screw you "Ghost Hunters: International"!). Peter Mullan ("Young Adam") and Josh Lucas ("Sweet Home Alabama") are especially brilliant. You won't even mind David Caruso, well maybe a little. A truly amazing ghost story.

"Pandorum" - Once again a space crew are awoken from hyper-sleep, this time with a major case of amnesia. As their memories return, they realize they may not be alone aboard the ship.

The trailers for this film were a bit vague and I loved it. Too often, nee all the time, we are given trailers that are not the teasers they're meant to be but the movie whittled down to 120 seconds. If I wanted to see everything in the trailer I wouldn't go to the movies, I'd read spoiler blogs. Tangent aside, this movie really surprised me. The twist at the end kind of pissed me off but the path that got us there was well made and full of surprise performances. Add to my "Can They Be In Everything" list: Ben Foster. I'm not ashamed to say I've been a fan since "Fast Forward" (and I was way to old to be a fan then and I am now!) and have followed his career, seeing as much as I can.

"Moon"- see my previous review here.

"Eden Lake" - A young couple hope to get away from the hustle and bustle of London by going camping at a favorite lake. Things go from idyllic to devastating when a gang of teens starts to harass, stalk, and terrorize them.

Let me admit right off the bat that the only reason I rented this movie was because it starred Michael Fassbender ("Hunger", "Inglourious Basterds"), may new film obsession. I'm also a big fan of Kelly Reilly ("L'Auberge Espagnole", "Pride & Prejudice"). It sounded really hokey, and it is believe me, but it's also a great story about the evils of man and the power of love (gag). I also love when the woman is the voice of reason and the smarter one in the story. It's so rare I just eat it up. You will never guess how this ends, but it's devastating. That must be my new word of the day- devastating. I need a thesaurus.

"The Strangers" - Joseph Gordon-Levitt look-a-like Bryan Bertino wrote and directed this cautionary tale to suburbanites across the country. James and Kristen return home from a wedding to enjoy some peace and quiet when there's a knock on the door. A gang of masked psycho's decides to have a bit of fun at their expense.

I wanted to see this in the theatre because I am a big fan of Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman is a nice piece of eye candy, but I missed it. Turns out, this movie is much better to see at home, in the dark, preferably on a stormy night. That's how I saw it and everything the wind pushed at the door or threw an acorn at the window I jumped. It was super fun times had by all!

"Felicia's Journey" - Bob Hoskin's stars as a lonely catering manager with a deadly weak spot for young ladies. When he meets Felicia, a pregnant young Irish girl, he may have met his match.

I also have a thing for Atom Egoyan. Maybe it's because he's Canadian, maybe because he introduced the world to Sarah Polley, I'm not sure. What I am sure about is this man knows how to make a gripping movie, whether it be the least exotic movie about exotic dancers since "Showgirls" ("Exotica"), about the aftermath of a deadly bus crash ("The Sweet Hearafter"- one of my favorite films), or this one about a serial killer; you will be mesmerized by the characters flaws and all. This isn't really a horror movie, so anyone looking for blood and guts should look elsewhere. However, it is an interesting portrait of a serial killer; the more lonely "American Psycho".
See Also: Funny Games, The Descent, Hard Candy, The Orphanage, Let the Right One In, Fists in the Pocket, 2046,  Donnie Darko, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done; Jacob's Ladder, The Number 23

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