Pamela De Graff (LittleMissBloodAndGuts)Burbank
Pamela's Recent Reviews
RESOLUTION (2012) independent
WRITTEN BY: Justin Benson
DIRECTED BY: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
FEATURING: Peter Cilella, Vinny Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Bill Oberst Jr., Kurt David Anderson, Emily Montague
GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER
TAGS: genre-bender; puzzler, drama, mystery, occult, horror
PLOT: In this tense micro-budget thriller, a young man tries to bring his friend back to reality, only to find that "reality" is not just open to interpretation, but malleable and ever-changing. In fact, the pair's reality might not even be their own.
COMMENTS: In spite of some worn cliches -mysterious found footage, missing researchers, and a mystic medicine cabin obligatorily set on an Indian reservation, with Resolution, independent writer/director Justin Benson brings us a breath of fresh air. The film is technically adept on its small budget, and presents a real genre-bender of a plot. Resolution builds slowly as a crime drama, becomes a psychological suspension, then morphs into a puzzler riddled with paradoxes. It releases in a brief climax of occult horror.
In the story, yuppie Michael (Peter Cilella) travels to a remote squatters' shack, where his addict friend Chris (Vinny Curran), bristling with firearms and contraband, has holed up, resolved to kill himself with drugs. Michael restrains Chris, and forces him to withdraw "cold-turkey" over the course of a week.
A progression of weirdos make the scene. Chris's low-life cohorts (Kurt David Anderson and Kyler Meacham) drop in, demanding drugs. A tightly-wired Native American property owner (Zahn McClarnon) and his menacing gang show up to evict the occupants. A scheming real estate developer (Josh Higgins) creeps in, mistaking Michael and Chris for the deed-holders, and a doomsday religious cult is engaging in shenanigans a little too nearby for comfort.
Michael strives to maintain control over the situation to buy enough time to get Chris straightened out, and back to civilization and rehab. Despite the threat posed by oddball interlopers, the real tension is yet to come.
Someone...or some THING is watching -and recording everything Michael and Chris do. But how? The surveillance indicates a presence that looms closer and closer, yet Michael can't detect the observer.
Looking for clues, Micheal discovers strange footage shot by a missing anthropology team, then locates a laconic neighbor, Bryon (Bill Oberst Jr.), with an uncomfortably unorthodox existential philosophy. From here the story plunges into perplexing paradoxes. Chris's sleazy drug buddies and the landowner converge for a showdown. Mind-bending events knock Mike and Chris away from objective reality and any sense of control over their destinies.
Resolution is talky, but intriguing. The long-winded plot is better suited for an hour short. Aside from establishing an initial setting and circumstances, the first half of the film doesn't bear vital relation to the engaging concepts of the second. It's still pretty good. Unsettling developments keep us watching. Plot twists reveal a honeycomb of passages down which to venture. Rather than choose one of them and proceed, the filmmakers offer a twisted experience based on the fact that these alternate routes exist.
Part of the fun of Resolution is thinking about the various possibilities and what they mean. In our minds, we DO pursue them, trying to predict the outcome, but just when we think we know what's going to happen, Resolution throws us a new twist. Throughout it all ripples a nerve-jarring undercurrent of menace, indeterminate, and incipient. Mike and Chris's safe return to the outside world is increasingly unfeasible.
There's some subtle cinematic artistry in Resolution which reinforces the exposition. In the scene in which Michael is conversing with Byron, Byron discusses his views about narrative and story. As he explains to Michael, Byron holds a mirror. At first, the mirror is angled so that Micheal's reflection blends with Byron's face. The effect is to project Byron and Micheal as melded together, depicting a dual entity. But Michael cannot see it. Only we can see it.
Byron angles the mirror so that we see another mirror on the wall behind Michael, producing the illusion of endless repetition. It illustrates the concept of how a painter records a scene. There is the scene, and the painter painting it. But there is a larger scene. For us to see the painter painting the scene, there must be another painter, painting the painter painting the scene... and so on to infinity. This is a pivotal moment in the film. Resolution carries distinct, though not fully developed sub-themes about the evolution and structure of folklore, myth and story, and these are tied into the paradoxes.
Filmed in a half-completed lodge under construction, illuminated by hook lamps, and without background music, intimate camerawork increases a sense of realism, almost like seeing a documentary. The technique is effective because Resolution turns out to be all about deconstruction and the plastic nature of reality. By the time we realize this, we've accepted the actuality of what's transpired, only to have the drop sheet yanked out from under our feet.
WRITTEN BY: Wentworth Miller
DIRECTED BY: Chan-wook Park
FEATURING: Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode
TAGS: psycho-thriller, mystery
RATING: 5 PINTS OF BLOOD
PLOT: Upon her father's untimely death, a morose teen forms an uneasy alliance with her enigmatically sinister uncle, who is at once adversarial, controlling, and incestuously supportive.
