Elizabeth Olsen makes her cinematic debut in Sean Durkin's 'Martha Marcy May Marlene', a psychological thriller about life after escaping (?) a cult and the paranoia that accompanies it.
MMMM is an accomplishment of atmospheric filmmaking, with first-time director Durkin managing to shroud every moment of regular life with a sense of unease and brooding tension that usually wouldn't be there. Some shots last for what feels like an eternity whilst others pass within seconds, some moments you think you see something whilst in others you feel it, you never know what is -or isn't- coming and its gripping.
The editing also adds to the sense of unease within the film, flitting between protagonist Martha's life at the cult and her current one without a moments notice. Everything within the way the film is made feels like it's out to get you, and, much like Martha, you don't know if it is or not.
As far as performances are concerned Olsen does an outstanding job, playing Martha with a sense of subtlety and fragility that is skill-wise unmatched by the rest of the cast. John Hawkes also does a great job as the cult's charismatic leader, blurring the line between kindness and cruelness in an always-interesting fashion. Perhaps the film's only flaw is the way some of its characters react, with Martha's sister and brother in-law in particular coming off occasionally as so plundering its silly.
Verdict: A great debut for both its star and director, Martha Marcy May Marlene is an intense ride.
Part of the 'New French Extremity' movement, Alexandre Aja's 'Haute Tension' (High Tension/Switchblade Romance) is a heart-pounding horror that will have you at the edge of your seat...before slapping across the face for caring. Cécile De France plays Marie, a young woman who is on a business trip with her friend Alexia (Maiwenn). Whilst on their journey the two stop off at Alexia's remote family home, only to find themselves as prey to a demented killer.
Haute Tension is very effective for it's first hour, managing to continually crank up the tension without ever stopping for a break or feeling drawn-out. In this respect, the film is masterfully paced, with Marie jumping from one set piece to another in a fashion that doesn't feel as forced as other films of the same genre. Music and sound is also used incredibly well throughout the film, with flourishes being added to moments of potential dread and heightening the sense of unease. Aesthetically the film feels as if it is a homage to the exploitation films of the late 70s, with realistic yet over the top Craven inspired violence being at the centre of the films narrative.
With everything being said it would seem as if Haute Tension was set up to be a classic, and it would be, that's if it didn't effectively ruin itself in the last 20 minutes with a twist that felt tacked on ridiculous, and rendered everything before it pointless.
Verdict: It's amazing if you pretend a quarter of it doesn't exist.
Released in 1987, Dario Argento's giallo thriller 'Terror at the Opera' perfectly blends the grandeur of the opera with his unmistakable brand of violence. Cristina Marsillach plays Betty, the beautiful understudy of a soprano who finds herself centre stage when the show's star is in an accident. With her newfound fame comes a cost, however, and Betty soon becomes entangled with a murderous stalker who forces her to watch him kill.
'Terror at the Opera' feels Shakespearian in essence, with ideas about love, obsession, and violence fuelling Argento's vision and immersing viewers in a world of tragedy and death. As well as this the film is very successful in building tension, utilising silence and unconventional camera-angles to great effect and keeping audience members on their toes, waiting for the patented violent Argento outbursts. When the violence comes its brutal and gripping, blood fills the screen and much like the film's protagonist, you'll find yourself unable to look away.
The soundtrack is used perfectly and the mix of Opera, heavy metal, and 80s progressive rock perfectly suits the film's unpredictable nature. Despite everything it has going however for it the film feels overlong in its final 2 scenes, becoming somewhat ridiculous and taking away from the experience that preceded them.
Verdict: an effective study of audience complicity and voyeurism, Terror at the Opera, despite being great, fails to live up to the high of Argento's earlier work 'Suspiria'.
Released in 1965, Nagisa Oshima's take on the then popular 'Pink' genre is a stylish thriller that explores the depths of nihilism, materialism, and the price of pleasure. Katsuo Nakamura plays Wakizaka, a teacher who having murdered the rapist of one of his students (whom he loves) finds himself blackmailed into hiding 30,000,000 yen of stolen money. When the student he murdered for decides to get married however, Wakizaka decides to spend all the money on his every sexual impulse and in doing so descends into a spiral of increasing paranoia.
A film noir in its very essence 'Pleasures of the Flesh' is a beautifully shot feature that uses its increasingly nightmarish cinematography to great effect. Moments of surrealistic editing become more and more frequent as the film progresses and increase the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment, making it feel as if viewers themselves are falling alongside the protagonist. As effective as this is the film does however stumble across moments in which it feels plodding, drawing viewers out of immersion and becoming slightly boring. The sequence in which Wakizaka attempts to win Keiko's love is an example of this, and although it houses one of the most beautiful moments in the film, it can't help but feel like it took too long getting there.
Despite supposedly being a 'pink' film the onscreen sex and violence is surprisingly tame, and the lacklustre ending feels as if it doesn't have the courage to live up to the other films of the genre or the increasing sense of immolation that preceded it.
Verdict: An interesting character study that occasionally strays off course and misses the mark with its ending.
Based on a story by acclaimed Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo, Noboru Tanaka's 'Watcher In The Attic' is decidedly absurd erotic horror and a prime example of the ero-guro elements that began to grace the 'pink' film genre in 60s/70s Japan. Renji Ishibashi plays Saburo Gouda, a bored innkeeper who spends his spare time spying on his tenants through strategically placed holes in the attic floor. One day, whilst spying on the wealthy Lady Minako (Junko Miyashito) having sex with a man, he witnesses her, knowing that she is being watched murder him. This event sparks of an obscure relationship between the two in which the lines of pleasure and pain become blurred and increasingly violent murders become the norm.
'Watcher In the Attic' is primarily about voyeurism, and throughout the film viewer's themselves are often put in the seat of Saburo, gazing powerlessly upon the estranged tenants as they partake in even stranger activities; there's a priest who sexually assaults a girl via confession, a woman with a bestiality fetish, and even a man who dresses as a clown whilst having sex. It is during these moments that Noboru feels his most distinguished, successfully offsetting the films somewhat glacial pace with comments about sex and the bestial nature of man.
Despite this the film often feels as if it is being ambiguous for ambiguous' sake, taking moments past the point of relevancy and into the realm of forced unenjoyably drawn out art-house cinema. That's not to say that the often-powerful comments made throughout the film are irrelevant however (the ending especially being truly powerful), merely that they occasionally become lost among the director's own pretention.
Verdict: Full of intrigue and art, Watcher In The Attic becomes lost in its own sense of obscenity and a 78 minute runtime that feels almost twice as long as that.