COMMENTS: A thriller about psychopaths and sick agendas, Stoker's title summons connotations of the Dracula author. With its Gothic romance novel visual design, a moody anti-heroine right out of the Twilight craze, and a shower masturbation montage borrowing visual cues from Psycho, Stoker presumes to deliver a power-punch of stormy atmosphere and unsettling, offbeat storytelling. Provocative and lurid, artfully photographed, that atmosphere is indeed present in Stoker, as is its departure from the beaten path of mainstream studio fare.
The picture pulls its knock-out upper-cut however, by betraying a derivative (though not over-worn) story and a not-so-novel revelation of its mystery. The plot is essentially Hitchcock's Shadow Of A Doubt (1943), but this is a good one, full of potential for delightful and interesting variations, such as the wickedly disturbing 1966 Let's Kill Uncle with Mary Badham of To Kill A Mockingbird fame.
In Stoker, troubled India (Mia Wasikowska) reminds us of Wednesday from The Addam's Family. Wealthy, privileged, doted on, but misfit, morbid, and sporting a damningly annoying overbearing of sophisticated, anti-social charm, India is grudgingly and minimally cooperative. She's resentful, and seething with some inner grievances, but we're never made privy to what they are. There's a good and evil struggle within her, offset by a chronic, clear desire to be elsewhere. But rather than take action to affect change, she grumpily goes through the motions, while internally swimming against the current.
In East Of Eden, Cal Trask (James Dean) beguiles us by revealing an inner turmoil and a jagged chasm of obviously anguished, and likely twisted emotions. The feelings never have to be explained. It's sufficient that Cal's facial expressions betray them. Our imaginations run wild to fill in the rest. Similarly in Stoker, with her obviously charred soul, India is virtually a plot element unto herself, and the most intriguing one in the film. As with the old inmates' adage, family expectations and social constraints may imprison her, but in her mind she's free, and "they" can't take that away from her.
Or can they? India is stewing in repressed passions but we don't know what they are. Nor will we, for while we eventually receive simple explanation for the root cause of her condition, Stoker never explores the deep, murky waters of that bottomless pool personality behind India's ink-well black eyes.
There's a lot of masquerade in Stoker. While there's obviously more to India than we can fathom, and we want to know all about her, there's also more to her uncanny, disingenuous paternal Uncle Charles (Matthew Goode), and upon meeting him, neither we, nor India, are so sure we want to take a sounding. Charles makes the scene following the funeral for India's father whose very untimely death occurred in an equally unlikely accident.
Despite being extroverted and ingratiating, there's something just not right about Uncle Charley. He exudes a facade of Mormon-esque, overly enthused, positive cheer which nearly overshadows a subtle undercurrent of ruthless self-service. But maybe that's just India's cynical outlook rubbing off on us. Either way, Uncle Charley's here to stay, and after inviting himself as permanent house guest, he begins brazenly courting India's bereaved, yet bored and impulsive, emotionally vulnerable mother (Nicole Kidman). Vanquishing from the household all who might oppose him, such as the loyal housekeeper (Peg Allen) and India's suspicious great aunt (Jacki Weaver), we can only assume he's after the family fortune, but disturbingly, he seems to have deeper designs. These include India's very corpus corporis and mens mentis, as she openly defies Uncle Charley's attempts at domination until he discovers a way to manipulate India's, um, unusual susceptibilities.
At first resentful of Charles's intrusion. and put in an adversarial relationship with her mother who seems to be completely malleable to his will, India becomes jealous, but soon begins to bond with Charles. India's a gloomy, stifled little sexpot and she secretly craves the attention. The trio form a dangerous triangle, which sweeps them in a churning cat-and-mouse-play set of rapids toward the tumultuous falls of total bedlam. This is where Stoker shows its potential to become something original, to reveal fascinating, horrible things, to surprise us, and make us wonder, to keep us guessing on the edges of our seats.
What could be a captivating web of competing, ulterior motives and petulant scheming never materializes. What could be an engrossing character portrait of India slams flat. We never get that coveted insight into India's motivations, how she sees the world or why she sees it that way. India is simply toxic and contrary with little explanation until the end, at which point she defies her own cunning nature and selects, in lieu of more interesting, profitable, and clever options, an irrational, self-destructive course of action.
Even so, Stoker is still pretty good. It's a satisfying change of pace from the patronizingly conventional and downright silly horror releases lately issuing from Tinseltown like effluent from a landfill, and most Gothic thriller fans will want to see it.
South Korean director Chan-wook Park is best known to fans of the weird for his bizarre, gory cult movies such as Oldboy from The Vengeance Trilogy. With Stoker, he makes his mainstream, US debut. To do so requires that he "sell-out" a little to the conventions of Hollywood marketing, and I suspect this is why he didn't tamper with co-producer, Wentworth Miller's script, even though its deficiencies beg to be tweaked. Stoker more or less works for non-discriminating audiences who can be dazzled by a bit of flash without being driven to look deeper. Park's penchant for the absurd and the gory is still subtly evident. Importantly, Stoker demonstrates Park's trustworthiness to competently direct conventional cinema. With Nicole Kidman on board, and an appeal to the current Twilight-style popular trend, Stoker will, we hope, allow the director to establish himself on the big-budget launching pad from which we anticipate more intriguing work to soar off in the future.
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